Let’s get the obvious part of this out of the way immediately: Points are glorious. They’re usually the first thing we see in a box score, and when you draw up a list of the top-10 or so fantasy players this season, the lowest scorer you’re going to find is Chris Paul, currently at 17.3 ppg. Other top-10 options (including Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and DeMarcus Cousins) are all averaging above 20 ppg.
However, great lines do of course happen without a lot of points, and some very good fantasy players are often undervalued because they don’t score much. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at some low-scoring dynamos – all averaging less than 10 points per game:
Marcus Smart – Season: 6.5 ppg
I can’t label Thursday night’s line as anything other than rotten (zero points, three boards, two assists, two steals on 0-of-5 shooting in 27 minutes), but that doesn’t change my perception of Smart as a low scorer with sneaky upside who’s gradually getting better (last 12 games: 7.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.4 spg and 1.8 3s in 27 minutes per game). The assists, steals and 3s make him a useful option even if his points don’t take off, and I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could move into the 10-12 ppg range before the season is over. And as for that Thursday night dud, I won’t tolerate a lot of those, but he was coming off one of his better games of the season Monday (14 points, seven assists, a steal, a block and four treys), and the increased minutes are a good sign for his long-term production, even if we have to deal with the occasional dud.
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Nerlens Noel – Season: 8.1 ppg
His percentages still stink – and the FG percentage (season: 43.5 percent) is especially bad for a big man – but Noel has otherwise settled in as a very nice source of boards, steals and blocks (last 25 games: 8.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.8 bpg). And as an added bonus, there’s certainly potential for the scoring to improve as the season goes on. His ppg has gone up from November to December to January (7.6 -> 7.7 -> 8.8), and the 20-year-old has scored double-digit points in five of his last eight games.
Rudy Gobert – Season: 6.7 ppg
After scoring 14 points on Thursday (his second-highest output of the season), Gobert is averaging 10.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.1 spg and 3.6 bpg in January. Now having hit double-digit points in seven of 11 games this month, the 22-year-old shouldn’t have trouble averaging double-digit points going forward.
Alex Len – Season: 6.3 ppg
It’s been a nice run lately (last 10 games: 7.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg), but we should stop short of saying that Len has emerged as a 100 percent reliable fantasy option, because his last three games have seen a bit of a downswing: 6.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg in just 20 minutes per game, including six points, three boards and no blocks on Wednesday – his first game without a block in two and a half weeks. In the long run I do expect him to be a solid source of boards and a big-time source of blocks, but fantasy owners should be braced for inconsistency.
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Elfrid Payton – Season: 7.6 ppg
If recent numbers are any indication, Payton may be on the verge of vacating the under-10 ppg club, as the last 10 games have seen a big surge in his overall production: 11.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 6.8 apg and 2.1 spg. He’s still nowhere close to hitting 3s on any sort of consistent basis (4-of-20 on the season), but the No. 10 overall pick is finally showing his potential in points, boards, assists and steals, along with improved percentages (46.1 percent from the field, 71.4 from the line over his last 10 games).
Andrew Bogut – Season: 6.5 ppg
Aside from points, his season stats offer a useful platter of rebounds (8.7), assists (2.7), steals (0.7) and blocks (2.0). He hasn’t been great since he returned from injury (5.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.3 spg and 1.4 bpg in just 21 minutes per game over his last seven), but he is coming off a big line in limited playing time Wednesday (nine points, 10 boards, a steal and five blocks in just 22 minutes), and he’s done the damage he’s done this season in just 24 minutes per game. In sum, I find him useful, but a bit stressful as a constant injury concern, and he’s the first player on this list I’m perfectly happy not to have on any of my teams. Speaking of which…
Nicolas Batum – Season: 9.1 ppg
The emotional highs and lows over the last 48 hours have almost been too much to take. To review: On Wednesday, in Portland’s first game after LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury, Batum busted out a season-high 27 points (with 10 boards, five assists, six treys and a block). He was back! Until, as an encore last night, he went scoreless (on 0-of-6 shooting) in 22 minutes, and was unable to finish the game after aggravating his right wrist injury. Just a rotten turn of events, and though I’ve repeatedly suggested buying low on Batum because of his solid all-around numbers (5.2 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.2 3s), I’m officially done with him after this latest flop, and sincerely hope that all of your buy-low efforts failed.
Ricky Rubio – Season: 9.4 ppg (five games)
Meanwhile, I’m not yet ready to abandon the buy-low campaign on Rubio, even though my frustration has boiled over countless times while he’s been out for two and a half months with an ankle sprain. Putting that aggravation aside, it’s worth repeating this: If you take away the game in which he got hurt and left early (playing only 13 minutes in that one), Rubio’s first four games resulted in 10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 11.0 apg and 1.5 spg. It’s worth at least checking in on his trade value as he gets closer to a return.
Wes Johnson – Season: 9.4 ppg
The appeal here is obvious (0.8 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.3 3s), but so are the limitations. Johnson is a nice player to have in your lineup when he’s clicking, but his bad nights aren’t just bad because he doesn’t score – his bad nights are basically useless. Furthermore, after a strong December (11.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.1 bpg, 2.0 3s), he’s been very flat in January (8.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.0 3s). And if you’re wondering what Wes has done without Kobe Bryant (shoulder) in the lineup, Kobe has missed eight games this season (so far). Of those eight games, Johnson has played in six, averaging 13.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.5 bpg and 1.8 3s, so he could benefit a bit in the scoring department, but I wouldn’t expect a major long-term increase. Bottom line: Good for you if you can figure out when to start him, but my experience has been that he seems to go off on my bench, then emits a quiet, smelly burp as soon as I get him into the lineup.
Other Low Scorers of Note: Omer Asik (7.1 ppg) is a nice source of boards (10.2 rpg), but the defensive stats really hold him back. Asik is averaging just 0.3 spg and 0.7 bpg on the season. … Meanwhile, James Johnson (7.9 ppg) does just fine in defensive stats (0.7 spg, 1.2 bpg), but his wildly unpredictable game-to-game performance restricts him to deeper or daily formats.
Throwback Box Score of the Week
In honor of today’s theme, we flash back to a magical single-digit scoring effort from yesteryear, on Dec. 29, 2001, when Nets PG Jason Kidd smashed a piñata in almost every column of the box score (15 rebounds, 14 assists, four steals, seven turnovers, 4-of-15 shooting) all while scoring a modest eight points.
In my rec league, we run a play off the opening tip where the center jumps and volleyball spikes the ball forward and I run it down for a layup. The play works pretty well against unsuspecting (and sometimes out-of-shape) rec league opponents, but it looks kind of strange when a play like that works at the highest level.