Fantasy Basketball: Six key storylines to follow, including Trae Young drama

By Alex Barutha, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

We’re nearly at the one-third mark of the NBA season in fantasy. Teams and players are finally settling into a rhythm, and we’re starting to get better ideas of what’s real and what’s not. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing noteworthy to pay attention to. Injuries, drama and the looming trade deadline create plenty of storylines at this time of year, and all of it is worth considering for fantasy.

There's Trae Young drama

The Hawks' point guard wasn't even in the arena for Friday's win over the Nuggets after he and coach Nate McMillan had an "exchange," which stemmed from Young's decision to get treatment for his shoulder injury rather than participate in shootaround. Young attempted to downplay the issue before growing irritated when reporters pushed him further during Monday's media session.

The Hawks, while dealing with injuries to starters John Collins and De'Andre Hunter, proceeded to lose Monday's game to the Thunder and Wednesday's game to the Knicks, which was a 113-89 blowout.

Things may be starting to boil over, as the Hawks have a mediocre 13-12 record despite a significant offseason addition in Dejounte Murray, and Young is having the worst shooting season of his career. Over the past five games, he's 5-for-34 (14.7%) from three.

With Collins, Hunter and now Murray (ankle) sidelined as well, this is the time the Hawks most need Young to step up, and he's faltering both on and off the court. Maybe it's partially due to injury, but fantasy managers should still be paying attention.

Anthony Edwards is taking over

With Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined over the past three games, Edwards is making his presence felt. While his efficient 27.0 points and 5.7 assists are impressive, it's on defense where he's making the most powerful impact. Edwards has 17 steals and three blocks over the past trio of games.

The improved play began before Towns got hurt, though. Edwards has a 10-game streak with at least one steal, and during this stretch, he's averaged 26.2 points on 47/35/86 shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.9 steals in 37.1 minutes. He's somehow flying under the radar despite being the third-best fantasy player in per-game nine-category value since Nov. 16. With Towns out until January and the Wolves without many other consistent offensive options, Edwards should continue this elevated play.

Don't forget about trade deadline sleepers

Given the number of injuries and rest in the league already this season, we've seen extended glances at many teams' young players. A good number of these teams are at the bottom of the standings or have potential interest in being near the bottom for a better draft pick. Veterans on those teams could be on the move at the deadline, opening up role increases for young talent.

There are five teams clearly in the bottom tier. They all still have single-digit wins — the Hornets, Pistons, Rockets, Magic and Spurs. Charlotte is fascinating, given the sheer amount of impactful veterans available — Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Mason Plumlee and even Kelly Oubre Jr. It could be a fire sale at the deadline. Some better-than-expected teams are tougher to read, namely the Pacers and Jazz. Andrew Nembhard and Walker Kessler are examples of players with potential breakouts looming should those franchises pull the plug.

Some young players around the NBA could become fantasy breakouts depending on their teams' trade deadline activity, such as the Pacers' Andrew Nembhard.
Some young players around the NBA could become fantasy breakouts depending on their teams' trade deadline activity, such as the Pacers' Andrew Nembhard (2). (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) (Ezra Shaw via Getty Images)

Zion Williamson is finally playing like a superstar

With Brandon Ingram out and CJ McCollum struggling, Williamson is playing at a superstar level. He's led the Pelicans to five straight wins behind 28.0 points on 16.0 field-goal attempts, 9.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks. He's the 12th-ranked fantasy player during this stretch in nine-category per-game production.

Beyond his boosted scoring and passing, Williamson is elevating the parts of his game that have historically dragged down his fantasy value, namely his lack of defensive stats and subpar free-throw percentage. For his career, he's averaged just 1.5 combined steals-plus-blocks and owns a 68.9 FT%.

The hope is that these things stick even when his usage declines upon the return of Ingram. Williamson takes so many free-throw attempts (7.5 per game this season) that every percentage point matters for fantasy managers. And we know he has the athleticism to be a monster defensively. It's a matter of awareness and effort. But if the Pelicans keep winning with more Williamson, maybe the usage sticks, too.

What is Orlando's rotation when everyone is healthy?

Markelle Fultz made his season debut on Nov. 30. He's had mixed results, averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 25.2 minutes. His return prompts the question — what does Orlando's rotation look like when the injury report clears?

Wendell Carter Jr., Chuma Okeke, Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris have all missed the past four games, and Jonathan Isaac's presence is still looming. Do Fultz, Suggs and Cole Anthony play a three-man rotation at the guard spots? Is Harris seeing backup minutes at the three? What about Terrence Ross? Is Okeke going to be a DNP if Isaac returns? The same question could go to Mo Bamba. Is there room for Bol Bol to continue seeing minutes in the high-20s? What about the usage rates for all these guys?

If you're rostering Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner or Carter, it seems unlikely any of those questions will affect you. But if you're rostering a secondary Magic player, it may be time to sell high.

Is the Tim Hardaway Jr. resurgence real?

The middling Mavericks need to start experimenting to find success outside of Luka Doncic's individual greatness. The latest experiment was adding the struggling Hardaway to the starting five. He floundered in his first start, scoring six points and posting no other counting stats. But things quickly changed.

Over the past five games, Hardaway is launching from three at a career-high rate (11.0 attempts per game) and averaging 24.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals in 30.6 minutes. He even took 12 free throws in Tuesday's win over the Nuggets.

He will not continue making 54.5% of his shots from deep as he has during this stretch, but the Mavericks have won four of these past five games, so the volume may stick if it leads to more success. He should be rostered in almost all fantasy leagues for the time being.