They were drafted two years and one pick apart (No. 24 overall in 1999 and No. 25 overall in 2001), and they made their NBA debuts on the same night: October 30, 2001.
Those aren’t the only parallels for the two players in question. Their careers, as it turns out, spanned almost the exact same amount of time — as both retired after the 2014-15 season, both still in their early 30’s (because you can’t play like a complete maniac forever).
Okay, maybe not in the most traditional sense of the word, but when it comes to fantasy basketball, these were two of the most thrilling, dynamic and ridiculously valuable names to grace the early 2000’s.
And one of the primary reasons that was the case was their proficiency in defensive stats.
Consider this: For a decade straight with the Jazz (from 2001-02 to 2010-11), Kirilenko never averaged fewer than 1.1 steals and never less than 1.1 blocks, with high-water marks of 1.9 spg (2003-04) and 3.3 bpg (2004-05). In total, for the first 10 years of his career, he averaged 1.4 spg and 2.0 bpg — finishing in the top 10 of 9-category leagues at least twice (Basketball Monster only goes as far back as 2003-04). Those two years were his dominant seasons in 2003-04 and 2004-05, when he put up the following stats:
2003-04: 16.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.9 spg, 2.8 bpg and 0.9 3s (No. 5 overall)
2004-05: 15.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 3.3 bpg and 0.6 3s (No. 6 overall)
As for Wallace, he toiled in obscurity for a few years in Sacramento before eventually finding a home and breaking out as a fantasy superstar with the Bobcats. During his peak run of excellence, Crash averaged 16.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.1 bpg and 0.6 3s over a seven-year stretch, cementing his status as my favorite fantasy player of all-time. At the peak of his power, in 2005-06, he put up 2.5 spg and 2.1 bpg and was the No. 12 overall player in 9-category leagues. He had a No. 10 overall finish in 2009-10 as well (behind 18.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.1 bpg and 0.7 3s).
I’ll continue this nostalgia bender with a rundown of some of Wallace and Kirilenko’s best box scores ever a little later on, but right now, to the point of this column: defensive stats.
I’m here today to talk about some under-the-radar players who are making their name (and fantasy value) with steals and blocks providing a big percentage of the boost.
To be clear — when I write under-the-radar, that’s another way of saying that I won’t be writing 200 words about Anthony Davis and his absurd 1.8 spg and 2.8 bpg this season. But yes, we are witnessing some ridiculous brilliance there. Crash and Kirilenko would be proud.
Now, with no more preamble, here are eight unsung D-stat heroes of the 2018-19 season so far:
Derrick Jones Jr., MIA: I put him at the top of the list because there’s some urgency here. Jones is still only owned in 23 percent of Yahoo leagues as of this writing, but a lot of people are quickly taking notice (the number is up 19% over the last day, and counting — and went up one percentage point while I was finishing this thing up on Friday morning).
Why? Because if you haven’t noticed, Jones Jr. has quietly been putting up some pretty significant numbers lately -- and actually marks off some of the same key boxes as Gerald Wallace. Consider:
*Both are phenomenal athletes overlooked by their original terrible team (for Wallace, Sacramento; for Jones Jr., Phoenix);
*Both have awesome nicknames (Crash and Airplane Mode);
*Both had/have erratic but potentially just-reliable-enough outside jump shots;
*Most importantly, Jones Jr. — like Wallace — is showing the unique ability to put up eye-catching numbers in steals and blocks.
More on that in a second, but here’s the bigger point: If you watched the Heat win over the Rockets on Thursday night, or any number of Miami games recently, you can see that DJJ has the ability to be a game-changing presence on the floor — particularly on defense. Erik Spoelstra is not dumb, and has noticed this. Over his last six games, Jones Jr. has averaged 10.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.2 spg, 1.5 bpg and 0.5 3s in 25 minutes a game, including a 15-point, eight-board, two-steal, two-block, one-trey gem on Thursday. And in case you’re wondering, the only players averaging better than 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks this season are — no one. (Robert Covington is close with 2.1/1.3, and Anthony Davis is unfair with 1.8/2.8, but 2.0/1.5 is flat-out monstrous.)
Our latest Rotoworld blurb says Jones Jr. is worthy of a very long look in 12-team leagues. I’ll take that a step further and say he's worth an add absolutely everywhere. If he flames out or loses his rotation spot, you’ve risked nothing. But if he manages to keep playing 25-30 minutes a game, this is the type of pickup that can push a fantasy squad over the top.
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Kent Bazemore, ATL: Baze is in a weird kind of fantasy limbo as a veteran (age 29) trade candidate on a tanking team with young guys pushing him for minutes, and the potential of a trade to an unknown situation looming at the same time. He also has already been relegated to the second unit once this year, only to return to a prominent role once Taurean Prince (ankle) went down.
Throughout it all, the chase-down block aficionado is putting together a quietly stellar all-around season, with averages of 13.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg and 1.4 3s. Career-highs are marked in bold, and you’ll note that two of them are in defensive stats, which is why we’re here.
For me, the big question with Bazemore is what to do with him and how to value him in potential trades. He’s certainly producing at peak levels right now, with averages of 16.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.8 bpg and 2.3 3s over his last six games — all of them starts. So in theory, you can try to sell-high and see what you get, though my guess is that everyone else in your league has the same concerns that you do — namely, a return to the bench and limited playing time, or a trade to a less-favorable situation, or an eventual shutdown.
That is a long list of concerns. So if you can't deal him, there's at least the consolation that Bazemore has still been pretty useful off the bench, in particular in defensive categories: 10.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.2 bpg and 1.0 3s in his five games as a reserve.
Larry Nance, CLE: Over his last 10 games, Nance has at least a block or a steal in nine of them, with averages of 10.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg and 0.7 3s over that same stretch. The only real downside here is the eventual returns of Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love. And while I’d like to say that Nance, as the youngest player of the three, is guaranteed to keep playing heavy minutes no matter what, I think there's a strong chance Larry Drew goes back to a heaping platter of Thompson and Love as soon as he has the chance. The good news is that the Cavs probably won’t rush either guy back, so there should be plenty of time for Nance to continue this stellar run in the near future.
Thaddeus Young, IND: He has slowed down a bit in terms of scoring since Victor Oladipo returned (11.3 ppg in his last three games), but it’s still worth noting that Thaddeus has been on quite a heater lately, with averages of 16.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.9 bpg and 0.9 3s over his last eight. I’m a bit skeptical that we can continue counting on the blocks, as the last time Thad averaged better than 0.5 bpg for a season was 2012-13, when he posted 0.7. But he has had exactly one block in seven of his last eight games, so if nothing else let’s just Larry Nance/Kent Bazemore this thing and enjoy the hell out of it while it lasts.
Lauri Markkanen, CHI: First things first — Markkanen isn’t really under-the-radar, per se. His defensive stats might be, though. As Ryan Knaus pointed out on the Rotoworld hoops podcast this week, Markkanen didn’t have a single month last season as a rookie where he averaged better than 0.8 spg or 0.8 bpg — and he posted 0.6 spg/0.6 bpg for the season. However, it’s been a different tale so far for Finn McMissile (Cars 2 reference? Apparently so) thus far in 2018-19, as he’s put up 1.3 spg and 0.9 bpg through his first nine games. He has at least one block in six of nine games, and at least one steal in seven of nine, and I remain confident that once he starts hitting a few more shots (he’s at 37.8 percent on the season), Markkanen is going to be an absolute force.
Marcus Smart, BOS: It’s not about blocks with Smart. In fact, he has none of them in his last eight games — and an average of 0.4 bpg on the season. It is very much about steals, though. Over that same eight-game run, Smart has put up 8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.5 apg, 3.1 spg and 1.6 3s, with no less than two steals in any game, and three or more swipes in six of eight. He’s all the way up to No. 98 overall in nine-category leagues, and No. 44 overall the last month. Smart might also still be available in a shallower league — he is owned in just 41 percent of Yahoo leagues overall.
Dewayne Dedmon, ATL: Much like Bazemore — in fact, even more than Bazemore since he's on a one-year deal — Dedmon is a 29-year-old who seems like a very strong candidate to get dealt before the dedline. As long as he’s in Atlanta though, he is nothing short of a defensive dynamo — with 9.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.1 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.1 3s over his last 10 games.
Kyle Anderson, MEM: I list Anderson last because he is the player I'm least excited about among this hodge-podge of names. With that said, I’m considerably more excited about him than I was early in the season. Let’s split this thing up into two parts:
Part 1 (first 15 games): 5.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.1 3s
Part 2 (last 15 games): 9.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.1 bpg, 0.3 3s
Thanks in large part to those defensive stats, Anderson is quietly No. 78 in 9-category leagues the last month. After a sluggish start in Memphis, Slow Mo is in full effect.
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The Low D-Stat All-Stars
Now, as a bonus (and counter-point), here are the top-five players who are thriving while averaging somewhere around a combined 1.0 steals and blocks per game:
PG — Derrick Rose — 19.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.6 3s (No. 66 overall in 9-category leagues
SG — Buddy Hield — 19.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.4 bpg, 3.0 3s (No. 49 overall)
SF — Danilo Gallinari — 19.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.4 3s (No. 25 overall)
PF — Tobias Harris — 21.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.9 3s (No. 26 overall)
C — Blake Griffin — 25.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 5.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.5 bpg, 2.4 3s (No. 53 overall)
Sixth Man — Malcolm Brogdon — 15.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.8 3s (No. 67 overall)
Crash and AK’s Greatest Hits
And as promised, here’s a list of the ten nastiest box scores I could find for Gerald Wallace and Andrei Kirilenko (five for each). If you've got one to nominate that's better, hit me up on Twitter.
10) Wallace — Jan. 19, 2008: 28 pts, 7 reb, 6 ast, 7 stl, 1 blk (just a single block for good measure)
9) Kirilenko — Dec. 14, 2005: 21 pts, 16 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl, 8 blk
8) Wallace — Mar. 28, 2006: 41 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl, 2 blk
7) Kirilenko — Jan. 17, 2006: 18 pts, 16 reb, 11 ast, 3 stl, 4 blk
6) Wallace — Mar. 28, 2007: 31 pts, 9 reb, 3 ast, 4 stl, 4 blk (what is it about March 28th?)
5) Wallace — Jan. 13, 2006: 21 pts, 15 reb, 4 ast, 8 stl, 4 blk
4) Kirilenko — Dec. 3, 2003: 19 pts, 5 reb, 7 ast, 8 stl, 5 blk
3) Kirilenko — Mar. 25, 2006: 15 pts, 14 reb, 3 ast, 3 stl, 10 blk
2) Wallace — Dec. 27, 2006: 40 pts, 14 reb, 0 ast, 6 stl, 4 blk
1) Kirilenko — Jan. 3, 2006: 14 pts, 8 reb, 9 ast, 6 stl, 7 blk (and one three)
Final conclusion: I miss both of these players desperately.