Previous “Jump Ball” articles:
9/26 – Kawhi Leonard v Jimmy Butler
10/2 – Blake Griffin v Serge Ibaka
TALE OF THE TAPE
|JONAS VALANCIUNAS||MARCIN GORTAT|
|Toronto Raptors||Team||Washington Wizards|
|C||Position (Y! Eligibility)||C|
|T-40th||9-Cat Rank (Total Value)||T-23rd|
|T-60th||9-Cat Rank (Per Game)||T-42nd|
|26.2||Minutes Per Game||29.9|
|17.3 (T-201st)||Usage Rate (Rank)||16.1 (T-241st)|
THE CASE FOR JONAS VALANCIUNAS
There’s a three-year long movement among Raptors fans and the fantasy basketball community at large to take the restraints off of Toronto big man, Jonas Valanciunas. Since he entered the league in 2012 he has flashed enormous potential in a truncated role, having never sniffed 30 minutes per game despite a dearth of additional talent at the center position in Toronto. The main issue has been head coach Dwayne Casey’s reluctance to play the 23-year old in fourth quarters, regardless of his performance during the first three. However, the 2015/2016 NBA season brings renewed hope that Casey will finally unleash the beast and capitalize on JV’s size (7’0″, 250 lbs), efficiency (.572 FG% last year), reliable free throw shooting (.786), and solid defensive rebounding (6.0 DRPG in 26.2 minutes) – all extremely valuable assets down the stretch of closely contested NBA games.
If Valanciunas is afforded the opportunity to close out games and can eclipse the (admittedly arbitrary) 30 MPG benchmark for the first time in his career, the fantasy world is looking at a 3rd or 4th round value available at a two to three round discount. Having missed only three games in the past two seasons combined, JV has proven to be a durable and reliable fantasy center. He is one of those guys who owners can “set & forget,” removing him from an active lineup only in the event that they need to chase guard-driven categories such as assists, 3-pointers, and steals.
Entering the prime of his career, with no contractual concerns, and limited miles on his odometer to date, Jonas needs only the minutes to post a career year. Coach Dwayne Casey offered music to fantasy owners’ ears in early-October (via TSN’s Josh Lewenberg) by saying:
“You know, there’s been a lot made about [Valanciunas] finishing games,” said the head coach, unprompted, on media day last week. “Well, he’s getting to the point of his career, with the experience, that he should be able to do that. We plan to use him, especially offensively, down the stretch. Father Time is a great teacher and developer [in] those kinds of situations.”
If this holds true and the Raptors man in the middle continues to display a natural progression of his skills, game averages of 14 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, low turnovers and stellar percentages from both the field and charity stripe are all well within reach. With so few pure centers able to contribute in both percentage categories (i.e. are not FT killers like DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, and Dwight Howard), Valanciunas is the rare big who fits nicely with any team build.
THE CASE FOR MARCIN GORTAT
One of the biggest takeaways from this preseason, for my eyes at least, has been the changes happening with the rotation of the Washington Wizards. Gone are the days of the lane-clogging combo of both Marcin Gortat and Nene, replaced in favor of an up-tempo pace & space offense featuring only one true big – Gortat. In just 24.5 MPG through six preseason games, the Polish Hammer has parlayed his featured post role into nearly six rebounds and over 15 points per contest. He has done so on a remarkable – though likely unsustainable – 66.7% from the field and 90.5% from the FT line. With his minutes all but guaranteed to rise above 30 once the games start to count, Gortat is poised for a phenomenal 9th NBA campaign.
Not unlike his “Jump Ball” counterpart, Gortat has found his way to excellent health recently, having played all 82 games last year and failing to suit up only once in 2013/2014. He has also raised his field goal efficiency in each of the past three seasons, his free throw percentage in each of the past four, and has maintained solid per-minute points, rebounds, blocks, and steals numbers. Also like Valanciunas, Marcin is a fantasy asset to simply plug into your lineup and watch the well-rounded statistical production roll in.
It is my opinion that the Washington Wizards are looking to phase out Nene (in part due to declining skills, and in part to preserve his fragile health). With very limited depth at the PF & C spots and the Wizards’ desire to use the “4” as a stretch position (as evidenced by Kris Humphries‘ 3-point shooting barrage this preseason), Marcin Gortat stands to see an increase in floor time from the 29.9 MPG he averaged last year. With a couple extra minutes every night, a new standing as the lone paint presence, and an anchor on defense, the 31-year old could be both an efficiency and volume contributor. Players who have entered their 30s and boast a nine year resume are often believed to have a “low ceiling,” but as evidenced by the last couple months of the 2014/2015 season showed, that’s not the case with Gortat. He was a first-round asset post-All Star break and though I can’t project he’ll post such value over the course of an entire season, a top-25 finish is not out of reach. Not a bad return on your 5th or 6th round investment!
Let’s take a look at how these two players should stack up head-to-head for fantasy owners in 2015 looking to roster a highly efficient true center with an early-mid round pick (* denotes my projected category winner):
|JONAS VALANCIUNAS||MARCIN GORTAT|
Marcin Gortat is the choice. For as much love as I have for the Luminescent Lithuanian (H/T to JB for that gem of a nickname), Gortat’s potential this year is too good to deny. The Washington Wizards have eyes on an Eastern Conference championship, they are looking to push the pace with an elite pass-first point guard, improve their offensive efficiency, and are phasing out a usage-stealing frontcourt running mate from seasons past. All of this points towards a big year for a man tasked with holding down the paint on both ends of the floor.
If you are passing on bigs early in your draft in favor of multi-cat swingmen or dime-dropping guards, you could do a lot worse than pairing those players with either (both?) of JV & MG once four rounds have ticked off the draft board. Their floors are where their per-game ranks fell last year (roughly the 40-60 range), but their upside is tied into potentially increased floor time and a proven durability that adds a round or more of full-season value.
These two may not post the sexy stat lines of 25 rebounds like an Andre Drummond, or 12 blocks like a Hassan Whiteside, but they also won’t torpedo an entire category for your team. So if you are a fantasy owner who likes to build a balanced roster that can compete in both percentage categories, pulling the trigger on Marcin Gortat is a great decision. And if the Polish Hammer happens to get sniped from the top of your queue, Jonas Valanciunas is one heck of a consolation prize.
Agree/disagree? Who is your choice when you’re on the clock? Feedback is always welcome, so please share your thoughts in the comments section below or come find me in the Twitterverse at @moneyballmatty. Cheers!