What’s the greatest fantasy season by a player off the bench?
My initial temptation after a very brief search was to give the award to 1991-92 Detlef Schrempf and call it a day. During that glorious season, The Det Collector (made-up nickname) put up 17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg and 0.3 3s in 80 games, 76 of them off the bench.
Upon further reflection, I decided this would be irresponsible. First off all, he didn’t do nearly enough in 3s or steals or blocks. Secondly, 1991-92 really wasn’t within the fantasy basketball era. (Though if you were playing fantasy hoops in ’91-’92, I want to hear about it.)
So, I decided to limit this search to essentially the last 20+ years, from 1998-99 to now. The only criteria: You need to have started 10 or less games, played in 60 or more (to include possibilities from the 2011-12 lockout season), and averaged better than 15 points per game.
Hit the link right here for the results.
There are 15 names on the list. Thirteen of them are guards (hello, 2015-16 Ryan Anderson and last season’s Montrezl Harrell)! And with warmest regards to some strong work from Jamal Crawford, a big year from J.R. Smith in 2012-13 (18.1 ppg, 1.3 spg, 1.9 3s), as well as a nice campaign from 22-year-old James Harden in ’11-'12 (16.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.8 3s), it’s ultimately tough to top the production of one “Sweet” Lou Williams last season.
He’s the highest scorer on this particular list, with 20.0 ppg. He also added 3.0 rpg, 5.4 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.4 3s while playing in 75 games — and starting exactly one. And because of his body of work (and position), it is he who leads off Roundball Stew’s lineup of the best fantasy players who come off the bench for their real-life teams (there has to be a more concise way to say that) in 2019-20.
PG: Sweet Lou
We thought that the arrival of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard could sabotage Lou Williams’ value. We were silly. Through 28 games (three of them starts), Lou is slightly down in points as opposed to last year (20.0 —> 19.4), but he’s up in assists (5.4 —> 6.2), while hitting 1.8 3s and getting to the line nearly six times per game, hitting 84 percent of them. Add it all up and he’s right around 150th in 9-category leagues — largely because he’s shooting 41.5 percent, and turning it over a career-high 3.1 times per game. That’s not the lofty value we’ve been accustomed to with Williams in recent years, but he remains a strong asset in points, 3s and assists, and I can live with the rest.
With that said, Sweet Lou is not the best bench player/fantasy option on his own team, and it’s really not even close. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First…
It’s always awkward when you own a player’s jersey and they get traded elsewhere. Do you wait 10 years and sell it online as a throwback? Give it away to someone else immediately? Just leave it in your closet for a while until it’s just ironic enough to wear it again? That’s where I am with former Hawks PG Dennis Schroder, who’s been doing enough lately for OKC that I’m just about ready to take the old No. 17 jersey out for a spin. Averaging 22.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.5 bpg and 2.3 3s over his last 10 games (while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 96.6 from the line), Schroder has been close to a top-60 player during this 10-game streak, and is pretty much a must-play until further notice. He hasn’t scored less than 17 points one time over this 10-game run.
(*Yes, he’s listed as a point guard in fantasy, and really in no universe is he a shooting guard, but we were light on SGs, so we ask for a pass on the positions — especially since, as you’ll see in a second, we are playing two power forwards…)
The No. 21 pick in this year’s draft, Brandon Clarke is old for a rookie (at 23, he’s older than Bam Adebayo and Brandon Ingram, and is the same age as Ben Simmons and Myles Turner, to name a few). But that extra time in college has led to Clarke arriving in the NBA with a ton of polish to his game. Scoring on an array of dunks, floaters and 3s, he’s been an absolute per-36-minute stud for Memphis, with 22.1 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 0.7 spg, 1.5 bpg and 1.0 3s. And, in his four games since returning from an oblique injury, he has put up 20.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.8 bpg and 0.8 3s, while shooting a ridiculous 70.8 percent from the field. Clarke has yet to play more than 26 minutes in a game all year — and is still making a significant fantasy impact. If and when Memphis decides to up his minutes — watch out.
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Similarly unfazed by the arrival of PG and Kawhi, Montrezl Harrell has taken his strong work from last year (16.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and propelled some of those counting stats up a notch, with 19.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.2 bpg in 29 minutes a game. He’s been a top-75 option in 9-category leagues, and top-35 if you are punting free throws.
C: Mitchell Rob
A starter in six out of 24 games this year, Mitchell Robinson still mostly qualifies as a bench player, and most importantly for fantasy purposes, he’s starting to seriously pick things up. In six games with new head coach Mike Miller, Mitch-a-Palooza has averaged 13.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 0.8 spg and 1.7 bpg in 27 minutes a game. That’s still not quite the guy that many of us drafted in the top-25 range, but it’s getting a lot closer to the target.
Sixth Man: Bertans
You get your sixth man into the game early when he’s hot, and Bertans has been nothing short of piping so far in December. Through nine games this month, he’s putting up 21.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.8 spg, 1.1 bpg and 5.2 3s, shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 90.5 from the line with a microscopic 0.6 turnovers. That is legitimately good for top-five value so far in December (per BasketballMonster.com). While you obviously can’t trade Bertans for anything close to that, I do think he’s worth at least casually shopping, especially considering the combo of the hot streak and the possibility that he gets traded (the 27-year-old is in the final year of his contract).
Others Under Consideration: Derrick Rose is surging with 19.6 ppg, 7.2 apg and 1.6 3s over his last five games, but we were PG-heavy and someone wasn’t going to make it. … The same is true for Jeff Teague (15.0 ppg, 6.0 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.4 3s in his last 10 games, eight of them off the bench). … Bogdan Bogdanovic took off with De’Aaron Fox out, and was eerily quiet in Fox’s first game back, with 10 points and two assists in 29 minutes. … After a slump, Josh Hart is picking it back up with 13.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 spg and 3.3 3s in his last four games. … Serge Ibaka is having more of a serviceable season than an exciting one so far, but he has a massive opportunity with Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol sidelined, and had 25 points and 13 boards in his last game. … Tyler Herro had a 9-8-7 stat line against Philly on Wednesday, a reminder that there’s potential for more than just points and 3s moving forward. … Brooklyn backup C DeAndre Jordan has hovered right around top-100 value while averaging 8.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.0 bpg in 21 minutes a game. … Larry Nance has been a solid top-125 guy, but that’s not enough to unseat Clarke or Harrell. Ditto Nerlens Noel, who has actually been inside the top-80 in his limited role. … D.J. Augustin has put up 13.3 ppg, 5.0 apg, 0.9 spg and 1.7 3s in his last nine games, eight of them off the bench. … Goran Dragic would have been in more serious consideration for the top six if not for the glut of point guards, and his recent injury. Also in Miami, Derrick Jones Jr. is making some legitimate noise lately (12.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.0 spg, 0.8 bpg, 1.2 3s — and warrants a look as a short-term pickup with some longer-term potential). … Jordan Clarkson is a low-volume points and 3s guy hovering around the top-150 mark. … Terrence Ross is in an almost identical role and situation as Clarkson. … Coby White would be a useful points and 3s guy, if not for his horrendous shooting. The rookie has shot 33.7 percent the last month (17 games), and that stretch actually includes some of his best shooting performances. … Spencer Dinwiddie would figure strongly in this conversation, but he’s already started 17 games. … Christian Wood is a per-36-minute juggernaut — 21.2 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 0.7 spg, 2.0 bpg, 1.3 3s — who can’t consistently get enough run. … Please send any historical nominations or notable omissions to: me (cc'ing Detlef).