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One Injury Away: Valuable Handcuffs to Keep an Eye On For Fantasy Basketball

If one thing is true about sports, it's that injuries are inevitable. Even the healthiest and most durable of players aren't exempt from injury. Because of this, it's important to plan ahead in fantasy sports on the off chance that one of your guys goes down. Handcuffing is an interesting strategy that could pay huge dividends if/when the injury bug bites your squad.

But what exactly is handcuffing in fantasy sports? Originally put in practice in fantasy football, handcuffing involves drafting the backup of your starters in the later rounds of your draft. For example, Alexander Mattison is one of fantasy football's most valuable handcuffs. He backs up the oft-injured Dalvin Cook and managers know they have a top-five fantasy running back should anything happen to Cook. Mattison is often drafted in the later rounds even though he provides no real value when Cook is healthy. He is drafted on a pure what-if scenario.

The same practice can be implemented in fantasy basketball. The only difference is that in hoops, teams have more flexibility to adjust when injuries strike. Just because a starter is injured doesn't automatically mean his backup will enter league-winning territory. With that said, there are still a few guys who carry immense value should anything happen to their starters. As we've seen in the past, these guys do carry league-winning upside and should be stashed with the last couple of picks of your drafts. Here are five valuable handcuffs to keep an eye on for the upcoming fantasy basketball season.

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Tyus Jones, PG - Memphis Grizzlies

Jones is viewed by many as one of the best backup point guards in the entire league. While he's not flashy by any stretch of the imagination, he gets the job done. Operating behind Ja Morant, he'll see between 20-25 minutes per game on any given night and run the second unit.

It's a different story, however, when Morant is out of the lineup. Jones played in 23 games without Morant last season and saw his numbers improve dramatically. His playing time shot up to 30.2 MPG and he put up 12.7 points, 6.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and only 1.0 turnovers per game.

He did it with great efficiency as well, finishing with 45%/40%/84% splits. It's rare to find that kind of production on the waiver wire, especially in category leagues. With Morant's downhill playstyle adding increased injury risk, Jones is a rock-solid option with your last pick.

 

T.J. McConnell, PG - Indiana Pacers

This is a sneaky one, but we saw McConnell provide massive value in fantasy two seasons ago so it shouldn't come as a surprise. In 2021, McConnell averaged 12.8 points, 7.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 steals in 16 games without Malcolm Brogdon in the lineup.

That is insane value in category leagues as his 1.9 steals would have finished second in the entire league last season. Even though he battled injuries for most of last year, his numbers were similar in his eight games without Brogdon: 11.1 points, 5.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.6 steals in 29 minutes per game.

He'll now look to back up the phenom that is Tyrese Haliburton, but with Indiana playing for the number one overall pick next summer, who knows what could happen. McConnell is an amazing handcuff in deeper leagues but he's someone you should keep an eye on in 10-12 team leagues.

 

Davion Mitchell, PG - Sacramento Kings

Alright, this will be the last point guard on this list, I swear. Mitchell was huge down the stretch for the Kings last season as De'Aaron Fox missed the final month of the season with a hand injury. In the 19 games Mitchell played without Fox, here were his numbers: 17.7 points, 7.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.7 threes in 36.5 minutes per game.

There is no way you can find those numbers chilling on the waiver wire in competitive leagues. Now, it's important that we don't put all of our stock in what transpires over the final month of the season, but those numbers are impressive. The Kings believe in Mitchell, as they just exercised his team option for the 2023-24 season, and he is slated to serve as their sixth man to start the year.

Fox has also missed 59 combined games over the last three seasons, so odds are Mitchell will get some extra run at some point this season. His fantasy upside will be capped as long as Fox is in the lineup, but Mitchell has league-winning upside should injuries force him to 30+ minutes of action.

 

Isaiah Hartenstein, C - New York Knicks

This is a fun one! Hartenstein was a per-minute beast with the Clippers last season. He only saw 17.8 minutes per game but still found ways to stay fantasy-relevant. Just check out his per-36 numbers: 16.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 1.5 steals on elite 62% shooting from the field. It's almost laughable at this point because those numbers would have surged him into top-30 territory if he received the playing time.

Landing with the Knicks looks great for his value as well, given the fact that Mitchell Robinson has missed a grand total of 51 games over the last two seasons and always seems to be getting nicked up. Foul trouble also limited him to 25.7 minutes per game last season. All things considered, Hartenstein may find a way to provide consistent value even with a healthy Knicks squad to begin the year.

He's certainly draftable in 12-team leagues at this point and when the injury bug bites Robinson, you could have yourself a top- 30 fantasy player sitting on your bench ready to lead your team to the promised land. Draft him now and thank me later.

 

Isaiah Jackson, PF/C - Indiana Pacers

Look at that! Back-to-back Isaiahs for the win. This Isaiah (Jackson) is getting drafted in all 12-team and up leagues at the moment for two reasons. 1) The impending trade of Myles Turner. 2) His impressive play down the stretch last season. The man known as I-Jax has an absurd block rate as he averaged 1.4 blocks last season in only 15 minutes per game.

When Turner was out of the lineup, his numbers jumped up to 11.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in less than 20 minutes per game. He's slated to back up Turner to begin the year, but everyone knows a trade is likely, as he's been mentioned in rumors for the last couple of years and the Pacers are flat-out tanking.

As previously mentioned, Jackson is being selected in most 12-14 team leagues, but if you're in a 10-team league, adding him makes sense due to his league-winning upside. Shoot, he'll still provide value even with Turner on the roster. Do not let him sit on the waiver wire in your league.



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