As the NBA exits the All-Star break and resumes to action, our team of fantasy experts — Eric Karabell, Andre Snellings, Eric Moody and John Cregan — got together to provide their top tips for making a late-season push to the playoffs.
Karabell: Injuries certainly mess things up for fantasy managers. Waiting and expecting big results from injured players who may not return to active duty this season is nearly always a mistake. Do not trade for them, and if you are stuck with them, see if someone else will. It is not just Zion Williamson, Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray, each unlikely to play any regular season minutes at all (move on), but look at so many top picks currently absent. Damian Lillard, Paul George and Anthony Davis may not play again this season, their teams unwilling to push things. Perhaps we see Draymond Green, Malcolm Brogdon and Lonzo Ball — among others — in the next few weeks, but then again, their teams should be patient, whether they are playoff-bound or not. If you can move an injured player for a healthy one, even a lesser one statistically, consider it while you still can.
Snellings: Follow the motivation when it comes to roster and lineup decisions. The NBA season is a marathon with distinct phases, and each phase is conducive to different types of fantasy producers. We just concluded what many players and analysts consider the dog days of the season, the months of January and February before the All-Star break when the season seems to stretch forever. Injuries and wear and tear pile up, and you can get production from unexpected sources who simply play hard when given the opportunity.
Down the stretch is different. Veteran players on teams jostling for postseason position are fresh and likely to ramp up their production down the stretch (at least until the team position is settled). Veterans on less competitive and/or younger teams are more likely to be shut down altogether (see Kemba Walker this week; Al Horford and John Wall late last season). And young players/rookies, particularly on rebuilding teams, are getting more time to shine as they try to show out for the future.
My advice when making final trades and roster moves: Hoard vets on teams with something to play for and young players on teams headed for the lottery, and sell high on vets (who aren’t in contract years) in potential rebuilding situations and young players on veteran-laden teams vying for postseason position.
Moody: Pick up a free agent who has the potential to propel your team into the playoffs immediately. One player who immediately comes to mind is Cameron Payne. He’s still available in 91.6% of ESPN leagues. In his only start for the Suns this season, Payne had 19 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. As soon as Payne returns from his wrist injury, he is expected to fill the void left by Chris Paul. He averages 20.5 points, 7.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 40 minutes. Maxi Kleber is another player you should consider after the Kristaps Porzingis trade. He’s available in 95% of ESPN leagues. Also, Jaden McDaniels and Devin Vassell could see significant playing time to close out the season. They are both capable of being fantasy basketball difference makers.
Cregan: If you need to manufacture production in a Moneyball-esque manner — categories other managers normally sleep on — keep your eye on rebounds. Not necessarily bigs who rebound at a high rate; look at guards and wings which rebound well relative to their position. A guard averaging 4.5-5.5 RPG is just as valuable as a center averaging 9-10 RPG.
Prioritizing boards rings true if you’re in an endgame scenario where you’re just trying to maximize your games played. But it’s also not a bad category to eye in roto leagues; the gap between you and the teams above and under you may be slimmer than you think.