The fantasy playoffs are here and a 13-game slate is ripe for all sorts of madness because there are so many angles that owners can take. Leagues have thinned out, waiver wires are plentiful, category runs trump overall valuations, and shutdown season controls all.
On that note, I hope that fantasy game operators notice a somewhat troubling (and avoidable) trend in season-long games. I’m talking about the DNPs and tanking – which really spoil the fun of a playoff league and even in Roto leagues it just feels too slippery at the end. In a weekly league, you’re basically gambling on beat writers to give good information and in some markets that’s just not going to happen.
Perhaps weekly leagues can look into what one lineup modification per week could look like, or as my colleague Mike Gallagher pointed out perhaps switching to daily lineup changes after the All Star break could be in order. Of course, anybody playing in multiple leagues knows that daily lineup and waiver wire moves are for the birds so I’d want to minimize that sort of thing.
Basically, I just don’t want to start five top-50 players that are questionable with seemingly light injuries and have all five of them not play a single game. There’s no real strategy in that and the casual player might say ‘screw it,’ that was a big waste of my time.
Anyway, that’s just food for thought as we go huge on a 13-game Big Wednesday.
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DeAndre Jordan dunking all over Jason Smith and then faking like he was taking a nap after one play pretty much summed things up last night. The Clippers had a win sewn up in New York by halftime, so no starter played more than 28 minutes and owners still got fed. Jordan hit all seven of his shots to finish with 14 points, 10 boards, one steal and five blocks, J.J. Redick scored 17 points with two treys, and Matt Barnes knocked in 11 points with six boards and three triples of his own. Barnes should never have been dropped but he’s a must-own player nevertheless, particularly with Jamal Crawford (calf) nowhere near a return.
Chris Paul served up 16 assists to go with four steals and an otherwise solid line, and Blake Griffin scored 14 points with six rebounds, three assists and a steal. Doc Rivers sent Mike Woodson out to do the postgame media work to complete the shellacking.
THE MECCA OF CRAPSKETBALL
The Knicks gave Alexey Shved owners some hope by insinuating he could return last night only to turn around and release a 2-3 week timetable on his rib injury, effectively ending his fantasy season. The Knicks’ one bright spot this season, Langston Galloway, suffered a hand injury that he played through to the tune of 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting with two rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes. Unless a bad report comes through the pipeline, he can remain in lineups as a late-round play.
Andrea Bargnani dealt with foul trouble and never got off the ground on a six-point, one-rebound night. He’s producing below the cut line in 12-team leagues and with an unfavorable schedule remaining he’s not a must-own player. Cleanthony Early (ankle) returned to action and put up 18 points on 5-of-12 shooting with two threes, four rebounds, one steal and 6-of-6 makes from the foul line. He hasn’t had any traction in fantasy leagues so he’s as risky as a flier pickup gets, and Tim Hardaway Jr. (wrist) could return as soon as Saturday.
But let’s not mince words – you’re probably wondering about Ricky Ledo and if he can live up to any of the tongue-in-cheek hype he has gotten. I talked about him in the Fantasy Extra and I think his sweet spot is still 1-2 weeks away if he’s going to make any hay. He scored 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting with two threes, three boards, one steal and seven turnovers in his 26 minutes. Think of him as an inefficient shooting guard with owners’ hopes riding on the chance he turns garbage time into Ledo Time.
Take chances on the rest of the Knicks at your own risk.
WHITE KNUCKLIN IT
I was borderline shocked to learn that the Nets had won five of their last seven games including last night’s road win over the Bobcats. They’ve looked lethargic and there aren’t any great wins in the bunch, but they’re keeping pace in the East at just a half-game behind Boston in the eight-slot.
The big news last night was Thaddeus Young’s hyperextended knee, which looked pretty bad at the time and after X-rays were negative he’s looking at an MRI today. The only good news was that he was downplaying the injury after the game, albeit admitting that his knee was really sore, and as usual this all comes down to the radiology. If he misses significant time it’s hard to say who might benefit, as Mason Plumlee (four points, six boards, 21 minutes) doesn’t have a fan in Lionel Hollins and nobody else really has the fantasy profile to make noise.
Deron Williams continues to make amends for his months-long slide and he put up 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting with seven rebounds, 14 assists and one trey last night. It hasn’t been pretty but he has rendered Jarrett Jack (six points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals, 24 minutes) useless. Williams’ owners have to white-knuckle this all the way to the end.
Burying the lede, Brook Lopez has been the best fantasy player in all of the land this past week or two. He scored 34 points on 16-of-26 shooting with 10 rebounds, two steals and three blocks, and with the Nets fighting for their playoff lives he’s well-positioned to keep it up. Joe Johnson, on the other hand, might be running out of gas and he had another stinker with five points on 2-of-9 shooting, six rebounds and five assists. I think you hold him through next week’s four-game slate and decide his fate at that point.
The Hornets’ loss to the Nets moved the teams into a tie at 30-40 on the year, just a half-game behind the Celtics for the No. 8 slot in the East. They’re hard to get behind if we’re handicapping their chances because Big Al Jefferson is banged up with no rest in sight. He still put up numbers for owners, scoring 23 points on 11-of-19 shooting with 10 boards and two blocks, but his bad defense was a big reason they lost last night. He’s a gamer and will play to the bitter end, and with the pair of upcoming four-game weeks he might be able to mitigate an expected slowdown. Owners just have to hope the Hornets don’t have the bottom fall out next week.
Mo Williams has seen the car keys go from his hands to Kemba Walker’s, and his struggles continued on a 2-of-10 shooting night. Williams finished with nine points, four rebounds, six assists and one trey, and I’d put him in the same group of late-rounders as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (six points, 10 boards, four assists, two blocks), Marvin Williams (eight points, seven rebounds, two threes), and Gerald Henderson (23 points, two steals). The key difference for Williams is that he has nice upside in the event he gets hot, but really we’re talking about the schedule for all of these guys.
WIN THE CROWD AND YOU WILL WIN YOUR FREEDOM
The Hawks would probably need to win the rest of their games to get the crowd back on their side, as their recent string of unimpressive games lends itself to not believing in a team that many didn’t believe in when they won every night. I think we have to give Mike Budenholzer the benefit of the doubt here, since he’s been on top of most things since taking the job and has a good group of guys.
The big story here is the potential for DNPs and that’s already hit the wire this morning, and I think a safe rule of thumb is to subtract a game off of their weekly totals. Jeff Teague survived an ankle injury last night and stayed in the game to finish with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, three rebounds, nine assists, one steal and two threes. Kyle Korver was primed for a positive shooting regression before a broken nose broke up his rhythm, but 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting with three treys, eight boards, two steals and two blocks is an awful good look. There’s still time for him to get red hot.
Al Horford (10 points, six boards, two assists, one block) continues to slump and one has to wonder if he’ll get the kid gloves due to his injury history, and Paul Millsap (25 points, 11 boards, three assists, one steal, four blocks, two threes, 5-of-5 FTs) always deserves a rest with the way he plays. DeMarre Carroll (11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, four steals) is a consistent top 60-75 play and a three-game week still keeps him in most lineups. Dennis Schroder (11 points, three rebounds, three assists, two threes) is already a must-own player and he could easily be a mid-round play the rest of the way.
POPCORN, EXTRA BUTTER
The Magic did not wilt against the Hawks last night but eventually they would give way, and there aren’t a whole lot of surprises for them these days. Tobias Harris (ankle) got back on the floor and knocked off the rust with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting, two boards, two assists, one steal and one three in 36 minutes. In the midst of a two-game week, he’s basically giving owners a sneak preview of his status heading into a pair of three-gamers.
Elfrid Payton (19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, one steal, 7-of-19 FGs) will continue to be a popcorn number machine with the efficiency as the question mark. He has been red hot with early round value over his last three games but when we expand the sample to two weeks he slides to a top 40-80 play (8/9 cat). Over the latter span he’s averaging 15.0 points, 7.9 boards, 9.0 assists, 2.1 steals and 46.9 percent from the foul line on 4.6 attempts per game.
Because it’s now funny to update Kyle O’Quinn, the local paper wrote an article about their gaping hole at power forward and didn’t even mention him. I’m hoping for a really funny back story here.
KILL THE PAIN
The Pacers went into Washington and stole a win from the Wizards on George Hill’s game-winning layup, moving into a tie with Boston at 31-40 for the No. 8 seed in the East. Hill scored 29 points on 12-of-24 shooting with seven rebounds, nine assists, one steal and one block, and playoff league owners are getting paid off for all of the early-season pain.
Rodney Stuckey (calf) missed another game and the wheels appear to be falling off, and while I don’t really trust that Paul George is going to return at full strength anytime soon that has the potential to kill whatever is left of his value. The best-case scenario for Stuckey’s owners would be that he returns and produces solid late-round numbers in the upcoming four-game week. That’s not must-own calculus in my book if he’s hurting and/or ready to regress backward from all those made buckets.
Roy Hibbert (zero points, zero blocks, five boards, 17 minutes) may do better to look at him as a blocks specialist and nothing more. His recent history of late-season sliding makes him nearly impossible to trust right now.
The Pacers and Bucks are the only game going tonight for all of the streamers out there.
So much for the turnaround in Washington. They lost their fourth straight game last night in embarrassing fashion, as Randy Wittman left the court seconds before the Wizards’ final heave had a chance to miss. The team blew their coverage on George Hill in the final moments, and Wittman basically laid into his team like a guy with a guaranteed contract for next season. Indeed, all reports out of Washington maintain that he’s not going anywhere this summer and this is a rare case where I think a coaching change could help at this late stage.
There’s not enough hours in the day to spell that out, but in the meantime John Wall’s owners are set to enjoy all sorts of usage now that Bradley Beal (ankle) got hurt again. He’s day-to-day and those around the team aren’t feeling great about his chances of playing on Friday. Wall carried the load with 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting, two threes, 10-of-11 FTs, four rebounds, six assists, two steals and one block. After a lull he should start peaking at precisely the right time for owners, though the Wizards’ pair of three-game weeks aren’t going to help maximize that.
Paul Pierce was shut down with just four points on 1-of-4 shooting, five boards, one steal and one three in 23 minutes. He has been producing at a late-round value over the last two weeks but has been terrible this past week. With the aforementioned schedule issues I’d give him a pretty short leash. The Wizards are getting close to locked into a five-seed and Pierce will be high on the ‘guys to rest’ list for Wittman.
Look for the Bulls bandwagon to get a bit heavier in the next few weeks, and for what it’s worth I still haven’t ditched them as my season-long pick out of the East – though Cleveland has me ready to jump ship if Chicago doesn’t finish strong. Jimmy Butler hasn’t wasted any time getting back on the board with fantasy owners, scoring 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting (2-of-3 3PTs, 7-of-9 FTs) with five rebounds and three assists over 39 minutes in last night’s win over the overmatched Raptors. I don’t get the sense that Tom Thibodeau will change anything – like at all – about the way this team does business, but they really need a balanced attack when Derrick Rose returns with Jimmy as the No. 1A.
Of course, Pau Gasol (18 points, four boards, three assists, two blocks) needs to be No. 1B and ideally Rose would return and come off the bench in a gunning role, but the Chicago writers say that’s impossible. As for Rose’s return, it does sound like he’ll return during the regular season but with too many question marks he’s still hands off at this point. The Bulls are staring at a pair of three-game weeks, so all of their late-round guys including Aaron Brooks (16 points, 6-of-14 FGs, four treys, five boards, five assists, one steal, one block) and Mike Dunleavy (nine points, seven boards, one steal, two blocks) are going to be hard to start.
Nikola Mirotic cooled off but was still productive with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, two boards, two assists, one steal and one three in 28 minutes. I don’t think he’s 100 percent invincible but he’s clearly ahead of Taj Gibson in the pecking order right now. Gibson logged 14 minutes and it’s unclear if he can even get to 100 percent before the season ends, and when he was healthy he wasn’t producing anyway.
Joakim Noah (rest) returned to action and put up nine points, five boards, five assists, one steal and one block, and he’ll need to be watched on a night-to-night basis for the rest of the year. He’ll also be a difficult start given the schedule.
WHERE'S THE BEEF
The Raptors feasted on an easy early schedule this season and now everybody is wondering where the beef is. Kyle Lowry’s back injury has him day-to-day and they barely have enough defense with him in the lineup, so needless to say they’re going to do whatever they can to keep him healthy for the playoffs. A matchup against the Lakers on Friday looks like a good spot to get him rest before Monday’s game against the Rockets.
Shoot-first point guard Greivis Vasquez started in his place and scored 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting with six treys, two boards, three assists and one steal, and he’ll have short-term value for however long Lowry is out.
The Heat went into last night’s important game in Boston without Dwyane Wade (knee), Hassan Whiteside (hand) and Chris Andersen (calf) and beat a Celtics squad that came out flat. I’m going to miss out on a lot of predictions that the Heat would fall out of playoff contention due to injuries and start resting guys liberally. At two games ahead of Boston and Indy in the eight and nine slots Miami would need to lose most of their games for that to make any sense. That doesn’t mean they’ll be any less risky due to injury, but it helps that they have to gut the rest of the season out with five (bad) teams competing for two slots.
Goran Dragic soaked up all the statistics with 22 points, five rebounds, seven assists and two treys and is a pretty good bet to finish the season on a late early-round pace. Luol Deng has been an underwhelming late-round value lately but he sparked up a bit with 15 points, five rebounds, one steal, one block and one three.
As usual, there were no real beneficiaries for the aforementioned absences, but if you’re looking for a deep sleeper this year and going forward it’s Tyler Johnson. He tweaked his ankle and his stat line of 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting with four rebounds, two steals, one block and one three isn’t moving the needle on his value, but his feel for the game and athleticism will be heard from at a later date.
HEY IT'S NOT EASTER YET
The Celtics laid an egg last night and it maybe it was the re-integration of Isaiah Thomas or lingering frustration from a 1-3 stretch heading into last night. But the Garden was rocking and ready for the home team to knock over a wounded opponent and they got a whole lotta nada. Thomas (20 minutes, four points, 2-of-7 FGs, nothing else) looked like he needed another day or three off, and Brad Stevens openly wondered after the game if that was the case. Thomas added that he might not be 100 percent for the rest of the season and hearing that owners need to be on red-alert for either a slow start or another game off. I’d still have a hard time pulling him from an active lineup if there aren’t glaring red flags.
The Celtics’ box was ugly all the way around and I’m not moving the needle too much on any of these guys, though it should be noted that Thomas’ return will come at Evan Turner’s (four points, four rebounds, five assists, 1-of-5 FGs, 20 minutes) expense. Avery Bradley (12 points, two threes) and Marcus Smart (six points, 1-of-8 FGs, three boards, two assists, four steals) are both late-round guys that should benefit from an effective Thomas.
Tyler Zeller kept pace on late-round numbers with 10 points, eight boards, two assists and one block, but Kelly Olynyk never got it going with four points, one board and one steal in 17 minutes. Olynyk has shown sporadic flashes of his upside but nowhere near enough for to be considered anything but a stash. Jae Crowder (16 points, seven boards, one block, zero threes) and Brandon Bass (nine points, five rebounds, two steals, one block) round out this large group of late-rounders and like all of them, they’re helped out by the Celtics’ mostly favorable schedule.
BEST OF LUCK
I have no idea how much drama there is between Kevin Love and LeBron James, but there is no way in hell that I’m going to use it as anything but a footnote in my assessment of this Cavs team. The real issue for Love going forward is his health, and last night’s 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting with 10 boards, four assists, one steal, two blocks and two threes are a step in the right direction. They dispatched a gimpy Grizzlies squad last night in impressive fashion, and they’re on a very short list of teams that can beat the Warriors in the playoffs.
We got a fairly standard box score out of the team last night, with LeBron scoring 20 points with eight rebounds, five assists and three treys, Timofey Mozgov going for 14 and nine with four assists and one block, and Kyrie Irving posting 24 points with three rebounds, two assists, two steals and two threes. J.R. Smith is still flying under the radar in both fantasy and reality and eventually everybody will realize what a key he has been and start freaking out a bit. He has been a top 25-40 play over the last two months and that puts him in waiver wire pickup of the year discussions.
Unfortunately for all of them, Cleveland has the league’s worst schedule going forward with just seven games in the season’s final three weeks. To make matters worse, they have a three-game lead over the Bulls for the No. 2 slot and that will get sewn up soon if they don’t implode. Good luck with that.
WHICH NEWS DO YOU WANT FIRST?
The Grizzlies are a good news, bad news situation for owners of Mike Conley (10 points, five assists, two threes, zero steals, 26 minutes). He needs a game off right now to get his groove back, but at this critical time that might not even be a good thing for owners. The Grizz have fallen back to the pack and stand just 1.5 games ahead of Houston for the No. 2 slot in the West, and just five games separate them from the No. 7 seed to give you a sense of how tightly things are bunched. They’re probably going to push him until the seeding outlook clears up, and if the Mavs remain at No. 7 then they’ll be gunning to keep that two-slot.
Because the Cavs owned them for most of the night, the box score was pretty ugly all the way around. Marc Gasol, who could also use a game off, scored 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting but had just three rebounds to go with his two assists, three steals and two blocks. It gets ugly from there as Zach Randolph completely disappeared with five points, three rebounds and that’s just about it in 20 minutes.
Tony Allen scored seven points with eight boards, one steal and a three on a pedestrian night, and owners need to be patient as he enjoys a top-70 month. Courtney Lee (19 minutes, zero points) returned to action after a hand injury but was invisible and he’s way off the fantasy radar. With the unfavorable schedule in the next two weeks Allen’s owners may want to jump ship if a low-to-mid level free agent is available, as he’s been playing a bit over his head. Still, injuries surrounding him don’t make that a clear cut call.
TWO FIRST NAMES AND THE SUBSEQUENT LACK OF TRUST
The Lakers lost ground in their quest to tank with an overtime win over the Wolves, as they now sit in the fourth slot while the field starts to get some distance between each other. 1.5-2.5 games separates each team in the top five tanking positions after last night. Byron Scott missed another game on bereavement leave, but his decision to move Ryan Kelly and Jeremy Lin into the starting lineup has another 3-4 games to go based on past comments.
This is big for Kelly as he put up another solid night with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting (1-of-8 3PTs), eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. That makes two straight startable outings and I’ve mentioned it a million times to no avail but he has some fantasy upside, and along with the Lakers’ favorable schedule it makes him worth a hard look. Also worth a look if you need a low-end big man is Tarik Black (11 points, seven boards, two blocks) as he ekes his way to late-round value because of the aforementioned schedule.
Jordan Clarkson (20 points, five boards, five assists, two steals, one block, six turnovers, 8-of-8 FTs) has been a mid-round play this past week and it seems wise to push his development if you’re the Lakers. Jeremy Lin also returned solid numbers last night with 19 points, three rebounds, five assists, one steal, one three and a 6-of-6 mark from the foul line. It’s crazy to think he might snuggle up next to my semi-controversial Bruski 150 rank of No. 45/63 (8/9 cat) after the year he has had. He currently sits at No. 63/87 and is on the rise.
The biggest news of consequence last night came when Flip Saunders said that he expects Ricky Rubio to play again this season, because I think most of us were wondering if he was getting shut down. Zach LaVine was highlighted in the Fantasy Extra from Monday and has certainly made the most of his chance.
LaVine is slowly turning the corner, with the key word being ‘slowly,’ and he gave owners another profitable outing with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, one trey and 7-of-8 FTs. The trouble spots of 5-of-18 shooting from the field and four turnovers are to be expected, and if you’re not punting giveaways in a 9-cat league the overall package hasn’t been worth starting. But he’s bringing back top-75 value over his last four games in 8-cat leagues while racking up 40 mpg, and in a small sample size he could be devastating in a good way while Rubio remains out.
Justin Hamilton got back on the floor following his concussion, and it’s good to see the Minneapolis Star Tribune join the party in calling it that, as an earlier diagnosis might have warned owners over the past week. He played just nine minutes and did well enough to score four points with four boards, and if you’ve made it this far you need to hang tight and see where this goes. If he’s on the wire pick him up, because even with no guarantees we’re talking about a player that was putting up top-50 numbers with no real competition for minutes. If anything, Gorgui Dieng (10 points, three boards, one steal, two blocks, six turnovers, 33 minutes) has looked a bit gassed with all the workload he has gotten this season.
Chase Budinger is another guy that owners want to take a hard look at and I’d consider him a mid-level free agent. He scored a season-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting with three treys, six boards, one steal and one block in 40 minutes. Yes, Kevin Martin (DNP-hamstring) has been on the verge of returning, but Budinger might be able to survive that as a late-round value with good upside as evidenced by his early-round week.
Wrapping up the action in Minny, the Andrew Wiggins explosion I’ve been impatiently waiting for might finally be underway. He scored 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks, one three and a 10-of-11 mark from the line. I still can’t believe they got him when nobody was going to offer up big value for Kevin Love.
HEAD OF THE SNAKE
The Rockets’ championship chances were already slim in my book but they will take a fatal hit if Patrick Beverley is knocked out of the season due to his left (non-shooting) wrist injury. News broke that he suffered a torn ligament and that he will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days, and as I was guessing yesterday it looks like he’s angling toward playing through the pain. He’s been banged up in so many respects this season that I’m not sure that would be a game-changer in the playoffs. Fantasy owners can move on.
Jason Terry had a very bad night on both ends of the floor in his first start, finishing with two points on free throws to go with two rebounds, three assists and four turnovers in 27 minutes. If you’re trolling for threes, however, he has stepped at times this season so give him a look.
Dwight Howard returned from his long absence due to a knee injury and played his prescribed 16 minutes, putting up four points, seven boards, two assists and one block. He’ll be hard to count on but the per-minute numbers gave some hope that he’ll produce if given the minutes. Josh Smith played through an ankle injury and managed just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting with four rebounds and one block in 24 minutes. With Terrence Jones out indefinitely he still has a late-round grade, but if you have to move on a hot asset you could take a pessimistic view on the chance Jones and Howard get back into action fast enough to knock him out. That or he does it to himself.
I’m not going to tell you to hold onto Jones for dear life, but it’s worth noting that Howard’s minutes aren’t necessarily guaranteed and Jones doesn’t need a lot of minutes to make an impact. If news doesn’t get real good in the next 1-2 days, though, I think it could mean that he’ll return too late to truly help owners. Donatas Motiejunas got loose for 21 points, eight boards, two steals, one block and one three in his 37 minutes last night, and owners can be cautiously optimistic that he can hold down the fort the rest of the way.
TODAY IN WALKING HEART ATTACK ANTHONY DAVIS
Anthony Davis (22 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, three blocks, 44 minutes) suffered yet another in-game injury to his shoulder but stayed in the game and even took 100 free throws shortly after the contest because he went 6-of-14 from the stripe in a close loss. That would suggest the shoulder injury isn’t an imminent concern, but let’s face it, everything is probably going to be an imminent concern for Davis for the rest of his career. Or at least it feels that way right now.
The loss moved them to three games behind Oklahoma City for the eight slot and Phoenix is ahead of them by a half game. Keeping things tight is of the utmost importance for owners because nearly all of them are banged up and rest will be in short order if they’re mathematically out of it. On that front, the good news is that both the Thunder and Suns have problems of their own.
Tyreke Evans played through his ankle injury and turned in 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting with four threes, two boards, seven assists, two steals, one block and six turnovers in 38 minutes. He gets a revenge game against the Kings on Friday and that will be a double-edged sword for New Orleans fans, who know too well that 'too much Tyreke' is a problem and ‘just enough’ is the optimal mix.
Eric Gordon (six points, 0-for-5 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs, zero rebounds, three assists, 42 minutes) is sputtering at the wrong time for owners and whether it’s dead legs, injuries or too much Evans, he can only be viewed as a stash right now for the hope he turns it around. The good news is that he has a four-game week in the week after next, which provides a nice little ramp to evaluate whether or not he can contribute. Good luck pulling the trigger on him in the three-gamer next week if this keeps up.
THE FIRST NOEL
If the NBA was to give some awards votes to fantasy owners, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing. After all, the average fantasy owner probably watches and reads about more games than your typical awards voter and it’s my guess that it’s not close. Two guys that would definitely get votes from fantasy owners would be Brett Brown for Coach of the Year and Nerlens Noel for Rookie of the Year.
In the case of Noel, who put up another gem with 14 points, 15 boards, four steals and four blocks last night, he’s simply been better than Andrew Wiggins and I don’t think it’s close. That’s not a knock on Wiggins, who is going to make Clevelanders cry even if Kevin Love wins a ring or two there, but Wiggins hasn’t been transcendent this season. Noel, on the other hand, has been and that’s tough to do on a team with such little talent.
Sure, we can talk about how the garbage-time environment leads to more steal and block chances, but the reality of things in Philly is that Brown has them playing hard every night. Noel is at the center of that. He’s sitting on two months of first round value and averaging 4.8 combined steals and blocks over that span. He’s hitting nearly 70 percent of his free throws and nearly 50 percent of his shots. Even Anthony Davis isn’t sniffing those defensive numbers, and he’s actually No. 6 in defensive rating to Davis’ No. 13 rank. He’s fourth in defensive win shares.
He’s Rookie of the Year but because voters don’t watch or read about enough games, it’s going to go to Andrew Wiggins.
Elsewhere, Robert Covington has been a ‘hold’ but owners have been understandably itchy, and he rewarded the patient with a career-high tying 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting, six threes, six boards, two steals and one block in 29 minutes. Brown seems to know that Covington prefers starting and I don’t know if Brown is going to accommodate that, but he’s a must-add player with four games on the slate next-week. You can deal with Philly’s two-gamer the following week at some other point.
Ish Smith (nine points, two boards, two assists, one three, three steals, 27 minutes) did enough to not piss off owners too bad and he should be projected as a late-round value going forward. Isaiah Canaan put up a now normal 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting with three rebounds, two treys, one assist and one steal in 22 minutes off the bench. He has more upside than most guys that are producing outside of the top-150, but Canaan can’t be looked at as anything but a low-level stash. He basically squandered his chance.
Jerami Grant logged 32 minutes and did the thing where he blows up the money counting stats, posting five blocks to go with one three, four rebounds and three assists. His percentages hold him back in standard leagues, but as I said in the Dose he could be dangerous in a small sample size. If anything, owners that are selling out in the money stat categories (3PTs/BLKs/STLs) have to give him a hard look. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (shoulder) gets run so the Sixers aren’t completely devoid of veteran leadership, and last night he was actually off the floor in what might be the beginning of the end of his grasp on big minutes.
STOP WINNING SO MUCH YOU LOSERS
The Nuggets went from uptempo and fun after a 6-2 run under new coach Melvin Hunt to the opposite of that after forcing Hunt to rest Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson in what became the first loss in a 1-4 stretch. In that game Hunt did not wear a tie (get it, Ty) in protest over the ordered tanking. They’ve looked lethargic ever since and it’s worrisome for owners because they had just started coming around on a number of fronts.
They lost to the Sixers last night and though a few guys survived like Lawson (19 points, four rebounds, six assists, two threes, two steals, one block) and Wilson Chandler (16 points, 11 boards, four threes), there was at least one weird thing with Danilo Gallinari (eight points, 3-of-10 FGs, five boards, two steals, 31 minutes) sitting out the fourth quarter. The word from the Nuggets was that he had a minor shoulder injury, and it either reeks of tanking or they’re downplaying the seriousness of the injury. It’s probably the former, but even with Gallo coming off a 40-point outing owners are still understandably weary. And no, you’re not dropping him.
Kenneth Faried (nine points, eight boards, one steal, 27 minutes) is mirroring the energy of the team and a four-game stretch of high-volume, sub-50 percent shooting from the foul line is killing him. With a pair of three-game weeks he’s not a must-start play until we see the Manimal re-emerge. Jusuf Nurkic logged just seven minutes last night and still managed two points, three boards, one assist and one block, and owners have to view him as a flier/stash type for the rest of the year. I think he came back too early from his ankle injury and they’re pulling back on him a bit.
Will Barton has also slowed down but I’m not throwing in the towel here, especially with Portland up next on the slate on Friday. He scored six points with five boards and one block in 22 minutes, and I’ve also noticed his energy level has been down during the struggles. He’s been a bust this past week, but a two-week sample shows late-round value and he’s playing behind a number of injury risks and guys that tanking teams generally go away from.
WHAT'S THE 411
The Blazers/Jazz matchup last night was gut wrenching for fantasy owners because many of them had to make weekly league decisions on Nicolas Batum (back), LaMarcus Aldridge (hand) and Gordon Hayward (shoulder) with very little information. For Batum and Aldridge’s owners, the Portland media has been relatively quiet and the two players weren’t made available by the team for comment earlier in the week. That would partially explain the two-step before the game with Batum’s status, as he went from starting to coming off the bench to not playing at all. He wore a heat wrap on his back and took part in warm-ups, but eventually team doctors forbid him from playing.
Aldridge got on the floor and was a two-category guy last night with 19 and eight in their tight win over the Jazz, but had just one block to go with 7-of-18 makes from the field. The fact that he gutted out yet another game is a testament to his fantasy value this season as Aldridge tries to finish strong in a top 15-20 year.
Trey Burke said after the game that Damian Lillard was their only concern, which probably didn’t mean what it sounds like on paper, but it does give an insight into what teams think the Blazers will be doing. Lillard scored 23 points on 6-of-16 shooting (1-of-6 from deep, 10-of-10 from the line) with eight rebounds, 12 assists and one steal. He’s going to get all sorts of touches, and his efficiency might slip a little bit with the added responsibility.
I thought Arron Afflalo could up his game as a bench player with decreased expectations in Portland, and he has me rethinking the value of the Blazers’ trade to acquire him. He was a +11 on the night, but with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting, one rebound, three assists and one steal he just isn’t adding anything on offense. His defense is clearly a step down from Wesley Matthews defense, and Will Barton might have been an intriguing fit if you were to look into a crystal ball and know Matthews was going to go down.
Robin Lopez (four points, six boards, one block) had a bad matchup but he hasn’t been worth starting for a few weeks now. His game opens up because of the talent around him to a certain degree, but with a four-game week upcoming I still like him to be owned in the vast majority of standard leagues. If Batum can’t go on Friday against the Nuggets, then your gambler’s play is Dorell Wright (27 minutes, 15 points, three treys, five boards, two assists, one steal), who by all reports is playing very well. I have concerns that he can string together three good games in a row.
As for Batum, the only good news is that the Blazers can swing as from as high as the two-seed to as low as the seven-seed. He traveled with the team because there was a chance that he would play and the road trip concludes on Friday.
HANDLE WITH CARE
Gordon Hayward’s shoulder injury is going to be handled with care by the Jazz, and the only saving grace here is that Quin Snyder would love to keep the positive vibes going. The front office might enjoy a few more losses for lottery positioning, but as long as Hayward isn't going to risk further injury I don’t think they’ll bogart owners too badly. I think.
Derrick Favors (26 points, 13 rebounds, one steal, one block, 8-of-9 FTs) will continue to roll along a top 40-50 pace and gets some added security with Hayward out. The trio of Trey Burke (22 points, 9-of-19 FGs, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, no threes), Elijah Millsap (nine points, eight boards, two assists, one three, three steals, 33 minutes) and Joe Ingles (10 points, four rebounds, two assists, three steals, one three, 30 minutes) were the beneficiaries last night, and it didn’t hurt that Rodney Hood (illness) was out.
Each of these guys has a late-round ceiling for the rest of the year and in Burke’s case he’ll be called upon to score a lot more with Hayward out. He also suffered a strange neck tweak that he ended up playing through with no major problems reported after the game. Hood has some slight upside beyond that if the Jazz decide to really hit the gas on his development, and he has shown signs of being able to handle added responsibilities.
Rudy Gobert also caught my eye with an ankle tweak and hard fall over the past week, and last night he had just 12 points, 10 boards and no steals or blocks. He’s a gamer but he’s such a valuable commodity that the Jazz might treat him with kid gloves. They know what they have here – and as we have been discussing in this space all season long it’s a sure-fire future All Star.
The Thunder got throttled by the Spurs in a battle of two teams that I haven’t ruled out as candidates to beat the Warriors. And by throttled I mean they lost by 39 points. There’s not a lot to say about a loss like that but there were actually fantasy implications here, starting with Steven Adams’ still fuzzy injury from last night.
The postgame reports called it a right elbow injury, but at least one mentioned his previously broken hand and then on Tuesday he had a hip issue. He left the game and did not return after 22 minutes, finishing with just four points, four boards and one steal, and next up is a tough matchup against the Jazz on Saturday. If he can make it through that relatively healthy, he’ll be a good bet to stay on fantasy rosters. As a late mid-round play for the last 10 games, owners definitely need to stay patient.
The other development last night was Anthony Morrow (six points, 3-of-4 FGs) getting just 17 minutes. I can’t justify it nor will I try, but I’m not sure we can simply point to the blowout with heads in the sand. Be clear, he should still be owned and the only reason I’d read into this as much as I have is that every game matters for owners right now. The Thunder need him to be a late-round fantasy value with upside just as much as owners do, but there’s a slight chance they resist making him an every-night contributor.
Dion Waiters is coming back to earth after a 14-point, two trey night with one steal in his 22 minutes. You guys know my position there. Mitch McGary was noted as a deep sleeper in the aforementioned link, and last night he scored eight points with seven rebounds, three steals and one block in his 23 minutes. Consider him a flier if you need a big man to produce in the top 120-150 range. Adams’ somewhat questionable health status is a tiny bonus, too.
MIGHT AS WELL BE A BULLSEYE
I may regret saying this but the Spurs could be more likely to play out the rest of their slate than usual because they’re in a tight seeding race, but more importantly Gregg Popovich desperately wants them to find some consistency. No really, if he was to get drunk and get talked into getting a tramp stamp, it would probably consist of Japanese characters that when translated say ‘consistency.’
Schedule-wise, nobody has it better than the Spurs with two four-game weeks on the slate. That puts targets on both Boris Diaw (19 points, 9-of-15 FGs, one three, six boards, one assist, 25 minutes) and Tiago Splitter (nine points, four rebounds, one block, 16 minutes). Diaw has been a late-round contributor for the past two weeks and Splitter has been a top-75 value in that span, and though it won’t ever be comfortable those are returns that owners can use down the stretch.
THE LEGEND OF SAUCE CASTILLO
The Kings are going to be an exercise in macro-analysis from the team’s point of view, and now they have a four-game winning streak that will get more play in local media than it will in-between George Karl’s ears. The story here for fantasy purposes will remain very simple, with DeMarcus Cousins (24 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block) and Rudy Gay (14 points, 3-of-7 FGs, 8-of-9 FTs, four rebounds, five assists, one steal) soaking up most of the team’s value.
As long as the Kings aren’t imploding, then both of them will play most of the team’s remaining games, notwithstanding further aggravation of their existing injuries. If the four-game winning streak is doing anything for them, it’s helping to keep Cousins from getting too angered about the tension hovering around the front office. I didn’t see him after last night’s win, but after Tuesday’s win against the Sixers he didn’t look thrilled throughout most of the post-game coverage. His time off last week was a byproduct of being legitimately dinged up and legitimately frustrated at the same time.
Gay’s minutes were down because of early foul trouble, but 2-3 minutes off both guys’ workload wouldn’t surprise me in the games they play from here on out. Ray McCallum was both good and playing against an indifferent Suns defense, so he uncorked a line of 14 points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block in 31 minutes. This was the second game in which he got the lion’s share of minutes between he and Andre Miller (seven points, one three, two boards, seven assists, one block). With the Kings’ favorable schedule both guys are angling toward late-round value the rest of the way. McCallum is just a lot safer than Miller right now.
Nik Stauskas, AKA Sauce Castillo, has some sleeper appeal as he slowly breaks out of his shell, and last night he scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds and one steal in 18 minutes. Karl was straight-forward after the game about not trusting him, but the team would love nothing more than for him to earn big minutes. You’d have to be in a 14-16 team league to sniff an add here, but be ready to move if things improve. Ben McLemore (12 points, two threes, three assists, two steals) is still a cut above him in fantasy leagues, but local reporters continue to wonder if confidence issues are going to clear up. Everybody here gets a slight boost due to the Kings’ favorable schedule.
And everybody also gets a boost when Kings Twitter goes on a four-game bender and starts making things happen on Twitter.
The Suns looked unfocused and unenergetic last night. Between losing Brandon Knight (ankle) and taking a backwards step at the deadline this team has lost whatever killer instinct they had. Despite that, Eric Bledsoe (19 points, five rebounds, one assist, two threes, 7-of-15 FGs) held on as he was dealing with an illness, and Markieff Morris (24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block, one three) had a nice night in the box.
Alex Len had some good moments as well and played his way back onto fantasy rosters with a six-point, nine-rebound night including one steal and four blocks in his 25 minutes. The kid can play and the only thing that will stop him at this point is his own health, because the minutes will be there. Marcus Morris (19 points, 7-of-11 FGs, three treys) might have sang his Swan Song with Knight being a late scratch, and P.J. Tucker had a tough night with 1-of-11 makes for three points, 11 boards, four assists and two steals. Tucker has morphed back into the late-round value he was much of the season following a blistering early-round run right after the deadline. Plan accordingly.
And if the whole thing goes to crap in Phoenix, the deep sleeper you’ll want to watch in the last five games is Archie Goodwin (15 points, three assists, two steals, 26 minutes). Gerald Green is basically on the outs and everybody else will check out.