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: John Henson

2(Gary Dineen / NBAE via Getty Images)

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 Saturday, November 30 is John Henson. He’s owned in 31% of Yahoo! Leagues and 40.1% of ESPN Leagues. If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s don’t trust the Milwaukee Bucks. After watching both injuries and coach Larry Drew jerk around the fantasy values of Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, Brandon Knight, Caron Butler, Khris Middleton, Gary Neal and Nate Wolters (remember them??), I recommended ignoring all Bucks players…except Henson. Henson, I said, was the only Buck with stable value. I was wrong. In his very next game, Henson played his fewest minutes of the year (15) and recorded a 5-5-2-0-1. Yet, here we are three days later, and Henson is the Pickup.

Here’s a look at his line tonight against Boston:
20131130 John Henson

Henson gets the Pickup due to one major change and one major constant. The change is that he started at center tonight for the first time in his career (he’d previously only started at PF). Coach Drew admitted Pachulia is still banged up from his summer foot surgery and finally gave the much more effective Henson the start. Henson did what you expect him to, which is rack up rebounds and blocks while giving you a little scoring. In many ways, he’s similar to the Bucks’ normal starting center, Larry Sanders, except for the part where Sanders put himself out of commission for six weeks by breaking his thumb while popping bottles over dudes’ heads in da club.

That’s the major constant. John Henson has played all 16 games this year, making him and O.J. Mayo (who’s been awful) the only mainstays of Milwaukee’s rotation who have. While Henson may continue getting the start over Pachulia, keep mind that the Bucks also played this game without Butler and Ilyasova. Then of course there’s the looming specter of Sanders, who’s the rightful starting center despite not doing much with that opportunity in the games he did play this season. At this point, though, I think Henson has played well enough to merit a larger role even when everyone is healthy, but I also think we’ll never see everyone healthy on this team at any point this year.

Is he legit? Last year, Henson was the rare per-minute stat phenom that superseded his ridiculous per-minute numbers when given the actual minutes. His per-36 projections were 16.5 pts, 12.9 reb and 1.8 blk. However, in his one game between 30-39 min, he played 31 min and posted 14 pts, 15 reb and 4 blk. It got even more ridiculous in his two games over 40 min, as in those he averaged 22.5 pts, 20.5 reb and 3.5 blk! These are the kind of numbers Wilt, Russell and Thurmond posted in the 1960’s when they were punking unathletic 6’8″ white guys!

Henson’s per-36 numbers are more pedestrian this year, but you can expect some silly rebounding and block totals if he continues getting starter’s minutes. Whether he continues, though, is still up in the air. After all, you can’t trust the Milwaukee Bucks.

Other Notable Pickups: One other quick note about the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo (who I will start calling by his nickname Alphabet, even though I hate it, because his real name is too ridiculous) had his best game of his pro career (10-7-4, 2 3’s) in 28 min, while Khris Middleton fell off and both Caron Butler and Ersan Ilyasova sat. This won’t become commonplace for Alphabet (ugh) yet, but his upside is tremendous…Andrew Bynum is not any close to under 40% owned, but it’s worth noting that he posted his first 20-10 game since May 14, 2012 when he did it in the playoffs against Oklahoma City. Add the five blocks to his 20-10, and you’d have to go back to November 15, 2009 against the Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola-led Rockets to find another game like that. I can almost guarantee Bynum will see his minutes capped in his next game, but it’s fun to see a reminder of what he’s capable of when healthy and motivated, even against an elite defender like Joakim Noah…Two good games with heavy minutes in a row for Chicago’s new starting backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Tony Snell. Hinrich has a higher upside because Jimmy Butler will return and kick Snell back to the bench, but, if Snell keeps this up, he’ll have played his way into coach Tom Thibodeau’s trust…Of course, on the day both Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez return to the line-up and just one day after Andray Blatche posted zero points in 10 min, Blatche drops a 21-8-1-1-1 in 24 min off the bench. Don’t buy into it. Including tonight’s game, Blatche is averaging 8-6-1 in nine games with both KG and Lopez…A more interesting development is Shaun Livingston losing his starting spot to Tyshawn Taylor. Livingston had the better night–though that’s not saying much–but this demotion was a long time coming after he posted seven straight subpar games since his 23-point breakout against Portland…Kosta Koufos had his finest game yet as a starter this year (10-11-2-2-3), and he should be owned and started in all formats even if Marc Gasol will be back sooner than expected. Interestingly, Ed Davis also started and posted a serviceable 10 and 8 as Zach Randolph sat with an ingrown toenail. It’s an ingrown toenail, though. Don’t pick up Davis…Instead of Shane Larkin, Gal Mekel got the start at PG for the injured Jose Calderon. Mekel did get seven assists but otherwise did nothing of note other than miss a bunch of shots…Patrick Beverley may never put up fantasy lines anywhere close to the best of Linsanity, but his 11-6-5-3-1 and 3 threes tonight were very versatile. Plus I clearly overestimated Aaron Brooks’s possible impact…He’s hidden in San Antonio’s deep rotation, but Marco Belinelli is averaging 13.4 pts, 2.6 reb, 2.2 ast and 2.8 3’s on 53.3% FG and 83.3% FT over his last five games. He’s averaging just under 23 min (did I mention San Antonio’s rotation is deep?), but he’s producing…Final reminder to pick up Jared Sullinger, who posted a 21-14 tonight (though not much else other than a three and good FG%). He’s at 39% owned tonight, and we’ll probably have to stop talking about him tomorrow when he likely clears 40%…Okay, so everyone hang on to your Channing Frye stock, feel free to sell on Gerald Green if you need to (Eric Bledsoe is set to start the next game), and Markieff over Marcus Morris again, for now…Way too many people are still sleeping on Marvin Williams. He’s been excellent, is averaging 32 mpg and won’t be giving Enes Kanter his starting spot back any time soon. The Jazz as a team looked great tonight, as seven of the nine players who played scored 12+ points. You know who didn’t? Enes Kanter.

Top 5 Sneaky Pickups (owned in under 40% of Yahoo! Leagues):

1. Jared Sullinger (39%)
2. Channing Frye (39%)
3. Marvin Williams (10%)
4. Kosta Koufos (26%)
5. Glen Davis (35%)

This will be our last look at Jared Sullinger and Channing Frye for a while, as both are bound to blow over 40% by tomorrow after both had great games tonight. Sullinger just barely edges Frye out for that top spot because I’m still wary of what happens when Bledsoe rejoins Frye in the starting line-up and reclaims all his shots, but Frye’s fantasy upside is definitely higher. Meanwhile, Koufos’s strong game and Bass’s disappointing one tonight causes a switch in the bottom two. This, by the way, is the strongest Top Five we’ve ever had, and the ownership percentages back it up. Expect to see Henson and Bellineli join this group tomorrow night if no other notable players arise.

Hindsight: In other don’t-follow-my-own-advice-about-the-Bucks news, I just dropped Derrick Williams for Brandon Knight in one league following Knight’s almost-but-not-really-that-close-to-a-triple-double line of 20-9-8-1-1 and three threes tonight. As I said before I soured on all Milwaukee players, the Bucks want Knight to be their PG of the future. He’ll play a lot.

Pickup of the Day: Brandon Knight

(AP Photo / Morry Gash)

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 Sunday, November 24 is Brandon Knight. He’s owned in 38% of Yahoo! Leagues and 39.1% of ESPN Leagues. He was heavily mentioned in last night’s column, but, being as he’s still under 40% owned, fantasy owners in need of a PG should get on it and pick him ASAP.

Here’s a look at his line last night against Charlotte:
20131124 Brandon Knight

No, it’s not an impressive line, and it highlights two of his major flaws: poor shooting and turnovers. However, as previously mentioned, he is the point guard of the future in Milwaukee. He was the key piece the Bucks got in return for the sign-and-trade of Brandon Jennings to the Pistons, though a lot of that had to do with the Bucks’ unwillingness to pay Jennings.

Knight and Luke Ridnour’s injuries allowed the other PG’s on the team, Nate Wolters and Gary Neal, to establish some value. However, now that Knight and Ridnour are both back, they should become the starter and backup respectively for the time being.

Is he legit? Knight was coming along and improving in Detroit last year, where he started all 75 games he played and averaged 13.3 pts, 3.3 reb, 4.0 ast and 1.6 3’s while sharing point guard duties with Jose Calderon, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. Those numbers came erratically, though, as he had 20 games scoring in the 20’s and 30’s and 25 games scoring in single digits.

After a tumultuous summer, he finally landed in Milwaukee as Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings were both on their way out. While hamstring problems have kept Knight ineffective so far, Milwaukee still hopes he is the other half of their backcourt of the future alongside O.J. Mayo. Milwaukee is going to let him play, both as the starting point guard and as off-guard when he shares the court with Luke Ridnour. I expect his FG% and assists eventually to rise while playing alongside Mayo, and, if he can stay healthy, he should have plenty of opportunities to put up gaudy totals.

Other Notable Players: Mike Dunleavy had the better scoring night while Kirk Hinrich got the assists for the Bulls. That’s probably the way it will continue to go between these two with both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler out, though they won’t always be playing under 30 min as they’re getting blown out…Conversely, ignore Darren Collison’s productive night for the Clippers, but do keep in mind that starter Jared Dudley dropped 21 points with four threes in just 21 min. He’s been semi-productive ever since Matt Barnes has been out with a retinal tear…After an abysmal start to the season, Channing Frye has now averaged 12.8 pts, 5.0 reb, 1.4 blk and 2.4 3’s in his last five games, including a 0-1-0 stinker in the middle. I don’t know how much this is directly related to Eric Bledsoe missing the past four games, but anyone who gets you blocks and threes like that is worth a pickup…Speaking of Bledsoe being out, you should keep playing Gerald Green (20-8-2-2, 4 3’s) until you see Bledsoe back. Bledsoe has been trying out his shin before the last two games but hasn’t been able to go so far…Now both Markieff and Marcus Morris are productive? I don’t understand this situation, but, all things being equal, Marcus is the one that hits threes…It’s not Moe Harkless continuing to start. It’s not Andrew Nicholson getting more minutes and being more effective. It’s Tobias Harris returning unexpectedly early that makes me regret my Glen Davis pick last night. Still, Davis is worth holding on to until we see how Orlando’s rotation shakes out with two major pieces returning in two nights…Russell Westbrook sat out tonight just to give him a break in a long stretch without games, and Oklahoma City was blowing out Utah. That explains Reggie Jackson’s start and Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones’s solid games, but don’t expect those to continue…Marvin Williams did not have a good game in this blowout, but he did get the start over Enes Kanter, who also injured his ankle in this game. Williams had three good games previously and now should be in line for even more…Xavier Henry is not back.

Top 5 Sneaky Pickups (owned in under 40% of Yahoo! Leagues):

1. Kosta Koufos (18%)
2. Jared Sullinger (33%)
3. Brandon Knight (38%)
4. Glen Davis (24%)
5. Mo Williams (23%)

Glen Davis drops down on this list while we wait for Orlando to figure out its rotation. Jared Sullinger edges up past Knight because I got overzealous about Knight returning yesterday and discounted Sullinger’s recent consistency. Meanwhile, Marvin Williams and Channing Frye are both knocking at the door, and another poor game by Mo Williams should let one in.

Hindsight: Jordan Crawford should’ve returned to the Top Five list yesterday, but today he’s already at 40% owned…Andray Blatche got the start tonight but didn’t produce, but he was still better than Shaun Livingston who has now had three straight terrible games despite averaging over 28 mpg and having a stellar previous week. Brook Lopez is questionable for Tuesday’s game, but Deron Williams is almost certainly out, so Livingston will get at least another chance to turn it around.

Pickup of the Day: Zaza Pachulia

(AP Photo / Morry Gash)

This season I will try to 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 Wednesday, November 6 is Zaza Pachulia. He is the 24th ranked fantasy player by averages, I’ve been pushing him since the Bucks’ first game this season, and yet he’s still only owned in 26% of Yahoo! leagues. However, tonight’s news about Larry Sanders makes him a must-own. In fact, screw you, Greivis Vasquez! I’m picking up Pachulia in my own league!

Here’s a look at Pachulia’s line tonight against Cleveland:
20131106 Zaza Pachulia

The 41 min tonight are a season-high for Pachulia and mainly due to two reasons outside his control. The first was that Ersan Ilyasova was out with an injury (which also gave John Henson a lot of run, see Other Notable Players below). The second was the continuing roller coaster ride that is, as the more-apt-than-ever Zach Lowe nickname goes, LARRY SANDERS!

Sanders, who is already having a disappointing start and averaging under 17 and a half minutes per game, is currently under investigation for smashing multiple champagne bottles over people’s heads at a Milwaukee nightclub. The official designation for Sanders being out in tonight’s game was a “sore thumb.” Yeah, okay. The CBS report that he’s out indefinitely sounds premature to me, but it is entirely possible that he misses even more time pending this investigation.

First of all, this is tragic. Sanders has had disciplinary problems in the past, but last year he proved to be a natural genius in the area of interior defense. The Bucks clearly believed they’d have much more of the latter than the former when they signed him to a $44 million contract this summer, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case so far. As I just waxed poetic about Metta World Peace’s career arc a few hours ago, I certainly hope Sanders gets in touch with MWP and takes a few lessons on how counseling can help him get his life and career back under control. Though I also wonder how much the organization paying him $44 million has been doing in that regard.

Commentary aside, Pachulia has already been outplaying Sanders this year, and that now looks like it will continue for a while longer.

Is he legit? Pachulia was always a productive player for the Atlanta Hawks, but he never got consistent minutes there after Al Horford joined the team. Now with opportunity beckoning in Milwaukee, we could see a better version of what he was back in 2005-07 when he was still a regular starter and averaged 12 & 8 with a steal per game. So far this year he seems to be a better passer and shooter than he was then, which has already boosted his points and assists. The Sanders situation needs monitoring–both the investigation and his struggles this season–but Pachulia will definitely benefit in the meantime.

Other Notable Players: Of course, on the same day I say Markieff and Marcus Morris are just going to devalue Plumlee and Frye without being viable fantasy starters, they both go off. Plumlee even still had a good game. Frye not so much. This rotation is a fluid situation to watch, but both Morris brothers are worth a speculative add…While, I’m atoning for sins, I also said Josh McRoberts was less likely to break out of his slump than Brandon Bass and Vitor Faverani. Wrong. Both McBob and Biddy Bass had solid games tonight. Fav was outplayed by Kelly Olynyk, but I’m not buying that yet. Still holding on to my Jared Sullinger stock though…Andrew Nicholson had a sloppy game, but he put up 16 shots and played more minutes than starters Maurice Harkless and Jason Maxiell as the Orlando bench bolstered a beastly night from Nikola Vucevic to end the Clippers’ winning streak…Going back to the Bucks, John Henson also had a great game tonight with Ersan Ilyasova out of the lineup. Henson’s going to have value all season long…Gary Neal also went off for the Bucks, though Nate Wolters started. Both got heavy minutes, but both would also be tentative pickups with Brandon Knight’s return looming…No, coach Scott Brooks is not going with Derek Fisher over Reggie Jackson. Jackson actually suffered a left hip contusion and didn’t return to the game. He’s not expected to be out long, but if it is serious, Jeremy Lamb would be a good pickup…I just realized four of the five Sixers starters are over 80% owned in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, and legitimately so. As a fantasy owner, you’ve got to love “bad” teams. If James Anderson can outplay Tony Wroten, which he hasn’t until tonight despite vastly out-earning him in minutes, he’d be worth a look, too…Zach Randolph only played eight minutes because his fiancée went into labor. Do not pick up Ed Davis.

Top 5 Sneaky Pickups (owned in under 40% of Yahoo! Leagues):
1. Reggie Jackson (33%)
2. Metta World Peace (27%)
3. Zaza Pachulia (26%)
4. Martell Webster (14%)
5. Corey Brewer (15%)

Accountability: I already said I was sorry for that call on McBob and the Morris twins!