Each NBA season, players who were originally backups are thrust are into a starting job and given opportunities to shine. Some, like Ryan Anderson, seize their opportunity and prove their worth in the NBA while others, like Sebastian Telfair, continually prove they don’t have what it takes to compete at the highest level. One of the keys to running a successful fantasy franchise is being the first to see those who will potentially get an opportunity to start, and then singling out those who will capitalize once given that opportunity. Some players have already taken that opportunity and seized it, like the aforementioned Ryan Anderson or even Marreese “Free Boosie” Speights. To find the next Ryan Anderson, Matt and Moe are going to give their picks for what’s left of this year’s potential “Backup Breakouts”:
(This article was originally posted on SpikeEskin.com, and can be found here.)
Honorable mention: J.J. Hickson, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, Brandon Rush, Klay Thompson, Patrick Patterson, & Kenneth Faried.
Nicolas Batum (94.3% owned)
Yeah, I know Batum’s kind of a big name, but he does come off the bench, and I just want to elaborate on how great he is for fantasy. Nicolas Batum is not a great basketball player—he just does a lot of things well that make him perfect for fantasy. He shoots from 3 a ton. He’s aggressive on D to get steals and blocks. He’s outstanding at the free throw line. While he may not deliver top-notch numbers in the points, rebounds, and assists categories, Batum is an excellent fantasy option for any team out there.
Baron Davis (23.3% owned)
Baron “B-Diddy” Davis was actually a backup breakout himself earlier in his career, from his sophomore to rookie season. However, since his time at Charlotte, Davis has bounced around on five teams before eventually landing on the Knicks. Davis’ short-stayed welcomes were rarely due to talent, but mostly due to his personality issues and lack of effort. Baro,n for once in his life is getting paid a small amount of money, at least on the cap, to play basketball in a supporting role rather than as a star. You can say what you want about Baron Davis, but there’s no arguing that he is a competitor of the highest level, and one who loves to feed off the crowd. There’s no greater crowd in the world than Knicks’ fans at Madison Square Garden, and I think once Baron comes back he’ll be able to put up something along his career line of 42% shooting from the field with 32% from 3, and maybe even over his career average of 7 assists per game if he actually gets the starting job. Additionally, the players in front of him are Tony
Douglas and Iman Shumpert; Douglas is really more of a combo guard and not a true 1, and Iman Shumpert is really more of a 2 guard, putting up a Player Efficiency Rating of over 24 as a 2 (a top 3 SG in the NBA so far this season) and a Player Efficiency Rating of under 3 as a point guard (bottom 3 in the NBA so far this season). Call me a homer, but I think Baron Davis is motivated to play for a good team for once in his career, and will bring it night in and night out under the lights of MSG with Carmelo and Amar’e.
Markieff Morris (17.3% owned)
At Kansas, his brother Marcus (currently sitting at literally last place on the ESPN player rater) outshone him as their go-to option on offense. In the NBA, however, it has been Markieff who has adjusted to the game at a much better pace. He has improved his three point shot dramatically, and is knocking down 1.3 a game at a 51.6% clip. What’s impressive is that he is able to do it while supplying all the other stats you need out of a PF, averaging 17-10-2 per 40 minutes, limited turnovers, and decent steals and blocks. This guy is the real deal; the Suns are realizing it by starting him in their most recent game against the Knicks, and so should fantasy owners.
James Johnson (3.0% owned)
It feels odd to like somebody who averages almost as many fouls per game as points, but James Johnson is another example of a guy who could really help out any fantasy team in a rotisserie format. In only 22 minutes/game, he is producing 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals. By comparison, Paul Pierce is averaging 0.8 steals and 0.2 blocks in his 33 minutes/game of playing time. One must look past the lack of points and see Johnson as a true contributor for fantasy who would be an even bigger help with more playing time, especially in the defensive categories.
Goran Dragic (0.5% owned)
Dragic has started two games this year, both against the Thunder, facing Russell Westbrook, one of the best point guards in the league. In the two games, he averaged 15 points, 9.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals. Yeah. In other games, his impact has been minimal, but there is a lot of potential here if he gets a starting job and Dragic is definitely worth grabbing to store in deeper leagues. Dragic will be a solid producer of points and rebounds, will shoot plenty of 3s, and supply the assists and steals you need at the PG position. Obviously Kyle Lowry is ahead of him on the depth chart, but Nash isn’t getting any younger. These might be more long-term guys, but in most leagues I recommend that you be the 1% to take a shot on Goran Dragic and Jon Leuer; it could pay large dividends on just a very small risk.
Anthony Randolph (0.0% owned)
I don’t think there’s a player in the NBA who’s been more royally screwed so far in his career than Anthony Randolph. To argue why Randolph was going to be a backup breakout, I was prepared to launch into a physical-tools based argument (he’s a 6’11” guy with a 7’3” wingspan who is STILL only 22) but I realized that I don’t even need to do that–his stats say it all for me. In his young career, Randolph has averaged 17.8 Minutes/Game with 8.6 Points, 5.2 Rebound, 1.14 Blocks, .7 Steals, all on 46% shooting from the field and an awesome 74.4% shooting from the line. For comparison’s sake, Al Jefferson is currently sitting at 13th among PF’s on ESPN’s player rater, and if Anthony Randolph is given a chance to start and plays up to his per-minute stats in, say, 35 minutes per game, he’d have better rebounding numbers than Jefferson (10.2 vs 9.3), better assists numbers (1.7 vs 1.6), significantly better steals (1.4 vs 0.9), better blocks (2.2 vs 1.8) better FT% (74.4% vs 70.3%) and just slightly worse points (16.9 vs 18.0) and only a worse FG% (46% vs 48%). If I told you that you could have Al Jefferson statistically, only slightly better, if a guy could beat out Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson for a job, you’d take a shot on him too. I’m not saying run out and pick up Randolph, I’m just saying that it makes no sense that a player with this much physical upside and this much production so far doesn’t have a starting job on a team that is lacking in the bigs department. Look for Randolph to make an impact sometime this season if there’s any common sense in the NBA (well, I guess that’s a big “If”).
Jon Leuer (0.8% owned)
Wisconsin was a dangerously efficient team last year, but who new Leuer could bring that kind of ball to the NBA? The Bucks have moved him up the depth chart, and he has preformed with top-notch percentages, good blocks, and some points & boards. He has an extremely good mid-range game, shooting 65% from 10-15 feet from the basket so far this season. Leuer isn’t going to hit many threes, but is a solid add in deep leagues.
Ian Mahinmi (2.2% owned)
I was in shock when I saw that Ian Mahinmi was owned in the SpikeEskin.com league–I guess I underestimated the depth and intelligence of the league. After losing Tyson Chandler in the off-season to the Knicks, the Mavericks came into the season with solely Brendan Haywood slotted to start at the 5. Haywood is more or less a known quantity as a guy who has had injury issues, is a bad rebounder, a relatively efficient scorer, but overall nothing special, and is a below average center with a bad contract. Mahinmi is the only other true center on the roster, which by default makes him an interesting backup breakout candidate. Going into this year, in the limited time Mahinmi received, he was a very efficient player from the field and the line, as well as a way above average per-minute production from the field, albeit in small sample sizes. However, this season he’s been the pseudo-starter for a lot of the season, playing just .1 minutes per game less than Haywood so far. Mahinmi has thrived, shooting 65.6% from the field and 61.7% from the line with 7.8 points per game, .5 blocks, .6 steals and most importantly 5.4 rebounds to show for it. Obviously his field goal percentage will drop, but if given a normal workload, say, 30 minutes per game, Mahinmi could be a more than adequate starting center for fantasy. With Haywood’s injury history, that could happen very soon.
DEEP, DEEP CANDIDATE
Gustavo Ayon (0.2% owned)
“Who the **** is that?” I’m sure most (or all) of you are wondering? Well, at the most basic level, Gustavo Ayon is a Mexican dude on the Hornets who they got from the Spanish ACB League. Digging a little deeper, however, Ayon was one of the more efficient players in the entire world last year, shooting 67% on two point shots in the Spanish ACB. Kevin Pelton, writer for BasketballProspectus.com and friend of RotoAnalysis.com, tweeted out before the season that Ayon’s 67% was the 2nd highest in the entire Basketball Prospectus website other than Marc Gasol, who shot 68% there once. That in itself got my attention, and Ayon’s transition to NBA basketball has also peaked my curiosity. In 7 games this season, Ayon has averaged 10.3 minutes per game, with 4.3 points on 70.6% shooting from the field with 66.6% shooting from the line, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, .7 blocks, and .6 steals. Obviously his field goal percentage will come down, but if Ayon somehow got a bigger spot in the rotation I believe that he could be a major NBA and fantasy contributor in rebounds, blocks, points, and certainly the percentage categories, which is all you’re really looking for in a center. In front of Ayon on the depth chart is the oft-injured Chris Kaman and the pretty solid Emeka Okafor. As the season goes on, the Hornets will be close to last in the West, and should look towards the future by playing their younger players more. Hopefully, Ayon can grab some playing time and work towards contributing for fantasy owners.
 All ownership numbers from ESPN standard leagues