Okay folks, I’d like to blame the delay for getting this Breakdown up on the llamas but honestly they only stole 30 minutes of my time. Only in America and away we go on a massive 12-game night that had more player value movement that I’ve seen in a long time, especially since there weren’t a ton of injuries.
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BUDDY BALL PART I
I did not pick Boston as one of the two teams that would secure the No. 7 and 8 slots in the East in our post-deadline podcast the other day, but I’m thinking I might have to take a hard look at changing that. That’s because the addition of Isaiah Thomas, like a lot of these other deals, has finally brought him to a place in which he fits and the result so far (against lottery teams) has been extremely impressive.
Looking at the three-guard rotation at both guard slots the trio of Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart has a little bit of everything, including enough defense to keep offenses honest as the Celtics trend toward playing small. Another important factor is that Thomas and Bradley are good friends, and Smart isn’t a true point guard just yet, but rather a shooting guard learning the point guard position. Aside from the good vibes of playing with a friend, neither Bradley nor Smart has an overwhelming need to carry the rock nor is it a strength of their games at this point.
This means that Thomas (19 points, six rebounds, seven assists, two threes, 11-of-11 FTs) isn’t just encouraged to be the primary ballhandler, but it is absolutely necessary that he’s the primary ballhandler. But what has made the Celtics' new rotation even more interesting is that Thomas has been paired with Jae Crowder (18 points, three treys, six boards, four assists, one steal, 29 minutes), Evan Turner (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 34 minutes) and last night Jonas Jerebko (20 points, five rebounds, four treys, one steal, 21 minutes). There is a ton of ball-movement and space for Thomas to operate in and he's looking like he might have even more upside than the top-25 I previously thought. In particular, the pick-and-pop game with Thomas and Crowder has been great, with teams giving up easy 3-point looks by the bushel right now.
Jared Sullinger is out for the year now and the duo of Tyler Zeller (eight points, three boards) and Kelly Olynyk figures to be a mobile and useful pair for fantasy owners, with Brandon Bass (eight points, five boards, one steal) also providing a late-round floor of his own.
Look for anybody that can shoot threes to start getting more chances – with Thomas working the drive-and-kick game with shooters spotted up around the pattern. It plays to all of their strengths and my guess is that they can keep everybody happy and make it work in both fantasy and reality, but most-importantly in fantasy.
So I’m not ready to slot them in the playoffs, but over a week ago I couldn’t have seen it. Bradley, Smart and Thomas are must-own players in my book, and I think Smart will at least hold his value in this arrangement. Turner will probably be the guy that gets hurt by IT the most, and then from there owners get to choose from some intriguing pickups. Unless I’m stacked I’ll be gambling on Crowder due to the aforementioned pairing with Thomas, and then Jerebko is also worth a flier in 12-14 team formats but I wouldn’t drop anybody with projectable top-125 value to do it just yet.
THE FISHER KING
The Knicks and Derek Fisher and the players themselves are mixing like oil and water these days. The coach values veterans as much as Scott Brooks does in Oklahoma City, but Fish is running out of them. The ones he has – Jason Smith (14 points, 10 boards, four assists, 27 minutes), Lou Amundson (14 points, two boards, three assists, one steal, 23 minutes) and Jose Calderon (five points, 1-of-7 FGs, seven assists, 36 minutes) – are his safety net as he struggles to install what has become a Bermuda Triangle offense.
Nobody is doing well and the youngsters are most certainly going to struggle with its nuances. So as Fisher refuses to turn the page and go for the full-tank, the entire team is in limbo. From a rotation-easing point of view, the Achilles’ injury that knocked Calderon out of last night’s game has been hurting him for a few weeks, and that would theoretically be a big neon sign to move on.
But Fisher and the Knicks brass haven’t given any indication that they’re ready to let the youth play through their mistakes, and what would likely be best is a simplification of the offense with lots of pick-and-roll and fastbreaks. Instead, the entire nine-man rotation other than Calderon and Langston Galloway (14 points, one three, three rebounds, zero assists, one steal, one block, 39 minutes) played between 19 and 28 minutes – killing all of their fantasy value in the process.
Lance Thomas (groin) and Travis Wear (DNP-CD) didn’t play and their presence would only complicate matters, while Andrea Bargnani continued to be somewhat useful for 16-team leagues with 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes.
Looking at the veterans, Smith has a month of late-round value under his belt but has been slipping lately, while Amundson has been a deep league value over that span with three decent games this past week.
The only player that owners can truly hang their Carmelo Anthony-approved hats on is Galloway, and from there somebody eventually has to step up and the next best pickup is probably Tim Hardaway Jr. (eight points, four rebounds, one steal, 28 minutes). He has been frozen out of the offense or ineffective on most nights and doesn’t provide any other numbers. Sounds great, right! He would drastically benefit from a change of offense.
While traditional logic would suggest a youth movement could produce interesting numbers, it’s going to require a flipping of the switch that I’m not sure is going to happen.
DON’T CALL ME BILLY
Henry Walker has made his presence felt early with the Heat, hitting two big threes late in last night’s game to force overtime, which ultimately led to a Heat win over the Magic. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting with the two threes, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 33 minutes. He could see significant minutes if this keeps up but I’d hesitate to give him anything but a late-round ceiling as a flier pickup at best.
Mario Chalmers got good marks from the beat writers last night but he didn’t show it in the box score, hitting just 2-of-10 shots for eight points, one assist and one three in 33 minutes. He’ll probably have his spurts of productivity but the Goran Dragic (eight points, four rebounds, five assists, one steal) acquisition was probably the nail in his standard league coffin.
Luol Deng got hot for 21 points, seven boards, a steal and a three, Hassan Whiteside provided his customary 15 and 13 with three blocks as the ride continues, and Dwyane Wade is still upright after an 18-point, six-assist, three steal night.
THREE IN A ROW ISN’T BAD
The Magic have tightened up both their defense and their rotation and if not for Henry Walker’s late heroics, they’d be sitting on a four-game winning streak. Tobias Harris (12 points, eight boards, one steal, one block, one three) got back on track after a dud the last time out, Nikola Vucevic had a typically naked double-double with 26 points, eight boards and one steal, and Victor Oladipo scored 13 points with 13 rebounds and four assists but no money counting stats (3PTs/STLs/BLKs).
Elfrid Payton hit just 1-of-8 shots for three points, five rebounds, nine assists and one steal in his 39 minutes, but he played solid defense and has the point guard job locked down. He has played his way out of fantasy owners’ good graces with top-175 value on the season and much worse over the last month. He’s at the bottom of a trough right now and it wouldn’t surprise me if he went back on the upswing, but if you’re desperate to make a change the Magic’s undesirable schedule down the stretch could be a tiebreak on a drop.
And yes, Kyle O’Quinn has been buried six different ways from Sunday. I hope somebody in Orlando provides an explanation as to why at some point, and I’d even accept an answer of ‘he just started sucking really bad all of a sudden.’
The Mavs are a fun little drama right now with Rajon Rondo getting suspended for last night’s game by the team following his altercation with Rick Carlisle. There was a report that he’s unlikely to return next season, but as I said in yesterday’s Dose and what has been echoed by players and writers is that this takes them out of the passive aggressive stage in their relationship. It could end up being a blessing in disguise for Rondo and his suddenly lost fantasy value, and I’d put Rondo and Carlisle on the short list of people that could make this sort of thing work in a playoff setting.
Of course, heading into a game that was off and on due to the weather conditions in Atlanta, the Mavs couldn't match the energy of a Hawks team looking to get back on track. J.J. Barea drew the start and turned in a solid line of 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, one three, five boards and seven assists, so congrats if you gambled on him in DFS or a regular daily format. Devin Harris has been a late-round value while Rondo has been struggling and he didn’t inspire owners with his 10 points, three rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes, but he’s still worth owning as an end-of-your-bench guy.
Dirk managed just four points, five rebounds and four assists and both he and the team insisted that he wasn’t sore or dead-legged, but these numbers certainly raise an eyebrow. Everybody has been waiting for him to kick it into overdrive and it just hasn’t happened over the past month. It’s a very good buy low moment but you’ll want to note that the Mavs have a league-worst schedule going forward.
Al-Farouq Aminu was quiet with two points and five rebounds with no other stats in his 27 minutes, and aside from his month-long top 80-90 value over 15 games including this one, I’m not putting too much stock into this weird game. Tyson Chandler did not play and everybody is probably a bit shell-shocked over the previous day’s events, not to mention the weird weather and their fourth game in five nights.
COOL AS ICE
It was business as usual during the snowstorm for the Hawks in their win over the Mavs. Paul Millsap scored 15 points with eight rebounds, one steal and one three, DeMarre Carroll put up 13 points with a full line by his standards, and Al Horford went for 11 and eight with six assists and two steals. Jeff Teague scored 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting with three rebounds, four assists, one steal and one three, and the big news here is that Kyle Korver (16 points, four threes, six boards, three assists, two blocks) has been a bit cold and he’s ready for a positive regression.
The Hornets have had a forgettable season but if they can simply hang around the playoff chase until Kemba Walker gets back they’ll be onto something, at least in terms of a playoff berth. They’ll have updated their reserve backcourt immeasurably by acquiring current starter Mo Williams (17 points, five assists, one three, one steal), who simply took his Minnesota act to the other side of the map in Charlotte.
They got a big boost last night by beating a mentally-fried Bulls team reeling from the Derrick Rose injury. Al Jefferson went for 16 and seven with a steal and block as he works to build on a top 30-50 pace (9/8 cat) over the last month.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got the most fantasy attention last night with 18 points, 12 rebounds and a steal on 7-of-12 shooting. He’s sitting on an eight-game run of top 85-110 value (9/8 cat) with averages of 14.1 points, 7.5 boards, 55.7 percent field goal shooting, 70 percent foul shooting on 4.5 attempts per game and a terrible 0.8 combined money stats (3PM/STL/BLK) per contest. When that field goal percentage comes back to earth he’ll be probably be producing right at the cut line in 12-14 team formats if he can sustain a 28-30 minute role.
Gerald Henderson has slowed down lately but 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals, one block and 5-of-5 makes from the charity stripe get the job done. He has a month of solid mid-round value under his belt and he’s well worth owning and starting for fantasy owners. That said, if you can get a consistent late-round guy it’s worth a look. Eventually Walker will be back and that will kill Henderson’s value.
HE WHO SNELLT IT DEALT IT
I touched on the Bulls in my open for the Dose yesterday, and basically the only difference between now and then is that they took a mental loss last night against the Hornets. Losing a former MVP can do that to a team.
The trends here are pretty simple – more touches for Pau Gasol (25 & 13, four blocks), Jimmy Butler (14 points, seven boards, five assists, two steals) and Aaron Brooks (12 points, four assists, two steals, one block). Joakim Noah (four points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, one steal, three blocks) will see a jump in assists and Taj Gibson (seven points, six boards, two blocks, 28 minutes) gets a bit more breathing room.
Tony Snell (10 points, 4-of-8 FGs, 28 minutes) is about to have a big shooting regression and he needs way more help than Rose’s injury to get above the cut line in 12-team formats. The big pickup here was Brooks and if somebody missed that go and grab him despite his off-night.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE THROW LUNCH
The Clippers started to gain some steam after the Blake Griffin (elbow) injury but last night’s loss to the Rockets dropped them to 4-3 since Griffin went down. He was cleared for light workouts earlier in the week but he still isn’t running yet. With Doc Rivers still not issuing a timetable for his return it’s possible his original 4-6 week prognosis is trending toward six and not four. This would make the over/under on his return somewhere around March 15-20 and that’s fantasy playoff territory. I think you still have to hold but any further delays could change that calculus.
His replacement, Spencer Hawes, just can’t get any traction in fantasy leagues. He hit just 1-of-9 shots for seven points, eight boards, one steal, one block and one three in his 31 minutes. He has a 2-5 week window right now to make some hay and I’m fine with owners looking elsewhere. Hawes just hasn’t looked good this season and whether it’s injuries or not there’s not enough upside to call him a must-own player.
DeAndre Jordan isn’t helping matters for Hawes by gobbling up anything near him, and last night he dropped 22 and 19 with two blocks on the Rockets. He’s averaging 14.6 points, 16.4 boards, 2.7 combined steals and blocks, and 70 percent field goal shooting over his last 13 games.
Now here’s the part in which I tell you he has barely cracked the top-100 in standard leagues over that span. If you’re successfully punting free throws in a head-to-head league you can ignore this part, but anybody not subscribing to that theory or practice is getting bludgeoned with 40.7 percent foul shooting on 8.3 attempts per game. I was concerned that teams would eventually start fouling him when the games started mattering and here we are. Plan accordingly.
Don’t panic on Matt Barnes (six points, six boards, two threes, 2-of-10 FGs). His value has slipped over the past month down to modest late-round territory, but when his 39.1 percent field goal shooting regresses he’ll start flirting with the middle rounds again.
The Rockets continue to quietly win most of their games despite the absence of Dwight Howard, and though I liked what Howard did during last year’s playoffs at times I haven’t been thrilled with his play this season.
So when the team shifted toward a smaller, more skilled rotation down low of Donatas Motiejunas, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones I actually wasn’t that concerned about the drop-off. They’ll need Howard in the playoffs and hopefully his return doesn’t scramble the circuits, because this version is getting really fun.
Motiejunas shouldn’t have been dropped in fantasy leagues but I’ve been seeing it, and last night he turned in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds, three treys and a block. Josh Smith has slowed down over the last week or so, and last night’s 2-of-9 field goals for nine points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks probably stoked some old fears. The good news is that his stat set is holding up just fine, and he simply needs to hit free throws more than 33.3 percent of the time at his 3.8 attempts per game. He’ll do that and I’d say his floor is in the top-100 range.
Jones probably could have led this Rockets write-up or even its own column, with 14 points to go with eight boards and a season-high five blocks in his 32 minutes. He’s returning fourth round value since the All Star break and we’ll have to see which way his numbers break as he gets more healthy games under his belt. I don’t know that I’d be selling high for anything outside of the top-60, unless the player was well situated and/or on the rise.
James Harden rolled his ankle pretty good last night but stayed in the game and finished with a standard big line of 21 points, four boards, 10 assists, three treys and 10-of-12 free throws. He hit just 4-of-13 shots and was fairly bothered by the injury, so he’s questionable heading into Friday’s game.
Patrick Beverley missed last night’s game with his flu and it’s hard to see him missing that game, but he has looked pretty banged up and/or sick for a few weeks now. Owners should probably give him 2-3 games of leash when he returns, but if you see an ultra-hot free agent I think it has to be considered.
THAT’S GOING TO LEAVE A MARK
I’ve been moaning about how I added Robert Covington before it was cool to add Robert Covington, only to drop him and then underbid on him in an attempt to get him back. A similar thing happened in my National Fantasy Basketball Championship Super League entry, as I bid an identical amount as another owner for Isaiah Canaan only to lose him on the waiver order to the team of lower standing. So now I have to almost hate-watch these guys, which is definitely worse than simply rubbernecking them.
Canaan improved over his last outing with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting (including a three) with two rebounds, six assists, one steal and five turnovers. So far in three games the plucky point guard has posted just low-end value in 8-cat leagues and unusable numbers in 9-cat leagues, averaging 12.0 points with 2.7 threes and four assists but practically no defensive stats and an ugly 38.7 mark from the field. He should continuously improve as he gets comfortable and in shape, and he definitely needs to in order to be anything but a punter’s play in 9-cat leagues. In 8-cat leagues I think he has a top-75 ceiling.
Covington has been the most reliable player for the Sixers this season but he got the old heave-ho from Brett Brown after giving up on a play in the first quarter. He was benched for the second and third quarters, finishing with a still respectable 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, three treys, three boards and one steal. The one that gets away is always going to leave a mark.
Elsewhere Nerlens Noel cooled off a bit with eight points, eight boards, one steal, one block and five turnovers, and for a guy returning top 12-14 value (9/8 cat) I’m not hearing anywhere near enough noise about him. He’s averaging a combined 4.8 steals and blocks over his last 12 contests while hitting 73.3 percent of his foul shots. And yes, this is a sell-high moment and anything in the early rounds is an easy call.
Jason Richardson returned to action after taking a maintenance day off, and he’ll have opened some eyes today with his 16 points, four threes, four boards, two assists and one steal over 25 minutes. A three-game run has him returning top-100 value on a per-game basis, but with the obvious caveats of durability and likely days off I think he’s just a low-level free agent for 12-14 team leagues.
Jerami Grant returned from his back injury to play 33 minutes and turn in 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting with two threes, two boards, four assists, two steals, two blocks and four turnovers. He’s one of the Sixers’ seemingly endless stock of lanky players that can hit threes, steal and block, but either don’t shoot enough, don’t make enough of their shots, or don’t get enough playing time to do any real damage.
JaKarr Sampson (four points, two assists, 14 minutes) is in that group as is Hollis Thompson (two points, 19 minutes). Unfortunately, none of them are good pickups until they can address that latter group of issues. Thomas Robinson made his Sixers debut and went right to work with a points (7) and boards (6) line in just 13 minutes, but he’s going to have to secure a big-time role and double those numbers to offset his poor peripherals in standard leagues. I’m not biting in 12-team leagues without more progress.
SEE IF YOU CAN TAKE THE PEBBLE, GRASSHOPPER
The Bucks and Jason Kidd didn’t think that Brandon Knight was a true point guard and they knew they probably weren’t going to match an offer for the restricted free agent. So they swung a deal for Michael Carter-Williams (seven points, eight assists, two steals, 3-of-5 FGs, 18 minutes) and as we discussed in our podcast Kidd sees a lot of himself in MCW. The assessment on the second-year point guard was that his fantasy value wasn’t likely to change too much, as increased efficiency would offset the reduction in usage and his turnovers would go down.
But seeing how fast the Bucks have moved to integrate him as the starting point guard and how they’ve encouraged him to take control right away – I think he might not leak away as much usage as it would seem going away from a neon green light in Philly. Assuming he can maintain good usage and also enjoy better efficiency because he has better teammates, a round or two bump over his Sixers numbers wouldn’t surprise me. Just remember to keep in mind his durability issues and also that nowhere is this written in stone that he can parlay his new digs into more value. But with Jason Kidd seemingly all-in and ready to mold him, I like his situation a bit more today than I did on deadline day.
Elsewhere, the Bucks got solid contributions from John Henson (21 points, nine boards, two steals, three blocks) and Khris Middleton (19 points, 9-of-12 FGs, five boards, three assists, one three). Henson is on a top-40 heater for the month and I have no clue how one might drop somebody that hot, but it’s happening so grab him if it did.
The Bucks are likely trying to help MCW by bringing in Zaza Pachulia (12 points, four boards, two steals) into the starting lineup, as he’s a better screener and can also spread the floor. Likewise, moving Jerryd Bayless (13 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal, one three, 30 minutes) into the second unit he can run pick-and-roll with Henson so the arrangement both works and shouldn’t be a concern for Henson’s owners. After all, in just 19 mpg he already has a late-round floor, and he’s probably looking at a solid 21-26 minutes on most nights.
O.J. Mayo (hamstring) did not play and his return will clutter things up a bit, but the Bucks aren’t exactly deep anymore and Knight’s departure freed up some touches even with MCW’s arrival. I’d bet the trio of Mayo, Jared Dudley (seven points, five rebounds, six assists, four steals, one three) and Bayless all hover within the top 120-160 for the rest of the season.
SKATING ON THICK ICE
The Wizards have all of a sudden become a hot mess as losers in 10 of 12 games and as usual it’s the offensive side of the ball giving them fits. Yes, some of this is the absence of Bradley Beal (leg) and Paul Pierce (knee bruise) in last night's loss to the Wolves, and Kris Humphries (groin) leaving in the first half didn’t help. But this is an ongoing, systemic issue and Randy Wittman has skated on it for a few years now, so when personnel issues pop up it has the potential to get ugly.
John Wall (five points, three rebounds, 10 assists, one steal, 2-of-10 FGs) is getting bogged down and big points and assists totals have hidden an ugly 70 percent mark from the foul line on 4.5 attempts per game this month. Beal’s return as soon as Friday against the Sixers is a perfect spot for Wall to get back on track, and it’s probably the last chance to buy him low on the tail-end of a top 50-130 month (8/9 cat).
Pierce is apparently day-to-day and along with the return of Beal, all of the fringe options being tossed out there by the Wizards such as Otto Porter, Garrett Temple and Rasual Butler can be left on the wire.
And the fact we’re three-quarters of the way through the season and Washington is still running uninspiring sets with no real secondary action -- it's enough for me to drop them to No. 5 at best in my Eastern Conference power rankings (if such a thing existed).
USE TWO PARTS WIGGINS AND ONE PART KG FOR OPTIMUM RESULTS
It’s pretty much impossible to write up the Wolves’ win over the Wizards without making this about Kevin Garnett, who returned home to a stirring reintroduction and had me rethinking my grade on the deal in general.
Yes, the Nets got the better end of the deal because they got the better player in Thaddeus Young, but the Wolves are getting a player-coach and possibly future owner to immediately start enhancing the culture there. And speaking of grading deals, the Andrew Wiggins (19 points, three rebounds, one steal, two blocks, no threes) for Kevin Love deal has the potential to be an all-time worst deal for Cleveland, and watching Garnett coach guys up on the sideline only furthers my belief in that.
Wiggins + KG = Nasty Wiggins.
The rest of the box was pretty standard fare with Ricky Rubio hitting just 2-of-9 shots for six points, seven boards, eight assists and four steals, and Kevin Martin continuing his torrid pace with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting, two threes, 6-of-7 FTs and two steals. Nikola Pekovic (15 & 13) isn’t ready to call it a season yet, and I’m zero percent worried about Gorgui Dieng (six points, seven boards, one steal). Even with Dieng’s slow start after the break he’s returning top-100 value and he’s a top-50 producer on the season.
Garnett posted five points, eight rebounds, one steal and two blocks in 19 minutes, and there isn’t going to be any sea change in value here. Just a whole lot of yapping and desperation value for those needing a one-game replacement here or there.
THE CURSE OF SLOAN
The Nets are right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff ‘chase,’ and they’ve got just as good a shot as anybody else they’re competing with. But they stink and that’s before any injury to Brook Lopez (15 points, seven boards, one steal, four blocks), and the team is probably better off with Jarrett Jack (15 points, three rebounds, three assists, one three, 28 minutes) playing point guard all by himself and Deron Williams (10 points, 4-of-14 FGs, six assists, 34 minutes) fading into the background.
That’s not likely to happen unless Williams gets hurt and Lionel Hollins has already said that Williams will be his starter for the foreseeable future, which doesn’t mean much in the current configuration other than that Williams gets his name called in warm-ups. I think owners need to hold Williams for at least a game or two to give he and Jack time to coalesce, with the hope being that the All Star break unlocked some of Williams’ early season promise. Otherwise, I’m hanging tight to Jack as the favorite to nail down the bulk of the point guard production in Brooklyn.
I was big on Mason Plumlee a little over a month ago and that has totally backfired in my face. He managed just three rebounds and a steal in 14 minutes last night and he’s just not on the same page with Hollins this year. It’s hard to fully count him out with Lopez seemingly one game away from injury, but the fact the duo comprises one of the Nets’ worst lineup combinations is why they’re sharing just one bucket of center minutes on many occasions. Plumlee, for his part, is doing nothing to try and force his way into consistent power forward minutes.
Thaddeus Young is another reason to be bearish on Plumlee’s immediate value, and he continued to ramp up his production as a member of the Nets with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, one three and five boards. He wasn’t going to keep up his early round pace from before the deadline, but he profiles as a mid-round value in his new digs.
WE WILL NOT VANISH WITHOUT A FIGHT!
The Pelicans will not go quietly into the night despite the fact Anthony Davis (shoulder), Ryan Anderson (knee) and Jrue Holiday (leg) are all out, and the Thunder are cruising ahead of them toward the playoffs at ludicrous speed. The pleasant surprise here has been the play of reserves Alexis Ajinca (10 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks, four turnovers, 23 minutes) and Luke Babbitt (eight points, two threes, two boards, two assists, 23 minutes). The Pellies have been able to rip off three wins in a row largely because their once non-existent bench has done some heavy lifting.
Both backups have been serviceable in fantasy leagues over the last week, and it’s time we give at least a little bit of dap to Babbitt for the fact he’s hitting 47 percent of his field goals and 51.5 percent of his threes this season. He's the Dazed and Confused version of Kyle Korver. It’s going to take a similar injury situation for Babbitt to continue being worthwhile in 12-14 team standard leagues, but if there’s an injury prone team that can do it for him it’s this group of Pelicans.
It also doesn’t hurt that Babbitt is a perfect offensive fit next to both Eric Gordon (eight points, six boards, four assists, one steal, two threes, 2-of-11 FGs) and Tyreke Evans (15 points, four rebounds, 11 assists, one steal, two blocks, one three, 5-of-13 FGs) – who never miss a moment to put their heads down and drive to the hoop.
Another name to watch and even consider for pickup is Norris Cole (11 points, two threes, two boards, three assists, 23 minutes). Cole has been a top-80 value in his three games with the Pelicans while hitting an unsustainable 55.6 percent of his shots, but even as that shooting does regress it’s possible he enhances his role as injuries continue to mount. None of the guys ahead of him are known for their durability and even if the whole team were healthy, they still lack offensive talent on their bench. I’m calling Cole a risky short-term add with a 2-3 week window tied to Holiday's injury pretty much guaranteed.
Quincy Pondexter probably should have led this team write-up with his 25 points and big bucket late to seal the Pellies win over the Nets. He hit 9-of-13 shots with four threes, five boards, two assists and 3-of-3 makes from the line in a 40-minute start. He’s creeping along at the bottom of the top-150 over his last four games and shooting over his head at 51.7 percent. A lot has to go right for him to be worth the trouble even in 14-team leagues.
Rounding out the rest of the group Ajinca is a workable low-end center while Davis is out for the next week or so and maybe even beyond that since Anderson will be out for a few weeks after that. Dante Cunningham (13 points, seven rebounds, two steals, one block) is a low-end option in 14-16 team leagues and Omer Asik (12 points, 13 rebounds, one block, 29 minutes) has also flashed a late-round game with everybody out.
BUDDY BALL PART II
This is probably the immediacy talking, but I can’t recall a trade deadline in which so many teams hit on win-win deals. And while I can’t in good faith give the Phoenix brass high marks for giving away Isaiah Thomas for scratch, I do like what they have done pairing Brandon Knight with Eric Bledsoe. They may be a bit undersized but they won’t be completely overwhelmed, and most importantly the two like each other and play well off one another.
Nevertheless, the Suns now lack the game-breaking depth that they had before the deadline, but Goran Dragic was casting a negative mood onto the franchise with one foot in and one foot out – a byproduct of two parties that weren’t fully committed to one another in the first place. Some folks that wear tin foil hats believe the franchise is angling to make a play for a theoretically disgruntled DeMarcus Cousins down the road, using the Kentucky connection. But without a tin foil hat on they simply wanted to get an impact guard in Knight that had a little bit more size and who was more of a combo guard than Thomas.
Right away the duo has clicked. Knight scored 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting (including three treys) with three rebounds and six assists in their much-needed win over the lowly Nuggets, and Bledsoe did his thing with 18 points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block, a three and six turnovers. Knight hasn’t been faring as well in standard fantasy leagues due to the massive hit he’s taking in the rebounding department, and he has yet to get a steal or block for Phoenix and that’s not exactly unusual.
While he’s playing well, he’s going to revert back to Detroit shooting guard style statistics rather than his Jason Kidd-fueled Milwaukee stats. He’ll smooth some of those rough edges out and head toward a mid-round value before long.
Markieff Morris’ (five points, 1-of-5 FGs, nine boards, two steals) shooting slump continued and he’ll be alright once the guards figure out what they’re doing. P.J. Tucker continued to produce like a must-own player with 12 and eight to go with five steals and a block, and Alex Len held his ground with six points, 10 boards and a block.
Gerald Green got back on the floor after being benched for taking a bathroom break right before his number was called on Monday. He wasted no time making his presence known on a 15-point night including three treys, four rebounds, three assists and a block. The deadline deals should theoretically have given him a small boost and perhaps the benching will be a wake-up call. Brandan Wright had his first recognizable game with eight points on 4-of-9 shooting, six rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes. Let’s see if he can keep it up before jumping in there.
Overall the Suns may not be in as much trouble as folks thought right as the deadline passed. They play the Thunder tonight to get a sense of where they’re at in a game with big playoff ramifications.
ARE THERE TERMS THAT CONVEY MORE DISARRAY THAN DUMPSTER FIRE?
The Nuggets are such a flaming mess right now that most of Denver is calling for Brian Shaw’s job, while the team and many of the local writers continue to put the struggles on the players and in particular Kenneth Faried. One columnist went so far as to say the Nuggets should trade Faried even though the deadline has passed.
It’s hard to support Shaw with no history of success in Denver and the numerous times he was passed over in coaching interviews. How much of this actually lies at the feet of his players is up for debate and surely they’re not in the clear here, but the bottom line is that they’ve tuned Shaw out and rolled over as much as any team in the league.
In the meantime the dumpster fire will continue to burn and things are starting to deteriorate at an increased rate. Jusuf Nurkic had to be wheeled off the court after an ankle injury and all we know is that he’s ruled out for Friday’s game. Darrell Arthur drew the start for Faried and promptly left the game due to calf pain. The silver lining here is that the injury was originally reported to be knee pain and that’s been a problem for him throughout his career, so hopefully this is just a minor issue.
Wilson Chandler missed last night’s game due to his adductor issues, and like Arthur he also has a long history dealing with his particular injury. Chandler has said that the injury isn’t serious and that he’ll play on Friday, so for now it’s just a minor yellow flag to hang on his normal injury risk.
Shaw went as far as to publicly say he was surprised that Faried didn’t play last night after participating in practice the day before, insinuating that he probably could have played.
That usually goes over well.
Ty Lawson (13 points, two threes, four rebounds, seven assists, three steals) looked like he was just going through the motions last night, and the only thing going well from a fantasy perspective is that Danilo Gallinari (20 points, seven rebounds, one steal, one block, five threes, six turnovers, 34 minutes) is now a must-own player despite his many risks.
Will Barton took advantage of the junky setup with one of his patented out-of-nowhere explosions, scoring 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting with three treys, eight rebounds, three assists and a block. He does a bunch of stuff that Shaw won’t like and as guys return he’ll be minimized, making a pickup tough in this climate.
Rookie big man Joffrey Lauvergne stepped in and gave 11 points, nine rebounds, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer in 26 minutes off the bench, and he’s worth a hard look right now with Nurkic possibly week-to-week rather than day-to-day. J.J. Hickson gives the team nothing defensively even if last night he did notch a steal and block to go with his eight points and three rebounds in 22 minutes. It’s Lauvergne over Hickson in fantasy leagues all day long if you’re going to take a flier. Faried is probable to play Friday, so we’re only talking about replacing Nurkic’s minutes at this point.
As for Faried, he’s the Chesty La Rue of fantasy busts this season, who along with DeMar DeRozan and Mason Plumlee have practically nothing to show for their Team USA momentum. I hyped all three guys and though I didn’t manage to grab DeRozan anywhere, I have Faried everywhere and I’m as invested as the poor souls that followed me out onto the plank. At some point we have to cut the cord, but in light of the Nurkic injury now is definitely not the time.
Now pardon me I’m going to go look at Faried’s post-All Star stats from last season while repeatedly punching myself in the face.
GET OFF MY LAWN
The Lakers got a win in Utah last night but they cooled it on the celebrations afterward, with underlying tension between the old school Byron Scott and Kobe Bryant and players like Nick Young, who is the face of the celebrate-at-will group. It’s still a free for all in that regard with Scott being relentless in his quest to keep folks off of his lawn, playing 7-of-9 guys between 21-27 minutes last night.
The winners right now are Byron’s guys and they include Jordan Clarkson (22 points, 10-of-16 FGs, one three, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, 34 minutes), Wayne Ellington (15 points, 10 boards, no threes, 5-of-5 FTs, 38 minutes), Jordan Hill (16 points, five rebounds, two steals, one block) and Ed Davis (12 points, nine boards, three assists, one steal, three blocks, 26 minutes).
The rest of the group including Carlos Boozer (14 points, six rebounds, three steals, 22 minutes), Jeremy Lin (eight points, 3-of-12 FGs, no threes, two boards, three assists, one steal, one block, 24 minutes), Wes Johnson (seven points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal, two blocks, one three, 27 minutes) and Young (DNP, knee) are your best bets to get shut out on any given night by Scott.
Everybody in the former group is worth owning in standard formats, and the latter group are all guys that you have to own at your own risk.
HERE, WHERE I TRY NOT TO SLOBBER ALL OVER RUDY GOBERT
The Jazz lost last night’s game against the Lakers at the foul line, with their frontcourt combining to hit just 9-of-19 free throws including some key misses down the stretch. Beyond that, Rudy Gobert continues to propel every single one of my big money league teams and he posted 16 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocks in 36 minutes.
We talked in this space about how high he could go when fully unleashed and right now he’s sitting in the top 16-32 range over a three-game sample. His percentages will likely improve over the 55 percent marks from both the field and the line in that span; and he notched this mark in just 30 mpg. I mentioned how he’d need the type of minutes he got tonight to have a crack at the first round, and owners can start to see how he gets there based on this admittedly small sample size.
Trey Burke (seven points, 2-of-8 FGs, two threes, five boards, four assists, 29 minutes) didn’t have the greatest game but he did start the second half, in a move that could signal that the team wants to back off of Dante Exum (19 minutes) for a bit.
Exum has been fairly bad for most of the year and a move to the bench couldn’t hurt him at this rate. Burke has shot terribly over the past month at a high-volume 36.5 percent, negating what should have been a layup in terms of achieving late-round value. And with Enes Kanter now gone and the roster thin, he should have added a round or two of value but the opposite has happened.
So a shakeup would hopefully help him out of his funk and the only other gain here is if Exum gets totally minimized – otherwise the minutes would probably be the same regardless of who starts. Joe Ingles (15 minutes, one steal, one block) had built some momentum but lost it just as quickly as the last time around so he’s a waiver wire guy. Elijah Millsap (17 points, seven rebounds, one three, 30 minutes) has really done well to play above expectations, but this represents his absolute ceiling and that’s not good enough for most standard leagues.
WE PUT THE BO IN Z-BO
The Grizzlies-Kings game was as rough and loosely officiated as any game I’ve seen this season, and the Grizz looked less than ready for their third game in four nights in their loss. Zach Randolph’s fingerprints were all over this one as he scored 20 points, hit a 62-footer before halftime, jawed with DeMarcus Cousins, and eventually put the ‘bows in Z-Bo.
There wasn’t much to report from a fantasy perspective. Mike Conley scored 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting (including a three) with three rebounds, seven assists and three steals, and Marc Gasol put up a customary 14 points, seven boards, six assists and three blocks. Jeff Green (11 points, three rebounds, two assists) remained on the outside of standard leagues looking in, and Courtney Lee produced a typical low-end nine points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in the loss. Lee is back at his normal borderline value in 8-cat, 12-team leagues with a 2-3 round bump up in 9-cat versions.
Also noteworthy was the fact Conley still doesn’t look 100 percent out there. His fantasy value has been fine lately with late-second round value since the All Star break, but he has been turning down defensive responsibilities and that’s the end folks in Memphis have expressed muted concern over. Owners have to simply hope that he’s on the tail-end of those ankle injuries and his wrist stays healthy.
KING KARL’S CASTLE
While the Kings got a Grizzlies team that admittedly overlooked them, which is basically what most teams did throughout the Kings’ hot early start, this was still a very nice win to give George Karl and the gang some separation from the dark middle ages of their season. On top of the aforementioned Z-Bo-DeMarcus Cousins showdown, which was largely one-sided as Zach Randolph lost his mind for a moment, Cousins kicked a chair violently enough that I wouldn’t be shocked if he got fined.
Cousins would hold it together on a night when that didn’t seem likely, scoring 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting with nine rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block before fouling out in a 24-minute outing. He also injured his ankle and is questionable for Friday, but it doesn’t seem overly serious.
Rudy Gay kept his efficiency up with 12-of-20 makes for 28 points, five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one three, but the biggest news came after the game when it was reported that Kings folks aren’t optimistic that Darren Collison (hip) can return this season.
I danced around that chance in yesterday’s Dose and we don’t know for sure that Collison will miss the rest of the year, but we do know that the Kings aren’t going to break their necks bringing him back. They have a draft pick they can keep if it lands in the top-10 this summer, and the only interesting subplot here is if Collison will feel like he has something to prove heading into a summer. There is already talk of Karl being interested in disgruntled Ty Lawson and Collison may want to protect his turf as starter.
Fantasy owners should probably wait until there is an official announcement on his timeline before dropping him, but they should already be making contingency plans. Ray McCallum (10 points, 3-of-7 FGs, one three, one board, three assists, three steals, 23 minutes) will start and take on as many minutes as he can earn, with all the support in the world coming out of the front office. It’s now especially clear why Andre Miller (four points, six rebounds, seven assists, nothing else, 26 minutes) was brought on and he’s the closing point guard probably for most of the rest of the year.
Miller was a George Karl wish-list acquisition and his minutes are locked into stone no matter what McCallum does, but he won’t have any real fantasy value in standards because of his poor stat-set. McCallum has a real opportunity here but he’s going to have to improve his jumper immediately because teams don’t respect it and it’s key to both his playing time and his fantasy value, which suffers greatly because of percentages and defensive stat deficiencies.
The Kings have a great finishing schedule and I’m encouraging all of you to take a look at Ben McLemore (16 points, 7-of-15 FGs, two threes, two steals, one block, four TOs, nothing else). I could easily see him getting shut out of Collison's leftover touches as Gay and Cousins gobble them up, but theoretically Karl will step up McLemore's usage. He’s good enough to walk through that door if it’s presented to him.
For you deep leaguers, I grabbed Omri Casspi (22 minutes, six points, three boards) after last week's humble returns. He was quiet last night in the box but he was a team-leading +20 and no other King was close. I’m pretty sure Karl knows that Casspi should be playing more, but I’m unclear how much his knee can handle and if he’ll be able to do anything with those minutes in fantasy leagues. It’s short leash central, regardless.
***Update: Howard Beck of Bleacher Report wrote today that DeMarcus Cousins was available at the trade deadline and that George Karl has control of all the personnel. That oughta shake up the Twittersphere in Sacto and it’s anybody’s guess how flammable that is at this point. Maybe those wearing the tin foil hats about Phoenix were on to something, and setting conspiracy theories aside it will be interesting to see if and when this story starts to gain steam.
***Update II: Darren Collison is going to be reevaluated in 3-6 weeks after surgery on his hip. This likely ends his season.
***Update III: Sources reached out to Beck and denied that Cousins was available via KHTK 1140 in Sacramento. This would be the natural response to a report coming out like that whether or not it's true, and Beck is a reliable reporter so there's still some smoke here.
LEMMINGS, CREATURES OF HABIT, OR BOTH?
It looks like I’m going to have to watch some more Spurs games on tape, at least that’ll be the case if they keep losing. Why? Because like you and everybody else that analyzes this stuff I want to know if I should be ignoring their struggles as per NBA guidelines. One key difference I’ve noticed during the Spurs’ slide, which includes four straight losses after the Blazers got them last night and a 2-5 mark on their normally successful Rodeo Road Trip – is that the local beat writers think this is different than past struggles during the regular season.
Because we’ve all been burnt so many times by counting the Spurs out, there is a (usually) admitted reflex to simply disregard what we’re seeing when they stumble. Tony Parker (two points, four assists, 1-of-8 FGs) is bearing the brunt of the criticism lately, as is Manu Ginobili (two points, 1-of-5 FGs, 13 minutes) to a lesser degree. Kawhi Leonard (14 points, 5-of-13 FGs, eight boards, three assists, four steals, one block, one three) is being asked to carry the offense without much help and that’s not his strong point yet, so his efficiency has been in the tank.
Leonard is a clear buy low candidate after a month of top-40ish value in which he has shot just 40.5 percent. Especially if the Spurs get on track, that number will go shooting up here at any time. You can throw Danny Green (17 points, five boards, one block, three treys, 6-of-6 FTs) into that same exact bucket with his 39.4 percent field goal shooting.
Tim Duncan (20 points, eight boards) hasn’t wavered from a fantasy perspective during the Spurs’ slump, leaving Parker and Ginobili as the big question marks for owners. Ginobili has late-round value on the season in 8-cat leagues, suggesting that he can still help owners in those formats whenever he rebounds out of this slump. But the risk-reward on that isn’t worth it for anything but a ‘catch the comet’ play made by owners the minute he heats up.
Parker’s case is equally tricky because he carries the same type of valuation as Ginobili this year – a late-round grade in standard 8-cat leagues and 14-16 team rating in 9-cat formats. His hamstring issue is still impacting him and he’s simply not taking (and making) enough shots, and the slowdown has also chipped away at his rebounding and assist numbers. The gamble here is two-fold, including a bet that he gets healthy and a bet that he can get hot enough to approach last year’s numbers. In that case he’s a top 80-100 guy and worth holding onto right now. I’d put the odds on that happening somewhere around (+115) in gambling lingo.
As for the Spurs, I’ll be going with history until I can see for certain that they don’t have what it takes.
THERE’S NOTHING THAT THE BEACH CAN’T SOLVE
From all of us to you, Nicolas Batum, it’s good to have you back. I don’t know if anybody will profit off of my constant buy low recommendations and calls for patience, but he has gotten off on the right foot following the All Star break. Last night he scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting with four rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one block and three treys, raising his field goal percentage to 61.5 percent since the break. One main of the keys to his value has been the health of his shooting wrist, and his trip to Puerta Vallarta to do nothing but loaf around was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Thank you, extended All Star break.
The other key to his value has been confidence and I’m only guessing here but the acquisition of Arron Afflalo probably lit a fire under his ass. Afflalo scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting with two threes and one steal in his 25 minutes off the bench, as Terry Stotts went small most of the night with Wesley Matthews (season-high 31 points, full line), Batum and Afflalo playing the 2-4 slots. Afflalo isn’t going to have enough juice to maintain value in 12-team standard leagues.
LaMarcus Aldridge hit just 5-of-19 shots for 11 points, 13 rebounds and one steal last night as he returned to action after a night off. His thumb injuries haven’t slowed him down in fantasy leagues so far, and owners simply have to hope he squeaks through the rest of the year as the Blazers jockey for playoff positioning.