NBA Fantasy Focus: Best Of The Bench
The 2012-13 NBA season is not quite three weeks old and already certain fantasy truths and implications have been revealed. Some previously-proven fantasy stalwarts are struggling with performance issues. Others are experiencing a downward turn in playing time or have suffered injuries. A few just haven’t found their niche on a new team. Any of these factors may compromise your chances of fantasy success with little hope of improvement in sight.
When scouring the waiver wire, it’s tempting to limit your search to only available starters. Perhaps it’s time to take a good look at the stats of players who come off their teams’ bench. Some bench players get starter’s minutes, thereby giving owners solid numbers. If you discover no promising bench guys hanging on the waiver wire, the time might be ripe to propose a trade.
Let’s take a look at the best of the bench in fantasy basketball thus far. It may behoove you to consider trying to add one or more of these players to your fantasy squad; the ability to do so could pay nice dividends.
(Note – All stats reflect games played through 11/15/12)
KEVIN MARTIN (Oklahoma City Thunder)
For the first time since his 2004-05 rookie year, Kevin Martin’s primary role is off the bench. And boy, does he have big shoes to fill as the Thunder’s new sixth man after being acquired from the Houston Rockets in the James Harden trade. Martin has performed admirably though; OKC fans have stopped absentmindedly reaching for their fake beards on the way to the game. The proficient shooter has raised the stakes this season as he’s enjoying career highs in free throw percentage (an astonishing .942) and three-point percentage (.500), plus a field goal percentage at a level (.469) he hasn’t hit in six years. Throw in averages of 16.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.1 three-pointers per game with just 1.7 turnovers – all in 29.8 minutes, his lowest in seven seasons – and you’ve got a new Sixth Man of the Year contender. Martin is thrilled to have landed with this group, and it shows. His numbers should only improve as he gets more comfortable with the system.
JAMAL CRAWFORD (Los Angeles Clippers)
The well-traveled and experienced Jamal Crawford (six different teams, now in his 13th season) appears to have carved out a great role off the bench with the Los Angeles Clippers. We haven’t seen this level of scoring from Crawford in quite some time (20.5 points per game, 6.8 average field goals at an impressive career-high .514 clip and 2.4 three-pointers at .422 shooting). His assists have dipped (1.1), but his free throw shooting (4.6 per game at .902 percentage) and steals (1.5) are very solid in 28.3 minutes per game. The ability to contribute in all of these areas can really help fantasy owners, so you might consider acquiring him. Can he win another Sixth Man of the Year title? Some folks believe Crawford’s value stands a good chance of decreasing when Chauncey Billups returns (projected to be mid-December), but we’re not biting on that thought.
LOU WILLIAMS (Atlanta Hawks)
Lou Williams started off the season with a bang. In the first two games, he averaged 20.5 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and seven free throws at .873 percentage in nearly 29 minutes. Then migraines and flu-like symptoms got the best of him. He played through it during the next five games, but the results as shown on game logs weren’t pretty (10.2 points per game, 3.0 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game and .319 field goal shooting). Go check the waiver wire to see if panicked owners dropped him (Yahoo! Sports fantasy league shows 76 percent ownership) or perhaps make a low-ball offer. Don’t be alarmed when you see the 10-of-35 three-pointers. This will improve. Williams is one consistent player and he should rebound, so to speak, when he starts feeling better.
RAY ALLEN (Miami HEAT)
No, you won’t find Ray Allen hiding on the waiver wire, but you might think about trading for him. When Allen took his talents to South Beach, it was a bit difficult to accurately determine his fantasy value on a championship team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on its roster. How many minutes would he get, especially off the bench? How many shots would even be available? Turns out, he’s averaging career-low averages in both minutes per game (26.9), field goals made and attempted (4.0 and 7.9, respectively) and scoring (12.4 points). However, he’s posting career highs in field goal shooting (.535) and in three-point efficiency (.541). And he’s contributing meaningfully in other categories as well: 2.1 three-pointers per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game and 1.3 steals per game and .821 in free-throw shooting. For a now-healthy 37-year-old player in his 17th NBA season, those numbers are something special.
RAMON SESSIONS (Charlotte Bobcats)
Believe it or not, Ramon Sessions is owned in just 48 percent of Yahoo! Sports fantasy leagues. That’s a crying shame, because his numbers warrant a much higher percentage of owners benefiting from his numbers. Check out his averages so far: 16.3 points per game (career high), 4.6 assists per game, 3.4 rebounds per game and 5.1 free throws at .783. Granted, he doesn’t give you much in the way of three-pointers or steals and his field goal shooting isn’t exactly stellar (.402), but he’s averaging 27.4 minutes per game and may log more with Gerald Henderson expected to miss a few weeks. In fact, his role may increase with or without a healthy Henderson or Ben Gordon (who has missed recent games for personal matters). Over the past two games, Sessions has averaged 19.5 points and five rebounds with just one turnover in nearly 31 minutes on the court.
J.R. SMITH (New York Knicks)
Like Allen above, J.R. Smith is safely tucked away on fantasy teams across the land, but we would be remiss to not include his name on any best of the bench list. Despite expressing his desire to move into a starting role during the preseason, he seems to have successfully dealt with the fact that he remains a bench player. Can he maintain the crazy-high level at which he’s playing right now? He has been a huge reason for the Knicks’ success, averaging 18.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.0 steals, 2.3 three-pointers at an unbelievable .737 percentage (and nobody else is even close), .857 in free throw shooting and .488 field goal percentage with just 0.8 turnovers per game. Surely he won’t be able to keep up those shooting efficiencies, but for now, he’s a fantasy dream off the bench. He’s logging 34.2 average minutes of playing time – the classic example of why it doesn’t always matter in fantasy basketball if certain players start or not. Smith is posting career-highs in nearly every category.
LARRY SANDERS (Milwaukee Bucks)
Larry Sanders is definitely one to consider acquiring. He’s only owned in 54 percent of Yahoo! Sports fantasy leagues and he has been very productive as of late. His playing time has doubled off the bench from the previous two years. He’s posting 10.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 25.0 minutes with .652 in field goal shooting. He will put up the occasional poor line, but we see steady improvement and not much in the way of competition for minutes.
CARL LANDRY (Golden State Warriors)
The offseason signing of Carl Landry by the Warriors has paid off pretty well so far. While his scoring is inconsistent, he’s averaging 15.4 points with career highs in rebounding (7.8) and field goal shooting (.593) in 26.3 minutes per game. Considering he’s only owned in 59 percent of Yahoo! Sports fantasy leagues, he may be worth picking up.
JAVALE MCGEE (Denver Nuggets)
The minutes are slightly increasing for JaVale McGee, and he’s showing what he can do with an increased role. Overall, in nine games, he’s averaged 10.8. points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Yet in the last two games – including the Nuggets’ most recent win versus Miami – McGee averaged 17 points at .709 field goal shooting and three blocks with 4.5 rebounds.
MARCUS THORNTON (Sacramento Kings)
Marcus Thornton has settled into his new bench role in Sacramento. His minutes have fallen to 30.1 per game, but he’s averaging 14.5 points, 2.1 assists, 3.4 rebounds and shooting .842 at the foul line. His shooting percentages have decreased (.385 in field goals and .238 in threes at 1.3 per game), but a nice bonus are his lowered turnovers (0.4). Keep in mind the fact he took a nasty fall two games ago and kept playing – it resulted in two clunker lines, which really brought his shooting averages down.
Which bench players do you think fantasy owners should consider? Let us know in the comment section below.