All season long, we look at small sample sizes in fantasy hoops like they’re an obscure local diner advertising on the blue “FOOD” sign on the side of the highway: Hmm, that place might be good, but I don’t want to risk it on a place I don’t know on a drive this long. Let’s hold out for a Wendy’s.
Today, I’m here to tell you that we’ve reached the point of the drive where that diner — and small sample sizes in fantasy hoops — are in many ways all we’ve got.
(If this premise seems random, I hatched it on an very empty stomach this morning, with diner food and box scores very much front and center on my mind.)
But hear me out: When a three- or four-game burst can decide who stays in the championship hunt and who goes home, don’t we have to treat small sample sizes like they are indeed a prized plate of country ham?
We certainly can’t ignore them entirely. So, in the spirit of paying close attention to our surroundings at the most crucial juncture of the season, here are eight recent developments — all relatively small sample sizes — that could very well make it worth pulling off the highway for a closer look:
Player: Gary Harris
Development: 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal and two 3s on Wednesday
What it Might Mean: What’s the smallest sample size you can react to? How about one game. Harris had been cruising along in consistently underwhelming fashion — eight points on 3-of-10 shooting… eight points on 3-of-9 shooting… eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, again. Then he broke out against L.A., for his highest point total since Nov. 30, and his first time hitting the 30-minute mark since late January. All during that mind-numbing string of eight-point games, Gary saw his minutes trending upward, from 23 to 26 to 27 to 30. Now there’s at least a chance that last year’s No. 34 overall player (in 9-category leagues) is ready to hit his stride at exactly the right time. The Nuggets play three times next week, then go 4-4-4 in the three weeks after that.
Player: Nikola Mirotic
Development: 6.0 ppg on 18.5 percent shooting (5-of-27) his last three games
What it Might Mean: Mirotic averaged 14.0 ppg with 5.0 rpg, 0.8 bpg and 2.8 3s on 52.0 percent shooting in his first five games with the Bucks, so I’m not ready to write the guy off entirely. However, the timing of this shooting slump is distressing if you’re in the fantasy playoffs, and my patience is running perilously short. I’m inclined to give him one more game — Saturday against the Hornets — to try to get this straightened out, but I understand if you need to cut him for a hot free agent right now. And things being what they are, I would even consider throwing a wild haymaker in the direction of this guy…
Player: Rodions Kurucs
Development: 13.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg and 2.3 3s in 27 minutes a game over his last three games
What it Might Mean: Kenny Atkinson has come out and said that Kurucs “is our starting four man”, which may or may not mean anything since coaches for whatever reason say nonsense that they don’t mean all the time. Nevertheless, I’ve been intrigued by Kurucs since he first surfaced on the fantasy radar back in December, and if you’re inclined to gamble, there’s a chance to catch lightning in a bottle with the 21-year-old Latvian right now.
Player: Justise Winslow
Development: 14.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.2 spg and 1.6 3s on 54.7 percent shooting his last five games since returning from injury
What it Might Mean: Depending on who you talk to at Rotoworld, trusting Winslow in fantasy is either like exiting the highway at a stop full of intriguing options, or it’s a case of food poisoning waiting to happen. Personally, I land closer to the former, especially if you go into it with eyes open in terms of what Winslow’s flaws really are. And let’s be honest: Winslow’s main drawback as a fantasy option these days really comes down to one area — free throw shooting. Yes, there’s a narrative out there that he’s a shaky FG shooter as well (and he has shot 41.8 percent for his career), but this is one case where there’s actually a pretty big sample size that says otherwise. Going back the last three months (38 games), Winslow has averaged 14.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.1 spg and 1.7 3s, shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 60.0 from the line. As for the free throws, the percentage is not good, but he is actually only getting 2.1 attempts per game, so it’s not like he’s a huge liability there either. The bottom line is I’m impressed with the strides Winslow has made this year at age 22 — career-highs in points (12.5), rebounds (5.5), assists (4.3) and 3s (1.4) — and he’s staying in my lineup as long as he doesn’t clang enough free throws to make me really angry.
Player: Joe Ingles
Development: 11.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 9.8 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.8 3s in his last four games
What it Might Mean: Say this for Joe Ingles — the dude knows how to finish a season in style. Last year, from early March onward, he put up 13.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.2 spg and 2.5 3s over his last 19 games. As for this season, he’s actually been ramping up his assist numbers for a while now (6.7 apg over his last 20 games), and he’s taken things to another level lately. The only downside is he’s shooting just 37.2 percent over this four-game run, but that shouldn’t be a long-term concern given that he has shot 43.7 percent for the season at large. And that’s the beauty of this week’s column: We can pick and choose which sample sizes we want to follow as we please! It’s like being on a long road trip and stopping wherever you want, whenever you want, gorging on jalapeno chips and beef jerky along the way. The trip takes about 32 hours and you generally feel awful about yourself, but you have a great time along the way.
Anyhow, Ingles. Get him locked into your lineup if he isn’t there already. Utah has four games each of the next two weeks.
Player: Spencer Dinwiddie
Development: 28 points, four rebounds, five assists, a steal, a block and three 3s on Wednesday
What it Might Mean: Dinwiddie was decent in his first three games back after missing a month — 13.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.3 spg and 0.7 3s — but on Wednesday he announced: I’m back. Brooklyn’s bench dynamo isn’t a phenomenal fantasy player (he’s No. 130 on the season in 9-category leagues), but he is a big game waiting to happen, with 11 games of 25 or more points on the season, and his most glaring weaknesses (2.4 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.2 bpg) are categories you can make up elsewhere. Separately, it’s worth noting that as a byproduct of Dinwiddie’s return (and Caris LeVert rounding back into form), Joe Harris has taken a decisive hit — 10.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.4 3s his last five games. If you’ve been trusting Harris up to this point, I would strongly consider looking elsewhere.
Player: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Development: 14.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.8 3s on 59.0 percent shooting his last four games
What it Might Mean: How much of a roller coaster has the SGA experience been? In his two games prior to this recent run, he totaled one point on 0-of-13 shooting. Trusting him in fantasy leagues right now is borderline reckless, but it was the prophet Seal who said “We’re never gonna survive unless… we get a little crazy.” The Clippers play four times next week, and unless I see an outright debacle from Gilgeous-Alexander on Friday, he’ll be in my lineup for the near future.
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Player: Gordon Hayward
Development: 21.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.5 spg and 2.0 3s his last two games
What it Might Mean: This is one case where I legitimately wonder if I’m about to walk into a sketchy diner. Hayward had a monster game with 30 against the Warriors on Tuesday, then followed it up with a respectable 12-3-5 line one night later. My primary concern here is that he truly has been an emblem of inconsistency all year. His longest streak of double-digit points? That would be four games in early January. On the season, he’s scored in single-digit points 30 times in 60 games, making him essentially the perfect coin flip/fantasy headache. Now granted, it’s not like the aforementioned SGA has been much better in that regard — his longest streak of double-digit games is five — so maybe I’m being overly harsh and hypocritical here. Ultimately, if I have Hayward in any of my fantasy leagues, he’ll definitely be in my lineup on Saturday night against the reeling Lakers. And as is the case with many of these guys at this critical juncture of the season, I’ll be ready to turn around and hightail it in the other direction at the first sign of trouble.