Draft season is upon us! Hopefully, your fantasy basketball draft went well (or, will go well, prior to the season beginning ON TUESDAY!).
Below are five players whose ownership, or lack thereof, intrigues me. If you’re looking for answers in your draft, or on the wire, maybe take a ganders at these guys. All five could have higher ownership levels as the year goes along, which is exactly what you’re looking for at the end of drafts and when you’re searching on the wire. (Percent rostered in ESPN leagues.)
Jonas Valanciunas, C, MEM (87% rostered)
Valanciunas is 28 years old. His line last year was 14+ points per game, 11+ rebounds per game, 1+ blocks per game, and nearly two assists per game. He finished last season ranked 31st on ESPN’s basic Player Rater.
He’s currently getting drafted 60th in ESPN leagues, after Mitchell Robinson, who may not even start for the New York Knicks.
Last season, only 15 players averaged 10+ PPG and 10+ RPG, including Valanciunas.
Only eight players averaged a double-double while also attempting at least one 3-pointer per game, including Valanciunas. He had the third BEST 3PT% of those eight players, 35.2 3PT%, which was better than Nikola Vucevic (though, on less volume). And, Valanciunas didn’t even average 30 minutes per game last year (26.4 MPG).
Out of all the players last season who averaged at least 10 shots per game, Valanciunas had the FIFTH BEST True Shooting percentage, 63.1, between the Big KAT, Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Latvian Laser, Davis Bertans.
So, Valanciunas gets you points and boards in quantities that are rare, and he helps you on your ratios. He’s already highly rostered, but there’s also no reason to think that he’s hit his ceiling. He may not be able to average 30+ minutes a night, but his production is safe, and efficient. If you can get a safe, durable center (he’s only played fewer than 60 games once in his eight year career), especially one who’s maybe got a better outside shot than he lets on, then you can live with his somewhat modest point totals. He’s third round talent going in the fifth round.
Will Barton, SF/SG, DEN (13% rostered)
Last season, Will Barton was #79 on the ESPN Player Rater. He’s currently 13% rostered and is being drafted outside the top 150. Huh?
Barton had some injury issues, but he’s most likely ready to go once the season starts.
He’s currently listed as the backup to Michael Porter, Jr. in Denver, but that’s with Paul Millsap starting at the four. Even if Barton doesn’t start, there are (defensive) reasons why he should still get a lot of play, and why he may be an undervalued fantasy player.
Last year, of all the NBA players who averaged 5+ RPG and 5+ 3PA per game, Barton had the 11th best 3PT% (and, he was 40% on catch and shoot threes, accepting dimes from Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic). His stat line was 15/6/3 with 1+ steals per game, on 45% shooting. He’s an extremely solid player! Only 25 players in the NBA averaged 15/6/3, and Barton had the sixth best 3PT% of that group, right behind Kawhi.
If Barton doesn’t start, but does get his minutes, then he’ll be a nice, cheap pickup, with top 80 upside like last season. The most important thing for Denver this year is a rotation that allows Murray to drive, Joker to pass, and Michael Porter, Jr. to improve. Having a perimeter player like Barton is a nice complementary player to have for those three, and he helps keep Denver’s solid rotation intact. He, Gary Harris (more on him below), and Paul Millsap are the second tier players behind Denver’s two stars and their young (possible) stud. If Barton is healthy, and gets his minutes (starting or no), then you should keep your eye on him as a wing who can deliver you stats (just not at a star level).
Matisse Thybulle, SG, PHI, (4% rostered)
Thybulle is Philly’s sophomore defensive stud, and he’s currently listed on the depth chart behind Danny Green, but keep your eye on him because if his scoring improves, and his minutes go up (as is the case for young players most of the time), then he could be a fantasy force.
Forget Thybulle’s negligible fantasy play last year. Instead, look at his real life numbers and consider their scarcity. Last season, Thybulle shot 35% from three while also averaging 1.4 SPG. Doesn’t sound that impressive, but only 13 players did that: Paul George, Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Zach LaVine, Kawhi Leonard, Lonzo Ball, Dejounte Murray, Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio, Mikal Bridges, and Thybulle. That’s his rookie year! He’s a 6-foot-5 perimeter player who’s busy hands and developing shot put him on a list with some of the best players in the NBA, and a few young studs in Lonzo, Dejounte, and Mikal.
Philly, like Denver, needs complementary shooters and defenders around their two stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Matisse Thybulle fits like a thief in a den.
Gary Harris, SG, DEN (3% rostered)
Ahh, Golden Gary, one of my fantasy boyfriends. Harris didn’t have a golden season last year, but he improved as the season went along, and he looked a bit like his old self during the playoffs. He’s, somehow, still just 26 years old, so entering his prime, and hopefully fully healthy after a few seasons dealing with injuries. He’s listed as the starter at shooting guard for the Nuggets, so there’s no reason to think that he’ll want for minutes this year.
He was a much better three point shooter at home than on the road last season, and he actually had his second worst shooting year of his career last year. He got hot post-All Star break, which makes me wonder if he’s finally, finally, getting back on track. A few seasons ago he had a perhaps random amazing year with his shooting efficiency, an outlier which seems to suggest that he’s overrated. But, his defense can keep him in games, and he still had a positive fantasy value even with the poor shooting.
If his numbers improve even a little bit, then he’ll be worth a roster spot. Just like with Will Barton, much depends on the minutes per game, but if Golden Gary gets his minutes, then he’ll provide you with some across the board volume. Defense is key for a team with several defensive sieves, and Harris is one of the better (best?) defenders on Denver (though, his defense is argued as overrated by some). Regardless, Denver has to make an effort on defense, and Harris fulfills that function when Joker, Murray, and MPJ are on the court together. He will get his minutes, in other words.
I still believe in Gary Harris, and it seems the Denver Nuggets do, too, if only because he fits one of their glaring needs.
Luke Kennard, SG, LAC (3% rostered)
Here are some facts about Dukie Lukie, who’s now one of the sixth men on the LA Clippers:
- Last season Kennard was 33rd in the NBA on catch and shoot 3PT%, of all players who averaged 2+ 3PA per game and played at least 18 MPG.
- He was 22nd on catch and shoot threes of all players who averaged 3+ 3PA (meaning, his efficiency remained with more volume).
- To wit: Kennard had the 12th best 3PT% of all players who averaged 6+ 3PA per game, 39.9% (Paul George, 41 3PT%; Kawhi, 38 3PT%).
Kennard’s probably inheriting the Landry Shamet minutes, and while I anticipate him playing less than he did in Detroit (33 MPG last year in the D), I still think he’ll be a big contributor for the Clippers. Keeping a good outside shooter on the court next to PG13 and Kawhi (Shamet was the Clippers’ third best outside shooter last year) makes all the New NBA sense in the world, especially when you have Patrick Beverley, whose shot comes and goes, at point guard. I think Kennard probably closes for the Clippers, in which case his minutes will reflect that, as will his volume.