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The fantasy gods have not been kind to rookies this year.
First, it was Julius Randle, who broke his leg during the first game of the season. Then, the number two overall pick Jabari Parker suffered a season-ending torn ACL back in December, just as he was starting to break out. Guys like Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott were banged up, and, of course, Joel Embiid hasn’t even stepped on the court yet. The rookie onslaught has pretty much locked up the Rookie of the Year award to number one pick, Andrew Wiggins.
So we thought…
Now that he’s actually been given appropriate playing time, Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton is showing what he’s capable of. Coming out of college, the 20-year-old from Louisiana-Lafayette was extremely raw. Lacking a mid-range and deep jumper, he wasn’t going to shoot the lights out by any means. However, he simply plays hard and hustles, and while many may think that doesn’t matter in fantasy basketball, when it comes to guys like Payton, it does. The aggressive point guard is doing a little bit of everything over the last month, averaging 10.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and two steals per game during the month of January. Orlando has finally unleashed their top draft pick, as Payton has logged an awesome 33.5 minutes per game during that span. Yet, a burgeoning rookie of the year candidate is only owned in 63 percent of Yahoo leagues at the moment, which makes zero sense to me. The Magic are playing at a slightly higher pace this season, which makes sense when you have two athletic guards in Payton and Victor Oladipo. Like his teammate, Payton likes to attack the basket, ranking 17th in all of basketball with 8.6 drives per game, while 52 percent of his total points this year have come when he’s attacking the paint. It makes sense, considering his liabilities shooting the basketball, but it’s always good to see your fantasy players getting plenty of high percentage looks on offense. A top-100 player is owned in just over half of leagues, so if he’s out there, he needs to be scooped up.
Like five minutes ago.
D.J. Augustin, Detroit Pistons- An obvious candidate here, but with Brandon Jennings suffering a torn Achilles that will shut him down for the season, Augustin becomes not only a must-own fantasy player, but a borderline must-start option, too. In three starts without Jennings, Augustin is averaging a healthy 18.6 points, seven assists, three rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game for Detroit. He’s also sinking 2.6 triples per game during that span, all while logging around 35 minutes per game. The only other point guard on the roster is Spencer Dinwiddie, who suffered a knee injury at Colorado last year, so his minutes will float around 15 or so for a while, giving Augustin plenty of run at the point. Throughout his career, Augustin has been a very reliable player when given opportunity, and that won’t change during his inaugural season with the Pistons. I like his fit with head coach Stan Van Gundy, and before going down, Jennings ranked 16th in the league in usage rate (26.9).
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers- The casual basketball fan may not have realized how impressive and crucial Tony Wroten has been for the 76ers this year. Before partially tearing his ACL, he ranked ninth in all of basketball in usage rate (29.7), ahead of guys like Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Interestingly enough, that usage rate was higher than Carter-Williams’, who will now greatly benefit in Wroten’s absence. With Wroten off the court this year, MCW is seeing a usage rate of about four points higher, and we’ve seen him flirt with many triple-doubles, including Wednesday night, where he posted 14 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, and two blocks. Also, no one in all of basketball is touching the ball more often than the second-year Syracuse product, who is averaging a whopping 101.8 offensive touches per game this season, three more than second place, Kemba Walker. And though, while not always knocking them down, he’s getting good looks, ranking second in drives per game (12.2), scoring 6.9 points per game on drives, making up for 45 percent of his total points.
Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans- With Jrue Holiday sidelined with a stress reaction in his right leg, Gordon has stepped his game up for the Pelicans. During the nine games since Holiday suffered the injury, Gordon is averaging a strong 14.7 points, 5.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.9 triples per game. And over his last five outings, Gordon is logging an impressive 35 minutes per game for New Orleans, too. Gordon and Tyreke Evans will continue to run the backcourt for the Pelicans, and if he’s somehow still available in your league, go out and get him now.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers- It made sense to assume Hibbert would post strong numbers with Paul George and David West hurt to start the season, and he was solid, for sure. But lately, he just hasn’t been getting it done, averaging just 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game over the last two months. His 25 minutes per game are his lowest since his rookie season, and over the last two months, Hibbert is ranked outside of the top-160 players in Yahoo formats. And over his last five games, he’s been pretty bad, averaging just 8.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and less than a block per game, logging just 21 minutes per outing during that same span. Once again, Hibbert just isn’t getting the amount of rebounds that you’d expect out of a 7-foot-2 center, killing his fantasy value.
Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks- Rondo started off his tenure with Dallas very well, but as of late, he hasn’t posted the greatest numbers. Over his last five games, Rondo is averaging just 7.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. For the season, he’s averaging just 9.1 points, the third-lowest of his career, as well as nine assists and 6.5 boards per game. He’s shooting just 40 percent from the field this year, a significant amount lower than his career average of .470. Maybe he’s just in a slump, or maybe with more weapons around him, Rondo is touching the ball less? With Boston, Rondo averaged 93.5 touches per game, which would rank fourth in the league right now. However, since joining the Mavs, that number has dropped down to 81.5, the 19th-most in basketball.
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