WARNING: This column deals with the conundrum that is the Chicago Bulls. And there is no greater example of fantasy interruptus than the Chicago Bulls.
Oh, they present themselves like a real NBA team -- a team that has much to offer needy fantasy playoff enthusiasts, thanks to their relatively unrostered cadre of relatively unknown players. But instead of offering dependable late season production, Fred Hoiberg's haphazard, ad hoc rotational approach results in stultifying statistical frustration.
This whole team is a timeshare.
The Bulls lost Wednesday night by 33 points, dropping to 24-47 in the process. Not a single player played more than 28 minutes ... but nine players played at least 23 minutes. Their high scorer tallied only 16 points ... but seven players scored in double figures.
Self-induced blowouts beget a lot of "23 minutes per game." Now I can see why the commissioner warned them to knock this kind of stuff off.
And yet? At the late stage of the fantasy campaign, knee-deep in the fake playoffs? With the rash of injuries hitting leaguewide? The Bulls represent the best fresh opportunity we have. At this point, we are clinging to every little piece of production we can scrounge up. And the Bulls offer a wealth of bad-team production.
(By the way, the Bulls offer one of the best team-wide fantasy matchups in the NBA. They're ninth in points allowed and pace. As evidenced by the Nuggets' 135-point explosion last night, always circle Bulls games on your matchups schedule.)
One of the annoying paradoxes of fantasy hoops: We make our fake championship runs at the precise moment many NBA rotations devolve into numerical guacamole. But aside from injecting some eleventh-hour drama, these rotations offer an opportunity. The tectonics of these constantly shifting rotations mean we have fresh variables to play with.
So let's talk some Bulls. Let's let them into our lives. We'll take it slowly. One player at a time.
Zach LaVine, PG/SG (33.9 percent available)
Past game: 26 minutes, 20 points, 2 3-pointers, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Chicago's most productive player has missed three straight games with knee tendinitis. But he insists he's coming back, probably by the end of the month. When he does return, look for the Bulls to be extremely cautious with his playing time.
Still, if you're on the hunt for a high-ceiling one- or two-game add, LaVine may be your waiver wire's best bet. His rare PG/SG eligibility is another good attribute when you're trying to pack in as much production as possible.
Just be wary if you're in a tight battle for field goal percentage: over his past six games, he's thrown up a 3-for-13, 3-for-15, and a 1-for-11 shooting line.
Denzel Valentine, SG/SF (76.6 percent available)
Past five games: 26 minutes, 14.2 points, 3.0 3-pointers, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 48.4 3FG%
It's aggravating to see a player with as much bad-team fantasy potential as Valentine barely cracking 25 minutes per game (he's at 25.5 MPG for his past 10 games).
Like LaVine (and most of the Bulls), he's a field goal percentage risk, but it's mitigated by the fact that more than half of his attempts have been launched from beyond the arc (4.8 of his 9.3 attempts per game are 3-pointers). Valentine is elite in 3s and has more ceiling than any Bull other than LaVine (witness his 34-point, 8-3-pointer explosion against the Cavaliers last week). He's also stashing some sneaky assists and steals potential.
Lauri Markkanen, PF (41.7 percent available)
Past five games: 31 minutes, 15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 3-pointers
The dark horse ROY candidate could return by the beginning of next week. He's still deficient in the defensive areas and strangely deficient in blocks for a 7-footer (0.6 BPG). But the key to what holds his fantasy game together: true shooting percentage. He's clocking in at a solid 54.0 percent for the season.
Bobby Portis, PF (45.3 percent available)
Past five games: 27 minutes, 16.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 3-pointers, 1.2 steals, 45.0 3FG%
Despite the obvious drama surrounding his scuffle with Nikola Mirotic, and his sixth-man status, Portis has emerged as these Bulls' most dependable producer. His consistency is underscored by his solid efficiency (20.40 PER) and rate of possession (24.7 usage rate). No blocks to speak of, but Portis packs a lot of volume into his limited playing time.
Cameron Payne, PG (93.2 percent available)
Past five games: 26 minutes, 9.2 points, 6.0 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 3-pointers, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks
Why not pick up Payne? By Bulls standards, he's been borderline trustworthy. Payne has been quietly filling up box scores since Kris Dunn went down with his turf toe-like injury. He's not flashy, but he's been sneaky-efficient from deep, hitting 41 percent of his 3s during his past five.
Aside from the obvious PG-based numbers, Payne is seasoning his box scores with impressive blocks production, with 0.6 per game.
Kris Dunn, PG (64.2 percent available)
Past seven games: 13.7 points, 5.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 1,1 3-pointers
Dunn is still officially listed as day-to-day, but the Bulls -- whether officially tanking or not -- have no incentive to rush him back. Roll with Payne until further notice.
Cristiano Felicio, PF/C (98.6 percent available)
Past five games: 28 minutes, 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
If you're looking for some cheap, deep-league double-double potential, Felicio might be worthy of your consideration. He's the priority down low for the Bulls from here on out.
Noah Vonleh, PF (99.3 percent available)
Past five games: 26 minutes, 9.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.6 3-pointers, 0.6 blocks, 0.6 steals
Once upon a time, Vonleh was a semi-ballyhooed lottery pick. He's had a bumpy career, but he is starting to build up some slight fantasy momentum. There's still some upside here; note the near double-double he's logged over his past five games. And unlike Felicio, Vonleh's reinforcing the double-double potential with 3s and defense.
David Nwaba, SG/SF (95.5 percent available)
Past five games: 21 minutes, 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks
He is a deep-league defensive specialist.
Paul Zipser, SG/SF (99.8 percent available)
Past five games: 16 minutes, 5.6 points, 1.0 3-pointers, 0.6 blocks
According to my research, Zipser is a professional basketball player of German descent. He has been starting as of late. When he shoots, it tends to be a 3-pointer. Unlike most other Bulls, he's capable of blocking the occasional shot.
With all of the injuries up and down Chicago's lineup, he could actually hold some deep league appeal. He had three 3-pointers and two blocks against the Cavaliers last week.