Pick Up Nikola Mirotic While He’s On A Hot Sreak
Jamal Crawford (Owned in 50 percent on Yahoo!/43.4 percent on ESPN) is still getting it done for the Clippers, even at the ripe age of 36. Last week I suggested Austin Rivers as a pickup because Blake Griffin went down and the Clippers are very thin in terms of depth. Well, now Chris Paul AND J.J. Redick are both hampered by hamstring injuries, which has forced Crawford and company into bigger roles.
Over the past week (which includes four games), Crawford is averaging 20.8 points on a robust 50.8 percent shooting to go along with 3.8 assists, 1.8 treys, and 1.3 steals per game. The efficiency throughout this stretch has really been the highlight for Crawford. Being a career 41 percent shooter suggests he might have caused more bad than good but it's quite the opposite. He has his field goal percentage up around 43 percent this season with his true-shooting percentage at 53.8 percent, his highest mark since 2013-14. It's not that he's doing anything different or getting better with age, there’s just been more minutes to go around for the backcourt.
Crawford is playing over 31 minutes a night, much higher than the 25.8 he's used to. Also, without the likes of Griffin, Paul, and Redick, there is plenty of usage to go around since most guys like DeAndre Jordan and Luc Mbah a Moute won't be creating their own shots. Paul and Redick are day-to-day but even upon their return, Crawford still might be the biggest benefactor of Griffin missing the next month. He should be owned in 10-team leagues and deeper while everybody is banged up.
Thabo Sefolosha (Owned in 30 percent on Yahoo!/14.2 percent on ESPN) is certainly not your prototypical Fantasy Basketball waiver wire addition but what he's doing right now is nearly unmatched. Basically, he's a three and D guy but his defense is extraordinary this season. His two steals per game is tied for fifth in the NBA with the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not only that, he racks up steals in bunches, which can single-handedly win the category in head-to-head formats. Sefolosha has five games with two or more steals in his last nine with three four-steal games during that span!
His defense has always been elite but it seems like he's taken even another step forward. His 99.9 defensive rating on the season ranks him 14th overall. Because of his defensive prowess, he's a Top-25 player over the past week and even a Top-50 player over the past 30 days in nine-cat formats. Offensively, he is what he is. On the season, he's averaging just 8.1 points but is efficient at 48 percent overall. Recently, Sefolosha has also upped his threes and rebounds per game as well, so he is contributing in some other categories, not just steals. As long as he remains in the starting lineup playing around 30 minutes per game, he should be owned in 12-team leagues or deeper, especially in formats that have steals as a category.
Ty Lawson (Owned in 22 percent on Yahoo!/12.8 percent on ESPN) has actually outplayed starting point guard Darren Collison over the past five games and is earning more playing time because of it. Below you will see a comparison chart between Collison and Lawson over the past five games:
It makes you wonder how long Dave Joerger will extend the leash for Collison. Collison is an efficient player who’s hovered around 47 percent shooting while averaging just 2.1 turnovers per game throughout his career. The numbers, however, are not even close. Lawson has been much more productive recently and that’s just the offensive statistics. Now Lawson isn’t a good defensive player, so let’s get that idea out of your mind, but he does play the passing lanes well and can rack up steals in a hurry for Fantasy purposes. He has four multi-steal games over his last eight and is averaging 1.8 takeaways during that span.
If both point guards keep trending in their respective directions, Lawson could even earn the starting job back. Lawson started the first eight games with Collison suspended and while he didn’t score much, he provided a ton of assists and steals, which aren’t the easiest categories to come by in Fantasy Basketball. As long as this continues, Collison should be benched in weekly formats while Lawson should be owned in 12-team leagues or deeper.
Nikola Mirotic (Owned in 71 percent on Yahoo!/24.6 percent on ESPN) is on one of his hot stretches at the moment, so hopefully, you play on ESPN where his ownership is much lower than it should be. Year in and year out, Fantasy Basketball owners everywhere clamor for more Mirotic but are never satisfied. The potential can be seen in his robust per-36 stats that suggest he could average 17 points, 2.7 threes, 9.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. The reason he doesn’t get the minutes is (likely) due to his decision-making and questionable shot selection.
There’s no other reason for Head Coach Fred Hoiberg to give guys like Doug McDermott and even Taj Gibson more minutes than Mirotic. If you’re lucky you could catch Mirotic on a few hot streaks every season, and he’s currently in the middle of one. Over his last five games he’s averaging 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.6 threes, one block and 0.8 steals in 24.8 minutes of play. Now, if he can just consistently see more minutes than McDermott or perhaps play in smaller lineups alongside Gibson or Robin Lopez, Mirotic can take another step forward. He’s a unique talent who can stretch the floor, rebound well, and provide defensive statistics. He just needs to play a tad smarter and with more consistency. If he’s out there in 10 or 12-team league, he should be owned in all formats based on his potential.
James Johnson (Owned in 26 percent on Yahoo!/18.9 percent on ESPN) is another one of those players who isn’t the most talented but just happened to fall into the right place at the right time. The Miami Heat have been decimated all season by injuries and are still playing without Dion Waiters, Josh McRoberts, and now Goran Dragic is nicked up again. As a result, Johnson has seen more minutes and been very efficient coming off the bench for the Heat.
Over his last eight games dating back to December 12, Johnson is averaging 13.1 points on 54.4 percent shooting with six rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 threes per night. Johnson has evolved his game this season, adding a consistent 3-point shot to his repertoire. He’s already attempted a career-high from beyond the arc (88) in just 28 games while making a career-high 34 percent. He’s always been a decent shot-blocker throughout his career, averaging 0.9, so he’ll get a few of those every now and then. If you’re suffering from injuries to players like Rudy Gay, Victor Oladipo and Chandler Parsons, Johnson is a nice replacement in the meantime. He should be owned in 12-team leagues or deeper.
Dragan Bender (Owned in 4 percent on Yahoo!/0.9 percent on ESPN) was drafted fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns in 2016, eerily the same draft slot as Kristaps Porzingis the year before. Coincidence? I think not. In all seriousness, Bender isn’t going to be Porzingis, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable asset for the Phoenix Suns. In fact, this draft class has performed very poorly thus far, and he might have the most upside aside from Ben Simmons, who has yet to play.
Bender is comparable to Porzingis because he is 7’1”, European, and has a pretty sweet shooting stroke for a player that big. Now, he hasn’t appeared in many games to this point but that could be changing. In his latest game, against the Houston Rockets, Bender played 27 minutes and managed his first career double-double. He scored 11 points with 13 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and a 3-pointer. It’s that kind of across the board production that suggests he could be Porzingis-lite.
As of now the Phoenix Suns are tied for the worst record in the Western Conference at 9-23, so perhaps they start turning to these younger players instead of playing the Tyson Chandlers and P.J. Tuckers of the world. Hopefully, Earl Watson was paying attention to this stellar performance and will insert the rookie into the rotation. Again, not saying he will be as good as Porzingis with the amazing acrobatic putbacks, but the potential is apparent. Bender is worth stashing in 14-team leagues or in weekly leagues in which your bench isn’t as important.
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