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Dose: Aldridge the All-Star

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Ryan Knaus surveys the entire free-agent and trade landscape, and examines the fantasy fortunes of LaMarcus …

The action was tight last night in the association, but the buzz didn’t quite match up with the fireworks from Tuesday and there were only seven games once the Mexico City game was scratched for an electrical issue that flooded the arena with smoke.  It’s too bad for the Mexican fans that were fired up to watch the game, and fantasy owners took a kick in the shorts, but on the bright side it left a little space to go deep here on guys like Patrick Beverley and LaMarcus Aldridge

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Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $30,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Thursday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Thursday. Here's the FanDuel link.

DENVER GOES DRY

The Nuggets weren’t going to win forever and they finally slipped against a Cavs team that is trying to get a grip.  Ty Lawson simply had an off-night, hitting just 1-of-13 shots against one of the league’s softer backcourts, but did manage to put up 11 assists, three steals and a block.  Randy Foye picked up some of his slack with 16 points, three triples, three boards, three assists and two blocks, and he has played at a mid-to-late round value over the last two weeks.  That usually means that he’s ready to cool off, but give him a look if you’re in a pinch. 

J.J. Hickson’s value (or lack thereof) appeared to be threatened by a suddenly surging Timofey Mozgov, but as many players do he got to work against his old squad and finished with 15 points, 11 boards and not much else.  He’s clinging to 16-team value in standard formats but if you’re punting in all of his deficient areas I suppose he’s worth a look.  Mozgov sputtered with just eight points, three boards and a block in 17 minutes, but as I covered yesterday he has pretty good per-minute value so keep an eye on him or consider waiting one more game if you stashed him.  Kenneth Faried (seven points, four rebounds, 19 minutes) got shut down by Tristan Thompson but he has been a solid mid-to-late round value recently so just hang tight.

Nate Robinson played through his shooting wrist injury and hit 7-of-15 shots for 14 points, but he did not hit a three and he managed just two rebounds and two assists. The outing moved him from a mid-round value over the past two weeks to a borderline late-round play over the last four games, but 27 minutes is a good look and owners may want to cut him some slack.  The Nuggets are running and that’s a good fit for Lil’ Him.  Andre Miller (zero points, four assists) is not invited to that party. 

BABY STEPS

Winning cures all ills, and the Cavs have plenty of them so a two-game winning streak following last night’s victory over the Nuggets is a welcome sight.  Kyrie Irving settled down a bit with 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting, two threes, four assists and a steal.  It’s still buy low territory for a guy that could theoretically be a first round value in 8-cat formats.  Andrew Bynum followed up his monster game the last time out with 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting, seven rebounds and a block in 20 minutes.  All the obvious caveats set aside, the shot attempts and serviceable baseline here make him a viable player to own. 

Tristan Thompson exploded for 17 points, 21 boards and three blocks, but as a top-150 play on the season owners shouldn’t consider him a must-add player.  He’s fine as a speculative add though in 12-team formats.  Jarrett Jack (six points, four assists) just doesn’t look like a good fit in Cleveland’s offense, while Anderson Varejao (18 points, 13 boards, two steals, three blocks, 7-of-9 FGs) is holding steady as a top 60-90 value on the year (9/8 cat). 

I can’t help but remember Dion Waiters’ comments about ‘buddy ball’ being played between Irving and Thompson with both of them going off and Waiters sitting on a five-point night.  He hit just 2-of-8 shots but did add four rebounds and six assists to keep things from being a total disaster.  When you combine last night with his two prior solid outings he’s still well off the standard league radar.  Anthony Bennett played just 11 minutes last night but they came at small forward, and he put up five points on 2-of-5 shooting including a three and that’s it.  As long as the beat guys are calling for him to play more minutes I’ll be keeping one eye on his status, with expectations firmly in check. 

CLIPPED

The Clippers have lost their footing since the J.J. Redick injury and last night they got outworked by the Hawks in their loss.  I wondered if they might turn to a three-guard lineup more often and they did a little bit of that, playing Darren Collison 23 minutes as the backup point guard turned in 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with two threes, three boards, three assists and a block.  Give him a look in 14-team formats and 12-team owners should see if he can build on this performance. 

Jared Dudley (nine points, 4-of-10 FGs, one three) put up goose eggs everywhere else besides the aforementioned stats, as he has proven to be one of the more overrated acquisitions of the offseason.  Even with Redick out, there’s nothing to grab onto here for owners.  The rest of the box was predictable for a team struggling in a loss, as Chris Paul hit just 7-of-17 shots (no threes) for 19 points, 11 assists and three steals, DeAndre Jordan went for six and 13 with no steals or blocks, Jamal Crawford scored 13 points with no threes, five boards and five turnovers, and Blake Griffin was the only overachiever with 24 points, seven boards, four assists, one block and a perfect 4-of-4 from the line. 

SUPER SAPPER

It’s pretty fortunate to get a win against the Clippers when Jeff Teague is held to six points on 2-of-5 shooting, but that’s exactly what the Hawks did as they picked up the pace and focused on limiting the Clips’ lob game.  Teague got the Chris Paul treatment and added six assists and a three to go with four turnovers, and until he cleans up his efficiency and starts hitting threes he’s going to be a disappointment for owners.  He’s a top 50-100 value on the year in 8- and 9-cat formats, respectively.

Paul Millsap has been scorching lately but might have hurt his knee late in the game, though as of right now the injury doesn’t appear to be overly serious.  He scored 25 points on 12-of-20 shooting with nine rebounds, six assists, one steal, three blocks and a trey to raise his value to top 35-40 levels on a per-game basis. Al Horford got busy with 21 points and nine boards but did not have any steals or blocks, and DeMarre Carroll kept his foot on the gas with 12 points, seven boards and two threes. 

Kyle Korver returned to action and tied Dana Barros for the consecutive games record by hitting another three, and when it was done he knocked in six of them to finish with 23 points, three rebounds and five assists on the night.  Welcome back.  Hopefully he saved some of those makes for one more night. 

Lou Williams (three points, 1-of-5 FGs, four rebounds, two assists, one steal) played just 17 minutes and we’ll be watching for updates on his knee, but setbacks like this are bound to happen as he gets up to speed.  Shelvin Mack has actually gotten good marks from the locals in his new backup job, and last night he put up 12 points, four rebounds, five assists and a steal in 25 minutes.  Let’s have him do something like this again before we put him on the radar. 

GETTING BY

The Mavs snuck away with a win in New Orleans last night, with a balanced box score and a rare defensive showing from Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting with seven rebounds, two steals and four blocks.  Jose Calderon gutted another game out with his ankle injury, scoring 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting with three treys, four assists and two steals in 31 minutes.  Monta Ellis continued to handle backup point guard duties for the most part, and finished with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. 

DeJuan Blair was moved into the starting lineup for “matchup purposes” according to Rick Carlisle, but owner Mark Cuban complained about Samuel Dalembert's defense before the game and one has to wonder how that bodes for Dally whenever Brandon Wright returns.  Blair was underwhelming with just 12 points, four rebounds and one block in his 29 minutes, but the key here is the playing time and he should be owned in 12-team formats until he takes a significant step back.  Owners will also want to hang onto Dalembert (six points, seven boards, one block, 19 minutes) if they can, but with Wright’s return pending an aggressive move to add a mid-level free agent shouldn’t be ruled out. 

Shawn Marion’s (10 points, five rebounds, two threes, one steal, one block) recent slowdown still seems to be linked to Calderon’s ankle, but that’s just pure speculation on my part.  He’s still a must-own player unless things deteriorate.  Vince Carter (15 points, five boards, four assists, three treys) will be a late-round value on the year and he’s hot right now so give him a look. 

UNIMPEDED

The Pellies are a pretty simple lift right now in terms of fantasy analysis, as they’re paper-thin and all of their guys are worth owning in fantasy leagues.  Al-Farouq Aminu exploded last night with 16 points, 20 rebounds and three steals, and while he could be a borderline fantasy starter when it’s all said and done things are wide open for him right now.  He has flashed mid-round upside in the past and I certainly wouldn’t put it past him while Anthony Davis is out. 

Likewise, Jason Smith (12 points, nine boards, one steal, one block, 36 minutes) will have safe late-round value, and though Tyreke Evans (eight points, 1-of-9 FGs, four rebounds, four assists, 6-of-6 FTs) was awful last night there are more than enough available touches to keep him productive. 

Jrue Holiday has been the big winner lately, and last night he scored 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting (including four threes) with four rebounds and nine assists.  Eric Gordon (15 points, two threes) is still standing and that’s a win any way you slice it.  Ryan Anderson would have been a big producer even if Davis wasn’t injured, but with all that space to operate he’s having a field day and last night he notched 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting with 14 rebounds in the last-second loss. 

TUCKERED OUT

The Suns went into Houston last night and outworked the suddenly suspect Rockets, and the star of the show was P.J. Tucker and his stellar defense against James Harden (3-of-17 FGs).  It was an ongoing theme last night – the best-case scenario defenders going against the league’s best and brightest – as Tucker’s strength and lateral quickness is an ideal match against Harden’s blend of strength and quickness. 

As it can sometimes go with players feeling it one end, it transferred to the other as Tucker put up 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting with two threes, six boards, four assists and four steals in a whopping 40 minutes.  Tucker has been a late-round value with low-end, but versatile numbers all season, and he gave himself some breathing room in fantasy leagues with the performance.  In 8-cat leagues he's a late-round value and in 9-cat leagues he’s approaching the top-100.  I wasn’t quite sure the Suns viewed him as a long-term solution over guys like Gerald Green and Marcus Morris, but he really sold me last night with his defensive play.  He should be owned in all standard, 12-team formats as his defense will provide the foundation for both minutes and fantasy value.  Just don’t expect much more than what he’s giving right now over the course of the year.

Green wrote his own fantasy obituary, at least for now, with an 18-minute outing that included just four points on 1-of-8 shooting, four rebounds and a block.  He’ll be better than this on most nights and he’s bound to have a few explosive nights, but he really needed to come out firing to make his case and with the backcourt healthy there isn’t much, if any margin for error. 

Marcus Morris (eight points, six boards, two threes, 22 minutes) and Markieff Morris (eight points, four rebounds, 2-of-8 FGs, no threes, no steals, no blocks, 21 minutes) took a backseat and they’ll be better on nights in which Tucker isn’t playing as many minutes, but in particular for Markieff the inconsistency is distressing.  His brother Marcus has been the more consistent play, whereas Markieff is the guy with a bit more upside.  Both are late-round values but especially in Markieff’s case, to be serviceable he needs to prove he’s indispensable to Jeff Hornacek and to date that hasn’t happened.  Both are droppable for mid-level free agents, though you may want to give a bit more leash to Markieff since upside is what we look for at the end of a roster.

Eric Bledsoe has officially come full circle as he put up 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting (including three treys) with three boards, seven assists, two steals and one block, while Goran Dragic (19 points, two threes, one assist, four steals, one block) is back to an ambiguous role in terms of handling the ball.  This was bound to happen and owners should plan accordingly for alternating nights from the two players, with Bledsoe easily being the better player to own.  He will improve his current top 20-45 value that was slowed by his shin injury.  Dragic has been closer to a top-50 value on the year and a small dip wouldn’t be surprising, but his numbers are a bit out of alignment with career norms so there is some wiggle room -- with the one constant being that his usage will decrease with Bledsoe back. 

Miles Plumlee scored just four points in 21 minutes last night, but did manage nine rebounds and two blocks.  He’s not breaking down any doors but as long as Alex Len continues to be an afterthought he should be owned as a low-end center in 12-team formats. 

STAGE ONE OF DWIGHT HOWARD

I’m going to go in depth on both Patrick Beverley and LaMarcus Aldridge later in this Dose, but for the Rockets last night it wasn’t pretty as they shot a season-low 35.2 percent on the night, for reasons that I’ll explore in detail then.  James Harden showed some really awful shot selection and was locked down by P.J. Tucker, as he missed all 10 of his 3-point attempts and hit just 3-of-17 shots on the night.  Dwight Howard was griping after the game about taking good shots and playing with energy, which was pretty hilarious since he lollygagged all night and has just one block in five games.  The absence of Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin isn’t helping them, but this is their first real hurdle as a team – defining whether they want to run hard every night or devolve into a take-turns situation between Harden and Howard. 

Howard still managed to score 15 points with 18 boards and his value proposition isn’t going to change much this season.  He’s a top-100 value in 8-cat formats and top-175 value in 9-cat formats because of the foul shooting and turnovers, while he continues to put up L.A. numbers and not Orlando numbers everywhere else.  He should get a boost if his defensive stats come around, as he’s averaging just 2.4 combined steals and blocks compared to 3.5 in the prior two years.  Overall, I don’t expect much if any improvement in his game. 

Terrence Jones (eight points, seven boards, one block, 24 minutes, 4-of-9 FGs) has lost a bit of the shine from the previous week, and last night he was out of place on some defensive assignments while showing less energy and bounce than usual.  I think the team-wide struggles are driving the issue here, and I would simply hang tight for now. 

Aaron Brooks was called upon to help the offense and had a real nice line, scoring 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting with three treys, four rebounds, six assists and three steals in 33 minutes off the bench.  As long as Houston is struggling offensively he’ll be called upon to help, and as long as Parsons and Lin are out he’s worth a short-term look.  Just realize that he’s about as bad as one can be defensively and Kevin McHale is going to yank him as soon as offense isn’t needed.  Omri Casspi (14 points, seven boards, two threes, 31 minutes) and Francisco Garcia (eight points, five boards, two threes, 28 minutes) are also worth short-term looks, but it’s going to be hard to guess which of these three is the big winner on any given night. 

BOO THIS MAN

Brandon Jennings returned to Milwaukee and got booed by the small crowd, and while he hit just 4-of-16 shots his 17 points, 11 assists, three steals and one block helped propel the Pistons to a win.  The nerves certainly got to him in terms of his shooting, but he’s continuing to dish the rock and that will keep him from totally falling off the fantasy wagon as a top 50-100 value on the year (8/9 cat). 

Greg Monroe had a big night with 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting, 17 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a perfect six free throw attempts before fouling out in 31 minutes.  He’s taking about two less shots per game over last year (11.3 FGA) and making three percent more of them (51.6%), while holding relatively steady in other areas as a top-70 value this season. 

Josh Smith was a carbon copy of his previous outing with just 6-of-19 makes for 17 points, six boards, three assists, one steal and three blocks.  He hit 1-of-6 shots from deep and ranks 30th in 3-point attempts on the year (just behind Kyle Korver), which is brass balls status for a guy hitting just 27 percent of his attempts. 

Andre Drummond is a man playing with boys and he continued his onslaught with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 19 rebounds, two steals and three blocks.  He hit 8-of-14 foul shots, too, and if he ever figures that out then we’ll be looking at something truly special.  He’s a top 20-36 play on the year even with his 37 percent foul shooting, with only one direction to go and that’s up.  Rodney Stuckey has been as consistent as they come but he flamed out last night, hitting just 1-of-8 shots for four points and not much else.  Dust yourself off and move on with the top-100 value. 

I said yesterday that Kyle Singler would need to reprise his 18-point night from Tuesday a couple more times before we pay him much attention around here, and he did well to score 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting with two threes but had just three rebounds in his box.  I’m not ready to call that a step forward so he’s going to have to show us more once again. 

ERSANITY

Ersan Ilyasova broke loose faster than I thought he would last night in the Bucks’ loss to the Pistons, posting his best night of the year with 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting, two threes, 10 boards and a steal in 37 minutes.  I’ll spare you guys the speech on patience but the Bucks clearly need his offense and once he gets on track he could be fun to own. 

All of the good vibes surrounding Brandon Knight’s recent surge went to crap as both he and O.J. Mayo hit the skids, with Mayo’s seven points on 2-of-8 shooting and four assists being particularly worrisome for owners.  He needs stability out of the point guard position and until that happens he’s also going to be inconsistent, which is disappointing for a guy that most folks thought would carry the Bucks offense all year. 

Knight (20 minutes) scored 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting with three assists and not much else before getting benched for Luke Ridnour.  Ridnour had a nice line with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting (no threes) with three rebounds, eight assists and three steals, but Knight is still the guy to own here as long as Milwaukee doesn’t give up on him at some point. 

Make no mistake, I don’t think we’re near that point and all of this talk is a far cry from yesterday’s relatively rosy report, but Larry Drew is a tinkerer and until Knight shows separation he’s going to be subject to this sort of stuff.  I think it’s still a bit early to put a finger on his fantasy value given all of the time off, but if things don’t normalize in his favor within the next 10-14 days then I’ll probably call off the top 60-80 upside I mentioned yesterday in 8-cat formats.

John Henson (12 points, nine boards, two steals, three blocks, 5-of-14 FGs) started at center and logged 30 minutes, and though Zaza Pachulia left the game with his ongoing foot issues I think the takeaway is simply that Drew is starting to trust him more.  His numbers have been serviceable in his limited role off the bench already, so the forward progress in terms of his role is simply icing on the cake. 

Khris Middleton also maintained the status quo with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four threes, four boards, and two assists, though he saw just 20 minutes and that’s not a great look.  Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo was playing well and got the lion’s share of time at small forward, scoring six points on 3-of-5 shooting with six rebounds, four assists, one steal and three blocks in 28 minutes. 

Dealing first with Middleton, it’s a bit disconcerting to see his minutes threatened like this with Caron Butler still out, but I think you have to stay the course until there is a more definitive sign that his value is threatened.  The only drop to be considered here is one for a mid-to-high level free agent, as the Bucks would be wise to ride Middleton through the rest of the year, but another game like this could soften my position pretty quick.   

As for Alphabet, I think we’ve seen enough to call him a viable stash in 14-team formats and if you picked him up in your 12-team league I wouldn’t call you crazy – after all and once again, the waiver wire is about upside.  He has performed at a 14-16 team level over the past two weeks in just 18 minutes per game, averaging 0.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in that span.  He’s only scratching the surface of his talent but the big thing is that Drew appears to trust him already and that trust will only grow as we go.  Yes, Butler’s return could hurt but he’s versatile enough to steal from the power forward bucket and along with Pachulia, Ekpe Udoh can’t stay healthy.  Just use your best judgment about your specific needs and go from there. 

LENGTH IS STRENGTH

The Pacers traveled to Utah after a tough loss in Portland the night before, and did what good teams do by winning a somewhat tight game against an inferior squad.  I expected Paul George to struggle a bit more than normal against Gordon Hayward’s length, and along with the flu he did exactly that with 19 points on 7-of-20 shooting (1-of-8 3PTs), six boards, four assists and two steals in 41 minutes.  Not bad for a bad night. 

The only other surprise in the box score was David West’s eight assists, which he backed up with 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting, five boards, one steal and one block.  George Hill scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and no steals or blocks, Lance Stephenson scored 15 points with no threes and a mild five rebounds, four assists and two steals, and Roy Hibbert went for 13 and nine with two blocks.  Hibbert better be careful with how he manages his sterling reputation with referees, as he faked being thrown to the ground by Enes Kanter and his own teammates didn’t buy it, with none of them showing any hint of outrage over the purported incident.  The big man gets a handful of calls per game, particularly on the verticality rule when jumping to block a shot. 

In a final note I want to throw out there for the record, I’m taking the Pacers to win the title barring a major injury to George or Hibbert.  They have too much firepower and depth for the Heat, George can slow down LeBron James, Stephenson can do the same to Dwyane Wade, and while the Pacers have gotten better the Heat have simply gotten a year older.  I don’t see anybody in the West that can stack up.  The only thing I need to do now is get to Nevada before the odds catch up. 

KAN HE OR KAN’T HE?

While Gordon Hayward was custom-built to counter a guy like Paul George defensively, Hayward got the same treatment in return and hit just 3-of-14 shots on the night to finish with 12 points, four rebounds, six assists, two threes and two steals.  That’s obviously not going to be the type of defense he faces every night and if anything it’s a positive takeaway to see him diming at this level while Trey Burke gets his at the same time. 

Burke continues to proceed along the trajectory that I thought he would so long as he wasn’t an unlikely bust, which last night ended up as a 13-point, nine-assist night.  He hit just 5-of-12 shots and did not have a steal or block, and the shooting and steals part of the equation has been my ongoing concern.  This last week he has played at a top-50 value in 9-cat leagues on the strength of 16.8 points, 2.5 threes, 3.0 boards, 5.3 assists, 44.1 percent shooting and an outlier of 0.5 giveaways over his last four games. 

When you factor in the week before he shoots down to being a late-round value, as his field goal percentage plummets to 36.5 percent in that span and in those seven games he has zero blocks and just 0.7 steals per game.  I think a reasonable goal for him is to try and hit 40-42 percent of his field goals, and if he can do that I like him to crack the top-100 in 8-cat formats.  Hayward will continue to handle the rock and keep the rookie’s turnovers lower than they normally would be, so a round or two drop in 9-cat formats sounds about right. 

Marvin Williams’ (day-to-day) injury to his Achilles’ tendon wasn’t actually to the Achilles’ according to him, but rather swelling around the injury, which is good news but as I mentioned yesterday watching him walk after his fastbreak dunk I don’t like his chances of staying healthy this year.  The Jazz have appreciated the veteran presence and spacing he brings to the table, so a return to the starting lineup should be considered probable once he returns. 

This dampens some of the enthusiasm surrounding Enes Kanter’s big 20-point, 10-rebound, one-block night, but as I mentioned he wasn’t a guy that I’d have dropped to this point and last night’s outing goes a long way toward restoring his value.  It’s also possible that the ankle issue was a bigger problem than anybody was letting on, and if that wasn’t the case that a message about his energy was effectively sent.  I’m not going to sugar coat his value to date, which has been in the top 140-180 range on the year, but the low number of a combined 0.7 steals and blocks per game simply can’t hold up.  Factor in the Jazz’s long-term commitment to him and some easier looks with Burke in the fold and mid-round upside is still on the table. 

I’m not buying the mild excitement around Alec Burks' recent productivity, and he put up an empty 11 points, five boards and three blocks on 4-of-10 shooting with no steals, blocks or threes on the night.  He is, however, making Richard Jefferson (four points, 21 minutes) disappear and folks can move on from Arcade Fire if they took a flier on him in deeper formats.  Aside from Burks’ fantasy deficiencies Brandon Rush (10 minutes) is going to slowly get healthy and also be a thorn in his side. 

Derrick Favors scored a season-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting with 13 rebounds and a steal, as slowly but surely the top-60 value is closing in on his lofty ADP.  Like Kanter, he will benefit from Burks' ongoing improvement. 

SMOKE MONSTER

The game in Mexico City was cancelled making the Spurs and Wolves’ trip there a total waste and a pretty nice-sized distraction just as the season is gaining steam.  It looked like the smoke monster from Lost was planning to ref the game as there was an electrical issue that made the place look like a war zone, and the game will be made up in Minnesota at a later date.  It’s tough luck for owners of all the aforementioned, and it’s worth noting that Tiago Splitter was set to miss the game with an ankle injury. 

SAME OLD STORY

The Thunder were outcoached last night in their prime-time loss to the Blazers, as LaMarcus Aldridge steamrolled them and Scott Brooks’ answer was to bring in Kendrick Perkins over Nick Collison (16 minutes) to handle things late.  Serge Ibaka (13 points, 10 boards, three blocks) did his best but had no chance against Aldridge, but a savvy player like Collison (that isn't a liability) would have been key to giving LMA a different look. 

Otherwise, Kevin Durant did well to hit 11-of-23 shots against Nic Batum and finished with 33 points, seven boards, one steal and two blocks, but Russell Westbrook continued to struggle from the field hitting just 7-of-17 shots for 21 points, three rebounds, five assists, two threes and no steals or blocks.  There’s nothing too concerning here as he’s coming off the knee injury and he’ll get things moving in the right direction sooner or later, even if he’ll constantly be at odds with Brooks’ unimaginative offense. 

If there’s good news it’s that Reggie Jackson is getting more regular minutes (29), but the production wasn’t there with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting (including two threes) and just two rebounds, one assist and one block on the night.  TNT analyst Steve Kerr declared Jackson’s arrival on Twitter during the game, though, and Brooks is just about the only person left in Oklahoma City that doesn’t want more of Jackson during the game.  As with all things in OKC, Brooks will figure it out later than everybody else and eventually Jackson’s stock will rise faster than it is right now.  For now he’s just a top-100 guy with about 20-40 ranks of upside in the right scenario. 

BLAZING

Because it was a slower eight-game Wednesday I’m going to give a full analysis of LaMarcus Aldridge below, but for the rest of his teammates it was a fairly ho-hum night, and that’s to be expected against a tough Thunder squad.  Damian Lillard was held to 4-of-14 shooting, 14 points, six assists, two threes and a steal, Nicolas Batum scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and a full stat line, Wesley Matthews cooled off with 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting, and Robin Lopez double-doubled for 12 points, 10 boards and four blocks.  As a low-end center option Lopez might have been dropped in your league and there’s no reason to think he can’t provide serviceable value so feel free to pick him up. 

LOCKING DOWN LAMARCUS

LaMarcus Aldridge was the talk of the town last night – and deservedly so – as he poured in a season-high 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting with 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals while leading the Blazers to a big win over the Thunder.  Of course, I notoriously ranked him low (52/39) so he’ll be a bellwether for those rankings all season long, and after a slow start he has picked things up at ludicrous speed with a top-3 ranking this past week, a top 5-10 ranking over the past two weeks, and a top-15 rank on the year. 

So the operative question becomes whether or not he can keep this up.  Let’s take a look.  Over the last week he’s averaging 31.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 59.1 percent field goal shooting, 83.3 percent free throw shooting and 0.3 turnovers in his last three games of a small sample size.  Those numbers change to 25.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 46.2 percent field goal shooting, 86.0 percent foul shooting and 1.6 turnovers over a seven-game sample.  In reverse order the opponents were @OKC, IND, @LAL, @PHO, NY, @GSW and CHI.  There are some patsies in there (LAL, PHO, NY, GSW/David Lee, and CHI/Carlos Boozer), but nothing to draw any overwhelming conclusions about.

Areas that he’s playing over his head in include (season averages in parenthesis): Points (23.5), rebounds (9.7), steals by a little (1.2, 0.8 career), free throws (78.6) and turnovers (2.0).  It’s safe to say he’s unlikely to continue his top 5-10 (9/8 cat) ranks when those numbers normalize to predictable ranges, but what then about my preseason theory that moving away from the hoop would hurt his efficiency and therefore his fantasy value?  I’m actually not the only one that has noticed, as beat writer Erik Gunderson wrote in his gamer from last night, that his metrics have declined while the on-court product has evolved into what some are calling an MVP-like level. 

Looking at his season-long averages, he has done a good job so far of not letting the extra 2.7 field goal attempts per game hurt his field goal percentage as it was earlier in the year, with just a 0.8 percent decline to 47.6 percent from last year and 1.6 percent drop from his 49.2 percent career mark.  I’ve yet to find a stat that shows a typical decline for an NBA player experiencing such an uptick in shot attempts, but a 2-3 percent decline at this volume is a pretty good rule of thumb and sometimes it can be much more.  If he can keep up this level of efficiency, then he gives himself a chance at keeping up his top-15 value, but let’s dig a little further. 

His 9.7 rebounds per game are 1.9 greater than his 7.8 career mark in just a little under two more minutes per game over his 35.4 career average.  That’s a bigger than normal jump over a very large sample size, so expecting him to come back to earth a little there is probably a reasonable assumption, and expecting him to finish near last year’s 9.1 rebounds per game mark is a decent target.  Nothing earth shattering there.  He should regress in opposite directions in terms of steals and blocks, though his steals will be a little more sensitive to downward pressure as he’s producing 125 percent of his career average of 0.8.  Comparatively, he’s about 15 percent below his 1.1 career blocks per game if we adjust his career numbers to match his current playing time.  His turnovers (2.0 per game this year) will probably hold constant with how much he’s being used. 

So that leaves us pondering whether or not he can keep up some semblance of his pace from the last week, or something closer to his season numbers, or a market correction that dips below his season numbers because he’s playing out of his mind right now.  In terms of the eye test, I have maintained that explosion would be an issue and a tape review shows that’s actually playing out – but he has taken a Dirk Nowitzki-like leap in terms of skill and his turnaround jumper is borderline unguardable.  He’s at his apex right now as a player, and using his noggin about as well as anybody in the league. 

Above all, can he continue to carry such heavy load as a guy that has had injury issues in the past?  I tend to believe that he’s going to play through anything and everything as he savors the moments and recognition he’s going to get this year.  The Blazers are bona fide Western contenders as long as neither he nor Robin Lopez gets hurt, and that’s a great equation for continued effort and his leadership role will keep him on the cutting edge. 

So things are good right now if you added Aldridge in spite of my recommendations against it.  He’s not likely to stay in the first round ranks because of easy-to-see regressions he’s bound to get hit with, but he’s a candidate to hold his top-15 value and from there the question is whether or not he can keep it up. 

I don’t like how hard he’s going to have to work to hold tight on his efficiency, and any dip in that will send him closer to where I ranked him.  The ranks were also cumulative in the sense that they included games played, so he needs to stay healthy in order to realize these gains.  If you can get a first round value in return for him you almost have to make the deal in my book, and you can use the aforementioned markers in how you evaluate his future. 

And in the meantime grab a beverage of your choice and enjoy what you’re watching.  The Blazers are a fun team with great fans and Aldridge is one of the good guys out there. 

BEVERLEY SPILLS

Believe me, I have spent a lot of time watching the Rockets since my prediction on Patrick Beverley has gone down in flames.  It has been easy to identify the problem and I’ve covered it in detail – he’s simply scared to do anything with the rock – but this two-game slide following last night’s loss revealed something I didn’t think we’d say about the Rockets this season. 

They’re playing slow.  A team that was favored by most to lead the league in pace is just fifth in that category this year, which is still nice but hasn’t been the rising tide to lift all boats.  Looking deeper, they’re just ninth in fast break points and you can point to you-know-who as the reason this is happening.  Yes, Dwight Howard has made his mark on this team and it’s going to take further analysis to really get down to the bottom of things, but the Rockets aren’t wheeling and dealing anymore. 

Really, this comes down to the fallacy that Howard deserves to be a primary threat on offense, which is perpetuated not just by Howard’s massive contract but also by analysts around the league that can probably rattle off a bunch of stats to support that conclusion.  One doesn’t have to break out the advanced stats, though, to see the big man’s paltry 1.8 assists per game to know that he isn’t bending the defense.  Nor is he making them pay for the double teams that defenses don’t really apply to Howard, because they know they’d rather have him shooting than wide-open 3-point shooters that will bury them. 

So how does this apply to pace?  It’s a wobbly concept, but a fastbreaking team doesn’t really adhere to a pecking order.  They simply pass the ball up the floor because passing covers more ground than dribbling, and that necessarily means that whoever that next man is will be aggressively looking to score or otherwise force the defense to collapse.  Howard isn’t running the floor hard but that’s not the nexus of this.  Rocket players aren’t moving the ball at a breakneck speed, but rather looking to reset the offense at the first sign of resistance.  Part of that is due to the philosophy that the big man needs to get his touches, all while James Harden is still gobbling up 16.1 field goal attempts per game himself (down 1.0 from last year).  With two players that the Rockets are deferring to, they are playing with a pecking order rather than last year’s basketball democracy. 

It’s a problem that isn’t going to go away and while Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin’s absences certainly provide context for why the Rockets are struggling lately, you can bet that opposing teams are happy about the slower pace.  And for a guy like Beverley it means that he’s not getting easy chances to penetrate and score, and hence the playmaking numbers are down and his value will remain in the top-100 range for the foreseeable future, regardless of Parsons or Lin’s status. 

Beverley scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting (including two threes) with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals in 42 minutes last night, with each shot attempt seeming like it would be his last.  Despite all of this he has amassed top-50 value in extended minutes this past week, teasing owners with a real-time example of how the smallest window of opportunity can send his stock rising.  But until the Rockets open things up he simply can’t bring himself to attack, because Dwight needs his shots and Harden is definitely going to get his.  Parsons will continue to be a Grade A facilitator upon his return and Jeremy Lin is on the court for his offense and not his defense.  If the Rockets aren't running, then Beverley isn't gunning.

And if the Rockets don’t get real with Howard about the fact he's gumming up the offense, then they’re going to be an easy out in the playoffs when teams try to slow them down and are more than welcome to see any possession that is run through D12. 

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