By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Some NBA teams are fantasy goldmines. You’d probably have a field day drafting from the Warriors or the Rockets or the Celtics. Other teams…well, they’re more like bottomless pits of despair than a goldmine. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid all of these teams; on the contrary, some of them have excellent quality available for the savvy fantasy player. When drafting your fantasy team, stay on the lookout for players on these teams.
Opportunity is the most important variable in fantasy. One of the preseason’s biggest challenges for managers is projecting which players will get enough minutes, and which ones won’t. Well, when it comes to the Timberwolves, managers can rest a little easier. You see, coach Tom Thibodeau hates substitutions. Last season’s Timberwolves featured three of the NBA’s top-15 players in minutes per game, and all five starters averaged more than 33 minutes per game.
League-wide, only 44 players topped that mark. Thibodeau receives a lot of criticism — probably fairly — that his rotations are a large part of why so many of his stars have sustained serious lower body injuries. But from a cold-hearted fantasy perspective, Thibodeau’s rotations are perfect. Either a player is a starter, both in real life and in fantasy, or they’re not. In some deep leagues, a Timberbulls — sorry, Timberwolves — sixth man might be worth owning, but standard league managers usually don’t need to look past the starting five.
Someone Has to Score
One of the ways the NBA is different from most other American pro leagues is that there is truth to the trite saying, “someone’s got to score.” Though announcers make similar comments in other sports, the sentiment is actually true in the NBA. No matter what happens, the worst team in the league is still going to average at least 100 points per game, and along the way it will likely grab at least 40 rebounds and dish out at least 20 assists. How it gets there might be ugly, but those baseline stats are happening. In most cases, that means a few players will almost accidentally end up as positive fantasy contributors.
But there are fewer teams in this category than usual for 2018-19. Only a handful of teams really have no imaginable shot at the playoffs, and two of those teams are potentially problematic for fantasy (I expand upon the case of the Kings below).
The Hawks are the only truly awful team ripe for targeting as fantasy managers mine for “bad team/good stats” inflation. The Hawks’ depth chart has a few areas of uncertainty, but rarely does it go more than two players deep. At each position, the top two players are NBA-caliber, even if many would probably be buried on the bench for most playoff teams (this is the step that gives the Hawks an edge over the Suns and the Magic). After the regular season rotations start to settle, one or two Hawks are likely to be hot waiver commodities. By using a late pick or two on a Hawk — Kevin Huerter or DeWayne Dedmon, perhaps — managers can potentially skip the early-season rush.
Lack of Depth
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are certainly deeper than they were in 2017-18, but this is still one of the shallowest rosters in the league. That lack of depth helps keep the rotation tight, ensuring plenty of minutes for the starters, and giving the top bench guys more opportunities to stay on the floor. At center, small forward, and shooting guard, the Pelicans’ backups are not good enough that one would typically think of them as a rotation piece on a playoff team. They have some quality depth at point guard and power forward, but the lack of help at other positions should help the coaching staff find ways to keep players like Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore heavily involved in the rotation.
Team to Avoid
If opportunity is the mana powering fantasy teams, unpredictability is the virus weakening them from within. I was optimistic when the Kings hired Dave Joerger as head coach two summers ago, but the infection plaguing that franchise has overwhelmed him. Questionable decisions pervade the atmosphere in Sacramento, from the GM right down through to the coaching staff. Despite having almost no realistic hope of competing for a playoff spot in 2018-19, the Kings signed 30-year-old power forward Nemanja Bjelica to a three-year, $20.5 million contract this summer. They did this only days after drafting power forward Marvin Bagley with the second overall pick.
Sacramento was already loaded with depth at small forward, power forward and center, and most of that depth came from promising prospects under 25 years old. Signing a long-term deal with a player who will slow down those developmental processes is quintessential Kings. During the season, the team is liable to make any sort of crazy personnel move, from a wacky trade to unexpected free agent activity, and in any of those cases, it’s more likely to confuse the depth chart than clarify it.
While the Kings’ upper management is problematic, the biggest problem for the fantasy community is the coaching staff. Rotations, including minutes allotments and starting lineups, are changed frequently and often without much (if any) prior warning. Those irregular workloads are particularly problematic for fantasy managers because several Kings players would be fantasy-relevant if they could be guaranteed a consistent workload. Skal Labissiere, for example, was a solid contributor whenever he played at least 28 minutes, but that only happened 15 times throughout the season. Managers had to stay disciplined and remember not to react to individual Kings game, or risk accidentally rostering one someone who will cause more heartache than fantasy production.