Week 2 is one of the make-or-break weeks in fantasy basketball, with sample sizes made with just enough rope to hang one’s self with. There’s usually a big-time injury like the one to Russell Westbrook, and I can’t recall an early season infirmary like the one in OKC. In countless big money leagues, Perry Jones was purchased for $300-$800 out of free agent budgets containing only a cool grand. Perry Jones.
The panic is strong in our discothèque.
So welcome to the first-ever Bruski Breakdown column, where we can get a little bit deeper into player values and add context to the nightly madness. Being that it is Week 2 there’s going to be a lot of buy and sell talk, and mostly we want to keep our heads on swivels because things started getting etched into concrete within these next few weeks. There won’t be wholesale surprises in December and an aggressive move now can make or break your season.
No pressure. So let’s do this.
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SO LET’S START WITH A SWING AND MISS
The Heat jumped out to a warm and fuzzy 3-0 start with Chris Bosh looking like a world beater, but fast-forward to last night and they got a massive dose of Al Jefferson to drop their second straight game. Bosh racked up another 23 points with 13 rebounds, one steal, one three and an 8-of-8 mark from the line and he’s crushing first round value.
His 3-point and free throw percentages are on the high side, and it would be something else if he kept up a nightly increase of about four rebounds per game (11.0), but the rest of his numbers are more than viable. Add it all up and he slides into a second round valuation and I’ll have missed by a round in the wrong direction, pegging his rebounding total closer to 8.0 RPG.
The point guard position is impotent with Norris Cole (22 minutes, two points, one assist) fizzling out, and Shabazz Napier (seven points, three assists, 26 minutes) repeatedly getting most of the fourth quarter minutes, but not doing anything of value himself.
Mario Chalmers (six points, 2-of-8 FGs, three assists, one steal, 32 minutes) is playing shooting guard full-time in the Heat’s small lineups. Though he is also producing below the cut line in standard leagues, his stat-set can support mid-round upside with a (more likely) late-round floor. So no, I’m not cutting him yet in competitive 12-team leagues.
Josh McRoberts is rehabbing on the court and played just eight minutes last night and was terrible once again. Just be patient and if he’s not increasing his minutes in a week or so we’ll talk. The Heat need him to be good this year.
BACK TO BASICS
Deploying Al Jefferson against Chris Bosh, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams is the equivalent of escorting a bridesmaid down the aisle right after she got dumped. As long as he didn’t get lost on the way to the arena it was gonna go down, and he didn’t disappoint with 28 points, 10 boards and three blocks. That pushes him up to a top 70-75 value on the year, hindered by higher-volume 58.3 percent foul shooting and just 7.0 rebounds per game. So far, so good for my always controversial Big Al B150 rank (37/25, 8/9 cat).
Playing through the Big Stinger so much helped calm down an uneasy Hornets squad, with Kemba Walker enjoying a relieving 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting (6-of-6 FTs) with four rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two threes. His season-long numbers are still bad enough with 36.9 percent shooting, among other issues, that this could be the time a buy low offer works since his owner might think he’s working you over. Random injury concerns aside, he’s too good to disappear and I’m not ready to back off a top-35 projection this season.
Lance Stephenson saw fourth quarter minutes last night and though he hit just 3-of-12 shots for eight points, he was able to chip in with 13 rebounds, four assists and a block. All owners are looking for here is whether or not his assimilation is kosher with his teammates and coach. Considering he’s shooting 26.7 percent on the year, I’m pretty sure his owner is at least willing to listen on a guy with top-75 upside in my book.
Don’t look now but Cody Zeller (13 points, eight rebounds, one block, 5-of-6 FTs) has 12-team value in just 21.1 minutes per game over five contests. That’s a small sample size but it’s worth noting, especially when his current 84.6 percent foul shooting is the only real outlier. Never shooting better than 75.7 percent from the stripe after high school, it’s possible he has improved and could flirt with an optimistic 80 percent. He’s not a lock to step into more minutes or even keep playing well, but he has been a positive more than a negative when on the floor and he’s a sneaky poor man’s upside play, best suited for a 14-team right now.
MOVIE MAKING MAGIC
In as much of a referendum on the state of the East as anything else, I like the Magic to sneak into the playoffs. Of course I’d prefer if they didn’t go 0-4 to start the year. But they profile as slow starters behind raw rookie Elfrid Payton and a bunch of other young guns that are one training montage away from playoff magic. Or so the legend goes...
A visit to Philly was just what the doctor ordered, and my guy Tobias Harris delivered with a game-winner that will go a long way toward solidifying his role as a go-to guy. Teammates said they decided to go with him late because they knew he’d want to take the shot. Well, duh, they don’t call him Contract Year for nothing.
Harris scored 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting with eight rebounds, two steals and one block as he continues to post big numbers with lower fantasy returns due to shot selection issues that drive his field goal percentage (43.6%) down. Still, he’s averaging 2.4 combined threes, steals and blocks per game and 81.8 percent from the line. He just needs to clean it up a bit and he will, profiling like a guy with lower-end early round potential.
Channing Frye (13 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, two threes) is back and stepping right into a productive role as floor-spacer and veteran leader. In 9-cat leagues he’s a must-own player and he should be owned in most 8-cat leagues right now. When Kyle O’Quinn (ankle) returns Frye’s minutes will tighten a bit, but not to any real detriment, and the only thing for owners to watch out for is his health and a probable ice-cold streak at some point. Still, his game is built for fantasy and we don’t want to run around being pessimists now do we?
As for O’Quinn, surely folks have dropped him all over the place and I get that. After all, who the hell is Kyle O’Quinn? But even if he’s slotted into a 20-24 minute role as backup big, he was still able to return top 60-90 value in that role for 2-3 months to finish last year. What he does is pretty consistent, which is basically being a Swiss Army Knife of sorts, and it’s not too dependent upon what is going on around him. As a bonus he expanded his game this summer.
I haven’t thought about dropping him following his unlucky ankle injury, so give him a look and if you’re buying what I’m selling then feel free to make the add for anybody that isn’t a lock for late-round value or packing some mid-round upside.
THE WORLD SERIES OF DICE
The Sixers roundup should come with a Surgeon General’s warning or at least one of those stupid thundersticks that you can beat yourself over the head with. Last night, Brandon Davies was the man of the hour, delivering on the oh-so-speculative hype with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, four rebounds, one steal and one three in 29 minutes. Like with most Philly fliers, it’s a total crapshoot.
Nerlens Noel’s ankle injury doesn’t seem serious and they’ll play it safe with him, and Henry Sims made his one make count at the end of the game on a 1-of-5 shooting night for three points, eight rebounds and three steals in 24 minutes. Sims is droppable and the illness excuse is 99.9 percent worn off, but the activity numbers were nice.
Hollis Thompson hit just 1-of-5 shots (including a three) for six points, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks as the ugliest top 80-100 value you’ll find on this side of Lavoy Allen (note: do not pick up Lavoy Allen). I will advise a hold on Thompson until he drops out of late-round value. Despite the lack of shot attempts, he’s averaging 4.0 combined threes, steals and blocks and the Philly garbage-time factor is going to help those defensive stats.
K.J. McDaniels (12 points, 5-of-10 FGs, one three, three blocks) will be on Sportscenter many times this year so go check out last night’s dunk when you get a chance. He’s not quite ripe for lineups and may not be for a few weeks, but it’s hard to argue with his upside being a 3-and-D guy already logging 22 mpg as a guppy.
Tony Wroten hit 9-of-16 shots (4-of-6 3PTs, 5-of-7 FTs) for 27 points with three rebounds, eight assists, five steals, two blocks and NINE turnovers. It’s all Wroten all the time in Philly right now, and that’ll slow down when Michael Carter-Williams returns here in the next few weeks. As it stands he’s a top-20 play in 8-cat leagues and a (LOL) top-70 play in 9-cat formats.
He’s averaging an absurd 3.4 steals per game and 5.6 combined threes, steals and blocks. When those numbers come down – and they will – that’s when his percentage problems become a larger factor and push him down to a late-round value in 8-cat leagues and even worse in 9-cat leagues. So yeah, sell high unless you’re punting in his deficient areas.
THE NAME’S KYLE LOWWRRRRY
Kyle Lowry owners had been wondering when their early pick was going to hit the gas pedal and that finally happened last night. Lowry hit 12-of-17 shots for a season-high 35 points with four rebounds, three assists, two steals, two threes and 9-of-10 makes from the foul line. He took over late with a momentum-changing steal and game-clinching jumper, pushing him up to a top 20-50 (9/8 cat) valuation after five games. His 0.4 turnovers per game is unsustainable but very cool and he’ll catch up with the Joneses sooner rather than later.
His dynamic backcourt buddy DeMar DeRozan (23 points, 9-of-25 FGs, six assists, two steals, no threes or boards) has also been sliding in fantasy leagues. He entered the year flashing an impressive handle but it hasn’t translated yet as he sports a high-volume 40 percent mark from the field, a meager 0.4 threes per game, and an extremely high-volume mark of 72.3 percent from the line.
With the improved handle DeRozan should be able to improve on his shooting over the long haul and he’s 11 percentage points below an extremely consistent 81.3 percent career mark at the stripe. If his owner thinks they know how this movie ends, be willing to part with any well situated top-40 player.
Jonas Valanciunas is day-to-day with wrist and facial injuries and Amir Johnson (ankle) is coming back Friday, so you can move on if you grabbed Patrick Patterson (14 points, four threes, one steal, one block) in a shallow league. He’ll probably be somewhat useful in 12-team leagues but he’s really a fantasy plodder best suited for 14-teamers and beyond.
HANGIN OUT IN THE GREEN ROOM
The Celtics turned the ball over 27 times last night in their close loss to the Raptors, which hadn’t happened since 1989, but there were plenty of silver linings in the box score for owners. For starters, Rajon Rondo triple-doubled with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists. He’s looking like the Rondo of old, though his 9-cat value is smashed by 4.5 giveaways per game early on.
The rest of the crew is a pugnacious fantasy bunch with guys that have big popcorn numbers like Jared Sullinger (19 points, 16 boards, one steal), stretch fives like Kelly Olynyk (18 points, 13 rebounds, two threes, 7-of-11 FGs), and one-trick ponies like Avery Bradley (16 points, three treys, one steal). All of them should be owned, but because of their various deficiencies I don’t have any of them ranked higher than No. 80 on my big board.
Jeff Green has been on one and he had another stellar night, scoring 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting (2-of-7 3PTs) with four rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks. I mentioned somewhere that Green looked very confident shooting the three this preseason and the stats show it so far, as he’s nearly doubling (7.3) last year’s career-high of 4.8 attempts per game. He’s also attempting an eye-popping 18.3 shots per game while hitting 2.5 percent better from the field than his career average of 44.1 percent.
So yes, he has to come back to earth shooting the ball and he’s not going to maintain his second round value. But maybe he’s a Post-Hype All Star that slipped through a lot of cracks. The minutes are there and having Rondo at full strength will help, so I’m going to totally eschew my B150 rank of 99 and value him like a top-50 player for trading purposes. A common theme of mine will be that upside is everything, and should he take a full step forward he can fly up a tightly bunched section of the rankings (50-150) very quickly.
Nikola Pekovic and Superman once fought each other on a bet. The loser had to start wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants.
Lionel Hollins referred to him metaphorically as a prison badass last night after he hit a key and-1 to secure a nice road win in Brooklyn. Pekovic finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and one steal, which helped push him back into very late-round value and also keep Gorgui Dieng (16 minutes, two points, five boards, two blocks) calls to a minimum. Dieng is by far the more interesting fantasy player because of his upside, as evidenced by his current top 100-140 value (9/8 cat) in just 17 minutes per game. I have no idea why an owner would want to run from that, especially given Pekovic’s injury history, but I see him on the wire everywhere.
Kevin Martin is on a heater and posted 26 points on 8-of-20 shooting with four threes, six perfect foul attempts, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal. Believe it or not he’s a first-round value in his three games, so by all means sell him high if you can.
I keep seeing reports that Ricky Rubio has a jumpshot but he’s still just hitting 41.9 percent of his shots so I’ll have to go to the tape on that at some point. He had a nice all-around game last night and put up 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds, 12 assists, two steals and a three. His projected early round value lies heavily in his ability to be an elite steals guy and he’s averaging just 1.5 per game so far, which explains why he’s only a mid-round value early on.
There was an Andrew Wiggins sighting as he scored 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting (including a three) with four rebounds and one steal. Like Jabari Parker, his projected numbers would have kept him out of the B150 but unknown upside got him ranked, and last night was one of those nights that would make you a believer. Still, there are a lot of mouths to feed in Minny.
One of those mouths is Thaddeus Young, who bounced back quickly from a neck/concussion scare. He hit just 5-of-13 shots for 10 points but more than made up for it with 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 36 minutes. He’s a top 20-30 value on the year and though he’s a bit leveraged in his 3-point shooting, nothing about the rest of his numbers screams ‘he can’t do that anymore.’ A big key if he’s to hold this high-end value is if he can maintain his 49.1 percent field goal shooting, which appears to be a byproduct of playing on a better team and taking less shots compared to last season.
Ignoring the fact they lost to the Wolves, the Nets’ box score was pretty normal. Brook Lopez was the only guy to really struggle and he was owned by Pekovic on the deciding play, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Joe Johnson scored 22 points, Deron Williams hit half of his shots and finished with 19 and six to go with three treys, and Kevin Garnett grabbed 11 rebounds and hit only 1-of-7 shots.
KG is just a warm body for owners to turn to in a pinch at this point, and Williams has managed to inspire at least a little hope that his explosion is back. Johnson’s old man game is off the chains and so far he’s a top-50 producer, but it’s a long year and he’s not going to hit 50 percent of his shots like he is right now. Plan accordingly.
Mirza Teletovic was a guy that I badly wanted to rank higher this preseason (148/132, 8/9 cat) but I couldn’t pull the trigger because his stat set had too many holes. He had a quiet night with just nine points, six boards and one block, but his calling card 3-point shooting was on display with three triples in his 21 minutes. He has pulled the same top-50 act he’s pulling right now in the past ... and crashed and burned. He is averaging 12.3 points, 2.8 threes, 5.5 boards and a block per game while hitting 53 percent of his shots, all in just 23 mpg per usual.
The good news is that his current 45.8 percent 3-point shooting isn’t too far off from his 38.3 percent career mark. The bad news is that he’s still going to regress shooting in some capacity and it’s either going to be sort-of-ugly or 12-beers-deep Bertha ugly. Even with Mason Plumlee playing less than he did last year at 15.3 mpg and bound to pick up the pace in that department, this injury-prone frontcourt could easily make Teletovic a 28-36 mpg guy by the end of the year. It’s a great position for owners – whichever way you gamble, selling him for a late-mid round guy or holding on for some top-50 upside, you’re getting way more than you bargained for on draft day.
As for the Plumdog, he’s actually a top 130-170 value in those measly 15 minutes, and that makes him a very viable stash for many of the same reasons.
The Knicks are going to face an uphill climb all season and being without J.R. Smith (suspension) because he struck the nads of another man didn’t help last night against the Pistons. It also didn’t help that Josh Smith matches up well with Carmelo Anthony (13 points, 5-of-21 FGs, six boards, eight assists) defensively, and beyond that New York is relying on what would generally be spare parts for any contending squad.
There’s going to be some consternation about Melo, the Triangle and his high-volume 40 percent mark from the field, and that makes for a Grade-A time to buy low, Mortimer. His efficiency could very well be an issue this year, but he is the end-all, be-all in New York.
Pablo Prigioni left the game after an ankle injury and when you lurch toward Shane Larkin’s stat line make sure you’re wearing a seat belt. The youngster managed just four points on 2-of-4 shooting with five rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes. Unless Derek Fisher turns to Iman Shumpert (15 points, six boards, five assists, one block, four threes, 36 minutes) to run the point for extensive time, look for Larkin to keep getting north of 28 minutes per game.
A pick-and-roll player with admitted struggles in the Triangle, Larkin’s only real hope for a sustained boost in production is that Fisher gets desperate for scoring and allows him to operate in his comfort zone. He’s putting up borderline 12-team value as it stands with numbers that can only go up in those same 28 mpg. That’s pretty good math for a pickup but the juice probably isn’t worth the squeeze if you have to part with anybody having long-term value.
As for Shumpert, he is also putting up top 80-100 numbers and the big question is whether or not his 2.2 triples per game can have any staying power. Without at least two-thirds of them he is sunk in standard leagues, assuming he trends more toward his career 39 percent shooting rather than his current 43 percent. Phil Jackson likes him and on this roster he’s one of the few good fits for the Triangle due to his cutting ability, and with point guard touches he could reprise portions of his rookie season. There’s plenty of reason to make the add here, but if you’re bidding on him you may want to slow your roll just a little bit, especially when one remembers the injury risk.
NICE AND SMOOTH
The Pistons were able to bust out the big lineup because of the aforementioned matchup of Smoove and Melo, which may or may not be the name of a 90s R & B group. Josh Smith hit just 2-of-17 shots last night and owners should try booing along with the home crowd for therapy. He missed all those shots on the inside, though, and I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news. The good news for owners was that he added 10 boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks in some old school output. Now if he could only improve on his intense 31.4 percent field goal percentage people might stop throwing things.
Elsewhere in frustration, Andre Drummond (seven points, 13 rebounds, two blocks, 29 minutes) was seen kicking his chair after drawing his fourth foul. He’s barely cracking the top-200 after a very slow start in which almost all of his numbers are significantly down, and if you can stomach the foul shooting it’s a neon green buy low sign.
I have to admit I was a bit surprised when Brandon Jennings landed at No. 52/66 (8/9 cat) in the Bruski 150, and I wasn’t aggressive with his projections at all. Really all he needs to do is not get beat out by D.J. Augustin too badly.
If his prior game made you feel a little better as a ticked-off Jennings owner, last night stole back those gains when DJA got late run with Jennings on the bench. The mercurial point guard hit just 2-of-9 shots for 12 points (7-of-8 FTs) with two rebounds, five assists, one three and zero steals. He’s definitely not long for lineups until he can turn it around, and I’m in the camp that thinks you hold onto him for at least another week and probably two. Starting point guards with his potential are hard to come by.
I CAN’T SEE IT, BLIND TO THE EYES. UP IN YOUR FACE OOPS PAU SURPRISE (OOOOOHH)
The Bulls injury report has become a sport of its own tracking Derrick Rose’s every movement. He played at less than 100 percent last night in Milwaukee due to ankle issues, loosening up as the game went on in a 13-point, seven-assist night with two steals and two threes in 31 minutes. So far Rose is a top 60-90 value in the games he has played and his numbers aren’t terrible, but his 26 mpg is really holding him back. If you ask me right now, it feels like his 44/86 B150 rank (8/9 cat) is too high given all his risks.
Pau Gasol continues to be a revelation for the Bulls as he put up 22 points, 14 rebounds, one block and a 6-of-7 mark from the foul line in 36 minutes. He’s a top-35 value right now in 36 minutes per game and there’s no way he continues to play that much and/or block 2.6 shots per game.
Along with his mileage that makes for a textbook sell-high situation, which goes against our blurbs (at least when I don’t write them) but I’ll say the rest of the staff here is winning being bullish on the Bulls so far. I had him at 64/71 (8/9 cat) and gun to my head I’d slide that upward at least a little bit, but I’m not totally convinced his volume can support early round value. I’m also not adamantly against it the way I was two months ago.
Like Gasol, Taj Gibson is enjoying Joakim Noah’s time off due to illness, and he dropped 23 points and 10 boards with a steal so ride him while he’s hot. Speaking of hot, Jimmy Butler’s preseason success is carrying right over into the regular season and my big regret here was not pushing him further up my ranks. He hit 5-of-8 shots (4-of-4 FTs) with six rebounds, seven assists and four steals in his 41 minutes while boasting top 25-40 value on the year.
The problem with his upside not translating into value last year was his lack of scoring and poor shooting, but he showed up to camp with improved handles and that has resulted in an eye-popping 10 free throw attempts per game so far. Now once Rose is at his peak performance level naturally his usage is doing to go down, but better handles often translates to better shooting and his early 51.4 percent field goal percentage could be a sign that he experiences a large jump there. He hasn’t been shooting threes with frequency, but Tom Thibodeau loves him and nobody is pushing him for time at all. I’m not selling high here unless it’s for a well-situated top-50 player.
WE’RE GONNA MAKE OUR DREAMS COME TRUE
The Bucks are going to struggle with the Bulls almost every time out, so this isn’t the night to be overly critical of your Milwaukee assets. But Jason Kidd is already doing his best Larry Drew routine, though he brought the same guys back in the starting lineup last night. Brandon Knight is your only bankable play here for the long-term, and he scored 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting with nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
Yes, it is sell-high territory for a guy returning first round value, but owners should realize the shape of his numbers may not change. He’s always been a popcorn stat guy (PTS-REBS-ASTS) with field goal percentage issues and low defensive numbers. The change to Kidd could very well help with his passing and the 2.0 steals per game could end up being a schematic thing – it’s too early and too hard to tell on the latter. He’s also hitting 90 percent of his freebies at 5.8 attempts per game, which is an insane rate. He could very well have improved his jumper over the summer and for a fourth-year player that’s not unheard of.
So all of these maxed out and improbable numbers are going to come down, but watch for cues that the scheme has changed and I’ll be watching tape on his jumper. In the meantime, I’d need to be offered the proverbially well-situated top-60 player to not hold onto that upside, which is everything in fantasy basketball.
O.J. Mayo played just 27 minutes before fouling out and finished with just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting, one three, three assists and a steal. He’s making me look bad after a sour stretch and I’m not going to panic just yet about his stashability. Consider the opponent and consider that Jason Kidd is still tinkering. If he’s as good as he has looked at times then he should hopefully rise as the cream of this crop.
The Pacers are going to be among the league’s worst teams all year, but they may prove to at least be interesting from a fantasy perspective due to their lack of depth. Exhibit ‘A’ is Donald Sloan, who likes himself some offense and racked up a career-high 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting (4-of-10 3PTs, 7-of-10 FTs) with six rebounds, seven assists and no steals or blocks in 43 whopping minutes in last night’s loss to the Wizards.
Sloan is a poor defender with just 0.6 steals per game and zero blocks total in five contests, which keeps him in the top 75-100 range with otherwise sustainable numbers. He is literally the only guy that can get them into their offense right now and he’s pretty much the Pacers’ everything on that end. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Additionally, Mike Breen said on the broadcast that George Hill (bruised knee) isn’t expected back until December.
One reason you try and take in as many broadcasts as possible is that the TV crews have all the stuff teams don’t want to release to print/web media. The news would fall in line with past reports, too. We knew that Hill was a “long ways away” according to Frank Vogel about a week after the initial report that was a three-week minimum timetable. All that jibber jabber means is that it wouldn't be surprising if Breen is right. It’s all too bad for Hill owners because he’s the guy that’s supposed to be racking up Sloan’s numbers.
Solomon Hill is sitting on two straight solid games and he turned in 14 points, eight rebounds, one steal, one block and one three in 37 minutes last night. Playing time can be the best cure for a young player’s struggles and the Pacers desperately need him to be a factor this year. C.J. Miles (six points, 2-of-13 FGs) has been terrible this year and Rodney Stuckey’s foot needs a minimum of three games off. C.J. Watson has never been a picture of durability or consistency, so you don’t have to be an expert to see that the kid will get every chance to make it happen. As I said in the Dose – there will be risk – but you could do worse than grabbing a young, athletic player on a team playing for ping pong balls
THE GREAT WALL AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
John Wall is one of the more underrated superstars in the NBA and he’s off to a torrid start. Last night he scored seven of his 31 points in overtime to dispatch the Pacers, chipping in with six rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, a block, a three and an 8-of-9 mark from the line. So far so good.
Garrett Temple is going to be the one that got away from me as I try to find Russell Westbrook replacements in way too many leagues, and last night he had another gem with 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and four treys. His jumper was the thing holding him back and he went out and got one this summer. As long as Bradley Beal is out, he’s a great bet to hold a late-round floor with some upside beyond that.
The Hawks dug themselves a hole and you just can’t do that against the Spurs, but they did rally back to make things interesting late before falling on the game’s final play. It was a quiet night in the box score and there won’t be too many surprises for owners this year. Paul Millsap has struggled with percentages in three games this year, but turned in a nice night with 17 points on 8-of-18 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, five steals and two blocks while hitting his only free throw.
Al Horford is already off to a top-35 start and posted 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block last night. DeMarre Carroll got his name on the board with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting with three treys, five boards and one assist. If I was to predict a similar season as last year I’d have gone much higher than his 106/84 Bruski 150 rank (8/9 cat) – and he’s actually ahead of that after last night – but the impact of Horford’s return will be undeniable. I’m nowhere near as down on him as some of our other guys as he’s a quality player, and he’s the type of guy you’ll want to look at for late-round value in lieu of upside.
TIM DUNCAN IS NOT NICE
Tim Duncan won’t be in most discussions about the Mount Rushmore of basketball greats, but he should be. At 83 years old he turned in a line that 95 percent of the league won’t touch with 17 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, three steals and six blocks. He’s doing his annual surprise everybody with top-25 value thing and you can sell him high at your own risk. He’s clearly a cyborg.
Kawhi Leonard saw 30 minutes in his second game back from pink eye or whatever the hell he had, scoring 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting (including a three) with six rebounds and one steal. If I know one thing about Leonard owners – they are extremely impatient and they’re probably freaking out that he’s overrated. Make the offer.
Tiago Splitter reinjured his calf and Marco Belinelli left with a groin injury that caused him problems as recently as April. If you want to speculate on somebody like Boris Diaw (11 points, five rebounds, four assists, one block) go buy a cheap bottle of wine and knock yourself out. You knew what you were getting into before you made that move.
I, for one, welcome Marc Gasol back into the fold. Surely, the 5-0 Grizzlies do too. I was down on Gasol at the beginning of last year amidst questions about his athleticism and some regressions that were bound to hit. Similarly I didn’t swing for the fences on a top-30 ranking this year, but he looks incredibly fit and he’s sitting on a top 15-20 ranking after an 18-point, five-rebound, six-assist and four-steal night. Now that the games are real, I’d bump that ranking up a bit.
Courtney Lee (concussion) found his way onto a few of my rosters and he has surpassed my muted expectations. He poured in 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting with four threes, three boards, three assists, two steals and one block in a 39-minute return game. If he can stay healthy he looks like a strong bet for a late-round floor with upside beyond that, so pick him up.
I’m not worried about the Suns after a loss to the Grizzlies, who have the girth to make the smallish Suns pay down low and the defense to counter their quickness. The big story for them so far has been the slow starts by Goran Dragic (six points, three assists, 26 minutes) and Eric Bledsoe (23 points, 9-of-12 FGs, two threes, five boards, four assists, NINE turnovers).
The anti-IT crowd in Sacramento will want to make this about Isaiah Thomas (15 points, 4-of-10 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs, two assists, two turnovers, 26 minutes) but that’s a lot unfair. The Pizza Guy is certainly going to cut into their usage, but Bledsoe spent the entire summer away from the team – and this seems like garden variety rust mixed in with the new reality that there are more mouths to feed.
It’s definitely buy low territory for Dragic and Bledsoe, but expecting a repeat of their numbers from last year was always overoptimistic.
COUNT THE RINGZZZZZ
Well it didn’t take long for things to come to a head in Cleveland. Kyrie Irving (34 points, 12-of-23 FGs, 8-of-10 FTs, two threes, ZERO assists) thought he had a great game in last night’s last-second loss, and LeBron James … not so much. Reports are trickling in about the two having words. Drama!
The post-game comments and follow-up comments will be blasted all over the 24/7 news coverage of the Cavs, and owners just need to sit back and not do anything stupid while James cleans up house. No one player in the NBA has as much power as LeBron to affect change, and as I think I mentioned yesterday he’s giving these guys enough rope to hang themselves early.
A LANNISTER ALWAYS PAYS THEIR DEBTS
I have been high on Gordon Hayward for a few years now, but this year it’s not about potential with him. He has arrived. As in he is probably in your house right now playing some video games and making nice with the family.
Aside from hitting the shot of the year so far to slay King James, he is a first round value to start the year with averages of 19.2 points, 2.0 threes, 6.6 boards, 5.6 assists, 50 percent field goals and he hasn’t missed a freebie yet. The shooting numbers will regress downward but from there everything is fair game. He looks like he has packed on a bunch of muscle to his frame and he holds the keys to the Jazz offense. You are forewarned.
WHERE THOSE CLIPPERS AT?
Doc Rivers had a press availability for the ages last night after the Clippers brought their lackadaisical act to Oracle and took a whoopin’. Despite a 3-2 record they’ve looked moribund and their lack of wing depth is glaring. And I picked them to win it all two weeks ago! Needless to say I’m not stuck on anybody at this time of the year.
The box isn’t pretty here for Blake Griffin. Considering his mustache went for 20 creepy wiggles and one Amber Alert his 14 points and one rebound just weren’t cutting it.
Chris Paul hit just 6-of-15 shots but still got it done with 15 points, 12 assists, four steals and a trey, and DeAndre Jordan double-doubled with 17 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and a block. Both are producing near expectations to start the year.
The Warriors rolled out of their beds and looked sleepy in their opener against the Kings, but since that game they’ve steadily become more dangerous and Steve Kerr has pushed all the right buttons so far. The biggest button and the one thing that has stuck in the craw of Warriors fans for years – has been waiting for David Lee (hamstring) to get moved to the bench. That’s exactly what happened last night and Lee lasted just seven minutes before aggravating the injury.
Meanwhile, Rotoworld favorite Draymond Green stayed in the starting lineup, exploding for a career-high 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting with four threes, four perfect foul attempts, eight rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block in 36 minutes. He has standalone value even if the Warriors are at full strength and plenty of upside beyond that, so stop what you’re doing and grab him.
Helping Green’s cause is that the Dubs rolled the hated Clippers and at 4-0 they’re at the top of all the power rankings. Stephen Curry led the way with 28 points, six rebounds, seven assists, one steal, four treys and a 6-of-6 mark from the line. He’s your No. 1 player in 8-cat leagues and No. 2 in 9-cat leagues behind Anthony Davis. Why bring up Klay Thompson’s 19 points with three treys and one block on a semi-quiet night? Dude is the No. 4 player in fantasy hoops and yes his shooting percentages are inflated, but you’d have to bear wrestle me to get him off my team in fantasy or reality.
DENVER DUMPSTER FIRES
The Nuggets started the year with a season-opening win over the Pistons and the big story was Kenneth Faried saying that Josh Smith shot them out of the game. So maybe Smoove laid down the Curse of the Dreadlocks or something because since that game they look like a team that wants to get their coach fired. Indeed, this appears to be the second straight year that Brian Shaw is not on the same page with his players, who are dogging it right now. They got spanked by the Thunder’s C-team and the Kings just got done being their daddies for the home-and-home sweep last night.
I surmised in our preseason publications that the redundancy up and down the lineup could create chaos, and perhaps we’ll hear some rumblings about playing time emerge from Denver. But owners should simply know that it could be a rocky ride (pun probably intended) while these issues get sorted out.
Ty Lawson got on the board with 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting (7-of-9 FTs, no threes attempted), three boards, nine assists and two steals. He looks slow and owners can only hope that he gets the rest he needs or works through his various maladies. Unless you’re buying lower than normal, there is a lot of risk that needs to be accounted for when dealing with him this year.
Danilo Gallinari (seven points, 1-of-7 FGs, 16 minutes) isn’t ready to play high-level basketball right now and it’s probably a mistake to have him on the floor until he’s a bit more ready. Wilson Chandler (13 points, three treys, not much else) at least looks competitive, but with the various log-jams I can’t get excited about him in standards. Randy Foye (19 points, three triples, 28 minutes) and Nate Robinson (10 points, three assists, 21 minutes) were among the few Nuggets that actually played hard, but with Lawson and Arron Afflalo (two points, 1-of-4 FGs, four rebounds, 22 minutes) ahead of them they’re deep league Hail Marys.
Afflalo looks disengaged and as a management favorite he probably feels entitled to being a top option on offense, but he also looks slow and like he’s relying more on old-man game than ever. Faried (four points, five rebounds, 21 minutes) is easy to pick out when he’s not all-in, which was the case for the beginning of last year too. Ultimately, it’s anybody’s guess why they’re upset and Shaw hasn’t exactly earned my confidence. Buy-in from his players has been sporadic at best and there have been more head-scratching moments than light bulbs going off in Denver.
THE PIZZA BOWL
I haven’t had a chance to write much about the Kings and they are truly one of the more interesting teams in the league right now. Blasted all summer long by the media for their handling of the Isaiah Thomas situation, they’ve gone on a full-court press to paint a clear distinction between the old and the new. Some in the local press are outright cheerleading the effort. Whether intentional or not, and in some cases it is very intentional, there has been an oversized effort to scapegoat Thomas as the root of all problems in 1-2-3 sound bites and headlines that are just a little too on the nose.
And that’s sad and it’s just plain dumb. A little more on that later.
What has happened to start the year is a convergence of some very good trends for this team, and they’ve jumped out to a 4-1 start by hitting the accelerator faster than their opponents. You can’t argue with wins over the Blazers and Clippers, even if Damian Lillard was in the midst of a week-long slump and the Clips were dogging it. The Warriors were equally passive and the Nuggets are in the midst of an identity crisis. These Kings don’t typically win those games.
All the while, Sacto controlled what they could control and showed that they are aligned with Mike Malone’s vision – though he might argue that point – and early on everybody is doing and saying the right things.
Darren Collison (10 points, eight assists, one steal, one three) has stepped into the role of No. 3 option on offense and like last year the lack of production out of anybody not named Rudy and DeMarcus has mandated volume out of the point guard position. If you’re wondering whether or not Collison, a top-50 play so far, can hang onto mid-round value the answer is yes. The Kings need him to.
The shooting guards are a mess and they have a few weeks at a minimum before they’re turning any corners in fantasy or reality. Carl Landry (18 points, four rebounds, 10-of-10 FTs) is showing some life but how much he can give minutes-wise is a question mark, even if he does look like he has lost 10-15 pounds. Omri Casspi has a pulse.
Of course, DeMarcus Cousins (30 points, 11 rebounds, 22 minutes) is Shaq Version 2.0 – the one that can shoot and boogie and yes, go right through three of you. He’s a round or two away from where owners want him to be and he’ll start creeping up into that territory in no time. The Nuggets’ game plan on Cousins and Rudy Gay (29 points, 9-of-12 FGs, three treys, 8-of-10 FTs, one steal, one block) was downright embarrassing and I don’t use that term lightly. They could have both gone for 40 if they wanted to.
Gay is currently a top-15 value and that’s way too high, and there is a very real question of whether we’re going to see Efficient Rudy or Raptor Rudy. It’s a big contract year for him and the organization is feasting on amazing vibes. It looks like the demonization of one-on-one play has created the context for culture change, and the only variable left in the equation is what happens when the Kings start losing games.
And they will lose lots and lots of games, in particular when the opposition starts getting up for Sacramento. So far opponents have had no discernible plan to double Cousins, move Rudy off his spots, or force the ball into the hands of the Kings’ trouble spots at shooting guard and power forward. Now that opposing coaches can boast about the 4-1 record during the pregame run-through, players will read all the way to the bottom of the scouting report.
The Kings will need to take the next step of being able to weather runs and counterpunch in tougher games, staying together during the tough times they are guaranteed to face. That’s when Bad DeMarcus and Bad Rudy have showed up in the past.
Defensively, the Kings got the murderers row of point guards when they were either asleep (Curry), slumping and/or hurt (Lillard/CP3), or coming off long-term injury issues (Ty Lawson). Saying they’ve shut these guys down or turned the corner on last year’s issues is premature. Malone isn’t having palpitations on the sideline because he’s a happy guy. The group still has a lot to work on, but Jason Thompson’s rotations have improved and Cousins’ improved play on both ends is the biggest driver of all of their success. Collison is defending and producing. The early returns in context are good.
And it all comes back to culture change and the job Malone has done molding this squad. But when the Kings travel to Phoenix for the Isaiah Thomas Pizza Bowl, there is going to be a big strawman argument in Sacramento about pace, defense, chemistry and deferring to the big-two. On the court, it will be a battle for reputations, just like it’s a battle for reputations in the front office or otherwise. And I can’t recall a player vs. old team matchup quite like this.