Life after the trade deadline falls upon us. Playoff contenders are gearing for the final 23-26 regular season games that will determine seeding, while those on the fringe of postseason dreams will seek to forge enough pieces to either become sacrificial first-round speed bumps to the Cavaliers and Warriors or begin the first step toward a 2018 playoff berth when the draft lottery is held in mid-May.
One of the beauties of Fantasy Basketball is sifting through the rosters of teams whose fate has already been sealed. For every Ryan Anderson or Kelly Olynyk playing the role of Fantasy sleeper on a playoff team, those in the Land of the Lottery Damned usually have a player who benefits from the last two months of the season to produce solid Fantasy numbers.
You kind of know where I’m going with this, so let’s not waste time, shall we?
(Note: Teams mentioned here are those who have little to no chance at making the postseason, which is why you won’t see teams like the Bucks, Nuggets, Pelicans and Timberwolves)
Nets: SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. For a player averaging just over eight points per game, Hollis-Jefferson doesn’t strike many as a valuable Fantasy player, but his position eligibility (he can also play shooting guard and power forward) and defensive prowess has led his ownership to approach 50 percent in polled standard leagues. He’s averaging nearly 29 Fantasy points per game in his last 10 and is only a consistent outside shot away from being even more Fantasy friendly.
Bulls: SF Denzel Valentine. Part of the reason Doug McDermott was traded to the Thunder on Thursday was because Coach Fred Hoiberg wanted to see more of Valentine. He’s more of a deeper league option at this point, as Friday’s 15-point, five-rebound and five-assist outing against the Suns puts him on most radars.
Mavericks: SG Seth Curry. The secret’s out. The other Curry brother can play. Friday’s 31-point performance at the Timberwolves was his breakout party, and with Deron Williams no longer in town, Curry’s usage rate (and Fantasy production) will climb.
Lakers: C Ivica Zubac. After playing a combined 24 minutes in the last two games before the break, Zubac played 27 minutes at the Thunder on Friday, resulting in 11 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. New hoops personnel man Magic Johnson wants to see more of Zubac, who should now move past Timofey Mozgov and Tarik Black in the Lakers’ center hierarchy.
Knicks: C Willy Hernangomez. We’ve repeatedly warned owners to stash Hernangomez for this moment. A beer if you did. A tear if you didn’t. Hernangomez entered Saturday’s game against the 76ers with at least nine rebounds in seven of his last nine contests, including five with at least 10. His current ownership stands at 44 percent in polled standard leagues, and his 28.6 FPPG in his last 10 is a precursor to bigger things.
Magic: SF Terrence Ross. Finally with a chance at extensive minutes, Ross’ usage rate will see a significant climb up. He has some potential to help in the 3-point category and could start squeezing into the usage rates of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon before long.
76ers: PF Dario Saric. Those three straight double-doubles before the break, coupled with the extended absence of Joel Embiid, makes Saric a potential Fantasy beast down the stretch. Those who gave up on Saric in December should hold their heads in shame.
Suns: PF Marquese Chriss. He of the 21 percent ownership has arrived. Chriss is now a fixture in the Phoenix lineup, and while there will be nights of disappointing numbers, Chriss will begin scratching deeper into his potential. A strong finish to the season will assure him of a possible Top 70 spot come draft time in October.
Kings: C Willie Cauley-Stein. His usage rate has suddenly climbed to near 25, and while that 29 and 10 night on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Thursday might be a high-water mark of sorts, Big Willie has taken the role of top Fantasy option in SacTown.
Best Fantasy Friendly Games of the Week
*Warriors at Wizards, Tuesday: Perhaps one of the best stack games remaining this season, this sizzler will feature nine players averaging at least 30 FPPG this season, with Wizards power forward Markieff Morris averaging 29.2 FP per contest. Our friends at NBA TV will air this shootout, so sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
*Rockets at Clippers, Wednesday: Oh, best believe this won’t be resolved until well into Thursday morning. Sucks for those of you on the East Coast unable to go the distance for this 10:30 p.m. start on your side of the world. James Harden and Blake Griffin will be the featured attractions, plus the Clippers should have a healthier Chris Paul running the offense. Do keep an eye on newly-acquired Rockets guard Lou Williams, who erupted for seven three-pointers in his Houston debut Thursday. Even as a backup, Williams merits a spot in your lineup regardless how your league sets its rosters.
*Raptors at Wizards, Friday: The second of two meetings this week between them should offer considerable Fantasy firepower. Serge Ibaka will be more in tune with the Toronto system, while Bojan Bogdanovic should have a more defined role in the Washington rotation. Add the usual high-scoring cast of characters on both teams, and this tilt between two of the seven most prolific offenses in the league will live up to expectations.
Best Matchups to Exploit
*Hassan Whiteside vs. 76ers, Wednesday: While Richaun Holmes is a reasonable stop-gap for the injured Embiid, Hassan Whiteside may be too much for him to handle. Whiteside has averaged 40.7 FPPG in his last 10 contests, averaging 15.9 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a night. Philly has now fallen to 23rd in points allowed per game and is 27th in rebounds allowed per game. Sounds like another night at the office for Whiteside to me.
*Nets at Trail Blazers, Saturday: So … what happens when a team that’s 2-24 on the road and had lost their last 16 15 games entering Saturday’s trip to the Warriors faces off against an offense ranked ninth in scoring, has two elite Fantasy guards in C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard along with a potential second-half Fantasy monster in Jusuf Nurkic?
Just make sure the kids are in bed before tip-off.
*DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis vs. Lakers, Sunday: The Pelicans were second in blocked shots per game before Cousins arrived. The Lakers are 25th in the number of shots blocked per game by opponents. Throw in the fact Los Angeles is 27th in points allowed per game, and it spells “windfall” for those who own either Cousins and/or Davis.
Best One-on-One Matchups to Watch
*Steph Curry vs. John Wall (Warriors at Wizards, Tuesday): There are 12-step programs for those who believe this is a Finals preview. Owners of each should focus on the now (sounds like the title of a bad self-help book, right?) and partake in the feast of two of the Top 20 players in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Curry leads the league in free-throw percentage, and he should find his way to the line often in what will be a potential stack game. Wall also ranks in the Top 10 in usage rate and enters Sunday’s game against the Jazz with 10 straight games of at least 10 assists.
*Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Rudy Gobert (Timberwolves at Jazz, Wednesday): KAT picked up where he left off before the break with a 53 Fantasy point outing against the Mavericks on Friday and entered Saturday’s game at the Rockets with at least 40 FPPG in 11 of his last 12. The work Gobert has put in recently has his owners pleased. The Stifle Tower had eight double-doubles in his last 10 games prior to Sunday’s game at the Wizards, and he had eight games of least two blocks during the same span.
*Griffin vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Clippers at Bucks, Friday): These two will cross paths frequently, as the Bucks will find a way to get the Greek Freak on Griffin, whose 29.4 usage rate this month may have helped the Clippers from falling further than fifth in the Western Conference. His 124 offensive rating is Griffin’s best monthly rating this season and will run head on into Antetokounmpo’s 110 defensive rating in the month of February.
TEAMS PLAYING FOUR GAMES:
Hawks, Celtics, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Warriors, Heat, Bucks, Knicks, Thunder, 76ers, Suns, Raptors, Jazz, Wizards
TEAMS PLAYING THREE GAMES:
Nets, Hornets, Bulls, Nuggets, Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Magic, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs