There are a lot of players who unexpectedly played big minutes for their teams this season. It may have been all season, or just toward the end, when teams throw out some strange lineups. Many may have it boiled down to teams tanking and giving random guys minutes. That may be true in some instances, but for others, I'm confident that we'll see them continue to shine in the future. That's why I've made the 2022-23 Fantasy Basketball: Valuable Players on Tanking Teams for the Future Part 2.
The first part is up from last week, so make sure to check that out!
Why a part 2? I felt that too many players fit this category to leave it at a one-and-done. So we're back for the sequel. And sequels are always just as good as the first, right?
To review, I have made sure to specify which teams I've classified as tanking teams at this point in the season. Here's the list, for clarity:
- Indiana Pacers
- Orlando Magic
- Charlotte Hornets
- Detroit Pistons
- Utah Jazz
- Portland Trail Blazers
- San Antonio Spurs
- Houston Rockets
Some of these teams have been on a season-long tank, while others have just joined in the fun. There are certain players that feel too easy to target on these teams. Instead, I'll try to look at those who may not be at the forefront of your mind when this topic comes up.
2022-23 Fantasy Basketball: Valuable Players on Tanking Teams for the Future Part 2
Ochai Agbaji, SG/SF, Utah Jazz
Over the last month of the season, Agbaji stepped into a much larger role for the Utah Jazz. The highly drafted rookie struggled at first, but over time became more comfortable in his new role. Over the last month of the fantasy season, Agbaji has cracked the top 200 in Yahoo! Fantasy average rankings and has been steadily climbing since.
In college, Agbaji's strengths were his shooting and his defense. It showed in the box scores as well. He shot over 40% from three in his senior season, and over his college career, he averaged a steal and half a block per game. The three-point shot has definitely translated, he's hitting threes per game over the last month, but the defense is a bit behind still.
He's still managed to average 0.6 blocks per game over the last month, but he's at just 0.3 steals per game. I believe that as the game continues to slow down for him, the defense will come.
We're not entirely sure what the Jazz will do next season, but I'm confident that Agbaji will be a significant part of it regardless of their plans. I would use a late-round pick on him, hoping for a player with a bit more of a ceiling than others that will go in that same area.
Malaki Branham, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs
As we all know the Spurs have been in the Victor Wembenyama Sweepstakes since the start of the year. Their year-long tank has taken on many forms. Over the second half of the season, Branham has become an important part of the rotation.
Since February, Branham has been playing almost 29 minutes per game, per ESPN Stats. Here are some significant changes for Branham when looking at his October-January (37 games) averages versus his February-Present (26 games) averages:
FG: 2.78/6.76 = 41.1% -> 5.80/12.47 =46.5%
Points: 7.12 -> 14.24
Rebounds: 1.74 -> 4.05
Assists: 1.73 -> 2.36
The numbers aren't anything crazy, but the major scoring improvement, both in point total and efficiency, is encouraging. The rebounding numbers are also nice to see, as this can somewhat remove him from my "Terrence Ross Section" of fantasy players, who basically just score and do nothing else (still working on getting that copyrighted).
Head coach Gregg Popovich clearly has some confidence in him alongside the other young players that they have. He could be an important starter/sixth man for the team next season as he develops.
Tari Eason, SF/PF, Houston Rockets
I know that this one might be on the more obvious side of things, but my love for Eason is too strong for me to not write about him. Before the all-star break, Eason was playing a little less than 20 minutes per game. Despite that, he still managed to average 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 0.6 blocks. Those numbers alone are enough to keep him as a low-end specialist in 12-man leagues, and he wasn't even getting the run he deserved at that point.
His post-all-star numbers are much improved. They started to give him a much larger chunk of minutes at almost 27 per game. This led to a jump in his steals, 1.5 per game, and his rebounds, 7.3 per game. He's had some really nice boom games mixed in as well this season, including multiple double-doubles and some performances in the stocks categories that are enough to make a grown man cry.
Per BBall-Index in the chart above, Eason is one of only two rookies who have a defensive positional versatility greater than 80% while also having a positive D-LEBRON. For clarification, here's BBall-Index's definition of LEBRON:
LEBRON evaluates a player’s contributions using the box score and advanced on/off calculations for a holistic evaluation of player impact per 100 possessions on-court.
D-LEBRON is the defensive impact portion of this. So Eason is both a positive and versatile defender, something that all NBA teams (especially the Rockets) are searching for.
I see Tari Eason getting some big minutes next season as either a starter or the sixth man for the team. I would expect to see him in the range of 26-30 minutes given his abilities.
That concludes my 2022-23 Fantasy Basketball: Valuable Players on Tanking Teams for the Future Part 2. We'll continue to put out content this offseason here at FantasySixPack, so be on the lookout!
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