April 5, 2020, 4:17 pm
On March 10th, 2020, yours truly watched a nailbiter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as the Pacers came all the way back and promptly blew a late lead to the Boston Celtics before driving all the way from Indianapolis to Milwaukee the same night to return to work the next day. There had already been soft unofficial orders to start closing up sports arenas due to the COVID-19 threat. On March 11th, 2020, the NBA season was suspended indefinitely. It has been a whirlwind and one of the craziest experiences not just in the sports world but also in our general life. Yet somehow we remember that NBA basketball was played less than one month ago.
We really have no concept of when we’ll see the orange ball going through the hoop next, but we also need to recognize that that’s not very high on our list of concerns at this point. We hope for a completed season, a Bucks championship and some respite to our currently daunting outlook. For now, we can at least try to look back at what happened and take that at face value.
For fantasy basketball (which seems silly to discuss at this point), that means we reflect on our ~65 game sample and glean what we can for a potential 2020 season reboot or, worst-case scenario, the 2020-21 tipoff.
This Working the Wire edition is going to be one of those reflections, as a retrospective on the best waiver wire adds of our abridged season. Because I’m feeling frisky, instead of a laundry list of names, we’re going to present six different five-man units, one from each NBA division.
As a primer to this exercise, each player will appear in the following format:
Position – Name, Team (9-cat per-game value, 9-cat total value)
“Some blabbering commentary from yours truly.”
PG – Alec Burks, PHI (86/77)
Much love to the early technicality to get us rolling. Yes, Burks did most of his damage on a tragic Golden State team but he was unquestionably one of the pickups of the first half. There was a three year stretch in the middle of the last decade where I was a huge Alec Burks fan in Utah. I thought he was going to be a solid role player in the Raja Bell vein (how’s that for a deep cut). It looked like that ship had sailed before docking in the Bay to give us a career half-year. His reward was getting to play backup minutes on a middling Eastern Conference team.
SG – Norman Powell, TOR (53/114)
The breakout was here for Norm Powell and the real crime for his year is the 44 games. He joined a number of Raptors on the parade to the rehab clinic as he dealt with a shoulder sprain. Let’s not pretend that this was something anyone really saw coming. I understand Kawhi left and the Dinos, to their credit, were well-positioned to replace him internally, but Norman went from an 18 minute bench option to a full-blown 16-point nightly scorer. The last four seasons were 291st, 249th, 364th and 232nd ranked finishes in our standard 9-category format. Don’t worry though, he’s a borderline top-50 guy now and it’s no big deal.
SF – Glenn Robinson III, PHI (120/94)
The other import from Golden State put together such a quietly productive season and somehow stayed under the radar the entire time. It seemed so obvious that GR3 was, if nothing else, going to play 30 minutes a night for a team that never really had depth on the wing. Of course, the trade to Philadelphia was supposed to torpedo him. For the most part, that happened, but then the Sixers hit a wall without Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson and Joel Embiid and any semblance of consistency and GR3 got some good DFS moments. Fortunately for roto people, that top-100 total value was already banked. Unfortunately for all the people, we know this is probably it.
PF – O.G. Anunoby, TOR (72/45)
Did we uncover the next Thad Young? O.G. contributed across the board all year long despite low usage. He did nothing exceptionally well outside of some gaudy steal numbers, and ended up as a top-50 asset in total value. Look, if Anunoby can be a more dynamic Thaddeus Young, we would say the Raptors hit the jackpot on that selection late in the first round in 2017.
C – Daniel Theis, BOS (78/73)
This might have been the easiest selection of this entire exercise. Somehow 78th on a per-game basis in less than 24 minutes. It pays to be tall and block shots. The Celtics know Enes Kanter doesn’t fit that mold, so these two play perfect foils to each other depending on need. Theis was a guy that seemed like there might be something there but it was hard to extrapolate it out. We still can’t extrapolate all the way because it’s clear the minutes won’t ever be there for a huge workload.
PG – Devonte’ Graham, CHA (77/53)
Sometimes if you close your eyes and chuck enough times, the ball will go in the hole enough times to be one of the premier waiver pickups of the year. Devonte’ isn’t winning any efficiency awards from anyone, but someone has to score on this disaster zone of a roster, so Graham took that mantle along with his far more expensive backcourt mate (who ended up being properly rated, thank you very much) and ran with it to the tune of 3.5 triples and a team-high 18.2 points. The assists were a welcome addition as well, as his 7.5 assists per contest sits 8th in the league.
SG – Kendrick Nunn, MIA (132/97)
It wouldn’t be my work without bringing up for the umpteenth time that Kendrick Nunn went to a fantastic school. Will I get canned for favoritism? It’s not impossible. Will Kendrick Nunn be a good NBA player in the future? It’s basically impossible. Shout out to the undrafted guy who left my alma mater to go play at Oakland in the Horizon League. I just learned that Oakland University is in Rochester, Michigan and their logo is grrreat. Nunn started hot in his rookie year but definitely tailed off in the second half of the year. Hard to complain about a guy that came in with no expectations.
SF – Duncan Robinson, MIA (85/59)
Duncan Robinson was another true “out-of-nowhere” guy. This scrawny white kid out of Michigan who has the face of George MacKay (Look him up and tell me they don’t look the same. Also watch 1917 while you’re cooped up, one of the best films of 2019) and the shooting touch of a middle-aged Kyle Korver stands at the perimeter and takes 8.4 of his 9.4 shots from outside the arc and makes them at a 44.8% clip. I know this is the league of triples now, but the numbers don’t lie. He’s been a gamechanger.
PF – Jae Crowder, MIA (98/86)
The Miami Heat theme continues, and I’m obligated to also mention that Jae Crowder went to a great school and I’m also obligated to remind that when I saw Jae Crowder play in real life on the Grizzlies he was the worst player on the floor the day after I wrote him up as a pickup option. I don’t hold a grudge, because Bae really showed out in his move to Miami. The weather’s nicer, the team is better, the fit is better. Controversially, Memphis is a more fun city and that’s all I have to say about that.
C – Davis Bertans, WAS (62/64)
This squad plays small-ball because I want to recognize how good Davis Bertans was this year. Yes, he might have been drafted in a handful of leagues or picked up by Week 3 in all the rest, but he sat outside the draft bubble in many standard leagues and turned into a real matchup winner with his 3-point barrages.
PG – Kris Dunn, CHI (88/123)
I loved Kris Dunn even during his time at Providence (Go Friars) and I thought he was going to be a better pro than he has been up to this point. I’m willing to pin some of that blame on a woeful situation in a bad organization right now. When he’s been healthy (which historically hasn’t been often) he’s turned some low usage into very productive fantasy value on the back of two steals a night which is second in the entire league. The popcorn numbers don’t wow anyone (7.3/3.7/3.4) and that’s what has made Dunn even more valuable to the wary eye.
SG – Donte DiVincenzo, MIL (99/85)
The Big Ragu proved me wrong. I didn’t think there was going to be much here for fantasy and that was just a bad take. I thought DiVincenzo would potentially be a fine bench filler option. He has been so much more than fine not just for fantasy but also as a Bucks fan, and he’s a right sight better than dumb Wes Matthews who also begrudgingly went to a great school and that makes me sick. DiVincenzo just does everything he’s supposed to admirably. He doesn’t score a lot or do anything special, but not making mistakes is a big part of being a successful young player in the NBA.
SF – Justin Holiday, IND (110/69)
I still don’t think people are aware that Justin Holiday is a top-75 player in totality on the season. Maybe it’s the 8.4 points or the general streakiness in his shooting that hasn’t come with any special moments. The guys we forget are the ones that came to work every day, didn’t build a mansion overnight, but at the end of the season, they presented a perfectly good three-bedroom, two-bathroom family home in a quaint suburban neighborhood. The analogy went off the rails but Justin Holiday never did with a third straight year of standard-league fantasy relevance, and that’s what the take-home message is.
PF – Christian Wood, DET (117/83)
We waited so long on Christian Wood and boy did that really start to pay off once Andre Drummond got shipped out for a flat tire, a dented muffler and someone who claims to be former NBA player Brandon Knight. Who knows, it’s a common name. Wood was averaging 26.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.8 cash counters in the month of March and was only trending up as the games counted for less. Here’s the kicker: I traded Christian Wood (who I wasn’t going to keep) for a more expensive Gordon Hayward with more control. I just don’t really know what Christian Wood is going to be when Blake Griffin comes back and plays (which he has to because the Pistons are paying him too much to move on).
C – Tristan Thompson, CLE (158/142)
I’m still very surprised Tristan Thompson didn’t end up on a different team at the trade deadline with Andre Drummond coming in and certain other teams named the Houston Rockets starting a 6’6” guy with half a knee and seven hearts at center. Thompson took advantage of the garbage around him in Cleveland to gobble up rebounds and put up a serviceable double-double average year. It’s fine, it really is. We just don’t really like any of it.
PG – Patty Mills, SA (168/131)
The forgotten man in the Spurs backcourt quadfecta was actually the most consistent for my money. He led that foursome (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Bryn Forbes and Patty) with 11.7 points and tied Forbes with 2.3 3-pointers in the least minutes (22.7) of the quartet. I’ve always been pro-Mills and might have written him up more times than someone should. The beauty of Mills is I can’t even think of specific accolades to hype him up so I’m just rambling to fill words. The numbers are the numbers.
SG – Seth Curry, DAL (139/126)
We need another shooter on this squad and we all know that Seth is the best shooter of the Curry clan. The minutes were critical for Seth to have fantasy value. He’s not a guy who can be productive in muted minutes outside of a 3-point specialist role. In 2017-18, he managed a top-80 finish because of close to 30 minutes per game on a worse Dallas team. He’s settled into a late-round value as an uncharacteristically efficient scorer who is shooting 50% and hitting 2.3 triples every night.
SF – Tim Hardaway Jr., DAL (127/89)
THJ stepped up in a big way alongside Dorian Finney-Smith for this Mavericks team that looked like it had a real deficiency on the wing. DFS was very close to nabbing this spot and I’ll use that excuse to talk about both here. DFS has been kind of a constant as a wing defender for this squad and those 29.7 available minutes have made him into a fringe value. It just goes to show in both of these cases that being healthy enough to play every night is sometimes enough to fall into value.
PF – Danuel House Jr., HOU (105/93)
We built the Danuel House, our refuge for Danuel House superfans, out of the notion that he was obviously going to play 30 minutes in a thin rotation, and he could just hang out in the corner and jack threes if James Harden or Russell Westbrook ever passed the ball. It wasn’t exactly how we drew it up, but I would say in a roundabout way we got some semblance of what we hoped for in 58 games. It wasn’t the top-80 breakout that seemed on the cards, but if we’re complaining about waiver wire pickups, things have already gone too wrong.
C – Maxi Kleber, DAL (123/74)
I think we kind of knew that Kristaps Porzingis was going to be slow out the gate and also have trouble being consistently dominant, so maybe we should have been more on board the Maxi Kleber train. Again, I don’t think he’s particularly special and frankly I don’t think I’ve ever seen him specifically do anything. Somehow he’s a top-75 player in total value just by playing through everything while Porzingis worked back and Dwight Powell went down to a torn achilles tendon. Availability is king.
PG – Jordan Clarkson, UTA (144/101)
The inspiration for “The Clarkson”, which is a fantasy stat line with points and… that’s it, has found a way to always be on the fringe of standard-league value. He added a much-needed punch to the Jazz bench and I think we’ve actually had a bit of a blind eye to his value in deeper formats. Sometimes having a guy that will play and give you carbon copy production for four or five seasons in a row is supremely valuable.
SG – Trevor Ariza, POR (119/134)
It’s almost like we don’t learn. Trevor Ariza has been a fantasy darling basically his entire career. The last four years have been fantastic for fantasy, yet when he picks back up and returns to almost exactly what we’ve seen for half a decade, we’re slow on the uptake? Why is that? We know what Ariza is. He’s a 3-and-D guy who ends up in the top-100 on a per-game basis as long as he gets the minute share.
SF – Royce O’Neale, UTA (165/124)
People that know me know that I bang the drum for Royce O’Neale as if we’re cousins or he has some dirt on me. Both of those are true, but so is the fact that he’s the best kept secret in Salt Lake City as a local favorite who will never get buzz around the NBA because he only scores six points a night. People don’t stay up to watch Utah Jazz basketball and even more than that, people don’t always recognize the nuances of the game: setting the right screen, being in the right place at the right time, guarding the other team’s best player in critical moments. These are all things Royce O’Neale does, and just being involved walks him into standard-league value.
PF – Jerami Grant, DEN (163/113)
I really thought this would go better. Denver gave up assets to bring Grant in and I just thought that fit would be good. I was hoping that incredibly strong top-75 in 2018-19 would translate. Paul Millsap is getting up in age and did his part in missing time and being limited in the action he got. Will Barton was an unknown coming in after a bad year and that paying off had an adverse effect on Jerami Grant. Fortunately, Grant still ends up well inside standard-league value in totality just by being present on a good team.
C – Nerlens Noel, OKC (73/76)
It’s well established that Nerlens Noel is a forgotten man in fantasy because he’s really been a forgotten man in Oklahoma City. He is the 73rd overall player for fantasy in 18.4 minutes per game. There’s a case to be made for the 36-minute extrapolation, as well, which would make him the 12th best player on a per-game basis. Obviously, we can’t just do that because one would assume (although maybe incorrectly) that the Thunder have some concept of what they’re doing and Nerlens can’t actually handle 36 minutes or we’ll start to hit a point of diminishing returns in the 20-25 minute range. Whatever the case, the shot blocking ability and shooting percentage has made Nerlens into one of the most outspoken fantasy contributors of the season.
PG – Landry Shamet, LAC (211/227)
Don’t blame me, blame the division and the person who came up with this idea (It was me.). Shamet didn’t really have the moments I expected from him this year but being limited to 47 games plays a huge part in that. I’m bullish on him as a 3-point specialist who doesn’t turn the ball over and hits the shots he’s supposed to hit. Things should improve with him if there’s ever basketball again.
SG – Damion Lee, GS (115/151)
Damion Lee is the injury savior we definitely didn’t know we needed. The Warriors went through an unexpected amount of turnover this season with the subtractions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III via trade along with the rash of injuries that none of us really planned for. Damion Lee stepped in about halfway through the year and really performed well with the expanded opportunity. He’s a good rebounding guard who can snag some steals and hit some threes and really benefits from playing on a crappy team.
SF – Mikal Bridges, PHX (76/44)
Isn’t what we want for Mikal Bridges to be a better offensive version of the Trevor Ariza profile that we love? Here’s a guy who doesn’t stretch the floor as much but wreaks just as much havoc on the defensive end, and we really just need him to be unleashed. I expect Bridges to continue to grow into an Ariza clone. I still hope for a Kevin Love trade that puts Bridges in Cleveland to tear it up.
PF – Jabari Parker, SAC (83/214)
Jabari had moments this year after most everyone thought he was pretty cooked. I won’t say they were special moments, because Atlanta was pretty over the very limited skillset. The Parker to Carmelo stat set comparisons have been well-established and his fantasy game is just a less efficient, less dynamic Melo of old. The overall output was muted by a right shoulder injury and a laundry list of illnesses, but we can’t ignore that Jabari was secretly good on a per-game outlook.
C – Marquese Chriss, GS (133/117)
The Marquese Chriss show was canceled at least four times and somehow he still ended up with some low-end, perfectly serviceable value. He literally got cut by the Warriors so they could bring him back. Chriss has always been an athletic specimen who didn’t really know how to play basketball and was good for three idiotic plays every quarter. That’s still not entirely gone, but on a bad team accumulation of garbage stats are all that we really need.
Here’s where this exercise gets fun. If we pitted these six teams together in a hypothetical tournament, who would win? Picture this setup:
The teams are divided by conference with three teams per group. The group stage involves a round-robin home-and-home (with no one in the stands, OBVIOUSLY). That means each team plays four games in the group stage and the top two teams from each conference make it through and we play a four-team knockout tournament.
For starters, I think the Atlantic and the Pacific divisions are the weakest teams. With the other two Eastern Conference teams, we can kind of see an identity. The Southeast is littered with shooters and a guy who can get them the ball (Graham) but couldn’t defend me slashing to the basket in slow motion. On the opposite end, the Central division has toughness down low and hard-nosed perimeter defense. It’s kind of the same in the Western Conference. The Northwest has some nasty defenders who can really disrupt and block shots and at least one guy who can score (tons of “Clarksons” incoming). The Southwest has a balanced attack and one of the better scorers in this exercise in THJ. The Atlantic is close but I’m not real-life sold on Glenn Robinson or Alec Burks as my secondary offensive options. The Pacific division’s best scoring option is Jabari Parker and the buck stops there.
Overall, it comes down to those two established Eastern Conference squads. If the outside shots fall, I think the Southeast takes it down. If defense rules the day, bring this fake, hypothetical, kind of dumb tournament trophy to Fiserv Forum. Who do you think would take down this dumb tournament? Let me know on Twitter.
We’ll wrap up with the necessary sign-off for every written piece for the rest of forever: stay inside, wash your hands, watch videos of people doing interesting things on the internet because we can’t right now.