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.
Kevin Porter Jr.
I’ve been talking up Kevin Porter Jr. all season and I’m not going to stop now. In fact, I’m going to swim out into even deeper waters off of Kevin Porter Jr. island. I’ve been half-saying this all season long, but I’m going to say it with my chest out now: Kevin Porter Jr. will be a better player than Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
Out of all three players, Porter Jr. has the best positional size and strength. At 6’4’’ and 218 pounds, Porter has good size for a shooting guard and I think he’ll grow into the strength to guard smaller forwards. The same cannot be said of Sexton and Garland. Both would be considered somewhat undersized at 6’1’’. I won’t rehash everything I’ve said before, but the case for KPJ is pretty simple. He’s got good size and strength. He’s a willing defender and, even as a rookie, he’s making plays on the defensive side of the ball. He’s got a 23.3 steal percentage. For comparison, Jonathan Isaac had a 28.1 steal percentage this year before his season ending injury. As Porter gets more comfortable in the league and gets better at reading offenses, he’s going to get more and more steals—this season he’s averaging 0.9 steals a game.
Porter is already league average from three-point range at 34.8 percent. Even more encouraging for his long-term prospects is the fact that he’s shooting 43.5 percent on catch-and shoot threes. Why is that so important? NBA offense is an economy. The better you are, the more you get to play on the ball, and the more possessions you get to use. Although I have high hopes for Porter, I don’t foresee him ever becoming a Trae Young-level on-ball player, at least not anytime soon. Which means, he’s going to need to be comfortable playing off the ball. That high three-point percentage on catch-and-shoots is a great sign for his viability as an off-ball player. Porter is a willing passer, a good athlete, and already pretty darn good at creating space for pull-up jumpers. Those pull-up jumpers aren’t going in very much right now, but his solid touch should allow him to improve in that area in the future. Let me put it this way, Kevin Porter Jr. looks the part and his statistical profile supports that look. Get in early or get left behind!
If Michael Porter Jr. stays healthy he’s got all-star potential. Michael Porter Jr. might have been a top-five pick if not for his injury. He’s got great size at 6’10″ and he’s got a certified wetter. Porter is shooting 41.9 percent from three on 93 attempts. MPJ is shooting 41.2 percent on catch-and-shoots and 45.8 percent on pull-up jumpers. MPJ’s length means he’s going to be able to get his shot off almost whenever he wants. As he gets stronger and healthier, he should have more success as a post-up and isolation scorer. The worst case for Michael Porter Jr. is an empty 18 points and 8 rebounds a night, which is pretty useful for your fantasy team, especially since it should come with solid percentages and some threes.
MPJ is already shooting 79.5 percent from the free-throw line and 50.8 percent from the field. Whatever damage a higher usage does to his efficiency will be off-set by the massive uptick in counting stats. I’m not smart for pointing out that MPJ has great potential, it would be silly not to bet on Michael Porter Jr. He has top-of-the-draft size, shooting, scoring ability, and he’s not going to be let off the Denver Nuggets bench without committing to defense. This might be a dampener for his rest of season prospects, but if Michael Porter Jr. is also a good, impactful defender, that only ups his fantasy value. Both Michael Porter Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr. are playable in 14-team leagues right now and when healthy and getting minutes, Michael Porter Jr. is probably already viable in 12-team leagues.
The Anfernee Simons breakout is not coming this season. Many in and outside the league were excited about Simons before the season started and at points during this season, but all told, he’s been a mild disappointment. One problem is that he plays the same position as the team’s two best players in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Another issue is that Simons is more of a shooting guard than a point guard. Being a solid back-up point guard is a pretty reliable way to cling to fantasy value, just ask Monte Morris and D.J. Augustin (when he’s healthy). Unfortunately, I’m not sure you can roll Simons out there as the only real ball-handler in second units, as he struggles with ball-pressure and isn’t a natural playmaker. Simons is averaging just 1.5 assists this season. Simons shooting—perceived to be his best skill—hasn’t been as good as advertised either. He’s shooting just 33 percent from three overall this season (32.5 percent on catch-and-shoots and 32.9 percent on pull-ups). Simons will surprise with a big dunk every now and then, but his athleticism isn’t all that functional right now—he’s only averaging 0.4 steals a game and shooting just 45.1 percent on twos. In truth, his young running mate has been better for about half the season now.
Trent Jr. is having his own problems scoring efficiently inside the three-point line—he’s shooting 45.7 percent on twos and 42.6 percent overall. Unlike Simons however, he is shooting the ball well from the three-point line. Trent is shooting 40.6 percent from three overall. Simons undoubtedly has the higher upside, but Trent Jr. looks like a solid rotation piece for years to come. Speaking of solid—that’s exactly how Trent Jr. is built. At 6’6″ and 205 pounds Trent can reasonably guard one through three. The Kawhis and LeBrons of the world would be able to overpower him, but not every small forward plays a power game. Trent Jr’s success is a testament to his shooting and defensive intensity. He plays hard and at his size, playing hard and with instincts leads to steals and deflections. Trent Jr. has a 31.4 steal percentage, just behind players like Jimmy Butler and Mikal Bridges. The three-and-D outline is already taking shape for Trent Jr. If he could manage to earn more playing time, he could become a decent player in 14 team leagues as early as next season—though that might be optimistic.
- If Justise Winslow is healthy next season you should be betting on him. The Memphis Grizzlies took on a ton of bad money and traded multiple veterans to acquire Winslow. He should get every opportunity to function as a secondary or tertiary ball-handler for the Grizz.
- Sadly, I don’t think the De’Anthony Melton break out is ever going to materialize. Melton seems destined to be a per-minute stud and nothing more. Maybe the coaches are trying to tell us something?
- Ditto for Melton’s teammate Tyus Jones.
- Christian Wood is good at basketball. There is no guess work here. He’s good and the more he plays, the more he’ll produce. It would be a crime to see him go another year not playing starters’ minutes.
- Harry Giles is doing things. I can’t definitively say anything more than that, but he’s a long-armed lightning rod and there is still a non-zero chance that Richaun Holmes won’t make every floater he ever takes again. That being said, Giles best prospects likely lie outside of Sacramento’s crowded front-court.
- What if Skal Labissiere starts shooting threes? He’s killed it in the mid-range this season. I’ve had my issues with some of Travis Schlenk’s moves, but this seems like a smart, low-risk flyer.
- Tyler Herro is only going to get better, don’t forget that.
- Matisse Thybulle has the juice.
- Here are Malik Beasley’s three-pointers made since his trade to Minnesota: 7, 2, 5, 4, 2, 5, 3, 3. Beasley is getting buckets, as I predicted.
- Brandon Clarke is likely going to finish the season in the 60/40 club. Clarke is shooting 62.3 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from three. He’s only shooting 78.5 percent from the free-throw line. I’m still pissed someone outbid me for him in the draft. Look for the next Brandon Clarke in this year’s draft, your fantasy team will thank you.