Jae Crowder is one of my favorite players in the NBA, and it has everything to do with his effort on every single possession. Dripping with sweat as he takes on the challenge to defend the opposition’s best player, Crowder plays with his foot on the gas pedal 24/7.
Elsewhere, the Atlanta Hawks continue to make the Los Angeles Lakers look silly for letting Kent Bazemore walk out that door. Playing under control and flying high on the Hawks’ spread wings, Bazemore’s two-year deal—worth $4 million total—has proven to be a ridiculous bargain, while Nick Young’s four-year, $21 million has prompted nothing but questions.
For those who might have missed the new debut of this column last week, there are two things to know: Players are evaluated based on a week-to-week basis for their placement here, and first-round picks are not eligible to appear at any point during the season.
Statistics accurate as of Monday, November 9
Free Throw Percentage
Gold Star: DeMar DeRozan, G/F Toronto Raptors
To say DeMar DeRozan has grown into the contract former general manager Bryan Colangelo awarded him would be an understatement, and there are a number of people who owe BC a massive apology. You can see how watching Kobe Bryant through his youth has impacted DeRozan’s evolution as a basketball player, and in an NBA that now staunchly rejects the mid-range shot, DD warmly embraces it.
Over his last four games, DeRozan has attempted 41 free throws, good for an average of 10.3 per game. He’s made 37 of them, and considering he’s averaged at least 7.2 free throw attempts in each of the last two seasons after struggling to get there consistently during the earlier stages of his career, it’s clearly become an area of emphasis for DeRozan. Very much motivated to prove his worth as an elite shooting guard in a contract year, some are going to be floored when he signs for nearly $100 million this offseason. Perhaps he could even replace Kobe—his favorite player growing up—on the Lakers.
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No Discounts: Danilo Gallinari, F Denver Nuggets
Danilo Gallinari can’t provide enough offense to a Denver Nuggets team that is desperate for as much as it can get, and nothing about Gallo’s post-All-Star performance last season is looking like a fluke this year. Comfortable playing under Mike Malone and even helping to handle the ball, the Italian Stallion is looking ready to ride.
Over his three games this week, Gallinari was 24-of-29 from the foul line, and he’s now shot six or more free throws in five of his first six contests. With his minutes stable in the mid-30s, Gallinari needs to keep it going from the charity stripe to retain his value beyond the points he scores. After bombing away 5.1 times per game from deep last season, Gallo is clocking in at just 3.2 three-point attempts this year, the lowest mark of his career since his rookie campaign.
Bargain Bin: Brook Lopez, C Brooklyn Nets
Brook Lopez’s temporary placement here is the direct result of departing Saturday’s game with renewed soreness in his surgically repaired right foot. Although X-rays were negative and a subsequent MRI showed no structural issues, the injury scare served as a very real illustration of the risk that comes with having Lopez on your team. If you believe in his health and can buy low on a player who has been producing, take the chance to do it now. At some point, you’ve got to take risks to win, but that may not be during the first month of the season.
Lopez has gone to the line at least six times in every game except for his most recent effort when he departed with the foot injury, and he’s making 83.3 percent of his attempts. The focal point of anything the Nets are trying to accomplish on the offensive end of the floor, you can get Lopez at a discount after those who previously invested in his stock bought at a premium on draft day.
Gold Star: Eric Gordon, SG New Orleans Pelicans
Contract-year players looking for another payday always seem to have a little extra fire in their game, and with his health now finally in order, Eric Gordon is taking full advantage of playing for a shorthanded Pelicans team. With Tyreke Evans (knee surgery) beginning the year on the shelf and Jrue Holiday (leg) forced to move in and out of the lineup, Gordon is playing big minutes, jacking up shots like he hasn’t since before Anthony Davis’ arrival.
Since we last convened, Gordon 12-of-29 from 3-point range, and 23-of-49 from the field overall. Anyone with EJ on his or her team would have gleefully signed up for that on draft day.
No Discounts: Nik Stauskas, SG Philadelphia 76ers
Nik Stauskas has been a popular pickup since the beginning of the week, and it’s pretty easy to follow the logic behind it. Locked into big minutes so long as he remains healthy, Stauskas has played at least 34.5 minutes in each of his last three games, hitting 11 triples (of 39 attempts) over his last four. The efficiency hasn’t been there, but the opportunity has been. His team needs instant offense as well as floor spacing, and Stauskas is able to provide both.
You’re going to overpay for Stauskas considering his recent run if you want to add him to your team, especially given the Sixers are going to get healthier (Robert Covington, Tony Wroten) as the season progresses. The opportunity in Philadelphia is always real, but potential can be your worst enemy if not gauged against production properly.
Bargain Bin: Marcus Thornton, SG Houston Rockets
The only thing that keeps Marcus Thornton out of the above category and pushes him down here is his team’s improving health. With Terrence Jones (eye) and Patrick Beverley (concussion) due back this week, the veteran shooting guard is the most obvious candidate to have his minutes reduced. Subbing in for Jones in the starting five while the Rockets played with an ultra-small lineup with Trevor Ariza at power forward, Thornton should shift back to the bench. Although I still expect him to be a regular part of the team’s rotation, it’s unrealistic to expect him to continue to flirt with 20 points nightly while averaging 2.7 triples like he has over his last three games.
Gold Star: Paul Millsap, F Atlanta Hawks
Paul Millsap wasn’t a first-round pick in most leagues, but he sure is playing like one. Playing out of his mind with more total steals (19) than turnovers (16), Millsap has averaged 3.0 steals and a block over his last four games alone. He’s scoring, hitting triples, rebounding the basketball and even dishing the rock at a greater than expected rate, the only knock on Millsap is his career-low 45.8 percent from the floor. Considering he’s launching 4.0 triples per game and doing everything else in the process, we’ll gladly overlook it.
No Discounts: Kent Bazemore, G/F Atlanta Hawks
Bazemore has gone from glorified towel waver to legitimate fantasy asset, and it’s a testament to hard work and being ready for the opportunity after it's created. Doing work over the last week, Bazemore is averaging 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks while sinking 2.0 triples per game. While the swats have been a nice bonus, the steals should be there all season, and Bazemore is averaging a healthy 28.5 minutes per game to begin the year. Many who scooped Bazemore up will be drawn to the fact that he’s already scored 19-plus three times, but it’s his defensive activity and contributions from behind the 3-point line that will keep him relevant. Move appropriately.
Bargain Bin: Jae Crowder, F Boston Celtics
It took exactly two columns to get our first repeat appearance, and so long as Jae Crowder continues to be criminally under-appreciated in the fantasy landscape, I’m going to keep banging the drum to make sure everyone hears the sound. He’s got seven steals over his last two games, and he had eight over three combined contests prior to that. While it’s unlikely he keeps up that impressive rate, it’s an illustration of what he’s capable of doing on any given night. An unbelievably active, athletic defender who plays with his heart on his sleeve for a coach that believes in him, Crowder will be really fun to play once he gets his shot (38.5 percent) to start falling. Along with Avery Bradley, Crowder is the only member of Boston’s volatile starting lineup that isn’t going to have his minutes jerked around. They wouldn’t have spent $35 million on him if that were the plan.