Fantasy Basketball Keeper Advice: Buy low on Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, sell-high on hotshot rookies

All my favorite Fantasy leagues are keeper leagues. And while most Fantasy advice columns include tips that are helpful for managers in keeper leagues, rarely do we keep-o-philes get a column specifically tailored to our needs. Well, that's what we're here for today.

The tips below range from player moves for the near-term to strategies worth remembering for future seasons. If you have any league-specific questions, I usually respond to Twitter inquiries.

Buy Low on Proven Talent (Especially Jimmy Butler)

This advice was a little less obvious before last weekend, when Butler put up 46 points, 15 assists, and 11 rebounds over the course of two games. But even if the buy-low window on Butler is closing, the concept demands attention. Butler is 28 years old, and he's been a top-15 Fantasy stud for the past three seasons. Even if his transition to the Timberwolves permanently knocks him down a peg, Butler has proven that he is more talented than what he's currently producing. A slumping player who is 27 or older is frequently perceived as a worse keeper option than he really is. Butler should still have years of top-30 production left in him. Acquiring Butler helps your team win this year and in future seasons.

John Wall, who's been a top-30 player for four seasons and is on an effectively unchanged roster, also applies here. His shooting has been unusually bad so far this season, taking huge hits in his field goal percentage and free throw percentage. He's been pretty consistent in those categories over the last six seasons, so it's likely they'll rebound. He's currently outside the top-40 and is coming off back-to-back games of playing fewer than 28 minutes. I still think Wall is a top-20 -- probably top-15 -- player moving forward, and his trade value is as low as I can remember.

Other than Butler and Wall, only Russell Westbrook fits that proven top-20, but currently outside the top-40 mold. That said, a few other proven (top 50-ish) players who are underperforming and not over the hill yet include: Brook Lopez, Paul Millsap, DeAndre Jordan, Mike Conley, and Jrue Holiday.

Do You Have Space for Gordon Hayward?

Hayward (foot) is done for the season, and he may have been dropped. If he's still rostered, his owner might be getting frustrated by what Hayward is doing to his flexibility. The price for this top-35 all-around stud has never been cheaper. There is always a risk that, once healthy, he won't be the player he was pre-injury – but there is also a risk that any young player's development will stall, or that a player under 30 will see their production fall off a cliff. If you can make the room on your roster, and the cost of keeping Hayward is not extreme, the potential long-term upside is insane.

Have a "Priority Futures" Watch List

Every Fantasy host site allows you to designate players to a "watch list", but keeper league managers ought to keep a second, more-refined list of players who currently have low ownership and are not worth adding now, but have the long-term potential to be high-value keepers. Most of these players will be young, high-upside prospects. A few, however, are players who have already flashed their Fantasy potential, but their current value is capped more by situation than by their own ability.

Here's an incomplete list of players to keep on such a list:

  • Richaun Holmes: Hard to own as long as he's buried behind Joel Embiid and three quality power forwards, but Holmes was a top-50 player when he averaged 28 minutes per game over the final month of 2016-17.
  • Frank Kaminsky: Like Holmes, Kaminsky has a strong track record when he gets big minutes, but he's currently buried on his depth chart.
  • Nerlens Noel: I'll never trust him in Dallas, since it's pretty clear Rick Carlisle thinks little of him, but he could average 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals if traded to a team willing to give him 30 minutes per game.
  • Malik Monk: The rookie has been woefully inconsistent, but I think he has potential to be a Lou Williams-type long-term
  • Milos Teodosic: The hype that made the 30-year-old European rookie a potential breakout was justified. It's not clear when he'll return from his foot injury. While comparing a European to a European always feels like a lazy cop-out, Teodosic's pass-first game is most similar to Ricky Rubio's.
  • Lakers forwards: Literally anyone from their crowded frontcourt could become a Fantasy stud in the future. Brandon Ingram is still raw but has shown flashes. Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance all might be owned already, but they feel like they belong on this list.
  • Justise Winslow: I'm still a big believer in his upside, but it may take a trade or several injuries for him to get the minutes he'd need to provide Fantasy value.
  • Nemanja Bjelica: Taj Gibson doesn't make sense to me as a long-term answer for the Timberwolves, and the team is high on Bjelica's shooting potential. He's already 29 years old, though, so he's older than everyone on this list, except for Teodosic.
  • Frank Ntilikina: A rookie on the Knicks won't escape anyone's notice, but his low points totals will depress his ownership. He's improving quickly, and his future looks bright.
  • Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O'Quinn: Both have minimal value in an overcrowded Knicks frontcourt, but both could be solid Fantasy starters if injuries or a trade open up opportunities. Hernangomez has more long-term potential, but O'Quinn is solid, too.
  • Jonathan Isaac: The raw rookie has already flashed far more NBA readiness than I expected before March, if not before next season. Minutes and rookie inconsistencies remain short term concerns, but his long-term ceiling is sky-high.
  • John Collins: Minutes haven't been an issue for Collins in a shallow and banged-up Hawks frontcourt, but Mike Budenholzer has still been hesitant to fully unleash him. If the Hawks go into full on lottery-mode in a few months, Collins could become even more valuable.

Sell Rookies, Buy Sophomores (and Juniors, For That Matter)

Rookies generate hype and excitement every year. It's pretty natural. Our species tends to celebrate unknown and unbridled future potential much more than present value. On top of that, this is one of the best rookie classes we've seen in years.

The rookie class is also getting much more attention than its pure production warrants. In all Fantasy sports, any time you see a mismatch – whether it's something as intangible as attention earned or as concrete as a good rebounder facing Brook Lopez – there is opportunity for gain. In this situation, the hype surrounding rookies has raised their overall Fantasy values disproportionate to their actual contribution.

We can feel like we know who Buddy Hield and Kelly Oubre are – or, at least, we feel like we know how close they are to their ceiling. Frankly, that's rubbish. Many of these second and third-year players are barely old enough to drink, half a decade away from their prime, and the ones we care about in Fantasy have played somewhere between eight and 15 percent of their professional career.

Only about half of future top-25 guys reach that height by the end of their sophomore season. Exactly 12 of the top 24 players by 2017 Average Draft Position were top-30 per game producers in their second NBA season. Bottom line: There are a ton of unknowns when talking about first, second, or third-year players.

With so much unknown, and so much hype and extra consideration attached to rookies' potential, keeper league managers should make a practice of selling rookies in exchange for second and third-year players. The more experienced players are more likely to help your team win this season, and the players have more of a track record on which to soberly assess their ability.

One final clarification here: I'm not saying you should trade Ben Simmons (at least, not for less than a King's ransom). But in a long-term keeper league, I'd happily trade Kyle Kuzma for Kelly Oubre, or Dennis Smith, Jr. for D'Angelo Russell.

Know Your League

The most important Fantasy axiom is as relevant here as anywhere. Some important settings to constantly keep in mind:

How long can you keep a player?

In a league where players can be kept indefinitely, Simmons is second in my keeper ranks, behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo. In a league with a one-year maximum, Simmons is barely a top-30 keeper in 8-category leagues, and he's even further down in 9-cat.

How many players can you keep?

If you can only keep two players, and you already have Simmons and Antetokounmpo, then you can basically treat the rest of your team as a normal re-draft team and take advantage of other teams that may still be prowling for keepable options.

What do keepers cost?

There are infinite ways different leagues handle this, but there is trade value in all of them. Find it, and react accordingly.

Are you required to keep players?

In a league where keeping is required, you should always have an idea of how you'd fill at least half of the required spots. In a league where keeping is optional, you can pay less attention to potential keepers, at least until closer to the trade deadline.

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