The fantasy basketball playoffs begin next week for most fantasy managers, so time is of the essence. Whether you’re grinding it out for a final spot in the dance or have already earned a bye week, it’s time to start thinking about matchups and strategizing how to maximize your roster moves for a run at a championship.
No matter your playoff start date, I’ll lay out the teams you’ll want to avoid and exploit each week with recommendations of a few players and some look-ahead planning if you’re moving onto the next round. Today, we’re starting with Week 21, the fantasy playoff quarterfinals.
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Before we get to it, here are three things you need to know from Wednesday night:
Grizzlies PG Ja Morant will continue to be away from the team for at least the next four gamessetting up Tyus Jones to make an impact in Week 21 for fantasy managers. In 10 starts this season, Jones is averaging 19.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.3 triples, 2.5 steals and 1.5 turnovers with 52/50/80 shooting splits. The Grizzlies play three of their four games on the road in Week 21, and they’re in dire need of some wins (1-11 in their last 12 on the road, tied for the worst in the NBA with the Spurs), or they’ll no longer “be fine in the West.”
A couple of alarming injuries occurred on Wednesday night, too. Mavericks G Luka Doncic left in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s contest with a left thigh injury, and he’ll get an MRI on Thursday. Brutal timing for fantasy managers, and hopefully, Luka’s injury won’t keep him out for an extended period. Tim Hardaway Jr. stands to benefit most, should Doncic miss time. His MRI did return “clean,” however, so the worst may have been avoided.
Also, Suns F Kevin Durant sprained his ankle in pregame warmups and didn’t suit up for the Suns. He’s reportedly wearing a boot, and according to HC Monty Williams, he’ll get more testing and imaging on Thursday. The results determined he has a grade 2 sprain, which could cost him up to six weeks, jeopardizing his regular season. I’d add Josh Okogie in all formats, but Devin Booker is about to go nuclear.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming — here are three teams I’m avoiding in Week 21:
Two games at opposite ends of the week? No bueno. Plus, they face two challenging opponents — the Heat on Monday and the Celtics on Saturday. Since the Jazz play on Saturday in Week 20, it’s worth holding onto players like Talen Horton-Tucker and Chris Dunn; however, I’d drop them after their game on Monday.
There’s just no point in holding onto these players when you could be streaming others on teams that are playing Tuesday through Friday. I mentioned I’d be willing to part ways with Kelly Olynyk in my playoff tips column, but I’ll take it one step further and drop everyone on the Jazz not named Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler.
One of the hottest teams in basketball gets the short end of the stick in Week 21, playing against the Trail Blazers on Tuesday and the Nuggets on Saturday. There aren’t many fringe players to consider, but their schedule will put Josh Hart and RJ Barrett on notice.
Hart’s been 149th in per-game value over the past 14 days, primarily getting rebounds and stocks (1.5/g). His FG percentage is good, too (61%), but with such low volume (5 att/g), it’ll take a lot of work to rely on him with only two games. On the other hand, Barrett has been a letdown all year, and while he’s scored at least 25 points with 6 rebounds in his last two contests, he remains an inefficient scorer who will also hurt your free-throw percentage and one who tallies almost as as many assists as he does turnovers. I’d move on after Tuesday and seek other options to stream for the week.
When you play two games, you make the list; it’s that simple. The Hornets face the Cavs on Tuesday and the Sixers on Saturday. Both teams are stout defensively, ranking top 10 in defensive efficiency and bottom 10 in Pace this season. That’s not a good recipe to cook up fantasy points. Dennis Smith Jr. has been useful for assists and steals, but it’ll be hard to hold onto him after Tuesday. The same goes for Mark Williams. I’m concerned about that PJ Washington will continue eating into his production. And it only took two games, as Williams posted a mere 7 points with 3 rebounds in 28 minutes in his last outing.
Tough decisions will need to be made regarding Kelly Oubre and Gordon Hayward. The Hornets play four games in Week 22, so you want to avoid allowing your league-mates to scoop up two mid-tier fantasy players, but it may come to that. Terry Rozier is the lone player from the Hornets that I wouldn’t consider cutting.
If you’re abandoning these three squads like I am in Week 21, here are the teams and players I’d be looking to exploit:
Note: The Celtics, Heat and Suns have the best schedule in terms of games played and opponents faced, but there aren’t many options available to stream, so I’ll focus my attention on players who are available for the week ahead.
The Grizzlies have one of the best schedules for the fantasy playoffs, playing four games each week across Weeks 21-23. I already mentioned how Tyus Jones would cook, but Xavier Tillman is another player on the rise. Steven Adams (knee) is going to miss the rest of the regular season after getting a stem cell injection which paves the way for Tillman to soak up a ton of frontcourt minutes with Brandon Clarke (Achilles) also out for the year.
Tillman likely won’t be available in 12+ team leagues, but if he’s still only 38% rostered. He ranks in the top 75 over the past two weeks and will be a good source of rebounds and steals, but also has some double-double potential as well. He’s averaging 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, with 2.4 stocks per game over his last five contests.
The Pelicans have three games this week — one against the Lakers and two against the Rockets. Brandon Ingram was another casualty of Wednesday night’s injury fallout, leaving the game with an ankle ailment. Let’s see how much time he misses (if any), but with favorable matchups against the Lakers and Rockets, Naji Marshall (5% rostered) becomes an interesting player to stream. He finished Wednesday’s game with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists and has played at least 25 minutes in 3 of his last four contests.
Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III are over 57% rostered, but if they’re available in shallow leagues, they’re worth adding too, especially if Ingram is out.
San Antonio Spurs
Things could get a little messy with so many moving parts in the rotation, but the Spurs have an intriguing schedule facing the Magic, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Hawks. Jeremy Sochan (35%) has been dealing with knee soreness, but he is listed as day-to-day. Keep an eye on the injury report because if he’s a go, he’ll produce. In his previous four games, the rookie is averaging 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal in 30 minutes of action.
Another player to watch is Charles Bassey (9% rostered). He’s been filling in well for Zach Collins, averaging 14 points with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. If Devin Vassell, Tre Jones or Keldon Johnson rest Devonte’ Graham (26% rostered) and Malachi Branham (16% rostered) would be strong streaming options if you need points and threes.
The Dubs play four games in Week 21 and Week 22, so Donte DiVincenzo (46% rostered) and Jonathan Kuminga (29% rostered) are two players who will be worth holding onto with Andrew Wiggins (personal) out of the lineup.
I wrote about the value of both players in my Fantasy playoffs cheat-code column, so check that out for additional insight into why I like their outlook going forward.
Moritz Wagner (28% rostered) is a priority add ahead of Week 21. Wendell Carter (hip) is reportedly close but not ready to return yet, and it’s been Wagner who’s been fulfilling the void in the frontcourt for Orlando. The Magic play four games on the road next week, and Wagner should help fantasy managers with points, rebounds and steals. He’s averaging 12 points with 6 rebounds and a steal over his last four outings.
Los Angeles Lakers
There’s not much value to extract out of the Lakers if Anthony Davis continues to go off for 30 points and 20 rebounds. Still, despite the return of D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves (28% rostered) is a player that will continue to play close to 30 minutes and remain in the closing lineup for the Lakers. They’re in a dogfight in the Western Conference right now, and a four-game week will be important for fantasy managers.
The Rockets and Magic are a part of that schedule in which Reaves should feast. He’s been highly efficient while also being a surprising source of assists. Make sure he’s not available on waivers. Dennis Schroder (45% rostered) will likely take a hit with DLo’s return.