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Lauri Markkanen
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Roundball Stew

Stew: Bullish on Bulls

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: November 24, 2018, 11:07 am ET

Back in the early 00’s, a handful of years into my fantasy basketball career, I had a roommate. We’ll call him Gabe. He was in my main fantasy league with a bunch of college friends, and it was pretty much a given that at least once (and preferably two to three times) a season, I’d walk across the hall and start up a dialogue that would end in me completely fleecing him in a trade.

I think I’ll go talk to Gabe about Vince Carter would usually end in a pretty productive day for my squad.

Since that time though, it seems like the Gabes of the world have gotten considerably savvier and more cautious when it comes to trading. Player rankings and recent news blurbs are right in front of everyone when they look at a deal, so it’s a lot easier to do a very small amount of work and just decide that the trade on the table is a bad idea. And it’s typically much easier to say no to a trade than it is to say yes.

Which brings me to my next point, and really my only point: I wish it was easier to get more trades done in a number of my leagues. And I’m guessing that many of you out there might feel the same way. It seems like even in a mostly active league, the first thing to go stagnant is trading, in part because many of us play in a bunch of leagues and it’s hard to trade aggressively in all of them, and in part because Gabe is still concerned that you’re trying to rip him off.

Today I’m here to walk across the hall (figuratively speaking) and try to stir up some trade activity. Here are 10 players I would try to acquire in trades:

Lauri Markkanen: We don’t know exactly what day he’s going to be back, but we know it is getting closer. And the reason I bring him up isn’t just because he’s a promising player about to be back from injury — it’s because I think his season numbers from last year (15.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.6 bpg and 2.1 3s) don’t tell the full story of just how good he could potentially be this year. For me, the crucial stretch was a month-long run from late December to late January last season. Over 16 games, Markkanen posted 17.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.7 bpg and 2.8 3s, shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 92.1 from the line with just 1.2 turnovers. That’s essentially one-fifth of the season where he ranked as the No. 25 player in 9-category leagues. The stretches that preceded and followed that were both pretty solid, but it’s that run that makes me think Markkanen — the No. 66 overall player for the season last year — could make a huge leap in 2018-19. He won’t come easily in a trade because his owner has waited this long and is now probably even more dug in, but it still might be worth it.

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Kris Dunn: I’m staying in Chicago for a minute because I don’t want to disorient anyone geographically. I am also staying in Chicago because I think it’s possible that people have begun to lose sight of / lose faith in how much of a difference-maker Dunn could be. The bottom line is he’s a player with a ton of upside who we’re barely talking about, and that makes him an intriguing trade target to me. As for Dunn’s best month-long stretch last season, that was early December to early January, when he put up 16.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 7.8 apg, 1.9 spg, 0.5 bpg and 0.7 3s on 45.4 percent from the field (and 72.9 from the line, though he took just a few attempts a game). I’ve got leagues where I’m patiently waiting on Markkanen and Dunn to come back, and I really think they should start to provide a big boost before the start of 2019. 

Jaren Jackson Jr.: I never said these were all going to be buy-lows or anything, and I know it won’t be easy to wrestle JJJ away from an opposing roster. I still think it could be worth the effort. After averaging *just* 10.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg and 0.4 3s in his first eight games, Jackson has doubled his production in 3s and more than doubled it in blocks, turning it up to 14.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.3 spg, 2.6 bpg and 0.8 3s over his last nine. He did head into Thanksgiving on a down note — nine points and five fouls in just 12 minutes on Wednesday — so perhaps that has left the door slightly ajar. 

Wendell Carter Jr.: Oh wait I’m back in Chicago. Mentioning Jaren Jackson Jr. reminded me that there’s another rookie junior to consider trying to acquire. I’ll break WCJ’s season so far into three parts:

Part 1 (5 games): 6.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.0 spg, 1.8 bpg, 0.4 3s

Part 2 (8 games): 15.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 2.3 bpg, 0.5 3s

Part 3 (5 games):  10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.0 bpg, 0.0 3s

If you believe that Part 2 could become the norm sooner rather than later — and I do (or at least something between Part 2 and Part 3) — then it’s worth trying to get WCJ onto your roster ASAP. The only downside to stacking Bulls is their late-season schedule — only three games from Weeks 22-25. Other than that small/significant detail, I think this team is going to be absurdly fun for fantasy purposes in the months ahead. 

Jayson Tatum: Again, I’ll break this up into a multi-part situation — this time, two:

Part 1 (11 games): 14.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.5 bpg and 1.4 3s (39.3 percent from the field)

Part 2 (7 games): 18.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.6 bpg and 2.1 3s (47.4 percent from the field)

As you can see, Tatum has been shooting it way better lately, and that has helped fuel a spike in a number of areas. He’s still shooting just 42.6 percent on the season though, so if you can play up that number in trade talks, it could pan out nicely. Tatum is only the No. 77 player in 9-category leagues so far after finishing 63rd last year, and I think his ceiling is easily (and perhaps conservatively) somewhere around the top 50 this year.

Kawhi Leonard: There are three raw facts to consider here:

1) On a per-game basis, he’s been phenomenal: 24.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.4 bpg and 1.3 3s;

2) He is reportedly getting closer to being cleared for back-to-back sets;

BUT…

3) As of right now, he has sat out six out of 19 games so far this year — including four of his last 10.

Now matter how patient you are or how often you meditate, this is maddening. You certainly won’t fool anyone in trying to deal for Leonard right now, but it’s not easy to acquire first-round caliber players in any circumstances. This is a relatively unique situation and one to consider capitalizing on before it officially improves. 

Victor Oladipo: Similar but different story. The game log can be a persuasive thing, and Oladipo’s last four games look like this:

*Eight points, four boards, five assists, no steals, one block, two treys, 3-of-12 shooting

*Left after five minutes (knee soreness) and did not return

*DNP - knee

*DNP - knee

Now, here are the 10 games prior to that irritating stretch: 24.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 5.7 apg, 2.1 spg, 0.5 bpg and 2.7 3s. No one is going to forget that Oladipo is an absolute force when healthy, but the last four games should have opened up a small window to trade for him. I’m on my way to offer Chris Paul for him in a couple of leagues as we speak, possibly in a 2-for-2. It very well may get shot down, but A) CP3 is higher in the season-long rankings so far (No. 21 vs. No. 29) and B) If we overthink our offers to the point that we don’t even make them, then we will never get the peak trading season that I/we so covet.

Three more players to go… and next up is…

Gordon Hayward? Yes, Gordon Hayward. Tommy Beer and I discussed this one on the Rotoworld Fantasy Basketball Podcast a couple days ago. I drafted Hayward absolutely nowhere, but I’m suddenly starting to get pretty intrigued by his prospects. Since the start of November, he’s averaging 10.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.0 3s in 29 minutes a game. The drawback? He’s shooting just 38.4 percent from the field over that time. However, this is a case where I’m confident calling that a blip. Hayward is a 44.3 percent shooter for his career, and has only once shot below 43 percent for a season (41.3, in 2013-14). I do not know how long this particular blip will last, and if his last game was any indication, it may not be too much longer: Hayward posted a 19-7-3 line with two steals and two treys on 6-of-14 shooting on Wednesday. I have an offer out there of Malcolm Brogdon (No. 102 in 9-category leagues) for Hayward (No. 120) to a Bucks fan in one league, and I’m hoping that guy will soon mash accept. He probably shouldn’t, and probably won’t, but it’s worth a try.

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Montrezl Harrell: I’ll close this out with a couple of players that we all know are valuable, but maybe for some of us who added them off waivers or drafted them quite late, it hasn’t really registered just how valuable they are. First up is the Clippers backup center, who also gets the beloved Part 1 / Part 2 treatment to sum up his season so far:

Part 1 (10 games): 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.7 bpg in 21 minutes a game

Part 2 (7 games): 20.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.9 bpg in 30 minutes a game

Part 1 is pretty nice — good enough to start in most formats for the defensive stats alone. Part 2 is a tour de force on par with the Van Damme dance floor scene in Kickboxer. During that stretch (which essentially spans the last two weeks), Harrell has been the No. 11 player in 9-category leagues. For the season, he sits 32nd overall, so do with that what you will. Ultimately, I’m not saying I’d do anything as extreme as trade Bradley Beal (No. 30) for Harrell. However, if I had Eric Bledsoe (No. 39) and needed blocks, I would absolutely consider making that move. 

T.J. Warren: Warren offers a very different stat line but pretty similar story to Montrezl. You know what’s next:

Part 1 (9 games): 13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.6 bpg, 1.3 3s

Part 2 (7 games): 23.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.1 bpg, 2.4 3s

To the extent that many of these are not buy-lows, the last two (Harrell and Warren) could easily be labeled buy-highs. It obviously all depends on your league. What I do know is that over this torrid seven-game run, Warren is No. 8 overall in 9-category leagues. Ahead of him? Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Paul George, LeBron James, Nikola Vucevic and Kemba Walker.

That is of course insane, and ultimately, Warren probably ends up closer to the top 40 than top 10. But this recent run is no joke. If there’s a concern, it’s that he’s shooting 46.8 percent on 3s after hitting just 26.5 and 22.2 percent the last two seasons. So he may be what they call “unsustainably hot.” But even if he slows down a little bit, he may still be emerging as a strong enough option to justify what you’d have to give up to get him. Especially since you might — repeat: might — be negotiating with a fantasy owner hasn't quite realized just how good Warren can be.

Ultimately, there’s really nothing to lose by sending an offer and checking. And as soon as I finish this column, I’m gonna go try to send about 15 of them. Right after I convince Gabe (who retired from fantasy about a decade ago) to make a comeback.

Other Random Thoughts: Update from the Mitchell Robinson defensive-stat tracker: Last seven games: 1.0 spg, 3.4 bpg. … Nicolas Batum is probably a smart if slightly boring buy-low given that the only thing really missing from his stat line is a little bit more scoring/aggression. Nine games in November: 7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.2 3s on just 7.2 FG attempts a game. … One other player I meant to get onto the list of trade targets: De’Aaron Fox. Again, in no way is this a buy low, but Fox is fast becoming a very fun fantasy option and the Kings go 4-4-4-4 in Weeks 22-25. Fox’s last 10 games: 18.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 8.3 apg, 0.9 spg and 1.9 3s — on 49.2 percent from the field and 75.5 from the line.