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Roundball Stew

Stretch Run Stars: The Difference Maker

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: February 21, 2020, 2:36 pm ET

We’ve survived one week and what feels like 18 fortnights without NBA basketball, so I think it’s high time to overreact to the tiny sample we’ve had recently. Here are some recent trends I’m going to blow out of proportion, with the possibility that they will actually come true:

Thon Maker is a League-Winner: I tend to think that the phrase “league-winner” is overused, but since I’m going out of my way to blow things out of proportion this week, I thought it was appropriate here. Pretty much everything went wrong for Maker on Thursday evening — he got into early foul trouble and only played 18 minutes in a blowout loss — yet he still finished with 11 points, six boards, two assists, two blocks and three treys. That gives him the following numbers in five starts since Andre Drummond left the 313 area code: 13.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.6 spg, 1.6 bpg and 1.6 3s on 56.8 percent from the field and 64.3 from the line. If he keeps getting 25+ minutes, then I think 1.5 3s and 1.5 blocks are sustainable, and you won’t find that combo platter on your waiver wire very often. Maker, a man who could be the catalyst to a league-winning run, is rostered in 22 percent of Yahoo leagues.

It’s all happening for De’Anthony Melton. Melton lit the torch in a serious way on Thursday night, with 24 points, six boards, three dimes, one steal, one block and four 3s in just 23 minutes — because that’s what De’Anthony Melton does. He has now played his last five games without Jae Crowder, and in those five he’s putting up 11.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.4 bpg and 1.0 3s in 24 minutes a game (up from 18 per game on the season). Melton has also put up those counting stats while shooting poorly in three of those five games (and shooting 32.7 percent over that five-game stretch), but he’s a 44.1 percent shooter for the season, and one whose outlook, for a guy rostered in just 10 percent of leagues, is ridiculously good the rest of the way.

Dewayne Dedmon is still set up fantastically for the immediate future. The Hawks’ current starting center had a dreadful, foul-plagued night on Thursday (zero points, eight rebounds and nothing else in 20 minutes), and if I was keeping in theme with this column, I would completely write him off after that. I’m going to go the other direction though, and say that with Clint Capela still a couple weeks away from being re-evaluated, Dedmon remains a must-start player. Just as a refresher, in his last five games prior to Thursday’s stinker (two with Sacramento, three with ATL), Dedmon put up 9.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.8 spg, 3.6 bpg (not a typo) and 1.0 3s. 

We now begin the Charlotte, NC, portion of this column, beginning with…

Draft Day Miles Bridges is finally here. I’m not even sure this is an overreaction given that Bridges has now strung together eight productive games in a row, but let’s not overthink it. The bottom line is that this massive fantasy disappointment (he was outside the top-150 in 9-category leagues at the end of January) has now averaged 20.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.1 spg, 0.6 bpg and 2.4 3s with just 1.0 turnovers in those aforementioned eight games. That makes him 55th overall during his hot streak, and I’m all-in on Bridges keeping it going on what’s suddenly a very fantasy-friendly Charlotte squad.

(Follow me on Twitter — @MattStroup)

I’m buying in — again — on Malik Monk. I’ve been early to the party on multiple occasions when it comes to Monk, but this time something looks different. The No. 11 pick in the 2017 draft has had some isolated binges to get our hopes up, but what we’re seeing now qualifies as the best run of his brief career. After a 25-point effort against the Bulls on Thursday night — his second consecutive 25-point game book-ending the All-Star break — Monk’s last 10 games include 17.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.8 3s, on 47.0 percent from the field and 91.9 from the line. We’ll probably have to live with a lack of steals, but 0.6 bpg is actually a nice added bonus from a points and 3s guy. And either way, Monk (32 percent rostered in Yahoo) looks like a legitimate difference-maker, and a player we can actually, finally, trust down the stretch. 

It was the best of times, and the worst of times, for Devonte’ Graham. Prior to the break it looked like Graham was getting it going again, and now it feels like his apostrophe is about to fall off. To review — Devonte’ averaged 19.8 ppg and 8.8 apg on 44.4 percent shooting in his last five games before the break, then came out of it with his first zero of the season, on 0-for-7 shooting, on Thursday. Honestly, this just perfectly sums up the Graham experience: There are a lot of good things and a lot of bad things that happen to your fantasy squad when you have him around. The reality though is that even with all the issues, he’s still a valuable fantasy option — 85th on the season, and 113th over the last two months in 9-category leagues — so I actually land on the side of optimism with Graham, who at least has the skill set and the role to get ridiculously hot as we head toward the finish.

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P.J. Washington is back! After a horrible stretch from PJW leading up to the break (6.6 ppg on 33.9 percent shooting over a seven-game span), he uncorked a vintage P.J. Washington performance on Thursday evening, with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block and one 3-pointer on 6-for-11 shooting. If he got dropped in your league, make him the fourth Hornet on your fantasy roster and let’s do this thing.

(This concludes the Charlotte Hornets section of the column.)

The sky is falling for Al Horford. Still a top-70 player for the season, Horford has seen his value take a massive hit in recent weeks, and it cratered to another level when he played a season-low 19 minutes even without Ben Simmons on Thursday night (en route to six points, three boards, two dimes, a steal and two blocks). Since the start of February, Al is putting up just 7.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.0 bpg and 1.6 3s in 27 minutes a game. Those numbers can still help us in deeper leagues, but he doesn’t have the look of a shallow-league difference-maker right now, and in words that I did not think I’d ever say at the start of this season, I’d rather have Thon Maker.

If you needed another reason to add Kevin Porter Jr. — here it is. News dropped on Friday, right before I published this column, that new Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff is going to give Kevin Porter Jr. some time at point guard the rest of the way. Inexplicably rostered in just 18 percent of Yahoo leagues (a number that was right around 10 last weekend), KPJ has averaged 16.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.9 spg and 2.3 3s on 51.9 percent shooting in his last seven games, and increased assists would give him yet another spike in value. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this encouraged about Andrew Wiggins. Consider this: In just four games with the Warriors, Wiggins has already tied for the second-best steals game of his career (five), and set a new career-high in blocks, with four. Is that a coincidence? Maybe. But let’s remember — this is a guy who has always had serious upside, he just has all-too-often seemed disengaged. Personally, I will absolutely buy into the notion that Steve Kerr can get the most out of the soon-to-be 25-year-old (whose birthday is on Sunday by the way if you’re looking for random reasons to start guys in DFS). In his four games with the Warriors, Wiggins has averaged 22.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.0 apg with an obscene 2.0 spg, 1.8 bpg and 2.5 3s on 57.9 percent shooting. If you dial it back to the last month, he’s at 22.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.9 bpg and 2.9 3s on 51.7 percent from the floor. Bottom line: For the first time in a long time, I will absolutely be targeting Wiggins in fantasy drafts this coming fall. 

Caris LeVert is a winning lottery ticket. I’ve been down on LeVert all year, for the simple fact that he hasn’t been a good fantasy option: He currently sits 274th in 9-category leagues, one spot behind the esteemed Solomon Hill. However, with the news that Kyrie Irving (shoulder) is done for the year (after 20 games, while making $32 million, but that’s a separate conversation), LeVert is primed for a massive finish. After hoisting up a career-high 29 shots on Thursday (and making only nine, which is also a separate conversation), he’s averaging 24.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.7 spg and 2.5 3s over his last six games, looking quite a bit like the breakout player we saw last year before his brutal leg injury. He’s also been making his free throws, going 24-for-26 during this six-game hot streak. Turnovers are an issue (4.0 per game), but with the improved free throws and a respectable enough FG percentage (44.2), I can live with it. Overall when it comes to LeVert, I’ve done a full 180 — going from I wouldn’t start him under any circumstances to how is this guy not on any of my teams? in a matter of a couple weeks — and if that isn’t overreacting, I don’t know what is.