As the dust from a seismic NBA trade deadline settles, tell yourself the season is nearly 3/4 done. And that the means to make meaningful changes to your fantasy franchises are narrowing.
To strategically re-align for the stretch run, there's only one place to start. Take an extended gander at the NBA standings, and ask yourself: "who's tanking?" (And then right after that: "in two weeks... who else will be tanking?") Packing it in. Playing for ping-pong balls.
"Tanking" is an ugly word. As a Sam Hinkie devotee, I prefer the more brandable, "Processing."
(With these post-deadline Sixers, we are in the endgame of O.G. Processing. Safety tip: if these Sixers win it all, lock up your wedding crystal because the resulting mass high-pitched squeal of "I TOLD YOU SO!" coming from sleep=deprived analytic acolytes coast-to-coast will be ear-shattering. And yes, that will be me hitting high D over C#.)
I respect The Process. As a real-life teambuilding ethos... and as a late-season fantasy gamechanger. Refusing to Process, falling back on the annual bromide of "we play to win," defiantly promising your fanbase to "never tank?" That gets you generational mediocrity. Picking 10th for 10 years in a row. You know who hasn't won 50 games since the Carter administration? A team that just pledged last week for the one-gazillionth time to "never tank": your Washington Wizards.
Selective, strategic tanking is how you transform the fortunes of a moribund franchise. And in the NBA, where a single player can change everything, short-term tanking is essential. It's how you get Tim Duncan. Kevin Durant. Darko Milicic. (Okay, so it's not foolproof.)
In the wake of the institution of the Play-In Tournament (the NBA's version of Squid Game), some analysts proclaim that tanking is kaput. That along with shifting the lottery odds to give the three worst teams an equal chance at winning, the NBA has disenfranchised The Process.
The Process lives. The Play-In and new Lottery odds merely refine the optics. Yes, more teams now have a chance of playing their way into an eventual 7th or 8th seed. Right now, let's say 25 NBA teams are still playing for a postseason berth. But more teams (three) also have the best chance at getting the No. 1 overall pick.
The middle ground is what's been whacked. The bottom five-to-six teams have a good, flattened chance to win the lottery. Those are the teams Fantasyland needs to focus on. (Teams quixotically chasing the Play-In will wait until it's too late to improve their lottery odds.)
Which teams respect The Process? The answer to that question totes a hefty amount of fantasy import. Because teams that play to lose? They all commence the race to the bottom with the same move -- opening up their benches.
Shifting their rotations. Resting veterans who might accidentally win a couple of extra games...and getting their young upside on the court. And putting them out there, playing meaningful minutes in high-impact game situations that go beyond garbage time.
All Processing teams have employed this dynamic since time immemorial. Because it works*. Processing simultaneously increases their chances of losing and develops consequential young talent.
(*It only really works if said Processing team drafts/trades/G-Leagues well and accrues consequential young talent.)
Looking at the Playoff Odds, we already know which five teams have the best chance of dropping (rising) into the bottom three: the Pacers, Magic, Rockets, Pistons and Thunder.
The Rockets, Pistons and Thunder have been playing for ping-pong balls since the opening of training camp. Their young upside is already on the court.
Do we ignore these three teams? Absolutely not. Because all three franchises have been rebuilding for some time, it means they all have at least a modicum of high-upside young talent. And because these players are already getting meaningful minutes, it means that some of that young upside will level up over the last month of the season. As in make a little leap... and offer better fantasy production.
Don't believe me? Do you believe the 28 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists my most-drafted player Josh Giddey just delivered to Madison Square Garden? Young upside + meaningful minutes = leaps. Hopefully, you've read me this season, and Giddey is already on your roster. But if you missed out, OKC has other options: Darius Bazley, Tre Mann, Luguentz Dort, Aleksej Pokusevski and Kenrich Williams should be on your collective radar (not Aaron Wiggins... no player does less with more).
The more prominent young names (Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart) in Detroit? Probably unavailable in medium-sized leagues. But the Pistons roster two bigs that could produce given endgame minutes: Marvin Bagley III and Kelly Olynyk. And they are already supplying the multi-categorical, high-usage Hamidou Diallo with the requisite 25-plus MPG.
Houston's Kevin Porter Jr., Christian Wood and Jalen Green have been on medium-sized league rosters all season. Jae'Sean Tate has been inefficient... but high-usage. Of all of the young upside still likely to be available in your league, Tate probably has the highest in-season ceiling. I believe Alperen Sengun will put together a nice stretch of impactful fantasy box scores before Tax Day. And I'm still waiting on Kenyon Martin Jr. to go on an endgame binge... now, only Garrison Mathews stands in our way.
The remaining teams in our bottom-5 -- Indiana and Orlando -- also offer fantasy opportunities.
Orlando's kind of in the same boat as Detroit. Their young talent pool is just a little less top-heavy. Unfortunately, their most-buzzworthy names are already on a majority of fantasy rosters. But if you have a roster slot to play with? I would consider adding Chuma Okeke and seeing how things shake out over the next few games. Okeke isn't quite at the "drop everything and go add him" level yet, but he's flashing double-double, blocks+3s box score potential. Making Okeke a low-risk, high-reward add.
Indiana may be shifting their rotations through April. They deserve it. They deserve to take all the delicious time they want in figuring out how to ensure Tyrese Haliburton becomes a Cautionary Deadline Theft Tale for the next 8-10 seasons.
In other news, those monster back-to-back 20-10s Terry Taylor threw down a couple of weeks ago should have planted a flag in your memory bank. And there are two less-rostered Pacers I'd consider adding ASAP: Chris Duarte and Oshae Brissett.
As a matter of fact, why not take a break from me and see if Brissett is available on your wire?
I won't be hurt. If you and I are in the midst of a long-term relationship? I actually recommend it. Taking strategic breaks from me is why The Current Mrs. Cregan is out pricing kaftans for our 22nd Anniversary Dinner at In-N-Out Burger.