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Klay Thompson among impact fantasy specialists

Being on a superteam limits Klay Thompson to being a fantasy specialist, though an elite one. Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

You can't have 13 LeBrons.

You can't stock your imaginary roster with 13 players with equal weight of ideal statistical balance.

You can't roster 13 Kevin Durants ... Karl-Anthony Townses ... Greek Freaks.

Fantasy basketball is bipolar in nature.

Do you worry that your roster's production is a little out of whack? What happens when you get to the middle rounds of your draft? Knowing you've got a categorical hole or two to shore up? Do you punt a category?

No. You don't punt. Never, ever, ever, ever punt. Balance wins.

Reckless imbalance paints your fake team into numerical corners. If your team has a glaring need, you break the emergency glass. You make a call.

You call in a specialist. Specialists are the guys who can tip the balance in one or two categories in your favor.

Need blocks? Boards? 3-pointers? Field goal percentage? Fantasyland has a player to fill every need. To answer every emergency.

Below are the players lurking behind said emergency glass.


Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors

Thompson is a rarity. A specialist when viewed in relative terms.

A borderline elite player whose production is as unbalanced as your average 10th-round specialist. It just so happens that Thompson is so good at his specialty -- 3-point production -- that it boosts him into third-round territory.

But in relative terms? Thompson is still a specialist.

Thompson shoots 41.4 percent from 3-point range. But his overall field goal percentage is a pedestrian 46.8 FG%. Thompson's next-level percentages (59.7 TS%) are impressive, but he's not going to win you field goal percentage. He'll merely win you 3-pointers without hurting your field goal percentage.

Thompson's free throw percentage (85.3 FT%) is nearly elite, but he averages fewer than three free throw attempts per tilt. So, there isn't enough volume there to make Thompson a true difference-maker. His 2016-17 rebounds-plus-assists (6.1 per game) is more replacement level for a starting NBA 2-guard.

Even Thompson's second-best stat -- his 21.5 points per game -- looks somewhat pedestrian when you consider he's canning 3.4 3s per game.

Thompson is a member of one of the great lineups in the history of everything. But every three-headed monster has one player who's forced to defer on a repeated basis. For the Warriors, that player is Thompson. The 60-point-in-29-minute outbursts serve as reminder of just what Thompson would be capable of in a less egalitarian environment.

Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns

Booker is the kind of player I avoid: a points-first producer whose accent on scoring overrates him for fantasy purposes.

Booker may be a rising star, but most fantasy stars chip in beyond a couple of categories. So until Booker uncorks some defensive intensity (1.2 steals plus blocks in 2016-17) and/or irons out his midrange game (44.7 percent on 2-point attempts in 2016-17)? In fantasy, Booker won't be more than an over-drafted mass of points and 3-pointers.

As in: closer to Nick Young than DeMar DeRozan.

Andrew Wiggins, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

For a player who rode into the NBA on a LeBronian wave of hype, Wiggins' career production has skewed closer to Young than No. 23.

Wiggins has failed to develop a second elite category to bolster his gaudy scoring average. I doubt Jimmy Butler's arrival will suddenly inspire Wiggins to diversify his production.

There's far more chance Butler and Towns relegate Wiggins to deeper specialist status: a points-first wing without the accuracy or defense to make him elite. Think Kevin Love without the height.

Ben Simmons, PF, Philadelphia 76ers

I don't know if you've broken down any Simmons game footage, but let me give you my interpretation: The kid can't shoot.

Like ... at all. He's 11-of-28 from the field this preseason. He's 0-of-3 from downtown. And 7-of-18 from the free throw line.

Simmons is going to pile up volume stats. But I don't anticipate his rookie production popping out in any area save for one: assists. Simmons should average 5-plus dimes per night from the power forward position. That's a rare commodity.

It's enough to make Ben Simmons special -- even if he can't shoot. But the lack of offense projects Simmons more of a rookie-year specialist than most angry Sixers fans may wish to churlishly admit.

Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons

Drummond is one of the best rebounders in the NBA. He gets you more steals per night than the majority of NBA big men. That's where the niceties cease. You'll overdraft him for the double-doubles, but the free-throw percentage will cramp your squad's overall style. And his field goal percentage (53.0 FG%) isn't gaudy enough to compensate.

Still, Drummond is one of the few players whose fantasy value has been bolstered by an NBA rule change. Fewer intentional fouls mean Drummond is less of a liability. If you place Drummond in the proper perspective -- as a specialist -- he starts looking like he's worth a seventh-round pick.

Isaiah Thomas, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Thomas is a unique case because (A) he's a fantasy superstar, (B) he's on a new team, and (C) he's out until calendar year 2018.

I'd normally not dream of placing the ultra-productive Thomas in the company of specialists. But the ding in his games played led me to reconsider his status. Say he plays in 50-55 games. Say 40-45 of them feature a fully ramped-up Thomas. Isn't 50 percent of an Isaiah Thomas campaign really a specialist-type consideration?

Think about it. For all of his flash, Thomas is elite in three categories: points, 3-pointers, and free throw percentage. He's merely replacement-level in two areas point guards are numerically relied upon: assists and steals. Half a season of 25 points, 3.0 3-pointers, and 90 percent free throw shooting per night is why you draft Thomas.

But thanks to the hip situation, Thomas may be more of a situational player than anyone's willing to admit. His ADP of 65 means the market views Thomas as a second-half player at best.

Dwight Howard, C, Charlotte Hornets

It has been half a decade since Howard blocked shots at an elite clip (1.2 per game in 2016-17). It has been even longer since he eclipsed 20 points per game (20.6 points per game in 2011-12).

Howard still possesses a sublime field goal percentage (63.3 FG% in 2016-17) and sublimely awful free throw percentage (53.3 FT% in 2016-17). I still remember Howard's "gooseneck" shooting era with a dollop of flop sweat. But in his latter-day 12 PPG incarnation, Howard lacks the volume in attempts to make a sizable dent in the percentages.

So Howard isn't a top-50 player anymore. And if he's still top 100 (68th on the 2016-17 Player Rater), it's because he's still elite in one category: rebounds. Howard's 2016-17 rate of 12.7 boards per game was his best average since the 2011-12 campaign. It's not so difficult to see Howard maintaining a 12-point, 12-rebound pace in 2017-18.

The good news: With less volume from the field, Howard is less of a potential liability when viewed as a late-round specialist.

Julius Randle, PF, Los Angeles Lakers

Randle is entering a contract year. A crucial season of his development. But short of a drastic improvement in shooting range (48.7 FG% in 2016-17), or a drastic reboot of his defensive capabilities (1.2 steals plus blocks in 2016-17) it's hard to see Randle as anything more than a potential empty double-double.

If you're drafting Randle, it's with the hope he feels the pressure and ratchets up his rebounding to over ten boards per game. And even that might be wishful thinking.

Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, LA Clippers

With Blake Griffin still nursing his toe injury, Gallinari should get extra run at the four to open 2017-18. Playing more stretch four should give him extra opportunities to produce the stat that makes him a fantasy specialist: corner 3s.

Any PF scraping 3.0 3-pointers per night is the kind of specialist worth employing. Unfortunately, like Griffin, health is a constant concern: Gallinari has managed 70-plus games only twice in ten seasons.

Rajon Rondo, PG, New Orleans Pelicans

Before his recent hernia surgery, I had Rondo pegged as a solid endgame pick. But by missing 4-6 weeks (think 10-15 games), Rondo becomes a sneaky wire grab. If you're struggling for assists and/or steals, you could do worse than Rondo.

He won't be elite in either category splitting duties with Jrue Holiday, but he'll help in those two areas. He'll also chip in one of the best rebound rates of any point guard in the NBA.

He meshed well with DeMarcus Cousins last season in Sacramento, so we know they'll play well together. Once Rondo returns, pencil him in for 8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 4-5 boards per night.

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG/SF, New York Knicks

Seventy-one million dollars richer, Hardaway is being paid like a starting NBA 2-guard. So, you'll assume he's going to get the kind of minutes and touches his contract demands. And the big-heavy Knicks are starved for perimeter production. The opportunity is there. And at an 86 ADP, Hardaway doesn't require a huge investment of imaginary draft capital.

But coming off a season when he was a third option at best, the question is how Hardaway will handle being the primary focus of opposing teams' perimeter defense. Because the wing-bereft Knicks don't roster anyone other than Hardaway capable of scaring opposing wing defenders. Hardaway is going to draw a lot of rough matchups.

The silver lining: being all the Knicks have from deep means Hardaway will get a ton of 3-point attempts. Even if he duplicates his merely better-than-pedestrian 2016-17 3-point percentage (35.7 3FG%), he'll garner enough volume to push him over 2-plus 3-pointers per game.

Which ... is good enough to make him a $71 million specialist.

Enes Kanter, C, New York Knicks

Not a lot of blocks. Mediocre rebounds for a big man. But if you're looking for some late-round scoring punch from a post player, Kanter is not a bad roll of the dice. The Knicks have a ton of big men, but lack roster-wide scoring punch. Even in a 22-26-minute role, Kanter should chip in 15-plus points per game.

Joe Ingles, SF/PF, Utah Jazz

It pains me to tab Ingles as a specialist. In a different circumstance -- in a different rotation -- Ingles could be capable of across-the-board production.

I'd love to see what Ingles could do as a Net. But on the Jazz, Ingles will be counted on for his most demonstrative skill: hitting 3s. My hope is that a starting role puts more emphasis on his ability to chip in steals and assists.

But after offseason movement, it's hard to peg who exactly is going to pick up the slack Hayward left behind. It could be Rodney Hood. It could be Ingles. It could be a combination. Still, Ingles has a lot of upside, knowing he costs you nothing draft-wise and at worst will be a steady source of 3s.