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Category Strategy: Youth Movement

Alex Rikleen

Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball. A certified math teacher, Rikleen decided the field of education pays too well, so he left it for writing. He is a Boston College graduate living in Delaware.

There is a lot of value available in ESPN leagues right now. Tyler Ulis and Gary Harris are two of several players available in close to 50% of leagues and who can contribute to almost any lineup. These players are widely owned in CBS and Yahoo! leagues, but ESPN players should look for those two before anyone else mentioned below.

The Clippers play five games this week, which would be a big boost to the value of Clippers players – except only Jamal Crawford is a non-cringe-worthy fantasy add. Fine, I guess deeper leagues can be forgiven for relying on Austin Rivers, but I doubt they feel particularly good about the move. The rest of the league is evenly split: 15 teams have three games, and 14 teams have four games. The Grizzlies stand out for their particularly unfortunate schedule: three road games against top-third defenses, two of which are top-three defenses.

One more important scheduling note this week: there are 10 games Sunday, an unusually high figure for the last day of the fantasy week. In many leagues, this scheduling nuance enables managers to take advantage of the “games max loophole”. On most host sites, the weekly games max has a loophole, where as long as you don’t hit the cap Saturday, you play as many starters as possible on Sunday (I’ve written many letters of complaint, alas, they’ve been unheeded). Some leagues establish a sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to ignore the loophole, but others allow it to stand and call it “strategy”. Managers in the latter category should take care to ensure that on Saturday night they remain just shy of the weekly max, so that they can max out their starting lineup on Sunday.


Frank Kaminsky, Hornets
(Ownership: ESPN – 26%; Yahoo – 44%; CBS – 83%)

Kaminsky is back. After a five-game absence, and a disappointing first game back, Kaminsky has returned to his pre-injury self. He scores, he shoots threes, and gets a good amount of assists for a big guy. He is still coming off the bench behind starters Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams, but he has played at least 30 minutes in three games straight. As long as the minutes keep up, it doesn’t matter that he’s coming off the bench. He’s one of my favorite players this week. Kaminsky could even have some keeper value in some settings. The 2017-18 Hornets are already over the cap, with Kaminsky, Zeller, Williams, and Miles Plumlee as the bigs on the roster. The team’s roster, salary situation, and expected draft spot makes it seem unlikely that the team will add a big who rivals Kaminsky on the depth chart.

Jarell Eddie is worth a look in deep leagues. The Suns just picked him up on a 10-day contract, and without Eddie, they were effectively down to a nine-man roster. They’ve officially shut down two players, unofficially shut down two more, and Ronnie Price has appeared in only four games since the All-Star break. They are shallowest at guard, so Eddie could see minutes in the high teens or into the 20s. He’s barely a pro-level talent, but his best value comes as a scorer. He can also shoot threes, and is not-terrible-for-a-guard at rebounds.

Other suggestions: Bojan Bogdanovic, Wizards; Buddy Hield, Kings; Marquese Chriss, Suns; Jordan Crawford, Pelicans

Keeper suggestions: Marquese Chriss, Suns; Frank Kaminsky, Hornets

Deep leagues only: Jarell Eddie, Suns


Solomon Hill, Pelicans
(Ownership: ESPN – 7%; Yahoo – 30%; CBS – 13%)

Hill’s minutes have been good all season, but he hadn’t done enough to warrant fantasy relevance. He is only 26, so the idea that he is improving and making strides mid-season is not unreasonable. He exploded onto the fantasy landscape with a 30-point, six-threes game last Friday, but that’s not his only good game recently. He has scored double-digits in four of his last five games, and made 12 three-pointers in that time. His numbers during that span warrant ownership, but managers should stay vigilant – Hill has shown a proclivity for lengthy scoring droughts. The best indicator may be his field goal attempts. During his recent five-game stretch, he is attempting 8.8 field goals per game; during the eight preceding games, when he scored only 3.4 points per game, he was attempting only 4.8 field goals.

It’s always good to see a struggling team making room for a youngster, and then seeing that youngster flourish with their new-found court time. The Nets, on the other hand, are giving those minutes to 33-year-old Randy Foye. He’s played between 27 and 28 minutes in four straight, scoring double-digits and sinking at least one three in each game. I don’t know why they are playing him so much at this point in the season, but we don’t need to understand to benefit from his extra threes.

Omri Casspi is a name to watch in deep leagues. The Timberwolves picked him up, and once he’s healthy, he could see some meaningful minutes stretching the floor for the ‘Pups. He’s not worth adding yet, unless you are in torturously deep leagues, but once he could have value once he’s active.

Other suggestions: Frank Kaminsky, Hornets; Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Denzel Valentine, Bulls; CJ Miles, Pacers; Randy Foye, Nets; Wayne Ellington, Heat; Nik Stauskas, 76ers

Keeper suggestions: Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Frank Kaminsky, Hornets

Deep leagues only: Omri Casspi, Timberwolves


Denzel Valentine, Bulls
(Ownership: ESPN – 9%; Yahoo – 27%; CBS – 30%)

Valentine won’t always rebound as much as a big man, but he is capable of pulling in more than your typical guard. He’s played at least 28 minutes in four straight, and the Bulls’ decision to shut down Dwyane Wade should help ensure Valentine received plenty of run through the final weeks of the season. The Bulls are 2-2 in their last four, despite a very difficult schedule, which is more good news for Valentine’s minutes going forward. He’s averaging 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.8 threes during those four games.

I spent a lot of time talking about Ivica Zubac last week, and nothing has made me change my opinion of him. I’m shocked to see him still so widely available, and he remains one of my top recommended adds this week.

Typically this article is about who to add, but I want to mention two players I’m avoiding right now. Aron Baynes and Alex Len have both put up good rebounding numbers over their last three games, and may attract waiver interest as a result. Based on what they have shown this season, and throughout their careers, I advise against relying on either of them for rebounds. Each may have another good game or two, but I’d bet against their abilities to continue their recent production.

Other suggestions: Ivica Zubac, Lakers; Richaun Holmes, 76ers; Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings; Marquese Chriss, Suns; Skal Labissiere, Kings; Courtney Lee, Knicks; Noah Vonleh, Trail Blazers

Keeper suggestions: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings; Ivica Zubac, Lakers


Jameer Nelson, Nuggets
(Ownership: ESPN – 18%; Yahoo – 26%; CBS – 51%)

Nelson continues to lead the pack of players worth adding for teams needing assists. Not only is he averaging 5.8 per game over his past nine, but he plays tons of minutes and contributes enough in other categories to avoid causing harm. Over his last three games, he is averaging 34.7 minutes, 12.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.0 threes. The Nuggets are only a half-game up on the Trail Blazers for the final playoff spot in the West, so the Nuggets cannot afford to hold back. Nelson gives them the best chance to win, and so his minutes and impact should remain high.

Malcolm Brogdon bears mention here, but his value is diminished when he is in the starting lineup, strange as that may sound. Most of his stats, including minutes, are relatively stable, regardless of whether Brogdon starts. However, since the All-star break he is averaging almost twice as many assists per game when he comes off the bench. He has started the last three games, so his value is down right now. But if he returns to the bench, he would border on must-add territory for 12-team leagues, and would be worth heavy consideration in smaller formats.

J.J. Barea’s case for the NBA’s Most Improved award got sidetracked by injury, but he is healthy again and putting up strong numbers. As of this writing, he’s only played more than 20 minutes once since the injury, which is why I list him below Brogdon. Another game of 25+ minutes Tuesday night would boost him ahead of Brogdon, and a third on Thursday would make him my top-recommended add. He already has one game of 20 points, and another game of 13 assists, in just five contests since returning to action.

Other suggestions: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings; Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks; JJ Barea, Mavericks; Cory Joseph, Raptors; Joe Ingles, Jazz

Keeper suggestions: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings


P.J. Tucker, Raptors
(Ownership: ESPN – 7%; Yahoo – 15%; CBS – 22%)

Tucker is not worth owning unless you are either in desperate need of steals or in a very deep league (at least 14 teams). But the steals landscape has been barren lately, and Tucker is one of the few players available who can really move the needle in that area. Lots of owners will be turned off by his low scoring totals, but outside of points, he doesn’t really hurt a lineup anywhere. He is an inefficient shooter, but his attempts are so low that he will barely make a dent. His rebounds and assists are at least adequate, and he typically grabs either a three or a block each game – not exactly world-beating, but good enough for our purposes. He’s averaging 1.4 steals this season, and has five in his past two games. He has at least three steals in 12 different games this season, a pace of about one every six games. He has at least two steals in 27 games, a pace of about twice every five games.

Other suggestions: Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Jameer Nelson, Nuggets; JaMychal Green, Grizzlies


Richaun Holmes, 76ers
(Ownership: ESPN – 39%; Yahoo – 52%; CBS – 53%)

It’s time for everyone to hop on board the Holmes bandwagon. The 76ers big man is averaging 25.0 minutes per game since the All-Star break. Over the past five games, his production has been better than the projections that made Nerlens Noel a top-75 pick this season.

Richaun Holmes, last five games: 14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.6 blocks, 26.8 minutes, 61.5% FG

Nerlens Noel, RotoWire 2016-17 projections: 9.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.5 blocks, 26.3 minutes, 51.3% FG

Holmes’ only competition for minutes is Jahlil Okafor, and has seen extended minutes in each of the last two games. He won’t be available much longer.

Other suggestions: Ivica Zubac, Lakers; Marquese Chriss, Suns; Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings

Keeper suggestions: Marquese Chriss, Suns; Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings; Ivica Zubac, Lakers

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