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Football season winding down? Don't worry — there's still time to join a fantasy basketball league

·5 min read
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  • New York Knicks
    New York Knicks
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Kemba Walker
    Kemba Walker
    American basketball player

By Mike Barner, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Fantasy football season is coming to end, so it's a great time to join a fantasy basketball league on Yahoo. As we try to help prepare you for your upcoming drafts, here are some things to keep in mind while selecting your squad.

[Still time to join or create a fantasy basketball league for this season]

Stats/Trends

Unlike when you draft your team before the season starts, we have additional insights on the fantasy landscape with more than a quarter of the games having already been played. Whether it be players taking on new roles, the configuration of rebuilt teams, or the style at which teams play, we have a significant sample size to work off of.

For example, the Knicks added a big name during the offseason in Kemba Walker. He was brought in to start at point guard, which could have dealt a blow to the likes of players including Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley. Despite injuries limiting him to 43 games with the Celtics last year, Walker was still a valuable fantasy option with averages of 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 3.0 three-pointers per game.

Walker did begin the season as the Knicks’ starting point guard, but those who drafted him have been disappointed. Not only has his production been down, but he’s been removed from the Knicks rotation, completely. They have turned over the starting point guard job to Alec Burks, who was a fantasy afterthought outside of the deep leagues heading into the season.

Having a sample size to work off of is also important when it comes to a team’s style of play. The Hornets have been an example of a team that has changed considerably. Last season, they played at the 18th-fastest pace in the league. This season, they have played at the second-fastest pace. That provides a boost to the players on their roster because they have more opportunities to contribute.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24:  Kemba Walker #8 of the New York Knicks handles the ball against the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on October 24, 2021 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Expectations for Kemba Walker have changed dramatically since the start of the season. It's a reminder to track the latest trends and news ahead of your fantasy basketball draft. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Hot/Cold Starts

While it’s nice that we have a framework of stats to work off of, it’s also important to keep in mind that regression could be coming for some players, whether it’s positive or negative. An example of a player that fits this description is Nikola Vucevic, who entered the season ranked 16th, overall, on a per-game basis in nine category leagues. However, he’s only ranked 43rd currently.

The reason for his disappointment so far has been him shooting only 42.0 percent from the field and 63.3 percent from the charity stripe. Add in his usage rate dropping more than six percentage points compared to last season and he’s averaging only 15.3 points per game, which would be his lowest mark since the 2015-16 season.

It’s fair to expect Vucevic to continue to his reduced usage rate as the season moves along given the talent that the Bulls added around him. However, his percentages should improve considerably since he’s shot at least 47.5 percent from the field and 78.4 percent from the charity stripe in each of the last four seasons. His field goal percentage is already starting to trend in the right direction, checking in at 45.5 percent over the last seven games. While it will be difficult for him to be ranked inside the top-20 for the remainder of the season, improved efficiency could lead to him making his way into the range of 35-40.

Injured Players

When you have a full 82 games on the horizon, drafting a player who is injured heading into the season might not be as risky. If they can make it back reasonably soon, you can still get plenty of games out of them, while drafting them later than usual. A prime example was Pascal Siakam, who was being drafted later than he normally would have been in leagues because he was scheduled to miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury. He only ended up missing 10 games, though, and has been his productive self with averages of 19.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 three-pointers across 13 games.

The problem with taking an injured player now is, the playoff picture is already starting to round into shape. Bad teams could be more cautious with the return of their injured players, in an effort to both keep them healthy and improve their draft positioning. An example of this is Zion Williamson (foot), who has still not played in a game for the Pelicans. He recently suffered a delay in his rehab and the Pelicans are fading fast with a record of 7-19. If they continue to lose games and he suffers another delay, they could just keep him out for the rest of the season.

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Tanking

Tanking is more of an issue if you’re just drafting your team now than it was at the start of the season. Look no further than what the Thunder did with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last season. He played in 35 of their first 43 games, providing significant fantasy value with his averages of 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.0 three-pointers per game. The problem was, he suffered a foot injury towards the end of March that eventually kept him out for each of their final 29 games. Part of him being out may have been the Thunder wanting to improve their draft positioning.

As of this date, Gilgeous-Alexander is ranked 67th overall on a per game basis in nine-category leagues. Players ranked similar to him include Julius Randle (66th), Khris Middleton (71st) and Bradley Beal (79th). All three of those players are on teams battling for a playoff spot, so they could spend more time on the floor down the stretch, making them more valuable in fantasy.

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