DeMarcus Cousins, superstar. Get used to it, folks.
On an eight-pack Saturday, Cousins’ crown shone brightly through the crowd, Cleveland went down in Tyronn Lue’s debut, and things are getting funky in Phoenix with the Alex Len power forward era upon us.
Milwaukee @ New Orleans: Pelicans 116, Bucks 99
You knew the Bucks would be tested in the second game of a back-to-back set on the road, but a lopsided 17-point loss was not the plan for a team that connected at a 52.7% clip from the field and 40% of its 3-point shots. Milwaukee once again had all five starters in double figures, and Greg Monroe (22 pts, 11 reb) has now recorded a double-double in 10 of his 12 January games. There is no reason Khris Middleton (22 pts, 7 reb, 5 ast, 4 3PM, 5 TO) can’t finish inside the top 50, and that very well may wind up being a conservative projection. Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out in 28.5 minutes, providing runway for Michael Carter-Williams (19 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl, 2 blk, 4 TO, 9-of-12 FG) to take flight. Jabari Parker’s fantasy ceiling just isn’t very high, making him a low-end pickup better suited for deeper formats.
It’s only a matter of time until it goes from bad to worse for Tyreke Evans (knee), and Jrue Holiday (13 pts, 4 reb, 9 ast, 3 stl) is going to be the biggest beneficiary. Holiday now as at least nine dimes in five of his last six games and has been trending upward strongly in January, and I just don’t trust Evans’ surgically-repaired knee to hold up for the second half after everything he’s already gone through to date. Anthony Davis is averaging 22.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.8 blocks over his last four games…The Pelicans are 3-1 during that stretch. Ryan Anderson’s value is based completely in his offense, and he’s someone I’d be pushing in trade talks if he were on any of my fantasy rosters. You can’t expect consistent production from Norris Cole, but you can safely project a stable dosage of minutes with Eric Gordon (finger) sidelined indefinitely. Not every waiver wire pickup has to have immense upside, and Cole can be a productive player on the right fantasy roster.
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New York @ Charlotte: Hornets 97, Knicks 84
After a blowout loss on Friday and a full night of travel through the inclement weather, some are going to call this a scheduling loss for the Knicks. I’d have an easier time buying that stance if the shorthanded Hornets weren’t down Nicolas Batum (toe), Cody Zeller (shoulder) and Jeremy Lamb (toe) while playing in the second leg of a back-to-back set after an overtime win. Zeller—who has a sprained ligament in the same (right) shoulder that required rotator cuff surgery—is expected to miss at least another week. Spencer Hawes will continue to start at center, but he’s an unattractive pickup in standard formats. The only New York player to show up in Saturday’s box score was Derrick Williams (19 pts, 14 reb, 4 ast), but garbage time was a factor and his appeal is comparable to a warm glass of tap water even with Lance Thomas (knee) sidelined given a healthy Carmelo Anthony (9 pts, 4-of-11 FG) and Kristaps Porzingis (13 pts, 3 blk). That would change if Melo is forced to miss time after departing Saturday’s loss early with a sore left (surgically-repaired) knee, but there is no indication of that at this time and Melo said the soreness wasn’t related to his previous procedure. The Knicks have now lost four of six games, while failing to reach 39% shooting in each of their last two. Ugly.
Kemba Walker needed 25 shots to score his 26 points, but he contributed everywhere on the stat sheet with six boards, five assists, a steal, a block and three triples while going a pristine 9-of-9 from the charity stripe. Walker is going to keep it moving even when Batum and eventually Al Jefferson (knee) get back on the floor...This is not a sell high scenario. Jeremy Lin (26 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast, 5 TO) turned in one of his best games of the season, but his value has been artificially inflated as Charlotte’s injuries have piled up. Even with Batum in a walking boot for his toe, trading Lin now in a 2-for-1 swap makes sense. Marvin Williams couldn’t find any offense, but his defense and versatility is keeping him on the floor (35 minutes) and Williams is going to keep on producing so long as his playing time is there. Here’s how to gauge P.J. Hairston exploding for 20 points and 10 rebounds: In his prior three games, Hairston had a combined 18 points and nine boards.
Memphis @ Minnesota: Timberwolves 106, Grizzlies 101
This is a bad loss for the Grizzlies, a team already playing without Tony Allen (knee, hamstring), and now sitting at a very mediocre 25-20, Memphis is going to have some tough decisions to make ahead of the 2016 NBA trade deadline. A “dinged up” Marc Gasol was able to provide 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, but with as many turnovers as rebounds (two), it’s clear that Pau’s “little” brother is operating at far less than 100%. Matt Barnes and Zach Randolph combined for 20 points on an underwhelming and unimpressive 8-of-20 shooting, and it must have been a team theme night with Mike Conley requiring nine shots to score his nine points. Jeff Green took the commitment to the next level with more shots (13) than points scored (11), and when Mario Chalmers (19 pts, 3 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk, 6-of-8 FG) is your most statistically productive player, it’s probably going to be a long night.
In what could go down as Minnesota’s most impressive win of the season, the Timberwolves got a perfect night from a (near) perfect rookie in Karl-Anthony Towns: 14 points, nine rebounds, three dimes, a steal and a block on 6-of-6 shooting. It’s impossible to undersell Towns’ future as a force in both reality and fantasy, and the Big KAT is already doing things in his inaugural campaign that Anthony Davis could have only dreamed about at the same stage. In other words: Towns is a generational talent, a bona fide stud in keeper and dynasty formats and a big reason your re-draft team is exceeding everyone’s expectations…It was a big night for Minny’s youngsters with Ricky Rubio (15 pts, 6 reb, 12 ast, 3 stl) flirting with a triple-double, Andrew Wiggins (19 pts, 5 reb, 7-of-10 FG) showing out and Shabazz Muhammad (season-high 25 pts, 8-of-15 FG, 8-of-8 FT) showing off, and while Shabazz is better suited for points formats considering all he does is score, Wiggins is an under-appreciated asset who is less than one full season away from exploding as a multi-cat contributor. When people in your league start discussing why we didn’t see the breakout coming sooner, you should be able to lead the conversation.
Chicago @ Cleveland: Bulls 96, Cavs 83
I know it’s just shocking that firing David Blatt wasn’t synonymous with pushing the magic button for a broken Cavs team, but Cleveland needs more than a change in leadership to start truly firing on all cylinders. LeBron James was everywhere with 26 points, 13 rebounds, nine dimes, two steals and a block with just a single turnover, and that really helps to tell the story of how poorly everyone else on Cleveland’s roster played outside of J.R. Smith (18 pts, 11 reb). Kyrie Irving (11 pts, 5-of-16 FG) was nowhere to be found, while “focal point” Kevin Love had just 14 points and five boards despite a clear emphasis to get him the ball closer to the basket. To say Tyronn Lue will be challenged in getting the most out of Love is an understatement considering he starts at LeBron’s best position, and it’s hard to remember watching a more arrogant, entitled 30-12 team that has truly won nothing of note.
Derrick Rose’s team-high 21 field goal attempts resulted in just five makes and 12 points, four boards and four dimes, but it didn’t matter given Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson combined 60 points on 25-of-44 (56.8%) shooting. It’s hard to believe this is the same Gasol who was signed for just $7.5M annually, and Pau is going to buck a league-wide trend when he opts out and signs for more money this summer than he’s earning on his current contract. The Butler—like he typically has all season—served it up hot and fresh with 23 points and nine rebounds (two 3PM) without a single turnover, while Gibson shook off his eye injury for 15 points, eight boards and two blocks. Without Joakim Noah the rest of the way, Gibson is locked into a critical role. The good Nikola Mirotic finally showed up with 17 points, six boards and three triples, but he’s still searching for consistency after scoring 17 points total over his prior four games. Any trade you make with Mirotic currently constitutes selling low, so a hold remains the recommended move for the highly frustrating player. The good news: It’s Mirotic’s second straight game with at least 25 minutes after four straight games checking in at a number below that mark.
As an aside, E’Twaun Moore (hamstring) left this game after just a handful of minutes, meaning Aaron Brooks stands to gain time playing behind Rose.
Atlanta @ Phoenix: Suns 98, Hawks 95
The Suns have had no choice but to go to an unconventional lineup with Brandon Knight (groin), Eric Bledsoe (knee surgery), Markieff Morris (shoulder) and Jon Leuer (back) out of action, and one thing that has really worked over the last two games is the unlikely Alex Len-Tyson Chandler pairing. Over the last two games as the starting power forward, Len has averaged 14.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and a block on 50% shooting. Len has shown very real potential when the minutes have been there, and with Phoenix’s season quickly becoming about player development and little else, Len should be rostered in any kind of league that features at least 10 teams. Meanwhile, an inconsistent Chandler has finally shown some consistency by averaging an absurd 20.3 rebounds over his last three games, but that’s buoyed by Saturday’s enormous double-double with 13 points, 27 rebounds, five dimes, two blocks and a steal in 44 huge minutes. Despite a changing tone to the campaign, the Suns didn’t pay Chandler $52M to ride the bench, and Phoenix is going to keep playing the veteran so long as his health holds up. Considering his history, that’s obviously far from a given. Mirza Teletovic (ankle) returned in this one, but with the Len-Chandler combo rolling and Teletovic trending down prior to that, there isn’t much to currently see with the 3-point specialist.
Although he’s not expected to need surgery, Knight’s groin injury required a second opinion and he’s currently without a timetable to return, meaning the Archie Goodwin experiment will continue to roll forward. Averaging 22.0 points, 2.0 triples, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and 4.0 turnovers on 38.7% shooting, Goodwin is worth a speculative addition where he’s still available while we wait to learn how much (more) time Knight will be forced to miss. Devin Booker (15 pts, 3 3PM, 2 stl) is already playing big minutes, and he’d be another beneficiary if Knight were out for an extended period of time. With T.J. Warren waiting in the wings, it feels like P.J. Tucker (16 pts, 6 reb, 3 3PM) is a near lock to be dealt before the deadline, and it’s very unlikely to be to a team that can offer him the same type of role he’s enjoyed in Phoenix this season.
Al Horford is one of the most boring elite players to roster in fantasy, but you just can’t argue with the results. Even on a night where tag team partner Paul Millsap (personal) is out, the real Big Al had nine points, a season-high 16 rebounds, five dimes, a steal and two blocked shots. Kent Bazemore—who is a legitimate threat to finish as a top-50 player—chipped in 21 points, six boards and three triples, but the real story was Dennis Schroder once again outplaying Jeff Teague. Regular readers are tired of hearing me champion for Schroder to earn more minutes than Teague, but even Mike Budenholzer can’t deny the obvious anymore…Again closing out the game in favor of Teague, Schroder finished with 19 points, five assists, two steals, a block and three 3-pointers in 24 minutes (plus-4), while Teague struggled with more shots (13) than points (9), more turnovers (5) than assists and a minus-five rating in 24.5 minutes. Schroder has been the better fantasy option since 2016 hit, and it hasn’t been a close comparison.
Detroit @ Denver: Nuggets 104, Pistons 101
I’ve been beating the drum for Nikola Jokic to play more for a while now, and it’s almost like Jokic (17 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl, 3 blk, 0 TO)—who has produced all season long—is a better option than an out-of-shape Jusuf Nurkic (DNP-CD) coming off of major knee surgery. I know that’s just shocking, and it’s about time Mike Malone realized it. The head coach hasn’t been happy with Nurkic’s conditioning, and with Kenneth Faried (adductor) out of the lineup, Malone had no choice but to play Jokic. With 25-plus minutes regularly, this is an example of the very real upside the immensely talented 20-year-old possesses, and he really needs to be stashed on more than 15% of Yahoo rosters. Emmanuel Mudiay has looked better since returning from his ankle injury, and it probably helps not to have Jameer Nelson (wrist) breathing down his neck. In his last five games, the rookie has averaged 14.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists (3.4 TO) and a triple on 41.3% shooting…Those numbers representing an improvement tells you what you need to know about where Mudiay’s game was before he went down. Garry Harris added a career-high five steals, but the Nuggets won this game because of Jokic and Danilo Gallinari (30 pts, 6 reb, 2 stl, 13-of-16 FT). Gallo has appropriately earned the Italian Stallion nickname this season with how well he’s played, and he’s really taken it to another level with his newfound ability to get to—and convert from—the free throw line.
Andre Drummond playing fewer than 20 minutes in a game where he doesn’t deal with foul trouble is how to ruin a Saturday night, but Aron Baynes (13 pts, 10 reb, 2 blk, 6-of-7 FG) was effective while Drummond simply was not. A.D. wasn’t the only dud with Reggie Jackson (11 pts, 8 ast) and Ersan Ilyasova (9 pts, 9 reb) each having more shots attempted than points scored, but Brandon Jennings (5 pts, 10 reb, 4 ast), Stanley Johnson (12 pts, 5-of-10 FG) and a strong game from the bench impacted production in the first unit. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who came into the loss averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.3 triples on 48.9% shooting in January, has been one of the most underrated fantasy assets in 2016. Of note: KCP hasn’t averaged under 37 minutes in any month this season.
Indiana @ Sacramento: Kings 108, Pacers 97
That’s now five straight wins for the Kings, a team on pace to make the playoffs two games after they’ve reached the halfway point in the season. DeMarcus Cousins’ dominance made Rudy Gay’s (heel) absence an afterthought with a career-high 48 points on a red-hot 17-of-29 from the field, while Rajon Rondo’s sixth triple-double of the year (11 pts, 10 reb, 10 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk) set the record for most in the Sacramento era for a single season. After two straight double-double showings, Willie Cauley-Stein stayed productive with six points, 12 boards, two steals and a block. Trill will have to concern himself with Gay’s return, but the rookie should keep getting minutes alongside DMC—who praised him after Saturday’s win—so the struggling Omri Casspi should start to feel the heat.
Despite 34 points from Paul George, an unexpected double-double (17 pts, 13 reb) from Jordan Hill and Myles Turner again showing that he’s the real deal with 11 points, six boards and five blocks (5-of-13 FG), the Pacers couldn’t stop Cousins on a night Indiana welcomed George Hill back to the family following the birth of his child. Hill came off the bench for some unknown reason, but he should be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday vs. the Clippers in favor of Glenn Robinson III. It’s hard not to be dramatic about the need to find a spot on your roster for Turner if he’s somehow still available in your league. Over his last four games, the rookie is averaging 20.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks on 64.8% shooting. His arrow is pointing sky-high in every format, and he’s going to remain a big part of things even once Ian Mahinmi (ankle) returns.
Los Angeles (L) @ Portland: Blazers 121, Lakers 103
In Kobe Bryant’s final farewell to Portland, Damian Lillard made good on his annual tradition of torching the Lakers with 36 points, five dimes and five triples on an incendiary 14-of-19 from the field. Trillard didn’t turn the ball over a single time, and he didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter. C.J. McCollum’s 28 points came on a tidy 12-of-21 shooting (four 3PM) with three rebounds and three assists, while Mason Plumlee—yes, that Mason Plumlee—sniffed the beginnings of a triple-double with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists in just 25.5 minutes.
Julius Randle (11 pts, 9 reb, 1 blk) looks far more comfortable with the starting unit, but Byron Scott has given no indication that Larry Nance’s (knee) return—which could come on Tuesday—will come in a bench role, meaning Randle’s upside will remain limited at best. Although he was helped by garbage time, a regular occurrence for these lowly Lakers, D’Angelo Russell (21 pts, 8-of-12 FG) has started to look a lot better over his last seven games, averaging 15.0 points, 2.0 3-pointers and a steal. The No. 2 overall selection has had a slower than expected start to his career, but Russell is likely to resemble a completely different player by the time the season ends. Remember what happened with Jordan Clarkson last year? As for Kobe, he’s averaging just 8.0 points, 4.2 assists, 2.2 boards and 2.8 turnovers on 34.1% shooting over his last five. It’s not going to be easy to roster him.