• As we enter the final few weeks of the regular season, it becomes a time of frustration for fantasy owners. Players are held out for minor injuries on the regular and older veterans receive rest days frequently. That’s why it becomes much more important for owners to have players who are performing at their best, as opposed to players at their worst.

    We have reached that time of the week again where here at HOOP-BALL, we become your meteorologists. Like last week, the top players will be held out of the “WHO’S HOT” section because we’d be talking about the same players weekly. Let’s dive into the “WHO’S HOT and WHO’S COLD?.”

    WHO’S HOT?

    G – Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

    This Sun shines bright in the desert. With the makings of a future star, 19 year old Devin Booker is one of the lone bright spots to an otherwise lost Suns season. By all accounts, Booker has surpassed expectations in a very impressive rookie season. As is the case with most young players, he didn’t get a real opportunity until the Suns were decimated with injuries.

    Booker had a tough month of February (which is expected for a 19 year old rookie on a terrible team), but he is heating up in a big way in March. Over his past seven games, he is averaging 25.1 points, 1.7 threes, 2.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 46.3% shooting from the field and 88.9% shooting from the charity stripe. Those numbers are good for top 50/60 (8-cat/9-cat) production over that time span.

    Booker has shown the ability to score around the basket, off the dribble or by spotting up. He has the athleticism and great first step to get by and around defenders. His shooting has always been his strength even at Kentucky, but even as he’s struggled with this three-point shot as the season has progressed, he has shown the ability to improve as a passer. His assist numbers have risen each month as he has shown that he is a willing distributor, able to find teammates in some tight windows.

    With Brandon Knight back and in the starting lineup, he may not continue his pace as a top 50/60 player. But even then, the improvements in his game have shown outstanding maturity and growth. With Alex Len becoming a focal point in the offense, Booker should continue to find himself open when defenses collapse on Len. But even with all this said, Booker is still owned in only 64% of all Yahoo! leagues. Given his upside and proven ability to continue to improve, Booker should be owned in all but the shallowest leagues. Especially in keeper/dynasty leagues.

    G- Josh Richardson, Miami Heat

    In a game full of frauds, Josh Richardson is the truth. The 40th selection of this past June’s draft, he continues to blossom as his role expands with the Miami Heat.

    Over the past six games, Richardson is averaging over 28 minutes and posting 12.3 points, 2.5 threes, 2.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.5 turnovers on 57.4% shooting from the field. Those numbers are good for 4th round/6th round (9-cat/8-cat) value over that time span.

    With Gerald Green seemingly falling out of the rotation and Tyler Johnson injured, there is no reason to believe that Richardson should see his minutes and opportunity decrease over the last few weeks of the season. His length, physicality and athleticism make him a versatile and willing defender. When paired with fellow rookie Justise Winslow, they provide Erik Spoelstra with versatility off the bench that any other team in the NBA would envy.

    He has worked hard to improve his offensive game as well. Spalding must love Richardson, as the Heat probably have to order new balls daily with Richardson making it rain fire in South Beach. He has connected on a staggering 15 of his last 20 3PTA. That is due for obvious regression, but it shows he has the ability to knock down the three consistently. He attacks the rim with ferocity and isn’t afraid to make plays around the basket. In Monday’s game against the Nuggets, Dragic spent the fourth quarter on the bench as Richardson closed the game out, even bringing the ball up the court on multiple occasions.

    With the Heat playing great basketball of late, don’t expect the rotation to change. Richardson is seemingly here to stay. If he is available on your wire, stop reading and pick him up.

    SF – Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Unlike the other Canadian first overall pick, Andrew Wiggins has continuously shown that he is a stud in real-life with incredible potential. Unfortunately, his game never translated well in fantasy. But this beta wolf is showing signs of turning into the alpha wolf.

    Over his past seven games, Wiggins is averaging 20.4 points, 1.0 three, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals on 54.4% shooting from the field. That is good for top 40 value over that time span.

    Over the past seven games, he is putting his elite athleticism to better use and has become an absolute beast in transition. His shots in transition have risen from 15.8% of his total FGA on the season to 34.3% of his FGA. Not surprisingly, given his physical attributes, he is converting on 70% of his transition opportunities. He has also almost entirely cut out the pull up three, settling for spot up threes that he has been converting at a 53.8% clip that is likely contributing to global warming. It is no surprise that his FG% has jumped up nearly 10% over this time span.

    He’s also improving as a passer and has seen his steal numbers steadily increase. When paired with Karl-Anthony Towns, they make a frightening duo. Still only 21 years young, Wiggins seems to finally be tapping into his potential. If his fantasy potential starts nearing his real-life potential, he could be in for a huge breakout next season.

    PF – Luol Deng, Miami Heat

    Yet another reason why it is raining fire in South Beach. Ever since Chris Bosh has been out of the lineup, Luol Deng has turned the clock back to his Bulls days and has been an absolute monster. The Heat have gone small with Deng at power forward, a decision that has likely saved their season.

    Over the past month, Deng has been a top 35/45 (9-cat/8-cat) player. In that time span, he has averaged 17.5 points, 1.1 threes, 9.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 steals on 49.7% shooting from the field.

    Looking at his numbers shows a player becoming more active in transition and less reliant on the three ball. His transition FGA have risen from 16.1% to 21.7%, while his 3PTA have dropped from 37.8% to 25.4% of his FGA. He has replaced those threes with more shots inside 10 feet, with such FGA rising from 41.1% to 52.4%. As a result, his FG% has risen over 7 points in the last month.

    It appears as though his change to power forward has rejuvenated him, as he’s more active defensively and on the boards. You need to ride him while he is this hot. He needs to be owned in all leagues.

    C – Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics

    A major reason for the Celtics’ surge up the Eastern Conference standings has been the play of Jared Sullinger. He is showing why he was a projected top five pick before a back issue dropped his stock considerably.

    Over the last month, he been performing at a top 50/70 (9-cat/8-cat) level. In that span, he has been posting 13.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks on 47.9% shooting from the field.

    Taking a look at his stats shows a player who has improved his shot selection, improved his efficiency, and has seen his entire game improve as a result. He has been a poor 3PT shooter all season, and over the past month he has seen his 3PTA rate nearly cut in half. He has also cut down the rate at which he takes pull up jumpers (which he converts at an approximate rate of 34%) by over half, instead replacing them with more shots within 10 feet of the rim (which he has been converting at a rate of 56.4%). His shots within 10 feet of the rim half increased from 45.2% of his FGA prior to the all-star break, to 54.9% post all-star break. He is definitely taking positive strides in his shot selection.

    The injury to Kelly Olynyk and the abysmal play of Amir Johnson opened the door wide open for Sullinger. To this point, he has taken full advantage of the opportunity. Olynyk is expected back within the next week, but he is sure to be brought along slowly. Sullinger is safe at least for the next couple of weeks and should help lead teams down the playoff stretch.

Fantasy News

  • Nikola Jokic
    C, Denver Nuggets

    Nikola Jokic posted his fourth straight elite fantasy season and his best season to date, finishing as the 9th best option in 9-category formats.

    Jokic is as reliable as they come with another season of huge popcorn numbers. He scored 20.2 points (a career-high) to go with 10.2 boards and 6.9 assists on a strong 52.8% shooting from the floor and 81.3% from the line. The cash counter output also maintained from past seasons, with 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.1 triples. At this point, Jokic's best asset is his consistency. This is what we've grown to expect from him as someone who always shows up to work. He played every game for the Nuggets this season and has missed just 20 games total in his five-year career. As long as he is healthy, he's money in the bank.

  • Jamal Murray
    PG, Denver Nuggets

    Jamal Murray took a nice step forward in his fourth NBA campaign and approached top-50 value in 9-category leagues due to a large increase in shooting efficiency.

    Murray was limited to 55 games due to a sprained left ankle but performed well when he was on the court. The popcorn numbers were similar to his 2018-19 season, with 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 3-pointers in 32.8 minutes. The 25 spot jump to the 52nd player in 9-category format was directly tied to a 1.8% improvement to 45.5% from the floor and a 4.5% improvement to 89.3% from the charity stripe. If he can continue to improve his passing and game management, he can hop into the top-50 with ease going forward.

  • Paul Millsap
    PF, Denver Nuggets

    Paul Millsap maintained his typical per-minute production, finishing as the 97th player in 9-category formats in just 24.4 minutes per game.

    Millsap's minute decline over the past three seasons in Denver have muted the upside he enjoyed during his heyday in Atlanta. In 44 games and a few nagging injuries including a left knee contusion and a sprained right ankle, he put up 12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks on good percentages (48.6 from the floor and a career-high 83.3% from the free throw line). Millsap should continue to be a good per-minute producer even if he moves on to a new destination for 2021, but expect the minutes to be the real sticking point as he enters his age 35 season.

  • Mason Plumlee
    C, Denver Nuggets

    Mason Plumlee slogged his way to an unimpressive 2019-20 season, finishing well outside the top-250 in 9-category formats and averaging 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds without much else worth noting.

    On top of unexciting popcorn numbers, Plumlee shot an abysmal 53.6% from the charity stripe. He was a volume play only who didn't really provide anything exciting in limited minutes. Playing behind Nikola Jokic was always going to limit Plumlee's production and keep him even out of streaming range.

  • Monte Morris
    PG, Denver Nuggets

    Monte Morris compiled top-150 value in 9-category formats as the primary backup option to Jamal Murray during the 2019-20 season.

    Morris had a strong season splitting time between backup point guard and fill-in starter when Jamal Murray went down with a sprained ankle. Morris enjoyed top-100 value during Murray's absence and put together a solid line of 8.4 points, 3.5 assists and 0.8 steals in 21.4 minutes. It was a solid campaign on compiled volume, but it was a step back from a top-100 season in 2018-19 where he got three more minutes per contest and made good for two more points with heightened efficiency. Going forward, Morris should be a solid deep-league point guard who can provide assists cheaply without any major weaknesses.

  • Torrey Craig
    SG, Denver Nuggets

    Torrey Craig played serviceable streamer minutes when called upon for the Nuggets and was an underappreciated starter at various points for a good Nuggets team.

    Craig is an unheralded player who is one of the prime examples of the "better in real life" syndrome. He won't wow anyone on the stat sheet and therefore he's hard to love in fantasy basketball. His 5.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.7 triples on decent shooting from the floor was good for just 297th in 9-category formats. He did have good stretches and was an acceptable daily play on the right night, but getting into an everyday streamer role is tough in a crowded wing situation in Denver.

  • Keita Bates-Diop
    SF, Denver Nuggets

    Keita Bates-Diop played sparingly for the Nuggets in 2019 as one of the many pieces involved in the four-team deadline trade and finished on the fringes of the top-300 for fantasy purposes.

    Bates-Diop got shuffled into the deck in a crowded Nuggets organization. He was limited to two games with his new club and just 9.5 minutes when he did appear. He spent time in the G-League after joining the Nuggets and on the season he appeared in 39 games, mainly as an injury replacement, and provided 17.1 minutes of 6.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 defensive counters, 0.8 triples and some needed energy. Bates-Diop has some potential in the right situation to be a streamer and we'll have to see whether he makes an impact during the NBA restart and if he will be able to crack the rotation in the upcoming season as well.

  • Thomas Bryant
    C, Washington Wizards

    Both Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II have tested positive for COVID-19 and did not accompany the Wizards to Orlando on Thursday.

    Scott Brooks mentioned that the Wizards were missing some players and didn't disclose why they were absent, so the dots were fairly easy to connect. Bryant's the big name for fantasy purposes here, and if he ends up sitting out the Orlando games it'll mean plenty of work for Moe Wagner, Ian Mahinmi and Anzejs Pasecniks. As for Payton, he was in line for minutes in a thinned-out backcourt but his potential absence would help players like Troy Brown and Jerome Robinson.

    Source: Ava Wallace on Twitter

  • Noah Vonleh
    PF, Denver Nuggets

    Noah Vonleh mainly rode the bench for the Nuggets, appearing in only four games after being acquired at the deadline in the large four-team trade that sent Malik Beasley to the Timberwolves.

    Vonleh had a decent season in New York in 2018-19 as a perfectly reasonable streamer just outside the top-150. In 33 games this season split between Minnesota and Denver, he averaged 3.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.5 defensive counters in 11 minutes per game. The Nuggets aren't the team to be on to try to get depth minutes in a crowded rotation so if there's any hope for Vonleh to be a streamer again, it'll be on a different team.

  • PJ Dozier
    PG, Denver Nuggets

    PJ Dozier had a forgettable stint in Denver, with 21 mostly lackluster appearances, but will be at the end of the bench during the Nuggets' restart campaign on a full NBA deal.

    Dozier played just 11.1 minutes per contest while shuttling back and forth between the NBA and the G-League. In 21 games, he scored 4.1 points and added 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists with minimal contributions elsewhere. The outlook for Dozier on this team are less than sunny unless there's an injury crisis in front of him. Otherwise, he'll be off fantasy radars as he was in this abbreviated stint outside the top-400.