Fantasy Basketball Playoff Primer: 20 Players Who Will Impact Your Championship Chase

Fantasy Basketball Playoff Primer: 20 Players Who Will Impact Your Championship Chase article feature image
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Getty Images/Matt Roembke of Action Network. Pictured (clockwise from left): Coby White, Jimmy Butler, Keyonte George, Naz Reid.

We're still in Week 17, so we're doing things differently this week.

Your Week 17 forecast is here. Meanwhile, this is a fantasy basketball playoff primer, where I will focus on waiver wire candidates, tough cuts, a few major injury returns and more.

The Volatility List

These are where you'll have to make some tough decisions.

Naz Reid

Minnesota Timberwolves

I recently cut Naz Reid in one of my leagues to scoop up a streamer who won me a crucial game in the battle for a bye. I didn't want to, but he has too many finishes with decent point totals and minimal boards. Of course, the team I let him go from is 12-4, first in scoring in a points league and fighting for a bye. So, I'm not telling you to cut him.

Sure, you'll get the occasional explosion for 20 or more points, but we now have two months (31 games) of just 22.4 minutes per contest, where he averages 11.2 points and 4.5 boards per game. He's a player we love in actual basketball, but his fantasy impact is overstated relative to what you can grab off waivers on a week-to-week basis.

Mark Williams

Charlotte Hornets

The report on February 9 was that this "day-to-day" back contusion that has kept Mark Williams out since December 11 would sideline him for at least four more weeks. The Hornets are 13-41 and this has "shut him down" written all over it. I had to let Williams go in one league after keeping him on IL. Reasonably, even if he returns, he will probably have a ramp-up that will cut into the playoffs. I want no part of that.

Desmond Bane

Memphis Grizzlies

Desmond Bane is supposed to be re-evaluated soon with an ankle sprain that has been on the mend since January 14. The expectation is that he'll return, but like many quality players on teams with nothing to play for, I worry about Bane getting shelved. If he plays, start him as long as you can, but manage your expectations. Keep him on the IL for now.

Josh Giddey

Oklahoma City Thunder

I've had him as a faller twice this season, including last week. At that point, Josh Giddey had played 26 or fewer minutes in 11 of his past 15 games and was averaging about 10-6-4 on around 40% shooting (26% from 3) in his past 12 games.

This past week, he played one game and had 10-5-5 in 27 minutes. He went under his PRA of 21.5, despite being more than halfway there after a quarter, and again, sat for some crucial fourth-quarter minutes. He's close to droppable, and Gordon Hayward may put him there for good if Giddey doesn't pick up his play.

Malcolm Brogdon

Portland Trail Blazers

The famously often-injured Malcolm Brogdon is dealing with right elbow tendinitis that will reportedly sideline him until at least late February. But again, he's on a team going nowhere that told even Damian Lillard to sit out so they could tank at the end of last season.

If Brogdon could be further sidelined — which would make sense given that he wasn't traded, but could be moved as an expiring contract in the summer if Portland goes that route — preserving him would be wise. Fantasy-wise, keep him for now, but like Bane, manage your expectations.

Jonas Valanciunas

New Orleans Pelicans

This is a non-injury one. Jonas Valanciunas is still the starting center in New Orleans, but he has less of a hold on his minutes share. Until December 28, Valancuinas played and started 31 times and averaged about 15-10 and 2.5 assists with 1.3 blocks per game over about 28 minutes. Since December 28, we have averages of 12.4 points, 8.8 boards, 2.2 assists and 0.7 blocks in just 22.4 minutes per contest over a 24-game sample.

Valancuinas has played in every game this season, but what happened on December 28 that cut into his minutes? Larry Nance Jr. returned and the Pelicans have since given the small-ball five an extended look. Nance has even started multiple second halves recently, limiting Valancuinas to under 18 minutes in the two games before the break. Valancuinas is a hold for now because he could get a double-double in his sleep, but he's a frustrating hold.

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Waiver Wire Winners

The guys who may still be on your waiver wire could solidify a meaningful spot for your championship chase.

Ayo Dosunmu

Chicago Bulls

This dude is still on so many waiver wires, but he shouldn't be.

With Zach LaVine out for the season, Ayo Dosunmu is the primary beneficiary in terms of guys who may not be rostered in fantasy — that excludes DeMar DeRozan and someone we'll touch on later. Dosunmu averages about 13-3-3 per game in starts with close to two stocks per game. The scoring, modest playmaking and defensive upside is worth an add.

Keyonte George

Utah Jazz

Keyonte George started three straight heading into the break and it looks like he'll maintain that role going forward, which makes ample sense so the Jazz can see what they have. George is averaging around 13 points and four assists since January 8, a 19-game sample size, while shooting 43/38/87 from the field.

He netted a career-high 33 points in the Jazz's final game before the break. Expect more high-scoring showings in this key stretch of the year.

Marvin Bagley

Washington Wizards

Marvin Bagley is projected to take a sizeable leap given what his production has been in limited minutes. Now, Bagley is filling the vacancy created from the Wizards moving Daniel Gafford. In 15 starts, Bagley is averaging 13.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and one block per game. We'll see how reliable he is through the fantasy playoffs, but he'll seemingly have a lot of opportunities.

Paul Reed

Philadelphia 76ers

Paul Reed is Philadelphia's man at center as long as Joel Embiid is out. Reed's appeal is statistical versatility, and while limited in terms of skill set, he should be regularly productive. He's averaging about 11-7.5 and just over two blocks per game in 18 starts this year, and we're expecting him to start potentially through the fantasy playoffs, if not the rest of the (regular) season.

Amen Thompson

Houston Rockets

You worry about veterans on bad teams, but long for emerging young players on decent teams. Houston is still playing for something, and while it may miss the Play-In, Amen Thompson has answered our prayers — literally — and is producing to the tune of 12-10-4 and 2.4 stocks per game over his past seven. When Fred VanVleet returns, Thompson should take a hit, but he should warrant consistent minutes regardless due to his recent play.

Possible Playoff Returns

The injured fantasy stars who are expected to return just in time for the fantasy post-season.

Julius Randle

New York Knicks

Julius Randle's shoulder dislocation came on January 27, so his re-evaluation, and presumably his return, should be forthcoming. The most recent update was from SNY's Ian Begley, who says Randle's making progress, but otherwise, we don't yet know of a return date. If he's on your team, your hope is that he's back in time for the fantasy playoffs, which would be in line with previously reported recovery timelines.

OG Anunoby

New York Knicks

OG Anunoby had surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow on February 8 and was reportedly expected to return to basketball activities three weeks after, putting him right up against March, but the actual return to game action should be longer. Anunoby has a checkered injury history, but this one has always carried the impression that he'll return by season's end. If his recovery timeline stays on track, he should hold an IL spot until further notice.

Terry Rozier

Miami Heat

Terry Rozier evaded what was feared to be the worst when labeled "week to week" with a knee sprain suffered on February 11 against the Celtics. It's unclear how many weeks it'll be, but knee sprains aren't complete tears and the Heat are expecting Rozier back this season. Do not drop him now.

Chris Paul

Golden State Warriors

Chris Paul is quietly getting closer to returning, and while he isn't the fantasy impact player he has been, he's a sneaky solid point guard option that may even be on your waiver wire. If you're okay at guard, you can ignore this, but if you need someone, Paul was averaging about 9-7-4 with a steal before suffering a hand injury. He's expected to ramp up on-court activities this week and should play a part in the Warriors' playoff chase.

The Gift, or The Curse

The players who you may have scooped up to save your season, or who may really hurt you in the playoffs if you missed out.

Coby White

Chicago Bulls

LaVine being out helps just two guys more than the aforementioned Dosunmu — DeRozan and Coby White.

Since LaVine's initial injury prior to the Bulls' win over the Bucks on November 30, White has averaged about 23-6-6 on 48/40/82 shooting over a 36-game sample size. He isn't going anywhere, so be thankful if you scooped him up, or pissed off that you didn't.

Vince Williams Jr.

Memphis Grizzlies

He should be rostered everywhere at this point.

Vince Williams Jr. is the biggest consistent beneficiary of the depleted Grizzlies roster. Also, he signed an extension last month, showing that he's in the plans to some extent.

I said Williams Jr. was the guy you wanted after Ja Morant's season-ending injury, and he has started in all 18 of his appearances since January 9, logging close to 34 minutes per contest with averages of about 15-6-5 with two stocks per contest on 48/38/81 shooting.

Isaiah Hartenstein

New York Knicks

Isaiah Hartenstein had an Achilles injury leading up to the break, but he's expected back afterward and should return to his stat-sheet-stuffing ways relatively quickly.

Mitchell Robinson isn't expected back anytime soon, if at all. Hartenstein is averaging around 8-11-3 with nearly three stocks per game in 24 starts this season and has legitimate league-winner potential if healthy because of his statistical versatility and high volume rebounding and stock potential.

Jonathan Kuminga

Golden State Warriors

This dude went at his coach … and was right!

Jonathan Kuminga wanted more playing time, felt underutilized and has backed it up with his play.

Kuminga is averaging about 22-6-3 with 1.5 stocks in his past 16 games, including 11 starts and 32.0 minutes per contest. He isn't getting 20 nightly right now — just twice in his past eight — but does enough overall on a week-to-week basis to help you win.

The Sleeping Giant

There are a couple of stars waiting to explode and may do so as the calendar turns to March. And if they're in your league, you may even consider trading for them.

Jimmy Butler

Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler missed a few games before the break after a death in the family and hasn't quite had been that Jimmy Butler yet. But, typically he turns into that guy after the All-Star break.

Last season, he averaged 25.6 points, 5.9 assists and 5.6 rebounds with 1.8 stocks per game after the All-Star break, while shooting 62/48/85 in 20 appearances. He also only missed a March 28 affair and the final two games of the regular season.

Since January 27, Butler has been closer to that, posting averages of about 24-8-6 with two steals per game on 56/52/82 shooting in seven games before the recent absence. This is typically the point of the season in which he ramps up toward Playoff Jimmy, and the Eastern Conference is open enough for him to engineer another late-season surge.

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Nick Sterling
Apr 17, 2024 UTC