It’s not often a 19-year-old kid leads a column about fantasy basketball. It’s an even bigger rarity to stack two of them at the top of the list. But with Dante Exum now starting and Elfrid Payton emerging as a real Rookie of the Year candidate, the two rookie point guards left me with no choice. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
This column is about finding specific help on the cheap—and whenever possible that’s on the waiver wire. While Payton’s emergence is part of a more steady evolution that has culminated in his coming-out party as a starter, Exum has just started his initial journey into playing with the starting five. After Quin Snyder and the Jazz had seen enough of the same from Trey Burke, Utah felt it time to give their prized rookie a chance to be his own worst enemy.
Joining them in this week’s edition are a couple of shooting guards left for dead by fantasy owners, but each is suited to have success in their very specific situations. Injuries aren’t fun, and trades can shake up both families and teams, but the very real fallout from each is one of the biggest considerations that a savvy fantasy owner has to consider at all times.
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Dante Exum, PG Utah Jazz: 3-Pointers & Assists
Dante Exum looked like a different rookie when he was coming off the bench. Now with two straight starts under his belt, Exum is starting to the same heads who have ignored him since his debut this season. Exum’s surprise run as a starter came unannounced prior, and while there’s nothing certain to suggest it will remain in stone for the duration of the campaign, the Aussie’s first two games in the role bode well for an extended audition going forward.
Although it’s just a two game sample size, Exum is averaging 14.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.0 triples on a solid 10-of-19 shooting, including 8-of-15 from behind the 3-point line. For the season, Exum is shooting just 38.7 percent overall and 32.8 percent from distance, so while some regression should be expected, Exum is going to continue to get opportunities so long as he remains in the starting lineup. Considering his upside, he’s worth a look as a short-term spark with the potential to turn into a long-term cog.
As a Trey Burke owner and someone who thought very highly of him coming into the season, it should speak volumes that I’m ready to put Exum’s name at the top of this list. Utah would not have invested such a high pick in a point guard after drafting Burke if it did not believe in Exum strongly, and when an organization as conservative as Utah takes a “chance” on a 19-year-old international talent, you would be wise to take notice.
Elfrid Payton, PG Orlando Magic: Assists
It continues to astound me that Elfrid Payton isn’t universally owned at this point in the season. While the 19-year-old rookie looked incredibly raw at certain points to begin the season, he’s quickly proving his place in the NBA. The wild-haired Ragin’ Cajun now has five straight games with at least eight assists in each, and while his shot was a concern when he first got to the big stage, he’s now managed to shoot 50 percent or better in four of those same five games. Payton doesn’t turn 20 for almost another month, but he’s absolutely crushing what was supposed to be a rather steep learning curve.
Over the five games referenced above, EP is averaging 13.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 2.2 steals while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor. He’s not going to hit from distance, but those numbers speak on their own. That would be a nice week of work from Chris Paul, let alone a five-game stretch from a rookie with half a season to show for his career’s worth of work. Let me make something clear: This train is leaving the station. Get on board or find another ride.
How high does Payton’s organization think of him? One year after drafting Victor Oladipo and evaluating him at both guard positions, the organization traded for Payton’s draft rights and then handed him a starting role after less than half of a season. Payton has certainly earned everything he’s received thus far, and there’s no reason to think his momentum is poised to slow down anytime soon.
The Ragin’ Cajun is for real, and the sooner it’s realized on a national stage across the NBA, the better we’ll all be for it. Why? You’ll look like a smart owner who caught wind of the up-and-comer before the rest of your league knew how to pronounce his name.
Avery Bradley, SG Boston Celtics: 3-Pointers
After sinking three more triples on Sunday night, Avery Bradley now has registered at least one 3-pointer in every game since January 5. During that same stretch of time, AB is also absolutely launching them from downtown, and he’s hoisted fewer than three attempts just once during that 10-game stretch. Not only is the defensive-minded guard getting the green light, but he’s going to keep firing them in this role within Brad Stevens’ offense. After launching nine more vs. Golden State, Bradley is now averaging 4.9 attempts from behind the 3-point line during that same stretch of time. Keep firing at will, Avery.
Although Bradley is billed as a defense-first player, he’s not helping owners in any defensive categories. If we stay within that same 10-game stretch referenced above, Bradley has just seven total steals. Last season, Bradley tallied 63 steals in 60 games. The previous year, AB swiped 64 balls in just 50 contests. Fast forward to the present, and Bradley is averaging under a steal per game for the first time since the 2011-12 season. However, his improved 3-point shot has transformed him into a different kind of player. That’s good news for fantasy owners, because they can actually use this version on their roster.
With the lack of talent on the Celtics’ roster combined with the fact that Boston is actually paying Bradley in the midst of a giant rebuild, there’s plenty of reason to think this production can be sustained throughout the season. Bradley shot 39.5 percent from distance on 3.3 attempts per game last season, so it’s not like the move to the outside is something new. Combine his improved efficiency with increased opportunities, and there’s no real reason Bradley should continue to float on the waiver wire despite his obvious limitations.
Eric Gordon, SG New Orleans Hornets: Points & 3-Pointers
Eric Gordon’s fantasy stock has been in decline since the moment he was traded away in the Chris Paul deal, but he’s finally healthy and got a real opportunity to play the role he needs to in order to have sustained success in this league. With Jrue Holiday (leg) sidelined indefinitely and the rest of the season looking unclear, Gordon is poised to play a major role so long as he can remain on the court. That’s no slam dunk with Mr. Glass, but he seems determined to reverse the narrative and prove he’s a productive player once again.
Gordon is coming off a miniature stinker with just nine points, three boards, five assists and three triples in Sunday’s 109-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks, but prior to that, Gordon had three straight very encouraging games where he averaged 19 points, 6.7 assists and 2.0 triples. As someone who’s been reduced to waiver wire fodder in past seasons, and still floating around in some formats after his injury earlier this season, owners need to make sure Gordon is not available in their leagues.
Gordon’s taken 22 triples over his last five games, and he’s been able to connect on nine of them. The Splash Bros. aren’t going to be impressed, but that over 40 percent connection rate is worth emphasizing considering the volume of attempts on Gordon’s plate.
Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans are the only other players on this roster capable of creating their own offense outside of Gordon, so to say EJ is in a good spot to rebuild his fallen stock would be a serious understatement.