As the trade deadline approaches, NBA teams are assessing their position in the standings and whether or not they should be making win-now moves or rebuilding moves. Fantasy owners should be doing the same.
If you're a rebuilding owner in a dynasty league, there are obvious players to target. Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Deandre Ayton and plenty of other top draft picks from over the past few years come to mind. But you'll have to put together a massive offer to pry those players away from their current teams. Plus, they're likely contributing to an owner's successful season or are the centerpiece of another rebuilding squad. Either way, there's not much of a reason for those owners to move on.
So what should you do?
Identify young players flying under the radar – players that could be burning a hole in a winning owner's pocket, sitting on the bench for the vast majority of weeks. Those players should be on cheap contracts. Many probably went undrafted back in October or were selected in a post-auction reserve round.
Every dynasty format is different in its contract structure, so make sure you understand what a "value" contract is in your league, and if that contract can be had for a player you definitely don't need this season
Here are 13 players to consider targeting as you embark on your rebuild:
Fantasy rankings refer to 8-category leagues, stats as accurate as Feb. 4.
Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies
Brooks, the 45th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, played all 82 games during his rookie year. He was solid, ranking 154th in fantasy in terms of total production. However, multiple injuries forced him to sit out all but 18 contests last season and, as a result, it felt like he fell off the fantasy radar. Now healthy, he's showing the ability to take on increased responsibility, notably jumping from 18.2 percent usage in his rookie year to 24.6 percent usage this year – comparable to players like Jaylen Brown (24.7%), Danilo Gallinari (24.3%) and Evan Fournier (24.7%).
Brooks' main draw right now is his three-and-D potential, and he has five performances this season with at least three made triples and two steals. He's ranked 76th in terms of total fantasy value this season, and if he can continue to develop as a playmaker (2.7 assists per 36 minutes), he should be able to climb up the ranks in years to come. The main concern for Brooks is his poor advanced numbers – ranking ninth on the Grizzlies in Value Over Replacement Player (-0.1) for players who have seen at least 600 minutes, for example – but he should continue to get plenty of opportunities to prove himself as the Grizzlies rebuild, even if it's coming together faster than expected.
Brandon Clarke, Grizzlies
At 23 years old, Clarke is an older rookie, but his experience is shining through in just 21.7 minutes per game. He's found his way onto the NBA leaderboards, ranking fifth in true-shooting percentage (67.2) and seventh in offensive rating (127.6). His combination of efficiency plus rebounding and shot-blocking ability should be valuable for fantasy going forward. Clarke is one of only four players this season under 25 years old to have a rebound percentage above 14.0, a block percentage above 3.0 and a true shooting percentage above 65.0 (minimum 800 minutes played). The others are Jarrett Allen, Mitchell Robinson and Christian Wood.
His pathway to increased action is a little murky, as he's behind both Jaren Jackson and Jonas Valanciunas, though the latter may not be a long-term piece for Memphis. But Clarke's upside will be tremendous if he can find his way into a traditional starting role. Per 36 minutes, he averages 19.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 blocks – not to mention a passable 0.7 threes. Even with the limited action he's getting at the moment, he's the 98th-ranked fantasy player in terms of total production. At the very least, acquiring Clarke should ensure owners a high-efficiency big man, not just from the field (61.9%), but also from the charity stripe (83.3%).
Luke Kennard, Pistons
The 12th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Kennard is coming into his own this season. He's reached career highs nearly across the board, and he's showing potential as an efficient scorer and solid secondary playmaking option. In 32.9 minutes per game, he's posting 15.8 points with shooting splits of 44.2% / 39.9% / 89.3%, plus 4.1 assists (and only 1.5 turnovers). His 40.2 percent career three-point mark is also ranked 15th out of all active players.
As the Pistons presumably dive deeper into a rebuild, the organization may lean on Kennard to be a stabilizing piece of the offense, and his defensive limitations probably won't matter too much. His box-score production has translated to positive advanced numbers as well. Despite the Pistons going 11-17 in games Kennard has played in this season, he has a +1 net rating, and he has the third-highest Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.102) of all Pistons players who have seen more than 900 minutes. In terms of per-game production, Kennard is ranked 105nd in fantasy this season.
Moritz Wagner, Wizards
A severe ankle sprain has limited Wagner to only 22 appearances this season, but he's played well when healthy. He's one of the most efficient shooters in the league, hitting 58.8 percent of his looks from the field, 39.3 percent from three and 83.7 percent from the charity stripe. Those numbers, mainly the field-goal percentage, may be unrealistic going forward, but he still has a great 60.7 true shooting percentage across his 65 career games.
Wagner is also showing upside as a rebounder and defender, averaging 10.5 rebounds and a combined 2.3 steals-plus-blocks per 36 minutes. His advanced numbers pan out well, too. Despite a 7-15 record for the Wizards in games Wagner has played in, he has a +1 net rating and boasts the third-highest Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.112) of anyone on the team who has played at least 400 minutes. On a per-game basis, Wagner is ranked 103rd in fantasy this season.
OG Anunoby, Raptors
Anunoby doesn't excel at one thing in particular, but he's proving to be an important glue guy for the unexpectedly-good Raptors. While not a volume-scorer (10.3 PPG) or much of a passer (1.6 APG), Anunoby shoots efficiently (57.5 TS%), grabs rebounds (5.4 RPG) and plays good defense (1.8 combined steals-plus-blocks). Despite some light box scores, he's still managed to be the 83th-ranked fantasy player this season in terms of total production.
There's a very good chance this is just who he'll be. Since his rookie year, he's made relatively small strides on a per-100-possessions basis. That doesn't mean he isn't worth investing in, however, especially if you're in a deeper rebuild. He's fourth on the team in Value Over Replacement Player (1.2) and Win Shares (3.3). Playing positive basketball on a winning team should get him plenty of notice as he enters free agency in 2021, and it's possible he ends up seeing a bigger role once he hits his second contract.
Aaron Holiday, Pacers
As the Pacers have dealt with a variety of injuries throughout the year, Holiday has often been pushed into a bigger role, and he's started 18 games this season as a result. He's played well in those games, but his potential shines through the most when accounting for times where he's the only other playmaking guard on the court. Holiday has played 163 minutes this season with Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell on the bench, and in that situation, he's averaging 20.7 points, 8.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes. Holiday is also a great three-point option, hitting 42.4 percent of his triples (16th-best in the NBA).
Finding a way to acquire Holiday in dynasty leagues is desirable if you are in a relatively deep rebuild. His pathway to a true starting role is unclear, and he's firmly behind the likes of Brogdon and Victor Oladipo, and Lamb to some extent. Holiday's advanced numbers aren't especially promising, but many of his minutes are going to come in situations where Indiana is short-handed. It's a small concern, but acquiring Holiday is a risk that fantasy owners should be willing to take for potential payoff down the line.
Mikal Bridges, Suns
The question that will divide the NBA community over the next decade will be: which Bridges is better, Miles or Mikal? Pick a side before it's too late and you get labeled a bandwagoner. I'll note that Miles is still a fair target in dynasty leagues, but Mikal's defensive upside is extremely high and could help carry your steals category for years to come. Bridges played all 82 games during his 2018-19 rookie season, and he racked up the eighth-most steals (129) in the NBA in 29.5 minutes per game.
This season, he's 11th in steals (72) in 50 games (24.9 minutes per), and if he maintains his current pace, he'll be in the top-10 for steal percentage (2.7) for a second consecutive season. The main concern is that his three-ball has taken a dip, with Bridges on pace to make one fewer three-pointer per 100 possessions (1.1) compared to last season. Still, his three-and-D upside is obvious, and he has the size at 6-foot-6, 210 pounds to guard three, maybe four positions.
Bridges' advanced numbers are also panning out well this season. He's second on the Suns in offensive rating (115) and second in defensive rating (108) of all players that have played at least 600 minutes. Following that same minutes minimum, Bridges is also ranked second in VORP (1.1), second in Box Plus Minus (1.3) and fourth in Win Shares Per 48 minutes (.105).
PJ Washington, Hornets
Washington (and the Hornets in general) has cooled off since his hot start. But he's still piqued my interest going forward. Am I concerned he can only find 9.6 shots in 30.1 minutes per game for the struggling Hornets? Probably. At the same time, do think his minutes have contributed to Charlotte being better than expected (not the worst team in the NBA)? Probably.
Washington is one of only eight players in the NBA (minimum 800 minutes) currently averaging at least one made three with a block rate of at least 2.5 percent and a steal rate of at least 1.5 percent – notables include Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis; semi-notables include Gorgui Dieng (the Wolves should use this pitch to trade him) and Marvin Williams (might actually get traded to a contender). Washington has the highest three-point percentage (40.1) of that group.
His upside is probably short of a true specialist like Robert Covington (also in the previously noted group), but there does seem to be a good chance Washington pans out into a reliable three-and-D wing with already-NBA size (6-foot-7, 236 pounds). His advanced numbers are simply passable – nothing there is going to swing anyone's opinion. But assuming Washington can continue to see 30-plus minutes per night as the Hornets rebuild, he should continue to climb up the fantasy ranks, especially if he can add a little more volume to his shooting.
Matisse Thybulle, 76ers
If you're obsessed with stocks (steals-plus-blocks) like most of the fantasy community, then Thybulle is a perfect rebuilding target. He's on pace to become just the second player in NBA history (minimum 800 minutes played) to post a steal and block rate both above 3.5 percent. Gerald Wallace is the only other person to achieve the feat and he...didn't make the All-Defensive team that season despite averaging 2.5 steals and 2.1 blocks? It shouldn't matter that he played only 55 games. Anyway...
Thybulle is averaging 2.7 steals and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes for the 76ers, and he's a legitimate part of the rotation given how thin the team's wing depth is. There were questions about his shooting touch coming out of the draft, but Thybulle has struck some of those down by hitting 1.0 three per game at 37.6 percent. It's far from elite, but it's not the 30.5 percent he shot during his senior year at Washington.
His usage rate is a Pass-Every-Time-You-Touch-The-Rock 11.9 percent, but given that Philly usually has two of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid on the floor, it's probably best if Thybulle plays conservatively on offense for the time being.
De'Anthony Melton, Grizzlies
For a second-round pick, Melton got a surprising amount of action last season with the Suns, seeing 19.7 minutes per game and drawing 31 starts in 50 games. Though he's on pace to see fewer minutes this season, he's made clear strides in his game, nearly doubling his scoring average per 100 possessions. It doesn't seem like Melton will turn into a go-to option on offense, but he's flashing a well-rounded game. Per 36 minutes, he's averaging 16.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and a combined 3.3 steals-plus-blocks.
The only other player in NBA history 6-foot-2 or shorter to post a steal rate of at least 3.0 percent and a block rate of at least 1.5 percent is Eric Bledsoe (minimum 400 minutes played), who made the All-Defensive team last season. Those two actually have very similar numbers through their first two seasons, and Bledsoe's career arc could be a best-case scenario for Melton. Given how relatively unproven he is, plus being stuck behind Ja Morant, fantasy owners in the midst of a deep rebuild should find it pretty easy to acquire Melton. Being behind Morant is obviously an issue in the short-term, but if your league format is conducive to keeping players on long-term contracts without much financial commitment, Melton makes for a reasonable long-term gamble.
Troy Brown, Wizards
This was always going to be a bridge year for Washington, but with all of the Wizards' injuries, it's been even more difficult to discern a regular rotation. Brown started the season injured, but he's been a consistent piece in the rotation since the start of November, though most of his action has come off the bench. Even so, he's put together averages of 13.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals in January, while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from three.
The three-point volume (2.8 3PA/G) has been a little disappointing, but Brown has shown flashes of why the Wizards made him the 15th overall pick less than two years ago. Looking ahead, Brown is one of just a handful of foundational pieces currently on the roster. And while that roster could look considerably different next season, one would imagine the hope is that Brown could be the long-term option at small forward. The Wizards could bring in some competition for Brown next season, but as a 20-year-old he's worth targeting in dynasty formats if you're shifting to a rebuild.
Sekou Doumbouya, Pistons
Until about a month ago, it looked as though this would essentially be a redshirt year for Doumbouya – one of the rawest prospects in the 2019 class. But Blake Griffin's latest knee injury cracked the door open for Doumbouya, and he's been a consistent rotation player ever since. His playing time has waned a bit over the last two weeks, but Doumbouya has started 14 of the last 16 games, posting averages of 9.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 made three over that span.
While a team like Washington has some hope with John Wall set to return next season, Detroit may have the bleakest future outlook of any franchise in the league. Andre Drummond is all but gone, Derrick Rose will likely move on as well, and while the Griffin contract may be impossible to move, the Pistons should do their due diligence. Either way, next season could be the first in a total reset – an outcome Detroit has scrambled to avoid for years. If that's the case, Doumbouya would be among the young players prominently featured on what would likely be a very, very bad team focused on player development.
Jarrett Culver, Timberwolves
Culver is another player in the top-heavy 2019 rookie class who's been good but not great. Lately, his production has begun to fall off, but Culver is virtually locked into a significant role – at least until Jake Layman returns from injury.
With the exception of Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves don't have much in terms of exciting young players. Culver is arguably the third-most-valuable asset on the roster, and he could move up a spot by the end of the week if Robert Covington is moved. HIs versatility on both ends of the court has kept his workload high, and there's little reason to believe that will change going forward. Like all rookies, Culver will continue to go through drastic swings in production, but fantasy owners can cling to his 11-game stretch from Dec. 30 to Jan. 18 as a glimpse of Culver's longer-term upside. In that span, Culver translated 31.9 minutes per game to averages of 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks, while shooting 45.8 percent from the field.