By Armando Marsal
Special to Yahoo Sports
Fantasy basketball sleepers can be categorized as players who are seeing an increased role due to an injury and/or rotation change, as well as players who may have a favorable schedule with a reasonable amount of games for the week. On the other hand, fantasy basketball busts will focus on notable players who you will most likely have to start in your lineups anyway, but may have fewer games for the week and/or potentially tougher matchups. It’s difficult to bench anyone in fantasy basketball, but tempering your expectations for their production this week might be the best way to go about it.
Hey guys! Welcome to Week 18 of the NBA season. It has been a unique year thus far with plenty of high scoring games. We are midway through the season and this is All-Star week, so there are plenty of events this week that’ll be fun to watch.
My favorite of course, is the dunk contest, as we get to witness some of these extremely athletic players get creative and put on a show for the fans.
Due to the All-Star break, our fantasy week is broken into two (18 and 19 are combined). We have games up until Thursday and then a small break before the action picks back up the following Thursday.
The trade deadline is behind us now, so we will not see any more trades moving forward, but it was certainly an active period and many changes occurred that will have an impact on some players and teams.
As per usual, I will dig into the upcoming week and go over some player predictions.
Dennis Smith Jr., PG/SG, New York Knicks
Smith Jr. has given us a glimpse of what to expect in the dunk contest during the All-Star break with some impressive hammers this season. It’s been fun watching him on his new team and it’s clear that this offense will be built around him the rest of the season. Since joining the Knicks, the young guard has averaged 32.8 minutes, 19.8 points, 6.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 0.3 blocks per game, while shooting 41 percent from the field. He also scored a career-high 31 points last Friday.
It hasn’t been all perfect for Smith Jr. since joining the Knicks, as he did struggle in his debut and was tamed against the Raptors. However, New York draws some favorable matchups and also has five games on the schedule this week. They face off against Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minnesota, and San Antonio. Of these five teams, four rank 20th or worse in defensive rating.
At this time, he is owned in 79 percent of Yahoo leagues, but that number appears too low for someone with his usage and minutes. In his short tenure thus far with the Knicks, he has an impressive 30.1 usage rate and it does not appear that will decrease any time soon. If he is still a free agent in your league, it’d be wise to add him.
Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs traded away Alec Burks and Rodney Hood prior to the deadline, making the wing position in Cleveland somewhat thin. This should translate into more playing time and opportunities for Clarkson. In the first two games without Hood and Burks, Clarkson has averaged 31.5 minutes, 21 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and one steal per game.
The Cavs play four times this fantasy week. Three of those matchups are against defenses ranking 17th or worse in defensive rating. Clarkson will frustrate fantasy owners with his shot at times, making him a liability in field goal percentage, but he should still be an asset in multiple other categories.
He remains available in over 40 percent of Yahoo leagues and has also been fairly priced in DFS, making him an interesting option this week if you are in need of a guard.
Maxi Kleber, PF, Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks didn’t stop after trading away DeAndre Jordan and Dennis Smith Jr. to the Knicks. They also traded Harrison Barnes to the Kings, leaving a lot of playing time and usage on this team up for grabs. Kleber should strongly benefit from all of these players departing, especially with the Mavericks’ frontcourt being so thin.
Kleber has moved into the starting lineup and has flirted with a double-double in a couple occasions. Coach Rick Carlisle has mentioned that he will mix and match his lineups, but I am still expecting Kleber to see plenty of run at the four and five in the second half of the season.
This fantasy week, the Mavs play four games and although the matchups are not all that appealing, all four teams play big, so this should put Kleber in line for plenty of playing time. He is still available in over 80 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Ivica Zubac, C, Los Angeles Clippers
Zubac was traded to the Clippers on Thursday and got his first start with his new team on Saturday. He acclimated himself quite well, finishing the evening with 12 points, nine boards, and three blocks in just 23 minutes.
He got the nod over Montrezl Harrell, who has been spectacular off the bench this season and will continue to have a solidified role, capping Zubac’s true ceiling. That said, there is no denying that Zubac should be a solid contributor to this frontcourt. The big man has shown his ability to grab rebounds, block shots, provide good field goal percentage, and so far this season he is shooting 85 percent from the free throw line — a career best.
The Clippers play four games this fantasy week, two of them against teams allowing over 45 rebounds per game. Zubac is still available in over 60 percent of Yahoo leagues, so don’t hesitate to scoop him up if you need some center help.
Justice Winslow, PG/SF/PF, Miami Heat
The Heat traded away Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington, and also continue to be without Goran Dragic, benefiting Winslow. With the players off the court, Winslow sees a usage bump and gets more run at the point, increasing his potential assists.
His shot remains inconsistent, but he is very capable of filling up the stat sheet on any night, making him a valuable asset to those in category leagues. On nights when his shot is on point, he can offer immense upside for fantasy owners, considering how productive he is on the boards and dishing out dimes.
Winslow has also played over 30 minutes in each game since January 23rd, so the opportunity for him to produce numbers for fantasy owners should continue to be there.
The Heat play four times this fantasy week and even though all but one of those games come against stingier defenses, there is not denying that Winslow has a big role in Miami. He remains available in over 40 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Tobias Harris, F, Philadelphia 76ers
Harris was traded away to the 76ers and went from being the alpha on his offense to the fourth option on his new team. In his Philly debut, he played 32 minutes, scoring 14 points with eight boards, three dimes, and a steal. Outputs like this one are to be expected on his new team, which can be frustrating for fantasy owners.
Aside from that, the Sixers have some tough matchups against Boston and Miami this week, both of which rank top seven in defensive rating. One matchup against the Knicks, however, could turn into a blowout, considering how superior Philadelphia is to New York.
Taking all of this into account really makes Harris shaky to fully trust this week and while benching him is unlikely an option for most fantasy owners, tempering your expectations is highly recommended. Full disclosure, I am not recommending you to bench Harris, as there are still going to be nights where he has big performances, but it’d be shocking if it occurred more than once this fantasy week.
Marc Gasol, C, Toronto Raptors
Gasol being traded away to the Raptors has to be one of the more frustrating things for fantasy owners who counted on the big man as their center. He is expected to see a reduced role on his new team and even though he is a high fantasy point-per-minute player, he may not see enough minutes on a nightly basis to be anywhere near as productive as he was in Memphis.
In his Raptors debut, Gasol played well, but also played just 19 minutes, scoring seven points with six boards, one dime, two steals, and a block. He is clearly a very efficient player when on the court as these numbers suggest, but the reserve role is going to cap his ceiling.
The Raptors do draw some favorable matchups this week, leaving hope for some productive performances for Gasol. That said, I would not feel too confident with him as my top center moving forward.
Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Let me start off by saying that I will never bench Davis in any of my season-long teams and I am fully aware that he is one of the best players in the league. When he is on the court, not many other players can produce the numbers he does. That being said, there are some red flags with Davis.
For starters, it is publicly known that he is not interested to stay in New Orleans once his contract expires. This certainly can’t sit well with the team. In fact, Davis was benched in the fourth quarter of a tight game on Friday night. That being said, he did play 34 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, which was promising.
Still, there will be concerns like the instances on Friday night and also on second nights of back-to-backs. This fantasy week, the Pelicans have four games, one of which will be a back-to-back scenario, so fantasy owners may only get three games out of Davis.
In addition, three of these games come against top-10 defenses when it comes to defensive rating and the worst defenses that he will face ranks 13th, which is still pretty good.
Granted, a player like Davis is essentially matchup-proof, but given all of the other issues with the team and his inability to consistently stay healthy, he comes with some risk, especially in DFS.
That’s it for this week, feel free to reach out to me with any questions on the Twitter machine @Armando_Marsal. Good luck to everyone this week!