There were 10 games in the association on Friday night, six of which were double-digits wins, a common theme early this NBA season.
The Pistons held off the Celtics second-half comeback effort with a 96-93 win behind Saddiq Bey's hot shooting. A shorthanded Memphis group topped the Hornets by 15 with a well-balanced, all-around team effort without star point guard Ja Morant.
Mike Conley had a big night against the Clippers as Donovan Mitchell continued to struggle. And damn, that Keldon Johnson can play basketball. I know the Spurs lost to the Lakers (again), but Johnson is gaining some traction and he deserves our attention.
Here's the good and the bad from Friday night's NBA action.
Starting 2021 on the right foot
Malik Beasley & Naz Reid - Despite all the drama off the court, Beasley has been hooping this season and kept it going on New Year’s Day. He led the T-Wolves with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 3-of-6 from distance and 2-of-2 from the line. He’s now scored in double-figures in four of five games and is the team’s third-leading scorer behind D’Angelo Russell (second) and Karl-Anthony Towns (first). Reid, who’s been starting for Towns, had his best game of the season on Friday, recording 17 points, six rebounds, one steal and two blocks. He even knocked down a triple for all our folks who play in 9-cat leagues. Reid should be rostered in deeper leagues until KAT returns.
Thomas Bryant - Wizards center Thomas Bryant is having an underrated 2020-21 campaign so far and someone needs to talk about it. He had 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting night in the win over the Wolves Friday. This happened one night after he made 10-of-11 shots en route a season-high 28 points. Did someone say All-Star? Just kidding. But seriously — Bryant is averaging 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game on 61% shooting through five games. We see you, TB.
Memphis Grizzlies - The Grizzlies roster has been running thin as of late, but that didn’t stop them from beating the Hornets 108-93 on Friday. Six of the 10 players who stepped onto the court scored in double-figures with Dillon Brooks pacing them with 21 points (8-of-17 FGs) and five threes. Kyle Anderson rattled off another respectable game with 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals. Tyus Jones, who’s starting for Ja Morant (ankle), scored just six points but got his teammates involved with 12 dimes on the night. Brandon Clarke had 15 points, four boards, three assists and two blocks in his first start of the season. And center Jonas Valanciunas double-doubled 14 and 10. Teamwork makes the dream work. Who needs Ja? Ja feel.
John Collins & De'Andre Hunter - In the Hawks last two games, both vs the Nets, John Collins has totaled 50 points and 18 rebounds, making 21-of-35 shots and 4-of-10 threes. I’d say that’s pretty good. Collins has been on a tear even with the return of Clint Capela. He also threw down this nasty dunk on Jarrett Allen who’s one of the best shot-blockers in the league. Someone should check on Allen and see if he’s OK. De’Andre Hunter is OK, by the way. He was probable with left knee soreness prior to the game and ended up scoring a team and season-high 23 points, making 9-of-10 FGs and 3-of-4 from deep while giving Kyrie Irving (18 points, 6-of-21 FGs) hell on the other hand. Hunter is quickly emerging as one of the better and more underrated defenders in the NBA. Maybe if the league nationally broadcasted some of the Hawks games, people could watch and see for themselves.
Keldon Johnson - It’s Keldon Johnson season and this man should be picked up in all leagues ASAP. The 21-year-old Spurs guard scored a career-high 26 points against the defending champion Lakers on Friday, grabbing 10 rebounds and splashing in five triples in the loss. Johnson was the No. 29 pick in the 2019 draft and had a decent rookie season in which he averaged 9.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in just under 18 minutes a game. This season, he’s scored in double-figures in all but one game and is averaging 29 minutes a contest. If DeMar DeRozan (expiring contract) is traded at some point before the March 25 deadline, Johnson could be in store for increased volume and a breakout season.
Suns “Big 3” - Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul and Devin Booker combined for 65 of the team’s 106 points. Making 25-of-42 shot attempts, 4-of-8 threes and 11-of-12 free throws. They also tallied 18 boards and nine assists. Booker’s eight turnovers are glaring but the Suns won so we’ll let it slide, this time. But this is what Phoenix was hoping for when it acquired Paul from the Thunder in the offseason. And so far, its 5-1 record speaks for itself. The Suns are a legitimate team in the NBA and certainly in the west, one that you should watch whenever you get a chance.
Saddiq Bey & Mason Plumlee - Saddiq Bey came to play on Friday night against the Celtics, posting 17 points, seven rebounds and two steals in the Pistons win. He shot 5-of-11 with all of his makes coming from the perimeter, and this was by far his best game of the young season. If Bey can build off of his hot shooting night, he could solidify a spot as the team’s starting shooting guard moving forward. And the Pistons could really use some consistency from its backcourt as Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant currently lead the teams in 3-point makes per game. Bey’s 17 points weren't as unique as Mason Plumlee’s 17 rebounds, however. Yes, 17 rebounds for Mason-freaking-Plumlee. He scored eight points but it’s the 17 rebounds for me. Plumlee leads the team in rebounds (9.8) and steals (1.5) per game and should be rostered in standard and deeper leagues and maybe even 10-team leagues. Yeah, I said it.
Damian Lillard & C.J. McCollum - Dame and CJ were on human torch mode against Stephen Curry and the Warriors Friday night in the Blazers 123-98 victory. Lillard had 34 points and eight assists, hitting 11-of-21 FGs, 6-of-10 threes and 6-of-6 FTs. McCollum also went 11-of-21, making 4-of-11 threes while chipping in four assists and three steals. Say what you want about this being an undersized and defense-lacking tandem, which they kind of are, but they can shoot the ball so well and it makes them fun to watch. They also spoiled Draymond Green's season debut (scoreless in 18 minutes). Did I mention Carmelo Anthony had 18 points off the bench? Them boys were hooping Friday night in the Bay Area.
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Leave it in 2020
Terry Rozier & Devonte’ Graham - The Hornets starting backcourt missed so many shots on Friday night that you’d think it was hungover from a New Year’s Eve fiesta. Rozier and Graham combined for a 2-of-21 shooting night, including 2-of-9 from deep, totaling just nine points in a game the Hornets lost by 15. The other three starters all scored in double figures, however: P.J. Washington (10), Gordon Hayward (14) and Bismack Biyombo (16, team-high). Caleb Martin and LaMelo Ball chipped in off the bench, too, as Martin had 14 points and Ball had 15. Not a great way to start 2021 for the guard tandem. Next time more making shots and less “taking shots,” if you catch my drift.
Jimmy Butler - Jimmy Buckets returned to the court for the first time since Christmas Day when he sat out the second half because of an ankle injury. Whoops. Did I say buckets? Because Jimmy didn’t get any of those Friday, not a single one. In 27 minutes, Butler went 0-of-6 on field goals, scoring just two points at the line. We’ll call him Jimmy Yuckets for that one. But in Butler’s defense, he didn’t look 100% and was listed as probable coming into the game. He wasn’t the only Heat player with an off day either — Duncan Robinson went 1-of-8 and Goran Dragic went 3-of-11 in Miami’s loss to the Mavs, led by Luka Doncic's 27/15/7. Friday also marked nine years since JB made his NBA debut, and he’s since turned himself into a star player in the league. We’ll cut you some slack, Jimmy.
Chicago Bulls - Billy Donovan’s young Bulls team was frazzled by the veteran Bucks which won 126-96 Friday night. Chicago didn’t shoot terrible from the floor, making 38-of-87 shots (44%). But it was terrible from beyond the arc, hitting just 6-of-26 attempts (23%). The Bulls also had 20 turnovers, four by Coby White (12 points, four rebounds, three assists) and five by Zach LaVine (16/6/2/1/1). On the flip side, the Bucks shot 49% from the floor and from distance as they made 22 triples in the game. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team with 29 points, 12 boards, eight assists, two steals and two blocks. Yeah, it be like that, Bulls fans.
Killian Hayes & Sekou Doumbouya - The Pistons Frenchmen had a forgettable performance vs the Celtics on Friday, but thankfully for Detroit, it walked away with the win. Hayes had another bad game, going scoreless with six assists in 23 minutes. He entered the content as a game-time-decision and was playing on a sprained ankle. Hayes is also just 19-years-old and is facing a massive learning curve. I know he was a top-10 pick in the draft, but just be patient with him if you’re a Pistons fan. For fantasy purposes, don’t hang onto him even in deeper leagues. He currently holds no fantasy value. As for Sekou, he was also scoreless but added five rebounds and two assists in 11 minutes. It’s a shame he couldn’t do much with Blake Griffin (concussion) sidelined. But like Hayes, Sekou is young and still adapting to the game, and doesn’t provide fantasy impact at the moment.
Ricky Rubio - The veteran guard was in the starting lineup Friday night, or was he? Rubio managed to knock down one 3-pointer against the Wizards, and that was it for his scoring output. He added five assists, two rebounds and two steals, but for 25 minutes of action, the three points were eye-popping. Rubio’s poor play was only part of the reason the Timberwolves lost 130-109 to Washington, which picked up its first win of the season. Following the Wolves Tuesday night blowout loss to the Clippers, Rubio said, "We have to learn. There's a lot of excuses. We're young, blah, blah, blah, this and that, but once you step on the court, you're playing for an NBA team and the last two games it's been ridiculous bad. There's no other words to put it and we have to get better,” and he certainly needs to better himself.
Will Barton - If you snagged Will Barton off waivers thinking he would shine with Michael Porter Jr. (COVID-protocol) out of the lineup. Well, we’re all wrong sometimes. Barton started and played a whopping 36 minutes against the Suns but scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. He salvaged his fantasy night by tacking on four rebounds, five assists and two steals. But really, two points? Paul Millsap started as well, logging 15 points and five boards in 19 minutes. Now that’s making the most of an opportunity. MPJ’s fantasy manager should be happy with Barton’s rough night because it should [hopefully] keep Porter Jr. on the court more often than not.
Donovan Mitchell - Fresh off signing a five-year, $190 million contract, Donovan Mitchell is having a quiet season, so far. He struggled on Friday against the Clippers, going 6-of-14 from the floor and 3-of-10 from deep. The Jazz won despite Kawhi Leonard's near triple-double (20/16/9). But Mitchell scored just 15 points in 35 minutes and had five turnovers, too, as his backcourt partner Mike Conley carried Utah with 33 points and seven assists. Mitchell had Jazz fans and his fantasy managers excited coming into this season after he put on a show in the first-round of the bubble playoffs. And while he’s averaging 21 points and 4.5 assists a night through four games, he’s shooting a horrendous 34% on FGs and 30% from distance. We expect better from Spida, and though the season is young, we’d like to see him turn things around sooner rather than later.