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Ja Morant
Roundball Stew

Managing Morant

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: December 13, 2019, 12:44 pm ET

Some weeks I sit down to write this column and have no coherent theme. No clarity. No purpose. 

It is on those Fridays — like this one — that I jot down a collection of random thoughts that hopefully snowball into something coherent. Let’s begin in Memphis, where…

It is the best of times — and most maddening of times — for Ja Morant. 

I’m talking, of course, about load management in Memphis. And I’ll get to that in a second. But first, let’s look at why it’s so infuriating: specifically, because it’s the only thing preventing Morant from becoming a full-fledged fantasy force. Over his last 10 games, Ja has put up 19.6 ppg, 7.5 apg, 1.6 spg and 1.2 3s, shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 82.1 from the line with just 2.6 turnovers — a pretty low number for a high-usage dynamo. Over the last month, that puts him at No. 30 overall in 9-category leagues (per BasketballMonster.com). 

So, yes — I’ve just confirmed what we already knew: Ja Morant is a beast.

Now let’s talk about the other part of this equation: load management /injury maintenance/abundance of caution. I realize there is probably no point in me complaining that Memphis is preemptively resting their 20-year-old emerging star (and another impressive 23-year-old in Brandon Clarke). Just in case though, I’m putting that complaint on the record. 

Let’s assume though that we’re stuck in a world where Morant and Clarke are going to sit out most, if not all, of back-to-backs the rest of the way. Including this Friday and Saturday, the Grizzlies have 10 back-to-backs remaining. That is a daunting number at first glance, but four of those are happening between now and Jan. 5. So, if you can weather that mini storm over the next three weeks or so, we’re talking about potentially sitting out six games for maintenance during a span of nearly three and a half months between early January and mid-April. That’s manageable. They also have just one back-to-back after mid-March, so it’s possible that we will all have the full Morant experience available for crunch time of our seasons — assuming that the Grizzlies don’t extend the load management menu beyond back-to-backs. The bottom line is, I’m pretty much ready to take this thing all the way to the end of the line, and if you want to trade me Morant in any leagues because you’re preemptively concerned about him sitting — I am listening.

Is Devonte' Graham the waiver wire king?

This one is still up for some debate, as Graham — currently 54th in 9-category leagues — is among the highest-ranked players on the leaderboard who went undrafted in a ton of leagues (91 percent of Yahoo leagues, specifically). At the same time, Richaun Holmes (a player I’ll discuss in a minute) actually went undrafted in 95 percent of leagues, and is ranked even higher than Graham on the year. Here’s the thing about Graham, though: He’s getting better. Take a look:

Devonte' Graham 2019-20
First 17 gms: 18.2 ppg, 7.1 apg, 0.7 spg, 3.5 3s, 41.5% FG
Last 10 gms: 23.0 ppg, 8.5 apg, 0.7 spg, 4.3 3s, 41.6% FG


Over that 10-game run, Graham has been a top-20 option in 9-category formats. Clearly, the low FG percentage and limited steals are issues you’re going to have to live with, and by that I mean I’m unbelievably jealous that I didn’t land him in any of my leagues when he was taking flight early in the season.

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Kevin Huerter is an assists factory. 

This is a blatant exaggeration of course, but Huerter since returning from injury has essentially taken over as the Hawks backup PG, and has averaged 9.0 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.7 bpg and 2.3 3s over his last three games, despite a minutes cap that has limited him to right around 25 minutes a night. That cap should be lifted soon, and once his shot starts falling more consistently, Huerter looks ready to start coming through as a pretty valuable fantasy contributor — and most importantly, more than just a points and 3s guy. 

If we can trust recent history, I’m buying low on Myles Turner.

First things first: Turner has been frustrating. He has missed eight of Indiana’s first 25 games, and is putting up just 10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.6 spg, 2.4 bpg and 1.4 3s, shooting 41.9 percent from the field. 

Aside from the blocks and 3s, that’s pretty annoying, and certainly not the progression we were hoping for after his strong finish to last season. Consider this though: Through his first 17 games last year, Turner was posting remarkably similar stats — 11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.4 spg, 2.5 bpg and 0.4 3s. From that point onward last season, he put up 14.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 0.9 spg, 2.7 bpg and 1.2 3s, shooting 49.4 percent from the field. Given that recent history, and the fact that he’s approaching a boiling point of irritation with single-digit points in three of his last four games, he’s one of my favorite trade targets right now.

The last month has seen some wild spikes in value.

Here are five surprise players providing top-15 value the last month in 9-category leagues:

1. Hassan Whiteside (No. 5 overall): His numbers the last month (17.0 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 0.5 spg, 2.9 bpg) aren’t surprising if you were expecting a renaissance after he left Miami. The number that is shocking though — and helping him achieve such lofty value – is his free throw shooting. After hitting just 44.9 percent from the line last season, Whiteside is shooting a career-high 76.8 this year, including a cool 80.0 percent the last month. For added measure, he canned a trey on Thursday night, and is now 1-for-1 from distance on the year.

2. Fred VanVleet (No. 7): Recently sidelined with a knee injury, VanVleet did the majority of that first-round damage with Kyle Lowry injured, putting up 21.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 7.5 apg, 2.4 spg and 3.0 3s in 11 games. He takes a significant hit with Toronto’s No. 1 PG back, but was still a top-50 player before Lowry got hurt.

3. Richaun Holmes (No. 8): Holmes has put up an outstanding 14.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.4 spg and 1.4 bpg on 68.1 percent from the field and 83.3 from the line over his last month of games. The only small concern here is that in Marvin Bagley’s first game back, Holmes played just 25 minutes — his second-lowest total of this month-long run. If you can find anyone who’s concerned about Bagley wrecking Holmes’ value, I’d happily take advantage of that in a trade. 

4. Chris Paul (No. 10): I’m now more convinced than ever that CP3 will be posting top-25 numbers on a per-game basis when he’s 53 years old. His counting stats are more solid than spectacular during this run (16.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.4 spg and 1.3 3s), and he has gotten a notable boost from the fact that he’s just not turning the ball over — 0.8 per game the last month. Considering that he has yet to miss a single game this season, and OKC is playing well (5-2 in their last seven games), your opportunity to trade him probably can’t get any better than it is right now. 

5. Davis Bertans (No. 13): Here’s a number for you — 36. That’s how many treys Bertans has hit over his last six games, while averaging 23.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.8 spg, 1.0 bpg (and 6.0 3s). 

So what should you do if he’s on your roster? Option A is keep him, and I don’t think you’ll regret it. Option B is try to deal him, and given how much of his value is tied up in 3s (4.0 per game) and low turnovers (0.6), it’s something I’d seriously explore. After all, this is a guy who’s ranked higher than Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, Nikola Jokic, Donovan Mitchell and Tobias Harris for the season. Obviously I can’t imagine a universe where you’re getting Beal, Jokic or Mitchell for Bertans in a trade, but it illustrates the bigger point that his value is absolutely soaring. There’s also the fact that his name has come up in trade rumors, and a move elsewhere likely puts a dent in his value. Furthermore, before this six-game explosion, he was putting up a solid but not-that-notable 12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg and 3.3 3s through his first 17 games.

In closing: Yes, I think he’ll hold plenty of value if you keep him on your roster. But if you’re not at least testing the trade value of the guy who sits one spot behind Devin Booker in 9-category leagues on the season (31st overall), you’re running the risk of playing it too safe.