My new Wednesday column will tentatively be called the 'Midweek 5' with five takeaways from the last few days. Welcome to the first edition! You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here.
1. I Was Right
I went all in on drafting Christian Wood and Michael Porter Jr. this season and while I was confident they were both going to go off in fantasy and have big seasons, there was plenty of risk involved with me investing so heavily, not to mention reaching pretty far for them at times. And we’re only a week in, but so far both players have not only met, but even exceeded my lofty expectations.
MPJ had his best game of the season Tuesday night and was helped by the absence of Jamal Murray, who was a late scratch due to a right elbow injury. I was pretty excited by his stat line of 30 points, four triples, 10 boards and two blocks on 12-of-18 shooting and MPJ currently ranks at No. 10 on Basketballmonster for per-game value and he’s No. 3 overall if you look at total value, behind only Nikola Jokic and Khris Middleton (they’ve all played four games). Through four games MPJ’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.5 blocks and 2.8 3-pointers, hitting 57 percent of his shots and 88 percent of his free throws. MPJ is not going to go for 30 and 10 every night (at least, I don’t think he will), but he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of. He’s going to be a fantasy monster for years to come.
As for Wood, even though it kind of feels like this is his rookie or sophomore season, it’s actually his fifth year. I’m not sure why it took him so long to blossom, but he started to figure it out in Detroit last year and is fully taking off in Houston. His season got off to a rough start when the Rockets’ opener was postponed because they didn’t have enough non-quarantined players to suit up, so they’ve only played twice this season. But in those two games Wood is averaging 27 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.5 blocks and 2.0 3-pointers on 55 percent shooting. The free throws have been a little dicey as he sits at 67 percent, but we’re only two games in and he’s a career 73 percent shooter. Wood comes in at No. 12 in the BBM ranking and his 14-point first quarter on Monday night was something to see, as he racked three triples and scored 12 points before James Harden even got on the board. And if Harden ever gets his trade wish, Wood could end up being the entire focal point of Houston’s offense.
It’s early and there’s a long way to go, but I doubt the people mocking me for reaching a bit for MPJ and Wood are still doing so. You can see where MPJ and Wood rank in our Season Tools package for as low as $3.99 a month.
2. I Was Wrong
While MPJ and Wood have been crushing stat lines on a nightly basis, a couple of veterans I was also all in on have not been. In fact, Kelly Oubre and Robert Covington are probably the two biggest buy-low guys in the NBA right now. Oubre finally came through with a serviceable stat line on Tuesday night, but it’s been a really rough ride with both of them. And I’ve got them on about as many teams as I have MPJ and Wood, too.
Oubre’s 14 points, five boards, two steals, two blocks and a 3-pointer on 6-of-10 shooting against the Pistons was a sight for the sore eyes of his managers. Despite that stellar line, Oubre’s season numbers through four games are 7.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 0.3 3-pointers on 26 percent shooting. He’s also shooting just 57 percent from the free throw line, but don’t do anything crazy with Oubre. He is a career 43 percent shooter from the floor and 78 percent at the line, and he’s coming off a career year in which he averaged almost 19 points, 6.4 boards, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.9 3-pointers. He’ll be fine and don’t let anyone try to steal him from you if you drafted him. And if you didn’t, throw some low-ball offers out there and see what happens.
Unlike Oubre, Covington has yet to break out of his funk to start his eighth season in the NBA. The disturbingly poor averages of 4.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.3 blocks and 0.3 3-pointers on 26 percent shooting are almost laughable. RoCo’s not going to be a big scorer for the Blazers, but he’s got a career scoring average of 12 points per game and that is where I suspect he’ll end up. He’s not the world’s best shooter and his career field percentage sits at just 40.5 percent. But he hit 43.5 percent of his shots last season and will get this thing turned around quickly. Just like with Oubre, don’t give Covington away or let anyone steal him. The Blazers need him fully functioning if they’re going to make a playoff splash this season and we’re only three games in. And RoCo, eventually, will be a fun source of steals, blocks, 3-pointers and rebounds before you know it.
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Two studs, both a little overweight and maybe a little out of shape, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them play. Harden’s unhappy, hasn’t been practicing, has hardly seen Christian Wood, let alone play with him, and has been hitting the clubs. So what’s he do in the Rockets’ opener on Saturday? How about 44 points, 17 assists and six 3-pointers without hardly breaking a sweat. He’s unreal and is clearly the best fantasy basketball player on the planet, although Nikola Jokic is trying to give him a run for his money right now. It really doesn’t matter if Harden is happy, sad, fat, skinny or playing in Saskatchewan for a team no one will ever hear of or see on TV. He’s going to rack up numbers, regardless. We still don’t know if the Rockets are going to trade him or if Harden will get mad enough to simply just stop playing for them if they don’t, but at least he’s playing right now. And if he’s in the Rockets’ lineup, he should be in your DFS and standard-league lineups, regardless of who they’re playing.
Luka hasn’t been quite as good as Harden and the Mavs (like the Rockets) got off to an ugly 0-2 start. And while I still don’t feel like we’ve seen Luka play at the level we all expect him to, he’s still somehow averaging almost 28 points, 7.0 boards, 6.7 assists and 0.7 3-pointers on 44 percent shooting. The good news is that his free throw percentage is sitting at 86 percent and he’s only committing 2.0 turnover per game through three contests. The bad news is that he’s shooting 12.5 percent from downtown and his stats are down in every single category except for the free throws and turnovers, which are way up. Luka was the architect behind Dallas’ dismantling of the Kawhi-less Clippers on Sunday when they held a 77-27 halftime lead and got their first win by a final score of 124-73. And as my son pointed out to me later, the Mavs could have gone the entire second half without scoring a point and still would have won by four. Luka’s not in tip-top shape but plans on playing his way into it, which is fine by me. He’s going to start hitting threes at some point and while his turnovers will probably start climbing, the rest of his numbers will too. I currently have no regrets for taking Luka at No. 1 in some leagues, although Harden and Jokic are looking pretty dang good.
4. Bye, Bye Ja Morant
Ja Morant was another guy I was really into drafting and he came out of the gates on fire, racking up 44 points in the opener and then a 28-point, seven-assist gem in game two. But then he severely sprained his left ankle on Monday night and we probably won’t see him again until early February. I’m pretty bummed out about it and my stomach felt a little queasy as I watched the replays on Monday night. And he’s the captain for my 30 Deep team, so I’m in some major trouble there. But his injury does bring a couple other guys into the limelight. Tyus Jones is going to start in Morant’s place and is a logical pickup if you’ve got someone to drop. But Jones averaged just 8.8 points and 6.3 assists in his six starts last season and I’m way more into picking up teammate Kyle Anderson, better known as Slow Mo. Anderson was having a career year with a healthy Morant running the show and should see even more usage now with Morant in a walking boot for the next five weeks. Anderson is averaging 18.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers on 49 percent shooting, while also shooting a career-best 80 percent from the free throw line so far. He has yet to get a steal and stealing the ball is not one of his specialties, but everything else looks great. Anderson has been starting at power forward, finishing at small forward, and even played some point guard when Morant left on Monday. I actually picked Slow Mo up before Morant went down, but even with some elapsed time since the injury he’s still available in 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues. I’d rather take a flier on Anderson before Jones.
5. Hello, Larry Nance Jr.
In possibly the least surprising news of the season, Kevin Love suffered a calf injury and will be out for the next three or four weeks for the Cavs. Larry Nance Jr. went off for 13 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three steals, two blocks and a 3-pointer in the opener, when Love was out, disappeared in game 2, was serviceable in game 3 (both of which Love played in) and then had a fun nine points, six rebounds, three assists, four steals, two blocks and a 3-pointer on Tuesday night, again without Love. So, in his two games this season without Love in the lineup, Nance is averaging 11 points, 9.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 3.5 steals, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers. I doubt he’s going to be able to sustain that for the next month, but because he has a chance to and he’s going to play such a big role for the Cavs, Nance now looks like one of the must-pickups in all of fantasy. And he’s still available in 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so make sure he’s not sitting on the wire in yours. If Nance is already gone, and he probably is, Naz Reid should be fun while filling in for Karl-Anthony Towns, who is currently out with a separated wrist.