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Stocks Up: Elite defenders worth adding to your fantasy basketball team

Defense often translates to top fantasy production. Here are 5 elite defenders who belong on your fantasy team.

USA Today/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Last year, 2018-19, there were only 11 players in the NBA who averaged 1+ Steal Per Game and 1+ Block Per Game: Giannis Antetokounmpo (5th on ESPN’s Player Rater in 2018-19), Anthony Davis (13th), Nikola Vucevic (10th), Andre Drummond (18th), Boogie Cousins (only played 30 games, and is out indefinitely), Jusuf Nurkic (32nd), Steven Adams (84th), Marc Gasol (39th), Robert “Bob” Covington (only played 35 games), Dewayne Dedmon (80th), and Draymond Green (68th).

A few things jump out from that list: Only Marc Gasol, was over 30 years old; all of those players averaged 25+ Minutes Per Game; all of them averaged at least 1 Assist Per Game; only two of those players, Dray and Bob Covington, are shorter than 6’10” (they’re 6’6” and 6’7”, respectively, according to NBA.com); and, all of them were top 100 players, or would have been, had they not been injured (read: Boogie and Bob).

Players with good hands who get steals and blocks also tend to have a few assists and they play enough minutes to accumulate at least 10+ Points Per Game (except for Draymond who had a bad shooting year from three, 28 3PT%; he’s a 32 3PT% career shooter).

So, who’s being handsy this year? Whose stocks (steals+blocks) are up? (All numbers prior to the Sunday games.)

There are currently 19 players in the NBA averaging 1+ SPG, 1+ BPG, 1+ APG, and 20+ MPG (we’re being generous with the minutes because the season is so young):

  1. Anthony Davis, 99% owned on ESPN, 7th on the 2019-20 Player Rater
  2. Kawhi Leonard, 99% owned, 6th PR
  3. Karl-Anthony Towns, 99% owned, 13th PR
  4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 99% owned, 4th PR
  5. Joel Embiid, 99% owned, 88th PR (only played 3 of 5 games)
  6. Andre Drummond, 99% owned, 1st PR (Ball Don’t Lie!)
  7. John Collins, 98% owned, 30th PR
  8. Bam Adebayo, 82% owned, 40th PR
  9. Clint Capela, 97% owned, 85th PR
  10. Josh Richardson, 63% owned, 73rd PR
  11. Will Barton, 45% owned, 131st PR (injured)
  12. Jimmy Butler, 98% owned, negative on the Player Rater because he’s only played 2 games
  13. Thomas Bryant, 82% owned, 47th PR
  14. OG Anunoby, 31% owned, 26th PR
  15. Rudy Gobert, 98% owned, 63rd PR
  16. Jonathan Isaac, 47% owned, 18th PR
  17. Kent Bazemore, 3% owned, 135th PR
  18. Dwight Howard, 63% owned, 95th PR
  19. Matisse Thybulle, 2% owned, 124th PR

You’ll notice that all of these players are in the top 150. You’ll also notice that several of them are shorter than 6’10”, whereas only two players were shorter than that on last year’s list.

Let’s talk about some of the lesser owned players: JRich, OG, Jonathan Isaac, Kent Bazemore, and Les Fauves, Matisse. All four but Richardson are available in at least half of ESPN leagues. These are the players you should consider adding, especially if you have an open roster spot, or are using a spot to stream because if these players can keep up their 1+/1+/1+ all season, they’ll have a good chance of ending up as a top 100 player, at least, based on last year’s numbers. Good defense and passing keeps you out on the court, which gets you minutes, which makes everything go. In other words, these are players with upside that isn’t reflected by their ownership.

We’re not going to talk about Will Barton, because he’s injured. And, we’re not going to talk about Dwight Howard because I don’t care. If he’s avails in your league, then sure, go grab him.

Josh Richardson

Richardson is third in MPG on Philadelphia right now, he’s taking over 12 shots per game, and 4+ 3-Point Attempts, and grabbing 4+ rebounds per game. Less than 50 players in the NBA are doing that, and JRich is also shooting worse than his career averages (39 FG% this year, 42.5 career FG%; 21 3PT% this year, 36.5 career 3PT%), so his value will most likely go up as his shots start to go in. Richardson, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford are in Philly to space the floor for Embiid and Ben Simmons, and to play defense. Richardson is doing all of that right now AND he’s likely to improve his ratios and PPG. If you can trade low for him, I would do so, as I can’t really see a situation where he drops out of the top 100.

OG Anunoby

OG is a young, top 30 wing. He’s spectacular defensively (top 20 in defensive rating for players who average 30+ MPG), and his ratios are excellent: 55+ FG% and 45+ 3PT%. Now, those probably won’t last, as he should be getting more shots with ratios like that, and more shots probably means his efficiency will go down somewhat. On the other hand, OG Anunoby is one of only 13 players to average 50/40 shooting and 30+ MPG (and, he has the second-lowest FGA on that list), so maybe he maintains.

One area of positive improvement OG could work on is getting to the free throw line. He hasn’t averaged a trip to the line in his three year career, and he’ll need to be able to complement his outside shooting with fouls if he’s really going to be a lethal tool offensively.

But, he’s a top 30 player with a low 30s ownership. Does that make sense to you?

Oh yeah, he has the 7th best effective field goal percentage out of everyone who averages 30+ MPG, but he’s only 33% from the free throw line. If he gets more trips to the line, and sinks them, his value can only go up.

Jonathan Isaac

Isaac is currently second in MPG on the Magic, and he’s kinda the only one who can shoot from outside, so far. He’s a top 20 guy who isn’t owned in at least half the leagues. Sumpin stinks. Why don’t people believe? His ratios aren’t out of whack, and all of his counting stats are on an upward trajectory, improving each season, including his free throws. Maybe it’s because he had one really good game (24 points, 5 threes), but just went 3 for 13 against Denver and only scored 7 points? Big deal, he also got 3 blocks and 2 steals. Yes, please!

Only 10 players are currently averaging 10+ PPG, 6+ RPG, and 2+ BPG, and Isaac is one of them. And, only TWO players are doing that while also taking at least 4 3PA per game: Jonathan Isaac and, hello!, Kristaps Porzingis. Issac deserves to be more widely owned.

Kent Bazemore

Bazemore had 5 of his steals in the first game of the season, and he’s coming off the bench for the Trail Blazers. But, so what? He’s currently 6th in MGP on Portland, and 5th in field goal attempts. He’s shooting ten points worse than his career average from the line, so that should probably regress positively, and he’ll start averaging better than his current 8 PPG (he’s averaged over 10 PPG the last four years).

He averaged 24.5 MPG last year with Atlanta, and he’s averaging 24.9 MPG with Portland thus far this season. Last year, Bazemore grabbed 89 total steals and 42 total blocks. Only 12 other players in the NBA did that, and all of those guys played at least 2000 total minutes last year; Bazemore only played in 1600! If he can keep his minutes steady and play around 75 games, then his totals should be fantastic. He’s basically free off the waiver.

Matisse Thybulle

Le Fauve! This wild beast is a defensive master, averaging 2+ steals per game while averaging under 21 MPG. His colorful play is a perfect fit with Philly’s style, even if his offensive prowess remains early-period-unfocused and frenetic. Much like Henri Matisse’s Nu Bleu, you could burn Thybulle’s offense in effigy (23 FG%, 26 3PT%), but this is his first season, and his ratios will most likely improve as the season goes along. Forget the scoring and just concentrate on the difficult defensive stats that he accumulates. Thybulle is currently 6th in MPG on Philly; they believe in him. So should you.

Think of it this way: he’s already top 125 despite his bad shooting. How high will he go in value when he finds his stroke and starts painting masterpieces?

All numbers courtesy of NBA.com, ESPN.com, and Basketball-Reference.com. Thank you!