Fantasy Basketball New Year Wishlist: Get Zach LaVine to Lakers and Ausar Thompson more minutes

Ausar Thompson #9 of the Detroit Pistons

Ausar Thompson has not been a problem for the Pistons, but his lack of a full workload has been. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

We’re four days into the New Year, and it’s prime resolution/affirmation season. It’s good to have goals and manifest positive change that’s within your control. In the spirit of putting thoughts into action, here are three scenarios in the NBA that I wish would pan out to improve the fantasy outlook for a few players in 2024 fantasy basketball.

Pistons trade veteran(s) and get Ausar Thompson more minutes

The dynamic rookie immediately helped fantasy managers from the start of the season, ranking 78th in per-game value from October 24 to November 29, starting the first 18 games.

It looked great, and my comps to a young version of Andre Iguodala mixed with Shawn Marion were hitting. But as the Pistons chased history the wrong way, Thompson’s minutes have declined dramatically over the past month. Through the first 20 games, Thompson played 29 minutes per night.

Then December hit.

As the losses mounted to historic levels, Pistons’ HC Monty Williams moved Thompson to the bench, causing fantasy managers to send him to the streets faster than Nay’s mom in “The Wire.” Seeing his role reduced to 20 minutes a night, it’s not a surprise he’s down in every category and available in 50% of Yahoo leagues.

I’m here to tell you there’s hope. I get the decision to drop him, but he’s a player I’d want long-term. And it’s not like he was thaaat bad.

He’s still shooting the highest FG percentage on the team while also pacing to third in fantasy points per game (25.1) among his rookie class. Speaking of which, here’s how he stacks up against others from the 2023 Draft.

Ausar Thompson 2023 rookie class per-game ranks:

  • 4th in Rebounds (7.1)

  • 2nd in Defensive Reb percentage (19.0%)

  • 3rd in Offensive rebound percentage (8.5%)

  • 4th in blocks (1.1)

  • 7th in steals (0.8)

  • 3rd in deflections (1.9)

His demotion felt disrespectful, given how his versatile skillset translated to fantasy. The critics harping on his inability to shoot outside 16 feet are fair. Fifteen percent from three is terrible — abysmal. And indeed, a recipe for riding the pine with Monty Williams wanting more shooters around Cade Cunningham. Still, Thompson is better than the league average on two-point FGs and has been pretty efficient near the rim and in the paint as a rookie.

Here’s a crazy idea, but put Ausar in the dunker’s spot and watch him cook. Trade a veteran. Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Stewart, specifically.

Ausar can then play primarily at PF and get back on track to his top 70 upside. The Pistons are the worst team in basketball — historically awful. The more the Pistons lose, the more I think we’ll see them moving toward evaluating their younger core of players. If you’re in a contending position in fantasy basketball and have the space, I would add and hold Thompson. If you need wins, then I understand the decision to move on — just remember his potential for piling up rebounds, stocks and assists when he sees a starter’s workload.

Bulls trade Zach LaVine to Lakers

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Bulls G Zach LaVine will be dealt before the NBA’s trade deadline on February 15. Nothing significant has materialized though, and he’s been out since November 30 with a foot injury. Throwing another wrinkle into the equation is that the Bulls are actually winning games. The Bulls are 10-6 without LaVine in the lineup, though it looks like LaVine is nearing his return as early as next week, according to Bulls HC Billy Donovan.

LaVine’s energy has been noticeably off all season long. Before his foot injury, the Bulls were bottom-feeding, sitting at 5-13 through their first 18 games when LaVine played. He appeared disgruntled several times during this period and that likely impacted his play. While his overall numbers aren’t that far from the norm, he averaged 21 points with five rebounds, three assists, two threes and one steal while shooting 44% from the field and 86% from the line over that span.

Over the past three seasons, fantasy managers got accustomed to LaVine scoring over 24 points a night and hitting over 47% of his shots. His scoring has suffered with him taking and making fewer two-point FG attempts, plus lower volume at the free-throw line so far this year. Again, that doesn’t mean he’s washed or anything. But LaVine had an ADP of 50 in the preseason, so he was expected to live up to it.

LaVine has won 211 out of 573 games — 37% with one playoff appearance in his 10-year career. I can see why the man is pissed off and wants to switch it up. The Lakers are going through it, too, and are missing a reliable third option who can stretch the floor and get a bucket on his own. Since capturing the inaugural in-season tournament title, the Lakers are 3-9 and searching for answers outside the usual suspects of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves.

LaVine’s athleticism and shot creation would be a welcome boost for the stagnant Lakers and a move that could also improve his fantasy value. Sure, he’d still be fighting for touches with two other stars, but he’s doing that now alongside DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic (hey, Vuc is a two-time All-Star, don’t hate). There’s a vacancy in the Lakers starting SG spot with LaVine’s name written all over it. Jovan Buha of the Athletic cited a deal centered around D’Angelo Russell, another vet (Rui Hachimura/Gabe Vincent), a young player (they have a few) and a protected first-round pick.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka has done more with less in the past, so I’m not ruling out this possibility. From a fantasy perspective, I’d venture that LaVine would get better looks and be put into better positions to maximize his scoring ability — and more efficiently. Now that it’s manifested let’s hope that LaVine looks good upon his return and that it’s enough for the Lakers and Bulls to make this fantasy a reality.

LaMelo Ball returns and stays healthy for the rest of the season

Between the off-the-court issues with a few players and the laundry list of injuries, the Hornets’ season was probably over before it started. The sad part is that fantasy managers (and NBA fans) need to see more of LaMelo Ball.

And if you’re familiar with the Hornets, you know that their injury reporting is in contention for the worst in the NBA. Mark Williams’ back injury didn’t appear serious, but he’s missed 12 straight games and has been day-to-day since December 11. LaMelo’s been out since November 30, much to the dismay of fantasy managers. He’s missed 17 consecutive games with no firm timetable for his return.

Ball was a first-round selection in the preseason (ADP 11.8) even though he came off an injury-plagued 2022-2023 season where he only played in 36 games. However, he’s been a top 30 player in per-game value in three of his four seasons as a pro, so it’s not like his ranking was off base. Ball was expected to make the leap into stardom this year, and just as it was getting going, he sprained his right ankle — a repeated issue Melo’s had to deal with early in his career.

He was on a heater right before his latest injury though, averaging 30 points, six boards, eight dimes, four triples and a steal per game with 49/43/88 shooting splits over his last 10 games. He was playing on an unreal level — I mean, just look at some of these plays:

It’s no coincidence that five of the Hornets’ seven wins this season have come with LaMelo Ball in the lineup. They wouldn’t be a good team, but still, it’d be nice to see one of the potential young superstars of the league fulfill his destiny as one of the most entertaining and skilled PGs in the NBA and fantasy basketball.

So, where do fantasy managers go from here? We wait.

LaMelo’s been doing on-court work, but it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to go because he’s not taking any contact yet. If you’re in a contending position, you can get Melo at a reasonable price, considering there’s so much in flux with his recovery from his latest ankle sprain. It’s a new year, so let’s remain optimistic and confident that Ball will return with enough time to help teams win a fantasy championship.