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The Breakdown

What is Whiteside's Upside?

by Aaron Bruski
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

We had the best of all worlds last night, with Big Wednesday bringing a ton of big lines without any major injuries.  We have a ton of ground to cover and we have already learned this morning that the Magic have fired Jacque Vaughn.  That sounded good from a fantasy perspective until we heard Scott Skiles’ name floated as a potential replacement.  That’s a developing story so stay glued to our player news page for updates, and buckle up as we are nearly two-thirds of the way through the season.

 

For NBA news and information as it breaks, you can click here to follow me on Twitter.

 

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CHICAGO FIRE

 

The Bulls were the only team in the East being mentioned as NBA championship contenders about a month ago.  Now, they’re the ones flailing.  The Cavs have ripped off 11 straight wins since going bowling and the Hawks are everybody’s Spursian pick out of the other conference.  We took on the topic of what’s happening to the Bulls in our podcast, including the coaching situation and the new reality of what Derrick Rose is. 

 

Rose continues to try and put an MVP stamp on this team when it would be better served with ‘All Star’ or even ‘above average.’  He hit just 9-of-22 shots (2-of-9 3PTs, 3-of-4 FTs) for 23 points, four rebounds and just two assists.  Per usual, he had no defensive statistics and defense has been at the core of the Bulls’ problems, though last night James Harden was getting his against anybody including Jimmy Butler

 

It’s going to be interesting to see if the Bulls can throw away their favored status in the East because they can’t get along in the front office and Rose can’t re-evaluate his role.  He’s still unusable in standard 9-cat leagues unless you’re punting the turnovers, and he’s at a top-75 value when he’s on the floor in 8-cat leagues. 

 

Butler rattled off 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting (3-of-5 from deep, 6-of-8 from the line) with six rebounds, one assist and two steals, and he’s proving that he can keep things going despite increased usage and playing time for Rose.  Joakim Noah scored one point on 0-for-8 shooting with 19 rebounds, three assists and one block, and owners would be thrilled if he could improve a couple of rounds on his top-90 returns.  He’s hitting just 43.4 percent of his field goals and 64.2 percent from the line, so there is hope there for a positive regression, but he’s probably losing some feel for the ball with so many reliable options to defer to on offense. 

 

Aaron Brooks had a five-point dud in 15 minutes of action and that’s probably the last mulligan he gets after a pretty good month.  Not only do the Bulls need Mike Dunleavy back in the worst way, whenever that happens it’ll take just enough out of Brooks to make him a deep league guy only. 

 

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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

 

This Dwight Howard knee stuff is flying underneath the radar if you ask me.  To me, what it means is that last year’s playoff series against the Blazers might have been the zenith of his career, and no I don’t want to hear about the year he came out of a weak Eastern Conference to play against the Lakers in the Finals.  He showed some great moxie in that Portland series but with this knee injury keeping him out for a month one has to wonder if the big man’s body is in decline. 

 

What this will do for the Rockets, though, is allow them to properly develop Donatas Motiejunas (15 points, 10 boards), Josh Smith (nine points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks, one three, 3-of-11 FGs) and Terrence Jones (four points, one steal, two blocks, 14 minutes).  First things first, all three guys are must-own players in standard leagues. 

 

Each will get enough minutes to do damage with. 

 

Motiejunas has been playing very well this year and he has improved in his deficient areas to be a top-75 player this month.  He can legitimately anchor the paint for a 1-2 month stretch and keep the Rockets from hitting the panic button.  This leaves the Rockets running a small lineup by necessity and relying on Joey Dorsey (20 minutes, nine boards) to provide the muscle against the bruisers they’ll face.  Otherwise, this team is built to run like the first year James Harden (27 points, full line) was on the job. 

 

Smith is the most intriguing player among the trio of big men and last night he flashed some of that upside he hasn’t been able to tap into.  There’s no question that he’s going to get an earful from Harden if he slows down the offense, and playing power forward or even some center he’s going to be close to the hoop for the defensive stats he’s now being tasked with focusing on. 

 

Smoove is still a problem with percentages but with Howard gone I can see mid-round upside as the counting stats keep those shooting numbers from being the immense downer they’ve been for two years.  I’ve been as down on Smith as anybody but this is a distinctly different situation for him, a chance to prove himself, with pecking orders and contracts nowhere near the issues they once were.  If you’re trying to talk yourself into a larger buy of Smith via trade or as a waiver wire pickup, he’s a mid-level free agent target with a probable late-round floor. 

 

Jones is going to require a little patience but he has been able to return must-own value in the past with approximately 25 mpg, and barring re-injury or some unlikely dive he’s going to get that.  He also has mid-round upside now with Howard out and unlike Smith he doesn’t need quite the volume to get there, assuming he doesn’t destroy himself at the free throw line. 

 

YOU WANT THE GOOD NEWS OR THE BAD NEWS FIRST?

 

The Pistons are having a tough time with some key things like defense and establishing a pecking order on offense, but owners have to love the way things have developed from a fantasy perspective.  Andre Drummond (18 points, 9-of-15 FGs, 16 rebounds, one steal) has picked up the pace this week, averaging 14.3 points with 15.3 rebounds and 54.1 percent shooting from the field.  He needs D.J. Augustin and the other wings to stay healthy so he can get high percentage looks, but this is as good as he has looked all year. 

 

Greg Monroe has a month of top-30 value under his belt and he went for 16 and nine with three steals last night.  My only concern with him is his contract/trade situation, as he’s in a prime location right now and his goals may not coincide with those of the Pistons after their botched negotiations.  He seems to be looking for his shot a bit more often than normal, which is only anecdotal evidence at this point, and in any event he has a mid-round floor right now. 

 

D.J. Augustin (12 points, 4-of-14 FGs, one three, two boards, six assists) will be prone to duds but he’s locked and loaded into a probable mid-round floor as the unquestioned primary ballhandler.  Perhaps the Pistons turn toward a timeshare with Spencer Dinwiddie (DNP) if the team falls out of playoff contention, but owners can’t worry about that right now. 

 

I covered Jodie Meeks extensively in the Dose so go check it out, but the gist of it is that I’m holding him after his 13 points, two threes, five assists and one steal over 30 minutes.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played just three minutes due to a sore Achilles’, which appears by all reports to be minor. 

 

KCP hasn’t gotten much, if any respect around these parts but he has improved this month and is sitting on top-150 value in a 30 mpg role.  That has taken some of the luster out of Meeks’ value, and I think they prioritize KCP’s development over Meeks’ in the sense that the second-year player has appeared lost for much of his career.  I need to see more improvement out of Caldwell-Pope or an injury to somebody on the perimeter to recommend an add in 12-team formats, regardless.

 

WELCOME BACK

 

I’ll give the Pacers this – they haven’t been terrible this year no matter how terrible they’ve seemed at times.  They still have a legitimate shot at a playoff spot in the moribund East, and with George Hill (20 points, three rebounds, six assists, one block, one three, 3-of-8 FTs) back in the starting lineup they’ll have a lot more pop.  Hill should be owned across the board, obviously, and I know owners are on guard here but he could be ready to turn the corner. 

 

Roy Hibbert went for 16 and 12 with three assists and three blocks and he has snuck back into a top 90-100 position in the games he has played.  With Hill making life a little bit easier it wouldn’t be shocking if he bumped that up a round or two.  And it also wouldn’t be surprising if he made me look silly for saying that, but the rationale is there for improvement. 

 

David West scored 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.  Like with Hibbert, his life will be easier if Hill can stay healthy, but he’ll also lose some touches which might be an even swap. 

 

C.J. Miles started and scored 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting (4-of-6 3PTs) with three rebounds and three steals in 27 minutes.  If one is totally realistic about his general risk, I like him as a plug-and-play or flier pickup because at least he can get crazy hot.  He could also sink you, so buyer beware.  C.J. Watson hung onto some low-end value for 12-14 team leagues with 14 points, three rebounds, three assists and four treys in 22 minutes, which is his sweet spot and he has a puncher’s chance at holding on. 

 

I’m probably burying the lede by listing Paul George last here, but weighing all of the various reports it seems like he has a shot at playing this year.  The question for owners right now is what his roster spot will cost and what it could possibly return.  Even if he rips off four weeks of early round value, he’ll have to sit on your bench for two months before it happens.  Owners that can afford the stash or that have an IR spot can make the add, but if you’re not completely stacked you might find the hidden costs of that roster spot don’t justify the returns.  Bid accordingly. 

 

YESTERDAY’S NEWS

 

The Eastern Conference was a 2-3 team race before the season with the Wizards being that sexy flier pick by analysts, but they’ve quickly given up that status to the Hawks, who showed why as the Wizards couldn’t keep up in their loss last night.  John Wall scored 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting (including three treys) with seven rebounds, nine assists and one steal, and Bradley Beal scored 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting (no threes) with two rebounds, two assists and two steals. 

 

Marcin Gortat shaved his mohawk and magically got back on track with 14 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one block and a 6-of-6 mark from the line.  Both Gortat and Beal are good bets to produce mid-round value the rest of the way.  Kris Humphries had just six rebounds, one steal and one block in 19 minutes and Nene started with 17 points, three rebounds and one assist in 29 minutes.  This is a situation to avoid in standard leagues. 

 

THE HIPSTER HAWKS

 

The entire Hawks starting unit won the Eastern Conference Player of the Month award and Mike Budenholzer was the East’s Coach of the Month, too.  That’s what happens when you can’t be beat.  They wasted no time starting a new winning streak with a win over the Wizards, and Friday’s clash between them and the Warriors is probably the most excited I’ve been for a pre-All Star regular season game in a long while. 

 

Jeff Teague more than held his own against John Wall and finished with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, two rebounds, eight assists and two steals.  I’ve seen him included in MVP discussion by prominent writers and that would’ve gotten folks laughed out of the room a month ago.  He’s sitting on top 15-20 value with no signs of letting up in general, but his percentages are a bit high and I could see him leveling out in the top-25 range on a per-game basis by the end of the year. 

 

DeMarre Carroll can be put back into lineups after last night’s 14-point, three-trey effort over 33 minutes.  People have no idea how important he is to this squad.  He might be the best of Danny Ferry’s many great moves, at least when he wasn’t making racist comments to minority owners. 

 

Paul Millsap was solid with 11 and seven to go with three steals, one block and two threes, and Al Horford went gonzo with 21 points, 13 rebounds, one steal and one block.  Kyle Korver hit just 1-of-7 shots for six points, five rebounds, six assists and I’m giddy to see him and Klay Thompson do battle.  In fact, up and down the roster they match up very similarly with the Warriors, so it should truly be a slugfest. 

 

YOU KNOW WHAT KARL MALONE CALLS RAP?

 

Brian Shaw didn’t do anything to help his cause last night in a close loss to the Celtics, playing Jusuf Nurkic just 21 minutes despite getting 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocks out of the big man.  And in what might be more funny than important, it was reported that he has even resorted to rapping to his team during locker room discussions.  That could be anywhere between funny, pathetic or cool, but in the end the question marks in Denver got progressively worse and the team is going to be held hostage on the court until some sort of change is made. 

 

Kenneth Faried got back on the right side of the ledger with 17 points, 11 rebounds and one block while hitting 6-of-8 shots from the field and all five of his freebies.  He and Nurkic are ground zero when it comes to the bump the team will get under new leadership, and both are must-own players at this time.  If you drop or trade Nurkic at a low point you’re entirely on your own.  He has an excellent shot at early round value when things get sorted out. 

 

Ty Lawson put up 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting with two rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a three, and Arron Afflalo scored 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting with three rebounds, three assists, two steals and three treys.  Lawson has flirted with early round value this past month but has leveled out as a mid-round play, which is his ceiling at least until the team’s problems get addressed. 

 

Afflalo and Wilson Chandler (eight points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block) are late-round guys that could end up being traded to tougher fantasy situations.  If the Nuggets are truly committed to Shaw like they sheepishly said they are, then look for Faried to be put on the trade block too.  Danilo Gallinari got a solid 25 minutes but hit just 1-of-9 shots for seven points and seven boards with not much else.  Just keep one eye on him to see if he can start making headway on a per-minute basis.  A fire sale could leave him with a bigger role, but he still has to prove he can do something with any opportunity. 

 

MY DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

 

Jared Sullinger was late to the arena yesterday and he was benched for the first quarter in his second such transgression within a week.  He went 0-for-5 from the field to start the night, and then he picked up the pace to finish with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two 3-pointers in the Celtics’ win over the Nuggets.  Sullinger wasted no time in penning a blog entry detailing how traffic got the best of him once again, and it doesn’t seem like the Celtics are all that mad – yet. 

 

Tyler Zeller was mediocre with 14 points and five boards with no other stats, but he’s a ‘hold’ until Kelly Olynyk returns after the All Star break and probably beyond that.  Marcus Smart started again and scored four points on 2-of-6 shooting with 10 rebounds, eight assists and three steals in 41 minutes.  Make sure he’s not available on the wire.  Evan Turner bounced back from a slow Tuesday to put up seven points on 3-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and one block in 30 minutes.  Maybe he’s ready for another mini-stint of productivity, but history suggests that’s not the case. 

 

Jae Crowder had one of his patented flash-flood nights, scoring 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting with six rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block and two threes in 26 minutes.  Let’s see him do it again before going down that road again.  Marcus Thornton is on a small heater and he put up 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting with four treys, five boards and two steals in just 20 minutes.  The Celtics might come to rely on him with their ranks being thinned out by recent trades, and they also might be showcasing him for trade.  He’s a very speculative add in 12-14 team leagues for the right to find out. 

 

NOT ON MY WATCH

 

Jarrett Jack doesn’t look like a guy that wants to give way to Deron Williams, as he continued playing the role of lead dog on a 24-point, four-rebound, six-assist night including two threes and a steal.  Owners need to hold on here.  Williams scored 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting with three rebounds and six assists in 33 minutes, and he’ll slowly steal stats away from Jack but the two of them should both have a healthy workload going forward.  Whether Williams can return to his early-season form is totally up in the air, but so far he’s taking baby steps in that direction and that’s as much as owners can hope for. 

 

Alan Anderson started and scored 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting with three treys, five boards and a steal in 33 minutes.  He’s flirting with some late-round value and that’s likely what he’ll have if he maintains a 30-minute role so give him a look.  Mason Plumlee (six points, seven rebounds, one steal, 31 minutes) has been pretty brutal lately but I still have him slotted in as a ‘hold’ with nobody around to challenge him for minutes long-term. 

 

TINKERING IN TORONTO

 

The Raptors have enjoyed an easy schedule this season and they’ve done their part to win many of the games that they’re supposed to win.  That said, it’s interesting that writers close to the team think they’re in trouble.  Dwane Casey is modifying shootaround times to shake things up.  They lost to the Nets at home last night and that makes two straight losses after seven wins in eight tries, so clearly the consternation is a reflection of the reality that the East just got a lot better at the top. 

 

Most of the trouble surrounds their deficiencies on the wing and questions about who should be starting or sitting.  Luckily fantasy owners don’t have to worry about that too much, as the fantasy roles are pretty clear. 

 

Kyle Lowry (13 points, six rebounds, 10 assists, one steal, one three) is locked into his early round value, DeMar DeRozan (13 points, five rebounds, six assists, no money counting stats) has moved back toward normalcy, and Lou Williams (four points, 1-of-9 FGs) is the only other viable fantasy asset in the backcourt. 

 

Terrence Ross made some noise with 23 points and five treys off the bench and he might be helped in the short-term by James Johnson’s hamstring injury, which isn’t overly serious, but he’s nowhere near a must-own player right now. 

 

Patrick Patterson is one of the guys that writers want in the starting lineup, and he had a nice outing with 11 points, eight rebounds, two steals, one block and one three.  He’s sitting on mid-round value over the last month and early round value over the last two weeks – and he’s criminally under-owned.  Amir Johnson (nine points, five rebounds, 27 minutes) basically fits the same criteria and he’s producing a few rounds less than Patterson is, but both should be owned in standard formats.  For fantasy purposes, it doesn’t really matter which guy is starting but rather if one or both guys will be consistent enough to stay above the cut line.  For the most part, they have been this season.

 

TODAY IN LA-LA LAND

 

I broke down the Lakers pretty heavily in the Dose so you can head over there for the Breakdown, but the quick and dirty is that anything goes with Byron Scott right now.  I’ll be holding the higher-end players (relatively speaking) like Nick Young (16 points, three boards, two threes, 34 minutes) and I’d try to make space with lower expectations for Jeremy Lin (11 points, three rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block).  Ed Davis (seven points, 20 boards, one block, 33 minutes) is a recommended add even with all this risk, and Carlos Boozer (28 points) looks like he’ll be a late-round producer for the next two weeks or more with Jordan Hill out. 

 

I didn’t touch on Wayne Ellington (19 points, five threes, two rebounds, two assists, 38 minutes) in the Dose, and I’m having a real hard time getting excited about a top 100-140 play over the past month.  He has averaged 30.8 mpg over the 12 games in that span, and he has had a nice split if we’re cherry picking over the past two weeks in a top 60-75 stretch (35 mpg).  All of this points to him being a late-round value if he can hang onto a 30-35 minute role, and when you factor in the risk that Byron Scott presents with his wacky rotations. 

 

SUDDEN STABILITY

 

I also covered the Bucks in depth in the Dose so check it out, but the story in Milwaukee is how injuries have guided Jason Kidd to a very compelling frontcourt of Giannis Antetokounmpo (25 points, six rebounds, one steal, two blocks) and John Henson (nine points, seven boards, one steal, four blocks, 38 minutes).  Ersan Ilyasova (groin) could easily fall out of new ownership’s plans, Larry Sanders is a total question mark, and Zaza Pachulia (calf) could easily be used as a matchup-big against larger centers.  If that unfolds like I think it could unfold, it could be a fun mid-round ride for owners of both Alphabet and Henson. 

 

Khris Middleton is also enjoying his newfound freedom and he would have headlined an article on most nights, scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting (1-of-5 3PTs, 6-of-7 FTs) with seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals in 45 minutes.  He’s returning an insane top 12-24 value in the past month on an out-of-control 55.5 percent field goal shooting, but none of his other numbers are out of place in his current role. 

 

Middleton could theoretically get squeezed if all of the aforementioned absent guys return and demand minutes.  However, I think owners should only be discounting Middleton’s current returns based on the fact he’s bound to hit a nasty shooting slump fairly soon.  When it all levels out he should hold onto early round value, but if you want to hedge against the idea that Kidd gets weird with things you might see what you can get in return.  He’ll be a hard guy to trade with no name recognition, but it’ll be harder when those shooting numbers come back to Earth. 

 

HASSANITY

 

Let’s not pretend this section won’t be about Hassan Whiteside, who continued to lay claim to LeBron James’ abandoned kingdom with 24 points on 12-of-13 shooting, 20 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. 

 

I’ll point folks to what I said on January 15th, and add that he’s been a top 6-10 play (9/8 cat) for the last month with averages of 14.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 3.3 blocks while hitting 65.3 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the line.  I called this type of production “not laugh you out of the room impossible” and told folks that I’d be treating him as an early round guy with upside beyond that.

 

Well, we're seeing 'beyond that' and then some.

 

The big news?  He’s playing just 25.2 mpg over that month-long span and like I said then the numbers aren’t out of character for his stat set.  I’m not sure I’m willing to rule out more of the immature behavior that set him back in Sacramento and other places, and he had a major knee (patella) injury that cost him time in his rookie season, but I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel here for due diligence.  I can’t see parting with him for anybody without rock solid top-10 value pointing in the right direction.  He has a pretty good playoff schedule as icing on the cake. 

 

In non-Hassanity news the Heat still have big problems, which included Norris Cole committing a mind-numbingly dumb turnover with the game on the line late.  I wrote extensively about Mario Chalmers (12 points, three rebounds, five assists, one steal) in the Dose and I’m still holding even if it’s not pretty.  I mentioned it in a few places lately, but I’m worried about Chris Bosh (14 points, five boards) as an elite play going forward.  The Heat seem destined for the lottery and that means they’ll handle any injuries or wear-and-tear with kid gloves. 

 

RUN RICKY RUN

 

The Wolves got another encouraging performance out of Ricky Rubio (eight points, three rebounds, nine assists, two steals, 23 minutes) and they stole a game from the Heat.  Thaddeus Young kept his foot on the gas with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, three rebounds, three assists and five steals in 41 minutes, and the addition of Rubio should have an overall positive impact on his efficiency.  Young’s rolling in early round value over the last month and that’s probably sell-high territory since his name will pop up in trade rumors for the next few weeks. 

 

Kevin Martin continues to pretend he never took any time off as he dropped in 30 points on 11-of-23 shooting with four treys, three boards, three assists and two steals in 40 minutes.  This is without a doubt your best sell-high moment for the rest of the year.  A prospective owner probably thinks this will be the most meat they’ll see on that bone. 

 

Nikola Pekovic (13 points, four rebounds, 21 minutes) is a big reason Hassan Whiteside went off, and one has to wonder when they’ll encourage him to take more time off.  He’s imposing as all hell down low and he certainly serves a purpose, but he’s a defensive liability and question mark on the glass.  Gorgui Dieng (13 points, nine boards, one block, 27 minutes) owners shouldn’t worry at all whether we’re talking long-term or talking about keeping him in lineups. 

 

Andrew Wiggins showed his first signs of that extended buy low period I’ve been chirping about for the last week or so.  He scored just six points on 2-of-8 shooting with five rebounds and one block in his 37 minutes.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you guys and you know what to do – buy and stash for his expected outburst in March and April. 

 

UNSTOPPABLE

 

The Thunder needed last night’s win over the Pelicans badly, and Russell Westbrook (45 points, 18-of-31 FGs, two threes, six rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block) had one of those performances that makes me totally fine with ranking him as the No. 3 player in reality basketball.  Serge Ibaka might have been an even bigger fantasy story, though, with his six blocks to go with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, one trey and six rebounds in 42 minutes.  This is right where owners want him to be – efficient and defensive. 

 

Dion Waiters got a lot of praise locally for his 12-point, six-rebound performance including two steals and one block, but it still didn’t pay the bills for fantasy owners due to the inefficient shooting and four turnovers.  He has been a top 200-250 guy for much of his time in OKC, and as I said in the Dose owners in standard formats are almost better off playing an injured guy since the injured guy can’t hurt you quite as bad. 

 

We can’t leave the Thunder without your daily reminder that Reggie Jackson (four points, six rebounds, two assists, 23 minutes) only has value as a stash with the hopes he gets traded.  With the way the Sixers are gambling on Michael Carter-Williams’ health, cycling through 10-day guys as his sole backup, the dream scenario would be something sending him there.  I haven’t heard anything, but it seems like he could give them a nice boost at a bargain rate. 

 

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

 

The Pelicans had zero success stopping Russell Westbrook last night, a fact you surely know by now.  It was as if Westbrook had cheat codes and they didn’t, and I found myself wondering if Anthony Davis could have any success covering the point guard.  I doubt it because Westbrook is much too fast, but I’m sort of surprised there weren’t more comments about Monty Williams not forcing the ball out of Westbrook’s hands with aggressive double-teaming. 

 

Maybe everybody was just in awe of Westbrook’s performance or maybe he truly was unstoppable, but you can basically count the Pelicans out of any theoretic playoff series if they can’t get Jrue Holiday back.  The West is stacked with point guards and Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans were traffic cones, with no adjustments by Williams to drive traffic to the Thunder’s other less-talented players. 

 

We discussed Williams’ chances of taking the Pelicans to the next level with Bourbon Street Shots writer Mike Pellissier the other day and this loss was emblematic of everything he said.  Give it a listen as he drops some interesting nuggets about Gordon as the team’s best passer, among other things, and why Quincy Pondexter (10 points, seven rebounds, two threes) has been so essential coming off the bench. 

 

Pondexter has strung together three games with 12-14 team value, averaging 8.3 points, 5.3 boards, 1.7 treys and 1.0 steals over 27.1 mpg.  His production before that has been abysmal, but it’s possible he levels out as a 14-16 team asset because he’s required depth for the Pellies. 

 

Gordon and Evans combined to hit 8-of-32 shots with otherwise passable numbers, but this won’t be a game that goes in the scrap book and they’ll have their hands full once again when the home-and-home series heads to OKC on Friday.

 

JACQUE VAUGHN FIRED

 

The noise surrounding Jacque Vaughn’s impending doom had died down ever-so-slightly, and last night they did well to hang with a lackadaisical Spurs team before losing the game later in the fourth quarter.  Aaron Gordon did not play due to soreness in his surgically repaired foot, so that’s not good in general, but it set the stage for Evan Fournier to get brought into the starting lineup. 

 

I can’t see them running this three-guard set with any long-term success, but last night Fournier scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting with two threes, two rebounds, six assists and two steals.  Keep an eye on him to see if this has any chance of sticking, but in general this team is on edge and they have not been playing inspired basketball. 

 

That’s been the case for the last month and a half, and with a smaller media presence in Orlando the story comes in bits or pieces but it’s your typical in-game mismanagement, lack of offensive imagination, wobbly rotations and lack of playing time for certain guys that’s irking folks.  What it means in fantasy is somewhat irrelevant on a per-player basis, but until the coaching cloud isn’t hanging over everybody I’d expect inconsistency from the group overall. 

 

Nikola Vucevic (25 points, 13 rebounds, one block) should continue to be a late-early round value regardless, and Tobias Harris (23 points, 9-of-13 FGs, 10 boards, six assists, three treys) has stepped right back into his rhythm.  They’ll both be okay regardless of what happens with the coach.  Victor Oladipo hit just 5-of-21 shots (including two threes) for 14 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and five turnovers.  He’ll have the potential for inefficient nights and sporadic disappearances if things worsen, but he has been a solid early round value lately and one has to think he could also be a loser if a new coach comes in and regulates his high usage rate. 

 

Elfrid Payton lost some momentum with a sudden decline in both shooting percentage and overall production, but he regained some footing last night with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting (2-of-6 FTs), six boards, nine assists and one steal in 40 minutes.  He’s a guy that needs stability out of the coaching box and absent that he’ll be increasingly erratic, but I think he’s taken enough steps forward this season to keep a late-round valuation from here on out.  He’s been a late-round value over the last month with a distinct advantage in 8-cat leagues where the turnovers don’t hurt. 

 

I don’t think I’ve been able to write about my guy Kyle O’Quinn since I declared I’d be dropping him a week or two ago.  He jumped back on the scene with an old-fashioned 11-point, eight-rebound effort including two assists, one block and three steals in just 23 minutes on Monday.  The only problem is that came sandwiched in-between two games in which he totaled just six minutes of action. 

 

O’Quinn has looked particularly lost and for a guy whose consistency was relatively good late last season, he might be the bellwether of the coaching situation.  If reports continue to show Vaughn as being in trouble I might make a pre-emptive add to see if KOQ can turn back the clock into his top 60-90 days (9/8 cat) in the second half of last season. 

 

Update: The Vaughn firing is imminent according to multiple reports.  Accelerate your timetable on a speculative add of O’Quinn, and stay tuned for more specific updates on our player news page.  Update II: Woj is reporting that Scott Skiles will be a serious candidate and that’s probably a worst-case scenario from a fantasy perspective, though he could value the defensive ability of Payton, Oladipo, Harris and O’Quinn.  He could also value playing his entire roster 20 minutes per night.  Stay tuned. 

 

LEONARD LURKING

 

The Spurs dilly-dallied for much of last night’s win over the Magic, but they did get strong performances out of the usual suspects in the box score.  Tim Duncan went for 26 and 10 with a steal and two blocks to build on his top-30 pace.  Kawhi Leonard has moved into a top 10-20 position when on the floor this year (9/8 cat) and he turned in 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting (4-of-4 FTs) with five rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block in 38 minutes.  No matter how his final ranking turns out in relation to my high first round rating in preseason rankings, I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it.  He's dominating when not suffering freak injuries. 

 

Tony Parker hit three 3-pointers on an otherwise tepid 15-point, three-assist night as his nightmare fantasy season continues.  He’s gotten the most rest out of their key guys due to injury and that may be his only saving grace – which is that he’ll carry heavier load if Pop rests those guys.  Manu Ginobili had a huge night in the box with 13 points, three triples, six boards and 10 assists, and he continues to post low-end value in 12-team leagues without missing a ton of games.  Marco Belinelli (groin) returned to action and scored 11 points with three treys of his own, and his presence will allow for Ginobili to get some rest and cut mildly into an already unsettled fantasy pie. 

 

LESS IS MORE

 

The Grizzlies have moved into a clear No. 2 position in the West now that they’ve addressed the small forward position by adding Jeff Green.  They went into Utah and beat a spirited Jazz squad last night, and the only complaints folks can have is that their fantasy assets are dragging ass just a little bit.  Mike Conley (17 points, three treys, three boards, two assists, zero steals) might not be at 100 percent as he deals with shooting wrist and ankle issues. 

 

Conley’s top 35-45 value when on the floor this season is enhanced a bit by improved shooting (45.9/41.8/85.5%), but he’s getting killed in the steals department (1.1), which have steadily decreased from twice that amount for two full years from 2011 to 2013.   It’s probably time we attach some of this to Dave Joerger’s defensive system and adjust for that in future projections, and hopefully for owners this year it’s a function of injuries that go away after the All Star break. 

 

I covered the rest of the Grizzlies’ underwhelming wings in the Dose, and on the other end of the spectrum Zach Randolph continued to play with old man strength on an 18-point, 11-rebound, four-assist night.  At one point he stuck his shoulder into Rudy Gobert’s chest and flipped a jump hook right over the Stifle Tower, which is the Zach Randolph equivalent of putting somebody on a poster. 

 

Z-Bo is taking the approach I think a lot of players should take if they were theoretically concerned with their own fantasy value.  Less shots (down 1.7 FGAs) at a higher percentage (up 3.4 FG%) while focusing on rebounding (up 2.0 rpg) and defense (STLs/BLKs up 0.1 per game).  He’s returning top 50-60 value and blasting away expectations amongst the crowd that doesn’t draft based on name values from three seasons ago.  A regression on most of his numbers is better than a coin flip’s chance, but the blueprint is here for continued production near this level. 

 

EVERYTHING FITS

 

I’m still on the Quin Snyder bandwagon and the Jazz have been very competitively lately, losing by a combined 16 points in their last three losses to the Blazers, Clippers and last night’s Grizzlies.  They sandwiched in a win over the Warriors and Snyder has his guys all fitting perfect roles. 

 

Trey Burke’s (21 points, three treys, three boards, four assists, one steal) offense is needed on the second unit and Dante Exum has been allowed to bring his struggling act to the unit with better players, which should (eventually) help the 19-year old’s game come along.  To that end, Snyder is giving the kid a ton of rope and doing it without any risk because the configuration with Burke coming off the bench is the right one. 

 

In the frontcourt, he’s blending Enes Kanter (16 points, 10 boards) and his offensive game into a unit that is obviously at its best with Rudy Gobert (eight points, six boards, two steals, two blocks) and Derrick Favors (11 points, five rebounds) providing a profound one-two punch. 

 

Yes, like all of us I’d like to see him play Gobert more and that’s definitely coming.  But there is no real fall-off in rebounding when Kanter comes in and if he’s hitting offensively he makes the whole team harder to cover.  If he’s not hitting he gets pulled, plain and simple.  And if the Jazz are getting killed defensively, he gets pulled.  It blends the best of all worlds for their frontcourt, and for what the Jazz are trying to accomplish (ongoing improvement) the arrangement works for everybody. 

 

Kanter and Burke are late-round values until further notice and that’s been the case for a while, and though Gobert is playing at his absolute floor right now there’s no viable reason he should have been out of lineups.  He’s an early round guy in a month-long sample and you simply can’t pass that type of upside, especially when top-150 value is easily the worst return he has provided during this so-called slump. 

 

Also, this flew under the radar in the media and it didn’t make it into the Dose, but I put the Snyder interview on and he strongly suggested that Chris Johnson (five points, 17 minutes) saw time because Joe Ingles played 36 minutes on Tuesday and was tired.  Ingles’ conditioning could very well be an issue after riding the pine to start the year, but in any event it gives a bit of background on last night’s 20-minute outing.  Ingles put up just four points, one rebound and two assists last night and his last two games have been duds, with a stretch of five games prior to that in which he flashed some mid-round returns behind a versatile stat set. 

 

I mentioned yesterday that I’m not sure if he’ll work out but that I was going to give him through the weekend to show some signs.  Hearing the playing time issue addressed helped solidify my personal ‘hold’ decision, which I’ll follow by saying he’s simply not a must-own player given the lack of data we have on him.  I think he’ll focus on defense, passing, rebounding and 3-point shooting, which bodes well for his chances, but with no history overseas showing that type of production I’m trusting my eyes and a small sample size with little else to go on. 

 

CALCULATED RISKS

 

The Mavs went up by more than 20 points in the first quarter and otherwise kept last night’s game against the Warriors close, but at no point did it ever feel like they were going to win.  It didn’t hit a lot of radars last night, but Rajon Rondo (face) was missed as Stephen Curry carved them up for a season-high 51 points, so we might have to re-think that trade a little bit.  The Mavs might have taken a calculated risk with Rondo knowing they were taking a big hit offensively, but also knowing they had some offense to spare -- and no chance in the point guard rich Western Conference without some defense. 

 

The Mavs talked about Dirk Nowitzki’s impending hot streak and the playing time was pointing in that direction, but it hasn’t happened yet and most certainly not last night.  He hit 4-of-15 shots (6-of-6 FTs) for 15 points, three rebounds, two assists and one three in the loss.  Draymond Green’s defense shouldn’t be overlooked, but Dirk’s probably looking at the All Star break and thinking he’s better off planning his final kick on the other side of it.  While I’m purely speculating some more, his shooting coach is visiting from Germany and he might have some tips for his student.  I like a humble buy low deal here. 

 

Chandler Parsons is predictably enjoying life without Rondo and probable facial surgery sounds like it could be a week-to-week absence for the point guard.  Parsons hit 9-of-18 shots (1-of-3 3PTs, 5-of-9 FTs) for 24 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals in 38 minutes last night, and owners should look for him to produce at a top-60 level or thereabouts while Rondo is out. 

 

I talked about Al-Farouq Aminu in the Dose so go check it out for the story there, which is that he’s a recommended but risky add in 12-team formats. 

 

J.J. Barea’s field goal percentage and lack of defensive stats make him an undesirable add in standard formats, but he could theoretically get hot in a small sample size and pack quite a wallop if Rondo misses decent time.  Barea hit 3-of-10 shots for 10 points, four rebounds, five assists and two threes in 28 minutes, while Devin Harris went for eight and seven with two threes in 21 minutes as he gimped around the court. 

 

THE ORACLE’S GODFATHER

 

If Klay Thompson is a laser-guided cyborg built by Lockheed Martin then Stephen Curry is James Brown.  The Godfather of Basketball’s soul plays nightly in the real Mecca of basketball, Roaracle Arena, and you’re going to tell your grandkids all about in 30 years.  They haven’t won anything (yet) and these Warriors could end up being like any number of great teams that never won a title.  I implore you if you haven’t been there to get to Oracle Arena before this chapter ends, because Stephen Curry and Co. aren’t just there to win – they’re there to flat out embarrass you in a cavernous and cascading chorus of East Bay funk.

 

Curry scored a season-high 51 points on 16-of-26 shooting with 10 threes, 9-of-11 free throws, four rebounds, four assists and one steal, causing Mavs coach Rick Carlisle to say after the game that he’s never seen a shooting performance like that.  This game probably put Curry in the lead for MVP honors, but on a pure basketball level the scary thing is that he still looks like he’s feeling out the boundaries of his basketball powers. 

Aaron Bruski
Aaron Bruski has covered hoops for Rotoworld since 2008 and has competed in national fantasy sports competitions for nearly two decades. In 2015 he was named FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year. You can also find his work over at ProBasketballTalk, where he received critical acclaim for his in-depth reporting of the Kings' relocation saga. Hit him on Twitter at Aaronbruski.