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Kristaps Porzingis
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Basketball Daily Dose

No Unicorn sighting after all

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: January 12, 2021, 8:22 am ET

There were two postponements announced due to COVID-19 issues on Monday. That night’s game between the Pelicans and Mavericks, which was expected to feature Kristaps Porzingis’ season debut, was called off. And Tuesday’s game between the Celtics and Bulls has also been pushed back. With the number of positive cases within the league on the rise, it was reported that the NBA is considering multiple possibilities including expanding rosters. But for now, the possibility of putting the season on pause is not on the table.

So the league will continue on its current path, which will require fantasy managers to stay on their toes when it comes to filling out their rosters and scouring the waiver wire. There were seven games played Monday night, with late games in Portland and Sacramento going down to the wire. Below is a look at some of the major storylines, and we’ll begin with how Washington handled the center position in its first game without the injured Thomas Bryant.

Monday’s Scores

Pelicans at Mavericks, Postponed
Hornets 109, Knicks 88
Grizzlies 101, Cavaliers 91
Bucks 121, Magic 99
Wizards 128, Suns 107
Hawks 112, 76ers 94
Trail Blazers 112, Raptors 111
Kings 127, Pacers 122

 

RoLo starts for Bryant, and Washington rolls: With the aforementioned Bryant done for the remainder of the season due to a torn left ACL, the Wizards are left with two options at the center position: Robin Lopez and Moritz Wagner. Those two split the minutes in Monday’s win over the Suns, with the former starting and playing 26 minutes and the latter getting 22 minutes off the bench. After putting up a disappointing effort on the glass in Saturday’s loss to the Heat, a game in which he grabbed just one rebound, Lopez had 11 Monday night (seven were offensive boards) to go along with 11 points (5-of-6 FGs, 1-of-5 FTs) and two assists. Wagner accounted for nine points (3-of-5 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), six rebounds, one assist and one 3-pointer.

I still lean towards Wagner when it comes to fantasy upside, especially with his perimeter shooting ability, but neither is a great is a great option in standard formats. Davis Bertans, whose scoring will be needed even more with Bryant and Russell Westbrook (quad) sidelined, shot 6-of-9 from three and finished with 18 points, two rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes off the bench.

Westbrook is expected to miss at least another week, which means more starts for Raul Neto. Neto played 25 minutes, finishing with 16 points, two rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers. Surprisingly he was second on the team in field goal attempts Monday night, which will only help matters when it comes to Neto’s fantasy potential. That being said, there’s a reason why Neto is rostered in just 2% of Yahoo leagues. Nights like this aren’t commonplace for him, so it’s best to leave him on the waiver wire unless your roster has been hit hard by injuries.

Bradley Beal, on the other hand? Fantasy managers who have him rostered are loving life right now. He had another 34 points (12-of-22 FGs, 8-of-9 FTs), while also putting up eight rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one block and two 3-pointers.

Sixers blown out as Simmons, Milton sidelined: Philadelphia was once again shorthanded, as Ben Simmons joined the team’s lengthy list of sidelined players due to swelling in his knee. And with it being reported before the game that Shake Milton joining the group of players who will have to miss at least four games due to health and safety protocols, it’s time for fantasy managers to grab Tyrese Maxey wherever they can. The rookie guard started and played 31 minutes in Monday’s loss to Atlanta, posting a line of 15 points (7-of-14 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs), six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He isn’t going to blow up like he did on Saturday every time out, but when given the opportunity Maxey has taken advantage. He’s currently rostered in 50% of Yahoo leagues, and that percentage should continue to increase in the near future.

The absences also mean a higher usage rate for Joel Embiid, who finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, one assists, one block and one 3-pointer in 23 minutes. The question regarding the big man is how many minutes will be play on a nightly basis, as he was held out of Saturday’s game due to back soreness. Given the medical history, it’s fair to have some concern about this. If Embiid can stay healthy, he should feast even more than usual until players such as Simmons and Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols) are fully cleared to play.

Mike Scott made his return to action, starting and playing 22 minutes (two points, four rebounds and one block). Even with Philadelphia’s rotation being a bit limited, there’s no reason to pick him up.

Is Barrett worth punting FG% for?: Eleven games into the new season, Knicks guard RJ Barrett is averaging 16.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.8 3-pointers in just under 38 minutes per outing. Those numbers aren’t bad, but the same can’t be said for the percentages, especially for a player that has a usage of 23.2%. Barrett is shooting 36.5% from the field, 18.0% from three (on 4.5 attempts per game) and 68.6% from the foul line, and he had another rough night in Monday’s loss to the Hornets. Making just five of his 18 shot attempts, the second-year guard posting a line of 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes.

So the question that needs to be asked: is Barrett worth punting field goal percentage on, especially when he isn’t even a top-200 player in 9-cat? That’s a tough question to answer, because he is producing in other areas and Tom Thibodeau is playing him plenty. But the Knicks and fantasy managers who have him rostered really need Barrett to snap out of his current funk.

Austin Rivers replaced the injured Reggie Bullock in the starting lineup, finishing with 13 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and three 3-pointers in 38 minutes. And Kevin Knox had his best game of the season thus far, scoring 19 points to go along with five rebounds, two assists, one block and five 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Rivers starting freed up additional opportunities for Knox coming off the bench, so that’s something to keep an eye on until Bullock is cleared to play.

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Sexton a late scratch in Cleveland: Just ahead of the Cavaliers’ home game against Memphis, it appeared likely that Collin Sexton would be able to make his return after missing the two games prior due to a sprained left ankle. Apparently something did not feel right, and Cleveland’s starting guard wound up being a late scratch. Enter Damyean Dotson, who started alongside Isaac Okoro and posted a line of 14 points, three rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers in 37 minutes.

Over the last week Dotson, who’s rostered in 8% of Yahoo leagues, has ranked just outside of the top-100 in both 8- and 9-cat formats. He’s worth taking a short-term flier on, not only because of the Sexton’s ankle but also the fact that Cleveland is still without Darius Garland (right shoulder).

Blazers lose Nurkic … but win the game: Portland was left to play much of Monday’s game against Toronto without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who played just nine minutes due to a left quad contusion. After a slow start to the season he appeared to be taking steps in the right direction, as over the last week Nurkic is averaging 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks per game while shooting 50% from the field and 75% from the foul line. Nurkic still isn’t producing at the level expected of him by fantasy managers, as evidenced by his Yahoo ADP of 37, but he is still a more than useful center in all formats.

Nurkic's absence didn’t mean more time for Enes Kanter, who played 16 minutes and finished with 14 points, six rebounds and one steal. Kanter started the second half, but come crunch time the Blazers played without a true center.

Carmelo Anthony feasted in these scenarios, tallying 13 points, three rebounds, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter alone. He finished with a line of 20 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks and four 3-pointers in 35 minutes. More center-less lineups may have been a product of the matchup, as Toronto’s Chris Boucher isn’t a low-post banger who will consistently punish opponents in the post, but we could see more of this if Nurkic has to miss time beyond Monday. Both Kanter and Anthony would be worth looking into, with the latter currently rostered in 31% of Yahoo leagues.

Holmes returns, shines for Sacramento: The Kings welcomed back their starting center, as Richaun Holmes was back after missing Saturday’s loss to Portland due to a sore left ankle. He was able to play 36 minutes in Sacramento’s win over Indiana, posting a line of 16 points, ten rebounds, one steal, six blocks and one 3-pointer (his first in three seasons). Holmes' return limited Hassan Whiteside’s minutes but did not completely eliminate him from the rotation, as the reserve center played ten minutes and accounted for eight points and two rebounds. When Holmes is healthy, Whiteside isn’t worth rostering.

Nemanja Bjelica was the biggest loser here, as he was a DNP-CD after playing ten minutes or more in each Sacramento’s ten games prior. He’s rostered in just 3% of Yahoo leagues, and with good reason. It’s also worth noting that the desire to have Tyrese Haliburton on the court to close out games has left Marvin Bagley as the odd man out on most nights. He played 23 minutes Monday, scoring eight points to go along with seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks. While he has been more productive in recent games, ranking just outside of the top-100 in both 8- and 9-cat formats over the last week, more often than not it will be Bagley who doesn’t close games.

Buddy Hield (18/4/3/1 with six 3-pointers) was able to play 31 minutes in spite of an ankle issue that made him a game-time decision, but he didn't look as explosive off of the dribble. De'Aaron Fox (21/5/9/1/1 with two 3-pointers), who was limited to 25 minutes in each of the two games prior due to tightness in his hamstring, played 38 minutes. 

One Pacers Holiday replaces another: With T.J. Warren expected to miss most of the regular season after undergoing foot surgery, Aaron Holiday was Nate Bjorkgren’s choice to fill the resulting void in the starting lineup. That changed Monday night, as Justin Holiday replaced his younger brother. Justin played 34 minutes, tallying eight points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers, while Aaron (four points, one assist and three steals) played just 14. The older Holiday has been the better fantasy option all season long, and his move into the starting lineup cements that.

Rostered in 41% of Yahoo leagues, Justin has been a top-100 player in 9-cat this season. Something to keep an eye on with regard to Aaron’s minutes is the play of Edmond Sumner, who accounted for eight points, three rebounds, two assists and one 3-pointer in 11 minutes. The eventual returns of T.J. McConnell (personal) and Jeremy Lamb (knee) will likely squeeze one of either Sumner or Holiday (Aaron) out of the rotation. Neither Sumner nor Holiday is worth rostering at present time, but there could be additional minutes available Tuesday night if Victor Oladipo doesn’t play.

More playmaking opportunities for Orlando’s Gordon: Since replacing the injured Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup, Magic rookie Cole Anthony has tallied a total of seven assists in three games. He had just one in Monday's loss to Milwaukee, while also accounting for 12 points (4-of-13 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), three rebounds, one steal and one 3-pointer in 23 minutes. So if Anthony and backup Jordan Bone (8/4/2 with two 3-pointers in 29 minutes) aren’t setting guys up, who is? The answer has been Aaron Gordon, who dished out eight assists to go along with 21 points, five rebounds, one steal, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 35 minutes.

In Orlando's last three games, he’s accounted for 16 assists. However the issue for Gordon, especially in 9-cat leagues, is that he has also been responsible for 11 turnovers. A top-100 player in 8-cat over the last week, he sits well outside of that threshold in 9-cat during this current stretch of games. Until Michael Carter-Williams (foot) is cleared to return the Magic will be left to rely on Anthony, and as he continues to learn what it takes to be an NBA point guard more will be required of Gordon as a playmaker.

Noteworthy Stat Lines

Gordon Hayward: 34 points (11-of-17 FGs, 10-of-10 FTs), three rebounds, three assists, one block and two 3-pointers vs. New York.

Harrison Barnes: 30 points (10-of-14 FGs, 8-of-8 FTs), eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers vs. Indiana.

Bobby Portis: 20 points (9-of-13 FGs), five rebounds, one block and two 3-pointers vs. Orlando.

C.J. McCollum: 30 points (10-of-19 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), six rebounds, five assists, one steal and five 3-pointers vs. Toronto.

Chris Boucher: 20 points (7-of-12 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs), eight rebounds, one assists, three blocks and five 3-pointers vs. Portland.

Pascal Siakam: 22 points (9-of-17 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), 13 rebounds, ten assists and one steal vs. Portland.

LaMelo Ball: Eight points (3-of-13 FG), 14 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, one block and two 3-pointers vs. New York.

Malcolm Brogdon: 24 points (9-of-18 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), four rebounds, nine assists, one steal and four 3-pointers vs. Sacramento.

Andre Drummond: 19 points (8-of-16 FGs, 3-of-9 FTs), 14 rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks vs. Memphis.

Nikola Vucevic: 28 points (11-of-25 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), 13 rebounds, five assists and four 3-pointers vs. Milwaukee.

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.