Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks to pass as Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23)defends during the second half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals, Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)


Mike Shara

The 2021-22 NBA season begins on October 19, which means that Fantasy Basketball season is officially upon us. You may have already drafted your team, or it may still be coming up – either way this article can help. If your draft is over, there is a medium chance that some of these players will have gone undrafted and will still be available on the waiver wire, depending on your league’s roster size and categories. None of them are going to be ‘aircraft carrier’ type players that form the backbone of your fantasy roster – many likely won’t even be selected in the first 8-10 rounds – but depending on which categories you need help in, they could prove to be difference-makers for you.

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DE’ANTHONY MELTON, Memphis (26% rostered on Yahoo!)
A mid-second round pick in 2018 out of USC who was traded to Memphis in July 2019 after an unremarkable rookie season in Phoenix, Melton gave little reason for Grizzlies fans to be excited during his first season with the team. However, last season he started to shoot the ball much better from distance, making over 41% from behind the three-point arc after averaging less than 30% his first two NBA seasons. He averaged 20 minutes per game (as he did in 2019-20), but his scoring efficiency increased, and his blocks and steals rates were enough that the Grizz felt comfortable enough to let Grayson Allen leave town. He signed a four-year, $35 million contract late in 2020 and he should see an uptick in minutes and opportunity in his age 23 season. His prorated numbers say that a playing time increase would make him a player worth drafting. I’d bet he won’t stay on your league’s waiver wire for long once the season gets underway.

LARRY NANCE JR, Portland (63% rostered on Yahoo!)
Being a bench player for the Blazers has admittedly been a dicey proposition for fantasy purposes in years past. Former Head Coach Terry Stotts relied heavily on his starters, grinding players like Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and LaMarcus Aldridge into the ground while his bench players rotted away, never sure of consistent minutes. Chances are that new HC Chauncey Billups will spread things around a little more this year, and Nance might be the chief beneficiary of that approach as the first big man off the bench in his first year in the Rose City. Last year was his first season not having a field goal percentage over 50% and yet he still averaged 9.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game for a Cavs team that couldn’t get much worse offensively. Cleveland averaged the fewest points per game in the NBA and was bottom five in SRS, Offensive Rating and Pace. Before last year, he had averaged double digits rebounds and points per 36 minutes for five straight seasons. He’s still just 28 years old and seems likely to be reinvigorated, looking to regain his old form while playing (hopefully) consistent minutes for a new team that is trying to win now.

JAKOB POELTL, San Antonio (82% rostered on Yahoo!)
Yes, he’s going to get drafted and no, you’re not likely to be able to steal him off of the waiver wire. The question here is when to grab him. I’d comfortably grab him in the 8th or 9th round in a 12-team league and I predict he will end up being worth it at that point.  For the first time in over two decades, the Spurs are (finally) facing the truth and rebuilding and Poeltl, acquired in 2018 from Toronto as part of the Kawhi Leonard trade, will be a key figure in that rebuild. He became the team’s starting center midway through last season and put up helpful fantasy numbers – except for his nasty 50.8% free throw shooting percentage. Before you run for the hills, it’s important to remember that the Austrian was a project for his first few seasons, only turning 26 just before the season begins and that his arrow is still clearly pointing up. His size (you can’t teach 7’1”) and commitment to defense will keep him in Head Coach Greg Popovich’s lineup and he’s already averaged over 2.5 blocks and 1 steal per 36 minutes over the last two seasons. I like him a lot better this year than other big men who are currently being taken ahead of him. (cough…Brook Lopez and…double cough…Andre Drummond).

CAMERON JOHNSON, Phoenix (9% rostered on Yahoo!)
So…did anybody else notice how well Cam shot the ball from three in last year’s playoffs – especially during the NBA Finals? Does anyone else think that the Timberwolves regret trading him (AND Dario Saric) to Phoenix for Jarrett Culver, whom they’ve already traded away? A rarity today in that he actually played four years of college basketball, Johnson’s more developed skills and maturity began to shine through as last season wore on. For a second year NBA player to average 21 minutes, 8 points and a steal per game during the playoffs on a veteran-laden team that reached the finals tells you how high the Suns are on his game. This year, with Saric injured and Jae Crowder being, well…old, he figures to see more time on the floor, including some time with the starters. If he can maintain the improved shooting, he showed in the postseason he could make himself into a multi-category fantasy contributor worthy of a late-round pick in deeper leagues.

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