They’re sitting out there right now. It could be a waiver wire pickup. Or maybe a player languishing on someone else’s bench. Or it might even be a reasonably productive player who has the potential to take off and do much more.
Lottery tickets, though typically rectangular in real life, can take any number of shapes in fantasy basketball.
Today, we discuss 10 of my favorite upside gambles.
Before we begin, a quick reminder of the rules of the lottery:
1. You usually don’t win;
2. It’s probably a bad idea to play.
Let’s get to it!
Just to clarify right away, these aren’t all lottery tickets that begin with zero value. So in that way, maybe they are more “exciting investment opportunities” than they are, strictly speaking, lottery tickets. That’s certainly the case for Robinson, who is already a guy most of us are starting in fantasy due to his blocks (2.0 per game), but is also someone who can do a ton more if and when things fully click into place.
Along those lines, here’s the good news on Robinson: He’s actually shooting it better from the field (72.2) and the free throw line (73.0) than he did last year, and his per-36 minutes are still rather monstrous: 17.1 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.2 spg and 3.7 bpg.
With that in mind, it’s pretty maddening that he has only topped 20 minutes six times this season, but he’s coming off a season-high 31 minutes (in a 28-point loss) on Wednesday, and as the season goes on it should only get easier for Robinson to get run on a truly rotten (4-14) Knicks team. As someone who drafted Robinson in multiple leagues, I know that the frustration is real. Which is exactly why I’d be trying to deal for this monster-in-waiting wherever possible.
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Rostered in only 20 percent of Yahoo leagues, Garland is a 19-year-old point guard getting a chance to figure things out on the fly. That’s annoying if you’re expecting things to fall into place quickly — and his 16 points, one assist and eight turnovers on Wednesday were a reminder that we’re still a long ways from being headache-free — but the fact is, Garland is indeed getting better as we go. Consider this:
Garland, first 7 games:
7.6 ppg, 3.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.0 3s, 29.2% FG
Garland, last 11 games:
12.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.8 3s, 41.2% FG
Again, that’s still not a great stat line, but those last 11 games represent a legitimate improvement in a number of areas. And after hitting double digits just one time in his first seven games, Garland has reached that mark in nine of his last 11, including his two highest point totals (23 and 16) the last week (while putting up 14.8 ppg and 2.8 3s on 45.7 percent shooting).
Ultimately, I’m not convinced that he has a crazy high ceiling this season — the Cavs are, after all, third-worst in the league in scoring — but the blueprint is there for Garland to put together at least a low-level breakout in the months ahead.
The next couple of players are ones that are already producing solid value, but have the potential for so much more. Oubre has been a top-75 player so far in 9-category leagues while putting up 17.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.3 spg, 0.5 bpg and 1.4 3s in his first 17 games.
That stat line has been held in check by some inconsistency, including back-to-back 10- and 12-point duds on Sunday and Wednesday. Prior to those two games, Oubre had rattled off a five-game run of 23.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 2.4 spg and 1.8 3s — a reminder of how much potential there is here when things are going right. If you can pick up Oubre at the cost of something in the top-60 or 70 range, I would strongly recommend it. He had a 30-game run of being a top-40 player last season in Phoenix, and it won’t be a surprise to see him get back to those heights again this year.
After a disappointing-but-not-awful start to the season (11.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.8 bpg and 1.6 3s over his first 14 games), Bridges has started to pick things up in late November, putting up 15.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.4 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.6 3s on 49.2 percent shooting over his last five. That includes a season-high 31 points last week.
Even with this recent surge, Bridges is sitting around 130th overall in 9-category leagues — a handful of spots behind the maddening Lonzo Ball — so I’d be targeting him aggressively in trades while you still can.
This is where I’ll remind you that it’s not always a winning proposition to play the lottery. Culver’s percentages (36.3 / 42.1) have been a nightmare, rendering him a very dicey fantasy option so far.
Here’s why I’m encouraged, though: Frequently getting minutes in the 25-30 range (26 per game over his last 10), the No. 6 overall pick has hit double-digit points in eight of his last 10 games, posting 10.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.9 bpg and 1.1 3s. He has also shot just 38.7 percent from the floor and 47.6 from the line, though on the latter front, he’s only attempted 2.1 free throws a game.
Overall, that’s not a thrilling stat line, but it is the foundation for something, and it’s a similar principle to Garland: a top prospect getting a chance to play through some struggles is likely to figure things out. Culver is rostered in just 15 percent of Yahoo leagues if you’re looking for an upside stash.
Even more readily available than Culver is Reddish (9 percent rostered), who for all his struggles (29.4 percent shooting this season), has been a regular part of the Atlanta rotation, getting 25 minutes per game. It could take Reddish even longer to figure things out than Garland or Culver, but he did recently have a three-game run of 14.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.3 spg, 1.0 bpg and 1.7 3s, and again — this is a player you’re picking up off the waiver wire for nothing. If you’ve got the luxury of just throwing Reddish on your bench, there’s a chance it pays off nicely at some point.
Per-36 minutes, this 2018 first-round pick is averaging a robust 23.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 bpg and 2.2 3s. It doesn’t help his case for hitting big-time value that two of the Wizards top young players (Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura) are both significant obstacles to elevated minutes. Nevertheless, Wagner has been making the most of his limited run, with 13.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.5 3s in just 21 minutes a game over his last eight. It might require an injury for him to fully take off, but Wagner is a better fantasy prospect than the steals/blocks/3s-challenged Hachimura, and I’d be stashing Mo Buckets in hopes that he gets his shot.
If you’re wondering, we’re now 13 games into the 25-game suspension for Collins, and 16 games into the same-length suspension for Ayton. That of course means Collins will miss 12 more games, and Ayton will miss nine, after which two likely top-25 fantasy options (or better) will step back onto the court and into our leagues. Given that Collins still has double-digit games remaining, and he’s essentially just midway through this thing, it’s possible that his fantasy owner is getting bored of waiting. I’d check into that. If the gains he showed in 3s (1.8) and blocks (2.0) are anything close to sustainable, you’re going to get massive value from a player who should get back on Dec. 23, with 52 games still remaining in his season. The same holds true for Ayton. If the nine games left on his suspension offer any sort of discount in trades, I think it’s going to prove to be worth it.
Yes, this is happening, both in the sense that Chriss is producing in box scores (10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg and 2.0 bpg over his last six games), and I’m finding myself inclined to recommend him. The impending return of Kevon Looney does complicate things, but Chriss is beginning to sound more and more like something resembling a priority for Golden State, as he’s been “the Warriors' best interior rim defender, something that the team is severely lacking.” (That quote comes from a pretty thorough breakdown of the Warriors frontcourt situation, which you can find right here.) It should go without saying for Chriss until the end of time that he might lose his value at any moment. But if you’re sick of adding the same boring options off waivers (a good day to you, Bryn Forbes!), here’s a player available in 93 percent of leagues who is the very definition of a wild swing for the fences.