Fantasy basketball forces you to take a critical look at the NBA’s unmitigated success stories. Will a breakout performance translate from one season to the next? Should we expect the dreaded faux-scientific sophomore slump for rookies? Will a natural year-to-year fluctuation in shooting push a player out of fantasy relevance? These are the relevant questions we have to weigh as the NBA season winds down and the fantasy playoffs start. It will be the fantasy offseason before you know it—it’s never too early to start planning for the future.

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Naz Reid was a highly-touted recruit in high school and was ranked as the third-best power forward/15th-best overall player in the nation. He played his college ball at LSU and declared for the draft after one season. He’s 6′ 10″, 240 pounds, has feathery touch from downtown, has decent handles with a wicked spin move to maneuver in the paint, is agile for a man his size, and can dish out dimes. Then why did he go undrafted? He didn’t dominate his one year in college and tanked the pre-draft combine. But the Minnesota Timberwolves knew because it wasn’t hard to tell that he was Illmatic…….

Ahhhhh, love that song. Anyways, can’t give the Timberwolves that much credit because if they truly knew then they would’ve drafted him. Regardless, they took a shot and their gamble looks to have paid off.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
13 14 3 3 2 1 1/4 5/12 2/2

In 27 minutes. Over the past seven games, Naz has averaged 25.4 minutes, 10.9 points, 0.9 tres, 7 boards, 1.6 dimes, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks. A 1/1/1 player!!! The field goal percentage is very poor for a big man, though, as it’s been 40% recently and 41% on the season. He’s a 70% shooter from the free throw line. Now, much depends on whether or not Karl-Anthony Towns returns. If he does, then Naz will have little value, but if KAT does get shut down, then……Naz will be Illmatic. Beep. Boop. Bop. You know what’s always Illmatic? The Stocktonator.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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The fantasy playoffs are fast approaching, or maybe they’ve already arrived for you. Tough decisions will need to be made—the game is survival. Some of you may be in win-now mode. Others may be planning ahead, looking for keeper value on the wire, or last-minute trades with an eye toward the future.

The primary league I play in is a 9-cat Yahoo keeper league. You’re allowed to keep five players. I enjoy the keeper format because it’s an (extremely mild) replication of the control and decision-making required of an NBA general manager. You don’t start with a brand-new team every year in the NBA (as you do in re-draft leagues). You pay a price for the bad decisions of yesteryear or reap the benefits from the good ones. Keeper and dynasty leagues also force you to do the most scouting and projecting. If you insist on waiting until a player pops, you’re going to miss out on a lot of players. A competitive league ups the pressure to be first, it pushes the timeline of your decision-making forward. Of course, if you’re wrong about a player, that comes at a cost too.

Keeper values incorporate a value estimation and vague salary cap structure, at least during the offseason and through the draft. In the Scorekeeper League, you’re allowed 5 keepers and your draft capital is $200 minus the cost of your keepers. Every player’s cost increases by five dollars each year and you can only hold a player for four seasons. Keepers force you to always be thinking about the future even as the present rages on.

With the playoffs two weeks away, my Fat Mamba fantasy team is sitting in 9th place. I’m faithfully looking ahead to next season. Just in case you are too, here are some thoughts.

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Joel Embiid is 7 feet and weighs 249 pounds. There are only around 2800 people in the world who are 7 feet or taller. With 7.4 billion people, that comes out to 0.000038% of the population! Add in the fact that he’s as nimble as a ballerina, possesses the feathery touch of players much smaller than him, and is almost as witty as Grey…..it all culminates in a human that is…..is he even human? Regardless, Embiid is truly a unique breed. Last night was just the most recent display of his uniqueness.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
49 14 3 3 1 4 1/3 17/24 14/15

The #11 player for fantasy on a per-game basis, which is key because he’s missed 16 games on the season. That is the only chink in the armor. It’s a massive one for sure, but things can change quickly. Just look at KAT. On the season, Embiid is averaging 23.8 points, 1.3 tres, 12 boards, 3.2 dimes, 0.9 steals, and 1.4 blocks with 47% shooting from the field and 82% from the line. He literally does it all. Beep. Boop. Bop. You know what literally does it all day in and day out? The Stocktonator. Now, Ben Simmons did not play last night and could be out for a while. Without Simmons on the court, Embiid garners a usage rate of 36.4, and increase of 4.2%. He scores 1.59 fantasy points per minute! Here’s praying for the health of this outlier of a human.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

In Dave Hickey’s seminal basketball essay, “The Heresy of Zone Defense,” he celebrates and argues that the game of basketball has been fair, civil, and liberated, from its very inception. Hickey celebrates basketball’s continuous evolution toward freedom, though he has nothing but contempt for college basketball and (naturally) zone defense. By the time Hickey wrote and published his essay in 1995, zone defense had been outlawed in the NBA in favor of the now defunct illegal defense rules. Obviously, the illegal defense rules morphed into its own form of limiting monotony, and though it does not appear that Hickey expected such an evolution, there’s no doubt that he’d support its elimination once it ceased to inspire innovation. In 2020, zone defense is back with a vengeance, but the reality of zone defense today is different from the one Hickey saw as dangerous, uninteresting governance.

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When Zach LaVine popped his head out from his mother’s womb, his first words were, “Who’s got next?” On his first day of school, his mother tried to dress him in his finest clothes. LaVine responded, “No, mom. We skins today.” When the other kids would go out and party, LaVine would be in the backyard playing hoops. As a result, he would receive Valentine’s Day cards from basketballs and they/it would write letters to Santa saying that they were good basketballs and that all they wanted for Christmas was Zach LaVine. LaVine was born a baller. He lived his life as a baller. Now, he’s a baller on the grandest of stages. Last night was the latest example.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
41 9 4 2 0 5 8/11 15/21 3/4

Beep. Boop. Bop. You know what’s always a baller on the grandest of stages? The Stocktonator. That was the fifth 40-burger of the season for LaVine. He’s averaging 25.3 points on the season, which is good for 11th in all of basketball. The tres are at a career-high 3.1 per game, and so are the steals at 1.4 per. He’s not just a 3-and-D player, though. The usage rate is over 31 and he supplies a consistent supply of 5 boards and 4 dimes per game. That all translates to a top 35 player for fantasy on the season.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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15 or so years ago, I’m walking through a baggage claim area in the Los Cabos International Airport. It was eerie. The room wasn’t well lit and not another soul was in sight. I think I had to take a piss or maybe I was searching for a friend. I forget, but what will forever be etched in my brain were the two figures that appeared in the distance. I didn’t pay much heed at first, but it was hard not to be transfixed on this couple. The man was a giant and the woman was exquisite. As they got closer and closer, the man just oozed cool. Oh, shit! That’s Kobe freaking Bryant and his wife, Vanessa! Woo sah, woo sah. Be cool. Be cool. Oh, shit! That’s Kobe freaking Bryant. I didn’t know what to do. I was shook, but not as bad as when we all received the horrible news yesterday; that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

There are so many memories of Kobe. Not flinching against the Matt Barnes inbound fake. The 2005 season in which he scored 81 points in a game, 62 points in another, had four 50-burgers, and 21 40-point outbursts. Kobe was robbed of the MVP that year! The alley-oop pass to Shaq in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals. Tearing his Achilles then draining the free throw. The five championships. The 60 points in his final game. Chills. The mic drop. The dunks. The game winners. But what I most treasure about Kobe is encapsulated in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz during the 1997 playoffs when he airballed not one, not two, not three, but four shots as a rookie. Despite the failure, he could not be fazed. He could not be shook, unlike my weak ass. He didn’t slump or put his head down. He just brushed it off and used it as motivation to get better. He was a true student of the game whose sole focus was to get buckets and win. The jump shot form was perfect. The footwork was immaculate. The evolution of his game was poetic. All of that did not happen by accident. It was due to the psychotic work ethic.

41 years old. Gone. Just like that. I wanted to give you a pound when I saw you 15 or so years ago. I wanted to give you a hug. I wanted to take a selfie. I wanted to say wassup, but I was so shook that I just walked on by. Thanks for everything. Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant.

Here’s what happened in the games yesterday:

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The Phoenix Suns liked Deandre Ayton during the 2018 NBA draft. So much so that they drafted him with the number one overall pick. In hindsight, the pick looks silly because they selected him over the likes of Luka Doncic and Trae Young. If you look at the Suns history of drafting in the first round, it makes sense why they selected Ayton.

2017 – Josh Jackson. G-League.
2016 – Dragan Bender. Bucks.
2015 – Devin Booker. Yipee!
2014 – T. J. Warren. Pacers.
2013 – Alex Len. Hawks.
2012 – Kendall Marshall. LOL!
2011 – Markieff Morris. Knicks.
2010 – No first

Luka and Trae both had some perceived risks. Ayton was the safe pick because he was a big man who could shoot. Now, Luka should’ve been the pick, but it’s not like Ayton is a bust. Last night was an example of the fantasy goodies he can provide.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
26 21 2 0 2 2 0 11/15 4/4

Prior to last night’s game, the Suns were bringing Ayton off the bench, like a bunch of bobos. Regardless if he starts or comes off the bench, though, Ayton produces. Over the past seven games, he’s averaged 32.9 minutes, 18.1 points, 11.9 boards, 2.1 dimes, and 1.7 blocks. He’s converted 58% of the 14.1 shot attempts and shooting 78% from the line. That’s been good for top 30 production for fantasy. He can score down on the block or from the top of the key. The stroke is pretty. Is he a transcendent player like Luka? Negative, but he’s very, very good and could finish as a top 15 player. Beep. Boop. Bop. You know what is transcendent like Luka? The Stocktonator.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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What is love? Haddaway asked that question many decades ago. Did he find the answer? Naw, just more questions but the one thing he wanted us to know is that he didn’t want to get hurt anymore. As we well know in the fantasy world, Love hurts. Last night, the Phoenix Suns were singing the same tune, as Kevin Huerter kept bringing the pain.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
23 15 8 1 0 2 4/5 8/14 3/4

Baby don’t Huerter, don’t Huerter, no more. It was a career game in terms of boards and dimes. As I’ve written in the past, the thing that most impressed me about Huerter’s game was the playmaking ability. He is an excellent ball handler and can navigate pick-and-roll action competently. He’s been averaging 4.8 dimes over the past four games. I thought he would strictly be a 3-and-D player when he was drafted, but his game is multi-dimensional. Case in point, over the past seven games, he’s averaged 7.1 boards per game. Now, he’s been shooting 49% from the field over that stretch. I was always bullish on his shooting acumen, but he was only shooting 42% from the field for most of the season. If the efficiency is real, then top 50 is attainable. I have my doubts, at least this season. Maybe going forward, but top 100 production this season is reasonable, with averages of 13 points, 2 tres, 4 boards, 4 dimes, 1 steal, with 43% shooting from the field and 83% shooting from the line.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

Please, blog, may I have some more?