Who are the most underrated players in fantasy basketball this season?

Jaren Jackson Jr. is still overlooked by far too many fantasy managers. Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Catawampus. It's one of my favorite words. And right now? I get to use it. Because that's clearly the word that best captures the current condition of our beloved winter pastime.

Meaning askew. Awry. That something seems a little... oh, wait one second... (navigates over to Players page on ESPN Fantasy App, adds Ayo Dosunmu.)

I've been sensing this sideways state for the past couple of weeks. Whenever I check in on developing trends in the player pool, I can't shake the notion that nothing is entirely where it should be. Be right back... (goes back to Players page, adds Taurean Prince).

It's almost like someone's gaslighting me. This is a process the Current Mrs. Cregan historically commits to during the run-up to Valentine's Day ("to inspire extra appreciation"), but even for her, this would be next-level.

(Adds Aaron Gordon).

Then yesterday, the puzzle pieces came together: we're what's off. Our valuation of the player pool is what's gone catawampus. We... are gaslighting ourselves.

The enemy is us.

I cracked the case! The proof is right there on the Players page. Research tab, second column from the right -- %ROST.

That is, the percentage of ESPN leagues that an individual player is presently employed

Here's the thing -- %ROST is off. Specifically in how it lines up with a player's corresponding Player Rater ranking. And %ROST is essential at this stage of the season. Because %ROST is the stat that reflects Fantasyland's (our) real-time valuation of the player pool.

When sorted by Player Rater ranking, the %ROST column should present as late-stage Tim Duncan: still reliable but on a nice, gentle, steady, inevitable decline. It should begin with around two dozen 100.0%s... then some 99.9%s, 99.8%s and so on.

Problem is, it's not lining up. And yes, there's some aberration every season, but this is on another level. The catawampus level.

We're not rostering the player pool at the correct cadence. The everyday, rock-solid steady relationship between where a player ranks in fantasy production and the percentage of leagues he's rostered... is out of its regular orbit.

Exhibit A: 92.6%

As in Jaren Jackson Jr. is rostered in 92.6% of leagues.

In roto leagues, Jaren Jackson Jr. is 14th on the Player Rater. His long-awaited breakout (what I previously referred to as "The Jacksoning") has arrived. It is happening. It's been happening. It's going to keep happening.

The Jacksoning is here.

Because Jackson is finally healthy. He's only missed one game. And Memphis is now emerging as a legit contender. Jackson is officially elite. He is a mid-second-rounder. He is the fourth-best power forward in roto leagues. He is the fourth-best center in roto leagues.


Jackson is not elite in points leagues. Not yet. But he's close. (I consider top-20 "elite.") In the points format, Jackson's 27th. Meaning I'd normally expect him to be roster in only 99.3% of points leagues.

That's still 27th. As in mid-third round production and rising.

You know a center who's rostered way more than Jackson? In 96.9% of leagues? Clint Capela. In points leagues, Capela is generating mid-sixth-round production. And in roto leagues... Capela is over 100 spots behind Jackson on the Player Rater.

Exhibit B: 78.2%

Desmond Bane is rostered in 78.2% of leagues. He's 27th in roto, 42nd in points. Because he didn't get fantasy-worthy minutes right away, Bane's not as high on the Rater as he will be by the end of the season. But even taking the late start into account, Bane is top-40 overall for the season.

Over the last month, Bane's averaging 20.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 SPG. 0.5 BPG, and 3.2 3PG.

Al Horford is rostered in more leagues. Cole Anthony is rostered in more leagues. Spencer Dinwiddie is rostered in more leagues.


So this is the moment in this column where my therapist would tell me to tell you: this is not your fault.

Valuation is off because of... the last two years of our lives. The constant deluge of player movement, rotational chaos, lineup changes and murky declaration of return dates. This is why we are operating in fog.

The virtual-GM-me feels like Paul Newman in Slap Shot: staring at all the new faces in my imaginary locker room, asking myself, "who are these guys?" On a couple of my teams, I've been turning over about a third of my roster every two weeks. I've added three players since I started writing this column!

There's so much value languishing on waiver wires it forcibly devalues the currently rostered players. Because undervaluation produces a secondary result: overvaluation. This creates a problem you've probably heard a lot about lately: inflation.

Inflation means current valuations -- even of undroppable first-round superstars -- are skewed. Conventional assumptions of player value get outmoded. The ROS impact of prospective trades becomes more difficult to gauge.

Result: it's harder to execute equitable deals. Given the amount of value on the wire... I'm seeing a ton of one-sided deals getting approved.

Again: not your fault. In the time we have left, I would like to highlight (after Jackson and Bane) the rest of my top 8 most underrated/undervalued/under-rostered players this season to date. I'll break it down by format, but some of these names could be on both lists.


Franz Wagner, SF/PF, Orlando Magic
(%ROST 63, PR 42)

Given Evan Mobley's injury issues and Cade Cunningham's late start, Wagner is quietly building a case to at least be on the periphery of the ROY conversation. In fantasy and reality.

He's climbing his way out of a small mid-January rookie divot (the Rookie Wall does not exist). Orlando's early injury concerns accelerated Wagner's playing time, and the polish is starting to show. His past-five line (20.6 PPG, 4.0 APG, 1.4 3PG, 43.8 3PT%) is evidence that Wagner's not only recovered his pre-divot form... he's building on it.

Jalen Brunson, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks
(%ROST 69, PR 46)

I can understand Brunson kind of snuck up on Fantasyland. But with Tim Hardaway Jr. done for the season? Brunson is a lock for the top 40 in both formats.

Brunson's stat lines are what I'd call "quietly comprehensive." He has a habit of almost cracking 20 PPG, then stuffing the other categories with ruthless efficiency. But again, with no Hardaway Jr., that 20-point barrier will be broken with a lot more frequency down the stretch.

Herb Jones, SF/PF, New Orleans Pelicans
(%ROST 22, PR 67)

I'll state it unequivocally: Jones is my favorite rookie of the 2021-22 season. He's not the best rookie... just my favorite.

Because Jones already possesses a boatload of a precious fantasy commodity: consistency. From his name (Herb Jones) to his stat line (9.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 0.6 3PG), nothing about this rookie is attention-grabbing. But he squarely has my complete, undivided attention. Because as a rookie, Jones is already deftly filling one of my favorite fantasy roles: glue guy. Jones is the kind of player who ends up on a lot of championship fantasy rosters.


Reggie Jackson, PG, LA Clippers
(%ROST 66, PR 41)

Historically, Jackson is the type of next-level streaky player who can only be fairly assessed in the aggregate. (The best comp I could give for his field goal percentage is Ethereum.) But when we add on the Clippers' injury issues? Taking the widescreen view on Jackson is mandatory.

This streakiness, and his inconsistent rotational role, are nothing new. It's why he's fantasy experts regard Jackson as a perpetual sell-high candidate. But it's not fair. In his left-field way, Jackson is cobbling together his best season since his rookie campaign.

Josh Giddey, PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
(%ROST 61, PR 76)

Giddey was one of my most-rostered players coming out of draft season. I took him at the end of nearly every single draft.

But in retrospect, I wish I'd only spent the endgame pick in points leagues. Not because he's underperformed in roto. He's been solid. But his Lovecraft-esque outside shooting makes Giddey precisely the kind of player I try to avoid in roto.

Because the volume is fantastic. Relative to the scant draft capital needed to acquire his services? Giddey is a game-changer. There aren't any other endgame picks I'd label as a triple-double threat. Every night, in every way, Giddey finds a way to contribute. But his inefficiency from deep and mediocrity from the line is anathema to my percentage-rich roto strategy.

Luguentz Dort, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
(%ROST 27, PR 72)

I was going to put Saddiq Bey here. But I just wrote about Bey last week. And Dort does what he does so quietly, so off-road, that he never gets any of the fantasy credit he deserves. And I don't when I'll get another chance to highlight Dort's under-the-radar goodness.

But if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spends any more time on the shelf... and Dort keeps throwing down lines like last night's (30 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 6 3s)? I may end up doing a 3-part, 6000-word series on the invisible phenomenon that is Luguentz Dort, the Quiet Storm of fantasy points leagues the world over.