Fantasy Basketball

2015-16 Fantasy Basketball: Prospecting – LaVine on a Prayer

Zach LaVine (Age = 20yrs)

He doesn’t just do highlight reel dunks, the T-Wolves sophomore guard can actually play too.

Often over-looked because of blooming fantasy beast Karl-Anthony Towns as well as the expanding game of Andrew Wiggins, LaVine has settled in as the Wolves’ first guard off the bench and spot starter at point guard if Ricky Rubio isn’t ready to go.

Despite ending last season on a fantasy tearbetter than Wiggins’ run during the same 9-game stretch – LaVine found himself on the outer and almost forgotten when it came to draft day this season. With an ADP of 140 per FantasyPros, last year’s dunk champ was easily overlooked by the casual drafter who saw Rubio’s return, Kevin Martin’s presence and Wiggins’ rise to prominence as enough evidence that this wasn’t going to be his year.

It hasn’t all been dunks and scoring for LaVine, as he’s finally found the consistency to his game that is needed to be a valuable player worthy of real NBA action and rosterable fantasy talent.

After an ugly first five games to start the season he’s now scored at least 12 points in 15 straight contests, averaging 16.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 threes and a damn useful 92% from the line (including 27-27 over his last seven). Those stats are what you can expect if he’s ever put into the starting line-up on a long-term basis, but the Wolves would need to get creative with their roster for that to happen so it looks like he’s stuck in the Lou Williams (thanks Byron Scott) Jamal Crawford sixth man gunner role, for now.

His three point, assist and free throw percentage assets alone are enough to see him warrant being on any team going forward, as he’s one of only three players averaging at least 1.4 threes, 3.0 assists, 3.0 free throw attempts and 90% from the line, along with Steph Curry and Deron Williams. That is a really warped and narrow stat search made to fit my argument of course, but LaVine’s doing this at just 20 years old and in only 25 minutes a night.

Extrapolate his stats this year to a per-36 level and wow, check them out. You’re basically looking at 21-5-5 with 1.9 threes a night, which is the exact type of potential-laden player you want in a dynasty league so you can brag when he becomes a consistent 18-20 point scorer like I think he will be.

The aforementioned ‘old guards’ of the T-Wolves are likely on the outer if their injury history and Minnesota’s youth movement are anything to go by, which means LaVine needs to be seriously looked at as a potential top 75 player from next year onward.

Robert Covington (24yrs, turns 25 in five days)

I love me some Bob Covington. It’s almost a year to the day since I wrote a lengthy mess about Covington and his rise to fantasy prominence.

For a guy who could have gone either way in terms of his NBA career, he’s done remarkably well given the dearth of actual NBA talent surrounding him on the hapless 76ers.

Covington could easily have been on the Hollis Thompson-Isaiah Canaan ‘I’m here to make up numbers’ set of tracks, but instead he’s carved out a real niche as the 76ers’ leading perimeter scorer and defender.

Nerlens Noel hasn’t taken the leap many of us fantasy pundits were expecting, while the team’s point guard situation leaves a lot to be desired, to put it nicely. Rookie pivot Jahlil Okafor has had his growing problems, but his Covington’s outside game is the perfect pairing for a player with an already refined post game.

Covington’s position eligibility cannot be overlooked; off the top of my heard there’s basically Paul George and Covington when it comes to three-position eligible players (just checked, Tyreke Evans and Draymond Green should both have it, but Yahoo haven’t given it to them). To be able to slot a player in at any of these positions allows you to add or trade for any number of players, knowing that you’ve got that roster flexibility.

He’s locked up on the NBA’s best bargain contract at just $3.1 million for the next THREE SEASONS. Sam Hinkie has copped a lot of flak over his draft selections and the entire 76ers ‘rebuilding’ process, but locking up Covington on such a bargain deal was both smart and shrewd, given how far they are under the cap and knowing Covington was an undrafted Rockets discard with 34 minutes over seven games on his résumé.

Steals are the toughest stat to find someone elite in generally, along with assists. Covington’s leading the league with 2.7 steals per game, including 3.4 over his last eight games! Since coming back from his leg injuries, after an initial period of getting his fitness back Covington’s been on a crazy run of form that has seen him move into the top 40 of fantasy players, per Basketball-Monster. He’s averaged 17.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 3.2 steals, 0.9 blocks and 3.3 threes per game over his last eight games. Those stats are ridiculous – they’re basically Paul George-lite in some categories (PTS, REB, AST) while being superior in steals, threes and blocks.

Jae Crowder (25yrs)

Speaking of steals merchants, Jae Crowder has cooled off slightly in the thefts department after a torrid start (28 steals through his first eight games), but he’s still fourth in the league in total steals and sixth in average.

For a player needing upgrades in multiple facets of his game before he could be called a fantasy asset, Crowder has emerged as a legit mid-round talent due to his ability to chip in across the board. He’s particularly useful in rotisserie as he has relatively low turnovers (1.8) compared to his above average production in threes (1.5), steals (2.1) and free throw percentage (86% on 3.1 attempts per).

The scoring at just over a dozen per game isn’t elite by any means, while his rebounds and assists are also middle of the road at 4.4 and 2.1 respectively. To put it in perspective as to why he’s such an asset, despite the pedestrian stats in the majority of categories, what Crowder does he does at a very high level. He’s one of only five members of the 1.5 threes and 2.0 steals club this year – along with Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and the aforementioned Covington.

The Celtics locked Crowder up at a ridiculously low (for the increasing cap) $35 million over the next five seasons and we already know he’s locked into the defensive stopper, Trevor Ariza-Wes Matthews-Khris Middleton type role for Brad Stevens’ Celtics.

That’s a player I want on my team going forward and I’d have no problem coughing up a better, older player via trade to get Crowder on my squad for the next few years. He’s been great lately, averaging 15.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 2.2 threes and sterling shooting of 52% from the field and a Curry-like 96% (25 from 26) at the line over his last six.

Harrison Barnes (23yrs)

I was very bullish on Harrison Barnes entering this season, looking purely at the stats and not at his overall improvement on the court. Truth be told, I’m still not sure that he isn’t just a product of the Warriors’ system and I know I wouldn’t want to be the team paying him $18m per season  going forward as he’s not a number 1 or 2 option on a good team.

But, that won’t matter if he ends up staying with the world champion Warriors once his impending free agency dust settles, as his role will remain the same and he’ll continue to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.

In terms of pure counting stats Barnes doesn’t rank in the top 70 in any major statistical category on a per game basis. Points per game he’s 75th, rebounds he’s 99th, assists he’s 140th, steals 113th, blocks 243rd and threes just 91st.  Yet he ranks 62nd overall (via Basketball Monster) on the young season, ahead of fantasy top-30 main-stayers like LaMarcus Aldridge and Gordon Hayward while putting up ‘average’ starting forward average stats in the majority of those categories.

What’s his secret then? His ability to play the ideal small-ball power forward (approx. 30% of his minutes come there) is the key to his viability as a long-term dynasty SF/PF option. Sure he starts at SF, but the Warriors throw out that unfair small-ball line-up that basically says to the other team, “that’s it, this is over” and they go on one of those ridiculous 25-5 runs that essentially seals the game before the fourth quarter even starts!

Devin Booker (19yrs)

Maybe it’s my purple and orange shaded glasses, but Booker looks like a legit keeper.

He’s got poise and a calming demeanor on the court which are two areas that the youngest player in the NBA doesn’t typically possess in his rookie year, especially a rook on such a guard heavy team like the Suns where he could easily be forcing the issue to make himself stand out from the pack.

He’s already surpassed Archie Goodwin in the depth chart and the best thing about his game is that he always looks under control. He doesn’t throw up contested fade-aways or just bomb away as soon as he checks in, instead he picks his spots, constantly moving on offence and waiting until a shot comes that he’s comfortable with.

Case in point? He’s 15-21 from three, which is 71%. He’s played eight more minutes than fellow Suns bench player Ronnie Price, but Price has taken more than twice as many threes while hitting just 33% of his.

Booker will looks like a cross between Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal out there, but it’s easy to throw out lofty comparisons (look I just did) when the guy is shooting 52% from the field. It’s early going but there are only four rookies who have taken at least 60 field goal attempts this season while making 50% from the field and Booker is the only guy shorter than 6’10”, so he is most definitely picking his spots.

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Feel free to hit me (@macetastic) and the rest of the hard-working Fix hoops team up on Twitter for any fantasy NBA related discussion.

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