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NBA Fantasy Trends

Underrated Fantasy Players

by Jonas Nader
Updated On: May 26, 2020, 1:39 pm ET

The NBA is nearing an agreement with Disney World to resume the season around mid-July, and as exciting as that sounds, we still have some time to kill before then so be prepared to see all kinds of content from me and my colleagues as we do our best to satisfy the cravings of the awesome fantasy community. For today's topic, let's discuss a handful of underrated fantasy basketball assets and then circle back in a few days to discuss some overrated ones too. For fantasy advice and Jaren Jackson Jr. stats, find me on Twitter here!

 

Mikal Bridges:

What a run this guy was having before the season was suspended. In his last 20 games, Bridges was inside the top-30 of 9-cat leagues with 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 dimes, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.4 triples on 52% from the field and 97% from the line. Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that those shooting percentages are even close to sustainable, but to be ranked that high on just over eight shots per game says a lot about his elite ability to contribute across the board. Fantasy superstar Robert Covington has four early-round seasons on his resume with a similar stat set, averaging 12.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks and 2.4 triples this season. Bridges has the potential to be a Covington 2.0, and coach Monty Williams believes he has another gear to hit as a playmaker too. 

As far as workload goes, the days of Bridges losing minutes to Dario Saric are over as evidenced by Bridges averaging over 34 minutes during that 20-game stretch. Plus, Monty noted how the lineup consisting of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Bridges and Deandre Ayton outscored their opponents by 92 points in 226 minutes. Bridges wasn’t getting nearly enough love in some super early mock drafts I saw for next season, so there’s some serious profit to be had here as he continues to fly under the radar.  

Donte DiVincenzo:

If I had to pick who the most underrated player in the fantasy community is, I think it would have to be DiVincenzo. Despite being a reserve and playing just 23 minutes per game, he managed to rank 85th overall (8th round) in 9-cat with 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks and 1.3 triples with a 46/34/77 shooting line. The advanced stats loved him just as much, as Donte ranked 5th in the NBA for defensive rating, 7th for Defensive Box Plus/Minus and 7th in steal rate. 

What he did on a per-minute basis in terms of steals, rebounding, assist and 3s has been done by just 12 players in the basketball reference database, so when he inevitably approaches 30 minutes per game in the near future, we’re talking about a top-50 player. And literally the only thing standing between him and more minutes is the washed up Wesley Matthews who is approaching 34 and is shooting 39% from the field. Why on earth is he averaging nearly 25 minutes per game?

Cam Reddish

Reddish’s rookie season so far has been a tale of two halves. At the beginning he was about as skilled as Bill Murray on Space Jam with a 32.4 shooting percentage before Christmas, but eventually showcased some two-way star upside as he gained confidence in his shot and made a name for himself guarding the best perimeter players on a nightly basis. Over his last 10 games, Cam managed to post top-75 numbers in 9-cat with 16.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 dimes, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.1 triples on 50% shooting. 

"For Cam it was all about his offense slowing down, and that’s the same for every rookie that comes into this league,” Hawks assistant Greg Foster said on the Dukes and Bell show. “The speed of the game is such that it’s just going to take some time for the game to slow down offensively. But because he competes defensively night in and night out, his offense caught up and you saw how special he can become.” Armed with an improving 3-point shot, Reddish has respectable block, steal and rebounding rates and he’s going to get plenty of time with the ball in his hands as a secondary playmaker. Be ready to grab him in the middle rounds next season. 

Brandon Clarke:

He’s a favorite of many of my industry friends but in general I think Clarke is still very underrated. Despite playing just 21 minutes per game as the first big off the bench, Clarke was a 7th(!) round value in 9-cat with 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.5 steals and 0.4 triples on 62% from the field and 78% from the line. While it’s hard to see him eclipsing 25 minutes on a regular basis anytime soon as long as Jonas Valanciunas is around (the Grizzlies view Jaren Jackson Jr. as a full-time center down the road), there’s still a lot of untapped upside for Clarke because his monstrous steal/block rates from college haven’t translated just yet. 

At Gonzaga, Clarke averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals in just 28 minutes… And we’re talking about a 99th percentile athlete here. At the combine, Clarke had a 34.0 standing vertical leap, a 40.5 max vertical leap, a 3.28 three-quarter sprint and a 10.61 lane agility. Those are historic numbers, especially for a player with his size. That means some positive regression is surely coming with his steal/block rates. The Clarke-JJJ frontcourt is going to be a nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with for the next decade. 

De’Anthony Melton:

Let’s hang around Memphis for this next one. Melton took the league by storm in December and became one of the best reserves in the NBA. Not only would he guard the opponent’s best players with some memorable performances against the likes of James Harden, but he also spaced the floor with a 37% mark on his catch-and-shoot 3s, making him an ideal fit next to Ja Morant. That’s especially encouraging because he didn’t enter the NBA as a good shooter. 

From Dec. 1 to Jan. 27 before a fluke hand injury slowed him down, Melton was 55th in 9-cat during that span with 9.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks and 0.6 triples on 48% from field and 88% from line in just 20 minutes. He never approached 25+ minutes consistently with some questionable rotation decisions by Taylor Jenkins, but Jenkins had no problems force feeding Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill… I actually like Jenkins and think he did a pretty good job for the most part, but let’s hope he sees the light and gives us a healthy dose of Melton going forward. There are new obstacles though, as Justise Winslow will be healthy when the NBA resumes and Josh Jackson has emerged as a solid rotation player for the Grizzlies. 

They aren’t in Melton’s league in my book, so my confidence in Melton’s long-term outlook hasn’t wavered. After all, he comfortably led the Grizzlies in net rating and also had the best on/off differential. He’ll be a hot commodity as a free agent this offseason, and while it’s hard to peg his fantasy value since it hinges on the landing spot, you better believe I’ll be targeting him wherever he goes with one of the NBA’s best steal rates with plenty of supporting stats.

Daniel Theis:

I pegged Robert Williams as a sleeper this season, and while that didn't pan out due to injuries and a logjam at center, Theis outplayed both Williams and Enes Kanter on his way to a surprising top-75 finish in 9-cat (so far anyways). He averaged 9.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 dimes, 0.6 steals, 1.3 blocks and 0.4 triples in under 24 minutes per game, hitting 56% from the field and 76% from the line. He became the backbone of Boston's defense and the advanced stats absolutely loved him. In fact, he ranked 8th in block percentage, 4th in offensive rating, 17th in defensive rating and 14th in win shares per 48 minutes. What an incredible find by Danny Ainge and what a bargain for fantasy owners with Theis being undrafted pretty much everywhere. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander:

Last but certainly not least, SGA didn’t get nearly enough love from the fantasy community for the season he just had. Despite having an ADP that began in the 80s, SGA shattered that as the 25th ranked player in total value for 9-cat (so far). He led the Thunder in scoring which is something not many saw coming, averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.1 triples on 47% from the field and 80% from the line. 

The scary thing about SGA is that his ceiling is going to be way higher going forward. Chris Paul’s name continues to circulate in the rumor mill, Danilo Gallinari is a sign-and-trade candidate this offseason and Dennis Schroder is bound to generate some interest after the season he just had. Can you imagine the amount of touches coming SGA’s way if two of those three guys are removed from the mix? I’d imagine his usage rate jumping from 23% to close to 30%, so you better believe that I’ll be telling people to aggressively target him in the drafts to come.