A tank race has broken out between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, with both teams opting to bench their veterans in order to feed more minutes to their developing young talent while simultaneously losing games, which helps their draft lottery odds.
For the Lakers, lottery odds are particularly important, as their 2017 first round draft pick is top three protected. Should it land outside the top three it becomes the property of the Philadelphia 76ers. If they can maintain their current standing with the second-worst record in the league, Los Angeles will have a 55.8% chance of keeping their pick. If they slip to third-worst, that number plunges to 46.9%, so it certainly behooves the Lakers to lose games down the stretch.
For fantasy purposes, veterans being sent to the pine means that there will be opportunities for some new faces to put up numbers, and if you can pounce on the right ones they could just give you the boost you need in order to win your league. Or, if you are unfortunate enough to have one of the deactivated vets on your roster, snagging his replacement can help soften the blow a bit.
Let’s take a look at a few young Lakers and Suns players who are getting more opportunities as the tank race heats up.
Tyler Ulis- No one benefitted more from the decision to shut down Eric Bledsoe than rookie point guard Tyler Ulis. Brandon Knight was already on the bench so Ulis could get the reserve minutes, and isn’t keen on playing now, so that means Phoenix will have no choice but give him all of the burn. Since Bledsoe went out, Ulis is averaging a whopping 40.7 minutes per game. A crafty playmaker, the vertically-challenged guard is also racking up 10.7 assists and 2.0 steals since taking over the starting role. He won’t give you much in the way of threes, but Ulis is a gift from the basketball gods for owners who need to make up ground in assists.
Jordan Clarkson- Lakers head coach Luke Walton has slowly but surely making moves to push minutes to the team’s young players, benching veterans like Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng in order to get minutes for players like Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram. However, one recent move that raised some eyebrows was when he made third-year guard Jordan Clarkson the team’s starting point guard. While Clarkson does have experience at the point guard position it had been thought that his transition to 6th man would be a permanent one, especially now that former leading scorer Lou Williams has been traded to the Houston Rockets. Clarkson won’t give you as many assists as a traditional point guard, but he can fill it up and is averaging 19.3 points per game as a starter.
Alan Williams- The Suns shut down veteran center Tyson Chandler some time ago with the thought being that Alex Len, still just 23 after being drafted 5th in the 2013 NBA Draft, would get most of his time. However, hard-working reserve Alan Williams has steadily chipped away at Len’s minutes to the point where he now gets the lion’s share of the court time despite coming off the bench. Like a lot of bigs, Williams is a poor free throw shooter, hitting just 67 percent in the month of March, but he’s also posting an impressive 10.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, .8 steals, and 13.3 points in that time frame. Oh, did I mention he’s doing that in just 25.6 minutes per game? Should he start to top 30 minutes per night Williams could make a serious splash on the fantasy radar.
Ivica Zubac- Not to be outdone, the Lakers have an intriguing big man of their own, though at just barely 20 years old he isn’t quite as NBA-ready as the 24-year-old Williams. Still, Ivica Zubac has managed to turn some heads. He is an impressive shot blocker with 1.3 rejections per game as a starter. His scoring ability has also impressed with 13.8 points as well as 6.8 rebounds. He hasn’t touched his ceiling as a player yet, but the Lakers may have found a good one in Zubac.
Marquese Chriss- Sadly, Suns big man Dragan Bender is lost for the season due to injury, but that has meant plenty of minutes for fellow rookie Marquese Chriss now that the Suns are all-in on their young players. Chriss has the ability to both block shots thanks to his leaping ability plus hit threes, making him a potential fantasy stud. In the month of March he’s blocking 2.3 shots per game while canning 1.6 threes and shooting 53 percent from the field. If he can up his boards a little (5.3 per game) Chriss could end up being the best player on this list, making him a major player to watch over the next few weeks.