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Kelly Oubre
Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports
Roundball Stew

Fantasy Hoops Wish List for 2020

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: December 27, 2019, 12:19 pm ET

At the risk of sounding like a guy who’s stuck living in the past, I recently had a fresh pang of regret over a shirt I parted ways with 20 years ago. 

It’s the summer of 1999. I'm home from college, out at a bar in my hometown of Atlanta, wearing my favorite T-shirt — acquired at a thrift store for $3. It says Rhode Island on the front, and on the back — “Go ‘Beth” (short, I believe, for Rehoboth, Massachusetts). In addition to being comfortable, it was a solid conversation starter. “Who’s Beth?” was a common question from strangers.

The stranger standing in front of me is saying he wants to buy it. Turns out he's with a girl named Beth. The problem is, it’s not for sale. I decide to go with a number he’ll never pay: “I’ll sell it to you for 50 bucks,” I say.

I am horrified and slightly thrilled when two minutes later, he’s back with a bill in hand, calling my bluff. “You said 50?” he asks, extending the money.

I freeze for a second. Not wanting to part with my favorite shirt, but liking the combo of money and a good story, I agree to the deal. Trade accepted.

Like a fantasy GM who’s just clicked yes on a questionable offer, I regret it immediately. Yes, I’m holding a fresh Ulysses S. Grant, but you just can’t put a price on a comfortable tee that is consistently a spark for friendly conversation. I gave that guy my golden fleece for the price of a fleeting round or two of drinks. 

Overly dramatic? Absolutely. Living in the past is it’s hard not to be that way.

I am now done, and ready to look to the immediate future. With January fast approaching — and in the spirit of the long-lost tee I’ll never get back — here is my fantasy hoops wish list for 2020:

I wish that Brandon Clarke could get 27 minutes per game. Here’s some quick math: Per-36 minutes, Clarke is averaging 21.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.0 3s. If you take three-fourths of those numbers (aka 27 minutes), you get 16.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.5 spg, 1.1 bpg and 0.8 3s. Those are some difference-making fantasy stats — especially when you consider that Clarke is shooting 64.7 percent from the field — and I don’t think it’s crazy to ask that the No. 21 overall pick get his minutes upped from 21 per game to 27 as the season goes on. If and when that happens, you want him on your roster. Also, the Grizzlies light blue uniforms almost perfectly match the color of the Go ‘Beth shirt. And I promise that’s the last time I’ll mention it.

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I wish for Marvin Bagley to emerge. Before Thursday night’s foot injury (here’s video of him in a walking boot leaving the locker room in case you’re curious), Bagley’s playing time was the major hurdle, as he was averaging just 23 minutes a game since returning to action in December. Now he has to overcome whatever this latest injury setback might be, then get past the coach (Luke Walton) who seemingly can’t stop giving big minutes to 31-year-old Nemanja Bjelica on a 12-19 team. Ultimately, assuming that this foot injury isn’t anything serious, it’s hard to imagine how Walton can hold back Bagley’s minutes all season, so I like him as a trade target once we have some clarity on why he left Thursday’s game. 

I wish, as it’s been rumored multiple places, that Steven Adams would get traded to Atlanta. First, this would solve a number of the issues that plague the Hawks defensively, most notably having no real intimidating presence in the paint. It would also maintain Adams’ solid fantasy value, if not improve it slightly putting him alongside one of the best passers in the league in Trae Young. Even more importantly for fantasy purposes, this would unleash Nerlens Noel as an unbelievably fun fantasy asset down the stretch. Per-36 minutes this season, Noel — who is impossibly still just 25 years old — is putting up 14.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.9 spg and 2.9 bpg, while shooting 65.4 percent from the field and a runaway career-best 82.1 from the line. Anything even close to those numbers and Noel has a shot at top-25 value — if not higher. If you’re thinking about upside lottery tickets to stash who shouldn’t be too difficult to get via trade, I can think of few more intriguing than Noel.

I wish that Julius Randle could be the player that we drafted. Here’s one that may actually be coming true as we speak. After a disappointing but not awful start to the season (16.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg and 0.8 3s in his first 24 games — on 44.0 percent from the field and 66.2 from the line), Randle has picked things up drastically the last couple of weeks. Check out his last eight games: 23.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.5 apg and 2.1 3s, on 48.6 percent from the field and 78.6 from the line.

On the downside, Randle only has averaged 0.5 spg and 0.1 bpg during that run — and oddly, he has blocked just four shots all season after averaging 0.6 bpg last year. Either way though, defensive stats aren’t why you drafted him, and all signs continue to point toward a big second half in points/rebounds/assists/3s with a massive workload on Randle’s plate in New York.

I wish for vintage Nikola Vucevic to return for good. As is the case with Randle, I’m cautiously optimistic that the Vooch we expected may finally be walking into the conference room (whatever that means). When you look at his last five full games before his ankle sprain, and his five games since returning, you have a 10-game run of 20.2 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.2 bpg and 1.6 3s. That’s pretty much vintage Vucevic, and I think it’s fair to expect something along those lines — and top-15 value — going forward.

I wish the Warriors would resolve the contract issue with Damion Lee. First things first: Lee (who’s 31 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues, up from 2 percent last week) has emerged on the fantasy radar by averaging 15.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.8 3s in his last six games, including a nationally-televised 22-15-4 explosion against the Rockets on Christmas. 

Now, here’s the issue: Lee is on a two-way contract, and only has 15 days remaining with the big club, which means he’ll be headed back to the G League for a while (a la Danuel House last year) if this doesn’t get resolved. My approach with Lee has been to pick him up wherever I can and hope the Warriors can make a trade to clear a roster spot for him, but there’s reason to be legitimately worried that his NBA clock may soon run out. 

I wish Kelly Oubre would break out the good stuff. To be clear, Oubre hasn’t been anything close to disappointing — he’s currently No. 56 in 9-category leagues, and his ADP on Yahoo was 76.8. So I have no objections there, except that I strongly believe Oubre can do more. So far in December, he’s putting up 17.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.2 bpg and 1.6 3s. And yes, this is the epitome of nitpicking, but I hold Oubre to a high standard as one of my favorite players, and he’s doing all of this while shooting just 42.4 percent from the field. Last year, during his outstanding final 30 games for Phoenix, the 24-year-old shot 46.0 percent. So, if you take his current set of numbers and bake in some slightly improved shooting, you’ve got Oubre moving even further up the leaderboard, and I’d be doing my best to trade for him coming off a few quiet recent games (including 3-of-10 and 5-of-16 shooting efforts over the last week). 

I wish I felt more optimistic about Zion Williamson. If we were just talking about a guy coming back from a single knee injury, I’d have little reason to doubt that he can come back with a flourish and make something out of his rookie year. But that's not the story here, and now we have the news that Zion is learning how to run and walk differently as he recovers from surgery. It’s honestly one of the strangest things I can remember hearing about an injury situation in a long time. It is absolutely possible that this whole thing won’t end up being that big of a deal, but it’s beginning to become an alarming timeline when you consider it: 

*July 1999: Matt sells T-shirt, collects $50

*Feb. 20, 2019: Zion’s Shoe explodes in game against UNC, he misses three weeks with right knee sprain 

*July 5, 2019: Leaves summer league debut with a bruised left knee, misses all remaining games

*Oct. 21, 2019: Has surgery on a torn right meniscus, expected to miss 6-8 weeks

*Dec. 17, 2019: The 8-week mark passes, still no Zion

*Dec. 25, 2019: Pelicans are “trying to tweak small matters in how he walks and runs” during his recovery

I tend to be optimistic, sometimes very stubbornly so. But looking at this string of events, how can you in any way feel good about Williamson’s fantasy prospects? Not only does he have to get comfortable playing on a surgically-repaired knee; he has to do so while adjusting to a re-worked stride — all while getting used to the style of play in the NBA, which has befuddled even healthy rookies for long stretches. Add in the fact that the Pelicans will no doubt hold him out at any remote sign of discomfort, and I have drastically lowered my expectations for Zion in fantasy this season. That’s not to say he can’t come back and string together some difference-making weeks — it’s certainly still possible that will happen — but if you’re counting on Williamson to jump off the IL and save a struggling fantasy squad, I think it’s time to put your high hopes somewhere else.


Matt Stroup

Matt Stroup covers basketball, football and sometimes baseball for NBC Sports Edge — and has covered eight Olympics as a TV writer for NBC. An avid fantasy player and rabid Atlanta sports fan since the 1990s, he would golf, bowl and play pickup basketball 365 days a year if it was acceptable. You can follow him on Twitter @MattStroup