Welcome to the All-Star break! With a full week off of regular season NBA games, we're shifting the focus on this week's article. Today we're zooming out to look at the big picture.
Less than one-third of the NBA season remains. There's even less than that left for most Fantasy leagues. There's still more than a month left, but we've entered the closing stretch.
Instead of focusing on the short-term adds – shooters on a hot streak, guy's benefitting from injuries, etc. – this week's article is devoted to players who might make a big difference down the stretch. In some cases these players are usable right away. In other cases, their peak may still be a few weeks away, but in every case these are players who I think can make a big impact in the Fantasy playoffs.
So let's get to it.
As usual, 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.
Too widely owned to qualify
These players are already on more than 67% of rosters in CBS leagues, but are more widely available on other platforms and it's worth double-checking their status in your league; If they qualified, they'd be the top recommended pickup.
Darius Bazley, Thunder (79% rostered)
Devin Vassell, Spurs (68% rostered)
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Hawks (76% rostered)
Herbert Jones, Pelicans (68% rostered)
Adds for all leagues
Alperen Sengun, Rockets (58% rostered)
Seeing Sengun as the top name should come as no surprise to regular readers of this space. The 19-year-old rookie plays for the NBA's tankiest team and has per-36 averages of 17-9-5 with 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals! Scientists crafted this guy in a lab explicitly so that Fantasy analysts could recommend him as a second-half breakout. Should they be working on experiments with more useful real-life applications? Yes! Should the Rockets be giving Sengun all of the minutes? Yes! Would those minutes carry league-winning upside? Absolutely, 100%, yes!
I can't explain what the Rockets are doing with Sengun. I don't know why he started three of the last six games, but played only 21, 16, and 14 in the others. I can't explain things that don't make logical sense.
It's possible that Sengun never gets properly unleashed. But if he ever starts to play roughly 30 minutes per game on a consistent basis, he carries legitimately league-winning upside. The All-Star break tends to be when teams start to get serious about tanking, so hopefully a depth chart promotion for Sengun is coming shortly.
Isaiah Stewart, Pistons (65% rostered)
On upside alone, Stewart should be listed higher. Some doubt remains, however, as to how much of that upside he's able to tap into. As the All-Star break passes and the NBA's "silly season" (aka tankathon) commences, Stewart should get plenty of minutes. He's already averaging a double-double with 1.1 blocks per game in February – good numbers, but Stewart's raw skills imply that he should be capable of more.
One of my biggest Fantasy takeaways from the trade deadline is that there is now a ton of available Fantasy opportunity in Washington. Between Bradley Beal's season-ending injury and the players traded away, the Wizards lost 82 minutes per game from their backcourt, and brought in only the aging Ish Smith (10% rostered) by way of replacement.
Neto may not have the upside of the other players listed in this column, but he's the one I'm most confident will have sustaining value. Since the trade, he's averaged 13-2-5 with 1.5 steals in 30.0 minutes as the starting point guard. That production or better should continue.
Some of his teammates are worth a look, too. Rookie Corey Kispert (23% rostered) is also benefiting from the vacated minutes, with his workload nearly doubling since the trade. That said, he's probably not more than an inconsistent and inefficient 3s and points specialist. The aforementioned Smith has some value in deep leagues or for managers who need assists, but I doubt he'll have standard league value.
Jaden McDaniels, Timberwolves (21% rostered)
In March of his rookie season, McDaniels entered the starting lineup. He started 23 games before an injury disrupted his final two weeks of the season. During that span he averaged 30.4 minutes per game, and while he didn't excel in any one category, he produced a little bit of everything.
Now a sophomore, McDaniels is on the rise again. He's put up a solid 12-4-2 with 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.5 3s over the past 14 games. Though not a full-time starter, he's playing more minutes than rebounding specialist Jarred Vanderbilt. And the 21-year-old McDaniels is still improving as he goes. He's a well-rounded producer who could continue to improve and see extra court time over the next two months.
Matisse Thybulle, 76ers (18% rostered)
There is still a massive James Harden-sized shoe waiting to drop in Philadelphia, and Thybulle has some obvious limitations. That said, the most likely scenario is that Harden's minutes take away from Furkan Korkmaz and Georges Niang, leaving Thybulle's role almost untouched. Even before the deadline's headline trade, Thybulle's minutes had been trending up, adding to Thybulle's already rosterable value.
Thybulle isn't for everyone – in fact, he'll actively harm some rosters. But at this point in the season, managers should have a clear sense of what they have and what they need. And if you need steals and blocks, you'll have a hard time finding a waiver prospect more useful than Thybulle. His lack of points can be brutal, and he's a slight disappointment in rebounds and assists, but he's neutral in 3s and shooting efficiency. If either of the following two situations apply to you, Thybulle is one of the best possible adds (otherwise, probably skip him):
A head-to-head league where the roster is among the league's worst in points – remember, you may not have been intentionally punting point initially, but it's past time to lean in if you're struggling there;
A roto league where a manager has little room to rise or fall in points, but can make big moves in the standings with added defense.
Brandon Clarke, Grizzlies (46% rostered)
Trivia time – in the 2019-20 season, which rookie finished highest in per-game 9-cat production? That was the rookie class with Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Darius Garland, Tyler Herro, etc. Yup, you guessed it – Brandon Clarke.
Clarke's production stalled as a sophomore, and he was relegated to a small bench role for the first several months of this season. But his play has picked up of late, and he's been rewarded with extra minutes. Over his past 10 outings, he's up to 22.4 minutes, putting up 13-7-2 with just shy of a block and a steal per game. Importantly, this has come during a mostly healthy stretch for the Grizzlies – Clarke isn't benefiting from someone else's absence. Rather, the coaching staff has made the seemingly deliberate choice to phase out Kyle Anderson in favor of more Clarke. We already know Clarke has the ability to be a top-80 player, and it looks like he's getting the opportunity to show it once again.
Jaxson Hayes, Pelicans (26% rostered)
If Zion Williamson ever plays, then Hayes might fall out of Fantasy relevance, but my assumption remains that we're not seeing Williamson this season. Hayes entered the starting lineup for New Orleans on Thursday, replacing a struggling Devonte' Graham. The switch has potential to stick. If it does, then Hayes could easily average 25-plus minutes the rest of the way. At that workload, he projects to roughly 12-6-1 with more than one block per game on top of an extremely efficient FG%. Importantly, those projections might undersell his potential – his per-minute production numbers improve in games when he gets more minutes.
Isaiah Jackson (35% rostered) or Jalen Smith (22% rostered), Pacers
There probably isn't room in the rotation for both of these players, but there is a good chance one makes a splash down the stretch. Both players have shown excellent per-minute efficiency – Smith can make a fantasy impact at roughly 25 minutes per game, while Jackson has shown that he can make a mark in just 20. But the Pacers are overloaded with big men (if they are ever healthy), making it unlikely that both Jackson and Smith can coexist. I'm leaning Jackson over Smith, but I could easily be wrong.
Jackson, the 22nd pick in last summer's draft, has dealt with injuries all season and played just 20 games. His track record is short but impressive. He only played 18-plus minutes in four games, but averaged 18-7-1 with 3.0 stocks in just 22.5 minutes in those outings.
Smith's track record is scarcely longer, but a similar pattern emerges. He's played at least 20 minutes 10 times this season. In those games, he averaged 14-9 and 1.1 blocks. Not quite as dynamic as Jackson's numbers, but easily roster-able if he were in position to put them up consistently.
Lower upside options with rest-of-season appeal: De'Andre Hunter, Hawks (56% rostered); Justise Winslow, Trail Blazers (62% rostered); Ivica Zubac, Clippers (55% rostered); Dorian Finney-Smith, Mavericks (47% rostered); Mason Plumlee, Hornets (47% rostered)
Injured players who might return
Michael Porter Jr. (33% rostered) and Jamal Murray, Nuggets (54% rostered)
A recent report said Porter and Murray "will be physically cleared to return before the end of the regular season", though it didn't provide much more specifics. The phrasing makes it sound like both players are still too far away to add right now, unless you have an unused IR spot. That said, closely monitor this situation. Murray is a top-30 producer when healthy. Porter struggled to start the season, but that appears to have been due to his lingering back injury, and his upside is monumental – he had a month-long run in Fantasy's top-10 to close last season.
Markelle Fultz, Magic (22% rostered)
When we last saw Fultz, he was averaging a little better than 12-3-5 with more than one steal and nearly two 3s per game. Since then, the Magic have drafted two highly promising lottery picks in Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs plus Cole Anthony has emerged as a low-level star. Even once Fultz is healthy and minutes restrictions are lifted, I'm not sure he'll be able to get back to 27-ish minutes per game. He appears on track to return soon, potentially before the end of the month. He's highly likely to have deep-league value. For standard leagues, he's probably going to be attractive for assist-needy managers, but otherwise probably ignorable.
Patrick Williams, Bulls (7% rostered)
Recent reports out of Chicago have been optimistic, albeit a bit cryptic. They've said he's likely to return this season. For Fantasy purposes, however, it doesn't matter. He's not going to be Fantasy relevant during the regular season.