Will Christian Wood finally start a game?
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The injury report was loaded with names last week, resulting in some interesting lineup combinations across the NBA. Week 7 may be headlined by some returns to action, with stars in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Miami among those approaching full clearance. But this week’s column begins in Dallas, where some rotation (and roster) changes may occur in the near future.
Week 7 Schedule: Games Played
4 Games: BOS, BKN, CHI, CLE, DEN, HOU, IND, LAL, NOP, NYK, ORL, PHO, POR, SAC, TOR, UTA, WAS
3 Games: ATL, CHA, DAL, DET, GSW, LAC, MEM, MIL, MIN, OKC, PHI, SAS
2 Games: MIA
-- Are changes coming in Dallas?
After two seasons in Houston in which he started 108 of the 109 games that he appeared, Christian Wood has been used exclusively in a reserve role in his first season with the Mavericks. Through 17 games, he’s averaging 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, and 1.5 3-pointers in 25.5 minutes, with each number being lower than Wood’s production from a season ago. Dallas dropped to 9-10 on the season with a loss to the Bucks Sunday night, and that was a game in which Wood started the second half in place of Dwight Powell. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd made the move due to a need for offensive firepower and it delivered, with Dallas scoring 34 points. However, after the game, Kidd cited the team giving up 31 points to counter the suggestion that the lineup headlined by Wood and Luka Dončić was effective.
Outside of Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie, Dallas hasn’t gotten much offense from its starting lineup. Reggie Bullock is a notoriously slow starter, while Dorian Finney-Smith is more valuable for his defense, and Powell isn’t bringing much to the table offensively, either. Would Kidd be willing to change his starting lineup with improved offense in mind, especially with Dallas playing the reigning champion Warriors on Tuesday? We’ll see, but fantasy managers should plan for more of the same.
Also of note in Dallas was a report from Marc Stein on Monday that the team is in advanced talks with Kemba Walker. The hope is that he can provide additional scoring and ball-handling, with Facundo Campazzo (whose contract is not guaranteed) being the likely roster casualty. The big question regarding Walker is his health, as he couldn’t provide much during his brief run with the Knicks last season due to knee issues. To expect him to be a fantasy factor immediately upon arrival would be silly, but that is a situation to keep an eye on, especially if Walker can be effective in a reserve role.
-- Clippers’ George, Kennard, and Leonard closing in on a return
The Clippers have been without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Luke Kennard recently due to injuries, and a return to action may not be too far away. None will be available for the Clippers’ two-game road trip to Portland and Utah, but the December 3 home game against the Kings may be when Leonard, George, and Kennard are back. George is providing 3rd-round per-game value in 9-cat formats, while Leonard’s inactivity (only five games played) has him ranked outside the top 200. As for Kennard, he’s also ranked outside the top 200, and his availability will not impact fantasy rosters. But he will give the Clippers additional depth on the wings, which has led to some players being asked to take on more prominent roles than expected.
The eventual returns of Leonard and George make Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris players to watch, as both are providing top-100 value. Zubac had the best game of his career on Sunday, posting a line of 31 points, 29 rebounds, and three blocked shots in a win over the Pacers. He’s averaging 10.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game on the season, and those are manageable numbers to keep up once the Clippers’ two stars are back in the lineup. Morris has been responsible for 14.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals, and 2.2 3-pointers per game, and he’s the frontcourt starter fantasy managers should be more concerned about once the rotation is whole.
-- Can 76ers’ Milton keep rolling along?
Shake Milton has been excellent in the five starts he’s made after Tyrese Maxey suffered a foot injury, averaging 23.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.8 steals, and 2.6 3-pointers in 38.6 minutes. And his percentages have been very impressive, with Milton shooting 60.6% from the field and 95.0% from the foul line. The question is a simple one: is this level of production sustainable? We’re going to find out this week as the 76ers play games against the Hawks, Cavaliers, and Grizzlies. This isn’t meant to discount Milton’s play in those five starts, but the opponents were Minnesota, Brooklyn, Charlotte, and Orlando (twice).
De’Anthony Melton will also be a player to watch, as he’s averaging 17.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, and 3.4 3-pointers over his last five games. With Maxey, James Harden, and Joel Embiid all missing time, the 76ers’ substitute guards have played very well, and the team has gone 3-2 in those games. It’s clear that Melton and Milton should be rostered, even if there will come a time when one (or both) needs to be dropped.
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-- Raptors’ Siakam and Barnes closing in on a return
Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes participated in Sunday’s practice, and both are listed as questionable for Monday’s game against the Cavaliers. Siakam has been out since early November with a strained groin, while a sprained knee suffered on November 19 is what put Barnes on the shelf. Toronto will play four games this week, culminating with a Friday/Saturday back-to-back against the Nets and Magic. With that being the case, are we looking at three games max for Siakam and Barnes if they’re cleared to play Monday night? And would that number be even lower if they aren’t?
O.G. Anunoby is also worth watching after recording a line of 26 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks, and two 3-pointers in Saturday’s win over the Mavericks. Counting that game, he’s played 42 minutes or more in three of Toronto’s last four games. While we’re used to seeing Toronto’s key players log heavy minutes, Anunoby has recently been asked to do so out of necessity. Getting Siakam and Barnes back would undoubtedly help keep Anunoby fresh moving forward.
-- Is Miami’s Butler ready to return?
It was reported on November 25 that Jimmy Butler, who has been out since November 16 due to a sore right knee, was targeting a November 30 game against the Celtics for his return. He did not travel with the team for Sunday’s win in Atlanta, and the Heat will not play again until that matchup with the Celtics. This is a two-game week for Miami, the second of which is a rematch with the Celtics on Friday, so it would make sense for Butler to be worked back into the fold now (provided he’s healthy enough to do so).
Rookie Nikola Jovic started the first six games Butler missed, and the results were mixed, which is what you expect from most rookies. But Miami went small on Sunday, starting Tyler Herro and Max Strus together. Herro was 3-of-13 from the field but he did record his first career triple-double (11/11/10/1), while Strus contributed 16 points, three rebounds, one assist, and four 3-pointers. Strus would be the odd man out once Butler returns, but he’ll still figure prominently in the Heat rotation due to the need for bench scoring. Tracking Strus’ production once Miami’s star forward returns is something to do, and he may not be the automatic “drop” that some may assume him to be.
-- It’s Alvarado and Murphy time in New Orleans
With C.J. McCollum in the league’s health and safety protocols, and Brandon Ingram dealing with a sprained big toe, the Pelicans will likely begin the week without two of their star offensive talents. McCollum has already been ruled out for Monday’s game against the Thunder, while Ingram is listed as doubtful. The potential absence of the latter opens the door again for Trey Murphy, while Jose Alvarado has stepped in as the starting point guard since McCollum was sidelined. Both were top 100 players in fantasy last week, with Murphy being rostered in 43% of Yahoo leagues and Alvarado down at 10%. At a minimum, they should be added ahead of Monday’s game. What happens after that will clearly depend upon the availability of McCollum and Ingram, with Murphy being the safer bet as far as long-term staying power is concerned.
Light Game Days
Tuesday: 3 Games
NYK vs. DET
GSW vs. DAL
LAC vs. POR
Thursday: 1 Game
DAL vs. DET
Week 7 Back-to-Backs
Tuesday-Wednesday: LAC, NYK, POR
Friday-Saturday: CHA, GSW, HOU, MIL, ORL, TOR, UTA
Saturday-Sunday: NYK, POR, SAC