Fantasy Basketball: Final Waiver Wire and playoff clinching scenarios

Two days and 22 games remain in the NBA season. Congratulations for making it this far, and don't let up now with the end so close at hand.

At this point, you know the drill, so I won't beat around the bush with a lengthy intro. I'll just give you a quick table of contents. This week's article will include:

  1. A rundown on what is still on the line, and which teams are still playing normal games, and which teams may try some funny business
  2. Schedule analysis
  3. Top adds
  4. Top keeper prospects

As always, the players in this article must be rostered in less than two-thirds of CBS leagues. Players are listed in the order that I recommend adding them, assuming they are equally good fits for your team.

What's Still on the Line

A Playoff Berth: Pistons, Heat, Hornets

The final playoff spot in the East is still up for grabs. All three teams have two games left. The Pistons are in the driver's seat, with a one game advantage over the Heat and the Hornets, but the Hornets have the tiebreaker advantages. Here are the scenarios:

  • If the Pistons win twice, they are in. They own the tiebreaker over the Heat, lose the tiebreaker to the Hornets, and lose a three-way to the Hornets – they really want to avoid potential ties. Detroit will be, at maximum, trying to win both of its remaining games.
  • The Hornets need one more win than the Pistons to get in (either they win two and the Pistons win one, or Hornets win one and Pistons win zero). The Hornets will be, at maximum, trying to win on Tuesday no matter what. That will continue into Wednesday unless the Hornets lose and the Pistons win Tuesday.
  • The Heat need two wins and two Pistons losses and one Hornets loss to get in. Their Tuesday game is simultaneous with the Pistons' and Hornets', so the Heat will be, at maximum, trying to win that game. But, either a loss or a Pistons' win means the Heat could turn into a tank-y mess on Wednesday.

Playoff Seeding: Nets, Magic

One of these teams will claim the sixth seed, and the other will probably take the seventh seed (unless the Pistons win out and both lose their final game; in that case, the Magic would fall to eighth). It's not clear that either team has a strong preference for the sixth or seventh seed. Both went 1-3 against the Raptors and 2-2 against the 76ers, so they likely have a small preference for the sixth seed, but the difference is not so much that they would risk anyone's health. Both teams pose a low but real risk of fooling around.

Playoff seeding: Nuggets, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Jazz, Thunder, Clippers, Spurs

We already know who will make the playoffs in the West, and that the Warriors will have the No. 1 seed. Everything else is still up for grabs:

  • The Nuggets will be the two or the three seed. There is so much volatility at the bottom of the bracket that they have no matchup-based incentive to lose. Therefore, they should be highly motivated to win both games to secure home court in round two. They have two games remaining and need one more win than the Rockets to clinch the two-seed. If the Nuggets lose and the Rockets win on Tuesday, then Wednesday has no relevance to the Nuggets and is a likely "load management" game.
  • The Rockets have one game, the Nuggets have two. A win and a Nuggets loss, or two Nuggets losses, gets the Rockets the two seed. The Rockets should be highly motivated to win their game.
  • The Trail Blazers have two games left and are probably the fourth seed, though they could rise to third or fall to fifth. They are likely to play a normal game on Tuesday. Depending on Tuesday's results, Wednesday could be anything from must win to maintain first-round home court to a whole lot of load management. There are a lot of possible permutations, but I'll tweet out which scenario(s) is in play Wednesday morning.
  • The Jazz have two games left and a slight chance at taking first-round home court from the Trail Blazers, and an equally small chance of falling to sixth. Home court is worth winning for, but if they lose Tuesday and the sixth-seed is in play, they could try to tank their way out of the Warriors' side of the bracket. My prediction is the Jazz try to win Tuesday, but that their Wednesday effort and "load management" depends on the Trail Blazers and Thunder. In most of the scenarios, the Jazz try some silly stuff on Wednesday.
  • The Thunder have two games left, with a chance to win their way into the fifth seed and a first-round matchup against the injury-depleted Trail Blazers. On the flip side, two losses could mean a first-round matchup with the Warriors. Either way, this team is trying to win both games.
  • The Spurs and Clippers each have one game left. For either team, a loss probably means a first-round matchup with the Warriors. As a result, both teams will be highly motivated to win.

Still tanking: Cavaliers, Suns, Wizards, Pelicans, Lakers, maybe Heat

These teams are out of the playoffs, but their final lottery standings are not yet locked in. All these teams are likely to engage in some chicanery. (The Heat still might make the playoffs, but if they lose and the Pistons win on Tuesday, then the Heat will be tanking on Wednesday).

Lottery protections: Grizzlies, Mavericks

The Grizzlies are tied for the seventh-worst record with the Mavericks. Both teams have two games remaining. The Grizzlies lose their pick to the Celtics if it falls lower than eighth. The Mavericks' lose their pick to the Hawks if it falls any lower than fifth. Both teams could enter the lottery ranked anywhere from sixth to ninth.

  • The Mavericks should want to lose. If they lose their way into sixth, they have a 37 percent chance of getting, and therefore keeping, a top-five pick this year, and then trading away next year's pick which will (presumably) be much worse with a healthy Kristaps Porzingis in the fold. Those odds fall to 20 percent if they enter the lottery in the ninth position. Expect egregious tanking.
  • The Grizzlies' situation is more nuanced. Their 2019-20 roster is less likely to make a big leap, and the pick protections get notably worse if the pick doesn't transfer this season. Their remaining games are also against the Pistons and Warriors, who are simply better than they are. 

Teams with nothing on the line: Bucks, Raptors, 76ers, Celtics, Pacers, Warriors, Knicks, Bulls, Hawks, Kings

These teams are all locked into their end of season standing. The playoff teams have clinched their playoff seeds, and the lottery teams have clinched their lottery standing. The playoff teams are likely to emphasize "load management" and getting their players healthy. The lottery teams are likely to try to win, since winning is (theoretically) the goal of competitive sports, and they no longer have any motivation to lose. The Kings will miss the playoffs but do not own their own draft pick, so their position is effectively the same as the Knicks, Bulls and Hawks, whose lottery standings are already clinched.

Schedule Notes

There are 11 games Tuesday and 11 Wednesday. Just over half the league (16 teams) plays one game, while the rest (14 teams) plays twice – all 14 are playing back-to-backs.

Because that split is so close to even, it is likely that most fantasy rosters will end up with very similar total games on tap for the week. It's OK to start players with only one game. Just remember that two games are literally double one (duh, I know). If you're on the fence between two games from one player and one game from another, you have to ask yourself "is [one game guy] really twice as good as [two game guy]?"

We also must be wary of the fact that we are now fully into the NBA's silly season. Alex Caruso, who has more than 50 DNP-CDs this season, has consecutive double-doubles. JaKarr Sampson, out of the league last month, is now averaging 23.0 points per game. As a result, the schedule must be considered in the context of the section above. Not all two-game weeks are created equal. So, I've broken down the teams with two-game weeks from most to least desirable.

  • Two-game weeks from teams that are actually trying: Hornets, Nuggets, Pistons, Thunder, Trail Blazers
  • Two game weeks from teams that might try to win: Bulls, Knicks
  • Two-game weeks from teams that are actively tanking: Mavericks, Timberwolves
  • Two-game week wildcards: Jazz Heat, Grizzlies (good luck predicting these teams' motivations)
  • Two-game weeks from "load managing" playoff teams: Warriors, 76ers

Adds for All Leagues

JaKarr Sampson, Bulls (7 percent)

This guy was seriously out of the league four games ago. Tanking is awful. Anyway, now that I'm done telling those kids to get off my lawn, I should probably point out that since signing with the Bulls at the start of April, Sampson is averaging 23.0 points and 8.0 rebounds with bizarro-world efficiency in 31.3 minutes per game. Sad to say, this man may determine a lot of Fantasy championships.

Fellow Bulls Walter Lemon (13 percent rostered) and Wayne Selden (3 percent rostered) are also solid pickups for the tank-tastic Bulls, but Sampson appears to be the real prize here.

Mario Hezonja, Knicks (15 percent rostered)

Like the Bulls, the Knicks have two games this week, and they might even try to win them since their lottery standing is locked in. Hezonja has stepped in as the Knicks' break-glass-in-case-of-emergency-no-Amar'e-not-with-your-hand point guard.

Emmanuel Mudiay (shoulder), Allonzo Trier (calf) and Kadeem Allen (concussion) have been dealing with ambiguously timelined injuries, Frank Ntilikina (groin) is out for the season, and Dennis Smith has fluctuated between missing games due to a back injury and just regular old not being good.

Hezonja has averaged 25.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 37.3 minutes over the last three games. You know, Kevin Durant numbers. Smith is already back in action, and the rest of this motley crew could follow suit for one or both remaining games, so there is potential for a disastrous floor here. That said, he did just morph into Kevin Durant for three games, and I've heard that Durant fella is good for Fantasy.

Wayne Ellington, Pistons (14 percent rostered)

Ellington gets a lot of bonus credit for playing for the Pistons, as they have a two-game week and they actually want to win both. Ellington has averaged 18.0 points and 3.5 threes in 34.4 minutes over the past four games. He's an ideal fit for the rotating points-and-three specialist spot in your lineups.

Alex Caruso, Lakers (13 percent rostered)

I'm trying to focus on guys with two-game weeks, but Caruso demands attention for two reasons. First, some settings don't necessarily reward extra games played. Second, of all the players listed in this section, Caruso is the one who I'm most confident can maintain his recent production. Whereas other players on this list are widely available because of poor play earlier in the season, it's possible Caruso's situation has more to do with management. He's been arguably the best Laker over the past three games, starting and averaging 19.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds in 39.3 minutes. Expect a big workload from him in their season finale Tuesday.

Other recommendations: Delon Wright, Grizzlies (35 percent rostered); Josh Jackson, Suns (65 percent rostered); Bruno Caboclo, Grizzlies (22 percent rostered); Frank Kaminsky, Hornets (13 percent rostered); Richaun Holmes, Suns (10 percent rostered); Dragan Bender, Suns (6 percent rostered)

Keeper League Options

Out of the running for this year? Here are some widely available pickup options. Last week this space focused on Mitchell Robinson, Knicks (73 percent rostered) and Zach Collins, Trail Blazers (13 percent rostered). I'd still recommend those two above the players listed below.

Marcus Smart, Celtics (49 percent rostered)

Smart's roster rate is dropping fast, as he might not play again this season as he works through an oblique injury and the Celtics are locked into their playoff seeding. Smart's keeper value is very much variable, and there is a chance he's on my "do-not-draft" list next August. With that said, what happens if Kyrie Irving bolts this summer? The Celtics are unlikely to continue investing in point guards – Smart is on a hefty-but-fair deal through at least 2022, and Al Horford and Gordon Hayward are great non-point guard playmakers. In a no-Irving scenario, assuming Terry Rozier signs elsewhere, Smart could be the starting point guard, and therefore looking at 32-35 minutes per game. Looking at his per-36 numbers, he's be a fantastic source of steals and threes while providing quality rebounds and assists. It's worth the risk.

Noah Vonleh, Knicks (40 percent rostered)

Vonleh's contract runs out at the end of this season, so he might not return to New York, and I don't know how interested I'll be in him elsewhere. But if he returns to the Knicks, he could be a great keeper option in leagues that reward cheap waiver finds. He had the best differential offensive rating among rotation players, and he showed the ability to produce across multiple categories by averaging more than 0.7 steals, blocks and threes in just 25.3 minutes per game. He's no rock star, but Vonleh could be a very solid contributor.

Other recommendations: Dario Saric, Timberwolves (61 percent rostered), Harry Giles, Kings (13 percent rostered); Dejounte Murray, Spurs (10 percent rostered)

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