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Roundball Stew

Stew: The Bench Squad

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: November 30, 2018, 5:01 pm ET


Here’s a fact: There are 150 starting spots available in the NBA.

(I didn’t say it was going to be a hard-hitting fact.)

Another fact — also not that hard-hitting: Starting does not necessarily mean fantasy relevance, which we know to be true because Jared Dudley (4.6 ppg in 23 minutes) has already started 20 games this year.

These are concrete numbers. Indisputable. Undeniable.

What’s far more nebulous, however, is exactly how many truly fantasy-relevant bench players there are in the league right now. In this edition of Roundball Stew Investigates, we attempt to answer that question, with a look at the premier fantasy bench players in the league:

Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin, Hawks

The Hawks and their mess of a rotation have two top off-the-bench fantasy options in Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin. First we’ll discuss Bazemore, who only recently became a backup after starting the first 19 games for the Hawks. It hasn’t really slowed his production, though. Including a majestic 0-for-10 line on Monday — 8-of-10 free throws, five boards, three assists, a steal and three blocks — Baze is averaging 13.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.7 bpg and 1.0 3s in his three games off the bench. In some ways, I think playing as a reserve suits his style better anyways.

I’ll also note here that Bazemore moving the bench has coincided with rookie Kevin Huerter jumping into the starting five. This is significant because Huerter — who has a potentially lights-out jumper — posted a 12-5-4 line with four 3s in 34 minutes on Wednesday. I’m watching the rookie closely, and adding him in deeper leagues.

As for Jeremy Lin, he was on a nice run, but is now dealing with an ankle injury. Overall in November, he’s averaging 13.9 ppg, 3.6 apg, 1.1 spg and 1.6 3s on 56.0 percent shooting in just 21 minutes a game.

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Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets

Spencer Dinwiddie is about as solid as it can get off the bench. He has double-digit points in 21 out of 22 games this season, and is on the upswing as we speak. (First 14 games: 13.9 ppg, 4.1 apg, 0.5 spg, 2.0 3s; last eight games: 19.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, 0.8 spg and 2.0 3s.) So far this year, he has Lou Williams’d better than Lou Williams himself (and more on that in a minute).

Jordan Clarkson, Cavs

No one sets out to become the poor man’s Spencer Dinwiddie; it just happens. Jordan Clarkson has hit double-digit points in 18 out of 20 games this year, posting 17.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.4 spg and 1.5 3s his last eight games.

J.J. Barea, Mavs

Watch out: Barea is on a heater. His last seven games, he has put up 16.1 ppg, 6.4 apg, 0.7 spg and 1.3 3s on 57.3 percent shooting in just 23 minutes a game. His last three games, he’s up to 17.0 ppg and 9.0 apg. There’s no telling how long this will last, but he’s absolutely worth starting right now while he’s piping hot — and is actually only owned in 30 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Stanley Johnson, Pistons

Despite Stanley Johnson’s minutes being all over the place, Johnson — just 8 percent owned in Yahoo leagues — has put up 12.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.7 spg and 1.7 3s in his last nine games.

Eric Gordon, Rockets

It’s not a secret or a surprise that Gordon is better in a starting role — which has happened for him this year when Chris Paul or James Harden has been out — but how much better? Here are the splits:

Gordon off the bench (9 games): 13.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.8 3s

Gordon as a starter (8 games): 19.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 3.4 3s

This has been the case going back to last year, with Gordon performing way better in a starting role. There’s also the fact that Gordon has been shooting pretty poorly this year (35.6 percent so far, and 28.9 on 3s), so once he busts out of that slump he should be a viable fantasy option regardless of whether or not he’s starting.

Cory Joseph, Pacers

In case you hadn’t noticed, we are proceeding alphabetically by name of city/state, and as we pass through Indiana we get maybe our first true surprise entry. Joseph doesn’t jump out because he’s not a big scorer, but he’s been on a hot streak for a while now. His last 11 games look like this: 8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.6 spg and 1.2 3s in 28 minutes a game. Aside from a rough five-game stretch in late October/early November, this is basically what Joseph has been doing all season.

Note: In a significant oversight kindly pointed out by a reader, I was so blinded by Cory Joseph's quiet excellence that I forgot to write up Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis as you may know has started exactly one game, and is averaging 15.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.6 bpg and 0.2 3s -- numbers that have been even slightly better than that the last few weeks. In sum, great bench player. Definitely should've been in the original version. Let's move on to...

Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

Stop the fight. For fantasy purposes, the Clippers bench is about as good as it gets. Sweet Lou is averaging 17.6 ppg, 4.2 apg and 1.2 3s, but is in fact shooting horribly (38.6 percent on the season). He may not fully take off until the Clippers sustain some injuries (a topic I hit on the podcast with Jared Johnson this week).

As for Harrell, he’s been somewhat insanely good — the No. 42 overall player in 9-category leagues behind averages of 16.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.0 spg and 1.8 bpg, numbers that have been even better than that lately (the last two weeks, for example, he’s at 19.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.3 spg and 1.6 bpg).

Derrick Rose, Timberwolves

Rose’s renaissance has been well-documented, so there’s not a lot to say here — which is actually a good thing. Rose hits double digit points most nights, gets some assists and knocks down 3s, and he’ll up those numbers substantially whenever there’s an injury. His last seven games (all off the bench), he has averaged 18.6 ppg, 3.7 apg and 1.7 3s (with 0.3 spg) in 29 minutes a game.

Julius Randle, Pelicans

When I look at Randle’s stat lines, I find myself wishing he did just a little bit more. Just a few more steals or blocks or 3s would be great.

But I should probably stop being greedy. Randolph is doing a pretty killer Zach Randolph impersonation — 18.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.6 bpg and 0.5 3s on the season — and has been even better than that lately. Last eight games: 20.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg and 0.4 3s. I agree to stop complaining and look for copious amounts of steals/blocks/3s elsewhere.

Dennis Schroder, Thunder

Schroder has not surprisingly been better as a starter this season (18.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.7 apg), but his numbers as a backup are more than respectable: 15.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.4 apg in 27 minutes a game. Even more surprising, he’s averaging career-highs in steals (1.3) and 3s (1.5) after hitting just 29.0 percent from distance last year. Overall he’s been the No. 104 player in 9-category leagues and looks like he can maintain something relatively close to that value even if he drops off a little bit now that Russell Westbrook is healthy.

Terrence Ross and Jonathan Isaac, Magic

I think we were all waiting for Isaac — whose absence helped Ross take off — to come back and completely eclipse any value Ross might have had. Here are their respective numbers since Isaac returned (with all but one of these games — a start by Isaac — in a backup role):

Jonathan Isaac (8 games): 10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.5 spg, 1.1 bpg, 0.9 3s (23 minutes)

Terrence Ross (8 games): 14.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.4 3s (25 minutes)

I’m starting to think that Ross and his role really aren’t going anywhere, which on the surface doesn’t seem ideal for Isaac, though in theory he (Isaac) has the skillset to hit value even if he is only playing about half the game. The bottom line is it’s messy, but both of these guys can have their moments as starters in standard leagues going forward.

Elie Okobo and Josh Jackson, Suns

Okobo returned to the rotation emphatically on Wednesday with 19 points, four assists, three steals and three treys on Wednesday. The rookie (16 percent owned) is a pretty intriguing pickup, with the caveat that Igor Kokoskov has been a little bit hard to read/trust with his rotation.

As for Jackson, I wrote about him more extensively in my Rotoworld Season Pass column on Thursday. The gist of it is this: He’s starting to trend up (last four games: 11.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.5 3s), and has some pretty intriguing second-half potential. Last year after Jan. 1, he posted 17.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.6 bpg and 0.9 treys (44.0 FG / 68.5 FT) in 39 games.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kings

After a slow start (6.5 ppg his first two games earlier this month), Bogdanovic has posted 17.3 ppg, 3.5 apg, 0.5 spg and 2.6 3s in his last eight games. There’s also reason to think he can do better than the notably weak 0.5 steals — Bogdanovic averaged 0.9 spg last season.

Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors

We know that Ibaka has been really good starting and coming off the bench this season (a career-high 16.8 ppg), and we know that Jonas Valanciunas has been a similar (though slightly more tumultuous) story. The main player I want to hit here is VanVleet, who has shown some positive signs lately (10.6 ppg, 4.6 apg, 0.9 spg and 1.7 3s in his last seven games) after struggling with his shot early on (36.1 percent from the floor the first 12 games of the season). That good stretch from VanVleet does include an absolute dud on Thursday night against the Warriors (zero points in 15 minutes), and he won't be immune to those going forward. I still like his chances of producing solid low-end value going forward.

Kelly Oubre, Wizards

Oubre has graduated from a bench role for now, having started the last five games. However, he’s a player with enough questions around his role and upside that I think it’s worth addressing. The bottom line for me is that Oubre is producing right now, and most importantly, he’s producing more than just points and 3s. His last eight games, he’s at 12.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.1 spg, 0.9 bpg and 1.3 3s. As long as he’s producing in those categories more often than not, I’m okay with the occasional ugly stat line — which is pretty likely to happen. Oubre has scored five points or less in four of his last 10 games.

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Some Other Notable Bench Guys: One name that caught my attention (again) while writing this column was Miles Bridges. He has a fantasy-friendly game (per-36 minutes: 12.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.2 bpg, 1.3 3s), so I like him long-term, and would stash him if the league/bench are deep enough. … Allonzo Trier has had a couple big lines lately, and I would like him much better if he was doing anything at all in defensive stats. He has no steals and two blocks in his last eight games. … Dwight Powell started the season hot with 16, 19 and 12 points his first three games, but has only averaged 7.2 ppg and 3.4 rpg (with 0.8 spg and 0.6 bpg) in 13 games since. … Omari Spellman is averaging 0.8 spg, 0.7 bpg and 0.9 treys in just 19 minutes, so he’s someone to watch in the second half. … Meanwhile, DeAndre Bembry has shown flashes, but is ultimately inconsistent (points scored, last five games: 7, 14, 16, 6, 8). … Marcus Morris has started the last few games, but he’s been a bench guy for 17 out of 20 games this year. It’s also worth noting that he has cooled off a decent amount after his hot start (first nine games: 15.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 0.6 spg, 2.7 3s / last 11 games: 12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.5 spg, 1.5 3s), so he’s trending toward being a deep league asset only. … Similar story for another Morris (Monte), his 9.8 ppg, 5.0 apg, 0.6 spg and 0.9 3s (his averages over the last 10 games) are not enough to get it done in standard-sized leagues. … Marcus Smart is also making a run toward deep-league impact. His start to the season was not pretty (5.2 ppg on 32.4 percent shooting his first 11 games). However, he has been a bit better lately, posting 7.8 ppg, 4.0 apg, 1.2 spg and 1.5 3s on 41.7 percent shooting his last 10 games.