In honor of NBA All-Star Weekend 2017, it only feels appropriate to use that theme in this week’s column. In each category, we’re going to pick a starter and his backup in order to celebrate the stars of the digital hardwood. Fantasy first-round picks will not be included for consideration.
Starter: Eric Gordon, SG Houston Rockets
Routinely selected in fantasy drafts behind names like Chris Bosh, Ben Simmons and Derrick Rose, Gordon has been one of the biggest bargain bin deals to date. After putting together a resume in New Orleans that was defined by injury and inconsistency, Gordon has thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has seamlessly fit into the role that the coach had envisioned.
Gordon trails only Stephen Curry (220), James Harden (186) and Kyle Lowry (185) with his 184 makes from long distance, ahead of Klay Thompson (182), teammate Ryan Anderson (152) and Bradley Beal (148). We’ll want to see EJ’s efficiency take a turn in the upward direction after the break to keep it going, but perhaps his 3-point shootout win was a step in the right direction.
Backup: Nick Young, G/F Los Angeles Lakers
Forget being forgotten in fantasy leagues—Swaggy P was this close to being an afterthought for the Lakers. With new life and a fresh chance under Luke Walton, Young used the summer to trade in drama for dedication in order to fall in love with the game once again. It’s paid off in a major way, and he’s been one of the best waiver wire gems of the season as a result. With an elite 2.9 triples per game—on a career-best 41.3% from distance—selling high is an idea to consider if you believe he’ll be traded prior to Thursday’s deadline and/or if his role will shrink during the stretch run.
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Starter: Trevor Ariza, G/F Houston Rockets
Did you know that Ariza has more steals than anyone in the league with 112 at the unofficial midway point? Although he isn’t currently breaking the magical barrier of a couple of swipes nightly—that’s reserved for Draymond Green and John Wall for now—Ariza has been doing what he does and providing top-40 value in the process.
A seemingly underrated asset before every season begins, Ariza should be anything except a forgotten man on a revamped Houston team.
Backup: Robert Covington, G/F Philadelphia 76ers
Remember when there was a movement to drop Covington outright in standard formats?
RoCo is right behind Ariza’s 1.93 steals per night with 1.92 of his own, and after a bumpy start to the season Covington has been better than expected since. Covington is never going to be a beacon of efficiency, but his ability to contribute in multiple categories—with near-elite or elite levels of output in two of them—elevates his stock considerably in fantasy circles. His value is really illustrated by the fact that he’s a top-50 asset despite shooting sub-40% from the field, and it’s hard to understand why players like Zach Randolph, Marvin Williams, Jordan Clarkson and Rajon Rondo—forget about Chandler Parsons—had a higher ADP.
As a quick aside, Covington’s teammate T.J. McConnell deserves a shout in this section with his 83 steals on the campaign. The undrafted point guard has more takeaways than Otto Porter, Patrick Beverley, Kyle Lowry or Paul George, and he’s done everything plus more to earn the starter’s role in Philly.
Starter: Rudy Gobert, C Utah Jazz
You drafted Gobert to dominate the blocks category, but the All-Star snub has become so much more than a one-trick pony. By averaging career-best numbers across the board with 12.9 points, 12.6 boards and 2.5 blocks on 64.0% from the field, the breakout has been real and spectacular after the performance failed to live up to the hype during the 2015-16 season.
Backup: Lucas Nogueira, F/C Toronto Raptors
Nogueira has more blocks than Marc Gasol, Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond, but Serge Ibaka’s arrival in Toronto is going to crush the Brazilian big man’s ceiling. Still, he’s worth mentioning here given the success he’s enjoyed as a specialist and the unlikeliness of his journey to fantasy relevance.
Starter: Devin Booker, SG Phoenix Suns
Booker is already becoming a star in this league, and the good news is that he’s got plenty of time to continue developing and rounding out his game. Although Booker hasn’t “disappointed” by any stretch—especially considering the sophomore is all of 20 years young—he hasn’t yet taken exactly taken that “next step” toward a true breakout that some had been projecting. Booker is scoring in bunches and has really turned it up in 2017, but he’s a points and triples guy and there’s nothing wrong with that given his ability to produce in both categories.
Backup: Lou Williams, G Los Angeles Lakers
Williams has looked like Sixth Man of the Year, but there is legitimate question in regards to how much longer he can keep it up. With Thursday’s trade deadline looming large and Williams a popular name, the Lakers are likely to explore the market intensely in order to sell high on one of their only true trade pieces.
Despite averaging just 24 minutes, Williams is averaging career-best marks in points (18.6), field goal percentage (44.4%), triples (2.1), 3-point percentage (38.5%) and free throw percentage (88.4%). There is almost no scenario in which Williams is moved and holds as much value—and has the same type of role—as he currently enjoys in Los Angeles. Lakers fans should be rooting for a trade, but Sweet Lou’s current fantasy GM’s want him to stay put.