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Nikola Vucevic
AP
Basketball Daily Dose

Nikola Vucevic makes his return

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: December 16, 2019, 6:39 am ET

There were six games on the NBA schedule Sunday, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis carrying the Lakers past the Hawks and Nikola Jokic continuing his resurgence in Denver’s win over the Knicks. Also worth noting was the return of Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who appeared in his first game in nearly a month after missing time with a sprained ankle. Below is a look at Sunday’s action, beginning with Vucevic’s impact on the Magic front court. 

Magic 130, Pelicans 119Nikola Vucevic played 29 minutes, shooting 8-of-15 from the field and finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in Orlando's win Sunday afternoon. Vucevic’s return means that Khem Birch falls completely out of the rotation, as he picked up a DNP-CD on Sunday. Orlando went with just four true front court players in the win: Vucevic, fellow starters Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon, and reserve center Mo Bamba. And provided everyone stay healthy, that’s probably the way that it’s going to be moving forward. 

Isaac shot 7-of-11 from the field and 6-of-7 from the foul line, scoring a team-high 21 points with 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block and one three-pointer in 33 minutes. For the season he’s provided second-round value in nine-category formats, and third-round value in eight-cat per Basketball Monster. And Vucevic’s return should not have a negative impact on Isaac’s fantasy value. Gordon had a tough day shooting the ball, as he was just 3-of-13 from the field. He finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer in 33 minutes.

Gordon’s hovered around that seventh/eighth round area for much of the season, and the return of Vucevic could mean a few more clean looks at the basket for him. But when you’re shooting just 31.8% from three on the season as Gordon is (his lowest percentage since 2016-17), there’s no guarantee that you’ll shoot well enough to provide additional benefit in fantasy. Bamba played 19 minutes, adding 13 points (5-of-6 FGs), six rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers. Over his last three games the second-year center is averaging 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 three-pointers per. Bamba had just one blocked shot in those three games, but the fact that he shot the ball well (13-of-21 FGs, 4-of-8 3-pointers) during that stretch is an encouraging sign. 

D.J. Augustin accounted for 17 points, eight assists, one rebound, one steal and two 3-pointers in 25 minutes off the bench, while Terrence Ross shot 4-of-6 from three and finished with 14 points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal. All five Magic guards that played scored in double figures, with Evan Fournier (16/1/4/1 with three 3-pointers), Markelle Fultz (10/2/7/1/1) and Michael Carter-Williams (10/2/4 with two 3-pointers) being the others. 

For New Orleans, Derrick Favors saw a slight increase in minutes in his second game back following the death of his mother, going from 15 minutes in Friday’s loss to the 76ers to 20 Sunday night. He accounted for two points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot. Jaxson Hayes would lead the way in minutes in the post, as he played 29 and accounted for ten points, seven rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot. 

Over the last two weeks the rookie center has provided tenth-round value in nine-category formats, and given the Pelicans’ struggles it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which a healthy Hayes isn’t given all the minutes that he can handle. He’s currently rostered in just 21% of Yahoo leagues, so if he’s available it would be wise to pick him up. As for Jahlil Okafor, he was a DNP-CD and isn’t worth rostering at this point. 

Jrue Holiday played 40 minutes, shooting 12-of-20 from the field and finishing with a game-high 29 points, four rebounds, eight assists, one steal, one block and four 3-pointers. He was one of four Pelicans that scored at least 20 points on the day, with J.J. Redick (two rebounds, three assists, one block and five 3-pointers) tallying 23 points, Brandon Ingram (six rebounds, six assists, one steal and three 3-pointers) 21 and Josh Hart (five rebounds, one assist, two steals and four 3-pointers) 20. Lonzo Ball accounted for nine points, five rebounds, six assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes off the bench. 

Pacers 107, Hornets 85Aaron Holiday had one of his best games of the season Sunday, as he accounted for 23 points (6-of-10 FGs, 9-of-10 FTs), six rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers in 21 minutes off the bench. He’s now scored in double figures in four of Indiana’s last five games, and this may be a good time to pick up the young guard. He’s owned in just 4% of Yahoo leagues, and while his value will surely take a hit once Victor Oladipo is healthy enough to return he can be useful until that time comes. 

Holiday was one of two reserve guards to score in double figures for the Pacers, with T.J. McConnell adding 12 points, two rebounds and eight assists in 23 minutes. Starter Malcolm Brogdon finished with 11 points (4-of-11 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), one rebound, seven assists, one steal and one three-pointer, while Jeremy Lamb filled the stat sheet with nine points, six rebounds, one assist, three steals, two blocks and one three-pointer. 

Both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis posted double-doubles, with Turner finishing with 14 points, ten rebounds, two assists, five blocks and two 3-pointers, and Sabonis adding 12 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Even with Turner being the more willing of the two to shoot from the perimeter while also being a better shot blocker, Sabonis has been more valuable in fantasy due to his work on the boards. Over the last two weeks he’s averaging 14.6 rebounds per game, and when combined with the averages of 16.1 points and 4.4 rebounds the end result is a player who’s provided sixth-round value during that stretch. 

T.J. Warren shot just 2-of-8 from the field, scoring six points with four rebounds and two assists, while Justin Holiday (two rebounds, one assist, two steals and one three-pointer) and Doug McDermott (five rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers) scored nine and six points, respectively. 

The dynamic at the center position for Charlotte changed in this one, as Cody Zeller was moved into the starting lineup alongside Bismack Biyombo. This was to matchup up with the tandem of Sabonis and Turner, and both finished the game with double-doubles. Zeller shot 6-of-11 from the field and 7-of-10 from the foul line, scoring 19 points with 12 rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot in 29 minutes. Biyombo played 28 minutes, finishing with 11 points, 17 rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot. 

Whether or not James Borrego starts Zeller alongside Biyombo moving forward, with P.J. Washington sidelined by a broken finger, will likely depend on the matchup for that particular game. But Zeller has been more valuable coming off the bench than he was as a starter, as he’s been a top-100 player in both eight- and nine-category formats over the last two weeks. Miles Bridges added ten points, four rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer, shooting 4-of-12 from the field and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Those aren’t great numbers, but they’re better than what the starting backcourt of Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham produced. 

While Graham did score 12 points, he did so on 3-of-18 shooting from the field (3-of-14 3-pointers). An early candidate in the race for the Most Improved Player award, he was able to tally six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Not enough to salvage the night or keep the Hornets within striking distance of the Pacers, but those who have Graham on their rosters were able to get something out of the performance. As for Rozier, he scored three points on 1-of-12 shooting to go along with two rebounds, three assists and one steal. 

The two have been close with regards to fantasy value for much of the season, there’s been some separation in recent weeks. Over the last month Graham has been a fifth-round player in nine-category formats, while Rozier has been an eighth-round player. And the difference is even more pronounced in the last two weeks, with Graham being a second-round player and Rozier a 12th-rounder. Both are owned in most Yahoo leagues, but Rozier is rostered in 91% of Yahoo leagues while Graham is rostered in 86% of those leagues. Those numbers should be flipped, but it’s likely a product of Rozier being the headline offseason acquisition and Graham the player who was a deep reserve last season. 

Malik Monk added 14 points, five rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes, and Cody Martin posted a line of nine points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot. Monk may be worth considering with the aforementioned Washington sidelined, but he isn’t consistent enough to be labeled as a must-have. 

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Lakers 101, Hawks 96 — This one was tight late, but in the end the Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Hawks don’t. James shot 12-of-21 from the field on the night, scoring 32 points with 13 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, three blocks and four 3-pointers in 37 minutes. He shot 4-of-10 from three, while the other Lakers combined to go 1-of-21 with Rajon Rondo (11 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals) being responsible for the make. 

Davis was 0-of-6 from three on the night, but he shot 11-of-23 overall and finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks. He appeared to roll his right ankle in the fourth quarter, but Davis remained in the game. Afterwards, Davis said that the ankle was “a little sore.” The Lakers return to action Tuesday night against the Pacers, so that’s something to keep an eye on the next two days. Davis, James and Rondo were three of the Lakers’ five double-digit scorers, with starting guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (11 points, three rebounds, two assists and one steal) and Danny Green (ten points, six rebounds and two steals) being the others. 

With Kyle Kuzma once again sidelined by a sprained ankle, that opened up minutes for veteran forward Jared Dudley (one steal in 17 minutes). Dudley isn’t worth picking up, as his value to the Lakers doesn’t translate into fantasy hoops. Avery Bradley played 24 minutes, tallying three points, one assist and three steals. Lastly the Lakers centers, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, combined to turn the ball over nine times (equal to James/Davis’ total, but those two handle the ball a lot more than McGee and Howard). McGee finished with three points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 15 minutes, while Howard finished with two points, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal and three blocks in 23 minutes. If there’s a need for a center, Howard should be the pick. 

Atlanta was once again led offensively by Trae Young, who accounted for 30 points (9-of-22 FGs, 9-of-11 FTs), six rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in 36 minutes. He also turned the ball over six times, and it goes without saying that the return of John Collins in three games’ time will help the young point guard. While Jabari Parker, who accounted for 12 points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers on Sunday, raised his production for much of Collins’ suspension the Hawks need their cornerstone power forward back on the court. 

Damian Jones (three rebounds, one block) and Cam Reddish (five rebounds, one steal, one block and one three-pointer) scored ten points apiece, while Alex Len finished with nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and one three-pointer. And there was an injury issue for the Hawks as well, as Kevin Huerter left the game in the third quarter with a left shoulder contusion. That’s the same shoulder that he dislocated earlier this season, and while Huerter said after the game that this injury wasn’t as severe the fact that this is his second injury to the shoulder this season is a concern. A sidelined Huerter leaves Atlanta with one less capable playmaker, and his absence was felt down the stretch. 

Nets 109, 76ers 89Al Horford was back for Philadelphia after missing the two games prior due to left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness, but Joel Embiid was out due to illness. That meant another start for Mike Scott, who accounted for eight points, one rebound and two 3-pointers in 21 minutes. But the absence of Embiid was an issue for Philadelphia, which was ultimately routed by the Nets. 

Horford, one of four 76ers to score in double figures, played 27 minutes, scoring ten points (5-of-15 FGs) with nine rebounds, five assists, one steal and three blocked shots. Ben Simmons led the way offensively with 20 points, and he also contributed five rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks in 29 minutes, while Tobias Harris (six rebounds, three assists and two blocks) scored 17 points and Josh Richardson (four rebounds and one steal) 11. Embiid’s absence opened up minutes for Norvel Pelle, who played 21 minutes and finished with two points, four rebounds and two blocks. He isn’t a fantasy option; if you’re looking for a front court player when either Embiid or Horford is sidelined, go with Scott or James Ennis

Brooklyn also had four double-digit scorers, with Spencer Dinwiddie leading the way with 24 points while also racking up six assists, one steal and two 3-pointers. Kyrie Irving’s eventual return stands to take the ball out of Dinwiddie’s hands, but his value isn’t going to drop all that far (if at all). Joe Harris added 16 points, two rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers, while Garrett Temple (four assists, three 3-pointer) and DeAndre Jordan (11 rebounds, two assists and one steal) scored 13 points apiece. Jordan’s come off the bench for most of the season with Jarrett Allen remaining in the starting lineup, resulting in a dynamic that’s similar to the rotation that some teams have already adopted. 

Allen and Jordan haven’t been on the court at the same time for much of this season, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Allen remains the more valuable player from a fantasy standpoint, but there’s value to be had in Jordan as well. And with the veteran center rostered in just 72% of Yahoo leagues, he’d be a worthwhile pickup at this point in the season. 

What’s also worth noting from this game was the return of Wilson Chandler, who played 19 minutes and finished with two points, seven rebounds, one steal and one three-pointer. He was immediately thrown into the fire Sunday, and will likely remain the case as Kenny Atkinson increases Chandler’s playing time. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot played 17 minutes, scoring eight points with five rebounds, one assist and one steal, and he’s even further down the totem pole when it comes to his fantasy value. 

Nuggets 111, Knicks 105 — Six of the nine Nuggets that scored in Sunday’s win reached double figures led by Nikola Jokic, who scored a game-high 25 points. He’s now scored 20 points or more in three straight games, his second such streak of the season thus far. Jokic shot 10-of-22 from the field, and he supplemented his point total with ten rebounds, five assists, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers in 36 minutes. Over the last two weeks he’s been a top-15 player in both eight- and nine-category formats, getting close to the top-10 status that he held last season. 

Denver was without Paul Millsap for this one, which meant a start for Jerami Grant. In 27 minutes Grant shot 4-of-6 from the field, scoring 11 points with two rebounds, one steal, one block and one three-pointer. Over the last two weeks he’s been a late-round player in both eight- and nine-cat, an improvement on his status for the entire season, making this a good time to pick Grant up if he’s available. He’s currently rostered in just 27% of Yahoo leagues. Also scoring in double figures for the Nuggets were Will Barton (16 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block and two 3-pointers), Gary Harris (15/3/3/1 with two 3-pointers), Jamal Murray (14/6/4 with two 3-pointers) and Mason Plumlee (14/8/6 with two blocks). 

Michael Porter Jr. played just 11 minutes but he was productive while on the floor, accounting for nine points (4-of-8 FGs), eight rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot. He’s still well off the radar when it comes to his fantasy value, due in large part to Denver’s depth. Porter played just four minutes in Saturday’s win over Oklahoma City, and he’s reached double digits in minutes just five times in his last nine appearances. 

The Knicks were led by Marcus Morris and Julius Randle, who finished with 22 and 20 points, respectively. Morris (five rebounds, one steal and three 3-pointers), whose name is bound to come up in trade chatter between now and the deadline, has alternated games of 20-plus points with ten-point efforts in each of his last seven games. That doesn’t bode well for him heading into Tuesday’s game against the Hawks. Randle, who hasn’t been a valuable in most leagues due to the lack of consistent production outside of points and rebounds, supplemented his 20-point effort with nine rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer in 36 minutes. 

At the point Frank Ntilikina made another start, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals and two 3-pointers in 24 minutes. Elfrid Payton played 25 minutes off the bench and was part of the five that finished out the game, scoring ten points with seven rebounds, 11 assists and one steal. If you happen to be holding onto Dennis Smith Jr., stop. He picked up another DNP-CD on Sunday, and appears to be well outside the rotation at this point. 

Kevin Knox posted a line of ten points, four rebounds and one assist in 22 minutes off the bench, while RJ Barrett shot 3-of-12 from the field and finished with seven points, three rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer. The rookie out of Duke hasn’t been all that valuable in fantasy thus far, ranking well outside of the top-200 in both eight- and nine-cat formats. 

Kings 100, Warriors 79Bogdan Bogdanovic and the Kings were unable to agree to terms on a contract extension ahead of the deadline in October, and as a result he’s going to be a free agent this summer. And with the 2020 free agent class appearing to be quite weak on paper, he stands to be on the receiving end of some attractive offers. Sunday night he led the Kings past the Warriors, scoring 25 points (9-of-11 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) with five rebounds, five assists, one steal and four 3-pointers. The lone negative for Bogdanovic was the turnover count, as he finished with six. 

Over the last month he’s been a 12th-round player in nine-cat formats and an ninth-round player in eight-cat, with turnovers (2.3 tpg) being the difference. Bogdanovic was one of four Kings to score in double figures, with Buddy Hield (four rebounds, four assists, two steals and two 3-pointers) adding 19 points, Marvin Bagley (six rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer) 17 and Harrison Barnes (five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three-pointer) 15. 

And for those hoping to see Bagley play alongside Richaun Holmes in the same lineup, Luke Walton once again staggered their minutes. Holmes started and played 26 minutes to Bagley’s 22, accounting for nine points, five rebounds, one assist, two steals and one blocked shot. Maybe things will change down the line, as Bagley has only played in three games since returning from a thumb injury, but it appears as if Luke Walton prefers to stagger the minutes of Bagley and Holmes. 

Cory Joseph accounted for seven points, two rebounds, five assists, one steal and one three-pointer in 31 minutes, but he doesn’t have much long-term fantasy value with De'Aaron Fox likely to return to action sometime this week. But the veteran point guard’s value within the Kings rotation can’t be questioned, as evidenced by the defense he played on D'Angelo Russell for much of the night. Russell was just 2-of-9 from the field, scoring eight points with eight assists and one three-pointer in 27 minutes played. 

Offense was once again an issue for the Warriors, which is to be expected when you’re without both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Willie Cauley-Stein shot 7-of-9 from the field, scoring 14 points with five rebounds, two assists and six steals in 30 minutes played against his former team. Over the last month he’s been a top-100 player in both eight- and nine-category formats, as he’s posted a solid field goal percentage (52.1%) while also averaging 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game during this stretch (15 games). 

Cauley-Stein is currently owned in just 48% of Yahoo leagues, and with his recent production combined with the fact that he’s eligible at both power forward and center he would make for a good pickup if available. 

Damion Lee added 13 points, five rebounds, five assists and one steal, while Alec Burks scored 11 points with two rebounds, three assists, two steals and one three-pointer in 22 minutes off the bench. Draymond Green scored seven points with two rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three-pointer. The lack of consistent offensive options for him to play off of has made Green a mid-round player in both eight- and nine-cat formats this season. If an attractive trade package including Green can be put together, it may not be a bad idea to look into it if you’re in need of more front court production. 

Monday’s Schedule (all times Eastern) 

Washington at Detroit, 7 PM 

Cleveland at Toronto, 7:30 PM

Dallas at Milwaukee, 8 PM 

Chicago at Oklahoma City, 8 PM 

San Antonio at Houston, 8 PM 

Miami at Memphis, 8 PM 

Portland at Phoenix, 9 PM 

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.