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Fantasy Basketball: Isaiah Thomas is back

IT is about to make his return, plus a few players to add on the waiver wire.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Here’s what Isaiah Thomas did last season: top three in scoring (28.9 PPG), top five in 3PM (3.2 per game), top 20 in assists (5.9 per game), top seven in free throw attempts (8.5 per game), and he was 90.9% from the line, which was the second best percentage for players who play at least 30 minutes per game (CJ McCollum was first, but only attempted 3.7 free throws per game, less than half what I.T. attempted).

In my league he was the 16th most valuable player last season, ahead of players like Maestro Dame Lillard, Paul George, Chris Paul, and Kyrie Irving. In ESPN basic I.T. was the 9th best player overall, right behind Kevin Durant. He had a 62.5 True Shooting percentage last year, which was 9th best out of players who averaged at least 25 minutes per game (Steph Curry 1.0 was 11th best).

Isaiah Thomas is about to join a team led by the best player alive. People are concerned about whether I.T. will be able to get his shot off; did any of those concerned people watch him take over 4th quarters last year, while double-teamed? While the opposing teams schemed against him? While they treated I.T. appropriately, as one of the best players, period, in the entire NBA? Why on GOD’S GREEN EARTH would he now be worse when opposing teams have to account for LEBRON JAMES??? I think Little Big Man will be ferocious in this second half. I think his ratios might be even better than last year. I think he has something to prove and I think he’s on a team with something to prove, led by a player who has something to prove. Truly excellent players don’t usually get worse when they join a better situation. I.T. might not score as much, but he’ll continue to play at an elite level. It’s probably too late to trade for him in fantasy, but continue to monitor his numbers. His owners might get skittish while he’s on a minutes restriction and playing the rust off; if you can grab him on the cheap, I think you should go for it.

Here are some players who have had very good fantasy months and may be available in your fantasy league:

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (69% owned): Averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds over the past 30 days. He’s been taking more shots than Kyle Lowry (and, making more of them) for comparison’s sake, and if he adds a 3-point shot, RHJ may turn into a 4real fantasy asset. He’s 22 years old, so if you’re looking for youth with upside, here’s your man.

Josh Richardson (46%): Richardson averaged 17 points on 52% shooting this past month, with 4 boards, 3 dimes, and 2 threes per game. If you switch the rebounds and assists, that’s Mike Conley on the season. Do you think Mike Conley is good?

Jamal Murray (60%): Heeeere we go. Murray’s looking like fire right now and the Nuggets are looking fun AF. Over the past month he’s averaging 18 points, 4 boards, 3 assists, a steal, and 2+ threes per game. He’s got a positive PER (above 15) on the season and he’s only 20 years old. This kid will improve, this team will improve. I’m a believer. If you can trade for Murray or Dr. Gary Harris, I would do so.

Caris LeVert (38%): LeVert might be eligible for 4 positions by the end of the season, all except Center. Over the past 30 days the 23 year old, 6’7” SG/SF/PF has averaged 15 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, a steal, and a 3 per game. He had ELEVEN ASSISTS against Miami a few nights ago. Feel free to think that says more about the Heat than it does about LeVert, but I beg to differ: it’s GOD DAMN hard to pass that well, no matter who you’re playing. I wish the NBA would expand to 32 teams already so that the Nets could allow their two-teams-worth of interesting players to get appropriate playing time.

Taurean Prince (38%): 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2+ threes per game over the past month. If you don’t need that on your team, then congratulations, you have the best team ever made anywhere.

Here are the top 25 players in PER this season:

  1. James Harden: 30.6
  2. LeBron James: 30.2
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 29.8
  4. Anthony Davis: 28.4
  5. Stephen Curry: 28.1
  6. Clint Capela: 26.5
  7. Kyrie Irving: 25.2
  8. Kevin Durant: 25.0
  9. Hassan Whiteside: 24.9
  10. Kevin Love: 24.9
  11. Chris Paul: 24.8
  12. Russell Westbrook: 24.6
  13. Nikola Jokic: 24.1
  14. DeMarcus Cousins: 24.0
  15. Enes Kanter: 24.0
  16. Victor Oladipo: 23.9
  17. DeMar DeRozan: 23.7
  18. LaMarcus Aldridge: 23.7
  19. Nikola Mirotic: 23.6
  20. Joel Embiid: 23.3
  21. Karl-Anthony Towns: 23.3
  22. Andre Drummond: 23.2
  23. Tyreke Evans: 23.2
  24. Damian Lillard: 22.8
  25. Jimmy Butler: 22.7

My biggest takeaway from this is that Enes Kanter is much, much better than he gets credit for. He’s currently ranked 44th on ESPN’s basic player rater, and he’s 38th in my league (more/different stat cats), right behind Klay Thompson. Kanter is averaging a double-double on the year, 13.5 points per game and 10 rebounds, and he’s shooting 59% from the field, which is 6th best for players who average 25+ minutes per game (he averages the most shots and assists out of those 6 players, too, by the way). He has the 12th best true shooting percentage in the entire NBA. His defense in real life is...improvable, to say the least. But, as a fantasy player, I think Kanter should be owned in 90% of leagues. He’s 25 years old and he’s one of only a few players that averages double digit points and double digit rebounds. If you can trade for him in your league without giving up another 90+% owned dude, I’d seriously consider doing it. Sometimes, the very best thing you can do in fantasy basketball is distill multiple assets into one better asset. Kanter is young, Kanter is good, Kanter provides rare stats (good ratios and dub-dubs) = Kanter should be owned more.

Way to go Tyreke Evans, by the way.

The Eastern Conference has five teams with a positive point differential. The Western Conference has seven. The East has been considered the worse conference for the better part of a decade, and it still seems like the lesser conference now. We’re approaching the halfway point of the season (41 games played, not the All Star Break) and teams are crystallizing, if they’ve not already, into the teams they really are. I think the Bulls and the Clippers are teams that could improve dramatically in the second half (mainly due to injured players getting healthy), but it would take a looooong win streak for the Bulls to make the postseason, and the Clippers will have another injured player by the team you’re finished reading this sentence. (Please feel free to revisit this post on the Never Injured & Always Useful Danilo Cincinnatus Gallinari)

Regardless, odds are that the teams that are bound for the postseason right now are the teams that will make the postseason, though the seeding may change. The one exception is the Knicks, who may end up taking the Heat’s spot in the East. (Does it feel like the Heat players are auditioning for other teams? I get the feeling that the Heat don’t think they’re a real team and they’re anxious to move assets, but it’s tough to publicly fold a season when you’re playing good basketball and have a winning record. I like a lot of their players, and their coaching remains top notch, but sumpin’s off here. They’re a competent and capable team but they have a negative point differential, the third-worst points per game, and they’re bottom 5 in defending the three (38% opponent 3PT shooting percentage). Plus, they turn the ball over quite a bit (they’re ranked 20th, where first place turns the ball over the least.)

Hmmm, would the Pistons trade RJax for Goran Dragic? The contracts are basically the same. This would allow Miami to get younger without surrendering money or picks, while allowing Detroit to incorporate a new point guard with plenty of time before the playoffs. I, a gorgeous and wise Pistons fan (though prone to redundancy, apparently, amirite), am in favor of this trade. Please let Adam Silver know that I approve.