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Players Not Named Zion Are Worth Drafting Too

Have you guys heard of this Zion guy? I know this may be a bit of a hot take but … I think he’s going to be pretty good. Have you seen him dunk? 

Oh you have? You’ve seen all of them? How is that even possible? Okay whatever, I’m moving on.

Good news – he is headed to the NBA! Bad news – only one person in your league is going to get him. You’re stressed out about it now, aren’t you? I sympathize, I’m a Knicks fan so that stress has been all I’ve known for six months. More good news – there are players who can help your team besides Zion (and even beyond other top-tier prospects such as Ja Morant and RJ Barrett).

One of the most overlooked aspects of fantasy basketball is defense. I get it, chicks dig the long ball and all that but let’s not forget steals and blocks are categories. Beyond contributing to your fantasy totals, being a good defender gets players on the floor earlier in their careers. The more minutes a player gets, the more he can contribute to your fantasy team.

De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

ESPN has the Virginia product ranked as their sixth overall prospect, but it seems to me he’s being undervalued because he lacks the flashy offensive game of prospects like Duke’s Cam Reddish or Indiana’s Romeo Langford.

There are a couple knocks on Hunter. One is that the would-be college Junior will enter the league as a 21-year-old (which I guess is old now?). Trust me, it’s not. I’m only 28 and I’d kill to be 21 again. Oh man, the metabolism I used to have. I could eat an entire package of Chips Ahoy! like it was my job.

Now I forgot what we were talking about … Oh yeah! De’Andre Hunter. 

Another wart is that he didn’t really rack up the steals and blocks you’d like to see from the reigning defensive player of the year. He only averaged 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in his two years in school, but I’m going to chalk that up to Tony Bennett’s conservative style of defense.

On to some good news! Dude can flat out play defense with the best of them. Everyone wants a player who “has position flexibility” or “can guard 1-5” or “didn’t have a weird mustache in high school.” (One of those may have been more about me than Hunter.) NBA coaches are going to love Hunter’s versatility  and I know we’re talking about defense here, but let’s not forget he also averaged 14.2 points per game this season. 

Kevin Pelton released his projected 5-year wins above replacement (WARP) projections for this year’s draft prospects and Hunter graded out to a 1.5 WARP projection. That places him 14th in this draft class but it’s very similar to the projections of both Justise Winslow (2014) and John Collins (2017). Winslow is the better comp right out of the gate as his defense was ready right away but his offensive game still took a little while to develop. Winslow was the 164th-ranked player on Basketball Monster this season and Hunter is capable of replicating the Heat forward’s production right away, making him a useful player from Day 1.

Matisse Thybulle, G/F, Washington

If you’re looking for steals and blocks Matisse is your guy. For his career he averaged 2.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. For just his senior year he averaged 3.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per GAME. For context, Thybulle’s 3.5 steals per game is the highest since 1985-86. Let’s add in some more history and mention that he has the most steals in PAC-12 history. He broke Gary FREAKING Payton’s record. Somehow he was better at getting steals than someone nicknamed “The Glove,” which I don’t think people are talking enough about. 

Thybulle stands 6’5” and has a reported 7-foot wingspan, which makes him an ideal fit as a “3-and-D” wing. But about that three point shot… 

He does have a career three-point percentage of just under 36%, but last year he only hit around 30% of his threes, which will not cut it if he wants to be more than a limited rotation player. I’m hopeful that he’ll become a competent enough shooter to stay on the court and rack up defensive stats.

Kevin Pelton also gave him a 1.5 WARP projection which puts him in the company of guys like Kris Dunn (2016) and Josh Hart (2017). If he turns out like either of those guys you’re looking at a very valuable asset that you more than likely grabbed late in a draft. The 1.5 WARP projection places him 15th in this class but I’m still high on him, because the zone defense he played in college doesn’t turn everyone, or really anyone, into the box score defensive stats monster that Thybulle is. This guy knows how to play defense and if the shooting comes, he could be a rich man’s Thabo Sefolosha.

I get it, it’s way more fun to draft Luka Doncic than Mitchell Robinson, but not all of us get to be so lucky. Yes, Doncic is going to make a big difference to your team in a lot of categories, but grabbing a player like Robinson can help you dominate defensive categories right away, which is a pretty nice consolation prize if you miss out on the potential stars at the top of the draft.

That said, congratulations if you get to draft Zion! Have you seen him dunk?!?

The Author

Travis Pastore

Travis Pastore

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