Fratello’s Fantasy Wrap-up

Charlotte Bobcats v Miami HeatThe 2012-2013 NBA season is winding down, and teams have just a handful of games left to play. Outside of a few squads in the West fighting for the final playoff spot and those in the East maneuvering to better their respective postseason seeds, the regular season is in the books for all intents and purposes.

Translation: many of your key fantasy players are either being rested for the playoffs on the better teams or are giving up their minutes to younger guys on the struggling teams in the name of future development.

For fantasy GMs participating in leagues that play through the 82nd game, and even for those who began their playoffs a couple weeks back, it can be tricky to navigate this last stretch of the regular season.

Fantasy Gods like LeBron and Durant may sit out a few games entirely or play sparingly over the final week of play. So the key guys on your fantasy rosters, especially your first five who have produced for you all year night in and night out, may not be there for you down the stretch.

As frustrating as this may be, crafty fantasy GMs can utilize this situation to finish strong. One needs to look at the bigger picture in order to determine which backup ballers should be playing now that the schedule has flipped traditional analysis on its head.

My fantasy picks have focused on non-star players and can serve as a guide to the type of player you should be starting during your playoff run. Buona fortuna!

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Jonas Valanciunas

Toronto Raptors v Detroit PistonsThe 27-47 Toronto Raptors have only eight regular season games remaining and will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

With nothing to play for but pride and player development, coach Dwane Casey has started to give his younger guys more run. One such baller who has capitalized on this opportunity is 20-year-old rookie Jonas Valanciunas.

The 6’11” Lithuanian center was picked 5th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. However, he stayed in Europe last year due to contractual obligations. In his first season with the Raptors, Valanciunas has played in 55  games and started 50.

The Eurohoops-experienced rookie has come on of late, and Toronto is starting to see a return on their investment in the future franchise center. Valanciunas played in all 15 of Toronto’s March contests and averaged 11.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, and 1.1 bpg in 27.1 mpg while shooting 62% from the field and 82% from the line.

Over the last three games, Valanciunas has improved to 16.3 ppg, 9.7 boards and 3.7 blocks. He has scored in double figures in nine straight games, averaging 15 ppg over this span while shooting an impressive 69% from the field.

The big Lithuanian has played professional ball since he was 16 years old, so he’s far more seasoned than most rookies and can withstand the long NBA 82-game schedule.

As fantasy teams enter the home stretch, Valanciunas would be a great addition to a roster looking for points, boards and blocks at a reasonable price.

Remember the famous Lithuanian saying:  If you run from a wolf, you may run into a bear.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Derrick Williams

With over 80% of the NBA regular season in the rear view mirror, fantasy GMs locked in tight races need to examine every player angle to discern who can add depth and production to their rosters heading into the homestretch.

The 24-44 Minnesota Timberwolves have endured a disappointing run filled with injuries to key players. Without a postseason to play for, veteran coach Rick Adelman may experiment with his rotations and the distribution of playing time over the last 14 contests.

One Minnesota player who has come on in March is second-year forward Derrick Williams. After being taken 2nd overall out of Arizona in the 2011 NBA Draft, 21-year-old Williams has underwhelmed in comparison to some forwards selected later in his draft like Kenneth Faried and Chandler Parsons.

However, in 13 March games Williams has put up the best numbers of his young career. Over this span, the La Mirada, California native has averaged 16.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 0.7 bpg in 31.8 mpg. The 2011 Pac-10 POY scored a career-high 28 points on 3/17 and then matched it on 3/24.

Williams’ field goal percentage isn’t great, but he is getting his shots – an average of 14 FG attempts in March including 3 from behind the arc, where he is a decent shooter for a big man.

Williams won’t get you any assists or amaze you night after night, which is why he’s very available on the waiver wire as well as a low value trade.

Look for Williams to continue to get his opportunities to score and add some boards as the season winds down for non-playoff teams.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Martell Webster

Phoenix Suns v Washington WizardsMartell Webster of the Washington Wizards has come on of late and is playing his best basketball of the season. The young and struggling 23-42 Wizards squad is currently on a 3-game winning streak and are a respectable 5-4 in the month of March.

A good portion of this success can be attributed to 6’7” SF Webster, who was plucked right out of high school and picked 6th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft. In his first season in D.C., the 8th-year pro is having one of the most productive stretches of his career.

In the nine March contests, Webster is averaging 16.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 1.9 apg in 35 mpg. The 26-year-old is also shooting 95% from the line and 46% from behind the arc over this span.

He has even more remarkable numbers over the past five games. The Seattle native has averaged 21.8 ppg while going 24 for 47 from 3-land. On Saturday night in a win against Phoenix, Webster scored a career-high 34 points, going 7-10 from the 3 and 7-7 at the line.

Webster’s court time and numbers have jumped in part due to injuries to Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza, important components of the Wizard’s backcourt rotation. But with his play of late, coach Randy Wittman is sure to give ample run to Webster regardless of the health of others on the roster.

This week Washington plays four teams on the road that give up a ton of points – Charlotte, Phoenix, Lakers and Golden State. Now is a good time to add Webster to your fantasy team and watch him continue to pour in buckets.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Tobias Harris

Houston Rockets v Orlando MagicIf not for the Charlotte Bobcats, the 18-46 Orlando Magic would have the worst record in the NBA. When scoring guard J.J. Redick was traded to Milwaukee on February 21st, Magic fans felt the impact of a wrecking ball clearing the way for their franchise to rebuild from scratch after losing superstar Dwight Howard to the Lakers in the offseason.

One of the players Orlando received for Reddick and Ish Smith was 2nd-year combo forward Tobias Harris. The 6’8” Harris played one season at Tennessee after being named the 2010 Mr. New York Basketball. He was then selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Prior to being dealt to Orlando, 20-year-old Harris was buried on the Bucks’ bench. In his final two months in Milwaukee, Harris was on the court for a total of 44 minutes.

In the 9 games he’s played as a member of the Magic, Harris has averaged 29 mpg. With more court time Harris has flourished – averaging 15.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.4 apg and 1.1 bpg while shooting 53% from the field and 79% from the line. He’s also averaged one 3-bomb a game in Orlando and is shooting 40% from the arc.

With 80% of the regular season in the rear view mirror, now is the time for wily fantasy GMs to scoop up players like Harris who are balling better than ever in new roles and environments.