The action usually jumps out at you on a Big Wednesday or any other busy night of NBA action, whether that’s with injuries, buzzer beaters, pinball lines or a guaranteed entry into Shaqtin the Fool.
Last night’s story was much more subtle, with teams inching closer to their final identities and players settling into predictable fantasy values now that key situations have been fleshed out. This makes sense since the middle part of the fantasy season is known for its predictability, with the last third of the year being known for shutdowns and young, emerging players.
As usual we have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get right to it.
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AGE BEFORE BEAUTY
For all the consternation over games played for guys like Tim Duncan (14 points, 10 boards, two steals, three blocks) and Manu Ginobili (27 points) they’ve missed just five and six games, respectively. And almost all of those missed games have come on the tail-end of a back-to-back, but with Kawhi Leonard still out and the Spurs lurking at the bottom of the playoff picture both old guys ran it back in their SEGABABA win over the Hornets.
I would never profess to know what Gregg Popovich is doing with his lineups every night, but that deployment is a huge win for owners of both players, especially since a pattern has emerged tipping owners off about potential DNPs. Duncan has logged 31 mpg this season and that’s a lock to come down even if he doesn’t miss games, as Pop said last night that he has a prescribed number of minutes his vets will play this season and he’s not budging based on circumstance.
Leonard’s return appears to be coming sooner rather than later, but it’s unclear if things will get sorted out before upcoming weekly deadlines. Danny Green (18 points, full stat line) kept things going and I wouldn’t break my back to sell him before Leonard returns. They operate in different areas of the court and have different roles, but if you want to pen Green in for a small drop from his current top 20-40 value on the year I wouldn’t blame you. It’s entirely possible his 31.6 mpg goes down with Leonard around to help out, but none of his other numbers this year are out of place.
FLOPPED THE NUT SOMETHING
Lance Stephenson returned to action last night after a 14-game absence due to a groin injury and any other scenario you can think of with your tin foil hat on. He didn’t do much with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting and two assists in 18 minutes in last night’s loss to the Spurs, and as I said in the Dose I won’t be breaking my neck to add him given his fantasy deficiencies and lack of upside. Born Ready would go on to say that the Hornets would make the playoffs and he also implied that the reports of his negative impact on the team were true.
"When I was out, I watched people share the ball and play without negative energy," Stephenson said. "So I don't want to play with any negative energy and bring everybody down."
Who knows where his head is at, but it stands to reason that he has both zero leash to screw up and also plenty of support from the organization to rehab his trade value. Still, he looks like he’ll hurt others’ fantasy value more than he’ll help himself, though I don’t see him touching Kemba Walker’s (28 points, three blocks) role in a meaningful way unless they’re winning, which seems unlikely.
Bismack Biyombo (12 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks) and Cody Zeller (eight points, 10 boards, four assists) both popped up on the radar last night with Big Al Jefferson still out. Both needed these favorable lines to sneak up toward late-round value in 1-2 week splits, and they’re nothing but desperation plays if you need bigs, at least until they do it again.
IT’S A DATE
The Grizzlies traveled to Brooklyn for a date with their old coach, and rumors of Dave Joerger angling for Hollins job when they were in Memphis was a topic among BKY beat writers. That he-said, she-said story angle was probably much more interesting than covering a Nets team with an absentee owner in Mikhail Prokhorov, and at the same time the Grizzlies don’t seem like a team too concerned with old drama.
They won easily and got to debut new piece Jeff Green, who scored 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting with three rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes off the bench. Green had been a solid mid-round value for Boston this season, but he’ll have his work cut out for him to hold onto late-round value now that he’s fourth or fifth in the pecking order on most nights.
Mike Conley busted up his increasingly annoying right ankle and played just 24 minutes last night, and though nobody around the team thinks the injury was serious I wouldn’t be surprised if he missed a game. The Grizz have two relatively capable backups in Beno Udrih (six points, three boards, two assists, one steal, 18 minutes) and Nick Calathes (five points, three assists, four steals, 12 minutes). Though Udrih has by far more value than Calathes this season, I kind of like Calathes to post a random big line if the two backups split minutes on Friday against the Magic.
Zach Randolph isn’t wasting time upon return from his knee injury and he turned in 20 and 14 with three assists and a steal to build on his top-60 value when on the floor. His improved value over last season is a case of less-is-more with two less shot attempts per game and a three percent gain in accuracy in the process.
Courtney Lee also got on the board with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, three triples and three steals. As I said in the Dose, his fantasy friendly stat-set augmented by just one good game was enough to move his once terrible two-week evaluation to a late-round value. His season-long value is strong at a top 75-100 position (9/8 cat). Yes, he was impossible to find in the box score for much of the last month, but some guys are built for fantasy and any signs of life here are good enough in my book for an add.
TOO BIG TO FAIL
When all the receipts are tallied I have a feeling we’re going to be looking at one crazy balance sheet, with owner Mikhail Prokhorov likely selling his team at a profit while running it into salary cap hell with the Great Veteran Expedition of 2013. In the meantime they have to show up and play basketball, with Deron Williams (ribs) out indefinitely, Brook Lopez (11 points, four rebounds, zero steals, zero blocks, 27 minutes) seemingly hanging by a thread, and Kevin Garnett (suspension) gimping to the finish line.
The good news is that while it’s bleak for Nets fans the fantasy picture is reasonably bright. Mason Plumlee has followed through on predictions of mid-round upside in this space with a top 45-50 return over the last 17 games. He has corrected that free throw percentage to 58.6 percent over that span and been as advertised everywhere else.
Jarrett Jack has been handed the reins with Williams out and started off great, but over the last two weeks he has really squandered his opportunity with a higher-volume 35.8 percent field goal shooting percentage. He’ll get it turned around and be a mid-round value with Williams week-to-week, so owners need to hang tight. Mirza Teletovic doesn’t have a great fantasy stat-set, but he does figure to be a good second-half target when the old guys get hurt or traded. He hit four 3-pointers for 12 points and six boards in 19 minutes and belongs on the wire in 12-team formats.
THE INFORMATION GAME
Owners always have to be concerned about injury reporting in small markets, and New Orleans has been a place where we find out about things well after the fact. Jrue Holiday (ankle) is listed as day-to-day but as usual Monty Williams wouldn’t put a timetable on his return, and since it’s the same leg he hurt last year look for the Pellies to be cautious.
It didn’t hurt the case for patience when Tyreke Evans nearly triple-doubled in a start at point guard, scoring 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting with eight rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer in 40 minutes. It also doesn’t hurt that newly acquired Quincy Pondexter (nine points, six boards, three assists, three treys, 32 minutes) is now in uniform and taking over for mostly overmatched Dante Cunningham (six points, 20 minutes). Pondexter doesn't have enough upside to jump at an add after one good game in 12-14 team formats, but he has some sleeper appeal if injuries strike the Pelicans.
Anthony Davis tweaked his toe but said he’d be fine for Friday’s game against the Sixers. He scored 27 points with 10 rebounds, one steal and four blocks in last night’s best line, and as an aside I’d think he’d have to be at least 95 percent healthy before playing against Philly. Eric Gordon scored 12 points with a full stat line and he looks like he’ll be a late-round value for however long Holiday is out.
WE’RE GOING TO BUILD A SEMI-STURDY WALL
The Pistons lost just their second game in 11 contests last night against the Pelicans, looking lethargic in their sixth game in nine nights. Most of the main fantasy problems have been fixed in Detroit, with Brandon Jennings (19 points, three assists, two threes, 9-of-10 FTs) threatening to hold an early round position, Greg Monroe (16 points, eight boards, five assists, one steal, one block) now a solid mid-round value, and Andre Drummond (two points, two boards, one steal, two blocks) positioned to be much better than he was last night.
Though Drummond’s numbers haven’t been great since the Josh Smith trade, his path to value is clear and he just needs to make it through whatever has zapped his energy the past week. Earlier in the week it was the flu, and after last night’s game we observed an annoyed Stan Van Gundy when talking about Drummond. One could sense SVG wasn’t thrilled with the attention his wall-building got in the press earlier in the week, and I’m just spitballing here but he doesn't want his 14-25 team to take their eye off the ball or start to read their own press clippings.
And if you’re wondering where I stand on Jodie Meeks (11 points, one three, one assist, 26 minutes) I’m not going to bury my head in the sand if he continues to tread water at the cut line in 8-cat, 12-team formats, but I’m also not going to trip out in his first 17 games. His teammates are just as run down as he has looked lately, but they didn’t go through a serious back injury like Meeks did, so I’m going to be patient through the All Star break barring a major dip. Meeks has mid-round upside, a big contract, and a weak wing corps to compete against.
HEY GUYS, DID ANY OF YOU NOTICE THAT WE’RE ALL THE SAME HEIGHT?
The Sixers are actually running what looks to be a normal rotation, which is what happens when attrition sets in and your best assets rise to the top. Tony Wroten’s knee injury doesn’t sound great and he hasn’t been able to stay on the floor, so we saw Michael Carter-Williams (29 points, 12-of-25 FGs, 1-of-6 3PTs, 4-of-8 FTs, seven boards, four assists, two steals) play 41 minutes in their loss to the Raptors.
MCW’s shooting numbers are slightly down across the board and his steals are way down, which paired with a usage bump sans Wroten are signs his value should trend upward. He’s barely in the top-100 in 8-cat leagues and in 9-cat leagues he’s not worth the hassle of punting turnovers, but along those lines of thought he should be a mid-round guy in 8-cat formats as long as he isn’t traded.
K.J. McDaniels went for 10 and eight with one steal, four blocks and a three while hitting just 2-of-10 shots and there’s nothing abnormal about that. The profile is really simple with him. He’s a late-round guy based on defense alone and if he can ever make strides on offense he goes up from there.
Nerlens Noel saw 39 minutes and put up 12 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block. He has put some distance between the ankle injury and he has been at least serviceable this past week, but still holds the dubious title of must-own stash in 12-team formats. His standalone value on the year is right on the cut line after a nasty month-long slump, but hot damn he can’t shoot 42.5 and 49.4 percent from the field and line all year can he? Any steps forward would be a profit at this point, and he’s almost statistically obligated to do better.
Robert Covington missed the game due to a shoulder injury and there hasn’t been any news to suggest the issue is serious. There are no clear beneficiaries but the Wroten injury thins things out and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one more surprise name come out of Philly this year.
EXCUSE ME, I WAS SITTING THERE
DeMar DeRozan returned to action and didn’t skip a beat in an easy win over the Sixers, finishing with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in 29 minutes. I know Lou Williams (19 points, two assists, four threes, 24 minutes) played well and has a late-round value this season in the same amount of mpg as he played last night, but that’s one tight rotation and he’s the only guy I’d remotely consider for 12-team duty out of the fringe wing crew. James Johnson, Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross all had varying levels of usefulness while DeRozan was out, but now there is no upside to justify the risk of using these low-end plays.
Kyle Lowry will probably see his numbers dip slightly but not enough to move the needle with him at all, and he wrapped up the win with 18 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists, three steals and four treys. If anything, we’ll start to see the ridiculously low turnover numbers he was rolling with in the beginning of the season.
Amir Johnson has played his way into being a must-own player once again, double-doubling with 10 points and 16 boards to go with two assists and a block. He logged 32 minutes and if he can make it to the All Star break without incident he has a nice chance at a productive 1-2 month stretch.
With the Wizards handing the Bulls their fourth loss in five games last night, and also owning bragging rights from last season’s playoff win, this Eastern Conference clash quickly became Internet proof that the Wizards are top-flight contenders.
That may be a bit over-simplistic because the Wiz are one Nene injury away from losing any so-called advantage over the Bulls, but they do match up quite well and in particular Nene got back on the fantasy radar. The Brazilian scored 13 points with four rebounds, eight assists and a steal as he pushed around Pau Gasol, and I still don’t trust him enough to call him a must-own player. But if he can lose some weight he might have some sporadic value in standards.
Paul Pierce flashed some of his top-100 production this season with 22 points, six rebounds, two assists, two threes and a 6-of-6 mark from the line. John Wall (21 and nine) and Marcin Gortat (11 and nine, one block) played as advertised, and Bradley Beal had a nice outburst with 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting, five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one three.
YOU CAN’T DISRESPECT THE CATERPILLAR
The Bulls are in the midst of a mini-slump that all teams go through and it’s uncomfortable for Jimmy Butler (13 points, four steals, one block, two threes) owners because it seems like Derrick Rose (32 points, 12-of-22 FGs, six threes, five assists, 36 minutes) is trying to put his stamp back on the team.
Owners know what they saw with their own eyes, which was a nearly flawless offensive approach out of Butler with the defense to back it up, and now that the roles have seemingly been reversed the team has lost its edge. In reality, Butler was bound to have a slowdown, bereavement leave may or may not have been an issue, and he has been getting beat on defense a bit more than I’m accustomed to seeing.
Rose, for his part, has been forcing the issue on offense and has taken some questionable shots, and one hopes it’s him just trying to find his game and not because he believes he has to be the guy taking the shots – because it’s nowhere near like that anymore in Chicago. Butler’s free throw attempts are way down and before we even remind ourselves that Rose is a Grade-A injury risk, there are too many reasonable theories to why Butler is struggling to arbitrarily assess that the Bulls have changed the way they do business. If anything, they’ll look to reverse course as they get back in the win column.
Pau Gasol (13 points, eight rebounds, three assists) got pushed around for the first time in a long time, with Nene moving him off his spots on offense and the collective size of the Wizards exposing longstanding criticisms of Pau over physicality. The Bulls’ defensive struggles also show how any slippage by Butler on that end can affect the team, especially without Mike Dunleavy around, since Joakim Noah is all beat up this year and not himself.
Noah left the game due to a rolled ankle and longtime Bulls writer Sam Smith said he’d be surprised if he plays the back-to-back set this weekend. That brings Taj Gibson (12 points, six rebounds, two blocks, 32 minutes) back into most lineups and Nikola Mirotic (12 points, four rebounds, three steals, one block, two threes) moves into a high-level stash position simply because owners can ride the current production and be well-positioned in case injuries continue to mount up.
The Hawks are on a 300 game winning streak. They have complementary players in almost every roster slot and they play smart basketball. Mike Budenholzer is all of a sudden resting guys left and right.
I’m not saying that Gregg Popovich had a secret love child with Nancy Lieberman during his days as a covert CIA operative in the 70s, but I’m not saying it’s impossible either. Budenholzer is pushing all the right buttons and is one solid ‘big’ big man away from coaching these guys up into contenders. Even if they got that big man, though, a lack of experience probably prohibits them from winning it all no matter how talented they are.
They easily dispatched the Celtics last night after giving Al Horford and Kyle Korver the night off, which was only fair because they rested Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap the last time out. Teague continued his All Star campaign and run as Fantasy’s No. 13 play with 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and a full stat line. Carroll flexed on those that may have prematurely dropped him earlier in the year, scoring 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting with three treys, five rebounds, three assists and a steal, and Millsap went for 18 & 10 with two steals, two blocks, three assists, a three and 7-of-7 freebies.
I’m not sure of the math behind this but it seems gamblers could cover up the Bulls, Hawks and Wizards in the East and gain a small edge betting on the futures.
EVERYTHING MUST GO
The trade sending Brandan Wright to Phoenix and Jeff Green to Memphis has added even more security to using the Celtics’ fluctuating, but overall steady assets. Of course, they aren’t keeping any of the players they brought on and that simply means more breathing room for everybody involved.
The Celtics’ duo of Tyler Zeller (two points, five boards, three assists, 16 minutes) and Kelly Olynyk (12 points, eight rebounds, two threes, 23 minutes) has always kept its head above the cut line in all standard formats despite their ups and downs, and now it would take an unlikely surge out of Brandon Bass (eight points, one board, 20 minutes) to change that for the rest of the year. Don’t drop either of those guys when things get bad, just get them on your bench.
Elsewhere, Jared Sullinger (14 points, nine rebounds) is going to cruise as long as he’s healthy, and Marcus Smart is a no-doubt, must-own player with or without Evan Turner getting dinged with a thumb injury last night. Brad Stevens doesn’t sound like a guy that is rushing to put Smart in the starting unit, but the rookie will probably get a puncher's chance to steal away Turner’s temporary starting job in the short-term, nonetheless. Foul shooting is a problem for him at 68.8 percent on the year and so is shooting in general at 39.4 percent from the field on the season, but he doesn’t take a lot of shots and most of those are threes. With plenty of counting stats to float his value he’s basically a low-end standard league player right now in 25 mpg recently and nowhere to go but up.
The other guy on radars is Jae Crowder (seven points, two boards, 20 minutes) and I covered him in the Dose. He failed to back up his career night and has a history of inconsistency, but with top 140-190 value (9/8 cat) in just 18 mpg over the past month, owners don’t have to do too much math to see where this could go. The Celtics don’t have a deep roster anymore and if Crowder can move into a significant role it won’t matter how inconsistent he is, and that’s before we talk about any increases in usage or improvements on his end. I called him a lottery ticket with mid-round upside in the Dose, but let’s be clear that he’s only a low-to-mid level stash right now. He’s nowhere near guaranteed to make these leaps.
THROW ME AWAY
Owner Mark Cuban called last night’s game against the Nuggets a throwaway game, perhaps because the Mavs needed a rest after getting beat up on by DeMarcus Cousins on Tuesday. They also may have been throwing a weird curve ball at the Nuggets with the home-and-home heading to Dallas on Friday. So Rajon Rondo (Achilles), Dirk Nowitzki (rest) and Tyson Chandler (rest) all got the night off, and Monta Ellis (five points, 1-of-11, four rebounds, one steal) may as well have taken a pass rather than get benched in 22 minutes.
If there is any news here it’s that Chandler Parsons (13 points, 6-of-13 FGs, one three, two boards, two assists, one steal) wasn’t able to go bonkers, and that’s a bit unfair because the team was in flux, but owners smarting over Rondo’s arrival aren’t exactly in a forgiving mood. I was asked and told a reader that I’d be thrilled if Parsons finishes the season out at a top 60-80 return. Owners can ignore all of the spot-action in that box score because none of the aforementioned ailments are expected to be serious.
I wrote for our draft guide that Denver could end up being the most frustrating team in the league due to their crowded rotation and all of a sudden things are almost wide open. Almost. The team did just acquire Jameer Nelson in exchange for Nate Robinson, which is probably a wash, and they should be getting Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee back toward the end of the month. Randy Foye could be back as soon as next week.
Both Arron Afflalo (12 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals, two threes, 31 minutes) and Wilson Chandler (15 points, 10 boards, six assists, one three, 39 minutes) have been getting as many minutes as they can handle. In a sign of a team that should be looking to the future in the West, both guys have been in the trade rumor mill, and in the case of Afflalo his recent top-30 value should have him on owners’ sell-high lists, too. Chandler’s sub-40 percent shooting over the last month and pedestrian stats have made his name bigger than his game over that span. With teammates coming back owners should try to get anything they can in a deal for Chandler, especially when a trade for either player would likely hurt their value.
So it took a while for Kenneth Faried, but last night’s game was what you envisioned if you assumed he could continue his trajectory from the preseason and Team USA. He scored 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting (8-of-8 FTs) with 14 rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes, and he still needs to develop within the Denver system in order to tap into what appeared to be some offensive improvement over the summer. He needs that because he’s deficient in defensive stat categories and must have big double-double numbers to rise up in the ranks.
Jusuf Nurkic (seven points, nine boards, one steal, two blocks) fell to me for cheap in a deep big money league the other day and I felt like I won the lottery. He’s a top 65-80 play over the last month in just 18.5 mpg and a top 20-35 play in 22.5 mpg over the last two weeks. I wouldn’t swap him for anything but a rock solid early round asset.
WALK AND CHEW GUM
The Clippers somehow went into Portland and eked out a road win despite Blake Griffin hitting just 7-of-20 shots with only three rebounds on the night. He finished with 18 points, four assists and three steals to go with those three lonely rebounds, and he continues to sit well below expectations in the top 40-50 range on the year.
I can’t wait to have the time to run some numbers on big man values as they develop jumpers and move away from the hoop. The good ones can do it, not fall in love with it, and still grab rebounds (i.e. LaMarcus Aldridge). Just like defensively the good ones can board and block at the same time (DeAndre Jordan). But Griffin’s two-rebound dip per game this season and four percent drop from the field easily negates the benefits of playing more on the perimeter (an extra assist per game).
As for Jordan, he continues to impress and last night he hauled in a 17 & 18 double-double with a perfect eight makes from the field and a block for good measure. His value has dropped from first round levels to the top 20-40 realm (9/8 cat) because opponents have finally put him on the foul line.
Jordan went to the line twice per game in November, four times per game in December, and his current average of 3.0 free throw attempts per game on the season is two-thirds less than last year’s 4.6 mark. It’s intriguing if anything else because it probably reflects opponent attitudes or the type of games the Clippers have been in this season, but owners will want to keep in mind that he has at least two areas of negative regression with the foul attempts and also his ridiculous 71.5 percent field goal percentage.
Jamal Crawford enjoyed some extra touches as the team’s backup point guard in a 25-point, four-triple effort that oddly enough had just one assist. J.J. Redick got caught in the wash of that and hit just 3-of-12 shots for seven points and an otherwise normal stat line, and owners should give him a pass after top-100 play this month. Matt Barnes stayed in owners’ good graces with 10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two threes, and Chris Paul was up to all sorts of old tricks with 23 points, six rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, one three and 10-of-10 makes from the foul line in the win.
I’m going to start with Nicolas Batum because a big night for LaMarcus Aldridge (37 & 12) isn’t exactly news and Damian Lillard’s off-night of 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting isn’t making anybody panic. Batum missed all five of his shots last night and passed up about that many open ones, too, and his deferential play has officially become a thing on the Internet. It’s not that it wasn’t a thing before, but when it becomes a national understanding among the media then questions start to get louder, and whatever the rub may be it starts to get exposed.
In this case owners should be watching to see if his shooting wrist is the issue, though this seems like a garden-variety case of a guy losing his killer “scoring” instinct during the process of being a good, smart teammate. Yes, the Blazers want Aldridge and Lillard to carry a heavy scoring load. But what they don’t want is for one of their core players to lose all confidence in their offense during a playoff series. If this type of play continues, opponents will put their worst defender on Batum and I wouldn’t even rule out a completely mismatched player being hidden on him if the playoffs were to start today.
The Blazers don’t appear to be worried about this but they should be since they know what they have in Aldridge and Lillard. As for fantasy owners, it’s fair to approach Batum with caution (especially if his wrist is hurting), but I still look at his 39.6 and 25.7 percent marks from the field and from deep as opportunity. The year before he hit a svelte 46.5 percent from the field and respectable 36.1 percent from the line, and reading between the lines it seems like teammates view this as a confidence issue.
Unless he’s pulling a Rick Ankiel he wouldn’t be the first NBA player to experience a prolonged slump, and an associated hot streak would be of the early round or even elite variety. Our most recent blurb said he wasn’t a must-start player and his value is in the tank. I know I sound like a broken record but this is still on my list of impactful moves to make.
Chris Kaman was a recommended add after the Robin Lopez injury and the birth of his child put a wrinkle in those plans, but he double-doubled with 15 and 11 last night and has solid late-round value over the last two weeks. Pick him up unless you’re stocked with bigs. Meyers Leonard also double-doubled with 11 and 10 to go with three assists in 31 minutes, and he’s been worth owning over the last 2-3 weeks with the strangely shaped stat lines of a newly crowned stretch five.
Leonard is the risk-reward play and Kaman is the set-it-and-forget-it guy, but don’t forget we’re talking about late-round assets as a baseline.
TIME IS A FLAT CIRCLE
One wouldn’t be able to tell by the quality of fantasy lines in last night’s loss to the Magic, but the Rockets came out flat and Dwight Howard was outplayed by up-and-coming Nikola Vucevic. Howard scored 23 points with eight rebounds, three assists, one block and a rare perfect night at the foul line with seven makes, but Vucevic made big shot after big shot and won the momentum battle.
James Harden scored 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting with four rebounds, 10 assists, five steals, one block and seven turnovers. He’s the No. 1 player in 8-cat leagues right now and I’m not sure that everybody knows it, and it speaks to the freaky quality of the top tier including Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins and eventually one or both of the Thunder-cats.
Trevor Ariza’s positive regression shooting the ball was underway last night as he hit 6-of-7 shots for 15 points, three treys and a solid stat line, and Patrick Beverley rattled off 17 points with three treys of his own to maintain his mid-round posture. Beverley hasn’t looked his best lately and I wonder if one of his nagging injuries is acting up, which is something to watch for and not act on right now.
Josh Smith didn’t have his worst line ever with five points, 10 boards, five assists and one block in 24 minutes off the bench, but he hit just 2-of-11 shots with four turnovers and his only path to fantasy value is if he suddenly ‘gets it.’ He’d need to stop touching the ball and focus on defense, but that’s seemingly never going to happen. I can see why somebody would roster him, but that somebody wouldn’t be me.
KYLE O’QUINN KO?
I want to get to Kyle O’Quinn but first some housecleaning. We all know that Nikola Vucevic (25 points, 12 boards, three assists, three steals, one block, 5-of-5 FTs) is a stud and he is among the most consistent top-30 plays in the league. I’ve said here and elsewhere that I think he’s a top-3 post player and though I have questions about his defense, among other nitpicky things, I think he’s a legit No. 1 player for this Orlando team. His mental makeup is getting better with every outing, and with the Magic needing to win basically every night Jacque Vaughn is riding him hard. He’s not going to be an elite No. 1 player in the NBA, but he can be an elite No. 2 guy and all of a sudden the Magic are an impact power forward away from being feared in the East.
That can actually be said without laughing because Victor Oladipo (32 points, 12-of-19 FGs, three treys, six boards, six assists, three steals) has played like a future All Star lately, and his 360-degree dunk to put the game out of reach was something out of a 90s basketball movie. Tobias Harris will be one of the more sought after restricted free agents as a guy that can play both ways, and Elfrid Payton is learning how to win and making plenty of plays without having a jump shot.
I briefly profiled Payton in the Dose and I stopped short of calling him a must-add or must-own player, with percentages and turnovers being the primary concerns, but he’s holding his own and staying off the foul line so I’m down with calling him a “nice add.” It should be pointed out that Evan Fournier hasn’t played more than 19 minutes in the last six Magic games, with two DNPs preceding last night’s 13-minute appearance. Fournier looked plenty explosive on one dunk and it wouldn’t be surprising if he started to increase his workload, but the takeaway for Payton is that he looks like he’s taking steps forward, getting his foul shooting under control, and has nowhere to go up in his trouble categories.
It doesn’t hurt that the Magic are embracing the concept of a faster pace and that will help everybody out, and that brings me to the Kyle O’Quinn Mystery Theatre Hour. I’ve spent more time watching film of O’Quinn than anybody else the past two weeks, trying to figure out where Ol’ Consistent went.
KOQ is currently playing strict backup center minutes, and lately he has been used more as a screener in the pick-and-roll game rather than as a handoff guy or elbow passer. The screen game isn’t particularly crisp in Orlando, with guards going too early or O’Quinn taking funky angles to the point of attack. The Magic are also using spread sets to utilize their guards’ speed, which usually results in a ‘pop’ by O’Quinn and like many big men it’s not clear if that benefits him in fantasy leagues.
Anytime O’Quinn is on the floor with Vucevic he is lingering around the top of the key or baseline to not clog the lane. The overall impact on his game is that he’s not consistently engaged in the action anymore, his minutes are fluctuating, and what’s worse is that it appears as if Vaughn is encouraging him to use up all of his fouls.
I wonder if he is falling in love with the 3-point shot in his new role as pop-man on the screen-and-roll, and otherwise losing his aggression due to fouling issues and aspirations of playing on the perimeter. He has been consistently out of position for rebounds and blocks, sometimes because of the system and sometimes because of his own bad read or effort. He could also be unhappy with his minutes, nursing an injury or all of the above.
His season-long value is at the cut-line for 12-team formats and his recent value is obviously in the dumps. I’ve talked at length about the sample size of last year’s run combined with this year’s extensive mid-to-late round sample before the 2-3 week slump, but I have just 1-2 more weeks of patience before I start to cut him loose in standards. The Magic have two nice wins (@CHI, HOU) now with this new running lineup, and a change in role is certainly a reason to jump off of preseason expectations – even if O’Quinn had been meeting them all year until his goose egg on the day after Christmas.
The stories on Hassan Whiteside coming out of Sacramento weren’t flattering. I was not yet full-time there and by the time he was gone my impression of him was that he didn’t have things figured out in-between the ears. There were no off-the-court red flags, but rather problems with understanding the game and what was expected of him.
The physical attributes weren’t lead-pipe locks at the time, but he certainly had what teams are looking for in a five-man and his disappearance was somewhat jarring. It confirmed whispers that he needed to grow up, and stories out of Miami have insinuated the same thing – with former coach Keith Smart (now in Miami) saying “you knew something had changed.”
Yes, this is a surprising turn of events for Whiteside, but putting it all together it’s not hard to see how his physical profile returns a fairly static fantasy game. A diver on pick-and-rolls, he’s going to be a high-efficiency dunker that cleans the glass and blocks a bunch of shots. Foul trouble isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, but I’m not going to just stick him with that label and give him no shot at improving. His value to the Heat right now is tremendous – Chris Bosh loves having him around, Chris Andersen is a major injury risk, and he gives the team a credible threat down low – and in return the Heat need him to figure out how to stay on the floor.
Looking at his last six games, he has been a top 10-15 fantasy play on averages of 13.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 3.5 blocks, 71.7 percent field goal shooting and 53.8 percent shooting from the foul line in just 24 mpg. While those numbers are probably high, they’re not laugh you out of the room crazy. He blocked at a similar rate when in Sacramento and the D-League, and he actually hit 67.9 percent of his foul shots in 29 D-League games for Rio Grande Valley in 2012-13 and 57.8 percent for Al Moutahed Tripoli over 16 games last season.
If we want to expand the sample size to the full 15 games he has played this year, he’s a top 100-130 value in just 15.8 mpg and the only major change to his stat-set is a much lower 46.9 percent mark from the foul line. That’s still great value for a guy that logged 29 minutes last night and has every chance to succeed for the rest of the season.
It would be crazy to simply slide him in as a top 10-15 guy due to an assumed increase in minutes, but that also isn't laugh you out-of-the-room impossible. Efficient shot-blockers that also rebound and get you steals have that type of upside. So are we really talking about Hassan Whiteside as an elite fantasy play? Not yet, but I’ll be treating him as an early round guy with upside, a hint of injury risk and a hint of the unknown.
And I’d guess a lot of his current owners might look at your offer of a bigger name that has mid-round value, or even late mid-round value, and think they’re the ones getting the steal.
TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN
The Warriors cruised to another easy win over the Heat and the starters weren’t pushed too hard. Stephen Curry padded his stats with 32 points, seven treys and an otherwise full line, Klay Thompson put up 19 points in an equally versatile showing, and Andrew Bogut (four points, five boards, one steal) was eased into a 25-minute start. I’ve said it in a few places but I’m probably not dropping or trading away a top-100 guy to get in on Bogut’s upside, but I could make an exception if I needed a big man.
Marreese Speights moved a step closer to deep league guy with just eight points, six rebounds and two assists, and any way you slice it he’s a low-end option for 12-14 team leagues right now. David Lee looked less like this year’s version that has been posting modest defensive stats, and more like prior models with nothing in that department. He did microwave the popcorn with eight points, six rebounds and five assists in just 23 minutes, but he can’t go that route and hold value in standard 12-team leagues so that’ll be something for his owners to watch for.
Draymond Green let an early technical foul for taunting get to him and finished with just six points, three rebounds, three assists and no steals or blocks in 25 foul-plagued minutes. Maybe one of you out there can convince an owner that Lee is going to eat into his minutes and you can take the money and run.
Reminder: Set your lineups early today. The first game is at 3 p.m. ET because the Bucks and Knicks are in London spreading the NBA gospel.