With one-quarter of the 2015-16 NBA season now in the books, fantasy basketball owners should have a relatively firm grasp of their roster at this point. Though injuries and the February trade deadline figure to wreak havoc on some players’ fantasy value in the coming months, your team’s strengths and weaknesses should be relatively obvious by now.
If you’re consistently struggling in certain categories, you should attempt to rectify that via the trade market (assuming you’re not intentionally punting a certain category, such as free throw percentage, in a head-to-head league). When surveying possible trade candidates, it’s particularly important to pay attention to recent production, as your fellow owners may be willing to sell a slumping player for cents on the dollar, or you may want to cut bait on a player who’s been unsustainably hot.
Here, we’ll highlight some players who’ve caught fire of late (and one big name coming back from injury) and three players whose fantasy stock is plummeting. You shouldn’t necessarily sell high on the rising players or buy low on the falling players; instead, use this to recalibrate your expectations for all of them moving forward.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Though Kyrie Irving won’t make his long-awaited return to the court Friday, head coach David Blatt described him as “day-to-day,” suggesting he should be back between now and Christmas. This officially marks your last chance to buy low on him in case his owner is afraid of a minutes limit at first, as Blatt told reporters he wants “to see [Irving] be able to come and play significant minutes” right away.
Despite Blatt’s proclamation, the Cavaliers will assuredly ease their franchise point guard back into action to avoid any setbacks, which may frustrate owners who expected him to be a difference-maker immediately upon his return. Considering how well he played alongside LeBron James last year — remember, Kevin Love was Cleveland’s third wheel, not Kyrie — it’s worth floating an offer for him if he doesn’t light the world on fire immediately upon his return.
D’Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Julius Randle, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are being lumped together here because they’re in the same exact situation. Head coach Byron Scott recently moved both to the bench and envisions playing them roughly 20 to 25 minutes per game for the foreseeable future, per ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes, but their demotion to the reserve unit may wind up being a blessing in disguise for their fantasy value.
Since the move, Kobe Bryant appears to be gaining confidence in the young duo, as Scott said Bryant was the one who recommended keeping them in the game late against Minnesota on Wednesday. (Russell scored a career-high 23 points that night.) Scott also said he expects to begin playing Bryant fewer minutes in the fourth quarter as the season progresses “so that these young guys can grow.” If you’re able to buy low on either player, it should pay dividends after the All-Star break.
Bojan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, Brooklyn Nets
With rookie forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sidelined by an ankle fracture for the next eight-to-10 weeks, Bojan Bogdanovic appears to be in line to start for Brooklyn perhaps through the All-Star break. In his three starts sans RHJ, the 26-year-old has averaged 11.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 treys and 1.7 assists in 30.3 minutes, including a 19-point, five-rebound eruption in Brooklyn’s 110-105 win over Houston on Tuesday.
Seeing as Bogdanovic’s fantasy stock was virtually nonexistent prior to RHJ’s injury, save for one hot spurt early in the season, it only had one direction in which it could’ve gone. If he’s able to replicate that early-season production — over a seven-game stretch, he averaged 14.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 treys, 1.3 assists and 0.9 steals in 28.3 minutes a night — he may even carve out a role for himself upon RHJ’s return.
Markieff Morris, SF/PF, Phoenix Suns
So, um…can someone please put out an all-purpose bulletin for Markieff Morris? Though an illness reportedly sidelined him for Wednesday’s victory over the Orlando Magic, he was a healthy scratch from the lineup against Memphis on Sunday and played just seven minutes off the bench against the Chicago Bulls on Monday.
Morris told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic that he was “cool” with his demotion, saying, “Jon [Leuer] and Mirza [Teletovic] have been playing really well,” but his benching doesn’t seem to speak well of his long-term future in Phoenix. Until the Suns pull the trigger on a trade — Houston and New Orleans are reportedly interested — fantasy owners can’t rely upon him in any format.
Ish Smith, PG, New Orleans Pelicans
Ish Smith was a fantasy revelation in the early portion of the season, as the injury-ravaged New Orleans Pelicans had little choice but to trot him out for 30-plus minutes most nights. Over his first 17 games, Smith averaged 11.9 points on 41.2 percent shooting, 8.1 assists, 4.2 boards, 1.2 steals, 0.6 treys and 0.4 blocks in 30.3 minutes a night, giving him legitimate fantasy appeal in leagues of all sizes.
Since Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole have returned, however, Smith’s fantasy value has predictably nosedived. Over New Orleans’ past four games, he’s averaged just 5.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.3 steals in 14.5 minutes a night, and that includes a DNP-CD against Cleveland on Dec. 4. Unless Evans or Jrue Holiday suffer a setback at some point this season, Smith is officially once again waiver-wire fodder.
Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Denver Nuggets
Full disclosure: Emmanuel Mudiay was my pick for Rookie of the Year, as point guards with high usage rates have taken home five of the past seven awards. Though Mudiay always figured to struggle with field goal percentage and turnovers, making him a late-round value in nine-category leagues (at best), I assumed his other counting stats would make him a sneaky value in eight-category leagues.
It appears as though I underestimated how much Mudiay would struggle with his acclimation to the NBA, as he’s averaging just 7.9 points on 27.6 percent shooting, 5.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.5 treys in 28.8 minutes over his past eight games while turning the ball over 3.6 times a night. Unless he breaks out of this recent slump, he’s completely unusable in nine-category leagues, although owners shouldn’t rush to drop him unless there’s an appealing option on the waiver wire.