We're past the three-quarter turn on the NBA fantasy season. If you peruse the NBA standings, you'll see that a high number of teams are still jockeying for playoff position.
There's a similar dynamic across the battles in both conferences. Both Western and Eastern Conferences feature two teams (Houston Rockets-Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors-Boston Celtics) battling it out for the top seed. Then ... there's a relative free-for-all for spots three through eight.
Ten teams are still in it in the West. The eight teams in the East seem set, regardless of seed. As the season wanes, the 18 teams pushing for playoff position will not be hotbeds of fresh fantasy opportunity.
Player movement and rotational change beget fantasy opportunity. Post-trade deadline, the chances of dramatically reshuffling rotations begins to shrink ... especially on contending teams. Rotations shorten as playoff teams begin their final preparations for the postseason. Roster tinkering gets reduced to the odd G-League addition, or post-buyout veteran free agent.
If you're looking for fresh difference-makers -- especially ones who may still be available in your league -- look towards the bottom of the NBA standings.
For fantasy purposes, big statistical change over the final month of the NBA regular season is driven by the ranks of the lottery-bound; bad teams looking to give their young upside more playing time.
Last week, I discussed how volume tends to arrive ahead of efficiency for most young players. Steady, dependable volume -- produced by a reliable diet of minutes -- is what's usually required to nurture efficiency.
But still, you have to start somewhere. And that somewhere starts with minutes. As ping-pong-ball-suffused franchises start to empty out their benches, fresh fantasy variables rise to the surface.
It's our job to anticipate which teams are fostering favorable fantasy environments. By paying attention to the also-rans, we can get a feel for which teams are more liable to shift their rotations during the regular-season endgame.
Once a player nears and eclipses the mark of 25 minutes per game, he has the opportunity to become roster-worthy in Fantasyland.
The expansion of minutes is just part of what a young player needs to land on the fantasy radar -- a player also needs touches.
While some young big men can make a fantasy difference on blocked shots alone, most young players need possession to build a statistical rhythm. We need to look for players who not only exceed 25 minutes a game, but also have the potential for usage rates at 20.0 or above.
When a player is trusted with possession, his confidence and experience grow exponentially. This all feeds into enhanced fantasy production. That's why it's just as important to pay heed to which players are building their usage rate along with their minutes.
(Usage rate is the stat that tracks what percentage of possessions is utilized by a specific player. The league average is usually in the neighborhood of 20 percent. A usage rate over 25.0 is elite. Russell Westbrook set the NBA record last season with a usage rate of 41.3. James Harden currently leads the NBA at 36.1.)
Let's look at five teams that are giving players 25 years old or younger expanded minutes and touches:
While Phoenix's perpetual rebuild may be numbing from a real-life NBA perspective, they are starting to gain some reliable traction in terms of fantasy production. Their high-pace attack isn't seven seconds or less, but it's leading to some real statistical growth.
Coming off a big February (17.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 3PG), I'm excited to see what Jackson does over the season's final leg. His 3-point percentage (26.5 3FG% in February, 22.2 3FG% in March) is still disquieting at best, but the attempts are there (3.0 per game for March).
If you're looking for upside, pay attention to the Suns' bigs. Chriss, Len and Bender can all produce, but Chriss has the highest fantasy ceiling.
The NBA warned the Bulls about their resting players for tanking purposes. Unfortunately, that probably means more timeshares down the stretch, as the Bulls will be pressed to keep more players involved.
Still, the Bulls have some interesting names for fantasy purposes. Valentine has been inconsistent but has thrown up some impactful lines over the past two weeks.
Coach Dave Joerger seems committed to rotational uncertainty. Why he would relegate an obvious talent like Labissiere to the bench is somewhat mystifying.
Despite the yo-yoing of the rotation, the Kings are delivering for fantasy. Over the last 15 days, they still registered an impressive seven players in positive Player Rater territory. If you're looking for help in 3-pointers, the Kings have multiple sources of aid, including Hield, Bogdanovic and the rising Jackson.
The change of scenery appears to have left Mudiay's middling fantasy potential ... unchanged. Watch for Burke to overtake him in the starting lineup.
Has there been a more valuable waiver-wire team than the Nets this season? Despite a lack of front-line fantasy talent, the Nets have landed nine players on the deep-league radar.
Brooks is precisely the kind of young player who will step up in the endgame stage -- he's on a team starved for offense that is willing to bear the odd 4-of-14 night.
Endgame players to watch: Lonzo Ball
It's a very small sample, but Ball's outside shooting is much improved since returning from injury. He's hitting 50 percent of his 3s during his past five games.
Endgame players to watch: Dewayne Dedmon
I've written at surprising length about Dedmon this season, but Prince has emerged as the late season jewel in coach Mike Budenholzer's fantasy-friendly system.
Endgame players to watch: Jonathan Isaac
Hezonja used the Magic's injury troubles to his advantage. His February (15.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.7 3PG, 40.4 3FG%) advertised just why the Magic used a fifth-overall pick on him in 2016.
Endgame players to watch: None
One doesn't think of the Hornets as a hotbed of young talent, but both Kaminsky and Lamb have started to show some consistency. Kaminsky's stretch-4 potential is especially intriguing, but he's going to need to start supplementing his points and 3s with some other categories (e.g., he is averaging an anemic 3.7 rebounds per game).