Brook Lopez among low-rostered players worth adding

The NBA season has tipped off, and as always there are unexpected players making major contributions; the first week always produces tons of “diamonds in the rough.”

Below are five players making meaningful contributions to their teams. Each of them is widely available in most fantasy basketball leagues and each can help your squad in the short term — and perhaps in the long term as well.

Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks (26.3% rostered in ESPN leagues): Lopez missed the majority of last season with an injured back, and at his advancing age many expected Bobby Portis to take on a larger responsibility for the Bucks’ frontcourt. Instead, Lopez is playing like last season’s extended rest helped him be fresh for this season. He is a solid scorer and rebounder, but it is his blocks and 3-pointers (seven of each, through two games) that have him worthy of fantasy starter consideration at the moment. His pace on both will slow, but he should remain a plus in each and thus he will remain on the fantasy radar for as long as he’s healthy.

Jarred Vanderbilt, Utah Jazz (23.6%): Vanderbilt has stepped lightly into Rudy Goberts shoes as the rebounder/defensive anchor of the Jazz starting lineup, though he does it in a different way. Vanderbilt isn’t nearly the shot-blocker or even the rebounder that Gobert is, but he has grabbed double-digit boards in three of four games thus far and is also averaging 2.5 SPG and 9.8 PPG to go along with the 10.3 RPG that are his main statistical contribution.

Royce O’Neale Brooklyn Nets (15%): O’Neale is on this list because he’s amassing defensive statistics at a ferocious rate in his role with the Nets. Through three games, he has 6 blocked shots and 6 steals with at least three “stocks” (steals + blocks) in all three games. O’Neale will never be a plus scorer, but he is averaging 4.7 RPG, 3.3 APG and 1.7 3PG to round out his fantasy hoops value.

Dennis Smith Jr., Charlotte Hornets (22.6%): Smith has received extra playing time thus far due to injuries to LaMelo Ball (ankle) and Terry Rozier (ankle), and he’s taking advantage of his opportunity with a career renaissance. Smith has averaged 13.3 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.7 SPG, 2.0 RPG and 1.0 BPG in 25.7 MPG thus far. He got the start on Sunday, and turned in 18 points, 6 assists, 2 boards, 3 steals, a block and a 3-pointer in 33 minutes. He’s worth rostering for at least as long as Ball and/or Rozier are absent.

Nick Richards, Charlotte Hornets (6.9%): Richards has quietly stepped into the backup center slot for the Hornets that rookie Mark Williams was expected to occupy, and has loudly produced numbers that could see him get another promotion in the future. Richards has produced at least 19 points and 10 rebounds in two of his three games thus far, and is currently averaging 15.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 0.7 BPG in only 22.7 MPG. Those numbers are worth roster consideration even in the lack of peripheral contributions, and the risk that he can’t maintain the pace is mitigated by the fact that he has the upside to supplant Mason Plumlee as the starter if he keeps playing well.

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