Finding Value in a Buck
At just 6-22, the Bucks are firmly planted in the cellar of the NBA standings. Despite their lack of the success in the win column this season, Milwaukee is churning out multiple underrated fantasy options.
Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo were supposed to be the strong fantasy plays from the Bucks' roster this season, but inconsistent play and/or a rash of injuries have put a damper on the value of all three marquee Milwaukee options this season. Instead, little known players like Brandon Knight, John Henson, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo are making a splash in fantasy.
Knight came over to Milwaukee from Detroit in the Brandon Jennings sign-and-trade deal last summer. The third-year point guard out of Kentucky was quickly pegged as a sleeper, but early-season injuries put a damper on his value. Now healthy, Knight is starting to live up to the preseason hype. Over the past 14 games, Knight has averaged 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.7 treys in 32 minutes per game.
Henson was the Bucks' first-round pick in 2012, so his breakout isn't too surprising, but not many expected him to have this big of a fantasy impact this soon. The lanky forward has turned into a walking double-double and block machine over the past 30 days, averaging 14.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his past 16 games.
Middleton also came over as part of the deal that sent Jennings to Detroit. As a 2012 second-round pick who was buried on the Pistons' bench last season, Middleton might be the most surprising breakout player for the Bucks. The 22-year-old forward has been a top-75 player for over a month now, averaging 13.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 threes and 1.0 steal while playing over 31 minutes per game since November 13. Despite his prolonged production, Middleton remains available in the majority of leagues.
With a build like a young Kevin Durant and an ability to handle and distribute the ball like a guard, Antetokounmpo is the most intriguing young Buck. Considered an extremely raw talent who needed tons of developmental time when he was selected in the lottery last summer, Antetokounmpo has surprised by already making an impact. He has flashed his across-the-board potential over the past seven games, averaging 10.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 threes, 0.7 blocks and 0.6 steals. At worst, we're looking at the next Nicolas Batum, but the ceiling will be much higher than that for Antetokounmpo in a few years.
While Antetokounmpo and Middleton don't produce enough to hold value in shallower formats, players like Henson and Knight should be universally owned at this stage. The pending returns of Sanders and Ilyasova will complicate the Bucks rotation slightly, but given the team's position in the standings, Milwaukee will likely be inclined to continue giving their younger options significant run for the remainder of the season.
Fantasy value can be found everywhere, even at the doormat of the league.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role or performance.
Jeremy Lin, G, HOU – Are you ready for Linsanity 3.0? With Patrick Beverly (hand) out for at least the next four-to-six weeks, Lin has stepped back into the starting lineup for the Rockets. In two starts since returning from a back injury of his own and rejoining the starting five, Lin has averaged 16.5 points, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steal and 1.0 trey in over 35 mpg. His per-36 minute averages have been solid this season (17.8 points, 5.3 assists, 1.6 threes, 1.4 steals), and with Beverly out for an extended period, Lin is set to see heavy run.
Kyrie Irving, G, CLE – Slowly but surely, Irving is finally starting to perform like a top-10 fantasy player. Over the past two weeks, Irving ranks as the eighth best player on Yahoo! Sports and the 14th best player on ESPN. In his past seven games, Irving has averaged 26.6 points, 6.7 assists, 2.6 treys and 1.3 steals while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 94.7 percent from the line. The biggest boon to his spike in production has been the apparent end of his of his early-season shooting slump. Irving, who shot 46.9 and 45.2 percent from the floor in his first two seasons, hit just 39.4 percent of his field-goal attempts through the first 20 games of the season. With his stroke now aligned, Irving should produce like a top-15 player going forward. Get your buy-low offers out before the window closes.
Jordan Farmar, G, LAL – Farmar returned to action on Christmas Day after missing 10 games with a hamstring injury. His performance on the holiday wasn't anything to write home about (three points, five rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes), but Farmar remains an interesting waiver wire option. With Steve Nash (general soreness), Steve Blake (shoulder) and Kobe Bryant (knee) all out long term, Farmar is locked in as the Lakers' starting point guard for the foreseeable future. The 27-year-old veteran has been rather productive in limited minutes throughout his career, but he's never really been given full rein of a team. With a boatload of minutes now headed his way, Farmar could be a cheap source of three-pointers and assists off the wire.
Andray Blatche, F/C, BKN – With Brook Lopez (foot) set to miss the remainder of the season, Blatche will be asked to take on a bigger role for the Nets. After his 1-for-11 shooting performance Wednesday against the Bulls, not many owners seem to be rushing to the waiver wire to scoop up Blatche. But make no mistake; Blatche is one of the primary players on Brooklyn's roster who will see a big boost in value during Lopez's absence. In a seven-game stint earlier this season when Lopez was sidelined, Blatche averaged 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 28 mpg. The Nets don't appear to be in a rush to insert Blatche into the starting lineup, but he should see enough minutes off the bench to post useful numbers.
Mirza Teletovic, F, BKN – Teletovic is another player on the Nets' roster who stands to see a bump in value in light of the Lopez news. The 28-year-old import has put together one of the better stretches of his career over the past three games, averaging 14.3 points and 3.0 triples in 27 mpg. His solid play has resulted in getting a look in the starting five the last three games. From a fantasy perspective, Teletovic won't provide much punch outside of three-pointers, but he'll be worth a look as long as he's getting significant run.
Carmelo Anthony, F, NYK – Anthony was forced to sit out a marquee matchup against the Thunder on Christmas Day due to an ankle injury. He originally suffered a sprained left ankle in the second half of Monday's win over the Magic. Melo was considered a game-time decision for Wednesday's tilt, and he'll put owners in the same position for Friday's game against the Raptors.
Luol Deng, F, CHI – A lingering Achilles injury has forced him to miss seven of the past 10 games, including each of the past three contests. His next chance to return to action will be Saturday against the Mavericks. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will likely want Deng to make an appearance at practice prior to returning to game action, so keep a close eye on Chicago's practice reports leading up to Saturday's contest.
Brook Lopez, C, BKN – For the second time in three seasons, Lopez will have most of his season swept away due to a foot injury. Lopez was officially ruled out for the remainder of the 2013-14 season last weekend after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. He missed the vast majority of the 2011-12 season with the same injury and a subsequent ankle injury that was suffered when he tried to return to action. It's worrisome that Lopez is dealing with the same foot ailment again this year, especially since recurring foot/leg issues have doomed big men in the past (Bill Walton, Yao Ming and Sam Bowie, for example). Dynasty League owners will want to keep a close eye on Lopez's recovery leading up to the 2014-15 season.
Ricky Rubio, G, MIN – On the season, Rubio is shooting a horrific 34.7 percent from the floor. His stroke has been even less true as the season progresses, as the Timberwolves' point guard is only hitting 26.3 percent of his attempts over the past two weeks. There's still plenty to love from his production – elite assists and steals, very good free-throw shooting, solid rebounding for a point guard – but Rubio's struggles with his shot are becoming a huge drain on his overall value, especially in rotisserie leagues. Until he develops a consistent jump shot, Rubio will be hard-pressed to live up to his second- or third-round price tag from draft day.
Patrick Beverley, G, HOU – Beverley broke the fourth metacarpal in his right hand last weekend, which is expected to sideline him for at least the next four-to-six weeks. While he was only producing modestly for fantasy owners, Beverley was a valuable piece of the Rockets' starting five, as he provided the team with three-point shooting and solid perimeter defense. The aforementioned Lin will step up to serve as the Rockets' new starting point guard while Aaron Brooks will likely see his role off the bench increase.
Victor Oladipo, G, ORL – Following a 16-game stretch as a starter, Oladipo is now back to playing with the Magic's reserve unit. With Tobias Harris back to full health, Orlando has opted to run a more traditional lineup with Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Harris at the one through three positions, while Oladipo is deployed as the first guard off the bench. In his two appearances since being removed from the starting lineup, Oladipo has averaged 7.5 points and 1.5 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from the floor in 19 mpg. Oladipo remains a significant piece of the Magic's long-term rebuilding process, so the team will find ways to get him more involved going forward, but he'll likely need an injury or trade of Nelson or Afflalo to rejoin the starting five any time soon.
Derrick Williams, F, SAC – After getting traded to Sacramento last month, it appeared Williams would finally get his chance at heavy run for a prolonged period. He was immediately inserted into the Kings' starting five and responded with averages of 12.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals through the first seven tilts with his new squad. While his production as a starter wasn't too eye-popping, Williams did flash potential for more with his 31-point outing on December 9. Of course, a lot has changed since Williams' 31-point outburst. The Kings acquired Rudy Gay, who quickly took over the starting small forward duties from Williams. In the seven games he has played since the Kings' acquisition of Gay, Williams has averaged 8.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in 24 mpg. The 2011 No. 2 overall pick still has plenty of talent, but he'll have a tough time carving out a big enough role to be a major fantasy contributor while playing behind Gay.