February 27, 2023, 1:49 am
Readers, it’s my pleasure to bring you the nineteenth edition of The Week Ahead. While the NBA has yet to reach this milestone, some fantasy leagues have begun or will shortly be beginning their playoff schedules. Here’s hoping that all of you are on the right side when the dust settles.
All that matters at this time of year is getting to the next round. That’s what the Hawks, Heat, Jazz and Wolves would be telling themselves if the playoffs started today and they had to face the Bucks, Celtics, Grizzlies or Nuggets. Point differentials and overall records leave no doubt about who had the better season coming up to this point, but a 1-point victory is as good as a 100-point one now. For managers in standard head-to-head leagues, this means you can and should be willing to 5-4 your way to the finish line. Sure, it’s worthwhile to win any category you can, but it’s no longer advantageous to do so. It’s time to go back through your league records and see what your bread-and-butter categories are. Teams at the top of their leagues won’t worry as much about this because they’re already used to winning more categories more often, but they should rest assured that their lower-seeded opponents will be forced to focus on a particular set. Wherever possible, it’s best to avoid any overlap with your opponent, or else face an arms race for a small selection of streamers that week.
Counting stats are going to be the most volatile categories in any given week because you have to be consistently putting up big numbers to stay relevant. If your strategy requires you to lean into assists, points or rebounds, then it’s important to know what teams are doing best in these areas. The titans of these categories are surely going to be unavailable, but some teams are simply better at certain aspects of the game than others, and that’s exploitable.
Managers looking for assists are going to want to focus on players from the top-5 group of the Nuggets, Pacers, Spurs, Suns and Warriors. Minus the Nuggets, they’re all fairly active next week, so if you’re laser-focused on winning assists, it could be worth your while to check in with players like Andrew Nembhard, Cam Payne, Devonte’ Graham, Donte DiVincenzo, Malaki Branham, TJ McConnell or Ty Jerome. Just keep in mind that each of them are available in an abundance of leagues because they’re not helping in other areas, so don’t pick up Nembhard and expect to win points, or Graham with rebounds, for examples.
Throughout the season, the Celtics, Kings, Jazz, Pacers and Wolves have been the best bucket-getters, so teams can keep an eye on players like Aaron Nesmith, Bennedict Mathurin, Derrick White, Harrison Barnes, Jaden McDaniels, Keegan Murray, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Huerter, Kyle Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon, Malik Monk, Mike Conley, Naz Reid and Talen Horton-Tucker if they need an edge in points. Picking up players like Anderson and Horton-Tucker could provide some help in all the counting stats, whereas Barnes and Mathurin would be more specialized contributors. There’s only one four-game team among this group, so be sure to keep rotating streamers to maximize your points potential.
If it’s down to rebounds, then managers should be checking who’s available from the Bucks, Grizzlies, Hornets, Jazz or Knicks. That could include players like Brandon Clarke, Isaiah Hartenstein, Kelly Olynyk, Mark Williams, Meyers Leonard, Mitchell Robinson, Nick Richards, Pat Connaughton, Talen Horton-Tucker or Xavier Tillman. The real bonus is that players like Hartenstein, Robinson and Williams can be elite contributors in a few other categories: blocks and field goal percentage. Teams looking to regularly win treys must also understand than any contribution in this category counts when it comes from a center, so don’t discount the out-of-position value of Leonard and Olynyk in this regard.
When it comes to the defensive end, it’s less about team value or games played and more about the individual contributor. For example, one game at Josh Richardson’s current rate of 2.9 steals per-game over the past month has more than double the value of what Jalen Suggs has done at 1.4 steals per-game, despite both being top-25 options. Ditto for Walker Kessler’s 3.5 blocks per-game versus Chris Boucher at 1.3 per-game over the past month. It’s not hard to identify who the elites are in high-impact categories like blocks and steals, so it’s simpler to recommend that managers pursue the best combinations of both categories. This group includes the likes of Daniel Gafford, Delon Wright, Dennis Smith Jr., Donte DiVincenzo, Herb Jones, Jalen Duren, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Williams, Josh Richardson, Kris Dunn, Mark Williams, Markelle Fultz, Matisse Thybulle, Onyeka Okongwu and Patrick Williams. This is the core of players I’ll be looking to in leagues where I’m trying to win with defense, and I’ll use their ancillary categories to determine which are the best fits for me. For example, Suggs might produce the better counting stats, but will his shooting percentage and turnover impact bring his potential value below that of a pure defensive specialist like Thybulle? Managers will have to ask themselves similar questions before picking their defensive streamers moving forward.
The NBA continues to stretch beyond the 3-point line and there are a few teams that are head-and-shoulders above the rest this year. With the obvious disclaimer that their stars are doing the heavy lifting, managers looking for extra production from range should probably start with players from the Bucks, Celtics, Jazz, Mavs, Pacers and Warriors. That list could include names like Aaron Nesmith, Bennedict Mathurin, Derrick White, Donte DiVincenzo, Grayson Allen, Justin Holiday, Kelly Olynyk, Malcolm Brogdon, Pat Connaughton, Reggie Bullock, Talen Horton-Tucker and Ty Jerome. There’s a lot of specialists in this group, so your team had better have a few of the titans in this category before pushing for regular wins in treys for the playoffs. The lost value in other areas could be a difference maker if you don’t pull it off.
As with defense, the traditional efficiency metrics -field goal percentage, free throw percentage and turnovers- are largely dependent on the individual as opposed to the group. Teams will have to know they have some elite production -or lack thereof- at the top of their roster in order for these categories to be worth pursuing in the playoffs. In some cases, it’s arguable that no production is as valuable as positive production, so I’ll just recommend that any value-added moves should be the result of making progress in one or more of the other six categories. Adding a field goal percentage beast like Mitchell Robinson will pay more dividends if you’re also pushing for blocks or boards. However, you must also be willing to concede free throw percentage. The same applies to a free throw booster like Harrison Barnes, who’s putting up an impressive 4.6 free throws per-game over the past month and making them at an impressive rate, but missing nearly two-thirds of his shots from the field over the same period. With the efficiency categories, it’s important to remember what you’re giving up when you add a player whose value is rooted in one or more of these areas.
That’s enough about categories and specialists. Let’s look at last week’s Quick Adds and see how they did before getting into the ins-and-outs of the schedule. Deni Avdija and Kenyon Martin Jr. have been on fire over the past week and are certainly capable of repeating that value over the upcoming schedule. Josh Okogie has cracked the starting lineup for the Suns and has been producing passable results for managers that rostered him throughout the past few weeks. Future results may depend on Kevin Durant’s availability. Unfortunately, fortune completely passed Josh Green by in recent events, as he has been far off the mark and seeing a minutes decrease for three games in a row. In case it needs to be said: teams can go ahead and drop Green for an upgrade next week.
The upcoming week of games features more than half the league playing four games apiece, so there shouldn’t be any shortage of long-stream options for teams that prefer to do so. Those that would rather flip a few streamers throughout the week should only worry about getting two games in a three day window, and each of the three-game teams can do just that. The best options among any group of potential streamers will be those that are active on the low volume days: Monday, Thursday and Saturday. There are three 10-game days, so teams will have lots of options to fill vacant spots but so will their opponents. Managers will see more gains from filling spots on the weakest days so long as they’re using players suited to their key categories.
Two Games: Cavs, Nuggets
Three Games: Hawks, Mavs, Pistons, Pacers, Wolves, Pelicans, Suns, Kings, Raptors, Jazz
Four Games: Celtics, Nets, Hornet,s Bulls, Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Sixers, Blazers, Spurs, Wizards
Tuesday-Wednesday: Nets, Bulls, Rockets, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Thunder, Blazers
Thursday-Friday: Warriors, Clippers
Friday-Saturday: Hawks, Heat, Wolves, Kings
Saturday-Sunday: Rockets, Bucks, Spurs, Wizards
Sunday-Monday (Week Twenty): Celtics, Pacers, Blazers
Right off the bat, managers should be checking up on players from the Celtics, Hornets, Pistons, Heat, Pelicans, Knicks, Magic and Sixers to get two streaming days in by Wednesday night. It’s technically true that you could do the same with the Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-backs of the Nets, Bulls, Rockets, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Thunder and Blazers, but these teams only play on the busiest days all week and might not be as valuable in getting an extra edge. The goal is to make sure that two quality games are in before the next high value day, since Thursday offers an excellent advantage to add three games over four days by adding players from the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs or Wizards. The Mavs and Pacers may be a bit of fool’s gold if teams are only picking their players up on Thursday night, since we won’t see them again until Sunday. On the other hand, there’s plenty of value in adding any quality rotation players from the Sixers or Raptors that happen to be on the waiver wire before Thursday’s games kick off. A 10-game Friday features four back-to-backs which could allow teams to get a pair of games before making a final move on Sunday, so any managers in that position should be looking at the Hawks, Heat, Wolves or Kings. There’s no telling what your needs will be by Sunday, so it’s best to take whoever is best-suited to give you an edge in the closest categories. If a squad is in good position to close out the week, there is some appeal to adding players from the Celtics, Pacers or Blazers for their Sunday-Monday back-to-backs.
Best Schedule: Philadelphia 76ers (vs. Heat, @ Heat, @ Mavs, @ Bucks)
Four games on a schedule that includes a mid-week back-to-back and a chance to flip a streamer for one extra game on Sunday is usually enough to get the nod from me, and this is no exception. The Sixers open with three games over the first four days, which is more than enough value to go on for extra aggressive managers that want to flip their Sixers streamer a little earlier. De’Anthony Melton is likely to be the biggest prize on the waiver wire despite struggling for quite some time now, as any managers looking for 3-and-D production will probably have his name pretty high on their list. Yours truly will be hoping for a breakout performance from Jalen McDaniels as he gets acclimated to his new team, but PJ Tucker has been really impressive with the starters over the past three games and may actually deserve standard league attention once again. Needless to say, the top-four of James Harden, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey are going to provide extra value this week, with the disclaimer that Maxey has been in a bit of a slump lately. Barring injuries, it’s not advisable to pursue anyone outside of this group of Sixers.
Worst Schedule: Cleveland Cavaliers (@ Celtics, vs. Pistons)
They play once by Wednesday and rest until Saturday, so there’s nothing exploitable about the Cavs’ schedule for Week Nineteen. Managers with key players like Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen should get enough value from their players to keep their heads above water, but it’s likely that the remainder of the Cavs roster is going to appear on more waiver wires this week. A tough road game against the Celtics will be followed by a relatively easy contest against the Pistons, so conditions could be ripe for a rest game for a few players on Saturday. There’s no way to be sure about who will be available in any game for a variety of reasons, but I am sure that I won’t be picking up anyone from the Cavs this week.
Game of the Week: Rockets at Spurs on March 4, 2023
Someone’s losing streak is coming to an end. With the Spurs losing 16 consecutive games and the Rockets at eight, I hope everyone will forgive me for assuming they both lose the first two of their four games next week. Then it should all come to a head, as the Texas-based lottery teams will play a Saturday-Sunday back-to-back and have a chance to see both of their losing streaks potentially ended. Kenyon Martin Jr. is likely to be the biggest prize on the waiver wire, but it’s likely that more managers will be holding out for Coach Silas to run a few more plays for Jabari Smith Jr. The Spurs should offer a bunch of intriguing standard league options to stream in these consecutive matchups, so don’t hesitate to take a chance on Devonte’ Graham, Jeremy Sochan, Keita Bates-Diop, Malaki Branham, Tre Jones or Zach Collins if they’re still available before the weekend. If any of those players are absent, Charles Bassey may be able to regain some fantasy relevance. If push comes to shove and I have to gamble on another Rockets prospect to stream for this matchup, I’m going to favor TyTy Washington over Tari Eason.
Donte DiVincenzo, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors
Whether starting or not, DiVincenzo has long since proven his value as a key rotation player for the Warriors. Dating back to the previous calendar year, the 6’4” combo guard has been consistently putting up standard league value. It no longer makes sense to question if he has staying power, and yet DiVincenzo seems to be available in an abundance of leagues. Despite little upside in points or rebounds, the former first round pick is a solid contributor in every other category. Among point guards, he is arguably one of the best options for shooting percentages and turnovers, while DiVincenzo is also a solid bet to provide above-average steals and treys production. Who doesn’t like a safe bet? The Warriors play four times this week, so make sure he’s not available in your league.
Jarred Vanderbilt, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers
Vanderbilt wasn’t discussed in national media very much before joining the Lakers, but more people are starting to take notice of what he’s bringing to the table. The forward-center is active all over the court and is immediately one of the best rebounders on the team. More than that: Vanderbilt is an underrated passer and one of the best steals generators among center-eligible players. He seems to be a great fit with the starters and is likely to keep getting chances so long as he’s making life easier for Anthony Davis and LeBron James down low. For a player that’s available in nearly half of all leagues, it’s likely that Vanderbilt sees one of the highest percentage leaps in rostership ahead of a solid four-game slate. Managers that want to get an extra edge in rebounds and steals should have him very high on their target list.
Mark Williams, PF/C, Charlotte Hornets
It’s hard to believe that Williams has been starting for two-plus weeks and yet still available in around one-third of leagues. Here is a rookie 7-footer that can give you near-average points production on passable field goal and free throw percentages with above-average blocks and boards contributions. In fact, Williams nearly notched a 20-20 game against the Heat in his last appearance, posting 18 points and 20 boards on 8-of-12 shooting. The Hornets play four times this week and Williams has been producing early round value since becoming a starter. He shouldn’t be available anywhere.
Mitchell Robinson, PF/C, New York Knicks
Anyone who has played fantasy basketball for a few years will know that Mitchell Robinson does a few things well and that’s both the long and short story about him. You get three things in abundance with Robinson and that has been enough to make him a top-100 option or better for half a decade now. The 7-foot center was injured for half of January and most of February, so he wound up on a bunch of waiver wires, but Robinson won’t be there for long. In two games since returning, he has made all but one of his shots, producing 21 points, 25 boards and two blocks. While the points may fluctuate, the field goal percentage and rebounds value is as expected, while the blocks are more likely to increase as Robinson gets more comfortable. The Knicks play four games this week and Robinson should be a priority for any teams that can stomach his non-value or negative value in assists, free throw percentage, points, steals and treys.
Talen Horton-Tucker, SG/SF, Utah Jazz
THT has recently joined the starting lineup for the Jazz and in two games since the All-Star break, the 6’4” swingman has produced 21 points, 13 boards, 10 assists, four blocks, three treys and two steals with perfect six-for-six shooting from the charity stripe. In particular, his assists were noteworthy because even though they already made him an asset in that category, it was actually a couple helpers per night less than what he had been doing for the rest of February. Horton-Tucker’s plus-minus rating has been positive despite mixed results from the Jazz, so the fact that lots of plays are running through him and his time on-court seems to be linked to the Jazz playing winning basketball means that he’s a safe bet to keep producing in a three-game week.
Honorable Mention: Al Horford (PF/C, Celtics), Alex Caruso (PG/SG, Bulls), Ayo Dosunmu (PG/SG, Bulls), Bogdan Bogdanovic (SG/SF, Hawks), Brandon Clarke (SF/PF, Grizzlies), Cam Reddiish (SF/PF, Blazers), Cam Thomas (SG/SF, Nets), Cole Anthony (PG/SG, Magic), Daniel Gafford (PF/C, Wizards), De’Anthony Melton (PG/SG, Sixers), Delon Wright (PG/SG, Wizards), Grayson Allen (SG/SF, Bucks), Isaiah Hartenstein (C, Knicks), Jaden McDaniels (SF/PF, Wolves), Jalen Duren (PF/C, Pistons), Jalen Williams (SG/SF, Thunder), Jeremy Sochan (PF, Spurs), Josh Okogie (SG/SF, Suns), Josh Richardson (SG/SF, Pelicans), Keegan Murray (SF/PF, Kings), Kenyon Martin Jr. (SF/PF, Rockets), Kevin Love (PF/C, Heat), Kevon Looney (C, Warriors), Kyle Anderson (SF/PF, Wolves), Malaki Branham (SG/SF, Spurs), Malik Beasley (SG/SF, Lakers), Malik Monk (SG, Kings), Matisse Thybulle (SG/SF, Blazers), Max Strus (SG/SF, Heat), Norman Powell (SG/SF, Clippers), Onyeka Okongwu (C, Hawks), Pat Connaughton (SG/SF, Bucks), Patrick Williams (PF, Bulls), Terance Mann (SG/SF, Clippers)