The All-Star break. A time to pause, reflect, take stock of our lives and reach out to friends to see if they want to get in on some XFL DFS action.
As far as fantasy hoops is concerned, you could argue that the All-Star break puts players into two different categories:
1) those who desperately need the break to arrive — to end a slump, to heal an injury, rediscover lost mojo;
2) players who are in such a good groove right now that time off can only be disruptive.
(There’s probably a third category that encompasses a ton of players — guys who could use the rest, but will be fine either way — but for the purposes of this column, that category is not helpful and will be ignored.)
Today, a look at some key names who fall onto each side of the All-Star break divide, starting with:
THE BREAK ARRIVES AT AN IDEAL TIME
Kemba Walker: Walker is still passing the eye test — as I sit writing this paragraph he just drilled an off-balance 3-pointer en route to a four-point play, and he later crossed Landry Shamet out of camera frame before draining a triple — but his actual production has been pretty brutal lately. Ever since back-to-back 37- and 35-point explosions in late January, Kemba has just been flat-out off. Here are his last six shooting performances:
5-for-19, 5-for-13, 5-for-14, 6-for-16, 5-for-17, 5-for-19
Across those six games, he has shot just 32.3 percent. His counting stats have suffered too: 17.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, 0.7 spg and 2.8 3s. That is not the Walker we are counting on (especially when it comes to points, steals, and FG percentage), and he doesn’t exactly get time off considering that he’ll be starting Sunday’s All-Star game. However, if we’re looking for positives here, he did play a season-high 46 minutes on Thursday, and finished with a 19-9-7 stat line even with the poor shooting. All things considered, I’m still staying patient unless someone is giving me back top-25 value in a trade. Despite the slump, there’s still a clear path for early-round Kemba to return after the break.
Michael Porter Jr.: MPJ should be healed from his ankle injury coming out of the break, and while conventional wisdom says that he may not get enough playing time now that Paul Millsap is healthy — this is not a conventional talent. Porter Jr. was putting up some robust value in just 25 minutes a game prior to his injury — 14.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 bpg and 2.2 3s over his final 10 games — and I just put in an aggressive bid for him in the Rotoworld staff league, where he got dropped. It certainly is possible that Michael Malone will have trouble getting consistent minutes for him, but upside like this doesn’t surface on the waiver wire in deeper fantasy leagues at this point of the season all that often.
Zion Williamson: He arrived here healthy, which is the most important thing, but beyond that he is playing phenomenally well with back-to-back games of 30-plus points — and looks like a legitimately serious matchup problem for opposing teams.
Then again, as good as the real-life outlook is right now heading into the break, 10 games into his career, I am finding myself wondering what Zion’s blueprint is for high-level fantasy success. Though he did have a downright nasty block vs. OKC on Thursday, his overall stat line of 22.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.4 bpg and 0.4 3s is clearly lacking in some key areas (including FT percentage, which is 65.4 percent on a robust 7.8 attempts a game). He has been a little bit better in defensive stats lately, with 1.0 spg and 0.6 bpg in his last five games, but as we stop to reflect at the break, I think taking everything into consideration I wouldn't hesitate to trade Zion if I'm getting upside back in 9-category leagues, where despite his excellent real-life production, he currently sits 176th overall.
Mitchell Robinson: Robinson actually arrives at the break with some momentum — 9.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.3 spg and 2.0 bpg — but it’s been a trying season for the big man and his fantasy owners, and a little mental reset probably can’t hurt. Honestly, I could put Mitchell Rob into either category in this column. The main point here is I’m still expecting a big surge at some point after the break, and his last run of games leading up to it were a good sign.
Damian Lillard, Karl-Anthony Towns and Paul George: I’m not going to mention every injured player, but Lillard (groin), Towns (wrist) and George (hamstring) all sustained injuries this week, and now the first-round studs get some additional time to heal. I picked up Anfernee Simons (22 points, seven boards, six 3s on Wednesday) in one deep league where I have Lillard, and James Johnson of all people could be worth consideration while KAT is out. The resurgent veteran is doing some vintage James Johnson things since the trade, with 9.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.3 bpg and 1.7 3s in three games with Minnesota.
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THIS BREAK IS HORRIBLY INCONVENIENT
Aaron Gordon: This is truly awful timing for Gordon, who is 163rd overall in 9-category leagues but arrives at the break on a true heater. Over his last seven games, he’s sitting at 19.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.3 spg and 2.0 3s. Gordon may come out of the break and pick right back up where he left off, but for a player as volatile as this, I hate any extended interruption to his routine.
Markelle Fultz: He is coming off a tremendous performance — 22-5-10 in 39 minutes against the Pistons on Wednesday — but things could get complicated after the break. D.J. Augustin (knee) is reportedly planning to return on the other side of this weekend, and as much as I tend to be an optimist, it’s going to hurt Fultz quite a bit if this goes back to a 50-50 PG split in Orlando.
Marquese Chriss: He’s absolutely cruising right now (20.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.0 spg and 2.0 bpg in his last three games), and as far as I’m concerned, anything potentially disrupting a productive Chriss is a bad thing. Quite simply, a Marquese Chriss hot streak is a fragile thing — it must be protected, nourished, allowed to thrive. I can still see Chriss coming out of the break and continuing to play well — and it’s still an ideal setup for him in Golden State — but anything to take this guy away from the blackjack table while he’s got a hot hand is a little bit scary.
Dewayne Dedmon: Dedmon has been on a true defensive binge lately. If you include his last two games for Sacramento, his last five games have seen him put up 9.2 ppg and 8.8 rpg with a somewhat silly 1.8 spg, 3.6 bpg and 1.0 3s. He will likely become droppable as soon as Clint Capela is back for Atlanta, but as well as Dedmon is playing, and considering that the 15-41 Hawks aren’t going to rush their new No. 1 center, I’m waiting until I see Capela back in action before I hit the drop button on Dedmon.
Jordan Clarkson: A classic case of “bench guy gets obscenely hot,” Clarkson’s last seven games include 22.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.4 apg and 3.6 3s on 56.7 percent shooting. For a streaky player, the timing of this hiatus is pretty rotten.
Caris LeVert: On the heels of an awesome five-game stretch — 24.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.8 spg and 2.4 3s on 48.4 percent from the field and 95.2 from the line — LeVert has to contend with the layoff, and potential impending return of Kyrie Irving. I’m far less worried about the time off here than I am about Irving coming back and disrupting LeVert’s flow, because let’s face it — the whole “time off is bad” idea is a little flimsy in some of these cases. Either way, timing is not on LeVert’s side right now.
Miles Bridges: Also forced to take a break during his best stretch of the season, Bridges has delivered 19.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 0.8 bpg and 2.4 3s over his last eight games. I am more encouraged than anything else in this case, but I still hate the time off for a player who’s finally putting it together. Bridges will end up going eight days in between games.
YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE
Mike Conley: In the latest maddening development during a season of stops and starts for Conley, the veteran strung together an encouraging four-game run (20.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.8 apg, 0.8 spg and 3.3 3s), then sat out one game of a back-to-back set followed by another due to illness heading into the break. Is time off a good thing in this case? Is it bad? When it comes to Conley, I have no idea. He’s a mystery in the worst way possible, a volatile option who’s hard to start and tough to trade — 220th in 9-category leagues.
Ultimately with Conley, if there’s any idea I land on, it’s this: During a season as bad as this one has been, any time off is probably a good thing. Let this guy start over, and maybe come back and actually reward those who waited patiently (and by that I mean, those who got stuck with them on their roster, of which I am one).