Playing sports in the midst of a global pandemic is difficult, even with the steps that the NBA and its teams are taking in order to make it all work. Monday's news offered a reminder of just how difficult the task is, as Brooklyn announced that its biggest star will have to sit for at least seven days due to the league's health and safety protocols. With it being reported by ESPN's Baxter Holmes that training staffs feel as if they're being stretched thin due to their having to juggle the normal medical responsibilities with the additional requirements enacted due to COVID-19, keeping things afloat hasn't been easy.
As for what happened on the court Monday night, Dallas and Houston's respective stars returned to action, and New York's starting power forward had another good night.
Magic 103, Cavaliers 83
76ers 118, Hornets 101
Heat 118, Thunder 90
Knicks 113, Hawks 108
Celtics 126, Raptors 114
Mavericks 113, Rockets 100
Bucks 125, Pistons 115
Pacers 118, Pelicans 116 (OT)
Warriors 137, Kings 106
KD out at least seven days for contact tracing: This was the big injury-related news of the day, as Nets star Kevin Durant will be self-isolating for at least seven days due to the league’s health and safety protocols. According to multiple reports he was in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, so he’ll have to sit for a little while. As for what fantasy managers can do to account for Durant’s absence, there isn’t a worthwhile add that hasn’t already been made.
Caris LeVert could move into the starting lineup, and he’s already rostered in 85% of Yahoo leagues. Either Jeff Green or Taurean Prince stands to see an increase in minutes, and I’d bet on Green being that guy. However, regardless of the answer neither is worth grabbing off of the waiver wire. We’ll see if starter Joe Harris, who’s rostered in 63% of Yahoo leagues, gets room to be more than a points and 3-pointers contributor with the occasional drive to the basket mixed in. Harris is a top-75 player in 9-cat, so his rostered percentage should increase with Durant sidelined.
Spurs lose White to another foot fracture (suffered on Jan. 1): After missing the start of the season due to a foot injury, Derrick White finally made his debut on New Year’s Day. Unfortunately he suffered another injury during that game, breaking a toe on his left foot. As a result he’s been ruled out indefinitely, which is bad news for fantasy managers banking on him picking up where he left off at the end of last season. For those who have White on their rosters, utilize an IL spot if you have one available. While we don’t know exactly when he’ll be back, he will figure prominently in the Spurs rotation when that time comes.
The injury likely preserves Lonnie Walker’s spot in the starting lineup, which is good news for him as he’s gotten off to a slow start. The 17% of Yahoo managers who still have him rostered might as well hang onto Walker for the time being. Keldon Johnson is the player to pick up, as he’s been a top-50 player in both 8- and 9-cat formats. How he’s currently rostered in 68% percent of Yahoo leagues is a mystery; given how well the second-year guard has played that figure should threaten 80% in the very near future.
Doncic, Harden make their returns: Dallas and Houston welcomed back their star guards Monday night, as Luka Doncic and James Harden started after sitting out their respective teams’ most recent games. Doncic won this showdown, posting a 33/16/11 line with three 3-pointers in the Mavericks’ 13-point victory. Luka has gotten off to a slow start by his lofty standards, ranking outside of the top-50 in 9-cat, with turnovers being one of the concerns. Averaging 3.7 per game, he tallied eight Monday night. As he continues to work towards being in game shape, his ranking should rise and the eventual return of Kristaps Porzingis will help matters as well.
Harden shot 5-of-17 from the field, finishing with 21 points, three rebounds, ten assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in 38 minutes. Of course, given his reported desire to be traded many took to analyzing his body language throughout Monday’s game. Harden’s return impacts the entire roster obviously, and John Wall (14/4/4 with one 3-pointer) had a tough night as he shot 4-of-10 from the field. Christian Wood (23/7/1 steal/1/ block) continues to roll along, and his night would have been even better had he not shot 0-of-5 from three. Thus far Wood has more than lived up to the preseason expectations, as he’s providing second-round value in both 8- and 9-cat formats.
House (back spasms) sits, Nwaba starts: Houston made two changes to its starting lineup on Monday. With Harden back, Eric Gordon returned to the bench and in 26 minutes he tallied 20 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block and four 3-pointers. Rostered in 42% of Yahoo leagues, he’s currently providing top-25 value in 9-cat. Gordon is worth picking up right now, especially if there’s a need for 3-pointers. The other change was David Nwaba starting in place of the injured Danuel House, who was ruled out due to back spasms.
Nwaba wasn’t particularly effective in his 29 minutes, tallying five points, two rebounds, one assist, one steal and one 3-pointer on 2-of-6 shooting from the field. What made matters worse for fantasy managers that picked up Nwaba late was his 0-of-4 night from the foul line. Even if House misses another game, leave Nwaba alone. Gordon would be a far better choice, and even Jae’Sean Tate (eight points, six rebounds and one 3-pointer in 25 minutes) offers more in the way of fantasy value than Nwaba. Ben McLemore (health and safety protocols) was active, but he did not see any action.
Kleber, Cauley-Stein start for Mavericks: With his team less than 24 hours removed from giving up 118 points in a loss to the Bulls, Rick Carlisle made two changes to his starting lineup in hopes of getting better play on the defensive end of the floor. Maxi Kleber and Willie Cauley-Stein moved into the starting lineup, with Dwight Powell and Tim Hardaway Jr. being demoted to the bench. Kleber failed to score but he did tally nine rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes, while Powell (two points, two rebounds, one steal and one block in 15 minutes) didn’t offer much either.
But Cauley-Stein (15/7/2/1/1) and Hardaway Jr. (30/7/2 with eight 3-pointers) both had good nights, with the former playing 24 minutes and the latter 31. Hardaway shot 11-of-14 from the field, which included an 8-of-10 showing from deep. Rostered in 57% of Yahoo leagues, THJ is ranked just outside of the top-100 in both 8- and 9-cat formats. With averages of 17.0 points and 3.4 3-pointers per game, Hardaway Jr. is a worthwhile pickup even if he continues to come off the bench. Jalen Brunson, who shined in a spot start Sunday night, accounted for just six points and four assists in 19 minutes off the bench. With Doncic back, he isn’t worth rostering.
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Cavs lose another starter in Orlando: Cleveland, which won its first three games of the season, has been hit hard by injuries recently. Darius Garland was ruled out for Monday’s loss to the Magic due to a right shoulder injury, and less than a minute into the game Dante Exum was helped off after suffering what was deemed to be a right calf strain at the time. More will be learned about the severity of Exum’s injury on Tuesday, but this is concerning given his medical history. With Garland out Collin Sexton, who has been excellent to start the season, was the primary ball-handler and he had a tough time when it came to distributing the basketball.
Sexton (24/2/2/1 with two 3-pointers) shot 10-of-19 from the field, but he was responsible for just two assists while turning the ball over six times. Cleveland’s best playmaker Monday night: Cedi Osman, who accounted for seven assists to go along with 18 points, seven rebounds, two steals, one block and four 3-pointers in 38 minutes. He isn’t a must-add right now, but if both Garland and Exum are declared out for an extended period of time Osman is worth looking into. Damyean Dotson received a spot start, tallying 16 points, one rebound, two assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes. He can be left on the waiver wire for now.
Celtics without Smart, Teague in Tampa: Boston was short two rotation guards for Monday’s win over the Raptors, as Marcus Smart (thumb) and Jeff Teague (ankle) were held out. Smart’s absence meant a rare start for Tremont Waters, who usually isn’t in the rotation when everyone is healthy. He played 24 minutes, shooting 1-of-8 from the field and finishing with five points, two rebounds, five assists, one 3-pointer and four turnovers. You know who did have a good night? Rookie Payton Pritchard, who was left in his usual reserve role. He shot 8-of-13 from the field, tallying 23 points, two rebounds, eight assists and two 3-pointers in 32 minutes.
Rostered in just 6% of Yahoo leagues, Pritchard has been more productive than Teague to start the season. He should be picked up in deeper leagues, especially if Teague has to miss more time. Also of note with regard to the Celtics rotation was Brad Stevens’ shift away from having Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis on the court at the same time. While those two started Monday’s game, Semi Ojeleye started the second half with Thompson moved to the bench. Neither Thompson nor Theis is worth using in standard leagues right now; Robert Williams (11/15/1 steal/2 blocks in 20 minutes) is a much better option. Ojeleye hasn’t produced much in the way of fantasy value, but he did account for 12 points, eight rebounds, one assist and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes played.
Bey, Ellington fill voids for Pistons: Due to Josh Jackson injuring his ankle on Sunday and Blake Griffin being given the night off, Saddiq Bey and Wayne Ellington started Monday’s loss to the Bucks. Ellington had a solid night, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and accounting for 13 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 25 minutes. He isn’t worth picking up however, as Dwane Casey said before the game that he expects Jackson to be back for Wednesday’s rematch. As for Bey (nine points, three rebounds and one 3-pointer in 31 minutes), he’s a good fit for fantasy managers that have the ability to stash him for the time being. While he may not give you much in the way of consistent fantasy value right now, with the way that the Pistons are trending those young players stand to receive a lot of playing time as the team plays out the string later this season.
Of greater importance, especially in the short-term, is what Detroit will do at the point guard position. Rookie Killian Hayes left Monday’s game after just 13 minutes due to a right hip injury, and he has an MRI scheduled for Tuesday. Derrick Rose (24/2/8/1 with two 3-pointers) played well in his 25 minutes off the bench, but Delon Wright played just ten minutes. If Hayes has to miss time, does Wright start so Rose can remain in his reserve role? In the past, the preference has been to continue to bring Rose off the bench, but he will still have some value for as long as Hayes is sidelined.
“Ironmen” lead the Knicks in Atlanta: Due to injuries New York entered Monday’s game with essentially a nine-man rotation, and things got even tighter due to Nerlens Noel’s ankle injury. Tom Thibodeau used just eight players in the win over the Hawks, with Austin Rivers playing 33 minutes off the bench, Immanuel Quickley 19 and Kevin Knox 18. And there weren’t many moments when either RJ Barrett or Julius Randle weren’t on the court, as they played 44 and 43 minutes, respectively. Randle (28/17/9/1) fell one assist shy of his second triple-double in as many games, but he was responsible for seven turnovers. That’s what is limiting his fantasy ceiling right now, as he’s threatening top-25 value in 8-cat but sitting just outside of the top-50 in 9-cat.
As for Barrett (26/11/5/2 with one 3-pointer), his fantasy value isn’t as high as it should be due to his poor shooting. After going 10-of-19 from the field Monday he’s shooting 40% from the field, and hopefully he can string together some efficient performances. Barrett isn’t a top-100 player just yet, but at this rate that should change in the near future. And it’s time for people to hop on the Quickley bandwagon, as he’s rostered in just 5% of Yahoo leagues. He’s providing 11th-round value in 9-cat, and outside of injury it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Dennis Smith Jr. or Frank Ntilikina siphon minutes away from him once they’re cleared to play. Alec Burks appears to be the closest to a return based upon Thibodeau's comments on Monday, and he'll slot back into the rotation when that time comes.
Haliburton remains sidelined but is “feeling better”: After getting off to a good start to begin this season, it didn’t take long for the Kings to go all “KANGZ” on us. There was Marvin Bagley’s father asking the Kings to trade him on Twitter, followed by De’Aaron Fox’s father endorsing the idea. Fox said after Monday’s blowout loss to the Warriors that he, Bagley and Luke Walton discussed the matter briefly but there are no issues. What has been problematic is Bagley’s play, as he missed his first five shots from the field and finished the game with four points, three rebounds and one steal in 19 minutes. Currently rostered in 73% of Yahoo leagues, he’s ranked well outside of the top-300 in 9-cat. I know the upside may leave some feeling as if they have to hold onto Bagley, but it’s time to cut bait on both he and Hassan Whiteside.
The good news for Sacramento is that Tyrese Haliburton is “feeling better” according to Walton. He missed another game due to a left wrist injury, and the Kings need him back in the rotation due to his playmaking ability. Currently a top-100 player in 9-cat, the rookie is rostered in 45% of Yahoo leagues. Even though Haliburton is out that number should increase, especially given how poor the Kings have looked in his absence.
Tsunami Papi breaks out: One night after scoring 62 points Stephen Curry did more Stephen Curry things, scoring 30 points in three quarters before getting the rest of the night off. The bigger deal for the Warriors was the play of Kelly Oubre, who shot 4-of-6 from three and finished with 18 points to go along with three rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks. He entered Monday’s game a putrid 2-of-30 from distance, so it goes without saying that this was a step in the right direction.
And getting Draymond Green (5/5/5/2 with one 3-pointer) back in the fold has really helped the Warriors on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately that doesn’t translate when it comes to his fantasy value, but it will help some of the other key contributors improve theirs. I expect Oubre and Andrew Wiggins to get better, especially as they continue to establish on-court chemistry with the Warriors’ two stars.
Giannis scores season-high 43, torches Pistons: Detroit forward Jerami Grant is considered to be one of the better frontcourt defenders in the NBA, and he's also gotten off to a very good start offensively in his new home. But the task of defending Giannis Antetokounmpo is difficult for anyone, and neither Grant nor his Pistons teammates had the right answers Monday night. Shooting 17-of-24 from the field and 7-of-9 from the charity stripe, the reigning MVP went off for 43 points while also tallying nine rebounds, four assists, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 36 minutes. Despite the fact that his perimeter shot remains a work in progress, Antetokounmpo is shooting 52.0% from the field thus far.
A player to watch in Milwaukee with regard to fantasy value is Donte DiVincenzo, who scored five points with five rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one block and one 3-pointer in 30 minutes. He didn't shoot the ball well, going 2-of-9 from the field, but the third-year guard's all-around game is why he sits just outside of the top-50 in both 8- and 9-cat formats. Milwaukee has three more games this week, which is good news for those who have DiVinzenzo rostered.
Brogdon continues to flourish in new system: Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon was effusive in his praise of first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren following Monday’s overtime win in New Orleans, and with good reason. Indiana has looked more fluid offensively than it did last season, and individually speaking Brogdon is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Monday night he posted a line of 21 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists (a career-high), three steals, one block and four 3-pointers in 46 minutes. Add in Myles Turner (17/2/1 steal/3 blocks with two 3-pointers in 23 minutes), and the Pacers have two players providing first-round value in 9-cat formats.
Victor Oladipo (25/5/6/2 with five 3-pointers) and Domantas Sabonis (19/11/7/2 blocks with one 3-pointer) also had good nights in the Big Easy, and they’re both top-50 players at present time. Thus far the Bjorkgren hiring has worked out with regard to both team and individual success. And Justin Holiday (9/7/5/1/1 with three 3-pointers), who’s still rostered in just 13% of Yahoo leagues, played 45 minutes off the bench. He’s ranked just outside of the top-100 in both 8- and 9-cat formats. We’ll keep telling you all to pick him up until that percentage jumps significantly.
Hornets' interior depth remains a problem: Taking on Joel Embiid with your full compliment of frontcourt players is hard enough. Doing so without a starter is even more difficult, even if he doesn't put up a dominant stat line. Embiid finished Monday's win over Charlotte with 14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. And Dwight Howard grabbed 13 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. P.J. Washington did what he could, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but Bismack Biyombo didn't give Charlotte much of anything production-wise.
He's rostered in 33% of Yahoo leagues, but even though the veteran center is in a position where he has to play he can't be considered a must-have player in any format. Making matters worse for James Borrego is that he doesn't appear to feel good about playing either Nick Richards or Vernor Carey Jr., with the former accounting for three points and two rebounds in six minutes. So basically Charlotte is left to tread water until Cody Zeller is cleared to return, which puts that team in a very tough spot.
Heat roll with Adebayo/Olynyk tandem: Kelly Olynyk made his first start of the season Monday night and he played well, posting a line of 19 points, eight rebounds one assist and five 3-pointers in 28 minutes of action. He's providing top-100 value in both 8- and 9-cat formats this season, but is rostered in just 14% of Yahoo leagues. If you can grab Olynyk off of the waiver wire, now would be a good time to do it. And he's worked well with Bam Adebayo, who shot 9-of-10 from the field and finished Monday's win with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes.
Something else to watch in Miami is how Tyler Herro continues to adjust to the point guard role. He didn't shoot the ball well, going 3-of-9 from the field, but he did account for eight assists with just two turnovers. If Herro can achieve the balance of making plays for himself and for his teammates, top-100 value would be the minimum expectation for him. He's currently just outside of that threshold, and there's no reason to panic.