Mark Deeks is back with another fantasy preview for tonight’s NBA contests. Make sure to take note before picking your teams.
Point guard – Tyler Ulis, Phoenix Suns: $8.7 million
Ulis won the starting point guard spot from the incumbent Mike James two weeks ago, despite James being amid a strong four game stretch at the time (15.3 points per game). Relegated to the role of bench guard scorer, James has since gone into the tank (31.1% shooting, dropping to 26.3% over the last six games), while Ulis has averaged 8.4 points, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game as a starter.
The basic numbers there for Ulis are in line with the numbers he put up from the bench, save for the massive improvement in his shooting efficiency. Moreover, though, the more advanced numbers speak to a +10.6 plus/minus rating as a starter versus -15.7 from the bench, and a -13 net rating as a starter. While still poor, this is a vast improvement on the -25 he posts from the bench.
Until such time as the Suns have a starting calibre point guard again, they will have to patch over the spot with the James/Ulis duo. And in starting Ulis, playing him alongside better offensive players, reining in his scoring responsibilities/tendencies and establishing him more as a pressure defender, ball handler and some-time slasher, they may have found the better way to balance the roster for now.
It does mean not to pick James any more, though.
Point guard – Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets: $12.5 million
With both Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell out, Dinwiddie has the Nets’ primary ball handling and playmaking role for the foreseeable future. Now up to extremely healthy averages on the season of 12.9 points and 6.0 assists per game, while still turning the ball over at a ridiculously low rate of 1.1 per game, Dinwiddie is an advanced statistics demon at this point, and playing his way into a long term starting role somewhere. He is every bit the calibre of more noted peers such as Darren Collison and Jeff Teague even if his reputation and fantasy price are yet to catch up accordingly.
Point guard – Mario Chalmers, Memphis Grizzlies: $10.0 million
Given a big responsibility in the absence of Mike Conley, Chalmers is responding with big fantasy performances. Even when his shot is off, as it was in a 2-11 shooting performance two games ago, the 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals he posted still made for a 28.4 fantasy point performance. With six consecutive 20+ fantasy point performances and an average of 28.5 across that time, Chalmers is still a good fantasy value pick even with the recent spike in his price. Get it while it lasts.
Along the same lines, albeit to a much lesser degree, you might also want to consider Tyus Jones in tonight’s game. Jones, the regular backup point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, played the bulk of their last game in the absence of regular starter Jeff Teague, even though third stringer Aaron Brooks started the game. Starting the third string player in the absence of the starter to keep the regular backup in their regular role is a common enough practice as to be repeated, and Jones played 32 minutes, equivalent to starter’s minutes, despite this arrangement. And in those minutes, Jones had a career night, recording 8 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 32.2 fantasy points. That number is an enormous outlier, but, with Teague likely to miss tonight as well, Jones is automatically in line to do something for only a paltry $6.3 million.
Shooting guard – Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies: $15.4 million
Not only is Tyreke good again, but he is showing a consistency he has never before seen in his career. As his fantasy price rises to $15.4 million, his fantasy production keeps pace ahead of this increase, buoyed by a recent stockpiling of highly valuable blocked shots (none in the first ten games, seven in the last eight). With the exceptions of 26.9 and 19.7 performances, Evans has scored between 32.2 and 45.7 fantasy points in each of his last eleven games, simply outperforming the other options in his price range.
Small forward – T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns: $17.7 million
Warren’s season scoring average Is up to 18.7 points per game, and while he continues to lack the three-point shot and gets to the free throw line comparatively rarely, the scoring volume trumps the relative inefficiency. Combined with 6.0 rebounds and a modicum of high value defensive statistics, Warren as a fantasy player is averaging 31 fantasy points over his last ten games, including three 40+ point performances in the last six. He is the rare if not unique wing player who can still go for big scoring nights even without the three-point shot. And with Devin Booker hobbled if not out due to injury, Phoenix will need him to do just that.
Power forward – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn Nets: $14.9 million
RHJ is now listed as a power forward in fantasy, reflecting the fact that he has started at the position all season. The move from small forward has done him good – while his rebounding, assists and defensive statistics are almost identical to his career per-game numbers, albeit down on his per 36 minutes numbers, the big scoring spike makes for a career year and improved productivity across the board. Changing position seems to have helped Hollis-Jefferson’s confidence and rhythm while driving the ball, becoming a consistent half-court scorer whereas he was once so shaky. Over his last eight full games – we will discount the game he left due to a minor injury – RHJ has posted five games between 34.7 and 37.9 fantasy points, with two others in the high 20s, and one game of 19.3. At this price, that is a must-buy tonight.
Centre: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies: $20.2 million
In terms of consistency, though, no one else on this list does it quite like Gasol is doing it. In his last eleven games, Gasol has averaged 42 fantasy points, but has only surpassed that total three times in doing so. That is to say, he has eight games scoring between 31 and 38 points, one game of 45.2, one game of 48.9, and one game of a mammoth 71.1. The games in the 30s are not great value for such a high price, but the other three sure are, and it is of note that they have all come in Conley’s absence. Gasol is being asked to do more, and he is responding.
DO NOT PICK DUE TO INJURY/ABSENCE/SUSPENSION: D’Angelo Russell, Jeremy Lin, Yakuba Ouattara (Brooklyn), David Nwaba, Cameron Payne, Zach LaVine, Nikola Mirotic (Chicago), Wayne Selden, Brandan Wright, Mike Conley (Memphis), Hassan Whiteside, Rodney McGruder, Okaro White (Miami), Justin Patton, Jeff Teague, Nemanja Bjelica (Minnesota), Davon Reed, Alan Williams, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker (Phoenix)