Don't coast. If you have a shot at a title, you have to remain vigilant.
A fantasy playoff series can swing on the performance of one big game. It doesn't matter if the big game comes from Anthony Davis or Kosta Koufos. The history of the last month of the fantasy basketball season is permeated with lesser-known players who came out of nowhere and delivered a late run of production.
Where should you look for these potential unsung heroes? Begin at the bottom of the NBA standings.
Tanking teams may not offer the most watchable brand of basketball, but they do present sudden, tangible percolations in fantasy production.
Tanking teams want to do two things: lose ... and finding out what they've got in terms of young upside. Give the right young players enough minutes, place them in a no-expectations environment, and fantasy production will bloom.
One problem this season: We're faced with two knock-down, drag-out, fights for the eighth playoff spot in both conferences. More teams still have a puncher's chance of making the postseason. Obviously, teams still in playoff contention will be less liable to throw caution to the wind and start carving out minutes for less-proven players.
Which teams have at least one foot in the take? Which highly available players could be difference makers in your championship push?
Let's take a look.
22-46, 10.5 games out of eighth seed
I'm leading with the Suns because I wanted to tell you pick up PG/SG Tyler Ulis. Eric Bledsoe has been shut down for the season due to the nondescript but still gutting in a fantasy context "knee soreness." Ulis started last night and double-doubled (13 points, 13 assists), chipping in two steals, a block, and a 3-pointer. Ulis should be locked in at point guard, with his fantasy eligibility at SG an added bonus.
Bingeworthy block potential is a key stretch-run asset. There aren't many readily available players (available in 89.1 percent of leagues) with more gonzo block upside than PF Marquese Chriss. Chriss' upside runs deeper and more diversified than just blocks. He's teeming with what I call "1+1+1" potential: a player capable of averaging a steal, a block and a 3-pointer. He's nearly doing it as is for the season despite averaging only 20.0 MPG.
Chriss' minutes are rising. His past-five line: 26.6 MPG, 11.4 PTS, 6.4 REB, 2.2 BLK, 1.8 3PT, 0.8 STL ... and 5.0 fouls. If Chriss can stay aggressive and cut down on the fouls, he can be a real fantasy difference maker.
The Suns are stocked with young upside at every position. It's probably too late in your league to talk SF TJ Warren or C Alan Williams, but check to see if they're still available. Both players have played their way into the "should be rostered in all leagues" discussion.
27-41, 5.5 games out of eighth seed
The Kings' post-DeMarcus Cousins rotation teems with fantasy potential. PF Skal Labissiere threw down a classic "look at me" line last night. Yes, it was against the Suns, but 32 points and 11 rebounds officially qualify as acting out.
As anticipated, C Willie Cauley-Stein is building momentum. He's scored in double figures in seven out of eight games and is starting to supplement his scoring with more diversified production. Again, it was against the Suns, but Cauley-Stein's 14 point, 11 rebound, 5 assists, 4 steal, 4 block line last night may have been the best of his young fantasy career.
As the current centerpiece of the Kings' return in the DMC trade, SG/SF Buddy Hield has a mandate to log heavy, consistent minutes. For this to look even marginally acceptable from a Sacramento perspective, Hield has to produce. Hield has taken advantage of Tyreke Evans' ankle injury and has looked far more consistent than he ever did in New Orleans. Over his past five games, Hield has averaged 2.6 3-pointers per game, hitting them at a 48.1 3FG% clip. Hield rebounds well, but a more acceptable steals rate would boost his overall value.
24-43, 10.5 games out of eighth seed
There isn't a team on this list with more high-end young talent then the Process-powered Sixers. But if SF/PF Dario Saric is still available in your league ... you need to find more competitive friends.
C Jahlil Okafor and PF Richaun Holmes are in a still-productive semi-timeshare. As expected, Okafor is breaking out post-Nerlens Noel. But he still hasn't supplemented his upwardly mobile scoring numbers with a needed boost in rebounding.
Okafor's score-first production has opened the door for Holmes. Holmes has responded with nearly three weeks of consistent value. It's even more impressive considering Holmes is still under 25 minutes a night. I love Holmes' potential ... like Chriss, he has 1+1+1 upside.
If you're in a late dogfight for assists and/or steals -- and don't mind a lack of scoring -- PG TJ McConnell is still available in nearly 70 percent of leagues. SG Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has started three straight games, averaging 12.3 PPG across those starts.
20-48, 12.5 games out of eighth seed
In danger of losing a top-three protected pick, there isn't a team on this list with more impetus to tank then the Lakers. Which lines up perfectly with Luke Walton's announcement that he's going to start C Ivica Zubac for the rest of the season. Zubac is a perfect tank center: weak defense, all offense and tries to make up for his lack of defense by overcompensating in blocked shots.
SF/PF Brandon Ingram has been quietly building value for three weeks. His minutes are trending into the upper-30s. Ingram hasn't had a breakout game, but he's been consistently hitting double figures and chipping in steals, blocks and 3-pointers. His secret sauce could end up being his assists production ... he's posted multiple lines with 5-plus dimes this season.
27-41, 6 games out of eighth seed
I wrote last week on why center-starved owners should pick up the surprisingly consistent C Willy Hernangomez. Since then, he's double-doubled in three out of his last four games. Aside from Hernangomez, the cupboard is relatively bare in terms of rising upside.
One name that's bubbled up a few times since All-Star Weekend: small forward Lance Thomas. He's having a modest career year, fueled by a 44.6 3FG%. He rebounds well and can chip in with the occasional steal and assists. But as is the issue with many fringe Knicks, we simply don't know if Thomas' role is on a game-to-game basis.
24-44, 9 games out of eighth seed
I'm disappointed in the Magic. Despite their lottery trajectory, they have yet to boost SG/SF Mario Hezonja's minutes over the 20 MPG mark. At this point, he's the only member of the Magic still available in most leagues who has any breakout potential.
12-54, 21 games out of eighth seed
You can't call it "tanking" if you don't own your own first round pick. So we'll just leave it at Brooklyn seems to have turned the page on the 2016-17 campaign. Even worse, there aren't many young potential impact players on the Nets roster.
Three names I can recommend in deeper leagues: SG/PF Caris LeVert, SG/SF/PF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and PG/SG Isaiah Whitehead. None of the three have posted consistent value, but they're all getting enough minutes to register a late-stage breakout.