Fantasy basketball: Players to rely on for a playoff boost


Did you ever get the feeling this maybe isn’t your year?

Did you draft Rudy Gobert in the second round, thinking Minnesota would double Gobert’s usage rate while preserving his blocks rate?

Did you pass on Kyrie Irving in the third round, forgetting he was in a contract year?

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Did you go all-in at your deadline and trade for LaMelo Ball, get instantly rewarded with back-to-back triple-doubles, then switch on League Pass just in time to see Ball break his ankle?

Did you recently sleepily dismount your stationary bike to answer your front door last week just in time to see you break your ankle?

Then maybe it’s not your year.

Ah… okay. Fine.

“My year.”

It has not been this writer’s year. It’s only March 7, and I already have the title for my year-ending fantasy highlight reel: “Reality Bites Back.”

In 2022-23 reality bit, growled, drooled, tore off a huge chunk of my fantasy managerial bandwidth, buried it in the backyard, ran back and tore off some more.

So, if you were in a league with me this year? You might anticipate what I’m about to do: apologize. I apologize for not being the most hands-on manager these past few months.

Yet still… this column’s bandwidth escaped unharmed. How? Why?

Because analyzing basketball statistics and extrapolating fantasy strategies and typing about it is how I relax! So, thanks to the aid and support of all-wise Worldwide Leader, and the editorial vision of Joe Kaiser… we have made it to the end.

And what’s it like at the end of a bad year?

Well, it’s like how it’ll be to look at the Player Rater on April 10. Then see that Kyrie Irving finished in the top 20. Maybe even the top 10. In the end, the Player Rater doesn’t care about the narrative. Only the numbers.

And there’s always the hope… that comes with looking ahead to next season.

I’ve always seen my job here as tuning out the narrative, then finding for new ways to re-frame the numbers. With one operational goal: helping you acquire hidden value.

So. For one last time… before we bury this year in the backyard?

Let’s dig up some value.

What the Heck. It’s almost playoff time.

Let’s talk about the best way to pinpoint players who may burst out of nowhere to help win your league. Players who might even become… the next Tarence Kinsey.

I’m sorry… you have a question? “Who’s Tarence Kinsey?”


In 2006-07 Kinsey was the Grizzlies’ other rookie, riding the bench in rookie Rudy Gay’s considerable shadow.

Playing garbage-time minutes, or not at all, until Grizzlies center Pau Gasol got hurt. And the Grizzlies decided to tank. And Tarence Kinsey started cracking double-digit minutes.

And then on (neatly enough) March 7, 2007, Kinsey cracked double-digit points for the first time. And even I noticed. Because Kinsey was the perfect high-rookie-upside endgame starter for a tanking team.

So I added Kinsey.

Long story short? If you look through the annals of the winners of NBA Rookie of the Month, November through February, you will spot many famous future stars (LeBron, Donovan Mitchell) and future solidly well-known stalwarts (Marcus Smart, Tyreke Evans).

But come March and April? You will find more mysterious names. Tyler Ulis. Shelden Williams. And Tarence Kinsey.

Starting with a 24-point “look at me” box score versus the Jazz on March 24, 2007, and closing on April 18 with his now all-time career-best line of 22 points, seven assists, nine rebounds and three steals, Kinsey had himself a month. A Rookie-of-the-Month month. A month that propelled a lot of fantasy teams to roto championship glory.

But today? This March 7th? There’s another a Kinsey out there.

But this isn’t 2007. At this stage of the season, the big-time tanking teams don’t mean as much for fantasy as they used to.

Because of the Play-In. But even more, because the draft lottery has been re-weighted.

The odds for the worst teams to get the top pick are dramatically flattened. So flat that the bottom four teams — Detroit, Houston, San Antonio and Charlotte — have nearly the same exactly odds at landing Victor Wembanyama.

So there’s zero incentive for any of those teams to tank any lower. So there’s less incentive to start inserting any future Tarence Kinseys into their lineups.

In today’s Fantasyland endgame? We want to identify the teams that occupy the Glorious NBA Middle. The foggy middle distance of the NBA standings. Where just an extra win or loss could mean a dream date with the Play-In Tournament… or a puncher’s chance at No. 2 consensus pick Scoot Henderson.

As these Middle teams start to break toward the Play-In or the high Lottery, their rotations will shift accordingly. And the teams that vibe “Dilute for Scoot” will begin to prioritize the Tarence Kinseys of 2023.

The true Middle teams: Orlando, Indiana, Washington, Oklahoma City, Utah, New Orleans and Portland. (Toronto is all-in on the Play-In and will get there.)

What’s that? “You skipped Chicago and the Lakers!” No. Their draft statuses are so murky, they cannot be currently identified.

(Chicago’s pick is top-4 protected, so the odds are right now it will convey to the Magic. And New Orleans has the right to swap picks with the Lakers due to the Anthony Davis trade. But the way the standings are tracking? It’s 50-50 the Pelicans swap that pick.)

Let’s look at the remaining Middle teams, and pinpoint who’s buried some Kinsey magic!

Orlando Magic

On top of their NBA Middle status, Orlando is dealing with a late-season injury bug. And they’ve been rebuilding for… quite some time. This means some high-upside, upper-lottery picks could see expanded playing time and usage.

In this dynamic, vets like Gary Harris should get less playing time. So as much as it pains to type this: the maddeningly inconsistent Cole Anthony is worth a second (third?) look. Jalen Suggs is the upside move. He’s been starting as of late and is coming off back-to-back box scores of multi-categorical goodness. And if Wendell Carter Jr. continues to struggle, Moritz Wagner gets the boost.

Indiana Pacers

Bennedict Mathurin closed out last season with a minor Kinsey-esque bang. He’s getting north of 25 MPG, so the potential for a short-sample-size burst of production is there. Jalen Smith could bubble up if Myles Turner is partially shut down.

The less-obvious name: Jordan Nwora. Over the last week, his MPG has pushed near the precipice of the 25 MPG barrier. In that time, he’s averaged 13.0 points per game, 1.8 3s, and about one combined block + steal.

Washington Wizards

My Wizards may not need to decide whether to take a dive or reach for the Play-In. They already occupy the eighth position in Draft Lottery Odds (5.3% chance at Wembanyama) and the 10th position in the Eastern Conference standings, which would also land them in the Play-In!

(If you smell a victory cigar lighting up? That’s Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, celebrating being in what I’m betting he calls “Pole Position.”)

I feel bad about that last joke. Because it means you had to wait for a whole parenthetical for me to whisper this: PICK UP DELON WRIGHT RIGHT NOW.

PG Monte Morris is going to be out for at least a few games. This means defensive stalwart Wright will not only get more minutes, but more usage.

Given minutes and touches, Wright is a late-season fantasy Swiss Army Knife. He can do just about any and everything for your team. He’s efficient. Produces across the board.

Not to mention Wright bears the rare fantasy unicorn position of SG/PG/PF. He can be plugged into nearly every slot in your lineup. What are you waiting for?

(PS: Watch Deni Avdija. If Washington fades, he’s going to start shooting a lot, lot more. If children are watching: shield their eyes.)

Oklahoma City Thunder

As always… Luguentz Dort is available. The question you should be asking: will OKC slide and shut down SGA? In OKC, the Shai-Gilgeous Alexander Lottery Shutdown has become an annual rite of spring. If it happens again… pick up Isaiah Joe, and fast.

Portland Trail Blazers

I have a confession to make I’ve been typing “Portland,” but this whole time, I’ve been thinking “the Blazing Former New Orleans Jazz Mavericks of Greater Los Angeles.” Oh, and I once thought “the viscous, unidentifiable goop currently coagulating around the 10th seed.”

Which isn’t fair. Because the race for the Western Conference 10th seed is shaping up to be as nail-bitingly epic as a race for a 10th seed could possibly get!

As of this writing, Portland is 10th. Utah is 9th. And somehow, by the grace of Ye Basketball Gods, the Pelicans and Lakers are tied for 11th! (Meaning the Anthony Davis trade could come down to who gets Gradey Dick and who gets Jett Howard! I love this game!)

All four teams are just a half-game behind the Thunder. And just two games behind the Mavericks and Clippers! The race for the 10th seed is shaping up to play out as the basketball equivalent of the opening rumble in “Gangs of New York”… viscerally thrilling, but kinda hard to follow.

So how to best close this out? How to sum up and quantify these goopy ramifications for Fantasyland? By doing what these standings are doing… mixing everything and everyone together, with no idea how it’ll play out, closing my eyes, and hoping for the best.

(Kind of like how I cook dinner for my children.)

The Blazing Former New Orleans Jazz Mavericks of Greater Los Angeles

Others to keep an eye on: Cam Reddish, Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Jarred Vanderbilt, Talen Horton-Tucker, Matisse Thybulle, Malik Beasley, Trey Murphy III, Kelly Olynyk, Drew Eubanks, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Herbert Jones, Naji Marshall, Troy Brown Jr., Walker Kessler… and as always, the sky.

That is all.


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