By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As we move through Week 3 of the fantasy basketball season, let’s look at a handful of players to consider acquiring — or selling off — before it’s too late.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
Early on, many a fantasy manager has been personally victimized by Holiday, who currently ranks outside the top 60 on a per-game basis in Yahoo leagues. Thanks in part to a couple of absences, Holiday ranks outside the top 85 in total production.
It’s been a discouraging start for a player who was consistently coming off the board in Round 2, but Holiday’s track record suggests a progression is coming. Through five games, Holiday is averaging just 14.2 points per game — his lowest figure in nearly a decade. He’s struggled from the field overall (37.3% FG) — and his free throw rate is way down — but his three-point shooting has remained about the same as last season. That’s somewhat encouraging, though Holiday did shoot a career-worst 32.5 percent from downtown a year ago.
Even if that figure continues to hover in the 33-to-35% range, it’s fair to expect Holiday’s field goal percentage to eventually come around. Over the past three seasons, he’s hit better than 47% of his attempts.
While Holiday struggled from the field again Monday night (7-17 FG, 1-4 3PT), he provided seven rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks in a loss to the Nets, reminding managers that his all-around production is what made him a second-round value in the first place. He’s been a disappointment thus far, but if you can acquire Holiday at a discount from a frustrated manager, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
One of the top fantasy breakouts a year ago, Vucevic has followed up with a slow start to his age-29 season. While his workload is virtually the same as last season’s, Vucevic’s numbers — including usage rate, total rebound percentage, and assist percentage — are down across the board. Entering Tuesday’s game in Oklahoma City, Vucevic ranks outside the top 50 in Yahoo leagues.
The biggest factor in that drop-off has been Vucevic’s shooting efficiency. He’s hitting only 43% of his field goals and 21.7% of his threes — down from 51.8% and 36.4%, respectively, a season ago. On the surface, that looks like a concerning development, but much of the damage can be traced back to one bad night against Toronto on Oct. 28, when Vucevic finished with just five points on 1-of-13 shooting. Remove that game, and he’s shooting nearly 49% from the field.
No one should be panicking yet about Vucevic, but if you’re looking to make an early splash in the trade market, he’s among the big men to target.
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Year after year, I find myself rostering McCollum because of his consistency. He’s never going to be a league-winner, but he’s a consistent 20-point-per-game scorer who rarely misses games and is a lock for a heavy workload. So far, that’s all been the case again, but McCollum currently ranks outside the top 120 in Yahoo leagues thanks to an elevated turnover rate and a field goal percentage barely cracking 40%.
For guards who don’t contribute much in terms of counting stats, especially on the defensive end, the margins are slim. Even a slight uptick in turnovers can send a player tumbling down the rankings. Through seven games, McCollumn’s turnover rate sits at 11.4% — four percentage points higher than last season. But that can be traced back to an uncharacteristic seven-turnover game last month against the Thunder, as well as a five-turnover outing on opening night against Denver. Across his remaining five games, McCollum has just seven total turnovers.
On the field goal percentage front, McCollum is simply off to a slow start. He’s yet to hit better than 50% of his shots in any game thus far, and he’s particularly struggled to find his stroke in the mid-range. McCollum is still shooting it well from three and at the line, however, and his usage rate (27.1%) is higher than last season. Don’t let a couple weeks’ worth of errant, long twos deter you from one of the NBA’s most dependable scorers.
Jabari Parker, Atlanta Hawks
We’ll see how long Parker qualifies as a “buy low," as he figures to be a popular add in Week 3 following the announcement Tuesday that John Collins is facing a 25-game suspension. Collins will appeal, but if the ban holds up, the third-year big man will be sidelined until late December.
Even with Collins, the Hawks were shallow up front. Removing him from the picture frees up 30-plus minutes — some of which will fall directly into Parker’s lap. There’s a reason the former No. 2 pick is on his fourth team in three seasons, but if there’s one thing he’s proven he can do at the NBA level, it is score the basketball. Parker is coming off of a 23-point, eight-rebound game in just 25 minutes Thursday against Miami, and with Collins’ suspension set to begin Tuesday night, Parker will be a candidate to fill the vacant spot in the starting five.
Don’t expect Parker to provide assists, steals or blocks — he has eight of those, total, in 111 minutes — but he projects to be a strong points/rebounds/threes contributor for the next two months.
Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic
There’s a reason the Magic are off to a 2-4 start. With Vucevic, Ross and Aaron Gordon — who also has some buy-low potential — all underwhelming, it’s difficult to win games, even in the East.
Vucevic and, especially, Gordon, may have some more deep-seated issues, but when it comes to Ross, it’s a fairly simple diagnosis: He’s ice-cold from beyond the arc. After ranking in the top-10 in made threes a year ago, Ross is hitting fewer than 20% of his attempts (17-41 3PT) through six games. In many leagues, three-point percentage is a non-factor, but considering threes account for nearly two-thirds of Ross’s total attempts, his field goal percentage sits at a horrific 27.3%.
Because Ross is essentially a three-point specialist, he’s been a massive negative for fantasy managers thus far, and his rostership has already dipped under 50%. As such, there’s a coin-flip chance he’s available on the waiver wire, and if you have a spot to spare, Ross is worth a gamble in hopes that he can turn things around. The numbers — 37.3% career 3PT; 2.7 made threes per game last season — suggest he will.
Marcus Morris, New York Knicks
A top-30 player by total production, Morris is off to a surprisingly — and almost suspiciously — hot start for the free-falling Knicks. He’s gone for 29 and 28 points in his last two games, and while he’s hitting less than 42% of his field goals, Morris has been on fire from deep (48.6% 3PT on 5.0 3PA/G).
For a player who went undrafted in many leagues, it’s been quite an ascent. But Morris is destined for regression at some point. For one, he’s playing 34.0 minutes per game — his highest figure in four years. He’s also doing it for a team that, whether they choose to embrace it or not, is in the midst of a rebuild. Morris is 30 years old, with several younger players behind him on the depth chart. So far, David Fizdale has been anything but the steward of a rebuild, but at some point, that figures to change.
Role aside, Morris clearly won’t continue to hit almost half of his threes, and he’s unlikely to continue making 5.4 trips to the free throw line per game.
Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
I’m about as big of a Howard supporter as it gets, and even I’m taken aback by his top-60 ranking. To Howard’s credit, nothing that he’s doing seems imminently unsustainable. He’s still coming off the bench and only averaging 21.3 minutes per game. He’s only taking four shots per game and hasn’t been to the line more than twice in any contest thus far. And most of his fantasy value is coming from exactly what you’d expect: Rebounds, blocked shots, and easy finishes around the rim.
With that said, it does all seem a little too good to be true. Howard is coming off of his best game of the season — 14 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks against the Spurs — but can this really continue over the course of 82 games? Or even 60 games? A year ago, Howard battled (another) severe back injury and played just nine games for the Wizards — his fourth team in as many seasons.
All indications thus far are that Howard is healthy and fitting in well, but we’re only six games in. Even if the new, slimmed-down Howard is able to maintain this pace, his value — or at least his perceived upside — may never be higher than it is right now. Parting ways with an early season breakout player isn’t easy, but flipping Howard while he’s hot for a more reliable commodity is something to consider.
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
A top-45 player in Yahoo leagues early on, Thompson has suddenly transformed into a nightly double-double while blocking nearly 2.0 shots per game. His rostership has skyrocketed appropriately, but signs of regression are already evident. While Thompson’s increased scoring and rebounding may be somewhat sustainable — he quietly averaged a double-double in 43 games last season — his shot-blocking likely is not.
Eight of Thompson’s 10 blocks on the season came in two games, including five against the Bulls on Oct. 30. Since then, he has just one block in 62 minutes of action. Thompson is also off to a career-worst start at the free throw line, where he’s hit just eight of 18 attempts.
On top of that, Thompson is benefiting from the absence of Ante Zizic, who’s been on the shelf for the last several weeks while battling plantar fasciitis. Thompson has played well enough to hold onto the starting spot when Zizic returns, but his nightly workload still figures to be impacted.
Aron Baynes, Phoenix Suns
For the time being, Baynes is worth holding onto. Since the Suns lost Deandre Ayton, Baynes is putting up 16.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 2.3 made threes per game while posting a 58.3/46.7/76.2 shooting line. That’s vaulted him into the top-40 in Yahoo leagues.
Keep riding the Baynes train while you can, but managers should still be fielding offers for the 32 year old in preparation for the return of Ayton in mid-December. Obviously, Baynes has acquitted himself well, but not well enough for the Suns to consider slashing the workload of last year’s No. 1 overall pick. For what it’s worth, Baynes saw only 10 minutes off the bench in the one game Phoenix played with Ayton this season.
Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings
Credit to Holmes, who’s essentially used the opportunity provided by Marvin Bagley’s injury to snatch the starting center job right out of Dewayne Dedmon’s hands. Over the last four games, Holmes has jumped into the top-80 overall in Yahoo leagues, averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 1.0 steal, while hitting 73.7% of his field goals.
His run should continue for another week or two, but when Bagley returns from a broken thumb, the Kings will have some tough decisions to make. Even if Holmes keeps the starting job over Dedmon, Luke Walton will have to find time for the veteran, who the Kings paid up for in free agency just four months ago. On top of that, the eventual return of Harry Giles looms as another reason Holmes’ minutes won’t be sustainable in the long-term.
Josh Hart, New Orleans Pelicans
While the Pelicans have only one win in seven games, their roster is home to two of the biggest surprises in fantasy basketball thus far in Hart and Brandon Ingram. A top-35 player in Yahoo leagues, Hart is doing his damage with all-category production and a notable increase in scoring (13.6 PPG). On a per-minute basis, nothing that Hart is doing is wildly unsustainable, and while his rebounding will probably regress, he already has two games with double-digit boards and another with nine.
When it comes to Hart, the question is how much the eventual return of Zion Williamson impacts his role. They’re very different players, but 98% of Hart’s minutes thus far have come at forward, and he’s spent 13% of his minutes as a small-ball four. Hart has shown well enough to hold onto a consistent rotation spot in the long-term, but when Williamson comes back — likely sometime next month — Hart could be among the first players affected.
It’s hard to imagine the Pelicans putting the brakes on Brandon Ingram right now, and Williamson’s talent is such that he’ll be a starter right away. The silver lining for Hart is he’s versatile enough to play three spots, but on a deep roster, that likely won’t be enough to sustain his current pace of 29.6 minutes per game.