Pickup of the Day: Giannis Antetokounmpo


(Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports)

This season I will highlight a notable player, based on the games played each night, who’s owned in less than 40% of Yahoo! Fantasy Basketball leagues.

The Sneaky Fantasy Basketball Pickup for Tuesday, December 17 is Giannis Antetokounmpo, and I’d been practicing spelling that name for a long time in anticipation of this moment, even though I may be jumping the gun. He’s owned in 9% of Yahoo! Leagues and 0.6% of ESPN Leagues, but he is by far the no. 1 pickup today across Yahoo leagues. He’ll likely be available for longer in ESPN leagues because, quite frankly, ESPN has an awful interface that requires you to either spell “Antetokounmpo” perfectly or browse through all players until you find him.

He didn’t play last night, but his averages over the last three games are 12.0 pts, 8.7 reb, 1.7 ast, 0.7 stl, 0.7 blk and 0.3 TO on 47.6 FG% on 7.0 FGA and 80.0% FT on 6.7 FTA in 30 mpg. That FT shooting is a sneakily healthy boost, but otherwise his numbers don’t really stand out. Marvin Williams could do that.

Williams is actually an interesting comparison. As an incredible physical specimen drafted no. 2 overall above Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 NBA draft, expectations for him were sky high, and he’s now considered a bust despite some solid work for Utah this season. Antetokounmpo, another incredible physical specimen, was drafted 15th this year in what is largely considered the worst draft class since 2000. There were no expectations for him this year, but he has lit the blogosphere on fire, dominating headlines even as fellow Buck John Henson is putting up insanely good career numbers.

Antetokounmpo is getting his first start tonight because O.J. Mayo is out attending his grandmother’s funeral (condolences to Mayo), so this may not be a permanent move. As I mentioned many times before, he’s eventually going to get lots of minutes this season when the Buck give up and commit to playing their young guys, but it’s only mid-December. I don’t think the tanking is happening just yet, even if they are the worst team in the league right now.

Antetokounmpo’s potential is undeniable, though, and not just on the floor. Here’s a translated excerpt from his Greek blog that won me over completely:

It was an amazing experience, the game vs the Heat. Until of course the next day and the game vs the Thunder. I have said many times that Durant is my idol. He is the player I watch the most. When I came out on the court for a workout, he was already there, shooting. Working. I stopped and watched him. He was deadly serious. I could see it in his face. He was not relaxed. He was warming up with tension. I felt a satisfaction, when I saw my idol, approaching basketball with such determination.

 

In the span of just two days I found myself against two superstars like LeBron and Durant and I got the biggest lessons. Two of the biggest and most recognizable basketball players, with huge bank accounts, working hard, like they have something to prove, while in reality they have nothing to prove. LeBron is a two-time champion and four-time MVP. They have both played in so many All Star Games. Even so, work never stops. They do not rest in their glory. They are after perfection.

 

At the same time I saw right in front of my eyes what the combination of talent and hard work can offer to an athlete.

I read something like that from a 19-year old kid, and I can’t help but think this kid just gets it. I’ve only thought that about one other NBA rookie, and I see the same insight and determination in Antetokounmpo, if not necessarily the same polished skill set, as I did in his idol.

If you really need your bench guys to give you something, then I think you might be a little early pulling the trigger on the Alphabet Soup. Otherwise, he’s worth a roster spot just to be able to follow him more closely every day.

Other Notable Players: Many people caught last night’s thrilling point guard battle between elite PGs Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, but how many of you caught the backup battle between mediocre PGs Jarrett Jack and Slo Mo Williams? Jack has averaged 12.0 pts, 3.5 reb, 3.8 ast and 1.0 3pm in his last four, and Williams has 11.0 pts, 2.5 reb, 5.0 ast and 1.8 3pm over his last four…In each game since his 31-point game, Derrick Williams has played in fewer minutes than the last, culminating in last night’s 22 min in which he dropped a 5-0-1-1-0. I was skeptical of his ability to push Jason Thompson out of the line-up after Rudy Gay got there. Should’ve stayed skeptical. This is a timeshare…Jordan Hill isn’t injured. He just picked up four fouls in seven and a half minutes. Don’t worry, Larry Sanders does this kind of stuff all the time and look how well he’s–er, nevermind…An update on Lakers guards: Nick Young is still unbelievably most consistent, Jodie Meeks is regaining his value, Wes Johnson finally put up another weirdly useful line 7-5-6-1-1 in 32 min, and I jumped the gun on Jordan Farmar (see Hindsight below)…Mike Conley sat out last night, and Jerryd Bayless was ehh, just okay. Oh, and if anybody asks, I totally had Jon Leuer at the top of my Top Five Pickups for the last two weeks, but I’d been misspelling his name as “Kosta Koufos“…After 10 games averaging 15.3 pts, 3.7 reb, 2.8 ast and 1.2 3pm in 27 min, Reggie Jackson has averaged just 9-3-3.5 plus no threes in 21 min in his last two games. Some might blame Thabo Sefolosha’s return, but Jackson has been getting steady minutes long before Sefolosha sat for three games. I’m not worried yet. Jackson’s numbers will be up-and-down, but he’s been pretty locked into sixth man minutes for a while now…Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t exactly stuff the stat sheet, but he prodded it from many angles with a 10-8-2-1-2 line. He got even fewer minutes than megabust Austin Rivers, who seems to be the one benefiting the most from Tyreke Evans’s absence. I call Rivers a megabust, but a Twitter commenter did note that Rivers has outplayed max contract-owner Eric Gordon in the last two games, so who’s the real megabust lately?…Andre Iguodala returned last night, and, though he did very little, you can now safely bench Harrison Barnes. If you didn’t drop Draymond Green weeks ago, then A. you can definitely do it now and B. you’re probably paying way too much attention to silly things like your job or your family. Stop neglecting your fantasy basketball team!

Top Five Sneaky Pickups (owned in under 40% of Yahoo! Leagues):

1. Jon Leuer (25%)
2. Jordan Hill (33%)
4. Marvin Williams (15%)
5. Jordan Farmar (7%)
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (9%)

Clearly I’m not worried about Hill, although I also ignored the signs for him and Koufos before. Might regret not bumping Glen Davis back up. On the other hand, the bad news on Farmar drops him down, but not too far (see hindsight below). Michael Carter-Williams’s probable return on Friday means Wroten’s value as a starter for your fantasy team is probably done for the moment. Honestly, I’m not sure that Wroten’s less valuable than Antetokounmpo moving forward in the short-term, but the Alphabet Soup is to me what RG3 was to Matthew Berry last year. I can’t speak about him objectively.

Hindsight: All that optimism for a Friday return for Jordan Farmar is gone. Looks like he’s out at least another week, but if he’s back by Christmas, you’ll still be glad you stashed him…Over the All-Star break, when there are no games, I’m going to do a list of my best and worst pickups. Jeff Taylor will definitely be on my list of worst. This guy’s shooting just fell off a cliff this year.

Pickup of the Day: Jared Sullinger

(AP Photo / Charles Krupa)

This season I will highlight a notable player, based on the games played each night, who’s available in at least 60% of Yahoo! Fantasy Basketball leagues.

The Sneaky Fantasy Basketball Pickup for Friday, November 15 is Jared Sullinger. My friends, I told you to be wary of Brandon Bass in the long run because Sullinger wasn’t healthy to start the year. I told you Boston would want to see how Sullinger could handle starter’s minutes. I told you to hold on to your Sullinger stock. I told you he was outplaying Kelly Olynyk. I told you to get on the bandwagon. I told you the revolution was coming.

That’s right. Six times I’ve brought up Jared Sullinger in Other Notable Players without having the stones to make him the Pickup of the Day because I am a pansy conservative risk-taker in fantasy basketball, but, after last night, Sullinger leaves me no choice. He is currently owned in 14% of all Yahoo! Leagues, 3.6% of all ESPN Leagues, and 100% of my fluttering heart.

Here’s a look at his line last night against Portland:
20131115 Jared Sullinger

If you’ve already owned and been playing Sullinger for the past week and a half like I have, you’ve already been getting some usable if not spectacular numbers from him. He’d been doing it in 20-25 min while competing for playing time with Olynyk, Bass and Vitor Faverani. However, Sullinger is just more consistent than Faverani, more versatile than Bass, and more talented than Olynyk.

Boston is a team in transition (i.e. Boston is a team ready to blow up its roster at any time), and it wants to know what it has in its talent. It knows what it has in Bass and Rajon Rondo. It knows both its rookies, Olynyk and Faverani, are going to struggle adjusting to the NBA. So mainly, it wants to know what it’s got in Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Sullinger (and now probably also Jordan Crawford) and whether it wants to keep any of them. That is why I predicted these guys would get playing time. That is why I wasn’t sold on Brandon Bass during his hot start.

(That is not why I picked Vitor Faverani as our third Pickup of the Day. Listen, that was early in the season, and honestly I’d rather just pretend it never happened.)

Is he legit? There has always been two knocks on Jared Sullinger. The first is that he has an injury history. The second is that he’s too undersized and unathletic to be a PF in the NBA. The injury concern has been very legitimate so far. He missed 37 games and all of the playoffs last year, and coach Brad Stevens has handled him with kids’ gloves this year, even sitting him out the last game after he banged his knee in practice. He still has conditioning issues and it’s very early in the season, but at least Sullinger appears to have conquered the back problems that have plagued him dating all the way back to OSU.

As for the second knock, I’m going to pull a Matthew Berry trick and show you a comparison:

Player MP FG% FT% 3P PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV
A 31.0 0.530 0.733 0.3 17.3 9.7 1.2 1.1 0.8 1.8
B 29.6 0.559 0.767 0.7 17.5 10.6 1.9 0.7 1.4 2.0

These stats look eerily similar don’t they? Player A is Jared Sullinger, and those are his stats through 74 career college games. Player B is another player who scouts considered to be too undersized and unathletic to be a PF in the NBA while he was in college, and those are his career stats through 37 career college games. Who is Player B? Kevin Love.

What does this mean? Absolutely nothing. But what am I trying to insinuate? Obviously that Jared Sullinger could be as good as Kevin Love! (Though I’m not the only one making comparisons) While that might be my irrational man-crush talking, it is worth noting that Jared Sullinger’s per-minute numbers this year aren’t terribly different than what they were last year, except that he’s scoring at nearly double the rate. Per 36 minutes, his ppg last year was 10.9. This year it’s 21.7. This corresponds with him attempting more shots from the field (9.1 vs 16.1), more threes (0.2 vs 2.9), and more free throws (2.5 vs 4.6) while shooting better percentages in all three categories (although his 28.6% from three isn’t something to brag about).

This is truly an improved Jared Sullinger we’re looking at, and he’s dying for the opportunity to prove it. An opportunity that Boston is going to give him. To sum up the way-too-long drivel above, there are only three things you need to know about Sullinger: 1. Get him. 2. Play him. 3. Stick with him.

Other Notable Players: If not for my selfish desire to over-validate my faith in Sullinger, the Pickup would be Shaun Livingston. Deron Williams injured his ankle tonight, and his status for next week is currently in jeopardy. The latest news from him is that it’s not as bad as it was when he injured the same ankle last October and sat out for a month. In the meantime, Livingston will be a good source of points, rebounds, and assists with strong percentages. His ceiling as a PG is limited, however, as he’s always been weak in steals and nonexistent in threes…Milwaukee was completely shut down by Indiana, the best defense in the league, so don’t stress too much on the low numbers because that won’t happen every night. Call it stubbornness, but I did not view Zaza Pachulia’s 4-11 line as a bust. Yes he missed 12 of 14 shots, but he took 14 shots in just 24 min. Meanwhile, John Henson did have three blocks, though only coupled it with an 8-8 in 28 min…Kirk Hinrich played 40 min with Derrick Rose out tonight. Rose will be back tomorrow. Just to let you know it’s non-news…Michael Carter-Williams didn’t play again tonight, and, while it’s no triple-double, Tony Wroten did have another good night. It seems Wroten will continue to have value while MCW is wearing a boot, which he’s still expected to be lugging around tomorrow. James Anderson, on the other hand, fell back to earth with a 2-4-5 line. I did not understand the rush to pick him up after his last game. He’s gotten regular rotational minutes all year and even played over 44 min before without much value. Hopefully the one or two people who read this column heeded my warning against him…I also don’t understand the buzz about DeMarre Carroll. He did have a good game tonight, but, same as Anderson, he’s another guy who averages over 30 mpg while doing nothing with it…On the other hand, Mo Williams has now had three effective games while playing around 30 mpg each. This is a situation worth monitoring, as Williams has always been a valuable PG when given regular minutes…Josh McRoberts is back on the radar with another solid game. He’s averaging the most assists of any C-eligible player, aside from Kevin Love, for the season (4.1 apg) and the most of any C-eligible player, period, in the last week (5.5 apg)…C.J. Miles did not have a good game, but he did get 33 min while Waiters was out sick. Considering the numbers that Miles put up in limited minutes, he could be in line for a big game tomorrow if Waiters is out again…Vince Carter has averaged a 17-3-2 with 2.7 threes since putting up a goose egg 10 days ago. He was a valuable contributor last year in Dallas with 13-4-2 and 2.0 threes, and he’s in the exact same position this year. Though he has almost no upside at this point of his career, 28% owned seems a little low considering the quality of some of the guys owned more than he is…DeJuan Blair put up a funky 9-7-5-3-2 line. Of all C-eligible players, he leads the league in spg (2.2) followed closely by the incomparable Anthony Davis (2.1)…We’ve had a J.J. Barea sighting! Unfortunately, he’s been far less helpful for the Timberwolves this year with most of the team actually healthy. Consider this game just a reminder of what he can do off the bench when given a chance, but he won’t get many this year…On the other end in that game, Timofey Mozgov fell off while J.J. Hickson put up a decent double-double. It seems coach Brian Shaw played Mozgov more in the previous game just to take advantage of match-ups. The 42% owned Hickson is still the guy to have…We had a Morris twin swap tonight. Markieff has struggled since coming back from his illness a few days ago, but Marcus Morris picked up the slack with a 13-9 and 2 threes…Boris Diaw: 17-5-2-2-2 too inconsistent for me still…Don’t look now (actually, please do, don’t just believe what I’m saying), but Richard Jefferson has actually strung together two decent games now, and he probably should have had an even better one tonight had Utah’s two starting guards decided to pass more instead of going 10-35 combined….Speaking of which, Utah will likely soon realize neither John Lucas III nor Alec Burks should be their starting PG. “Soon” as in sooner than Trey Burke is expected to return, which means recently picked up Diante Garrett could be in for an extended look…I lied about Livingston. If not for Sullinger, the Pickup today would be Jodie Meeks. Though we’ll have to change his nickname from “Mr. Consistency” to “Mr. Averages Out in the End”…Jordan Hill and Steve Blake regressed but still contributed. Don’t ask me to trust Nick Young though. I don’t trust anyone whose sole value is points. He’s Francisco Garcia without as many threes.

Top 5 Sneaky Pickups (owned in under 40% of Yahoo! Leagues): We sadly have to say goodbye to both Steve Blake and Corey Brewer today as both pass the 40% owned mark. Averaging 12.0 pts, 4.3 reb, 9.8 ast, 1.3 stl, and 2.3 3’s in the four games this past week, Blake’s been an elite PG in place of Steve Nash. Brewer’s value has been more long-term and is in his versatility. He and Wilson Chandler were the only players in the past week to average 2.0 3’s, 2.0 stl, and 50.0% FG or more.

1. Jordan Hill (37%)
2. Martell Webster (23%)
3. Jared Sullinger (14%)
4. Josh McRoberts (14%)
5. Jodie Meeks (18%)

Hindsight: Nope. No regrets here. I’m basking too much in the glow of my rewarded faith in Jared Sullinger. Come back tomorrow and ask me about Zaza Pachulia. And if Sullinger only plays 20 min and puts up single digits against Minnesota, just leave me to drown in my own tears.