Fantasy Hoops: How should you approach tanking teams down the stretch?
When teams turn the keys over to the young guys, Fantasy players can benefit. We take a took a look at some of the names you should know down the stretch.
Nine teams have already been eliminated from the NBA playoff hunt, meaning tank mode is in full effect across the league. While we can debate the ethics of it, if a team isn't going to make the playoffs, the best thing it can play for at this point is a high pick in next year's draft.
With so many teams getting creative with rotations and giving extended playing time to younger players, it's had a significant impact on Fantasy basketball. Let's take a look at a few teams that have thrown in the towel and the resulting Fantasy impact for players on the roster.
The Bulls were a popular pick to finish as the worst team in the NBA this year, but they have somewhat-surprisingly won 24 games with 10 days left in March. Nonetheless, Chicago was one of the first teams to get a jumpstart on the tanking process, and it got to the point where the league stepped in with a formal warning.
The Bulls clearly don't want to play Robin Lopez or Justin Holiday at this point, but they're apparently being coerced by the league, in some form or another, to keep both players in the rotation, albeit to a lesser degree. Although Lopez and Holiday are playing again, neither is seeing enough minutes to warrant Fantasy consideration.
The Bulls have their point guard of the future in Kris Dunn (dealing with a toe injury), but they have also expressed a desire to find more playing time for Cameron Payne. Payne has produced mixed results so far, averaging 8.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.4 three-pointers in nine March contests. He averaged 22 minutes in those games and could see even more playing time moving forward with Dunn currently on the shelf. He's not going to score a ton and he won't help you with his 40.6% shooting percentage, but Payne is someone to consider, from a sheer volume perspective, if you need assists, steals or three-pointers.
Cristiano Felicio was expected to be an important part of the Bulls second unit after they signed him to a four-year extension over the summer, but he got off to a horrible start and, for the most part, hasn't looked like an NBA-caliber player. However, with Lopez now seeing limited minutes, Felicio has worked his way back onto the floor. Felicio averaged 13.5 points and eight rebounds across his last two games, but he's generally struggled, even with the increased minutes. Felicio is only worth a look in the deepest of leagues, or if you are extremely desperate up front.
The Grizzlies also got a jumpstart on their tanking process when Mike Conley (heel) was lost early on for the season. Memphis is firmly in the mix for the best lottery odds, thanks in large part to a 19-game losing streak spanning from Jan. 31 to Mar. 15
The Grizzlies have begun to rest star center Marc Gasol in recent weeks, sitting him for one game of back-to-back sets and taking a cautious approach with any minor injury or illness he may have. Tyreke Evans is another player in danger of resting down the stretch, and that was evident Monday when he was scratched without warning shortly before tipoff against the Nets.
One of the beneficiaries of the Grizzlies' tanking process has been Dillon Brooks. The rookie is averaging 33 minutes per game in March, and while most of his contributions are on the offensive end, he has averaged 17.7 points and two three-pointers per game for the month. If your squad is in need of a scoring boost, check the waiver wire for Brooks.
JaMychal Green is another player who has seen his opportunities rise in March, averaging 32 minutes per game, which he's translated to 10.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists for the month. Green should be a double-double threat on a nightly basis moving forward and will have an even greater uptick in value on nights when Gasol sits.
Like the Bulls, the Hawks were another team that entered the season with low expectations. Although Atlanta didn't trade off veterans at the deadline, the Hawks did free up some minutes for young players by buying out both Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Kent Bazemore (knee) was also lost for what's likely to be the rest of the season earlier this month, as well.
The player who's seen the biggest increase in value is Taurean Prince, who was a frustrating source of inconsistency for Fantasy owners early on. The second-year wing has a 25.5% usage rate in March, resulting in averages of 20.3 points and 3.8 three-pointers per game. He's also putting up 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists on the month, making him a valuable asset for Fantasy owners who were patient enough to wait it out.
John Collins (ankle) is another young player who has seen an increased role down the stretch. The rookie is averaging 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in March. He provides value with his percentages, as well, shooting 58.4% from the field and 75.2% from the free-throw line this season. Although the Hawks may be cautious with Collins' current ankle injury, he shouldn't be out for too long.
Mike Muscala missed a good chunk of the season due to an injury of his own but is averaging 23 minutes per game in March. His numbers might not jump off the page, but he can provide steady value across the board and could have some increased short-term value is Collins' injury lingers.
Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban has never been shy about discussing the benefits of tanking and was fined by the league last month for saying as much. Injuries have helped the Maves' chase for ping pong balls, as Wesley Matthews (leg) is out for the season, while Dennis Smith Jr. (ankle) is set to miss multiple games.
As such, Yogi Ferrell is in line to see more playing time down the stretch, and his ability to play both guard spots vaults him ahead of J.J. Barea and Kyle Collinsworth, who could also see increased time. Don't count on Ferrell to provide many rebounds or assists, but he's scored at least 10 points in four straight games and is averaging 1.6 three-pointers per game on the season.
Nerlens Noel missed much of the season due to injury, but he's healthy now and getting a look as the season winds down. Although his minutes have been limited, Noel is still averaging 7.9 rebounds, two steals and 1.1 blocks in seven games in March. The Mavericks have rested him for one game during back-to-back sets and taken a cautious approach with his return, but he's someone to consider for owners in need of rebounds and help in the defensive categories.
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