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  • Andy Behrens
    President
  • Emil Kadlec
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  • Bob Harris
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Written by Jeff Feld   
Tuesday, 11 December 2018 15:36

Fantasy basketball insight: A scout’s take on four waiver wire options

By Jeff Feld

Dec 6, 2018

Link: https://theathletic.com/700281/2018/12/07/waiver-wire-flyers-bobby-portis-poised-for-bullish-return-to-chicago-lineup/

We​ are​ officially​ past​ the quarter mark​ of the 2018-19 NBA season,​ and​ boy has it lived​ up to​​ expectations thus far.

The re-shaped Eastern Conference, formerly known as “LeBron’s team and everyone else” is now led by a trio of heavyweight, superstar-studded clubs in Toronto, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Meanwhile, a revitalized Pistons team that nobody seems to talk about is waiting in the wings, and we haven’t even mentioned Boston, the preseason conference favorite still trying to find its identity and chemistry.

And then there’s the Western Conference, where literally 14 of 15 teams (sorry Suns) are in contention for playoff spots in a race that will almost certainly come down to April 10th to decide the final eight.

The league-wide parity has been great for the casual fan to League Pass subscribers and, yes, even fantasy owners. In my last column, we looked at the surging Sacramento Kings and why their well-known young core is worth investing in now. But this time around, we’ll go in a different direction and examine four players who are all 50% owned (well, actually, 51%) and under, whom I like as bench boosters as we jump into the second quarter of the season.

 

Bobby Portis – Chicago Bulls – 30% owned

Portis only appeared in four games this season before suffering a right knee injury that sidelined him on October 25th. According to reports, Portis has been participating in full contact practices in preparation for his imminent return.

This is great news for an injury-laden Bulls squad and new head coach Jim Boylen, who has an affinity for hard-nosed, physical and scrappy players like – you guessed it – Portis.

The circumstances on and off the court have the stars lined up for Portis. His style of play personifies what Boylen will try to instill in the Bulls, featuring physicality and hustle, two of his strongest attributes. After ho-hum rookie and sophomore seasons, Portis’ production almost doubled in 2017-18, jumping to 13.2 PPG and 6.8 RPG while shooting 47% from the field. He averaged just over three 3FGA per game last year and extending his range has been the focal point of his development over the past three seasons.

The opportunity and minutes are there for the taking despite the return of franchise cornerstone Lauri Markkanen, who happens to play the same position as Portis. Markkanen and Portis could see the floor together with the odd man out being Jabari Parker, whose leash is shrinking by the day and is the stylistic antithesis of Portis.

Don’t sleep on the not-so-small detail that Portis and the Bulls failed to reach a contract extension earlier in the year which will most certainly play a factor in BP’s on-court approach. Regardless of statistical output, Portis is one of the most prideful and confident players I have been around and consistently plays with one of the biggest of chips on his shoulder. Proving his worth as he enters free agency this summer will certainly be a motivating factor.

Portis is spark plug with infectious energy that can impact a game immediately. At 5-20, the Bulls won’t be vying for anything but playing experience and ping pong balls for the rest of the year. While he may not be enough to single-handedly turn the team fortunes around, expect Portis to get his share of stat-stuffing games that could prove to be a nice fantasy boost.

Joe Harris – Brooklyn Nets – 45% owned

It’s been a wild five seasons for Brooklyn’s Joe Harris. A second-round draft pick of Cleveland in 2014, Harris impressed early and earned his way into the Cavs’ rotation, seeing action in 51 games his rookie year. But things took a drastic dive the following season as Harris only saw the floor five times for the eventual NBA champs, and found a home with the Brooklyn Nets in 2016-17.

The Nets, who seem to be in perpetual kick-the-tires mode, may have found one to stick in Harris, who has quietly put together a nice year and is poised to keep his production steadily rising. Averaging 13.1 PPG, Harris is shooting the lights out from three at a 45% clip on 5.2 3FGA, by far the highest mark of his young career. He’s started in all 23 games he’s played in this season and had a minor setback with a strained abductor that has kept him out of the past three contests.

Similar to Portis, Harris has the benefit of minutes availability and playing in no-consequence games. Though Harris’ minutes have been consistent, the loss of Caris LeVert will mean more shots in an effort to make up some of the 18.4 PPG now absent from the Nets’ offense.

I had the pleasure of being in Cleveland for Harris’ two seasons and was impressed by his maturity, work ethic and ability to shoot the ball – a combination of factors that led to us drafting him 33rd overall in 2014.It was frustrating for him (and ultimately us as a front office) to play so well in practice and struggle translating those efforts to games. The change of scenery, increased opportunity and having four years of experience under his belt have been a large part of his recent success in Brooklyn, one nobody from his Cleveland days, including me, is surprised to see.

The injury that Harris is returning from is not serious so expect him to be back in uniform sooner than later. It may have taken a couple years and as many stops, but Harris is finally starting to cash in on his potential which is reason to pay attention.

Tyreke Evans – Indiana Pacers – 51% owned

Changing directions here with Evans, who is the only one on this list (barely) above the 50% owned mark coming in at 51%. Still, given his circumstances and kind of player he is capable of being, I think Evans is undervalued and presents an opportunity to buy low.

The 2010 Rookie of the Year has made a nice career over the course of the past decade by doing one thing really well – scoring. Evans has averaged double-figure scoring outputs each of his 10 seasons and hasn’t finished a year shooting worse than 40% from the floor.

Granted, his scoring and shooting averages are down this season at 10.6 PPG and 37% from the field respectively, Evans has a terrific opportunity to break out of his slump with the announcement that Victor Oladipo will remain sidelined with a nagging knee injury. Evans, like most of his teammates, has played better while sharing the floor with Oladipo, which I boldly point out isn’t too surprising given how good Oladipo is. But a vote of confidence from Nate McMillan, who says Evans will stay in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future, may be what Evans needs to shake the rust off.

A general rule of thumb in the NBA is that scorers in slumps will eventually shoot their way out of it. I’d be a little more concerned if we were talking about a second- or even third-year player. But we are talking about a guy who has scored over 8,800 points since 2009. This isn’t the first time Evans has hit a drought and probably won’t be the last. He’s human. We may be too hard on a guy who is in his first year with a new team who he has started just 8 of 23 games with. The Pacers’ coaching staff seems to have confidence in him, which is why you should, too.

Alfonzo McKinnie – Golden State Warriors – 0% owned

Time for the wild-card round for those of you who either have an open roster spot or really want to take a gamble here. So why is it a good idea to pick up a player averaging 6.2 PPG this season and who has played 31 games in his career? Let’s take a look.

McKinnie does not have your typical NBA pedigree. A product of mid-major Wisconsin-Green Bay, he found himself playing post-college basketball in international leagues even he’d never heard of prior to signing there. After a trip through a 3-on-3 circuit where he played in atriums of shopping malls (no, I’m not kidding) Al landed in an open tryout for the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s G League affiliate, which is where I first saw him since his days at Green Bay.

McKinnie not only made our team in 2016 – he went on to make the G League All-Star game and has since played for the Toronto Raptors and now Golden State Warriors.

McKinnie is a 6-foot-8 wing who fits everything the Warriors are about. He’s a phenomenal athlete with great length and is a stud in the open floor, especially with exceptional passers like Steph Curry and Draymond Green (and even Quinn Cook of the second unit) making life easy for him. With double-digit scoring performances off the bench against Phoenix (10 PTS), Chicago (19) and Memphis (14), McKinnie was cementing his role in the Warriors’ rotation until suffering a minor foot injury that held him out of nine games.

Now healthy, there is no reason to believe this kid couldn’t play a Harrison Barnes-type role for these Warriors. He has the athleticism and versatility on the wing to go with his drastically-improved three-point shooting. Here’s something to keep in mind – in his first season (2016-17) playing for Windy City, he shot 31% from three on 2.66 attempts per game. Two years later, he’s shooting 47% from behind the line on almost two attempts per game for the defending world champions.

This is someone Golden State has been intrigued with for some time, and for good reason. The Warriors are getting healthy, which is terrible news for 29 other teams. Expect to continue hearing about McKinnie’s meteoric rise as the Warriors’ latest wing weapon.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2018 15:36
 
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Written by Jeff Feld   
Tuesday, 11 December 2018 15:28

 In reality and fantasy, the Sacramento Kings are finally forcing you to pay attention

By Jeff Feld

Nov 20, 2018

Link: 

https://theathletic.com/666167/2018/11/20/in-reality-and-fantasy-the-sacramento-kings-are-finally-forcing-you-to-pay-attention/

It’s​ well​ documented​ that​ the Sacramento Kings​ have been the league​ punching​ bag for jokes about​ organizational dysfunction​​ for more than a decade now. While some wounds have been self-inflicted, others can be chalked up to a string of bad luck, such as playing in a relentless conference and being a less-than-desirable free agent market. Fair or not, these circumstances have kept Sacramento as Western Conference basement dwellers since Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” was No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100 in 2006. To exacerbate their woes, the Kings have been living in the shadows of the Bay Area basketball darling Golden State Warriors, who have been trending toward dynasty status by winning three of the last four NBA championships.

This year’s Kings sit at 9-8 just 17 games into the 2018-19 season. According to Basketball Reference, that’s two games better than their expected 7-10 record to this point. And while .500 basketball in November isn’t exactly reason for parade planning, this team looks — and feels — different from years past. The Kings have a trio of dynamic young players in De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein and Buddy Hield whose upward trend is reason for fans and fantasy owners to start paying attention to Northern California’s “other” team. While the three players below are owned in more than 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues, there’s still upside here and they should be considered must-own trade targets for owners.

De’Aaron Fox – PG

The fifth overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft has been every bit electrifying as advertised and is the perfect ambassador to usher in a new era of Kings basketball. Fox’s development in his second season has been drastic across the board, making significant improvements in overall field goal percentage (41% to 51%), three-point percentage (31% on 2.1 attempts to 42% on 3.3 attempts), free throw attempts (2.7 to 6.0), assists (4.4 to 7.0) and points (11.6 to 19.0). Lottery picks are almost always shouldered with expectations to take a step up from their rookie season, but Fox’s has been astronomical, and it doesn’t look like a fluke.

This is a kid who scouts have been in love with due to his work ethic, physical traits and ability to change the pace of a game on both ends of the floor. He is explosive in transition and utilizes his length (+3 wingspan) and athleticism to get to the rim in the blink of an eye. Add in the fact that his biggest weakness coming into the draft (shooting just under 25 percent from the college three-point line) seems to be a thing of the past as he has adjusted tremendously to the deeper NBA line. This improvement can be considered understated for what it will do for Fox and the rest of his teammates as they continue to learn how to play together. Stretching the defense as a shooting threat will ultimately open the floor for Fox. But more importantly, Fox will be more effective as a playmaker in pick and roll and drive and kick offense, which is where Cauley-Stein and Hield come in (more on them further down).

It’s no secret that Fox is lining up to be a special player. What does surprise is just how much and how fast he’s improved statistically and stylistically and is the physical and emotional motor of this team.

Willie Cauley-Stein – C

It’s hard to believe, but the 25-year-old Cauley-Stein is one of the longest-tenured players on this Kings roster in just his fourth season (Kosta Koufos has been there the same time as Cauley-Stein). But that’s been perhaps the biggest reason we’ve yet to see him break out — lack of consistency in an organization that has had a healthy combination of coaching and roster turnover.

A top-six pick in 2015 coming out of Kentucky, Cauley-Stein was regarded as one of the most physically gifted bigs in the draft. His ability to run the floor and vertical athleticism at seven feet tall outweighed his inability to stretch the floor, a trend the league had already turned to for bigs in his draft. But the Kings were investing in his long-term ability as a lob-catching, rim-ripping big who could be a nightmare in pick and roll while being nimble enough to guard the same action on the defensive end of the floor while his rim protection was icing on the cake.

Now with the addition of Fox, the Kings have one of the most intriguing pick and roll duos in the league. So far this season, Cauley-Stein has taken over 85% of his field goal attempts inside 10 feet and don’t look for that to change any time soon. With a more balanced roster featuring a Fox and Hield back court, Cauley-Stein can be the dominant interior presence Sacramento fans have been waiting to see emerge.

Buddy Hield – SG

Hield is the third piece of the Kings core who has shown steady improvement entering his second full season with the team. Hield was quickly written off as a college star whose game “didn’t translate,” but that hasn’t exactly been the case.

He was prolific in his time at Oklahoma and was one of the most entertaining players to scout live in his senior season (most memorable was my front-row seat to his 39-point blitzing of Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals). Critics are quick to judge when players fail to churn out the same stats they produced in college. Luckily for Hield (and Sacramento), his specialty is one that will forever be an invaluable commodity in the NBA: shooting.

If you are an elite shooter, you will always have a chance to find your way on a roster. Take a popular comparison for Hield in JJ Redick. The 76ers sharpshooter took five seasons to average double-figure scoring outputs.Redick is a career 45/44/89 shooter who is arguably playing his best basketball in now his

14th NBA season. With similar size and shooting pedigree, Hield has technically out-performed Redick thus far in his career and has better athletic ability plus room for his game to grow. So, the idea that he hasn’t lived up to expectations is silly.

Hield fits because he spaces the floor. If you have a shooter of Hield’s caliber, it spreads defenses out, regardless of how good a night he’s having. A spaced floor will allow Fox and Cauley-Stein to do damage in pick and roll or allow Fox to penetrate and kick for what should be good looks to wings such as Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is close to a career 40% three-point shooter himself.

The Fox/Cauley-Stein/Hield trio is the best three-man rotation per 100 possessions so far this season for the Kings. All three players are expected to continue their upward trend, which is promising in itself. Add in that team is the seventh youngest in the NBA and has even more intrigue in Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles, and fantasy could become a reality soon enough in Sac-Town.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2018 15:31
 
2018 award nominations are open PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andy Behrens   
Friday, 02 November 2018 00:00

 

 

From today through Wednesday, December 19, FSWA members will be able to submit nominations for the 2018 Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. At the conclusion of the submission process, an independent panel of judges will decide each of the award categories. 

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 November 2018 07:09
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Written by Jeff Feld   
Tuesday, 11 December 2018 15:25

Fantasy tips from a scout: Three intriguing players who will bounce back from 2017-18 injuries

By Jeff Feld

Nov 5, 2018

Link: 

https://theathletic.com/635949/2018/11/05/fantasy-tips-from-a-scout-three-intriguing-players-who-will-bounce-back-from-2017-18-injuries/

The​ NBA can​ be​ a cold,​ unforgiving and unfair​ business. In the world’s​ most​ competitive basketball league, it’s​ hard enough​​ to become relevant, but even harder to stay relevant. Front offices, coaching staffs and fans are always looking for who or what’s next, and in today’s win-now-or-bust culture, patience is a virtue that has become antiquated league-wide.

And no matter how much the league changes, nothing will make you irrelevant quicker than injury. Injuries don’t discriminate – high school, college and professional accolades earned throughout your career can’t protect you from getting hurt. And no measure of potential, hard work or good karma is immune either. But one thing we are too often guilty of is forgetting about good – sometimes great– players who are hit with the misfortune of an injury and are left behind and forgotten about during an extended absence.

Today we’ll look at three players who missed significant time in the 2017-18 season who could be on track to return to form, or better, in 2018-19.

Zach LaVine – Chicago Bulls

Games Played in 17-18: 24

When the Chicago Bulls made the decision to trade franchise cornerstone Jimmy Butler in the summer of 2017, there was tremendous belief within the organization that the move would bring a youthful and invigorating return to give the team a much-needed facelift. At the time, the centerpiece of the transaction was third-year guard Zach LaVine who had suffered an ACL tear 47 games into the 2016-17 season, forcing him to miss all but 24 games of the 2017-18 season. And while LaVine managed to work his way back on to the floor last year, there was no secret that the 2018-19 season would be the most telling of the 23-year-old’s career.

LaVine is a special athlete who I’ve been fond of since my time on staff at the University of Arizona, where he rejected our recruiting efforts for rival UCLA, spending one season in Westwood before entering the 2014 draft. LaVine’s intrigue to NBA scouts was simple – at 6’5, the wiry guard drew comparisons anywhere from Shaun Livingston to Jeremy Lamb and even caught mentions of fellow Bruin alum Russell Westbrook. And while the point guard experiment didn’t go as planned during his stint in Minnesota, the healthy, focused LaVine is determined to make an impact in his first healthy season with the Bulls.

The early returns of the 2018-19 season have been promising for LaVine – and it’s a solid bet that he’ll remain Chicago’s top scorer as long as he’s healthy. LaVine has the most valuable natural gift that a player can have in this league – top-tier athleticism. No matter what his game has lacked in the past, such as his inconsistent shooting or ability to play heavy minutes at point guard, scouts generally think if the physical and athletic ability are there, the skill can be developed. It’s not so easy the other way around.

In my last season with Chicago, I saw first-hand how determined and focused LaVine was to get healthy and get back on the floor. In a contract year, he had something to prove, spending countless hours rehabbing on his own and even spent time on rehab assignment with the Bulls’ G League affiliate before being cleared to return.

LaVine has been thrust into a scoring role as a versatile wing player this season, averaging over 26 PPG through 10 games. He can play on and off the ball and has shown great development in his half-court offense; a great sign of skill development for a player with a stigma for only being lethal in the open floor. LaVine will be delighted when the Bulls return the bulk of their injured starters and key reserves (Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine) as he won’t lose playing time to any of them and will benefit from their presence on the floor.

As the Bulls’ second season of rebuilding continues, look for LaVine’s redemption tour to as well.

Mike Conley – Memphis Grizzlies

Games Played in 17-18: 12

Last season’s iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies has allowed us to forget – or rather appreciate – just how good Mike Conley is. There’s a reason Grind City committed a five-year, $153 million contract to the then-nine-year NBA veteran in the summer of 2016. But all it took was a left heel injury and nagging Achilles (that kept Conley sidelined after just 12 games last year) for the Grizz to miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Fast forward to the young 2018-19 season and Memphis has been a sweet surprise to start the year. At 5-3, good enough for fifth place in the wild Western Conference, Conley hasn’t seemed to miss a beat.

Now in his 12th NBA season, Conley is playing over 31 MPG and averaging over 19 PPG. His 5.9 APG is good enough for a top-25 ranking and he’s on track to average his lowest turnover count of his career at 1.5 per game (a 3.92 A/TO ratio). But what Memphis appreciates the most about Conley is the impact he has in a locker room and throughout the organization.

Conley is an anomaly in that his salary is not a deterrent for teams looking to add someone with his combination of on-court production and leadership, both on and off the floor. In NBA front offices, it’s easy to be weary of high mileage, veteran players coming off injury, especially those making over $30 million annually. But his name has already been floated in trade rumors as a trade target for teams expecting to compete for a championship now.

Conley is as well-respected a name as you’ll find around the league. He can quarterback a team offensively and his defensive savvy is what helped earn his tough, gritty reputation for over a decade now. The unfortunate circumstances of injury and being plagued with playing in the Western Conference may have allowed Conley to slip from fans’ collective memory last season. But he’s back and can be expected to return to form sooner than later.

Danilo Gallinari – Los Angeles Clippers

Games Played in 17-18: 21

For the casual NBA fan, Danilo Gallinari is the kind of player you forget about until you see him playing your team and think, “Oh wow, he’s still in the league?” Whether it’s the three teams in 11 seasons or the injury-peppered career that’s limited him to an average of 45 games per year, Gallo isn’t the first one to come to mind when you think “fantasy star.” And a right hand fracture that limited him to just 21 games last season doesn’t help that perception.

But Gallinari, when healthy, is a talented and multi-threat scoring option who executives and coaches have had perpetual intrigue with for a number of years. At 6’10/225, the Italian stretch forward can be plugged into almost any offensive system and find a way to score from both the perimeter and paint.

Gallinari has averaged double-figure scoring outputs in nine of his 10 NBA seasons, with the outlier being his rookie year a decade ago. And now just nine games into the season, Gallinari looks to be at full strength for the new-look, Blake Griffin-less Clippers, averaging 19.8 PPG in 29 MPG.

The Clippers are 5-4 and it’s too soon to tell exactly what can be expected from this group. But one thing that’s promising for the Clips – and should demand some attention for fantasy players – is that Gallo is putting up incredibly sturdy numbers while being an integral part of winning for Los Angeles. Take it with a grain of salt as we aren’t even 10 games into the season, but as of today, Gallinari ranks 19th in individual offensive rating and 11th in win shares, keeping good company with names such as Kevin Durant (18th in individual OR) and DeMar DeRozan (10th in win shares).

So what does this mean for the casual fan or fantasy owner? Front offices depend on advanced metrics and analytics such as win share percentage and offensive/defensive ratings just like they consider WARP (wins above replacement player), PER and per 36 metrics as supplemental indicators of individual and team success. And while it’s been noted that the sample size is small, Gallo’s individual statistical outputs and impact on winning are good indicators that he’ll be able to maintain his strong play for the foreseeable future and could be a nice move for a fantasy owner in need of an off-the-radar pickup.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2018 15:30
 
Three chosen for 2018 FSWA Hall of Fame PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andy Behrens   
Monday, 15 October 2018 06:05

 

The Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hall of Fame committee has selected three individuals for induction in 2018. We are pleased to welcome this year's Hall of Fame class:

Last Updated on Monday, 15 October 2018 06:08
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