When the idea first popped into my head, it was a revelation akin to the first time Dale Doback heard Brennan Huff sing in Stepbrothers. I saw it with such striking clarity, such perfect focus:
A former Villanova star, drafted this past June, would raise his play to another level down the stretch of his NBA rookie year, providing a powerful boost for fantasy owners over the final hurdles to a fantasy championship.
His name was Mikal Bridges.
As it turns out, I had the wrong Villanova guy. And while Bridges has been perfectly fine as a steals/3s specialist — 2.2 spg, 1.5 3s in his last 20 games — it’s the point guard from his college team who is emerging as a major fantasy factor for the stretch run, and the unlikely captain of the March All-Stars. Here’s the starting five:
PG — Jalen Brunson, DAL
What is a March All-Star? It may be self-explanatory, but if not, these are players who were mostly off our radars during draft season — in Brunson’s case, he was taken 183rd in the 30-Deep expert league back in October — and are now breaking out just in time for the fantasy playoffs. That criteria makes a player such as Mitchell Robinson, for example, ineligible, because he started burning the candle well before the calendar flipped to March. (And Mikal Bridges, for what it’s worth, is actually the No. 41 overall player so far this month, but he got started well before March as well.) So all of these guys will be recently streaking names, and some may even be available on waivers in your leagues.
As for Brunson specifically, the Mavs starting PG has averaged 17.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.6 apg, 0.9 spg and 1.6 3s over his last eight games, shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 90.9 percent from the line with 1.9 turnovers, making him the No. 62 overall player in 9-category leagues for that eight-game run. Collapse the sample size to five games, and Brunson has put up 20.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.8 apg, 0.6 spg and 2.0 3s — shooting 57.6 from the floor and going 15-of-15 from the line. Will he be the starting PG for Dallas next season? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. The Mavs play four times next week, Brunson is now owned in 39 percent of Yahoo leagues (up from, I believe 4 percent late last week), and there’s not a scenario where I can picture benching him for Week 23. The Captain, Jalen Brunson.
SG — Damyean Dotson, NYK
If we’re being nitpicky, and “following the rules we’ve already established”, Dotson has actually had a couple significant hot streaks prior to this. Both of those ended in a long drought, and we’ve become accustomed to that kind of frustration with the 2018-19 Knicks. However, at this point I’m perilously close to thinking that this Dotson run could be for real. Here are my reasons for optimism:
1) Dotson has started 11 of the last 12 games, playing 29 or more minutes in 10 of them;
2) He has hit double figures in nine of those 12, and scored 15 or more seven times;
3) His overall numbers during this streak: 15.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.8 spg and 2.7 3s, on 40.6 percent from the field and 84.0 from the line.
Again, I’m a bit terrified putting my faith in a Knicks player who has faked us out a couple times already this season, and I don’t love 41 percent from the field, but with the Knicks playing four times next week, and Dotson owned in 26 percent of Yahoo leagues, I am mostly on board with taking this gamble.
SF — Rodions Kurucs, BKN
He kicked off the month of March with a complete and utter dud — six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes. In six games since then, the 21-year-old from Latvia has scored double-digit points five times, averaging 12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.0 bpg and 2.2 3s, shooting 53.8 percent from the floor in 25 minutes a game. There is some bad news here, and that bad news is two games next week for Brooklyn, but the options were pretty sparse on the SF shelf, so Kurucs is what we have.
PF — Derrick Favors, UTA
This spot was originally slated for the notoriously turbulent Kelly Olynyk, who averaged 18.5 ppg in his first four games of March, then in true Olynyk fashion has plummeted back to earth with 5.0 ppg on 2-of-12 shooting his last two games. Miami plays four times next week, but I would prefer to see some positive signs from Olynyk this weekend before trusting him in Week 23.
So instead the PF spot goes to Favors, because it’s nice to have one high-priced player on this roster anyway. Favors is also here because his season-long numbers provide a baseline that you probably would have expected: 11.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 0.8 spg, and 1.4 bpg, shooting 58.0 percent from the floor and 68.5 from the line. Good. Solid. Boring. Questionable free throw shooting. Derrick Favors.
However, Favors came out of the All-Star break like a man who had spent his time off wisely, looking refreshed, recharged — ready to do things a new way. His first game after the break, Favors tied his season-high with 24 points, and in 11 games overall since All-Star Weekend, he’s putting up 15.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 0.9 spg and 1.9 bpg, on 62.3 percent from the field and 83.3 from the line. The elevated FT shooting may not last — he’s gone 1-of-2 in each of his last three games — but the elevated production doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and Favors and the Jazz play four games next week.
C — Jakob Poeltl, SAS
Poeltl has started five of the last six games for the Spurs (he missed the other one due to a tight hammy — a condition I also know as “everyday life”). In those five games, he has not attempted more than six shots in a game, he has only one game of double-digit points and just one game of 30-plus minutes. Pretty thrilling, right? The good news is the numbers overall (scoring aside) are still pretty good: 6.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.4 bpg. He also has two three-block games and a pair of two-steal games in that stretch. So Poeltl, quietly, is doing some things, and the Spurs, it turns out, also have four games in Week 23.
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In case you’re curious, here’s a quick update on the playoffs in the 30-team expert league I play in with a bunch of other Rotoworld guys and fantasy experts from a wide range of other outlets. I won the Detlef Schrempf Division with a 213-132-15 record in the regular season (we play two head-to-head matchups per week), and after a first-round bye, I’m now in an all-out death match against Mike Gallagher (whose eight-man starting lineup includes Derrick White, Paul George, Jonathan Isaac and Jarrett Allen). I was down 8-1 heading into Wednesday night, but I currently lead it 5-3-1 with a bunch of very close categories (we are tied in 3s, and I’m up by one block and one steal, and down by four points). Suffice it to say, one of us is going home devastated, and probably not speaking to the other for at least a week. Here’s a look at my lineup for what will hopefully be a long playoff run:
PG — Chris Paul — He’s not shooting well (39.0 percent his last 15 games), but is otherwise putting up some mostly vintage CP3 numbers: 15.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 8.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.5 bpg and 2.1 3s over those 15. (Update: And now he's resting on Friday. Devastating.)
SG — Buddy Hield — Did you know he’s hit double-digit points in 65 out of 67 games this season? Hield is also closing out the season in extremely strong fashion, averaging 23.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.9 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg and 3.1 3s over his last 15 games, after a 34-4-7 line on Thursday night. I’m suddenly finding myself regretting that I didn’t include him in our podcast on players we’re eager to draft next year.
SF — Joe Ingles — Averaging 12.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 bpg and 2.3 3s his last 10 games. Those right there are some league-winning numbers.
PF — Al-Farouq Aminu — These are not league-winning numbers (8.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.8 spg, 0.7 bpg and 1.0 3s in his last 10 games), but in a 30-team league, I can live with it.
C — Clint Capela — In 11 games since returning from injury, he’s putting up 13.2 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 1.0 spg and 0.8 bpg, including 16.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg in his last four.
G — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — SGA has scored 12 or more points in six of his last seven, with a net result of 13.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.4 3s on 56.3 percent from the field.
F — Kevin Huerter — The Red Dragon is peaking again at the right time, with 21.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.0 spg and 4.0 3s his last two games.
Util — Cory Joseph — He’s fine for some assists and steals in a league this deep, but I’m really regretting not starting Monte Morris, who is my only notable bench guy in this league and will definitely be in my lineup next week if I advance. (Morris, by the way, is averaging 13.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.7 spg and 2.0 3s in his last three games, and I love him right now as a pickup with Isaiah Thomas currently out of the rotation and Denver’s schedule going 4-4-4 the next three weeks.)
So that’s the squad. As you can see, most of these guys are playing well right now, which sets me up to potentially make a run to my second championship in this league (I won it in 2013-14). Which of course is going to make it all the more devastating when Mike somehow finds a way to beat me. I'll let you know next week.