February 8, 2020, 6:05 pm
Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to the weekly installment of our International Spotlight feature after a strange trade deadline that had us experience all kinds of deals, from a 12-player blockbuster to the rumored-for-months D’Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins swap, to random deals that included players that we have examined in the past (Bruno Caboclo!).
With the NBA season entering its second half, I thought this was a good time to take a step back and reflect on the value of most international players in the NBA and their outlook for the rest of the season. Last week, the focus was on the Eastern Conference and the players that have risen to the occasion, as well as those who have laid an egg, while this week we examine the Western Conference and the dynamics at play after a busy trade season.
Luka Doncic has been one of the biggest risers in the fantasy rankings this year, taking the next step to his game in just his second season in the NBA. There were some doubters early in the season but we all know by now that the kid is for real and he is a lock to be an All-Star for years to come. The statistical correction in field goal percentage and especially free throw shooting seems to be the norm rather than the anomaly and the only thing that keeps the Slovenian guard from returning first round value is 3-point shooting and high turnovers; both are likely to stay at the same levels due to Rick Carlisle handing the keys over to his young star and letting him run the offense completely.
Kristaps Porzingis has also looked good after being sidelined for over a year, returning top-50 value while averaging a career-high 9.1 rebounds. The health parameter is the wild card as he has played in 39 out of the possible 51 games so far while shooting a career-low 41.0 percent from the field. KP is rock solid and Dallas is giving him a ton of freedom on the offensive end but I’m not so confident in his durability and I would be willing to move him for the right price.
Maxi Kleber looks to be the biggest beneficiary from the season-ending injury to Dwight Powell, even after the addition of Willie Cauley-Stein. The German forward is having a career year and is a key part of the Mavs’ success with his ability to protect the rim, defend mismatches and make his shots behind the arc. His numbers are not eye-popping but he is returning top-125 value for the season mainly due to his ability to contribute across the stat board without hurting any of the standard categories. Boban Marjanovic and J.J. Barea, meanwhile, remain matchup-based options and are hard to trust even in deeper formats.
The departure of Clint Capela from the Rockets has left a void in the middle for Houston but Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey have a completely different idea from the conventional basketball that most NBA teams play. Isaiah Hartenstein has developed nicely with the Rockets’ G League affiliate the last couple years and he was given the chance to contribute earlier in the season, delivering monster numbers in nights where he played more than 25 minutes. Still, Hustlestein is not going to be the answer this season as he has failed to earn D’Antoni’s trust and he struggles with fouling and silly turnovers even though he brings a high level of energy and activity that every team needs. Bruno Caboclo is a name to keep an eye on though as he is familiar with the Rockets program and Houston can always use wings that can hit the triple, rebound and defend (the reason they traded for Robert Covington after all).
Jonas Valanciunas is fitting in nicely with the young core of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke as the Grizzlies have been successful at protecting the rim, averaging 5.7 blocks per game, good for seventh in the league. Jonas has been playing only 25.9 minutes per game and that’s enough for him to return top-50 value for the season, but you shouldn’t expect much change in his production even after the addition of Gorgui Dieng, who will be battling for the backup center minutes. The trade of Jae Crowder and the injuries to Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen might open some minutes for rookie Marko Guduric, who came into the league with the reputation of an efficient long-range shooter, but he has struggled to make his shots so far.
Nicolo Melli is not your traditional rookie and the 28-year-old forward is finding his role with the Pelicans after a brutal start for a franchise that seems to always be decimated by injuries. Melli is able to stretch the floor playing next to Zion and traditional bigs like Jaxson Hayes and Derrick Favors and while his rebounding numbers are low, he is a nice source of triples and good percentages in deeper leagues.
Finally, in San Antonio, Jakob Poeltl has not taken the next step in his development with Pop opting to go with Trey Lyles next to LaMarcus Aldridge. His career-high 1.5 blocks per game make him a consideration in deeper formats as long as you can tolerate his poor free-throw shooting. At the same time, Marco Belinelli, at the tail end of his career, is having one of the worst seasons of his career, averaging just 5.7 points and 1.0 triples while shooting a career-low 37.9 percent from the field.
Nikola Jokic came into the season out of shape and in miserable state of mind after a summer in which he and the Serbian national team failed to win a medal in the FIBA World Cup. His slow start has always been an issue but you can pat yourself on the back if you were able to trade for him early in the season. The Joker has been a beast the last couple months, returning top-10 value, and it’s safe to assume that he will be finishing the season strong.
In Minnesota, Gersson Rosas was able to unite Karl-Anthony Towns with his buddy D’Angelo Russell, but the collateral has been a complete overhaul of the roster with many holes to fill. Josh Okogie has always been someone I like but the departure of Wiggins didn’t really do him any favors and he will have to compete with Malik Beasley and Jarrett Culver for minutes. The Nigerian guard is a nice source of steals but he has always struggled with his shot and is hitting just 0.6 triples for the season.
On to the power forward position. The Wolves brought in James Johnson, Omari Spellman and Jarred Vanderbilt, so Juan Hernangomez will have to fight them and Jake Layman (when he returns from his injury) for minutes. Hernangomez can stretch the floor but he is a below average rebounder and defender and he has struggled with his shot this year, so I would take a flier on him in deeper leagues but his inconsistency is probably going to be an issue. One thing you have to keep in your mind is that the Wolves have been a defensive black hole and James Johnson looks like the type of player that management would like to put next to KAT in order to supplement his weaknesses and teach him how to play hard on the other side of the ball as well.
In Oklahoma City, Steven Adams has had an up-and-down season plagued by injuries, averaging a career high 2.6 assists but just 0.7 steals (down from 1.5 last year), and subsequently returning borderline top-100 value. The Thunder, most likely, will be making the playoffs so there is really no shutdown potential here and owners should just hope that Adams is fully healed as the season progresses. Danilo Gallinari meanwhile is successfully following up on the career season he had last year, silencing all the doubters regarding his durability. I have been one of them in recent years and I still believe that you should move Gallo for a safer prospect if you want to be more confident in your fantasy playoffs. Just like Adams, the Thunder are expected to finish the season strong and the Italian forward should continue to roll.
Lastly, Hoop-Ball favorite Dennis Schroder has played really well next to Chris Paul with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, with Billy Donovan forced to play unconventional lineups due to the lack of wings. Schroder is in the middle of a season where he is averaging career-highs in field goal percentage (47.5) and 3-point percentage (38.8), significantly improving his fantasy value to top-110 for the year, and nothing seems to imply that he will slow down. Egyptian forward Abdel Nader has capitalized on the opportunity and is returning some career-highs but he is an option only in deeper formats.
The Mario Hezonja experience in Portland has not gone well even though the Blazers were desperate for wing help after early-season injuries to Rodney Hood and Zach Collins. The Croatian swingman has struggled with efficiency and has fallen out of the rotation while minor injuries have also limited him recently.
Jusuf Nurkic remains a potential dark horse with his return being rumored to take place after the All-Star break. The Blazers have been able to cover his absence with Hassan Whiteside and Nurk will most likely be eased into the rotation once he is back, but he is the long-term answer in Portland and had a career season last year so he deserves to be stashed if you can afford to do so.
In Utah, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic have been the pillars of another successful year where the Jazz have transitioned to a modern style of basketball that produces more scoring and fast-break opportunities. Playing next to pseudo-power forwards, Gobert is averaging a career-high 14.5 boards while his blocks are back to normal levels (2.0 per game) after a slow start. Poor free throw shooting and a career-high 2.0 turnovers per game keep him in the third round for now. Bogdanovic also got off to a slow start but the Jazz were smart to stick with him as the stretch power forward and he has been averaging a career-high 21.1 points in 33.2 minutes per game, the highest of his NBA career. His percentages have been exceptional and the only black hole in his game, limiting him from returning top-50 value, is his 2.6 turnovers due to the fact that he is asked to open up the defenses as a secondary playmaker.
Joe Ingles, on the other hand, was expected to take a hit after the acquisition of Mike Conley and Bogdanovic, but injuries and a slow start for the Jazz forced him into the starting lineup where he had a nice stretch, returning top-75 value for a few weeks. I hope you were able to sell high on him because, after the return of Conley, he has remained a starter but his usage, as expected, has dropped. Regardless, Smokin Joe is having a more efficient season with fewer turnovers after a year in which he was asked to do too much and his 30.0 minutes per game still make him relevant in the proper format.
Alen Smailagic has been a sexy pickup in deeper fantasy formats this year and it’s clear that the Warriors are high on him, showing no hesitation to trade away Willie Cauley-Stein and Omari Spellman in order to open up more minutes for him. After this week’s trade deadline, the Warriors are down to just 10 healthy guys and it’s likely that they bring in another big until the end of the season. Smiley is not quite ready to play regular minutes in the NBA yet but he has been killing it in the G League and I’m keeping an eye on him in deep formats with the Warriors simply playing for the No.1 pick in the draft this summer.
Ivica Zubac has been a serviceable center averaging 8.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.0 block in just 18 minutes per game and the fantasy community has been wondering what these numbers would have been had the Clippers played him close to 25 minutes per night instead. Montrezl Harrell is obviously a detriment to Zubac’s value and the arrival of Marcus Morris will also have an impact on how the minutes get distributed. The Bosnian center is a solid free throw shooter and he won’t kill you in any categories so he still remains relevant in deeper formats.
In Phoenix, Aron Baynes has had a tremendous stretch while Deandre Ayton was suspended and Monty Williams experimented with a twin-towers lineup before the Australian big went down with a hip injury. The Suns are currently going with a small-ball lineup that has Ayton and Mikal Bridges starting so it’s unlikely that Baynes gets back to the value he had earlier the season. And while he has posted career-highs in almost all categories due to starting 25 games for the Suns, one thing that needs to be noticed is that he now has the green light to shoot from deep, as evidenced by the 1.3 triples he has made on 3.8 attempts this season.
Dario Saric seems to be the odd man out in Phoenix even though he started the season as the team’s power forward. His numbers have not been that bad but he has struggled shooting from deep and he is not a good defensive partner next to Ayton so you should move away from him this year.
Ricky Rubio has been the difference-maker for the Suns on the offensive side of the ball with his assists going up while his percentages are the only thing that keep his value in the top-80 right now. Minor injuries have cost him a few games but he should finish the season strong.
Cheick Diallo and Ellie Okobo have had their opportunities and they have showed some flashes but they remain buried deep on the depth chart and are hard to trust in deeper formats.
And finally, in Sacramento, a season full of injuries, trades, turmoil and questionable coaching is having Nemanja Bjelica deliver top-65 value for the year, even though he was projected to get sporadic minutes at best. The Kings still haven’t figured out the best position for Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes seems untouchable and nearing a return, while the addition of Jabari Parker, who the team tried to sign in the offseason, further complicates Bjelica’s outlook for the rest of the year. He remains a sell-high candidate but at the same time he looks like the mad dog that never dies so I wouldn’t just give him away.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, meanwhile, is finally turning the corner after a slow start to the season and injuries that sidelined him for 11 games. BB8 has uncharacteristically struggled from the free throw line this season, limiting his value to borderline top-125 for the year but he has been playing well as the starter and he looks someone that is going to finish the year strong so kudos if you were able to hold on to him.
Hope you enjoyed our mini middle of the season review and please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of February 7th.