By Henry Weinberg, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As players emerge from cold starts, there is a fleeting chance to buy low on numerous big names. Without further ado, let's dive in.
Trade For: Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Despite shooting 29.9% through his first seven games, Randle's fantasy floor is amazing. League-wide, only teammate Josh Hart collects a higher percentage of defensive rebounds than Randle. Additionally, Randle ranks in the 90th percentile among all forwards for assist rate. He is a quintessential buy-low candidate right now despite scoring 27 points in Monday's win over the Clippers.
Randle is due to bounce back offensively, but to what extent he'll bounce back is deep-dive worthy. In his third-team All-NBA campaign last year, Randle posted a 56.2 eFG%, aligning with a 50.6 eFG% during his 2020-21 season. However, he sandwiched a subpar 46.3 eFG% in 2021-22 — sizably below the league-average 53.2 eFG% that year. Such historical volatility in Randle's shot makes his 10-for-44 start on spot-up attempts this season notable. Currently repping a comically low 39.4 eFG%, Randle is too talented not to climb into the 2021-22 range at a minimum.
Expecting him to produce at last season's level is no guarantee, which alters Randle's asking price in trades. Regardless of where his scoring settles, his presence as an elite passer and rebounder at his position makes him an excellent trade target. He would be a steal if his shooting approaches peak form. Another incredibly low data point through the Knicks' first seven games is Randle's 17-for-44 shooting in the restricted area. There should be a natural correction of his 38.6% clip around the basket. He connected on 62.9% of his shots at the rim last season.
Trade For: LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
After posting the third 30-point triple-double in Hornets franchise history Sunday, buying low on Ball is much more difficult. Sunday's performance was also reassuring, however, because Ball had genuinely struggled until that point — hitting just 29.7% of his shots while lacking some of the signature burst that makes him an awesome dual-threat point guard. His assist numbers have been good, but Ball is shooting a horrendous 41.4% at the rim through Charlotte's first six games, which is emblematic of the lack of burst. Lacking burst mitigates his dynamic creation.
It was recently reported that Ball wasn't fully healthy until a couple of weeks before training camp, meaning that his recovery from ankle surgery lingered for the majority of the offseason. Ball is healthy now, but his recovery timeline is a reasonable justification for the slow start to the season. Additionally, Ball might not be fully comfortable yet, given his history of setbacks. From the perspective of a fantasy manager looking to acquire Ball, this is a viable scare tactic for lowering his trade value. If Ball posts a quiet game on Wednesday or Friday, it's well worth trying to swing a deal for the 22-year-old.
Ball ranks fifth in usage among all point guards, trailing only Luka Doncic, De'Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Trae Young. Although finishing inside remains a weak point of his game, Ball is shooting unsustainably poorly around the basket and will improve to his mean in the coming weeks. For context, Ball shot 54.3% at the rim across the past two seasons, which ranked in the 20th percentile among point guards, per CleaningTheGlass. He's been a fantasy stud without good finishing in the past.
Trade For: Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
As a rookie, the first seven games of Mathurin's career yielded 21.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 27.9 minutes per game while shooting 45.1% from the field. Although those numbers were partially ballooned by connecting on 43.2% of his threes, Mathurin also earned 5.9 free-throw attempts per game.
Fast forward to 2023-24, and Mathurin is playing just 22.3 minutes per game, yielding 11.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 40.6% from the field. The 21-year-old is shooting an abysmal 22.7% from beyond the arc, but that isn't overly surprising after his rookie season finished with a 32.3% clip from deep. Although it isn't surprising, it is most certainly discouraging.
Nonetheless, Mathurin's current stock is near rock bottom. He's still a gifted athlete who can create for himself and get downhill. Last year, he earned shooting fouls on 20.2% of his attempts, while this year he is drawing fouls on 14.1% of his shots — those rank in the 99th and 95th percentile, respectively. Foul-drawing prowess, to that extent, is a combination of skill, craft and power. Also, he still plays alongside an elite enabler in Tyrese Haliburton. Even if they aren't Indiana's duo of the future, the Pacers need to pour resources and time into Mathurin to fully evaluate. There isn't much competition for usage in Indiana either, especially if Buddy Hield is eventually traded.
Trade Away: Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
From the onset of the season, Milwaukee looks old and slow. Lopez is in his age-35 campaign, and I don't want shares in the fantasy realm. Lopez burned me as a sell candidate last year, but I, once again, don't see much upside at this juncture.
Damian Lillard's offensive firepower is a cap on Lopez's ceiling, as the sheer amount of possessions that Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo use will lead to only the sporadic inclusion of Lopez. Through six games, he's attempting a similar volume of threes with 5.0 per game, but averaging 9.3 shots per game in total puts a lot of pressure on his shot-blocking to provide fantasy value.
Given that exceeding last year's production was never in the picture when drafting Lopez, I'm not panicking about trading him. Lopez will get you 15 points, a couple of threes, and a couple blocks on a good night. He still carries good niche value in category formats. That said, I'm extremely willing to part with him in a larger package for players with higher ceilings.
Trade Away: DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are struggling, and DeRozan is the most likely trade candidate. DeRozan is a free agent next season. Any relocation for DeRozan would be a downgrade for fantasy purposes, as he's been co-starring with a level of usage in Chicago's offense that will not be replicated elsewhere.
Energy is weird in Chicago, starting with a players-only meeting after the first game of the season. The Bulls were on a three-game losing streak before beating Utah on Monday, but it's clear that Chicago does not have the moxy and grit that has earned playoff appearances in the past two seasons.
Chicago ranking 23rd in points allowed per 100 possessions after finishing as the fifth-best defense last season is alarming — especially considering the roster didn't lose impact defenders and, in fact, added one in Jevon Carter. The sample size is obviously small for 2023-24, but Chicago has only played two teams that advanced past the play-in last season, so this drastic defensive shortcoming is notable.
The 34-year-old is averaging 21.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 45.6% from the field this season. He shot 50.4% from the field en route to 24.5 points per game last season. DeRozan is among the best veteran scorers in the game, and his consistency is clutch. Having a reliable floor in your fantasy lineup is important. Fred VanVleet, Ja Morant, Kristaps Porzingis and Ausar Thompson are examples of players I'd rather have than DeRozan, but getting a pair of contributors that could strengthen your lineup down the stretch could also be worthwhile.