Fantasy Basketball

2015-16 Fantasy Basketball: Patchwork Players — Part I

NBA rosters are littered with players needing a chance – an injury to a teammate, a new team or a new coach, or just natural development for a young player.

Fantasy NBA is no different.

These are players who you’re likely not going to draft in the first 10 rounds, though all will have stretches at some point this season where they’ll patch up a hole on their respective team, proving their worth as a fantasy asset.

Taj Gibson is a guy who gets the job done.

It doesn’t matter if he’s starting and playing 40 minutes, or providing defensive toughness off the bench for 20 minutes, he’s going to produce.

It took a while for Gibson to carve out a niche and develop a scoring touch, and you can be forgiven for not realizing he’s going to be 30 when the next season ticks over, as he came into the league as a 24-year-old first round pick back in 2010.

Gibson’s ‘corner guy’, former coach Tom Thibodeau, is no longer at the helm for the Bulls. With that you may see some of Gibson’s minutes go to wunderkind rookie Nikola Mirotic, as he’s much younger and seems to fit better next to either of the starting bigs (Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah) due to his stretch four game.

Whenever Gibson has managed to get and hold a starting gig, he’s been a tremendous source of traditional big man stats – points, rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks. Rookie season aside, when he was thrust into a starting role out of necessity (Tyrus Thomas both fell apart injury-wise and was then traded for parts), Gibson has delivered near double-double production when given minutes, whilst not killing your free throw percentage like many bigs tend to do.

He only started 17 games in 2014-15, but he did what he always does and produced sound fantasy stats in those starts; 11.8 points along with 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and roster friendly 48% from the field and 73% at the line.

The Bulls have question marks going into the  2015-16 season, one to watch may be what they’ll do with Gibson due to his acceptance of a bench role, relatively cheap contract and his slightly concerning left ankle injury.

Having already filled their coaching vacancy with former Bull, Fred Hoiberg, the team will now need to decide what to do with their wealth of starter-quality big men. Noah and Gasol don’t ‘fit’ as well as they’d hoped, while Mirotic absolutely thrived when given starter’s minutes and he’ll need more time at PF to allow Doug McDermott to seize SF minutes behind Mike Dunleavy.

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Omri Casspi walked right into the NBA during his rookie season and claimed the starting SF job for the Sacramento Kings by mid-season. Sure, he couldn’t hold onto the starting gig, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective in his rookie year when given the chance.

Five years later he finished the 2014-15 campaign in the exact same position, starting for the injury-depleted Kings – and doing a damn good job at it in terms of fantasy production.

He’s a tall, somewhat gangly athlete, but he plays hard and he can rebound if need be. The Kings don’t need a 20-10 guy next to DeMarcus Cousins – he’s already entered beast mode – they just need a classic glue guy who can open up the paint and do the little things that every team needs.

Small forward has a glut of mediocre options once the heavy hitters are off the board. There are a lot to choose from but most have limited upside – your Luol Deng, Paul Pierce and Matt Barnes types that you basically nab with one of your last couple of picks.

Casspi is young enough (he’ll be 27 when the next season starts) and showed enough promise last year to warrant an increase in minutes on a Kings franchise that has been circling the bowl since Chris Webber and Mike Bibby left town.

The pattern for minutes versus production last season mirrored his career stats; when he got minutes, he put up numbers. Yes, it’s a simple enough theory.

While it remains to be seen if he can poach a starting job next year – unlikely given the Kings already have a very good small forward in Rudy Gay – the ‘mind’ of George Karl might see Casspi fitting alongside Gay as a stretch four.

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The Celtics haven’t managed to find a suitable replacement at small forward since the departure of Paul Pierce. Jeff Green tried and failed multiple times, Gerald Wallace (now a Warrior) fared far worse than Green, and last year Evan Turner showed everyone that he is what we thought he was – not a starting SF in the NBA.

Enter Jae Crowder. While his performances last season left a lot to be desired in terms of consistency, there were enough peaks and troughs for his overall stat-line to see him become worthy of a late round pick this upcoming season.

Last year he played 31 games with at least 24 minutes played for the Celtics, averaging 12.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.2 threes per game. Sure the shooting percentages are below average at 43% from the field and 75% from the line, but he turned the ball over just 0.8 times in those 31 games – whilst playing a shade under 30 minutes a contest.

Evan Turner is once again his main competition at SF, though he’d be much better suited to a bench role as back-up shooting guard, playing alongside Isaiah Thomas. Marcus Smart will be starting at point guard and he’ll need a three point threat alongside him, as Avery Bradley is also ‘patchy’ from deep (career 0.9 per game at 36%).

Another thing to note is the increase in some key stats in his per-36 stats. Crowder may have made more threes this past season, but his percentage was a career low. In the same vain, his free throw makes and attempts improved to career high marks, his scoring increased after stagnating his first two campaigns and his rebounding rate increased for the second year in a row. Another positive is that despite the increased role, his turnover rate stayed the same as it was when he was playing a much smaller role, which shows that he’s stayed within himself and hasn’t tried becoming something he’s not.

If Crowder can claim the starting gig, you can expect him to go close to the stats he produced in the playoffs last season, with a slight uptick in points, threes and steals: 10.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steal, 0.8 blocks, 0.8 threes and 52/77 shooting splits.

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Brandon Bass needs a better nickname than his current one of ‘The Animal’. Something like ‘The Replacement’ or ‘The Substitute’ – a more fitting name for a guy who never gets the dap he deserves.

No team ever enters camp saying ‘Brandon Bass is our guy at PF’ – but he always ends up starting at some point, or playing big minutes off the bench.

What he does on the court, he does well, when given the chance. Over the last five seasons since becoming a consistent contributor, Bass’ main asset has been providing rock solid shooting percentages (career 49% from the field and 83% from the line) from the PF position. He doesn’t wow you with his other stats, but there’s enough scoring and rebounding to be an asset for a week or two at a time, along with the odd block and steal.

Bass overcame a poor start which saw him relegated behind Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger on the depth chart, continuing to post good percentages until his time came – which it did.

His play down the stretch saw him added to many rosters as a streaming option and he certainly didn’t disappoint; 13.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, elite 58% shooting from the field and 79% from the line. He turned the ball over just 1.2 times in around 31 minutes a night and the Celtics also went 8-5 during that stretch, putting the team firmly in control of an eventual playoff seed.

There’s a lot to like with Brandon Bass on the Lakers.

He won’t be asked to do more than he’s capable of, which is steady bench scoring and the occasional double-double or 20 point explosion off the bench. Julius Randle is coming off a major injury and he’s going to be eased into a full time starting gig until he’s shown he’s physically up to the NBA game.

Bass should get around 22-25 minutes a night backing Randle up, and it helps his new coach Byron Scott actually coached him during his first two seasons with New Orleans – although Bass played sparingly due to Davis West being in All Star form.

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I love Al-Farouq Aminu’s chances for a breakout fantasy season.

The dude’s been given multiple chances (at least 14 starts in four of his five seasons) under multiple coaches (three) to solidify himself as a starting combo forward, with excellent rebounding and strong defense, but he just can’t seem to land in the right spot.

As a defensive guru off the bench for the offensively-orientated Dallas Mavericks last season, Aminu absolutely thrived when given the chance, much like he did for his previous team, the New Orleans Pelicans.

He particularly excelled in the playoffs, playing an increased role in all five of the Mavs’ games against the Rockets, including starts in the last two contests. He averaged 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.6 blocks, 1.4 threes, just 1.2 turnovers and elite 55% shooting from the floor and 79% from the charity stripe.

Look at those stats again, they’re like prime Gerald Wallace-lite, before his hair stole his fantasy powers.

Now he’s not going to average those over a full season; the threes are more an anomaly rather than the norm because of the Mavericks’ system, while the shooting percentages simply aren’t sustainable for a guy who hasn’t shot better than 48% from the field or 78% from the line over a full season.

There aren’t that many players who can get you a steal and a block per game, let alone one who went undrafted in all but the deepest of leagues last year. Aminu has been a consistent menace on the defensive end, regularly notching steals (career 1.0 per game) and blocks (0.6), despite averaging less than 23 minutes a game over his five year career.

He stormed out of the gate two seasons ago and found himself a top 25 player after the first two weeks (per Basketball Monster) but couldn’t keep up the pace after the rest of the league ‘figured him out’ and he was exposed as a liability on the offensive end.

Still just 25 and now armed with a fresh (sizable) contract and an expanded role with the Trail Blazers, Aminu is a player you need to add to your draft-list for one of your late picks as he has legit fantasy upside.

Using plain stats as the gauge, I have him pegged for around his career per-36 minute stats – 10.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks – which would push him close to the top 60 players.

Of course that kind of rudimentary calculation and assumption rarely works out, but at least if he ends up a top 50-60 player you can say you read it here first. If he flames, I’ve given myself an out clause.

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Check back soon for Part II – which will feature another handful of players you’ll want to either draft with a late pick or stash in your watch-list.

As always we welcome your questions and feedback, so feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@macetastic) and I’ll do my best to reply to any comments.

Big ups to the amazing Basketball-Reference, for all the links and for de-railing me so often, all in the name of research.

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