“Kyle, what can I do to make my Fantasy Basketball team better?”
This is a question I get with regularity and the answer obviously varies for each team. Every team, every league, every format is different and places a different amount of importance on certain skill sets. That being said, less than one month into the season, it is unlikely that your team is a lost cause in any one specific category (be it Roto or head-to-head). Therefore, you could use a player regardless of position that helps you across the board. If you need points, target Nick Young. If you need assists, Elfrid Payton is a nice option. Jordan Hill can help you in the rebound department. But none of those players is going to fix a team that you feel is completely broken. Here is the player with the least impactful flaws (based on their current standing in ESPN’s Player Rater) in the eight major categories (points, FG%, FT%, 3PM, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals).
Chris Paul: We are in a golden age when it comes to point guards and it is easy to get blinded by insane athleticism or a seemingly limitless ceiling, but the crafty Paul (for those keeping track at home, he is still just 29 years of age) has once again opened the season on a tear. Through nine games (an admittedly small sample size), CP3 is offering above average returns in all eight categories and owns the best assist-to-turnover rate in the league (minimum 4.5 assists per game), a nice bonus if your league counts turnovers. He is extremely reliable in all formats, as his stat lines are consistent game-to-game (six games this season with at least 12 points, seven assists, one 3PM, and multiple steals) and season-to-season (on pace for his third season in four years with at least a 47.8 FG%, 1.3 3PM, 17.3 points, 9.1 assists, and 35 minutes). The laundry list of exceptional talent makes acquiring Paul a bit more realistic, as he doesn’t possess the “sex appeal” of a Steph Curry or Damian Lillard. The next team that loses value on a Paul investment will be the first, making him the ideal place to start if you’re looking to make wholesale changes.
Gordon Hayward (SF): Can we really buy into this baby-faced kid who will forever be known for the March Madness run he took Butler on? YES. He’s more athletic than you realize (for football fans, he is essentially Jordy Nelson in that sense) and his annual improvement hints that his quick start this season is anything but a flash in the pan. His point production is on pace to increase by at least 14.9 percent for a fourth consecutive season while his rebound rate and percentages are at a career-high level (minimum 20 minutes played per game). He finished 2013 as a positive contributor in seven of the eight standard categories, the lone exception being FG percentage, as he struggled at times to adjust to his role as Utah’s “go-to” player. With a year of experience in that role, Hayward (quickly becoming the best player in the league without a consistent nickname … if you can solve this problem, tweet me) is embracing the bright lights and currently ranks ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul in terms of “Value Added” to his team. Now, VA is obviously not a Fantasy category, but it does have a direct correlation to Fantasy greatness (the players ranked ahead of him this year are Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, James Harden, and Damian Lillard) and highlights just how important he is to the Jazz. There will still be some bumps in the road, there always are on the path to greatness, but don’t hesitate to build your team around this stud.
LeBron James (PF): I’ll keep it short here; he’s an animal. He has hinted at wanting to play fewer regular season minutes, but does that change the fact that nobody in the NBA can consistently stop him? If anything, it could improve his Fantasy stock (as long as he David Blatt doesn’t go Gregg Popovich on us and rest him completely), as a well-rested King for 30 minutes might be more aggressive, and thus even more efficient, than the current version that is being asked to play 40 minutes a night. The Cavaliers defensive woes might be an issue for the team long-term, but for Fantasy owners of James, what difference does it make? He is averaging 1.9 stocks (steals-plus-blocks), the exact same number he averaged last year in Miami and more than enough to offer positive defensive returns. He’s on pace to set new career-highs in FT percentage and 3PM, the two weakest areas of his game. It may be obvious, but building around James is a great idea, and with Cleveland struggling and LeBron talking, you may be able to land him for 0.98 on the dollar. Do it!
Tobias Harris (SF): This one may surprise you, but no negative categories for the fourth year pro, who is still just 22 years of age. Harris was good, not great, last season (14.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.5 3PM, making it easy to forget that we saw signs of Fantasy greatness in 2012 immediately after the Magic acquired him in the J.J. Redick trade with Milwaukee.
2012 (27 games with Orlando): 36.1 minutes, 1.0 3PM, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.3 stocks, and 17.3 points
2014 (through 12 games): 36.8 minutes, 1.0 3PM, 8.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.0 stocks, and 18.4 points
While we are still working with a small sample size, the fact that he has shown Fantasy Basketball owners that he can produce at his current level is encouraging when it comes to projecting sustainability. Can you name all of the power forward eligible players that grabbed at least 7.5 rebounds last season while dishing out two assists and making one three? Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Spencer Hawes, and Paul Millsap. The Hawes thing was a product of Philadelphia not caring (I’ll bet a significant amount of jelly beans on him not repeating this season), but the other three are reliable Fantasy studs that you would trust building your team around. Harris brings a versatile skill set to his front court position, making his youth and the upward trajectory of the roster around him reasons to buy into what we’ve seen thus far.
Channing Frye (PF): Another member of the Magic? And to think it was the backcourt that I loved (and still do). There are the big name centers that obvious bring tremendous value, but in terms of negative production within these eight categories, Frye is the surprise victor. No, I’m not arguing that I’d rather build around him than The Brow or Boogie. Heck, I won’t even make the case that Frye deserves a nickname, but he does deserve a roster spot and isn’t a bad piece to pickup if you’re struggling across the board. It’s still very early in his Orlando career, but he is averaging a career-high in minutes (34), 3P% (45.6), and assists (1.8) on a team that only figures to get better as the season wears on. His offensive game is a bit limited (62 percent of his shots have come from behind the three point line this season), but on a roster full of players with defined roles and limitations, he isn’t going to be asked to do things he cannot excel at. His lone drawback through 11 games is his below average free throw shooting, but considering he has only attempted three freebies up to this point (not to mention that he is a career 81.5 percent FT shooter), the negative impact of that is essentially negligible. Players like Frye that offer unique production at their position are valuable, as they allow you to cut corners elsewhere (you don’t necessarily need a point guard that makes three pointers now) and target players with specific skill sets. You’re probably not building a trade around Frye, but look to include him in a deal if you can get plus-rebounding at other positions, as the Magic’s floor stretcher should continue to impact Fantasy rosters in a number of categories.