Some nights are bigger than others in the NBA, and when you have LeBron vs. Durant as the appetizer it goes without saying that the energy is going to be off the charts. There were 10 games after the Pistons/Hawks game got cancelled, and there were massive lines across the whole slate. It makes sense with the All Star reserves being voted on at this time and being announced today – everybody is making their last push and everybody belongs on the team. The hard part is figuring out who you’re going to kick off, and if there’s any time left in the day I’ll try to go on record with my reserve choices before they’re announced.
But first, to get all of your fantasy news and NBA information as it happens, you can click here to follow me on Twitter.
SCOTTY DOESN’T CARE
I feel like I could do this recap by telling you that Scott Brooks benched Kendrick Perkins and the Thunder walloped the Heat and call it a wrap. There wasn't much fantasy stuff to talk about in this game, anyway.
I’ve never seen anything like this in sport, where there is a fairly uniform belief among those that cover the game that a player needs to be benched and for years that's an option that hasn't been on the table. The Heat have always represented the apex of the Thunder's decision to unconditionally love their heart-and-soul center, as Perkins simply doesn't fit on the basketball floor against them, and when you mix in championship stakes it has been a big story in my opinion. The Brooks-Perkins-OKC-Durant-Presti brain trust decided to ride or die with Perkins, and later with Derek Fisher, and it has wasted a three-year championship window for a potential top 5-10 player of all time in Durant.
But as the saying goes, ‘better late than never.’
Brooks was careful to say that this was a one-game thing but at least we know he’s capable of making the move now, and I can officially put them on my list of teams that has a chance at the title in June. Derek Fisher has actually found a way to make some of the positives outweigh the negatives lately, but if the Thunder can find a way to lay off their veteran crutch and get real threats in Reggie Jackson (nine points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals, one three) and Jeremy Lamb (18 points, 7-of-10 FGs, four treys, three boards, four assists, 35 minutes) comfortable before the playoffs then I could start to get behind them in the West.
That’s a lot of ifs though, and with Fisher banking in threes (making five total for 15 points) and giving ornery minutes in January it still seems like he’s giving Brooks the narrative to ride him hard. At this rate he’ll be out there in May and June giving up blow-bys and offsetting his contributions by general inefficiency, and it’s anybody’s guess if Brooks will continue to trot Perkins out there against the vast majority of teams that play larger than Miami. As usual this will come down to Brooks, who has unwavering support for his plan, and don’t think for a second that this big win and subsequent appearance coaching the West All Stars won’t help that along. The Thunder will continue mowing down the competition during the regular season and they’ll push to get Russell Westbrook back sooner rather than later so they can secure home court advantage and get acclimated for the stretch run.
But if they don’t give the lion’s share of minutes to Westy, Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha (nine points, five rebounds, four assists, six steals, one three), Durant (33-7-5 with four treys, two steals), Serge Ibaka (22 points, eight boards, one steal, one block) and Lamb – they’re not going to have the horses to keep up, even with the MVP in tow.
Fantasy-wise, Lamb has been a deep league guy but an outing like that would theoretically serve as a launching pad for the future. I don’t think owners can get too high here knowing Brooks isn’t likely to make a big change so he’s just a low-level add in standards at this time. Ibaka has been a top 8-9 play over the last eight games. Sefolosha is heating up but he’s still only worth a look in 14-team leagues at best.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $40,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Thursday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $6,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Thursday. Here's the FanDuel link.
HEY WHO’S THE JACKASS THAT TOLD THEM ABOUT OUR TRICK?
I’ve always maintained that Miami has been one of the weaker champions we’ve seen in the NBA by virtue of the flawed teams they beat to win and especially if we’re measuring teams with two titles in a row. Of course, it’s just a January game and I doubt the Heat are stressing over individual performances, though you have to know they’re pissed that they may have lost their automatic 15-point per game advantage in the playoffs due to the Perkins revelation. It was, however, a bit sobering to see the Thunder cut through the Heat so easily with their small lineup matching up perfectly with the Heat.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant were truly a basketball treat last night and given the state of each player’s game, it’s something that you’ll only get to see a handful of times throughout the next year, two or three. Enjoy it. James finished with 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting, one three, three rebounds, three assists and a perfect nine free throws on a statistically down night.
Chris Bosh went for 18 and nine and that’s where the good news ends for Heat fans. Mario Chalmers was active with six rebounds, eight assists and a steal, but five turnovers and just four points on 2-of-4 shooting underscored the lack of help for Bosh and James.
Dwyane Wade returned to the starting lineup and hit 7-of-12 shots for 15 points, but with just one rebound, two assists and two blocks to go with four turnovers he clearly wasn’t at 100 percent. At one point he was forced to run back and defend the fast break and he looked like me getting up out of my chair after an eight-hour session. He’s the X-factor for the Heat in the playoffs and it is what it is – we’ll see how he does then and until he proves otherwise he’s a day-to-day fantasy player. Owners in weekly leagues need to subtract at least a game per week off his slate and at this time probably 1.5-2.0 games.
The big news for Magic fans and fantasy owners was the return of Nikola Vucevic from a nasty concussion and the big man wasted no time putting up 16 and 10 with two steals in just 20 minutes. There’s nothing like a statement return game to help chase the injury blues.
The move sent Tobias Harris down to the bench but he managed a familiar looking nine points on 2-of-8 shooting, 11 rebounds and three assists, and while he didn’t hit a three he did put up a steal and a block. Those latter three areas are the key to his mediocre fantasy value in standard formats, despite the big scoring and rebounding numbers, and it was good to see him get on the board in 2-of-3 critical categories. It also didn’t hurt that Glen Davis continued to play himself into a hole, scoring just five points on 1-of-4 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. How long the Magic can continue to justify his minutes is unclear, and he has never really profiled like a guy they’d look to develop down the stretch. Harris is exactly that and he should be owned in all formats.
None of the Magic’s main guys played particularly well, with Jameer Nelson showing the best with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting, three triples, four assists and a steal. Victor Oladipo returned to the starting lineup and hit just 3-of-14 shots for 12 points and some spare change across the board.
Arron Afflalo is officially slumping hard, with borderline 12-team value over his last 14 games. In that span the key culprits have been regressed shooting from the field (42.9%) and from the line (78.5%), along with big drops in scoring and nearly a 50 percent reduction in 3-point buckets (1.1) over his season-long average (1.9). The regression was discussed in this space many times while he was a top 20-30 value and now he’s sitting in the top-50 range. In his current role and home it’s fair to assume he can hold steady from here.
Leave it to Greivis Vasquez to actually move into the starting shooting guard spot last night – a position change I want to see over the long-term – and have his first stinky line in a while. He went for six and six but did manage two threes on 2-of-7 shooting overall, and with DeMar DeRozan (ankle) traveling with the Raps on their upcoming five-game road trip it could be a short stay in that role. If he returns back to his limited 20-25 minute role off the bench, owners can look toward the borderline 12-team value he has returned over the last two weeks as a guide and speculators can hope that Kyle Lowry gets traded.
Of course, that’s going to be hard to do when Lowry continues to price himself out of the market with gems like the 33 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists and six treys he put up last night. It’s one thing to show that you can play and give a new team’s fan base something to get excited about, and it’s a whole other thing to command a mid-first round pick that teams don’t want to give up for a guy that has been relatively inconsistent, often hard-to-work with and most-certainly injury prone for much of his career. He has been a raging top-10 fantasy play over his last 17 games, averaging 18.3 points with 3.1 treys, 4.8 boards, 8.2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.4 blocks. Get some.
Jonas Valanciunas went for 14 and 15 and he had a block, and with non-existent defensive numbers holding his value below playable levels in standard 12-team formats -- this most recent points and boards explosion is enough to get him back in lineups. Terrence Ross hit just 4-of-13 shots (including two threes) for 12 points, but adding eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks is the sign of a maturing fantasy asset. He’s a must-own guy until he proves that he’s not, even with DeRozan returning.
Amir Johnson finally got back on the board with 22 and 11 with two steals and a three. The big game comes with Patrick Patterson (nose) taking another night off, so naturally there should be skepticism about his ability to get back on track. He’s not a must-own player in 12-team leagues at least until he can do this with Patterson back in the lineup, though it should be noted that Tyler Hansbrough was only able to log six minutes tonight. At least in the short-term, Psycho T doesn’t project to make this a three-way timeshare.
The Pistons and Hawks’ game was rescheduled yesterday due to all the icy conditions shutting down the roads. For owners speculating on Shelvin Mack or Jeff Teague it’s annoying to say the least, and all of the Pistons were slimmed down to a two-game week.
If you closed your eyes during the preseason after it became clear that Philly was gonna run like crazy, their box score in last night’s last-second win over the Celtics was probably what you were imagining. Evan Turner hit the game-winning shot and finished with 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting, six rebounds, eight assists and two steals, Thaddeus Young scored 16 points with two threes, four rebounds, five assists and a steal, and Spencer Hawes scored 20 points with eight rebounds, a steal and four threes.
Michael Carter Williams had a nice night with 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting, five boards, seven assists, one steal and two blocks, but it’s not nice enough to make owners feel better about a top-80 month in 8-cat leagues. In 9-cat leagues he has been virtually unplayable over that span in 12-14 team formats unless you’re punting. It sure feels like late 2013 was a perfect storm for his fantasy value.
James Anderson is back in the starting lineup and he posted 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting with six rebounds, four assists and a trey in his 29 minutes. He has been running well enough to justify being on rosters in 12-team leagues for the past two weeks, but he needs a couple more weeks under his belt before anybody feels comfortable about his longer-term value. Tony Wroten played just 14 minutes last night and it’s unclear if he’s being eased into things or if Brett Brown is simply letting Anderson play out his productive stretch.
THREE IS NOT A CROWD
Rajon Rondo ended up taking the night off and there was a 24-point, 17-rebound explosion by Jared Sullinger, but the biggest news for owners of Celtics players may have been the post-game note that Avery Bradley (ankle) is “very close” to returning. This will clean up a lot of the iffy fantasy plays like Gerald Wallace (one point, eight boards, two blocks, 34 minutes), Phil Pressey (two points, two assists, five turnovers, 21 minutes) and Chris Johnson (six points, five boards, five assists, two threes, one steal, 21 minutes), though C.J. still deserves fantasy consideration after yet another solid line. His margin for error is just going to become razor thin.
Sullinger’s big night was tempered by his 9-of-25 shooting line and lack of a block, but with a steal and a perfect six free throws it can still be classified as a life preserver for a late-round guy that had been middling. Make no mistake, with a 37.1 percent field goal percentage over the last eight games he has been just a 12-14 team value and this line actually does nothing to move the value in his favor because of the bad shooting. But having had a talk with Brad Stevens about becoming a more vocal leader, and with Rondo upping the quality of the offense and defense once he’s healthy, a turn toward efficiency could send a guy like Sullinger toward a mid-round valuation with that type of volume. That makes him worth owning in most if not all formats.
Brandon Bass (11 points, five boards, one steal, two blocks, 21 minutes) and Kris Humphries (13 points, nine boards, one block, 22 minutes) put forth another argument that these three guys can co-exist. Humphries’ stat set actually supports the best fantasy value of the three right now, with top 90-120 value over the past two weeks that edges out Bass by a round or two (and Sully a round or two below Bass).
SUNS ON FIRE
Goran Dragic put a charge into his All Star campaign with 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting (4-of-5 3PTs, 8-of-8 FTs), four rebounds, six assists and one steal in just 24 minutes, but the story after last night’s win over the Bucks was his elbow injury and whether or not it would cost him time. He left about a minute before the game ended to get into the locker room (X-rays negative) and not only did the elbow continue to swell up after the game, he has hurt this elbow both in the preseason and as a teenager. Dragic said he was “a little bit concerned” but that it was too soon to know how things would go. “We will see how I am feeling in the morning. I am a quick healer.”
Ish Smith (six points, six assists, two steals, 21 minutes) is a guy that everybody should be ready to add on a moment’s notice if news turns out bad for Dragic, though at this time it at least sounds like any potential absence would be a minor one. Leandro Barbosa (seven points, four assists, 21 minutes) could also be a primary beneficiary, though Smith has the young legs to absorb bigger minutes and has played pretty well at times this year.
Elsewhere Gerald Green continued to make the most of his newfound opportunity with 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, four threes, three assists, two steals and a perfect five free throws. He’s rocking top 30-40 value over the last 15 games and the only area that stands out as a guaranteed regression is his 90 percent foul shooting over that span. In other words, he may alternate good and bad nights or even slow down over the long-term, but he’s not wandering too far away from this lofty valuation.
Perhaps the most interesting news to come out of this game was Alex Len’s sudden burst of production off the bench, as the rookie put up seven points, 10 rebounds and a block in just 22 minutes. Miles Plumlee decided to make it even more interesting by having a slow night, scoring eight points with just three rebounds, two assists and a block in one less minute of action.
Plumlee has been sort of an open book this season. Long and lithe he’s looked as good as any young, non-elite big man in the game, basically playing hard-nosed and energetic basketball while cleaning up plenty of garbage. Len, on the other hand, has looked frail and slow when on the floor and at times not knowing where his ankle was at he had the look of guy mistakenly drafted for his height. After a review of Len’s minutes it’s a lot easier to see why he was taken with a high selection as he was able to exploit a Bucks team that matches up well for his body type, with nobody to punish him for his lack of strength and high center of gravity. He looked a lot like Plumlee out there, and though we should all be careful not to forget that the Bucks can make anybody look great, a timeshare at the position makes a lot of sense if you’re the Suns – as long as Len can swing it.
Judging by his play last night the answer would be ‘yes he can.’
HOW MUCH DO YOU *REALLY* LOVE BACON?
It’s pretty crazy that I’m about to give credit to Larry Drew’s team for only losing by nine points at home to a Suns team that everybody thought was tanking to start the year, but that’s what I’m going to do after two blowout losses entering last night.
Aside from not getting blown out, there were some much-needed outbursts from guys like Brandon Knight (24 points, 11-of-11 FTs, eight assists, two steals) and fantasy weirdo Ersan Ilyasova (27 points, 7-of-15 FGs, three treys, 10-of-10 FTs, four rebounds, no steals or blocks). Knight owners don’t have a whole lot to worry about these days as he’s playing at a must-start level for the most part, but Ilyasova has been a bacon-wrapped turd all season long and there’s simply no telling if this explosion will help the owners that hop on or hurt them by wasting their time. Winning fantasy players are usually upside hunters when it comes to the wire, so unfortunately you probably have your answer if you’re staring at him on your watch list. My condolences go out to all of us in advance.
Larry Sanders threw everybody for a loop by returning from his flu to post 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds and two blocks over 33 minutes off the bench in easily his best game of the year. John Henson was limited to nine points, six rebounds and one block in 22 foul-plagued minutes, but Drew was going to go to Sanders seemingly regardless of what was happening with Henson.
Despite the fact that Drew has been riding a suddenly serviceable Miroslav Raduljica (DNP) during fourth quarters and talking about getting Zaza Pachulia (foot) minutes when he returns, the Keith Smart impersonator essentially rolled with an eight-man rotation last night. O.J. Mayo missed another game with the flu, but maybe just maybe Drew is tired of being called out on Rotoworld and he’s going to tighten things up (/ducks).
Khris Middleton started and though he wasn’t as good as the numbers suggested, he still put up 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting with two threes, four boards and two assists in 34 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo flashed on my screen as I hopped around games last night and I immediately remembered what it felt like calling Paul George a poor man’s Kevin Durant as he toiled on Indy’s bench. The problem right now for his fantasy value is that his natural tendency is to pass and he’s in full-on deferral mode on offense. He can also get lost in games for any number of reasons, and as it stands right now his stat set isn’t conducive to fantasy value.
When he becomes a trigger man for the offense down the road, all of that changes. Whether that is this year or next year is a fair question, and having so much chaos around him it’s hard to project that he can handle being a trigger man under that circumstance. So while Alphabet is a better prospect than Middleton, I’d rather own the latter in a fantasy league as of today. Middleton has been all over the board with Drew’s rotations, but he’s starting these days and when you average out his production over the last two weeks he has been a top-85 play. He profiles well as a guy to get minutes on a tanking team and along with the production that’s good enough to be owned in most formats.
The Pelicans did well last night to push the Wolves without Anthony Davis (finger), even if the Wolves were without Nikola Pekovic on the inside. They weren’t going to grab a win, however, with Eric Gordon (14 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block, one three), Brian Roberts (nine points, three rebounds, three assists) and Tyreke Evans (11 points, six rebounds, three assists) combining to hit just 12-of-42 shots. That’s the sort of thing that happens when offensive options dry up for teams as a whole.
Davis was held out for precautionary reasons and Monty Williams said “he should be ready for (Saturday),” which should help bring some balance and effectiveness back to the offense. Al-Farouq Aminu, on the other hand, was able to take advantage of the absence with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 12 rebounds, one steal and one block. Owners can simply give him a tip of the cap and refer to his month-long borderline value in 14-team leagues as a guide here.
Greg Stiemsma has officially put together two good games in a row after a three-point, 12-rebound, two-steal and one block night. He went for nine and 12 and a similar line on Tuesday but really it’s anybody’s guess what happens next here. Deep leaguers that are desperate for big man can consider an add if he makes it three in a row on Saturday against Joakim Noah and the Bulls.
LOVE TO MISS YOU
With no Nikola Pekovic (ankle) for 7-10 days, a timetable that seems firm by most accounts, Kevin Love got very aggressive on the offensive end. He wasn’t all that efficient with 11-of-26 hits, but 30 points, 14 rebounds and five assists will go a long way toward covering that up. It’s a testament to Pek’s understated value on offense that Love feels like he needs to let it fly, and when he starts hitting look out. The only downer is that he could find himself getting beat up on the inside a little bit, especially if Ronny Turiaf (four points, eight boards, 26 minutes) or Gorgui Dieng (six minutes) can’t get it done for whatever reason.
This action wasn’t even the first thing I looked at when I saw this game, though, as Ricky Rubio’s 24 minutes stood out like another benching. After further review, however, it was a simple bit of foul trouble and he played through the end of the fourth quarter, finishing with five points, three rebounds, six assists and one steal. I guess that makes this a bit of a micro-level buy low moment in case an opposing owner gets caught box score watching.
Corey Brewer has been hot enough lately to hold mid-to-late round value throughout the last month, but last night’s three points on 1-of-4 shooting with two rebounds, two assists and one steal are probably a bit too emblematic of his struggles from 3-6 weeks back and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him heavily dropped. Over his last 14 games his scoring has been down at just 9.5 points and 0.9 threes per game, but he’s hitting 53 percent of his shots over that span while posting 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per contest. He can’t dream of shooting that well for any sustained span but the defensive numbers are interesting and there’s still some backwards fantasy appeal here.
GIVE IT YOUR BEST SHOT
The Rockets got bad news when James Harden (thumb) was ruled out for last night’s game against the Mavs, but a workmanlike effort from his teammates was enough to sneak out of Dallas with a two-point win. Chandler Parsons took the lead after a slow outing the other day with 26 points and a full stat line, and Jeremy Lin was the difference with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting, two threes, seven boards, seven assists and one steal in 37 minutes. It’s pretty easy for us to say that his numbers will take a hit when Harden returns, but the real takeaway here is that Lin has a better shot than not at holding startable value at that time. He’s an X-factor for the Rockets’ offense.
Overall, I thought some comments Parsons made in the postgame were the most interesting story from this game and hopefully for Rockets fans something that Harden will take to heart.
''When he's out, we have a more balanced attack,'' Parsons said of Harden. ''We run our sets and get the best shot available. When he's not there, we don't go one-on-one as much.''
That’s not exactly flattering and though you always want to take the good with bad, if the Rockets ever want to talk championship they need to get the best shot available as a rule and not the exception.
Dwight Howard scored 21 points and hit 9-of-11 free throws and by that measure it’s a good outing if there were any coaches that hadn’t filled out All Star ballots, though having just five rebounds kept this from being a truly explosive performance. Terrence Jones continued his mixed efficiency with 7-of-10 makes from the field and only 2-of-4 hits from the line, finishing with 16 points, five boards and two steals in 32 minutes.
Donatas Motiejunas had a career-night with 12 and 13 and that’s it in his 26 minutes, as he continues to get showcased in advance of the trade deadline. It’s fair for owners to plan for a high likelihood of this continuing, and because Motie has major fantasy deficiencies in standard formats he’ll do more to keep Omri Casspi from getting on the board while Harden is out than anything. Aaron Brooks has more value in a spot-start in that circumstance, and he put up 11 points with four assists, two steals and two triples in his 22 minutes. Patrick Beverley continues to shy away from open shots but he did manage a serviceable 11 points, three treys, four rebounds, four assists and a steal to go with five turnovers.
DIRK IN DEMAND
The Mavs’ starting backcourt got roasted last night and the Mavs ultimately fell at home, but Dirk Nowitzki continued to lay the hurt on opposing owners with 38 points on 13-of-21 shooting, 17 rebounds, three assists, one trey and a perfect 11 free throws. He’s the No. 8 and 12 player on a per-game basis in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively. It’s probably a sell-high moment considering his age and mileage, but owners shouldn’t go outside of the top-20 to do it and they should be very choosy.
Vince Carter showed up with 22 points and a normal line save for the 10-of-11 makes from the charity stripe, and as usual he continues to be worth a look in 12-team leagues when he’s hot and droppable when he’s not. Devin Harris put up 14 points for the third straight game but managed just three assists and that’s about it. If you had randomly put him in a lineup for that three-game span he’d have paid off, but then again you’d probably be better off playing the lottery with that type of vision. I’ll start him off as a guy that’s worth a look in 14-16 team leagues with plenty of injury risk.
Jose Calderon (eight points, 2-of-12 FGs, five assists, two threes, one steal, one block) and Monta Ellis (six points, 3-of-10 FGs, five assists, two steals, five fouls, 0-of-0 FTs) were both called out by Rick Carlisle after the game for blow-bys. In fairness, the Rockets have a pretty quick backcourt and that spells doom for this duo, but until the Mavs find themselves a reliable rim protector they’re going to be screwed anytime this scenario pops up again. Ellis has hit a very rough patch and his free throws in particular have buried his value, and with no injury to point to and nothing to suggest this isn’t your garden-variety slump – he’s among the top buy-low candidates one could find.
Carlisle also had revealing comments about his three-headed center monster, referring to how he pulled DeJuan Blair from the scorer’s table because Samuel Dalembert got a block and layup. “That’s kind of how it is with that position, unfortunately,” said Carlisle, removing any doubt about what’s going on there for fantasy owners. Most of Dalembert’s stats came on that exchange as he had just two points, three rebounds and one block in 12 minutes, and was also called out by Carlisle for his lack of discipline. DeJuan Blair actually played pretty well with 13 points, five rebounds, one steal and one block in 24 minutes, and Brandan Wright continued to chill on the side of a milk carton after a six-point night with one rebound in 12 minutes. This is a situation to ignore all the way down to 14-team formats.
THE JEFFERSONIAN INSTITUTE
Fantasy life has slowly gotten better for Al Jefferson and he might have had his best night of the year with 35 points on 13-of-24 shooting (9-of-12 FTs), 11 rebounds and two blocks. He’s really enjoying life without Kemba Walker as a first round value during the five games that Walker has been out with an ankle injury, second round value over the last month, and on the year he’s a top 25-40 play when on the floor.
Big Al looks much better right now than he did in Utah last year, as the quickness is there and most importantly even at a self-proclaimed 90 percent he’s healthier than he was last season. Now that’s the rub with Jefferson, and he left briefly with a shoulder injury last night that he described as a nerve issue that caused pain to go down his arm. I’m not so much concerned with any one injury when it comes to Jefferson, as he plays through many of them, but instead the probability that he keeps his current explosion. Any dip in efficiencies and he can go south pretty quickly. Factor in Kemba’s imminent return from his own ankle injury and Jefferson will probably dip back down into the second and third round range, and with all the hype about his current value (we called him ‘one of the best big men in fantasy hoops’) – owners can target durable players in the projected top 20-25 and get a deal done. Think Isaiah Thomas or Gordon Hayward.
Elsewhere there were no surprises for the Cats. Ramon Sessions might have had his last usable game for owners with Kemba returning soon, scoring 16 points (8-of-10 FTs) with four rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Josh McRoberts (four points, six boards) should just be classified as a 14-16 team guy so owners don’t have to think about whether or not to add or drop him based on his ebb and flow. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (eight points, six boards, two blocks, 27 minutes) had a big block to secure the game but he still hasn’t been able to earn starter’s run, and he’s officially at the prove-it stage for 12-16 team formats. Gerald Henderson scored 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting with eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a trey, but he’s been performing at a 14-team level for a month in standard leagues and he needs a handful of these games to change that evaluation.
The Nuggets are banged up all of a sudden with Ty Lawson (shoulder) missing last night’s game, and Nate Robinson left the game under his own power with a knee strain that’s getting an MRI today. That meant Randy Foye was free to bust out for 33 points, three triples, three boards, seven assists and two steals. He’s been great over the last month with second-to-third round value.
Evan Fournier was also forced into some point guard duties and cleaned up with 19 points on 8-of-21 shooting, three treys, five rebounds, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes off the bench. He needs bad news on the injury front for one or maybe even both guys to hold any value in 12-14 team leagues, so keep that in mind as you consider your speculative add. As for Lawson, we don’t know much about his shoulder other than that he couldn’t practice Tuesday and that he’s officially listed as day-to-day.
The other interesting performance came by way of underrated fantasy big man Timofey Mozgov, who put up 15 points with 14 rebounds and a steal in his 27 minutes. Whether you’re looking at his borderline 12-team value over the course of the season, his top 60-80 value over the last month, or his top 45-55 value over the past two weeks – it’s mathematically correct to have him in your lineup as long as you just set it and forget it. That’s going to be fun when he’s hot and vice-versa, but I’d much rather own him than J.J. Hickson (seven points, five boards) or Kenneth Faried (six points, six boards) and it’s not even close.
DEATH FROM ABOVE
The Bulls are dealing with their own internal drama as owner Jerry Reinsdorf calls his own team out for being “mediocre,” and the air of friction between Tom Thibodeau and the team appears on the outside to be getting a wee bit musty. I’ve always maintained that Thibs needs more imagination on offense and to stop running his players into the ground, with the latter point also being one of the reasons his teams generally run tough. But make no mistake, he’s a top-10 coach in the association and the Bulls look like they’re flirting with a total rebuild – not to mention the alienation of many folks that think Thibodeau walks on water.
But that’s getting a bit ahead of itself, and the Bulls have found a new identity and that’s something between the Indians from Major League and a poor man’s version of the Spurs, who they just happened to topple last night. The win came against San Antonio’s JV squad, but up and down the box score everybody got a chance to get off with Jimmy Butler’s 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, four rebounds, three steals, two blocks and one three leading the way. D.J. Augustin brushed off the return of Kirk Hinrich (11 points, two assists, one steal, one three, 22 minutes) and put up 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting with five assists, two triples and a steal in 38 minutes.
Joakim Noah nearly triple-doubled on a monster night with 10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks, Mike Dunleavy scored 10 points with six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block, Carlos Boozer went for 16 and 12, and Taj Gibson was able to score 15 points with a steal and block despite everybody else doing their thing.
I worry about Noah getting fed up with any number of things, but he’s going to be a gamer as long as he can walk and hasn’t gone crazy. Augustin owners are holding onto a second round value over the past two weeks, and at a minimum that’s about three rounds too rich for his blood. Owners that can get a well-positioned top-50 guy in a sell-high deal are doing it right.
Consider this about Butler – he’s a top-65 value over the past 15 games despite a higher-volume 34.4 percent mark from the field. His other numbers, in particular his 2.7 steals per game over that span, seem a bit high but nothing is outlandish. In other words, this value is bound to go up as his shooting numbers regress so pick a bad outing and see if you can pry him out of his owners’ hands. There is absolutely nothing in his way for the rest of the year.
SAN ANTONIO SHUFFLE
There isn’t much to say about the Spurs other than that they’re more-than-hurt after the Manu Ginobili (hamstring, 3-4 weeks) news and apparently Boris Diaw (four points, 1-of-4 FGs, three rebounds, two assists, 29 minutes) isn’t the third member of the Spurs’ consistent fantasy guy club.
As mentioned he has been a borderline 12-14 team guy all season and this type of disappearing act isn’t new, but with Tiago Splitter returning as soon as the end of the week the safety net for Diaw is going to go away. He has been a top 60-100 play (8/9 cat) over the past seven games, averaging 13.4 points, 1.4 treys, 4.0 boards, 2.7 assists, 1.1 combined steals and blocks and a solid 57.8 percent mark from the field (83.3 percent from the line). He’s earned a stay of execution probably through Saturday and Monday in sweet matchups against the Kings and Pelicans – but owners will want to get their watch lists warmed up.
Marco Belinelli scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one three, which is paying the bills for owners that grabbed him at least for one night. His safety net is tied to the returns of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, and normally I’d just look at after the All Star break as a best-case scenario for either guy but the Spurs need one of them back pretty bad. We'll see. Outside of Tony Parker’s 20 and six and Tim Duncan’s 17 and 12 the only Spur to make some noise was Patty Mills with 12 points and a pair of triples.
SILENT BUT DEADLY
The Grizzlies took a while to shake the Kings in Sacto but they eventually outclassed them, and it’s long past time for me to give one of my favorite players Mike Conley the appropriate dap. Not only is he as good as they come on the defensive end – a side of the floor I favor – he’s among the league’s most consistent offensive point guards, too. A quiet guy that plays in a small market, Conley is making Team USA look downright incompetent by not having him on the pool squad, and last night he racked up 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting with three rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, two threes and a perfect nine free throws.
I saw about half of this game live and there were at least three possessions where pesky Isaiah Thomas chased him around for 20 seconds only to see Conley get around a corner and drill an extremely tough look. He has been the No. 9 and 13 play on a per-game basis over the past month in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively. He can’t keep shooting at a 48.8 percent clip, but I fully expect him to settle somewhere in the top-15 range.
Marc Gasol (12 points, five boards, five assists, two blocks) slowed down in a game he theoretically should have dominated, but playing in the SEGABABA and coming off a knee injury I’m not going to put a ton of stock in the muted effort. Zach Randolph added four steals to his typical 18 and seven and he also hit 50 percent of his shots. Now he just needs to do something like this every night for the rest of the year to be an asset in standard leagues without punting in his deficient areas.
Courtney Lee also had his first rough night in a while with four points on 2-of-4 shooting, two rebounds and one steal in 25 minutes. The pace of this game was very slow and the Grizzlies’ Big Three combined to take 39 shots, and those are the breaks for a fourth or fifth option on offense. As mentioned yesterday the team is really high on him, the trio of Conley, Lee and Tony Allen, and then Gasol as the anchor on defense. And I'm on board too and the Lee addition is just squirrely enough for me to put the Grizz in the hunt in the West. Heck, I probably like them better than the Thunder, who probably jumped up a few notches on the Vegas futures list after taking out the Heat. As for Lee he’s much too hot since arriving in Memphis to give up after one bad game.
James Johnson has hit a rough patch and he’s probably pissed after getting just 15 minutes last night in his return to Sacramento, and there has been some commentary out of Memphis that Dave Joerger is reining him in. It sounds about right given Johnson’s tendency to try and expand his role as he starts to do well, even if that’s clearly not in the game plan. The good news for Johnson’s owners is that he can play defense and add to an already gnarly looking unit on that end, and Tayshaun Prince (30 minutes) is basically a placeholder for anybody that can be average or better. Mike Miller’s sprained right thumb injury could open things up, too, and while Allen’s return will complicate matters Johnson hasn’t needed huge minutes to put up must-start value until this recent slowdown. I’m just benching him for now.
ON THE JOB TRAINING
Isaiah Thomas played after taking an IV for the flu and scored 24 points on 10-of-21 shooting with four treys, five assists and two turnovers last night. I was surprised to read as I was catching up on the game that he was getting torched by Mike Conley, which was the story in some parts last night, but a tape review showed 1-2 flaws in his coverage of Conley. It was actually a performance that will stand up under scrutiny yet there he was accepting the misplaced blame in the postgame. It’s a shame since he deserves all the kudos right now and it’s no small wonder that he or any other Kings player from the last two years isn’t damaged goods after the Keith Smart/Maloof experience.
Thomas is getting his first real on-the-job training and entering a real learning curve for the first time in his career, figuring out all the little things that he could have been learning two years ago such as picking and choosing his spots, off-ball defense and even something as stupid as not standing upright on defense when the action is on the other side of the court (you’re supposed to dart back and forth into the key like Shane Battier for extra style points). I’m taking all the house money I’m sitting on regarding this topic and betting we’ll see him in the All Star game within 2-3 years.
The Kings actually hung with the Grizzlies for most of the game despite being without DeMarcus Cousins, who will probably be a game-time decision for Friday’s game and Saturday seemed to be where Mike Malone was heading in his comments yesterday. It’s going to be interesting to see how he handles a potential snub from the All Star team, and it hasn’t helped that he hasn’t been able to put an exclamation point on a tremendous first half in this past week. As I said on the Sac Sports Annex podcast, if he doesn’t make the team it will be because voters are punishing him for his bad behavior. The interesting question is if we assume that just one of he and Dwight Howard can go, will the coaches also punish Howard for his offseason antics and give the nod to Cousins – who has outplayed Howard both head-to-head and on the year.
Owners may want Boogie to get burned here, since it’ll keep that rather large chip on his shoulder nice and sharp.
Rudy Gay (23 points, 10-of-16 FGs, five assists, five turnovers, one steal) returned to action and looked great early on in the game, but by the end of the game he appeared to be gimpy and he said after the game that he tweaked his foot. He also offered that he wouldn’t miss any games but Malone has made a ton of comments about protecting players from themselves so I’d say there’s a sliver of a chance he doesn’t play on Friday.
Otherwise, he’s been nothing short of exemplary on the offensive end since arriving in Sacramento, and while I agree with our blurb that he can’t keep up with the 52.8 percent shooting mark since the trade it should be noted that he is getting choice looks. Thomas handles the ball and keeps him from doing too much, and when Boogie is around the team is extremely deliberate with how Gay gets the ball. Some regression is coming and that along with the potential for days off on a bad team are sell-high signals, but I wouldn’t summarily assume he’s returning to the sub-42 percent days. Something in the ballpark of 46-49 percent sounds about right.
Jason Thompson (six points, seven boards) owners will want to get other options fired up since he’s already inconsistent with Boogie out, and overweight Carl Landry (eight points, nine boards, 23 minutes) might already be a better fantasy option. I’d still roll with J.T. over Landry as long as Cousins is out for now.
Marcus Thornton was straight-up benched for his pouting act after getting just two shot attempts in 17 minutes. It’s understandable that a scorer like Thornton is frustrated by not having any plays called for him, but he’s gotta understand where he’s at with the team and earn his touches on the defensive end – which was Malone’s stated reason for benching him. It stands to reason that he can be dropped with the team nearing full strength. As for Ben McLemore, it’s possible he gets moved back into the starting lineup but I think the team will still keep him on a tight leash wherever he plays, mostly for his own good so he doesn’t get down on himself. Derrick Williams (eight points, 19 minutes) is back to being waiver wire fodder but owners can file away a moderately positive report about his play in Gay’s absence.
PUSH IT TO THE (MINUTE) LIMIT
The Wizards rolled into L.A. and played the Clippers tough but still lost in the SEGABABA. John Wall hit 7-of-12 shots for 19 points, 11 rebounds, four boards and two steals, and Bradley Beal’s minute limit continued to keep him hot and focused as he put up 20 points with three assists and two steals but missed his three 3-point attempts.
Marcin Gortat put up a serviceable eight and five with one steal and three blocks, Trevor Ariza missed all six of his 3-point attempts but managed to go for 13 points and six assists, and Nene was his normal wonderful self with 14 points, eight boards, six assists and two steals in just 26 minutes. There was a Kevin Seraphin sighting as the long lost big man scored 10 points with seven boards and a block, but he needs to show us he can do it twice before anybody should even flinch. Martell Webster did his low-end, deep league thing with nine points and three treys, and all-in-all it was a fairly normal night for the Wiz.
DEANDRE THE GIANT
Just like the Wizards, the Clippers operated under the status quo and with solid contributions across the board they were able to dig out the win. J.J. Redick (20 points, three treys) and Jamal Crawford (21 points, five boards, three assists, two threes, 11-of-12 FTs) continued to operate just fine in tandem, while Matt Barnes wiped away any intrigue he may have had in standard leagues with just four points and four boards in 27 minutes.
Darren Collison put up 16 and nine, Blake Griffin had a monster night with 29 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block, and DeAndre Jordan went for 14 and 17 with a steal and two blocks and some key free throws down the stretch. Our blurb said that he deserves to be on the All Star team and he’s in the discussion without a doubt, but I’m still having a tough time wrapping my head around that but let’s just say I’m open-minded. He’s having a great season in the areas that he’s strong, which is all you can ask for if you’re the Clippers.