Jimmy Butler’s elbow injury comes at the worst possible time for the Chicago Bulls.
In the midst of an unbelievable breakout season where Butler has been the Bulls’ best player more often than not, Dr. Buckets was poised to carry the club down the stretch and into the playoffs. Already down Derrick Rose (knee) for several weeks and without Taj Gibson (ankle) for an undetermined amount of time, the Bulls are now going to have to go into scramble mode on offense.
Butler was seeing north of 35 minutes nightly and his usage rate had exceeded superstar status. Now with that ascent temporarily on hold, it’s going to be Tony Snell on the ‘next man up’ list with a massive opportunity ahead.
Elsewhere, we have two rookie taking advantage of getting into the rotation (one in the starting lineup) and a veteran showing the same signs of a breakdown that we’ve seen from him before.
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Elijah Millsap, SG/SF Utah Jazz: Steals
He’s not just Paul’s little brother anymore.
Elijah Millsap has finally found his NBA niche. After being a fringe prospect for the last couple of seasons, the younger Millsap has taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the Utah Jazz. And despite the fact that the team has gotten increasingly healthier on the depth chart around him since the All-Star break with both Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood back on the floor, Millsap is averaging a healthy 26:40 over five games in the unofficial second half of the season.
In those minutes, Millsap has been under the radar due to a woeful 35.3 percent from the field, so he’s not for an owner who is looking to win field goal percentage. During that same stretch of time, Millsap is pulling in 6.2 boards per game while swiping it twice, and while it’s not a glamorous line, averages of 8.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 0.8 triples makes for a useful end-of-roster contributor.
Over the last few games, Ingles has been a starter in name only, while Hood hasn’t exceeded 20 minutes in any contest, although that’s due to medical restrictions and not simply falling out of favor, but after two foot injuries, the Jazz are going to be cautious with their rookie,
Millsap took advantage of his short-lived opportunity as a starter (6.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, three games), and it’s clearly left an impression on Quin Snyder. Snyder heaped praise all over Millsap recently, saying: ““If Elijah Millsap may be the best defender, I’d just like him to do that and make an open three,” he said. “I don’t want him to forget who he is.” Snyder also added “You know I love Elijah. No one loves Elijah more than me. Ask Paul. I’m serious.”
For someone who is available in the majority of 12-team leagues, Millsap can certainly contribute in a key category for the stretch run.
Markel Brown, SG Brooklyn Nets: Steals
Markel Brown stayed ready, and now it’s paying off as a member of the starting lineup. Like Elijah Millsap, Brown isn’t a waiver-wire target for owners conscious of their field goal percentage, but he makes a lot of sense for owners targeting help in the defensive categories.
(Note: As a general disclaimer, both field goal percentage and turnovers are categories I traditionally punt, so that’s why many recommendations will ‘overlook’ those areas.)
Since getting promoted to the starting five, the rookie is averaging 9.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in just over 32.5 minutes per game. Considering he barely played before earning a trip to center stage, it’s been an impressive run for a guy who was best known as a second-round pick prior to his new role. Brown has a skill set that can help fantasy owners, and that’s the second thing he and I share in common—that January 29 birthdate is looking mighty fine, as well.
Brown’s role in the offense isn’t going to be a prominent one as the Nets chase a final spot in the postseason standings, but he does enough without being a focal point that he can help contributors in need of assistance on the back end. More of a steals guy than a blocks guy but capable of doing both, Brown is best counted on as a gamble with the upside to be more than that so long as he continues to take advantage of the shot he’s been granted.
Tony Snell, SG/SF Chicago Bulls: 3-Pointers
Jimmy Butler dealt with a shoulder injury prior to the All-Star break, and the elbow injury he left Sunday’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers with did not look like one that would allow him to be back on the court in the immediate future. Sure enough, it isn’t. The Bulls announced that Butler will be out for between three and six weeks with a sprain of his UCL and a small bone impaction injury. If that sounds uncomfortable, that’s because it is.
Given that Butler immediately went to the bench, then right back to the locker room and was ruled out upon initial update, it wasn’t all that hard to see this coming. With the Bulls already struggling for offense in life without Derrick Rose (knee), the time Butler is going to miss will be extremely difficult for Chicago to overcome.
And that’s where Tony Snell comes in.
Snell has been excellent since coming out of the All-Star break. Shooting better than 40 percent from distance while averaging almost 4.5 per game in the process, Snell has a neon-green light he’s never seen prior. And considering he shot just 32 percent from deep during his rookie season, it’s easy to see why that’s been the case. Along with his stellar shooting from deep, Snell is putting up nearly 10 points and two triples per contest while playing a reserve role.
Now poised to see a major spike in his role and usage, Contending with Snell on the depth chart for minutes at shooting guard and small forward: Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks (starting at PG), Mike Dunleavy, E’Twaun Moore and Doug McDermott.
In other words, Snell is a must-own, must-start player for at least the next several weeks with no real challenge to his throne. The Bulls will be without Butler, Derrick Rose (knee) and Taj Gibson (ankle) for the foreseeable future, so Snell will have to play an integral role in anything Chicago wants to do. Snell has been on fire over his last 10 games with a 72.7 effective field goal percentage, so if he’s ever going to strike while the iron is hot, now is the time.
Gorgui Dieng, C Minnesota Timberwolves: Steals & Blocks
You’ll never believe it, but Nikola Pekovic is hurt. Again.
Don’t tell me you were expecting that. We’ve never heard such a crazy thing before. It’s not like this scenario was totally predictable before the season began. It’s not as if there were questions when the Timberwolves re-signed Pekovic to a massive five-year, $60 million deal when the team was clearly bidding against itself. No, it’s only a recent development where Pekovic has been unable to stay on the floor due to an injury.
...Said no one ever.
Now with a need to develop the youth and no real need to play Pekovic going forward, Gorgui Dieng should be in line to benefit nicely from however much time Big Pek has to miss. Even though Pekovic is being listed as questionable for Monday’s game and has an outside shot of playing, it’s awfully difficult to envision this scenario ending well considering how it’s played out before. He’s simply too big, too strong and relies too much on his physical game for the ankle to hold up for a sustained period of time at less than 100 percent. Pekovic came into training camp with the ankle issue still in the picture and hasn’t been able to shake it all season. That’s not something that’s just going to magically subside overnight, and the chronic nature of the injury makes it an especially alarming concern.
As the starting center this season, Dieng is averaging 10.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks on 49.2 percent shooting. And if Flip Saunders feels like starting Kevin Garnett inside with Dieng at power forward, his numbers in five starts over at the four spot are nothing to overlook: 10.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
Dieng is a must-own in all formats even if he’s not (and he’s not) a must-start in the immediate. Pek’s shutdown is coming sooner, not later, and it would be shocking if he was able to get through the entire month of March without that exact scenario coming to fruition.