Week 21 Fantasy Basketball Notebook: Navigating Your Playoffs

Whether your fantasy basketball playoffs begin Monday or in the coming weeks, do-or-die time is quickly approaching.

Now more than ever, short-term production is critical. You can’t be married to players due to draft pedigree or upside if they’re struggling or injured. Nondescript afterthoughts emerge as fantasy difference-makers in the playoffs.

Trae Young—who’s the 145th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues for the year—is eighth since the All-Star break. Anthony Davis, the top-ranked player on the season, is 83rd over that same span.

Davis cost far more on draft day, but anyone who would prefer him to Young moving forward is looking at an early playoff exit.

Streaming also becomes a critical strategy at this time of year. You’re allowed seven waiver-wire pickups in a typical one-week playoff matchup, which can end up being the difference between advancing and going home early.

If you have one roster spot you’re willing to cycle through nightly, pick up a player who will help you in a category that projects to be close. You can also stack your pickups for later in the week, giving you the opportunity for one last-gasp salvo over the weekend.

Pay attention to recent production and your league’s waiver wire, pray no injuries befall your star players, and stream aggressively. Owners who follow this advice will be in good shape to advance deep into their playoff bracket.

Waiver-wire pickups

Dec 31, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Elfrid Payton (4) drives past Minnesota Timberwolves forward Robert Covington (33) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Covington, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (49.8% owned): Covington has yet to play in 2019 as he continues to recover from a right knee bone bruise. His return may finally be imminent. The Timberwolves assigned him to the G League’s Iowa Wolves for a rehab assignment Wednesday, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, and they recalled him Saturday. Seeing as Covington is the 17th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues this season, he’s worth a stash if you’re cruising toward a playoff spot and can afford him taking up a bench slot.

Dwight Powell, PF/C, Dallas Mavericks (39.6% owned): Powell may not be flashy, but he’s been sneaky good since the Mavericks shipped Harrison Barnes to the Sacramento Kings prior to the trade deadline. Over his past nine games, Powell has averaged 13.8 points on 58.3 percent shooting, 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 triples and 0.8 steals in only 29.1 minutes, making him the 85th-best fantasy value on a per-game basis in that span. He bumped Salah Mejri from Dallas’ starting lineup for the past three games and played at least 32 minutes in all three, which gives him enticing upside heading into the fantasy playoffs. 

Spencer Dinwiddie, PG/SG, Brooklyn Nets (37.3% owned): After missing a month of action due to thumb surgery, Dinwiddie made his return Friday, putting up 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting, four assists, one steal and one triple in 23 minutes against the Charlotte Hornets. During his 49 games before going down, Dinwiddie averaged 17.2 points on 46.1 percent shooting, 5.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 triples in only 28.5 minutes, which put him just outside the top 125. His lack of steals and blocks limit his fantasy upside, but he’s still worth a roster spot if you need help in points, 3s or assists.

Kelly Olynyk, PF, Miami Heat (11.2% owned): With James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside banged up, Olynyk has feasted as of late. He erupted for a season-high 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting, 10 rebounds, four triples and three blocks in 41 minutes against the Phoenix Suns on Monday. He followed that up by averaging 20.3 points on 64.9 percent shooting, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.3 triples over his next three games. Olynyk has started each of Miami’s past 11 contests, so he could have value even after Johnson and Whiteside return. For now, he’s a short-term lock for strong production.

Avery Bradley, SG, Memphis Grizzlies (10.0% owned): Joakim Noah isn’t the only presumably washed-up veteran who’s suddenly playing well for the Grizzlies. Over his past eight games, Bradley has averaged 18.6 points on 50.4 percent shooting, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 triples and 1.0 steals in 32.1 minutes, which made him the 55th-ranked player on a per-game basis. Other than his clunker against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 23, Bradley has been surprisingly steady, making him a worthy pickup if you have dead weight at the end of your bench. 

Notable injury news

Feb 23, 2019; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III (35) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) during the first half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Bagley III, PF/C, Sacramento Kings: The Kings announced Thursday that Bagley would be out for at least 1-2 weeks because of a left knee sprain he suffered Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. While he dodged a bullet—the injury looked far more concerning in real time—Bagley’s fantasy owners can’t say the same. Without a definitive timetable for his return, he isn’t a must-hold in redraft leagues whose playoffs are beginning. In the meantime, Harrison Barnes receives a minor boost.

Lonzo Ball, PG, Los Angeles Lakers: On Thursday, the Lakers announced Ball would be out for at least one more week as he continues recovering from a left ankle sprain and bone bruise, per Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet. Whenever Ball does return, the Lakers figure to ease him back into action, which further depresses his short-term fantasy outlook. Seeing as Ball is only the 126th-ranked player on a per-game basis this season, he’s by no means a must-hold in 10- or 12-team leagues whose playoffs start Monday, especially if you’re in a win-or-go-home matchup this week.

DeAndre Jordan, C, New York Knicks: Jordan has missed the Knicks’ past four games with a sprained left ankle, and it’s unclear whether he’ll join the team during its ongoing three-game road trip, according to ESPN.com’s Ian Begley. With the Knicks in full tank mode, they have no incentive to rush Jordan back before he’s fully healthy. In the meantime, Mitchell Robinson should be owned in leagues of all sizes, especially for owners in need of rebounds and blocks.

Paul George, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder: George missed the Thunder’s past three games with right shoulder soreness, and it’s unclear how long he’ll be sidelined. Markieff Morris took George’s place in the starting lineup, finishing with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, four rebounds and a steal in 19 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, but Jerami Grant has been the primary beneficiary of George’s absence. Expect Morris, Grant and Dennis Schroder to shoulder more of a secondary scoring load until George returns.

Stock Up

Feb 23, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Ivan Rabb (10) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) reach for a rebound in the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Love, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers: Love missed Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons since it was the front end of a back-to-back. Otherwise, he’s been hot. Over his previous four games, the five-time All-Star averaged 23.0 points on 48.1 percent shooting, 10.8 rebounds and 3.8 triples in only 26.1 minutes. He also had 16 points, 14 rebounds and three triples in 29 minutes on Sunday against the Orlando Magic. Love has only two games this upcoming week and figures to sit out one of Cleveland’s back-to-back next Monday and Tuesday, but he’s proving capable of big numbers in limited minutes. 

Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat: Dragic missed more than two months after undergoing knee surgery in mid-December, but he made his return following the All-Star break and is ramping up quickly. He missed Saturday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets because of left calf soreness, though he had a combined 48 points on 12-of-23 shooting, eight rebounds, seven triples and six assists in only 45 minutes over his previous two games. Dragic should reclaim his starting gig soon enough, giving him sneaky high upside over the coming weeks.

Stock Down

Mar 3, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari (8) guards New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. (5) under the basket in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Dennis Smith Jr., PG, New York Knicks: Smith had free rein as the Knicks’ primary floor general heading into the All-Star break, but Emmanuel Mudiay’s return took a sledgehammer to that fantasy upside. The second-year Smith averaged 18.5 points, 6.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 triples in 32.2 minutes over his final six games before the All-Star break, but he’s had only 11.8 points, 7.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 treys in 26.0 minutes during the five games since. Smith should remain the starter for the rest of the season, but Mudiay’s presence gives him a far shorter leash.

Kenneth Faried, PF, Houston Rockets: Clint Capela’s return from a monthlong layoff was a death knell to Faried’s fantasy upside. The latter started alongside Capela in two of the Rockets’ first three games after the All-Star break, but he has since moved back to the bench and had his playing time slashed significantly. He’ll still have occasionally strong performances, but clunkers like his two-point, two-rebound outing against the Charlotte Hornets on Feb. 27 make him drop-worthy heading into the fantasy playoffs. Especially since he missed Houston’s past two games with a sore left hip flexor.

All ownership percentages via ESPN.comAll average draft position info via FantasyPros. All rankings via Basketball Monster are based on nine-category leagues and are current heading into Monday, March 4.