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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