Hello and welcome back to the NBA Roundtable! As you know, this year’s rookie class has been a little underwhelming with the exception of Joel Embiid (who will be a first-round pick in fantasy next season if he stays healthy), but we’re seeing signs of some players on the verge of potentially breaking out. Malcolm Brogdon is now the full-time starter at PG for the Bucks, Dario Saric is getting better by the day and Brandon Ingram is starting to show why he was the No. 2 overall pick. I’m going to highlight a couple more guys that I’m really excited about going forward, but let’s ask the rest of the Rotoworld hoops crew who they have their eyes on. I’ll start us off…
Jonas Nader (@JonasNader)
Ivica Zubac- “ZuBlock” had his breakout game on Wednesday when he sparked a Lakers comeback that fell just short, as he finished with 11 points (5-of-11 FGs), 13 rebounds, three blocks, one steal and one assist in 26 minutes. That was just his 11th appearance of the season and the first time that he eclipsed the 20-minute mark, but I’m confident we are going to see a lot more of him.
Zubac has been on my radar since his impressive showing at the summer league, and with the Lakers sitting in 14th place in the West with a 15-31 record, we are going to see a lot more of him at the expense of guys like Timofey Mozgov and Tarik Black. While it’s a small sample size, he has per-36 minute averages of 13.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.0 blocks, and he’s hitting a solid 75.0 percent from the line. He has mouth-watering upside, and while he’s already worth owning in dynasty formats, he’s one more good game away from standard-league consideration. He’s just 19 years old and the Lakers may have another gem on their hands.
Caris LeVert- He didn’t even make his season debut until December due to his troublesome foot, but LeVert is getting better and better by the week and it feels like he’s on the verge of breaking out. The Nets are starting Joe Harris at SG right now, but it’s just a matter of time before LeVert leapfrogs him in the rotation. His minutes are on the rise and coach Kenny Atkinson can’t stop singing his praises. “We want to bring him along intelligently, grow him,” Atkinson said. “He’s pushing for more minutes and it’s something we’ll look at.”
Translation: See ya later, Joe Harris. LeVert had arguably his best game as a pro on Wednesday when he scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting with four assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals and triples, so he should be on your radar as a great stash for the second half of the season. He’s a super athletic wing and is a better playmaker than he’s given credit for, so I’m excited to see his role grow on a Nets team that will prioritize his development with nothing to play for.
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Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer)
I’ll go with a couple of under-the-radar Knicks rookies and The Homie…
While the Knicks season has seemingly spiraled out of control, a few players have had the opportunity to step up. One such player is undrafted rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas. With Kristaps Porzingis injured, Kuz has seen a huge increase in playing time and has made the most of this newfound opportunity. Over the Knicks last four games, Kuzminskas is averaging 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 3-pointers, and 1.0 steals in 29.9 minutes. On Monday vs. Atlanta, Kuz played a team-high 37 minutes. He followed that up with a 17-point outing in the Knicks win over Boston on Wednesday. With Porzingis’ short-term future uncertain, Kuzminskas could continue to see plenty of PT. And even if Porzingis returns sooner rather than later, that does not mean that Kuz will automatically lose his fantasy value. Coach Jeff Hornacek has already stated that he plans to start KP at center and shift Carmelo Anthony to the four. There is certainly reason to believe that Kuz has earned the right to that starting small forward spot. All things considered, it appears Kuzminskas is headed for a strong second half showing.
This is more of a speculative guess. The hope here is that the Sixers make a trade to clear out their frontcourt logjam, which could open up minutes for Saric. He’s been playing well of late, averaging 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds 2.3 3-pointers, and 2.0 assists over the Sixers last four contests. His versatile, well-rounded game is perfectly suited for fantasy success. If he can secure minutes in the high-20’s on a nightly basis over the second half of the season and increase his efficiency a bit, he’d have breakout potential.
While Willy doesn’t have nearly the same upside as the other aforementioned Knick rookie, it is worth noting that he possesses some appeal in deeper leagues. In this disappointing rookie crop, it is worth noting that Willy is just one of four rooks averaging at least five points and four rebounds per game. The other three are Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Brandon Ingram. Willy’s fantasy relevance and path to playing time are directly related to the health of Joakim Noah, who is currently nursing a sore ankle. If Noah misses time (for the ankle or some other ailment) Hernangomez would still have to battle Kyle O’Quinn for playing time. However, in Wednesday’s win, Willy scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in less than 20 minutes, while O'Quinn had just two points in 10 minutes. On the season, Willy's per-36 minute averages are impressive: 14.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks.
Mike Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher)
Caris LeVert - If you like crossovers and blow-by drives, LeVert is a guy for you. He's one of the longest striding shooting guards already and is good for a highlight pretty much every night.
Not to mention he's already showing up with some fantastic efficiency. Among rookies to play in each of their team's last 10 games, LeVert ranks first in true shooting percentage with his 62.9. This isn't surprising at all with his 63.6 true shooting percentage at Michigan last year.
You might have heard the Nets are not good and have an 11-game losing streak. Plus, they are on pace to have the fastest pace at a ridiculous 104.3 possessions per 48 minutes. Coach Kenny Atkinson is going to start playing him more, especially with how the Nets are using Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the four more.
Ivica Zubac - Like the Nets, the Lakers are losing games left and right. If you check out the Lakers official Twitter feed, they're tweeting about Zubac more than any other player since they lost to the Nuggets. Yeah, this is because he had a double-double with three blocks and one steal in his last game, but you can feel the excitement about him. He's probably going to be freed after the All-Star Game, so give him a stash in a deep league. I'm a proud Zubac owner in the industry 30-man league, so I'm a little biased.
Brandon Ingram - His shot selection has been a lot better these days and Luol Deng (wrist) missing time could help him get more playing time. His upside isn't the greatest and he'll probably hit the rookie wall a few times, but he's a solid lottery ticket in a good offense for fantasy output.
Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender - These guys are taking turns with being bad, but they both have shown some positives along the way, too. Chriss probably has the higher fantasy upside because he's a shot blocker, so I'd probably rather hitch my wagon to him in a deeper league.
Jared Johnson (@JaredJ831)
I also like LeVert's upside. The Nets are bringing him along slowly, but with just eight total wins on the season, it's pretty obvious that player development is the primary focus in Brooklyn and not necessarily winning games. That means that LeVert should be turned loose towards the end of the year, making him an enticing deep league stash. LeVert is putting up per-36 minute averages of 12.5 points, 4.9 boards, 3.1 dimes, 2.0 triples and 1.6 steals per contest.
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Kris Dunn yet. A report popped up on Wednesday that the Timberwolves are actively shopping Ricky Rubio with the intention of turning over the reins to Dunn as Minnesota's long-term starting point guard, so he should be looking at a 30-plus minute role after the All-Star break. Now, I'll admit that Dunn's game isn't perfect. He can't consistently hit the 3-point shot, he's shooting just 37.3 percent from the field on the year, and he's not really going to help you out in the points category; but I still like his upside in assists and steals and view him as a quality deep league stash.