The penultimate day of 2018 featured six games on the NBA schedule, including the Kings and Lakers meeting for the second time in less than a week. Among the standouts Sunday were C.J. McCollum, Pascal Siakam and Luka Doncic. But we'll begin with a center in Minnesota who was downright dominant, and he's been playing like the franchise cornerstone the franchise believes him to be.
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Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the franchise’s major building blocks as it looks to build a contender in the Western Conference, which was the case even before the team traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers. He’s lived up to that billing in the aftermath of the deal, producing on a consistent basis while also producing moments of sheer dominance. Sunday night in Miami, Towns was the best player on the floor, playing 37 minutes and tallying 34 points (12-of-24 FGs, 7-of-9 FTs), 18 rebounds (ten offensive), seven assists, six blocks, three steals and three three-pointers in Minnesota’s 113-104 victory.
KAT thoroughly dominated his matchup with Hassan Whiteside, who finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots in 28 minutes. And no matter who the Heat threw is way, or what defensive scheme they attempted in hopes of slowing in down, Towns was able to get to his spots and do whatever he wanted. The fourth-year center out of Kentucky has now scored 30 points or more in six games this season, with four coming since the Butler trade was completed.
Towns entered Sunday averaging 21.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 blocks per game post-trade, with shooting splits of 50.7/36.8/79.5. By comparison, while the pre-trade averages (19.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.1 bpg with shooting splits of 45.9/40.6/91.7) weren’t far off from the post-trade numbers there has been a clear difference in KAT’s level of involvement in the offense. Without Butler (this includes their on/off splits as teammates) the center boasts a usage of 27.2%, up from 22.0% when they shared the court, and his offensive rating jumped from 103.9 to 115.5.
While the Timberwolves (and fantasy players for that matter) hold out hope that Andrew Wiggins (13/2/4/1/1 in 36 minutes Sunday) can take a step forward, that’s already been the case for Towns. Already a good fantasy option, he’s been much more than that since the Timberwolves bid farewell to Butler.
In total six Timberwolves players finished Sunday’s game in double figures, with Dario Saric scoring 13 off the bench to supplement the output of starters Towns, Wiggins, Robert Covington (16 points, four rebounds, two blocks, one steal, one three-pointer), Taj Gibson (14/7/1) and Tyus Jones (12 points, five assists, five steals, four rebounds).
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C.J. McCollum snaps out of shooting slump
One night after struggling to get going in a loss to the Warriors, Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum was outstanding in his team’s 129-95 win over the 76ers. In 28 minutes he scored 35 points, shooting 13-of-18 from the field, 5-of-5 from the foul line and 4-of-7 from three-point range. McCollum also grabbed three rebounds and dished out three assists, but the big thing was his shooting. In the three games prior he shot 32.1% from the field and 4-of-17 from three, averaging just 16.3 points per game. Also, Sunday was just the second time in his last seven games that McCollum has shot at least 50 percent from the field. A career 40% shooter from three McCollum is making just 33.7% of those shots this season, so the hope is that Sunday serves as a springboard of sorts for Portland’s second-leading scorer.
Also of note from this game was the play of Evan Turner, finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes. Turner made his first start of the season Sunday, as Moe Harkless was given the night off in order to rest his knee in the second game of a back-to-back. Philadelphia was without Joel Embiid (rest) and its starters struggled mightily, with Ben Simmons (19 points) and JJ Redick (11 points) being the only two to score in double figures. Jimmy Butler scored five points on 2-of-12 shooting, with reserves T.J. McConnell (14/3/2/2), Demetrius Jackson (ten points) and Furkan Korkmaz (ten points, three rebounds, three steals) joining Simmons and Redick in double figures.
Russell Westbrook endures horrific night in Dallas
After posting shooting splits of 44.9/29.8/73.7 in 2017-18, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has been even worse this season. Granted his season started later than usual due to the arthroscopic procedure he underwent on his right knee in September, but Westbrook currently has splits of 41.2/24.2/60.5. And Sunday’s effort against the Mavericks didn’t help matters either, as the 2017 NBA MVP shot 4-of-22 from the field in the 105-103 defeat. Westbrook had an opportunity to give Oklahoma City the win in the final seconds but his shot missed the mark. It would be fair to ask if Paul George, who finished the game with 36 points on 12-of-24 shooting from the field, should have been the option that Oklahoma City looked to go to at that point in time.
Westbrook offers value in non-scoring areas, as evidenced by his averaging a triple double on the season, but he’s currently well below his career percentages from thee (30.8%) and the foul line (80.8%). At this point the hope is that he continues to produce in non-scoring areas while also getting back into a groove shooting-wise.
Luka Doncic tallies 25 & 7 assists for Mavericks
Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic has handled the challenges of the NBA quite well thus far, and in Sunday’s win over the Thunder he accounted for 25 points (9-of-19 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), seven assists, three rebounds, one steal and four three-pointers in 34 minutes. This is the sixth time this season that the 6’7 forward out of Slovenia has scored at least 25 points in a game, and he’s surpassed the 20-point mark in seven of Dallas’ last eight games. Over the last five, Doncic is averaging 24.4 points, 6.2 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 three-pointers per game with shooting splits of 45.2/41.0/71.4. If there was a negative from his performance against the Thunder it would be the six turnovers, the most Doncic has committed in a game since the Mavericks’ loss to the Spurs on October 29.
D.J. Augustin paces Magic with 26 & 8 assists
The Orlando Magic franchise has yet to find its point guard of the future, with seasoned veteran in D.J. Augustin manning the post for now. Augustin’s averaging 11.0 points, 4.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds on the season, and in Sunday’s 109-107 win over the Pistons he put forth one of his best performances of the season. Playing 38 minutes, Augustin accounted for 26 points (6-of-11 FGs, 10-of-10 FTs), eight assists, two rebounds, two steals and four three-pointers (on seven attempts). This is the second time in the last three games that he’s scored at least 26 points, and the eight assists are the most in a game for the veteran point guard since he dished out nine against the Warriors on November 26.
Over the last three games Augustin is averaging 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 50% from beyond the arc. To expect scoring along the lines of what Augustin has produced during this three-game run (at least 17 points in each outing) may be a bit much, but if he can continue on this path when it comes to the assist numbers that would give his value a boost. A concern for the point guard is the right ankle injury he suffered late in Sunday’s game, and he’s considered to be day-to-day moving forward despite remaining on the court after a timeout. Also dealing with an injury for the Magic is Jonathon Simmons, who did not return to Sunday’s game after spraining his left ankle in the second quarter. Simmons is also considered to be day-to-day.
Reggie Jackson’s struggles continue
In the aforementioned Pistons/Magic game, which Evan Fournier won as time expired, all five Detroit starters finished in double figures. But none managed to score more than 15 points, and that includes point guard Reggie Jackson as he finished with 11 on 5-of-15 shooting from the field (1-of-6 3-pointers). Over his last five games he’s shooting 32.8% from the field and 29.6% from three, with both figures being worse than his numbers for the season (39.5% FG, 33.9% 3PT) ... which aren’t particularly good either. Jackson also had five rebounds and four assists in the loss, and over his last five games he’s averaging 5.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.
But in order for his full fantasy value to be reached, the point guard needs to get on track when it comes to his shooting numbers. And that would likely take some heat off of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond in the front court, as well.
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Justise Winslow has rough shooting day in loss
With Goran Dragic (knee) out of the lineup after undergoing surgery, Justise Winslow has been given the keys to the Heat offense by head coach Erik Spoelstra. But after going on a run of three consecutive games in which he scored at least 21 points, Winslow came back to earth in Sunday’s 113-104 loss to the Timberwolves. The fourth-year pro finished the game with ten points, seven rebounds, three assists, four steals and one three-pointer, shooting 4-of-15 from the field, 1-of-2 from the foul line and 1-of-4 from beyond the arc.
In the three games prior Winslow shot a combined 29-of-49 from the field, averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He’s averaging 11.6 points per game on the season, so those 20-plus point nights were a bonus rather than the norm, but the Heat will need their new point guard to shoot the ball a bit better than he did Sunday evening. Winslow wasn’t the only Heat starter to struggle either, as outside of Derrick Jones Jr. (7-of-11 FGs) Miami’s starting five shot a combined 14-of-47 from the field. That, combined with the aforementioned effort put forth by Karl-Anthony Towns, proved to be too much for the home team to overcome.
Pascal Siakam bounces back as Raptors beat Bulls
Friday night the third-year forward failed to reach double figures in points for just the second time this month, finishing the blowout loss to the Magic with as many fouls as points (four). It’s safe to say that Siakam bounced back Sunday, as he tallied 20 points (7-of-12 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), 12 rebounds, four assists and one three pointer in Toronto’s 95-89 win over Chicago. He was one of two Raptors to score at least 20 points on the day, with the other being Kawhi Leonard (27 points on 8-of-22 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 from the foul line). After averaging 16.9 points per game in November Siakam’s scoring has dipped some, as that number is down to 13.5 ppg in December, but with his production on the boards and in the assist department the forward’s fantasy value has not slipped much if at all.
Also, Fred VanVleet snapped a personal streak of 16 consecutive missed shots with a layup in the third quarter. Once again starting in place of the injured Kyle Lowry, he finished with ten points (3-of-12 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), seven assists, five rebounds, one steal and two three-pointers.
Zach LaVine struggles in Toronto
After shooting better than 50% from the field in each of his first two games back, Bulls guard Zach LaVine had a rough go of it Sunday. LaVine scored 13 points before fouling out, shooting 3-of-17 from the field and 7-of-7 from the foul line. In addition to the points he contributed three rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes, but that wasn’t enough to make up for what is his worst outing of the season to date from a shooting standpoint. LaVine currently has shooting splits of 45.8/34.2/86.3 on the season, so nights like this aren’t a threat to become commonplace. And it should be noted that LaVine struggled against Toronto last season as well, tallying 11 points (5-of-17 FGs), two rebounds and one assist in his lone appearance against the Raptors.
Josh Hart, KCP post season-high point totals in win
The Lakers avenged Thursday’s loss in Sacramento, beating the Kings 121-114 at Staples Center, and guards Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were two of the reasons why. Both established new season-highs, with Hart scoring 22 points (8-of-14 FGs, 3-of-5 FTs) and Caldwell-Pope adding 26 (9-of-21 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) off the bench. Hart, who scored a total of 22 points in the two games prior (both losses), also tallied seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and three three-pointers in 40 minutes of action. Caldwell-Pope may not have shot the ball particularly well but he gave the Lakers a boost off the bench, something this shorthanded team will need as it awaits the returns of LeBron James and Rajon Rondo.
Also of note in this win was the play of Brandon Ingram, who put forth one of his best performances of the season with 21 points (9-of-13 FGs, 2-of-4 FTs), nine assists, seven rebounds, two blocks, one steal and one three-pointer. While Lonzo Ball (13 points, six assists, two rebounds) stood to see a lot more of the ball with James sidelined, the same can be said of Ingram. If there’s anyone who appeared to be struggling the most with the addition of the superstar forward it was Ingram, whose usage jumps from 20.6% to 25.4% when he’s not sharing the floor with James. Also, the third-year wing’s offensive rating jumps nearly five points up to 109.1 and his assist percentage doubles (from 8.1 to 16.2) in those situations. Over his last five games Ingram is averaging 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game with shooting splits of 50.0/33.3/58.3.
De’Aaron Fox leads Kings with 26/4/7/3/1 stat line
The Kings finished Sunday’s defeat with four double-digit scorers, three finishing with at least 21 points. While Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 21 points apiece, point guard De’Aaron Fox led the way with 26 points (12-of-19 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs), seven assists, four rebounds, three steals, one blocked shot and one three-pointer in 34 minutes of play. While the seven assists are the fewest in a game for Fox since he was limited to six minutes in a December 17 loss to Minnesota, over his last six games he’s averaging 9.8 assists per game (he’s averaging 7.7 apg for the season). The shooting can be inconsistent at times (he’s shot 36.4% or worse in three of his last six), but Fox manages to impact games in a variety of ways. And if he can continue to dish out assists at this current rate, the second-year point guard becomes a player of even greater value from a fantasy standpoint.
Monday’s Schedule (all times Eastern)
Atlanta at Indiana (3 PM)
Orlando at Charlotte (6 PM)
Memphis at Houston (7 PM)
Boston at San Antonio (7 PM)
Minnesota at New Orleans (8 PM)
Dallas at Oklahoma City (8 PM)
Golden State at Phoenix (9 PM)