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The Specialists

C.J. McCollum’s Time to Shine

by Ethan Norof
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Let’s just get this out of the way now: This is not going to be pretty.

Ryan Kelly, C.J. McCollum and Jason Smith make up the unlikeliest trio of any possible threesome combination conceivable in the NBA, but there is one underlying reason why all three are joined together here: Unbelievable opportunity.

Whether it’s Kelly bombing away for a tanking Los Angeles Lakers team, McCollum filling (and then some) a crucial void left by key injuries on the Blazers’ roster or simply Jason Smith being the last man standing in Derek Fisher’s ragtag cast of characters, all three guys are slated to play major minutes to close out the regular season in 2015.

When embroiled in a close matchup that will go down to the finish line, first-place finishes aren’t possible if you’re not manipulating the waiver wire and playing the matchups over the final three days. The difference between first and any other place is a very costly proposition, and not one that we want Rotoworld readers to find themselves in when the games conclude on Wednesday.

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Ryan Kelly, F Los Angeles Lakers: Three-Pointers

I have been as critical as anyone on Ryan Kelly’s role as an NBA player, and don’t confuse my stance here with how I evaluate his game. Kelly is getting an opportunity he wouldn’t get on almost any other NBA team, and just because he’s putting up numbers for a Los Angeles Lakers team almost completely void of any legitimate NBA talent doesn’t mean he suddenly has a future in the league or as a fantasy commodity.

But right here, right now, over these next two games? You’d be a fool not to use him.

Entering Sunday’s contest, Kelly has averaged 11.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.8 triples on a blistering 42.3 percent from behind the three-point line. He’s seen at least 30 minutes of action in every game since March 25, and he’s been especially good over his last handful of games, emerging as a top-50(ish) play depending on the format of your league. On Sunday, Kelly added to his April stats with 10 points, two rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block on a disappointing 2-of-10 from the field, including 0-of-5 from distance, but the key takeaway is that Kelly is still getting an opportunity to shine, and that’s not going to change. With the Lakers incredibly banged up at small forward—the team literally does not have an active one on the roster—Kelly will be forced to play significant minutes for the remainder of the campaign. Considering how readily available the Duke product is on the waiver wire, this is a player you’re passing up at your own risk—and likely to your opposing owner’s delight.

With his ability to contribute in the money stats and his ability to hit three-pointers at an incredible clip right now, Kelly is a much better end-of-season roster stash than someone dealing with injury. You can not afford a DNP at this stage under any circumstance.

C.J. McCollum, G Portland Trail Blazers: Three-Pointers, Steals

It’s taken a little longer than expected, but C.J. McCollum has arrived, and he’s doing everything he can to show that perhaps the Blazers shouldn’t be so quick to bury him on the bench heading into next season.

With both Wesley Matthews (Achilles) and Arron Afflalo (shoulder) out of the picture, McCollum has the Lehigh product has been an absolute sensation over his last two games with averages of 20.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 3-pointers on a stellar 51.7 percent from the field, including an impressive 42.9 percent clip from distance. With both Matthews and AA out through the remainder of the regular season, McCollum is locked into a major role with major minutes attached, and he’s an absolute must-own, must-start player for owners whose seasons extend into the final week of action.

LaMarcus Aldridge is battling a sore foot, the Blazers absolutely need to lessen Damian Lillard’s workload before the next round begins and the Blazers are locked into a top-four seed regardless of whatever happens the rest of the way. Portland has to do whatever it takes to survive beyond the first round in 2015, and if leaning on McCollum is the way to do it, fantasy owners would be smiling from ear-to-ear. Considering the Blazers are unlikely to have Afflalo back by the time the playoffs begin, McCollum’s being thrown into the fire isn’t just something Portland wants right now—it’s what they need.

Jason Smith, F/C New York Knicks: Blocks

Even I can’t believe we’ve gotten to this point at the bottom of the barrel.

There is just nothing left for the Knicks. Andrea Bargnani seems like he’s out for the season, Lou Amundson is not a threat, Quincy Acy has played 30-plus minutes just once since February began and while Cole Aldrich occasionally puts up a performance that makes you wonder “how isn’t this guy better?” the reality is this: He’s just not that good, and Aldrich is going to have far more ‘woof’ than ‘bark’ games.

Over his last three games, Smith has been north of 27 minutes in all of them, and he’s actually produced in very respectable fashion with averages of 12.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.67 blocks on 14-of-31 (45.2 percent) shooting. While that’s not going to blow anyone away who gives the box score a quick glance, it’s certainly worth taking notice of considering the situation in New York. This team has absolutely nothing left to play for and is throwing out one of the worst starting lineups the NBA has ever seen, so Smith should have nothing but opportunity over the remaining two games. With the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks and the disappointing Detroit Pistons as the contests to close it out, Smith is in a good (but not great) spot to finish his first campaign in New York with a bang.

Ethan Norof
Follow Ethan Norof on Twitter @Ethan_Norof for more fantasy basketball analysis, advice and all things Los Angeles Lakers.