By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As the calendar turns to 2018, Nick Whalen takes a look at five under-owned players to keep an eye on, both this season and beyond.
Caris LeVert, Nets
The second-year wing doesn’t demand ownership in all leagues, but he’s quietly enjoyed a strong first half, averaging 12.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals through 37 games. LeVert is hitting nearly half of his field goal attempts and 46.9% of his three-point attempts over the last 15 games, a span during which he’s upped his assists to 5.7 per game.
Of course, injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell have played a part in LeVert’s emergence, but even when Russell returns, LeVert shouldn’t see much of a decline in playing time. As of Tuesday, the Michigan product is available in 50% of Yahoo leagues, and he has even more value in longer-term, dynasty/keeper formats.
Markelle Fultz, 76ers
Fultz’s ownership has (rightfully) plummeted over the last two months and now sits at just 43%. While it’s still very much unclear when the No. 1 overall pick will return to game action, the Sixers issued a release Tuesday announcing that Fultz has moved into the final stage of his rehab process. The expectation is that Fultz will begin logging full practices with the team within the next few weeks, though it’s anyone’s guess what kind of role he’ll return to after what could end up being a three-month layoff.
For the rest of this season, Fultz will probably have trouble recouping the value lost over the last 10 weeks, but if he’s truly healthy going forward he becomes one of the more intriguing, widely available players to watch. The Sixers will probably re-integrate Fultz gradually, with the hope that he’ll be up to full speed — whatever that is, by his unique standards — sometime in February or March. If Fultz returns with confidence and is even 70% of the all-around threat most expected him to be right away, he could provide a tangible boost for owners who can afford another month or so of playing the wait-and-see game.
Jordan Bell, Warriors
Even after bursting onto the national scene with a couple of big games last month, Bell remains unowned in 60% of Yahoo leagues. Of course, that’s justifiable in shallower formats, but Bell has proven worthy of consideration for a bench spot in most formats. The rookie logged three double-digit-rebound games in December — each of which came in less than 25 minutes — and has done his best Draymond Green impression when given the opportunity. Over his last 10 games, Bell holds averages of 8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals in 23.4 minutes per game, while shooting 62.7% from the field.
The second-round pick has forced himself into the conversation when it comes to promising, young fantasy assets, but the teammates around him could ultimately end up capping his upside. It’s no coincidence that Bell’s emergence coincided with injuries to Zaza Pachulia and Draymond Green, and while Bell looks to have solidified his spot in the rotation, it’s difficult to imagine him taking on any sort of lead role when Golden State’s Big Four is healthy. That doesn’t mean Bell can’t still be productive, but it’s easy to imagine what he could be on a roster that doesn’t feature multiple future-Hall-of-Famers.
Trey Lyles, Nuggets
Over the course of the last month, Lyles has gone from the guy they traded the Donovan Mitchell pick for to a steady rotation player. Over his last 11 games (28.9 MPG), Lyles is averaging 16.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, and while he doesn’t contribute much in terms of other counting stats, Lyles is making 2.5 threes per game at a 50.9% clip.
The shelf life on the former Kentucky standout’s value might run out when Paul Millsap returns, but Millsap isn’t expected back for another two months. Even so, Lyles’ ownership sits at just 39%, despite the fact that he’s been a borderline-top-80 player over the last month.
Bam Adebayo, Heat
He’s available in more than 90% of leagues, but “underowned” probably isn’t the right word to describe Adebayo. Nonetheless, the rookie warrants some attention, as he’s remained in the rotation even with Hassan Whiteside healthy.
While Miami’s other injuries — namely to Justise Winslow and James Johnson — have also helped Adebayo’s cause, he’s producing at a much better rate than anticipated. Perhaps the rawest prospect in the lottery, Adebayo hasn’t looked the part of a project player, averaging 9.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists over his last 11 games. He’ll need to become a more diverse offensive threat long-term, but Adebayo is an above-average ball-handler for his size and has shown flashes of passing ability in the halfcourt.
Zach LaVine, Bulls
If nothing else, allow this to serve as a reminder to double-check your league’s waiver wire for LaVine’s name. He’s unowned in nearly 30% of Yahoo leagues and be back on the floor playing meaningful minutes within the next couple of weeks.
Unlike Fultz, LaVine is a proven commodity, a player who averaged nearly 20 points per game as the third option in Minnesota last season. It could take several games for LaVine to get his bearings in Chicago, but the time for him to be near-universally owned in most formats is approaching. The emergences of Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Nikola Mirotic have been encouraging, but LaVine remains the crown jewel of the Bulls’ rebuild — at least until we get to late-June.