Fantasy Basketball pickups: Where to find impactful minutes

Minnesota TimberwolvesNemanja Bjelica should provide useful fantasy numbers while Jimmy Butler is out. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Aside from Jimmy Butler tearing his meniscus, we have had a relatively injury-free week of basketball. Much of the conversation now will have to revolve around how tanking teams’ minutes will be dispersed.

We’ve already seen the Knicks and Bulls, among others, pull back the use of their veterans, pushing guys like Trey Burke and David Nwaba into fantasy relevance. In that same vein, players from the Suns and Hawks are featured below, as well as the Wolves’ Nemanja Bjelica. 

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Alex Len, Suns (31 percent owned)

The Suns got some bad news Monday, as usual starting center Tyson Chandler, who has been out since Feb. 14, will remain out indefinitely due to a neck issue. A recent MRI revealed swelling in one of his neck joints, causing discomfort and spasms. While Chandler has been on the shelf, coach Jay Triano has handed over the keys to Len, who has performed well as the team’s starting center over the past five games.

Over this stretch, the fifth-year big man has averaged 9.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, a combined 2.6 blocks/steals and 1.6 assists across 27.3 minutes while shooting over 60 percent from the field. When asked about Len’s play, coach Triano said, “Len has been playing well. We’ll have to ride him as much as we can.”

While that may be true, Len has played more than 30 minutes in just one of his past five games due to a combination of foul trouble and Triano getting a look at Dragan Bender at center for certain stretches. It’s tough to predict if either situation will resolve itself in order keep Len on the floor more often. Regardless, Len has proven to be an especially good rebounder and efficient scorer who can rack up some defensive stats. In a best-case scenario where Len plays a full complement of minutes, he could trend near his per-36-minute numbers of 14.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, a combined 2.2 steals/blocks and 2.2 assists per game. 

Nemanja Bjelica, Timberwolves (21 percent owned)

In the wake of Jimmy Butler’s meniscus tear, Bjelica has started the Wolves’ past two games and will presumably continue to do so until Butler returns. In those games, Bjelica averaged 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 threes across 33.3 minutes. Despite the small sample size, those numbers are close to what Bjelica averaged earlier in the year when Butler missed four straight games (11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 threes, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals).

Though his scoring numbers don’t jump off the page, he’s in relatively rare company when it comes to his ability to hit threes and swipe steals. Only five players this season — Chris Paul, Paul George, Gary Harris, Victor Oladipo and Eric Bledsoe — average at least 1.8 steals and 1.5 threes per game. So fantasy owners in categorical formats should certainly be taking a serious look at Bjelica, as he should be able to provide a hard-to-find profile of stats for at least the next four weeks while Butler is out. 

Taurean Prince (47 percent owned) or Isaiah Taylor (3 percent owned), Hawks

Prince and Taylor have both been beneficiaries of the Hawks’ “Process”, as the waning team bought out shooting guard Marco Belinelli in early February and forward Ersan Ilyasova on Monday, both of whom are now with Philadelphia. The respective moves have allowed Taylor and Prince to take more shots and play more minutes in general.

Since Ilyasova’s final game with the Hawks on Feb. 13, Prince has seen his shot attempts rise from 10.6 to 15.0 per game, though it’s slightly discouraging that he’s hit just 36.7 percent of his looks from the field and 31.0 percent of his 7.3 three-point attempts per game. Nonetheless, he’s undoubtedly been a more productive player and is in a better position to succeed for the final stretch of the season. Over the past four games, Prince has averaged 16.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 steals across 30.6 minutes. If his shots start falling at even a slightly below average rate, he could hover around 20 points per game while also being a defensive presence.

That said, Prince is likely unavailable in many standard and certainly all deep leagues. If you’re in a deep league, then Taylor is worth a look. Over the past three contests, he’s averaged 15.3 points, 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals in just 19.8 minutes per game while shooting 62.5 percent from the field. Despite the shooting percentage being unsustainable, Taylor is clearly involved in the offense, as he’s taken eight shots per game over that stretch, including 6.7 free throws and 1.3 threes.

A more representative look at what he can do moving forward is probably achieved by looking at all the games this season in which he’s seen at least 20 minutes per game. In those 10 contests, he’s averaged 11.6 points and 3.9 assists. Adding him would be slightly speculative, but coach Mike Budenholzer seems to like deploying the second-year guard for rotational minutes. And as the Hawks presumably look to secure a top draft pick for next season, Dennis Schroder’s minutes being pulled back isn’t off the table.