If things hold true to form, the season — at least from a fantasy standpoint — is about to get weird.
More specifically, last season, from March 1 onward, Kyle O’Quinn was the No.36-ranked fantasy player in 9-category leagues. And from late March onward, MarShon Brooks — who had been out of the NBA since 2013-14 — was No. 19 on the leaderboard for a glorious seven-game run.
The year before that? Richaun Holmes (then of the Sixers) was the No. 32 player over the last month, behind averages of 14.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.0 spg and 1.0 bpg in 18 games.
And in 2015-16, a disappointing Luol Deng busted out as a top-50 player (No. 45 overall) after the All-Star break, and Cole Aldrich — yes, Cole Aldrich — was the No. 20 overall player for the final two weeks of the season.
What does this all mean? It means that some players who haven’t carried us all the way here are going to grab the baton and potentially bring us home. And a number of the players who surface (or re-emerge) down the stretch are probably going to be on wildly bad teams.
Here are eight under-the-radar players from bad real-life teams who could help carry you to a fantasy title this spring:
Kevin Love, Cavs: First things first — does K. Love really qualify as under the radar? I think given that he has played seven out of a possible 59 games so far, and in many people’s minds he has very little shot of staying on the court the rest of the way, the answer is yes. I had the distinct privilege of watching almost every minute of Suns-Cavs on Thursday evening, and the eye test backed up the box score: Love has still got it. The 30-year-old put up 16 points with 11 boards and three treys in just 22 minutes, and his per-36-minute numbers now sit at 22.0 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 3.4 apg and 2.4 3s. And yes, he’s shooting just 34.4 percent so far, but he’s a career 44.3 percent shooter, and shot a much more characteristic 6-of-13 on Thursday night.
Also playing in Love’s favor is the recent report that he doesn’t plan to miss any more games. Even if you approach that with a healthy amount of skepticism, is it really that insane to think he’ll play in most of the Cavs 23 games remaining? As long as he avoids another injury setback, I don’t think it is. And that makes Love a potential top-20 player with the upside for even more down the stretch — a league-winning fantasy option who’s probably undervalued just because he plays on a bad team, and observers think he hypothetically might sit.
Bottom line: If anyone in your league is eager to separate themselves from the hypothetical risk of Love, I suggest telling them that you are in fact their huckleberry.
And right after you acquire Love, go pick up Marquese Chriss. On Wednesday, I made the bold/reckless prediction on the Rotoworld hoops podcast that Chriss will be a significant fantasy contributor down the stretch. That is somewhat at odds with Love appearing to be close to full health, with Larry Nance playing well, and with Tristan Thompson nearing a return. Add that all up, and Chriss played just 15 minutes on Thursday night. So even though he was hot before the break, the 21-year-old certainly has some hurdles to fantasy value. I still think he’s a worthwhile stash if you have room, because Love remains a risk even if I am confident in him at the moment. And if you want to take out some extra insurance by rostering Chriss as a Love handcuff, this is one case where I would say it’s wise to embrace the relatively rare notion of handcuffing in fantasy hoops.
Cedi Osman, Cavs: Nope, we are not quite done with the Cavs yet. I’d like to take a quick moment to highlight Osman, who’s still owned in just 39 percent of Yahoo leagues despite more or less crushing it when on the court lately. Over his last seven active games (he missed four with an ankle injury leading up to the break), the 23-year-old has averaged 19.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.0 spg and 3.1 3s, shooting 54.7 percent from the field. That includes a 19-5-5 line with five 3s against the Suns on Thursday, and with very little legitimate competition at SF, I really think this guy is set up for a big-time finish.
Tyler Johnson, Suns: Though I’m talking about bad teams, with the exception of Kevin Love, I’m not highlighting the absolute biggest names on those squads. I wrote up Love because I think there’s a lot of skepticism around him, and I wanted to try to take a chisel to some of that. But because we already know that Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are good, I’m not going to use more words extolling their virtues here. And frankly I think it’s a bit rude that they’ve taken up so much of Tyler Johnson’s air time already.
So let’s talk about the guy we’re here to talk about. Johnson had another bad shooting night on Thursday, going 1-of-7, his only made field goal a layup in the closing seconds of a lopsided game. That makes him a combined — wait for it — 7-of-34 through four games since joining the Suns. Now for the good news: Johnson still put up a 5-8-5 line with two steals and two blocks on Thursday, and aside from his low scoring output, he’s putting up 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.5 bpg and 0.8 3s in 30 minutes a game as a resident of the City of Phoenix. So just imagine how fun he’s going to be to have on fantasy rosters once he raises his current shooting (20.6 percent!) closer to his career average of 43.4. I’m excited. And the only reason I’m not is the schedule: Phoenix goes 3-4-3-3-3 in games played from Weeks 20-24.
Kelly Oubre, Suns: In comparison to Tyler Johnson and even Cedi Osman, Oubre is perilously close to “not under the radar whatsoever.” I still think perhaps though there’s a chance we aren’t appreciating just what a leap he’s taken in Phoenix — especially since early January. Here’s a breakdown of Oubre’s season into three distinct parts:
Part I — Decent in D.C. (29 games): 12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.4 3s
Part II — Adjusting to PHX (10 games): 10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.9 bpg, 1.3 3s
Part III — Oubre Breaks Out (19 games): 18.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.6 spg, 1.1 bpg, 1.8 3s
Over that last stretch, which essentially spans the third fiscal quarter of the 2018-19 season, Kelly O. has been the No. 42 overall player in 9-category leagues. Quite simply, Kelly Oubre has arrived.
Kenrich Williams, Pelicans: New Orleans is only 26-33 — a phenomenal record in comparison to the Cavs and Suns — but the Pelicans are enough of a mess for Williams to qualify as an under-the-radar player on a bad team. And when it comes to being off the radar, I legitimately wasn’t sure who this guy was the first time I saw him getting substantial run on an NBA court. That was back in late January, when he put up eight points with 16 rebounds and a block in a win over the Rockets. Since that time (and including that game), Williams has averaged 11.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.4 spg, 1.0 bpg and 1.9 3s in 34 minutes a game — in nine games. The Pelicans do have a bad fantasy playoff schedule, going 3-3-3 from Weeks 22-24, but Kenrich has played well enough to warrant starting during a three-game week.
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks: Despite being a bad team with a ton of opportunity, the Knicks are largely still a fantasy nightmare. Dennis Smith Jr. finally has more volume (17.0 ppg, 6.0 apg, 1.7 spg with NY), but he’s clanging a ton of free throws (54.5 percent on 6.3 attempts a game) while barely treading water in FG percentage (42.7 percent on 14.7 attempts a game). Meanwhile, Kevin Knox has shot 32.3 percent his last 15 games, and David Fizdale can’t stop shuttling random players (Kadeem Allen, Luke Kornet etc.) into and out of fantasy relevance.
One of the few guys transcending all of this madness is Mitchell Robinson, who’s finally delivering on the immense upside we’ve been forecasting since very early in the season. Robinson’s last 10 games include 9.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 0.9 spg and 2.8 bpg, and he’s been even better over his last five (11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 0.8 spg and 3.2 bpg). The rookie is now owned in 48 percent of Yahoo leagues, and at this point I’m cautiously optimistic that there’s no looking back.
Avery Bradley, Grizzlies: You think the mid-range jumper is dead? Enter Avery Bradley. In his career-best 33-point game last Tuesday, Bradley the Grizzly knocked down 10 — count them, 10 — mid-range/long-distance deuces, shooting 15-of-21 from the field with six boards and six assists. Overall for Memphis, he’s averaging 18.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.0 spg and 2.0 3s in three games. Obviously those numbers pull a lot of weight from that 33-point outburst, but his follow-up to that was pretty good as well (15 points, five assists one night later). Friday’s game should be pretty telling as Bradley faces his former team (the Clippers) in their first game after the break, but overall I’m feeling pretty good about this whole situation. Bradley had started to hint at breaking out of his long offensive rut in late January (12.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 0.9 spg, 2.4 3s over a seven-game stretch), and all signs point to a continued increased role in his new city. On a related note, Bradley is owned in just 21 percent of Yahoo leagues.
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Taurean Prince, Hawks: The Hawks feature a ton of Trae Young and John Collins, and after that things are pretty evenly distributed at the moment with no clear-cut third option between Prince, Kevin Huerter and Dewayne Dedmon. I mention Prince here because I think he’s got a legitimate shot to step into that third-option role. Over his last six games, Prince has been useful but not thrilling — 13.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg 0.7 spg, 0.5 bpg and 3.2 3s. I’ve read at least one story about Prince finally beginning to figure out his role in the new Hawks offense, and there’s certainly a chance he trends upward at least a bit going forward. If you’re looking for not-super-obvious but relatively believable low-level breakout options (very specific request, I realize), here’s one.
Also Receiving Votes: Collin Sexton, Cavs … Robin Lopez, Bulls … Delon Wright, Grizzlies … Mikal Bridges and Richaun Holmes, Suns … and if you want to get really obscure and forecast some true silliness down the stretch, I’ll throw out the name Omari Spellman, Hawks. Would I add him in fantasy leagues right now? Absolutely not. But if the Hawks eventually shut down Dewayne Dedmon and/or Alex Len, Spellman has per-36-minute numbers of 12.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.2 bpg and 2.1 3s, and perfectly fits the bill as a rookie first-round pick who’s just an injury or two away from getting big run on a bad team. Could Omari Spellman really be a key performer in your fantasy playoffs? Much crazier things have happened, and it’s only going to get weirder from here.