• Théo Salaun

13 Fantasy Basketball Players You Need to Add While You Still Can

Fantasy basketball is a messy beast and leagues are won by adaptable managers with an eye for talent (oh, hey there) and a penchant for the waiver wire. The season is young, but we have a variety of roster situations worth monitoring for owners who like winning championships. I care deeply about your success so I have sacrificed my own personal advantage to list out some waiver players you need to keep an eye on and some who you need to buy cheap while you still can. If you are in a league with me, please stop reading here and go take a bubble bath before trading me your best players. With that out of the way, here is our list — replete with deep sleepers, buy-lows, and injured stars to keep an eye on:

[Ownership percentages are based on Yahoo Fantasy]

13. Justin Jackson (SG/SF): Sacramento Kings — 2% Owned

The deepest of sleepers. Jackson is fighting to start at small-forward for the Kings and his chief competition is European mystery Bogdan Bogdanovic. A stud for the 2017 NCAA Champion Tar Heels and the 15th pick in this year’s draft, Jackson has a unique game that gives him a high ceiling if he can adjust to the NBA and earn a king’s share of the minutes at wing for Sacramento. After getting planted by C.J. McCollum in the pre-season, things should only get better for JJ as his minutes have largely hovered in the teens before his 30-minute game in a big win against the Thunder on November 7th. The former ACC Player of the Year will need to adjust his patented floater to the NBA’s speed, but with his physical tools (6’8”, 6’11” wingspan, 36” vertical), his range (shot 37% from three on 7 attempts per game at UNC) and some guidance from fellow Tarheel and willing mentor Vince Carter, Jackson could become a legitimate forward by season’s end.

12. Jabari Parker (SF/PF): Milwaukee Bucks — 50% Owned

Milwaukee’s Weapon X is hurt right now, and probably won’t be back until February, but you need to keep Jabari Parker on your radar because he should be a game-changer when he returns. It’s his second ACL tear in three years, but JP12 is already ahead of schedule and has been dunking and participating in basketball drills since September — around the same time Coach Jason Kidd told the Milwaukee Sentinel that Jabari looked ready “to play tomorrow.”

‘Bari averaged 20 points and 6 boards across 50 games last season while shooting 49%. If the 6’8”, 250lb Wisconsin army knife can come back at full force then he will fit right into a starting role alongside Khris Middleton and superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are a strong team so Jabari should be able to maintain his efficiency as well as his scoring and rebounding output.

11. Eric Bledsoe (PG/SG): Milwaukee Bucks — 96% Owned

Speaking of the Bucks, now might be the best time to try and buy Phoenix’s outcast and recent Wisconsinite Eric “Baby ‘Bron” Bledsoe if you didn't gamble on buying him last week. Bledsoe wanted absolutely no part of the Suns and his apathy evolved from minimal production into organizational exile. Milwaukee is a tremendous landing spot given their playoff hopes, elite forwards, and depth so if EB still has it, the numbers will be there. The 6’1” juggernaut already dropped 28 on 56% shooting and 60% from three in a game this season so yeah, he probably still has it and he should have much more of it now that he’s out of the desert. The guy hasn’t had more than four assists in a game once this season, but a very strong and cerebral act of data analysis dictates that we should expect a positive change with a move from the tanking world of ex-Coach Earl Watson to the Giannis Antetokounmpo sphere of influence.

10. Donovan Mitchell (PG/SG): Utah Jazz — 56% Owned

Mitchell’s ownership has already skyrocketed from 12% to 56% in about a week, so now is probably around the time to seriously consider investing. 6’3” with a 7’0” wingspan, Mitchell has already demonstrated the extents of his athleticism with a ridiculous put-back over the Lakers this season and is averaging 20 points per game since November 1st. He’s got one of the cleanest shots of this draft class so points, threes, and a high free-throw percentage are virtually guaranteed. But he also claims first-team All-Defense aspirations and brags about how many steals he got in the pre-season so the defensive mindset, and the defensive talent should mean more minutes and better stats moving forward. The kid is averaging 31 minutes per game across November’s four games and considering teammate Rodney Hood’s injury history, it’s very possible Mitchell’s volume could increase even more.

9. Dejounte Murray (PG): San Antonio Spurs — 21% Owned

Worth monitoring, but very cautiously. A changing of the guard seems unlikely in San Antonio, but Dejounte Murray should remain somewhere on your radar as the Spurs adjust to Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker’s injuries. Murray seems to have already become a favorite of Gregg Popovich while demonstrating his on-court potential. It’s nice that Pop commended Dejounte’s “pretty wonderful leadership for a young guy” and hit him with a “That’s a great idea, DJ!” on national television — but he has also given the young point with a seven-foot wingspan a bunch of time on the floor. Tony Parker returns in the next couple months and Dejounte’s performance in his absence might mean a real role even once the French spark is back. DJ has played about 20 minutes per game this season and his season-high 28-minute game on October 23rd must have burnt through some box score pencils as he poured in 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists with only 1 turnover. He's not as talented and his role is shakier than the aforementioned guys on this list, but his price is so low that he should occupy some minor place in your thoughts.

8. TJ Warren (SF): Phoenix Suns — 76% Owned

The Suns were a mess and are now just a mystery, but TJ Warren has found his niche and has been eating up the scoreboard and the glass. The old-school 6’8” wing doesn’t take threes, but he doesn’t need to as he already dropped 20+ points five times this season, including a 40-point romp against the Washington Wizards on November 1st. TJ’s minutes have gone up and he has responded in kind by chipping in 17 points per game on 48% shooting alongside 6 rebounds. If the Suns can get it together, Warren looks to benefit even more so keep him in mind as a cheap-ish buy if you want more points and boards.

7. Zach LaVine (PG/SG): Chicago Bulls — 69% Owned

The second, and last, of our injured stars to keep an eye on: one of fantasy basketball’s most exciting stars is set to make his debut just in time for the holiday season. Zach LaVine has been cleared for contact and is expecting to return to the hardwood sometime after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. He is owned in most leagues, but 30% of you will have the opportunity to scoop him up a few weeks before his launch. In 2016, LaVine logged 37 minutes a game and filled in 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists on a surprisingly efficient 46% clip from the field, 39% from three (notching three a game), and 84% from the line. His volume is absurd and his playing style makes him a joy to watch on the screen and host in your matchups with a plethora of dunks and threes from an undersized guard making him one of the only Bulls players to be excited about this year. A horrible, tanking franchise and a heavy-minuted scorer make for a tremendous match if Zach can stay healthy and you can bear the damage done to your FG%.

6. Josh Richardson (PG/SG/SF): Miami Heat — 54% Owned

It is only a matter of time before Josh Richardson’s talent reaps the benefit of his opportunity. The young gunner is finally healthy and giving the Miami Heat 33 minutes per game as their starting small-forward. While Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson split shooting-guard minutes and Justise Winslow seems to log power-forward time, Josh has asserted himself as the team’s premier wing with a combination of defensive effort and the shooting potential expected from the 6’6” 24-year-old. He is averaging only 10 points this season on 38% shooting, but the season is young and he should definitely merit consideration as an add once he gets comfortable and his three-point shooting falls into place as a career 37% shooter who is only shooting 30% right now.

5. Dillon Brooks (SF): Memphis Grizzlies — 6% Owned

Brooks started the season off hot and has since cooled down, but the talent is there and the opportunity should come. The 6’6” rookie was dominating minutes from the Memphis bench, but has now wrested a starting spot thanks to some superior play over starters Andrew Harrison and James Enniss III. Brooks has been playing about 30 minutes per game while logging important stats in big games including 7 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in a November win against the Blazers and the second-most minutes on the team in an October win over the Warriors. After averaging 16 points for Oregon last season and shooting 40% from three, Brooks is only shooting 26% from three in the NBA and should show positive three-point regression as the game slows down for him. With a combination of offensive talent and defensive grit that has earned him starting minutes for a Memphis squad that has stormed into this season, Brooks could be a huge waiver add if his shot starts falling.

4. Malik Monk (SG): Charlotte Hornets — 15% Owned

This high on the list solely because the potential is so sick, Malik Monk is one of the purest scoring prospects the NBA has seen in a minute. I've been hyping the kid up since January 2016 because his high-school highlights were so wild, but it is rare for an undersized shooting-guard like Monk to carve out a role in today’s positionless basketball movement. Fortunately, Monk’s prowess for buckets should have his role, and the league, carved by season’s end. Following in the footsteps of undersized gunners like Lou Williams (6’1”) and Monta Ellis (6’3”), the 6’3” Monk averaged 20 points for Kentucky as a Freshman while shooting 45% from the field and 40% from three. Drafted 11th overall, he is slowly getting accustomed to a Charlotte Hornets system that is in dire need of buckets from someone other than Kemba Walker and the injured Nicolas Batum.

"I just got to get the system down like the back of my hand and I'll be alright." As Monk told Reid Forgrave, learning Steve Clifford’s system will be requisite for his game to become serviceable, let alone flourish. The nineteen-year-old has called NBA life “boring” because he spends his time alternating between practicing and watching highlights. Defense is built on effort and offensive efficiency is built with a strong mind set to a legitimate system — if Monk is as focused on ball as he indicates, then he’s bound to continue earning a role in Clifford’s plans. He’s currently only averaging about 22 minutes a game, but the green light is there and he has already dropped 20+ twice already in November. Currently on the bench behind the improved Jeremy Lamb, Monk’s shooting has been poor (36% from the field and 33% from three) — but as evidenced by his 83% clip from the line and his November outpourings, the shot is there and should only improve as he acclimated to Charlotte’s offense. Young Monta had it all and was some of the funnest basketball to watch, Malik Monk is of a similar mold and would make both quality entertainment and a tremendous fantasy asset if he can find his tempo.

3. Domantas Sabonis (PF/C): Indiana Pacers — 67% Owned

Indiana’s water supply must have a little something that Oklahoma’s does not because Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo are playing like parched boys who finally found an oasis. The son of the great Arvydas has finally come into his own this year after being a non-factor for the Thunder last season and has put together some pretty sick stat-lines while solidifying his place in the Pacers rotation. ‘Mantas is playing 27 minutes per game this season while contributing 14 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists on 63% shooting. The young Lithuanian-American hasn’t scored in single-digits since October 25th while racking up a ton of minutes and rebounds. Doma has been great for the Pacers this season and his ownership should only increase as Indiana continues surprising people.

2. Joe Ingles (SG/SF): Utah Jazz — 71% Owned

Joe Ingles is playing a ton and filling up the stat sheet for the Jazz this year. He doesn’t score a ton of points, or do very much in any statistic really — but he does a lot everywhere and can be a stable, steady piece on a team looking for consistency. Joe is playing 30 minutes per game and is averaging 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. It’s not the most exciting stat-line but well-appreciated considering his shooting percentages: 44% from the field, 45% from three (with three makes a game), and 100% from the line. Joe should continue seeing big minutes for a steady Jazz team who don’t have many reliable wings so you can look to him for some fantasy comfort.

1. Lauri Markkanen (PF): Chicago Bulls — 79% Owned

Lauri will be a recommended waiver add until his ownership is in the 90s. Chicago’s other power-forwards beat each-other up and Lauri "White Porzingis" Markkanen has taken advantage of his 33 minutes per game by averaging about 16 points and 8 rebounds (with season-highs of 25 and 12, respectively). Lauri’s volume skyrocketed yet he has somehow remained relatively efficient, shooting 44% from the field, 38% from three, and 83% from the line. The big gunner has obviously made enormous strides and warrants consideration, but his ceiling hasn’t even been reached yet. The Finnish hammer recently showed off with a surprisingly acrobatic off-the-backboard between-the-legs dunk during layup lines, and his coach Fred Hoiberg was asked if there are any specific spots they want Markkanen getting the ball: “Yeah, there are specific spots — all of them.”

As always, if you have any players you want to discuss or some sleepers for deeper leagues — shoot me a tweet (@theosalaun) or comment below.

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