When it comes down to the last 15 to 20 games of the year, we end up finding teams jockeying for playoff position and with it comes a step up of intensity to their approach. The recent nail biting loss to Oklahoma City on Friday night is a perfect example. From a fantasy perspective, having top players on a team that is battling for playoff positioning every game helps you anticipate maximum effort and usage from them, which is exactly what fantasy sports boils down to. It’s a player that gets the touches, that grabs the rebounds, that’s on the floor when the game is on the line that you want on your fantasy team, because ultimately it is those players that have the opportunity to stuff the stat sheets. The problem is that most of those players have been grabbed up since day one, so finding that kind of player to add to your roster at this point in the year is nearly impossible.
Hopefully, many of you took my advice at the top of this month and went out and grabbed Amir Johnson, who at the time was still available in over half the leagues at ESPN. The last few weeks has seen Amir step up and become a true X factor for the Raptors. He is perhaps one of the most underrated and unsung players in the entire NBA. Lately, Amir has been putting together some big games and is finally being recognized this season by owners in the fantasy community. Over the past month Amir has averaged 13.9 PTS off .604 FG%, with 7.6 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.9 STL and 1.6 BLK per game. He’s third on the team in minutes averaging 33.5 per game, giving him an opportunity to get involved and put up some big stat lines. In this past week alone, he left Atlanta with 11 PTS, 11 REB and 3 AST, then the very next night in New Orleans put up 17 PTS, 9 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL and 2 BLK. Following all that on Friday playing 50 min. in double overtime posting 25 PTS, 12 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL and 5 BLK for the game. These numbers are impressive enough on their own, but take into consideration he gets these numbers while often being outsized at his position. On the court he may find himself occasionally outsized in stature, but he will never find himself outsized in heart.
This is something that many of the Raptors players share this season, a grit or determination that doesn’t allow them to back away from a situation. A passion that drives them and fuels their finish, a resiliency not seen throughout the team in years past. It’s this common bond that has made it so easy to love this team this year and get behind their push into the playoffs and their fight to hold onto third place in the East.
That fight continues this upcoming week with four more games on the schedule for your fantasy team to take advantage of. On Tuesday the Raptors head to Cleveland where they will face the Irving-less Cavaliers, who find themselves once again on the outside looking in at the postseason. In the second half of a back-to-back the Raptors travel on Wednesday to Boston to face the Celtics and start a home and home series, set to finish up on Friday back in Toronto. The Raps top the week off on the road in Orlando to face the Magic on Sunday. All these teams have defences ranked in the middle third of the NBA and for the most part have player match ups favouring the Raptors, so it looks to be another good week for picking up a Raptor on your fantasy team.
Gotta Have Em!
DeMar DeRozan – Season player rating increases from 48th up to 40th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. DeMarvelous corrected any problems he had last week and posted some serious fantasy numbers over the last seven days, averaging 27.5 PTS off .421 FG%, with 6.3 REB, 5.0 AST, 2.5 STL and got to the free-throw line 12 times per game, shooting an impressive .917 FT%. Despite these flex-worthy numbers, detractors out there in Raptorland still choose to nitpick this past week over his imperfections and point out ball handling turnovers in late game scenarios. However, they simply fail to understand how growth works. The reason he finds himself in those situations is because he’s stepping up and walking into the fire, that is a skill any young star worth his salt needs to learn and can only truly be practiced in game. He is not nearly a finished product at age 24, yet he’s blown all expectations of the water this season being a top 50 fantasy player for the majority of the year and a top 10 scorer in the league. Expect nothing different this week as the Raptors look to go 4 – 0 against the competition.
Kyle Lowry – Season player rating rises from 13th up to 12th and is owned by 100% of the leagues at ESPN. Lowry was in full effect this past week posting some beastly numbers for your fantasy team, averaging 24.0 PTS off .420 FG% and hitting 2.5 three-pointers per game, with 6.5 REB, 7.8 AST, and 2.0 STL as well. Some scary moments this past week for Kyle as he continues to have his durability tested by absorbing hits, like those given by P.J. Tucker and playing through injuries, like when he left the OKC game to go into the locker room only to come back out shortly after and compete all the way through both overtimes. With all four upcoming games being against sub .500 teams, expect Kyle to continue the fantasy rampage he’s been on as of late, as long as he continues to take the floor.
Amir Johnson – Season player rating moves from 65th up to 57th and is owned by 92.5% of the leagues at ESPN. Amir’s fantasy ownership has nearly doubled in the last three weeks and for good reason. Over the last seven days he has averaged 18.3 PTS off .654 FG%, with 8.5 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.8 STL and 2.0 BLK per game. With the Raptors in a fight to hold on to third-place in the Eastern conference and the Atlantic division title, as well as a chance to surpass the franchise win total of 47 games, expect Johnson to continue to be on the floor for as many minutes as he can handle down the stretch.
Keep An Eye On
Jonas Valanciunas – Season player rating climbs from 108th to 105th and is owned by 73.7% of the leagues at ESPN. Jonas found success over the last seven days averaging 13.0 PTS off .517 FG% and 3.3 free-throw attempts hitting .900 FT%, with 7.7 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.7 STL and 0.3 BLK per game when he’s on the floor. Unfortunately, he ended up missing a game last week after straining his back against the Hawks. In the fantasy world a missed game, especially this time of year is often costly to your fantasy team. Thankfully after the one-game absence he managed to play a season-high 45 min. in the double-overtime loss to OKC. If there doesn’t appear to be any consequences from the heavy minutes logged Friday night shown in Sunday’s contest against Atlanta, then expect JV to have big games against the Celtics, but potentially have his minutes limited against Orlando and Cleveland if he struggles with their perimeter dwelling big men.
Terrence Ross – Season player rating moves from 121st up to 120th and is owned by 27.4% of the leagues at ESPN. T.Ross has seen his ups and downs over the last seven days starting off red-hot from behind the arc against Phoenix and Atlanta and finishing off ice cold against New Orleans and OKC. During that time he has averaged 10.3 PTS off .375 FG%, with 2.3 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.8 STL and 0.5 BLK per game. Despite not being able to hit a three-pointer in the last two contests, Ross still managed to average 1.8 three-pointers per game over the past week. After not returning to the game against the Thunder due to a contusion on his hip, Ross was reported to be participating fully in practice Saturday and is expected to play on Sunday. Look for Ross’s three-point ball to return this week, with Cleveland being the worst in the league at protecting the perimeter, allowing over nine per game this season and Orlando not far behind them.
Greivis Vasquez – Season player rating moves up from 168th to 161st and is owned by 33.6% of the leagues at ESPN. When looking back over his last dozen games it’s hard to find consistency in his minutes and numbers. Thankfully, the one consistent factor as of late has been his field-goal percentage. Over the last week Greivis has averaged 11.8 PTS off .486 FG% while canning 1.3 three-pointers, with 3.0 REB and 2.3 AST per game. With Patrick Patterson out of the line-up, Vasquez is the only consistent scoring option left coming off the bench. However it is uncertain how much longer 2Pat will be out of the line-up for, though his return will not affect GV’s minutes, it may affect his shot attempts per game.
They Try and Try
Patrick Patterson – Season player rating drops from 146th to 154th and owned by 0.4% of the leagues at ESPN. Get well soon 2Pat, we look forward to you being back on the floor.