• As the calendar flips, it’s a good time to take stock and look ahead. With the second half of the NBA season approaching, many fantasy players start thinking about ditching the thirty-somethings that could get rested in favor of the young players primed for extra minutes and usage that seem ready to breakout a la Trae Young and Mitchell Robinson last season. And since so many people think that way, I say we zag when they zig and take advantage.

    Yes, there’s a good chance that younger players will improve as the season moves on and that veterans will become more likely to get a day off or to be shut down for two weeks instead of two games if they’re on a team that’s out of contention. But I see many people skewing too far in this direction. Let’s check in on five second and third-year players still carrying a lot of their draft-day hype and see how they compare to their elders to this point. Below are per-game stats and rankings through 12/31.

    First up, we have a pair of teammates. Honestly, they’re both ranked roughly where they were drafted. And while I do expect them to end up ranked a little closer together by the end of the season, I think our off-brand old guy will continue to be clearly better. That’s Chris Paul, and the reason I’m putting him next to this name brand Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is that plenty of people went crazy for SGA and even drafted him over CP3 due to all the age/hype stuff I’m addressing today.

    I love Gilgeous-Alexander’s future outlook, but Paul is still getting it done as the primary ball-handler in OKC. Because of some trade and injury concerns regarding Paul, I think there might even be more people now willing to trade CP3 for SGA straight up. Take the proven value over the shiny new toy here.

    Start with a glance at the rankings (and turnovers) for this pair. Acting on this comparison is really only smart in 9-cat leagues. Obviously, if we’re sending off this exciting name brand player for his off-brand replacement, we’re losing a ton of points and assists. The good news is that I think you can easily get a good player (top-50?) along with Delon Wright for De’Aaron Fox. I know Wright isn’t a grizzled veteran, but he will be 28 before long. Both players have had a rough start to the season. Fox with his injuries and Wright with his struggle to get big minutes. But Fox’s turnovers have come down lately and his steals are back up, so he’s close enough to last year’s stats, which landed him at number 70 in 9-cat rankings, to sell close to his draft-day price tag of a top-30 pick.

    Wright may even be available in your league. After all, he only averaged 19 minutes per game in December. What may surprise you is that Wright is the number 58 player in 9-cat over that stretch. I think he’s got top-100 value locked up for the rest of the season, and he could take on a few more minutes (he averaged about 22 mpg in October and November). So, if you can swap Fox for a top-50 player in addition to the extremely efficient Wright, I think you can come out way ahead in a deal.

    Here’s another young King that has battled injuries this season, and he should be making a big leap in the rankings before long. But once he has a few great games, I recommend seeing if you can sell Marvin Bagley III for the steady and underrated Al Horford. You’ll probably be losing a few points and rebounds, but Horford’s well-rounded lines will more than make up for that. Even if you were the one that drafted Bagley, I urge you to let someone else fall for the allure of his upside. There’s a good chance that this isn’t the season that he reaches it.

    It’s probably best to ignore this name brand player’s rankings, as he’s only played in three games so far this season (and has only attempted one free throw). The reason I bring up Deandre Ayton, though, is because he was drafted roughly 20 spots ahead of his 34 year-old off-brand version, LaMarcus Aldridge. The fact that Aldridge keeps getting drafted in the 40s despite finishing in the 20s could mean that you could snag him for Ayton as soon as Ayton has a few good games. And while they could finish the season in the same neighborhood, Ayton’s suddenly looking a lot less safe.

    Another second-year player whose draft spot was based partially on dreams of upside, Wendell Carter Jr. has been a touch disappointing. However, there will be plenty of suitors expecting the Bulls to further rely on their youth in the second half and for Carter to march his way up the rankings. I recommend seeing if one of those suitors happens to be the guy that picked up Richaun Holmes.

    In many regards, Holmes is far from an old, boring, off-brand kind of guy right now. Among fantasy analysts and hardcore players that have dreamed for years of the per-minute monster getting a big role, the 26-year-old is a star. But I think there are plenty of people that just happened to pick him up, thinking he was nothing more than some injury replacement player on a hot stretch that will be relegated back to bench duty at some point. While that’s not happening, there’s a strong chance that the guy that rosters Holmes in your league doesn’t value him as the stud he is and will continue to be. Maybe Carter plus a little something extra gets it done.

    So my message to you this week is to try to let someone else gamble on the slim chance that a young player’s breakout happens to be coming in the next few months and to instead embrace the proven, steady production of the league’s veterans. Numbers that come from 34-year-old dudes count, too.

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