Digging for Diamonds – Chris McCullough and Yogi Ferrell

Chris McCullough, who turned 22 on February 5th, was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets at the end of the first round in 2015 and has not cracked their pathetic rotation, so I understand if anyone is skeptical about his fantasy upside. However, right now he will cost you almost nothing besides a roster spot and he has the ability to be a standout in multiple categories.

In a small sample in 2015, McCullough stole or blocked the ball on almost 7% of possessions. Nerlens Noel is the standard bearer in that regard, registering a steal or block on 7.2% of possessions in 2015-2016. For reference, Draymond Green’s combined rate was 5.2%. In other words, even with significant regression in those categories (and there will be regression), all McCullough needs to do to turn a profit on your investment is get on the court.

So can McCullough develop the rest of his game enough to the point that he’s earning the playing time necessary for him to become a start-worthy fantasy contributor?

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Digging for Diamonds: Lucas Nogueira

On June 27, 2013, the Boston Celtics selected Lucas Nogueira with the 16th overall pick in the NBA Draft.

By June 29, 2014, Nogueira had already been traded three times (twice on draft night alone), and had not played a single minute of professional basketball. This is where our unsung story begins.

That final trade – a deal that sent John Salmons to Atlanta and Nogueira to Toronto – has helped to expose the very real potential of this edition’s diamond. After two seasons of limited run, it looked like Nogueira might get buried on the bench again, as the Raps took center Jakob Poetl ninth overall in the 2016 Draft and signed free agent Jared Sullinger. But coach Dwane Casey gave the Brazilian a chance, and Lucas has absolutely risen to the occasion. He has appeared in 45 games so far this year, averaging 21.4 minutes per.

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Digging for Diamonds – Juan Hernangomez and Thon Maker

In recent months I’ve examined hoops prospects I find interesting that may be worth acquiring or picking up on the waiver wire, depending on the size of your league. In yet another International Men of Mystery version of Digging for Diamonds, I’ll focus on 2016 1st round picks, Juan Hernangomez and Thon Maker.

Let me state off the top – for first round picks, we have very limited information on these two. Information is good – it’s what allowed some to recognize Nikola Jokic as bonafied with confidence where others may have been skeptical. With a larger data set to work with, dynasty owners may have known to avoid someone like bust-in-the-making, Dante Exuum, who had played in very few professional games when the Utah Jazz selected him in the lottery back in 2014.

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Digging for Diamonds: Ivica Zubac and Ante Zizic

After riding the bench for most of the season, Lakers’ rookie center Ivica Zubac has posted three double-doubles in the last ten days despite playing fewer than 30 minutes in each contest. Born in a country that definitely exists – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Zubac played against top competition in Serbia before declaring for the 2016 NBA draft.Don’t let his second round pedigree fool you into thinking Zubac lacks upside. He had a rookie WARP projection of 1.7, which is more commonly found among lottery selections, (Marquese Chriss had a 1.9 projection).  My working theory is there’s a lingering bias among NBA GM’s against Euro bigs, particularly those seen as unable to help right away (e.g. the Knicks selected “NBA ready” Cleanthony Early over Nikola Jokic and his 3.1 rookie WARP projection in 2014).

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Digging for Diamonds: Caris LeVert and Montrezl Harrell

In the last edition of Digging for Diamonds I wrote up Willy Hernangomez and Richaun Holmes, a couple of intriguing “per minute darlings “that have yet to find consistent playing time. This time around, I’ll look at two prospects who have recently benefitted from more playing time – Caris LeVert and Montrezl Harrell.

Based entirely on his age, college stats and size, LeVert’s preseason CARMELO projections defined him as an “OK prospect” with his top ten NBA player comparisons including score-first combo guards Reggie Jackson and Brandon Roy (that’s good!)… and a whole bunch of fringe rotation players (that’s bad). Given his combination of size, shooting and playmaking ability the dream is indeed Brandon Roy, who represents a plausible, if highly unlikely best case scenario. Unlike most combo guard prospects, LeVert showed legitimate playmaking skills as a collegiate athlete.  In fact, his 28% assist rate in college ranks around the 90th percentile. His 22% assist rate as a pro (albeit in a small sample) suggests he can at least fake point guard duties, particularly in a league that is more flexible about what a primary ball-handler is asked to do (e.g. Giannis and Harden). (For reference, Brandon Roy had an assist rate just below 20% for his career.)

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Digging for Diamonds: Richaun Holmes and Willy Hernangomez

I’m a sucker for two things when it comes to dynasty basketball prospects – efficiency and sexy defensive stats. If players are efficient, they’re more likely to get playing time and put up stats. Sexy defensive stats make for a high floor, because the player can be deployed as a useful specialist at minimum.

That’s why when I saw the ease and versatility with which Willy Hernangomez scores and the pace with which Richaun Holmes blocks shots and steals basketballs, I new I had to rip off the baseball writer’s “Digging for Diamonds” column.

Indeed, it does require some digging to find these two on anyones watch list. They only average about 30 minutes per game combined right now, but both have flashed per minute numbers that have piqued my interest.

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Digging For Diamonds: 2016-17 Post-Hype Catchers

It’s everybody’s favorite time of year! No, not the holidays, I’m talking about prospects list season! This is the beginning of a series on sleepers, breakout, and post-hype prospects, starting today with post-hype catchers. These are guys who may or may not have exceeded rookie status (130 Major League at-bats) but who aren’t valued perhaps as highly as they were in years past. Next week, we will be discussing sleepers, following with everybody’s favorite, breakout candidates. After that will come post-hype middle-infielders, sleeper infielders, etc. So here they are, without further adieu, your 2016-17 post-hype catchers: Continue reading

Combing the AFL Desert

As the various minor leagues wrap up their seasons, there is one more event for prospect seekers, the Arizona Fall League. This is a five-week baseball extravaganza that includes top prospects, injured prospects, and a mix-match of everything in between. While not all of the rosters are completely filled, a few names caught my eye as particularly interesting with regard to dynasty fantasy baseball. While not all standouts in this league will continue to see their prospect status rise – here’s looking at you, Adam Engel – some of these players will be future top prospects.


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Scouring The Lower Minors

A few weeks ago, my deep dynasty league had their monthly minor league auction which is the only time that true minor leaguers may be added to our rosters. Considering that there are 20 teams with up to 50 roster spots dedicated to minor leaguers, this is an important time. Since the team I took over hadn’t had any minor league transactions to date, I had the full $100 to work with. I quickly proposed about 20 one-dollar bids after a quick look at high performers at the Rookie and Low-A levels. One of the names I identified was Samir Duenez. When another owner bid $2, I let him go and laughed to myself at his effort to raise the price on a player I didn’t really care much about. A month later, I’m wondering if the other owner was in fact laughing at me. Duenez has seen a significant rise in value after a season in which he has seen him earn promotions from full season A ball to Double-A. It’s too soon to draw conclusions from his Double-A performance, but his other two stops were rousing successes. Leading up to 2015, Duenez, while young for his placement, did not show much success with the bat. He hit a total of two home runs in his first three seasons and generally had an OPS in the .650 range. This year has been a different story. For the season, he has posted a triple-slash line of .288/.348/.451. He’s probably not going to be a future star, but players with his profile – low strikeouts, decent walk-rate, a little speed – tend to have a high floor. He’s not a must-add in regular formated dynasty leagues, but in my league that rosters 1000 prospects, he was a great find.

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Using ISO and Age to Unearth Fantasy Gems

The key to continued success in a dynasty fantasy league format is to continually identify quality future major leaguers before other owners do. This often means culling through minor league statistics, reading scouting reports, and generally keeping one step ahead of the competition. I began thinking about strategies that would give me an advantage over my league mates. After a bit of unsuccessful trial and error with regression equations and correlation tables I happened upon something much simpler and more effective. I started by brainstorming a list of what I considered the most informative statistics and settled on ISO . I chose this based on personal preference towards hitters that specialize in run production at the expense of players with value dependent on speed. I also hoped that it would be more predictive – Garin Cecchini once stole 51 bases after all! I applied a point value to players with ISO in different ranges from 1 through 6, then did the same with age versus average age in that player’s league.  Then I cross referenced players that exceeded my filter against their draft position and highest prospect rank at Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. My goal was to identify players who were ranked outside the top 50 prospects but had the draft pedigree and statistics/age qualifications. From the statistics of all minor leaguers in 2010, I came up with the following retroactive information.

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