Fantasy Basketball

Fantasy Basketball 2014: Codename Bloodsport


Credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Another week down, another week of trawling the waiver wire for cheap alternatives to the usual fantasy basketball options.

James Johnson

I love James Johnson’s fantasy game, especially in roto leagues and as far as nicknames goes, his is among the best in the NBA.

He’s made a name for himself by being astute on the defensive end where he often finds himself matched up against the other team’s best front-court scorer, as he can defend up to four positions with equal proficiency.

The Grizzlies took him on as somewhat of a reclamation project, but the move was essentially triggered by injuries to key rotational players Quincy Pondexter, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol. The fit has been seamless, as he’s transitioned back to fantasy relevance for the first time since 2011-12, when he had a relatively productive year playing for the Toronto Raptors.

His defensive stats are incredibly high on a per minute basis, as he averages 1.6 steals and 2 blocks per-36 minutes for his career – just look at the company he’s keeping there, not bad for a player who didn’t have a contract when the season started.

Through 20 games with the red hot Grizzlies (13-7 with him…sure it helps Marc Gasol is back too) he’s producing career highs of 1.4 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, in less than half a game. Put those defensive stats next to a good scorer like Klay Thompson or Evan Turner, and you’ve got yourself a really solid pairing in roto leagues.

Tayshaun Prince has either been mauled by an actual Grizzly which stole his ability to put stats on the board, or he’s simply lost it as a regular rotation player. Either of those options could explain his pathetic 2013-14 where he ranks OUTSIDE the top 10 on the team in scoring, but hopefully his epic stinkage leads to Johnson getting more playing time as the Grizzlies make a push to establish themselves in the thick of the West playoff race.

Make sure to check out his Johnson’s big block on Jeff Teague earlier this season.

John Henson

It seems like every week one of the dysfunctional Milwaukee Bucks ends up on this list – Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kris Middleton have all been ridiculed featured in my weekly “article”.

Batter up John Henson. Or step up to the line for want of a more appropriate analogy.

Henson is no stranger to starting at either PF or undersized C, or putting up very productive fantasy numbers. He did both for stretches last year in his rookie season and he’s done the same this season when given the opportunity. Larry Drew is a fantasy player’s nightmare; when you watch him coach and do his rotations it makes him look more confused than a baby in a topless bar. The Bucks have so many enticing pieces but they’re a good pass-first point guard away from getting close to a .500 team and for all the jabs I’ve thrown at Drew, it isn’t totally his fault. Management have assembled a decent mix of average players but they just don’t fit and it doesn’t matter how many bad eggs you use, they won’t make a good omelette.

Henson has unreal length and athleticism, rivalling the player he’s seemingly competing with for minutes in the Bucks messy frontcourt, Larry Sanders.

In 17 starts this season, he’s put up averages of 13.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2 blocks and 55% shooting from the field, so he’s definitely a player to target in roto leagues. Another bonus for Henson is that he doesn’t turn the ball over much at just 1.5 per game, nor does he take many free throws (2.8 per game), so he’s not going to sink you with negativity in those categories despite shooting just 55% at the line.

His path to true fantasy value is the logjam and overlapping of skills he has with the Bucks’ franchise big highest paid player in Sanders. Both players have eerily similar bodies, frames and tendencies on the court, so unless the Bucks move Sanders or he has another run of brain-explosions that leads to more time off the floor, Henson won’t get 32-35 minutes, thus maximizing his fantasy potential.

Gustavo Ayon

Ayon is not going to be confused with an elite fantasy basketball big man during his career.

He can’t shoot free throws, doesn’t score in double figures with any regularity, nor can he knock down the odd three to keep a defence honest. What he can do, is help you plug a gap on the cheap, with a decent spread of stats across the board.

As the new starting C for the injury riddled Atlanta Hawks, Ayon’s in a perfect situation to play on a playoff team (in the East at least!), after being unceremoniously waived by the Milwaukee Bucks midway through last year. The Hawks claimed him as insurance – and lucky they did – as Al Horford and his bad run of luck continued, followed by the just-coming-right Pero Antic who went down with a gimpy ankle just over a week ago.

The Hawks are his fourth team during Ayon’s three year career and it’s the second real chance for him to get minutes in a starting role, so you have to think he’s going to do all he can to stay in the NBA.

He found himself on the fantasy radar back in his rookie year for the New Orleans Hornets, after proving to be extremely handy with his fast hands and basketball IQ by producing per-36 minute stats of 10.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks.

As long as the Hawks are thin up front, you can expect Ayon to play around 24-28 minutes per night which means some nice rebounds and defensive stats, as well as a handful of assists and strong field goal shooting.

He’s played 31 games in his career with at least 24 minutes a night, averaging 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1 block per game on 52% shooting from the floor. Those numbers are not going to wow anyone or insist you drop your bottom roster spot for him, but hey, the price is right as he also won’t hurt you by missing shots or turning it over.

He won’t go Ay­-on a scoring tear at any stage, but when you’re looking to fill your last roster spot or for a decent stream option at C with some sneaky defensive stats, give Gustavo a go.

Follow Sam on Twitter @macetastic and feel free to ask any NBA related questions, whether fantasy or reality.

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