Today we’ll be mining for talent on losing teams, or the bottom five teams in each conference. Since these teams are starting to see their playoff chances dwindle, it makes sense for them to focus on developing their young prospects the rest of the way.
Some of these players may already be rostered, but for the other guys, you’ll want to have them on radar, and be ready to add them if and when they have a big game. If you aren’t a fantasy player but still just love the NBA, this column can serve as a guide for some exciting young players who might be popping up with more frequency on your screens and in highlight reels.
11. Toronto Raptors
Entering Wednesday’s games, Toronto is just two games back of Chicago and three games back of Indiana in the standings, meaning they still have a chance to qualify for the play-in tournament. But given that they’ve lost 14 of their last 17 games, their outlook is not looking so good. And when you factor in Kyle Lowry’s foot infection and Fred VanVleet’s recent hip injury, you have a team that is missing serious firepower, especially in the backcourt. So let’s examine a couple of their young guards, who could really help out some teams down the stretch. This is especially true for the week starting April 26, when Toronto plays five games.
Gary Trent Jr., 22 years old
The Raptors traded away Norman Powell to land Trent Jr., suggesting they’re ready to sign him to a long-term deal, as Trent Jr. will be a restricted free agent after this season. The swingman was playing less than 31 minutes per game for Portland, but has seen his minutes creep closer to 33 per game since joining Toronto. If that number continues to climb, Trent Jr. will be an excellent source of scoring and 3-pointers the rest of the way.
Per 36 minute stats: 48 games, 17.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 3.4 threes, 41.5% FG, 77.1% FT
Malachi Flynn, 22 years old
For the season, Flynn is averaging just 3.7 points in 12.9 minutes per game. Even when extrapolated over 36 minutes, Flynn’s 10.2 points and 1.3 treys leave a lot to be desired, and he’s shot just 23% from behind the 3-point arc. But Flynn boosted his confidence a bit by playing very well in the G League, and he’s gotten lots of run lately, with both Lowry and VanVleet sidelined. While he’s not an explosive scorer, Flynn is a sound decision-maker, posting a solid 2.84 assist-to-turnover ratio his last year in college, and following with a strong 2.87 ratio as a rookie in the NBA. If Lowry and/or VanVleet continue to miss games, Flynn is definitely worth a look.
Per 36 minute stats: 26 games, 10.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.3 threes, 33.9% FG, 75.0% FT
G League stats: 6 games, 34.5 mpg, 20.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 3.0 threes, 44.2% FG, 91.7% FT
12. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are destined to miss out on the playoffs again, so these final 20 or so games of the regular season should be about developing continuity and confidence for their young players. While Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have made great strides this season, and Jarrett Allen was an excellent pickup as their center of the future, which of their teammates have the talent to help them contend in future seasons?
Isaac Okoro, 20 years old
Yes, Okoro has had plenty of chances to prove himself to fantasy managers in his rookie season, and he’s consistently failed to deliver. One of the only positives is that Okoro is starting to shoot the ball a bit better, at 45% from the field and 34% from 3-point range since the All-Star break, compared to 41% from the field and 30% from 3-point range before the break. Even Okoro’s per 36 minute stats do not warrant much fantasy attention, but perhaps the Cavs will increase his offensive role over these final weeks, so that Okoro can work on his playmaking ability. Ideally, the Cavs are hoping that Okoro can become a bigger and better version of Marcus Smart, but he has a long ways to go.