By Henry Weinberg, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As we enter December, sample sizes are reaching a point of becoming pretty trustworthy. Scouring the league, a buyers’ market is emerging, so let's dive in.
Trade For: James Harden, Clippers
The oft-maligned James Harden makes for a unique buy-low candidate because there's always the chance that his incumbent manager dislikes him. Purely assessing Harden’s on-court value, he has assisted on 29.0% of the Clippers’ buckets during his time on the court, which ranks in the 91st percentile leaguewide. He led the league with a 44.0% assist rate and 10.7 dimes per game with Philadelphia last season. Although Joel Embiid was an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Harden, he can still manipulate defenses and be a strong facilitator, especially in the context of fantasy.
Harden is hitting 36.7% of 5.5 threes per game through his first 11 games in Los Angeles, providing a solid offensive floor. Averages of 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists across his last five games are comically low numbers while the Clippers' Big 4 are still adjusting. Harden has certainly been a large part of the problem, as the Clippers own a minus-6.0 net rating per 100 possessions with Harden on the court. That being said, it would be nearly unfathomable to see Los Angeles pull the plug on sizable Harden usage before fantasy managers could extract enough value from the star if acquired via trade at this juncture.
The Clippers are dead last in passes as a team, making 251.3 passes per game. Dallas is second-to-last at 254.0. The Kings are first with 316.8. The Clippers leaning into Harden's play style could enable better ball movement, as well as yield more threes for the Clippers, who own a bottom-five ranking in spot-up frequency.
Trade For: Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
The buy-low window on Jaden Ivey is closing, but I feel that he's worth acquiring at face value as well — or even as a pickup as he's available in 45% of Yahoo leagues. He averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while knocking down 1.6 three-point attempts per game last season. Fast forward to now. His rest-of-season production is in line to hit these thresholds, at minimum. The 21-year-old is averaging 19.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per 36 minutes this season. Detroit likely has too much competition in the backcourt for quite that many minutes, but there is serious fantasy appeal down the stretch, as his workload should grow.
Ivey is arguably the top developmental priority at this time for Detroit given the franchise's current standing. Cade Cunningham is the de facto No.1 option with abundant usage already. Ausar Thompson is the lone defensive wing on the roster. Jalen Duren is the only big who has shown two-way flashes of being a roster centerpiece. In his second season, Ivey’s development is paramount for Detroit when evaluating the upside of the core, which is already four years into a rebuild. Expecting Killian Hayes and Marcus Sasser to take a backseat to Ivey for the remainder of the season feels extremely realistic.
Ivey is doing his part. He's connecting on 71.7% of his shots within five feet of the basket, which marks a huge increase from the 50.0% shooting he posted at the rim last season. Ivey remains an elite athlete with top-tier speed for knifing to the basket, and he's getting to the rim for 48.4% of his shots this season, per CleaningTheGlass. That frequency leads all guards, and Ivey's newfound efficiency is fueling the raising of his game to new heights.
Through 13 appearances, Ivey is logging just 23.7 minutes per game, but his 52.6% clip from the field is excellent efficiency despite the small sample size. Connecting on 34.9% of his threes is also an incremental improvement from last season. Detroit's offensive spacing is arguably the worst in the league, and the team shooting 30.1% from deep is factually the worst in the league. Ivey is overcoming this environment and appears to be firmly on the rise.
Trade Away: Austin Reaves, Lakers
Reaves is amid a good stretch, averaging 16.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 51.9% shooting over his last five games. The Reaves who blossomed with the Lakers last season averaged 18.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 56.5% shooting from March onward. He was a huge piece of the Lakers' starting lineups down the stretch, but all of his recent play has come in a bench role, which seems likely for the foreseeable future given the success he's having.
So, Reaves is approaching his expected level of production after a cold start, but he’s still getting torched defensively. Fortunately, Los Angeles owns the league’s 13th-best defense but 23rd-best offense, which is conducive to Reaves retaining his 30-minute role. Overall, I’m not panicking to move Reaves, but he isn’t a role player I’m attached to on my fantasy roster.
In fact, he potentially deserves some slack. He is self-creating and orchestrating the Lakers’ pick-and-roll at a higher frequency than last season, which has resulted in his spot-up looks declining from 28.7% to 16.2% of his possessions. Decreasing his quantity of easier looks while dealing with the burdens of a 29.4% increase in pick-and-roll usage will naturally lead to growing pains and some efficiency dips.
Reaves still owns a strong 2.04 AST/TO ratio despite turning the ball over on 17.8% of his possessions – sixth highest among all qualifiers. The eventual return of Gabe Vincent (knee) is unlikely to impact how Reaves is used because Vincent isn’t a facilitator, but it could slightly dent Reaves' overall playing time if Los Angeles leans on D’Angelo Russell and LeBron James to handle playmaking. It’s also fair to wonder how an inferior environment would affect Reaves’ production if he is included in a trade for Zach LaVine or a comparable asset.
I’m interested in packaging Reaves with 1-2 other good-but-unspectacular roster pieces to probe on Ja Morant, Kyle Kuzma or Rudy Gobert. To reiterate, I’m not panicking on Reaves, but it would surprise me if a breakout campaign emerged.
Trade For: Keyonte George, Jazz
Similar to Jaden Ivey, George is a reasonable buy candidate even at a fair price — and remains available in 52% of Yahoo leagues. Averaging 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists over his last three games indicates a level of production that could be moderately sustainable for George down the stretch. His season-long stats of 9.9 points, 3.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game on 35.8% shooting from the field and 32.9% shooting from deep disguises the flashes of brilliance George is showing. The rookie will certainly have inconsistent nights, but there is palpable energy surrounding George's ascension to becoming a key part of Utah's future
The Jazz have already entrusted him with duties in the closing lineup, and he's operated as the lead initiator in the offense throughout recent games. Jordan Clarkson isn't a true point guard, and his shot selection has been bad en route to a career-low 41.4% shooting from the field this season. Collin Sexton has seemingly plateaued at 20-25 minutes per game. Kris Dunn can't exceed 10 minutes per game off the bench. The lane is clear for George, and he's unafraid to take off.
The lack of a track record for George makes him tough to predict. He battled ankle/leg injuries during his lone season at Baylor, which drained his athleticism as a defender and attacker at times. He also struggled to get lift on his jumper, and he’s still leaving a lot of threes short in his NBA career thus far. Still, his underlying shooting metrics are encouraging. George is hitting 33.3% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot threes compared to just 27.7% of his guarded C&S threes, as well as canning 39.5% of his off-the-dribble threes, which are more difficult shots. Given that he's connecting on 46.2% of his unguarded threes at Baylor, his mechanics can be trusted. George's current trajectory is extremely promising.
Trade Away: Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets
Dinwiddie is a quintessential sell-high candidate right now, as he's operating with exceptional usage in a Brooklyn backcourt lacking Ben Simmons (back), Cam Thomas (ankle) and Dennis Smith (back). Thomas has missed eight consecutive games, but he was upgraded to doubtful prior to Sunday's contest against Chicago, and his return appears imminent.
Meanwhile, Dinwiddie has posted eight consecutive games with double-digit points, although his volatility over that span has been interesting. Dinwiddie has scored 24-plus points three times, while not exceeding 14 points across the other five contests. Brooklyn returning to health will limit some of the 30-year-old's boom factor. Averaging 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 10.0 assists in 38.7 minutes per game across his last three contests, all fantasy managers might as well explore the market for Dinwiddie.