In terms of popularity, fantasy basketball is the Billy Baldwin of fantasy sports. Maybe even Stephen.
No, fantasy hoops can’t compete with the booming billion-dollar industry that is fantasy football, nor does it have the long and illustrious history of roto-league baseball. With that said, fantasy basketball can be just as intense and addicting as the aforementioned pretend sports, and has its own unique nuances. If you haven’t given it a try, I highly suggest you do so this upcoming season. Last year was my first year playing in a competitive league, and it was a blast. (In case you’re wondering, I handily won my league.)
My affinity for fantasy basketball and love/obsession (lobsession? oblove?) of Utah Jazz basketball are poised to overlap significantly this year, as the Jazz are in an incredibly unique position. Primary scorer Al Jefferson has moved on, as has long-time Jazz stalwart Paul Millsap. Mo Williams has taken himself and all his “MOLO!” eliciting shots to Rip City. Yes, nearly all of the veterans who were viable fantasy options have vacated the Beehive State, leaving in their wake a tremendous opportunity for a crop of young guys with tremendous, and largely untapped, potential.
In my humble and slightly biased opinion, nearly everyone in Utah’s starting lineup will be potentially under-valued. Yes, it’s no secret that Hayward, Favors, and Co. will see a big uptick in minutes and subsequently box score sizes, but even that may be understating the situation. While non-Jazz aficionados are aware Utah’s “core five” are about to get a production boost, I don’t think they realize how much of a boost they’re in for.
As a result, the following five Jazzmen are players who should be targeted in your upcoming fantasy basketball drafts.
5. Alec Burks
Because of his sporadic playing time last year, Burks may be the most under-the-radar Jazz player this year in terms of fantasy value.
An increase in minutes should mean an increase in what Burks does best: get to the rack and score. While Burks is fairly one-dimensional fantasy-wise, he could prove to be a steal if his rebounds and steals increase along with his PT. Any run Burks gets at point guard would also behoove his fantasy stock, as his assists would likely see a decent increase.
4. Trey Burke
A rough Summer League performance significantly tempered expectations for the heir apparent to the Utah Jazz point guard throne. While his poor shooting performances and relative unfamiliarity to the UCLA sets Utah ran can easily be overlooked, the issues caused by Burke’s lack of size and speed are some causes for concern. But before we panic too much, let’s see how he does after a full summer, training camp, and preseason in the Jazz offense.
Burke’s value, at least initially, will be more or less a result of quantity, not quality. Extremely efficient rookie point guards are by far the exception rather than the rule. While Burke’s shooting percentage and assist numbers may not stand out, they figure to be respectable if for no other reason than the significant run Burke will get at point and the lack of starting competition on the Jazz roster.
3. Enes Kanter
Kanter’s fantasy value may be the hardest to project, but there’s definitely significant upside there. It’s hard not to look back at Kanter’s 23 point, 22 rebound performance (albeit against the lowly Bobcats) and not get excited about him stuffing box scores nightly and routinely churning out 20-10 games.
It may be a little too optimistic to expect 20-10 from Kanter this year, but 18-8 certainly isn’t out of the question. Kanter has shown rapid improvement every year he’s played basketball, and if his shoulder is fully healed by the time the season rolls around, he could be just about ready to make the fabled “leap” into stardom.
2. Derrick Favors
Already a defensive monster, Favors (along with Kanter) is working on improving his offensive game by logging significant hours in the gym working out with none other than Jazz hall-of-famer Karl Malone. Obviously, these workout sessions won’t immediately transform Favors into an offensive savant, but if they can even elevate Favors to an above-average offensive player, he could be the cornerstone to your fantasy team for years to come.
Favors’ major obstacles thus far have been his proneness to getting in foul trouble, a lack of a “go-to” offensive move and a lack of playing time. The third issue is most certainly getting fixed this year. The other two? That’s up to Derrick.
1. Gordon Hayward
Because Hayward is likely the first Jazz player to be taken in fantasy drafts, it can’t exactly be said that he’s an under-the-radar player. However, his ceiling may be underestimated.
Hayward is thought of as such an integral part of the Jazz, it’s easy to forget he only started 27 of 72 games for the Jazz last year. His minutes actually decreased slightly from the 11-12 season to last season, which is equal parts surprising and frustrating.
Hayward’s fantasy value comes from his well-rounded, multi-faceted game. Hayward is by far Utah’s best chance at a triple double, his superb passing and above-average size for a swingman increasing his odds to rack up fantasy points via assists and rebounds in addition to points on any given night.
It’s this potential that makes me boldly predict Hayward will represent Utah in the 2014 NBA All-Star game, and will be one of the best values in fantasy basketball.