Our new weekly fantasy basketball column – Risers and Fallers – takes a look at players to consider, as well as others you might want to consider dropping from your roster.
Let’s take a look at the league, starting in Memphis.
Jaren Jackson Jr., PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies
For the past month, Jackson has been a top 10 fantasy player with his 16.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals and a whopping 3.4 blocks while shooting well from all over (52.1 FG% and 79 .6FT%). Jackson helped propel the Grizzlies to No. 2 in the West, and they’re just 0.5 games behind the Nuggets for the top seed. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve won 11 games in a row and it’s hard to believe that JJJ is only 23 years old.
Add to that the Grizzlies ending the regular season on a weekly 4-3-4-4-4-4 run and JJJ looks like one of the top add priorities in the entire league. He’ll come with a high asking price, but making a move for Jackson makes a lot of sense. And if you already have it, just hang in there and enjoy the ride. If he continues to develop at this rate, he’ll be a first-round fantasy pick for the next eight years or so.
Nic Claxton, PF/C, Brooklyn Nets
Claxton has been a top 15 fantasy player over the past 30 days and has emerged as one of the Nets’ most consistent and important players. He’s averaged 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 3.5 blocks over the past month and hit 70.7% of his field goal attempts.
His free-throw shooting is an under-60 issue, but that’s the only hole in his game at this point. He was finally released to handle most of Brooklyn’s center duties alone, and the Nets end the regular season with a solid weekly fantasy playoff schedule (4-4-3-4-3-4).
He’s worth trading for if you don’t need to break the bank, and he’s a perfect trade candidate between one manager looking to offload his free throws and another who’s already punching them. Claxton finished Thursday’s game with 18 points, 10 rebounds, a steal and three blocks after not having a single rebound in the first half.
Walker Kessler, C, Utah Jazz
Kessler has been a top-20 player for the past few weeks, highlighted by his 20-point, 21-rebound and two-block performance against the Timberwolves on Monday. Walker is currently working with three straight double-doubles, has hit double digits in four straight games and has had double-digit rebounds in six of his last seven.
Yes, Kelly Olynyk (ankle) is injured again, but the Jazz are just beginning to figure out what they have in Kessler. After a surprisingly strong start to the season, the Jazz are now faltering and sitting sixth in the West with four teams behind them (including the Clippers and Warriors) by just 0.5 games and the Blazers by just 1.0 game .
If they fall completely out of the hunt, Olynyk should be an afterthought and they’ll probably just let Kessler do his thing to gain experience for next year. And even if the Jazz stay on the hunt, one of the reasons they’ll be there is because of Kessler. I love his prospects for the rest of the season and he was probably the most surprising rookie we’ve seen this year.
Kyle Anderson, SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Anderson is having a lovely January and has flirted with triple-doubles in his last three games. His January averages were 10.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.1 blocks, and .9 3-pointers on Thursday night, and then he went for 20 points, 10 rebounds, six dimes, two steals, a block and two 3 go pointers in this game. In his last three games, SloMo has averaged 15.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, and 1.3 3-pointers. Not bad for a man who only plays in 16% of ESPN leagues.
I have no idea how long he’ll last, but he should be all over the list now. He was a seventh-round pick for the season and has been a second-round pick for the past two weeks. He should be on everyone’s list, and I’m not sure even the eventual return of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns will slow down his role, so to speak.
Jalen Duren, C, Detroit Pistons
Duren has been a top 40 player for the past few weeks, averaging 11.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks while playing from both the field (75%) and also shot well from the line (80%).
The Pistons are one of the most open teams in the league right now and have no interest in winning games they don’t accidentally run into. Not only did Duren just turn 19 in November, he’s only ranked in 9.7% of ESPN leagues. He’s on his way to a grand final and should be used in a lot more leagues.
Onyeka Okongwu, C, Atlanta Hawks
It was fun while it lasted, but Clint Capela’s 10-game break with a calf injury is over and he’s already started sharing minutes with Okongwu again. Okongwu has been a top-40 player for the past three weeks and has given the Hawks a good glimpse of what Atlanta’s center position could look like for the next 10 years or so.
Okongwu averaged 10.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.0 blocks in January, but we caught a fresh dose of reality when Capela played Monday and Wednesday. Okongwu saw his two lowest total minutes (25 and 27) since Dec. 27, assisting a pair of 13- and 20-rebound games with three and five in the two Capela games, respectively. whoops Meanwhile, Capela played for over 20 minutes each and hit double digits and had six rebounds in both games.
The Hawks will likely look to defer Capela and his massive salary at some point, but they also like his playoff experience and still believe they’re a better team with him than without him. And that’s bad news for Okongwu and its fantasy managers. Hope you were able to take him out just before Capela returned.
Mitchell Robinson, C, New York Knicks
You might say “thank you, captain obviously”, but in case you missed it, Robinson broke his thumb on Wednesday and will be sidelined for at least three weeks and most likely a full month. And it’s really too bad.
Robinson averaged 6.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks in January and didn’t shoot enough free throws to hurt anyone. And while it’s bad news for his fantasy managers, it’s also bad news for the Knicks, who are currently No. 7 in the East. Isaiah Hartenstein, Jericho Sims, and Obi Toppin will fill in the middle over the next month or so, but none of their numbers jump off the page. There will be a committee in the middle, and while I don’t know who will emerge, I suspect Hartenstein could be the most enduring of the trio.
But what I do know is that the Knicks’ home defense took a big hit with the loss of Mitchell and fantasy managers need to either hide him in the IR or drop him and move on.
Terry Rozier, PG/SG, Charlotte Hornets
Rozier is still cooking for the Hornets, but they’re in a close race for Victor Wembanyama, and Rozier is a 28-year veteran who averaged 24.6 points in January. At some point, logic would dictate that the Hornets would shut him down citing a back injury or other ailment.
Driving it until the wheels fall off makes sense, and while there’s no guarantee they’ll actually turn it off, it only makes sense that they do. Charlotte has a decent playoff schedule, but they also have a two-game week right in the heart of the fantasy playoffs (Week 22). Now seems like a good time to start thinking about how to treat him while his fantasy value is high, even with LaMelo Ball’s loss to an ankle injury on Wednesday.
Chris Paul, PG, Phoenix Suns
Paul has missed 20 games so far and the Suns are reeling without him, although they barely lasted against the Nets last night after opening a 24-point lead in the second half. En route to Thursday’s victory, Phoenix had lost 12 of their last 14 games, three of them in a row.
Paul is currently struggling with a hip injury but his 37-year-old knees have also clocked up a fair amount of mileage and will be impossible to trust on track. And since they’re currently No. 12 in the West, Paul will be a top shutdown contender if they don’t go on an immediate run once he and Devin Booker are healthy. Have CP3 come back and post some solid lines, then do what you can to move him.
Michael Porter Jr., SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
It’s starting to look like MPJ is a better player in real life than in fantasy. He averaged 15.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.5 3-pointers on 48.3% shooting in January.
He’s barely been a 10th-round pick in the last month, and nothing I’ve seen leads me to believe he’s about to suddenly turn things around and become the fantasy monster we’ve all been waiting for. And with so much offense in Denver running through Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, with Aaron Gordon also bringing in a healthy chip load, Porter seems stuck in role-playing country.
Let him get hot for a few games, then move him around for a more reliable/valuable option. And while the Nuggets play many four-game weeks in the fantasy playoffs, they also only have two games this crucial week 23.
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