Earlier in the week I answered a few questions about some of the more prominent figures in fantasy this season. Now it’s time to finish the week with questions that are most pertinent to fantasy players in deep leagues, though hopefully everybody can find something to think about here.
What to expect from Thon Maker this season?
Thon Maker’s reputation has been punching above his play’s weight class since the Bucks drafted him.
He initially entered the basketball world’s consciousness because of the ridiculous videos that kept landing on YouTube. The excitement caused by the 7-foot point forward he’d become known as was deflated by pre-draft reports that he may be older than advertised, adding anywhere from one year to three to his age. The intrigue may have peaked with a Howard Beck feature story for Bleacher Report’s magazine, B/R Mag.
However, his game brings plenty of intrigue as well. Though he is not really the ball-handling giant people came to expect, he is a high motor seven-footer with a three-point shot and a 36-inch vertical. That, coupled with the rise of young bigs like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, is enough to make some people see a unicorn.
The big question is whether that is a fair expectation.
If you were to make that assertion based solely off of last season, the answer would be a resounding no. Based on fb-ninja.com’s player rater, he was the 367th best player in standard nine-category leagues last season. Some optimism may arise from the steady increase in playing time he received as the season went on, but he was never particularly productive. Many people remember the 23-point game where he shot 4-of-7 from the three-point line, but not so many remember the games before and after.
However, Maker just begs you to believe that he is going to break out as a sophomore. He is, I repeat, a seven-footer with three-point range. He’ll be starting this year, which means the Bucks obviously see him as somebody they will rely on. He is older, wiser, and in a better position to succeed.
Through two games, there is a bit of reason to pump the brakes on that narrative. While he has started both games, he is only averaging 15.5 minutes. While he may take on more minutes as the year progresses, there’s not much reason to think he could extend past about 24 minutes per game.
Which brings me to my unfortunate conclusion. Maker is exciting, and in real life I think he really does bring a lot of positives to the table. Sadly, your fantasy league only cares about what his box score looks like. There are a few proven centers out there that can hit three-pointers that bring less risk. While Maker brings the possibility of blocking a shot per game, he doesn’t look like much of a rebounder, nor does he look like a scorer that will bring volume or efficiency to the table.
In other, simpler words, he will need to improve a lot to even crack the top 200 players this season. Even if you’re in a deep league, you’re gambling if you take him. With my back against the wall, I predict that he ends up being about the 250th ranked player at the end of the season. I will be amazed if he makes the top 150, which means he has no business being taken in 12-team leagues or smaller, and only his biggest believers should take him in leagues smaller than 18 teams.
Can Brandon Knight be fantasy relevant again?
Brandon Knight has been one of the more tragic figures in the NBA over recent seasons. After establishing himself as an exciting scoring guard, injuries have limited him. That trend continues this year, as he is expected to miss the entire season with a torn ACL. In the three seasons prior to this one, he played 63 games, then 52, and then 54.
After maintaining solid per game numbers despite his early injuries, he saw his scoring average plummet to 11.0 last season. He had made his mark as a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer in the past, but it appears that he may not be cut out for the minutes to justify the volume anymore.
He will turn 26 this December, which adds another layer of confusion to the mix. He’s not old enough to simply write off. Though it is not likely that he will ever be a prominent guard again, he is young enough to see a resurgence in a sixth man role.
The unfortunate conclusion to this section is that, even if he can create a niche as a go-to guy in small minutes, I doubt he’ll ever be useful in fantasy again. His career-high in field goal percentage is 42.2%. Without volume, he simply won’t be able to maintain helpful fantasy numbers. Without his health, he won’t be able to regain volume. I’d be surprised to see another season in which he enters the top 200 fantasy players, though I am certainly cheering for him to prove me wrong.
Will Enes Kanter and Willy Hernangomez help or hurt each other this season?
Admittedly, I benefit from answering this question after watching the first Knicks game of the year. In a move that upset certain portions of NBA nerd twitter and my deeper fantasy leagues, Willy Hernangomez only played four minutes. On the other end of this question, Enes Kanter got 22, which only trailed Kristaps Porzingis among New York’s big men.
Some of this can be attributed to the matchup, as the Knicks were matched up against the Thunder, whom are not the biggest team in the world (behind Steven Adams and his 29 minutes, Jerami Grant received 20 while Patrick Patterson received 6).
Still, it was made clear that Hernangomez was fourth in the pecking order for New York big men, behind Porzingis, Kanter, and Kyle O’Quinn. Last season it seemed that Hernangomez was slightly preferred to O’Quinn, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him fall behind this season.
Hernangomez is an offense-minded big man without a three-point shot, as is Kanter. While he was a fresh face in the NBA last season, he is already 23 years old and it is probably not wise to consider him a priority prospect in New York. He may not be very old, but the leash is shorter for players that are too old to be in college.
Hernangomez will get more than four minutes per game this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it hovers around 10. Kanter is simply the better player, and their games are too similar for Hernangomez to offer any meaningful strategic advatanges to Jeff Hornacek. While he finished last season just inside the top 200, I expect Hernangomez to drop nearer to 220 this year. Kanter should remain around the 150 mark.
Neither is exceptionally promising for your team, but if you are in a deep league then Kanter at least merits consideration for the end of your bench. Hernangomez can be ignored in all but the deepest of leagues.
Will Nerlens Noel get minutes this season?
Is Caris LeVert worth owning?
With Jeremy Lin going down for the season, the Nets have some minutes to allocate. That could mean a small boost to Caris LeVert, who played 21 minutes per game last season. With an average of 27.5 minutes through two games this year, it seems fair to assume that he will have the opportunity to become a roster-worthy fantasy option this year. The question is whether he will be productive enough to make those minutes count.
Last season, he finished as the 204th player in fb-ninja’s player rater in standard leagues. He proved that he is capable of hitting threes while getting passable numbers in three-pointers, assists, and stills, all without hurting your percentages. If he can continue his per-minute production from last season, he becomes a borderline pickup in 12 team leagues.
It is unlikely that LeVert shines this season, as there isn’t a category beyond three-pointers that he figures to be much above average in. However, he could very well end up as a bench player that won’t hurt you. Given that he is only 23 and entering his second year in the NBA, it is fine to think that he will improve some. While this doesn’t mean that he is a player that must be owned in every league, he is worth a waiver pickup in 12-team leagues and larger due to his solid floor and potential to break out.
If you are the type of owner that likes to allocate a roster spot to a player that you hope will see their stock rise considerably, he seems like a better play than many of the rookies I’ve been seeing on rosters early in this season. I prefer LeVert to big name rookies like Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, and Frank Ntilikina. It would be surprising for LeVert to crack the top 150 this season, but not unheard of. On the other end of his possibilities, I doubt he falls out of the top 200 this year.
If you’re looking for a player that won’t hurt you badly but could end up being useful to your team, LeVert is somebody to take a look at.
Action, reaction, and overreaction
Now that there are a few games in the bag, it feels like time to start sorting out which players are ready to make a leap. We get a few unexpected sleepers every season, so why not try to get a jump on whom they will be this season?
There’s a good way and a bad way to go about that.
The bad way is to look at the top five fantasy players this season and see that, between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry, a few unexpected big men are in there: Myles Turner, Nikola Vucevic, and Hassan Whiteside. That doesn’t mean it is time to treat them like top five players, as they’ve only played a few games between them.
The better way of doing things is to look for trends. Take Will Barton, for example. He opened the season up with a big night, scoring 23 points with solid numbers throughout his whole line. In his next game, he put up 15 points in a slightly less impressive game.
Barton has taken 27 shots through two games so far, which leads the team. It’s worth wondering if last season’s 123rd ranked player is ready to make a leap. If he’s on waivers and you’re able to acquire him without dropping anybody valuable, why not? However, you’ll want to monitor him throughout the next few weeks before jumping to conclusions.
You want to find players that have either proven that their come up is legitimate, or you’ll want to find players that are looking to make the leap from waiver-candidate to must-own. By sacrificing valuable assets based off of a few games, you are taking a big chance on what is likely a fluke.
When in doubt, ride things out.