Yesterday was a weird and frustrating day for many owners with a flurry of late injury news and game-time decisions that went back-and-forth all the way down to the wire. Guys like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Ty Lawson burned owners that may have set their lineups and walked away, or had circumstances that otherwise couldn’t handle these last-second gyrations. Sometimes this stuff happens because of a miscommunication at the team and beat writer level, and sometimes it’s gamesmanship as I suspect it was in the case of Lawson and Brian Shaw – who wanted the Pistons to show their hand first with Andre Drummond out.
In today’s day and age of technology we can track these slippery situations on a real-time basis, which is why you probably want to follow me and the rest of the Rotoworld crew on Twitter, but that doesn’t make it any easier to keep up with. With teams tanking and others willing to rest guys for the playoffs in lieu of seeding, I’m growing more and more weary of fantasy leagues that use playoffs to determine a winner.
An 82-game season is just too long to determine the victor based on a 2-4 week snapshot of games during the NBA’s silly season. If you can do anything to move your playoffs closer to the NBA’s trade deadline it would help curb these issues, but that’s also a major wild card to throw into the mix right before the games count, assuming the deadline ever picks back up again.
This all points to playing Roto style and I’ve always enjoyed that the most, as weekly head-to-head leagues seem so random due to small sample sizes and ultimately end in this playoff conundrum that gets worse and worse every year.
All of that is just food for thought as we start to close the book on this season and look toward the next. But before we do that there are titles to be won and Big Wednesday burned hot so there is plenty to talk about.
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The Bulls almost got caught with their pants down in a win over Philly that was much closer than it should have been. Carlos Boozer picked up his disappointing but unsurprising pace with 12 points, 11 rebounds and one block, and considering the opponent it’s not moving the needle on his deep league value. Joakim Noah continued to play big with 14 points, 10 boards, six assists, one steal and four blocks as his top-18 season is still trending upward, and Mike Dunleavy got back on track with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and a trey. Mike D should be owned in all standard formats so grab him if he was dropped.
Jimmy Butler got his numbers with 16 points, six boards, four assists, two steals, two blocks, a three and a perfect five foul shots, Taj Gibson went for 19 and 13 but did not have a steal or block, and D.J. Augustin scored 20 points with four 3-pointers and not much else. All of them should be owned in all standard leagues, though Gibson and Augustin aren’t playing like must-start guys with an average-looking 3-4-3 schedule to finish the year. The Bulls have been riding their horses hard and may start showing signs of cracking down the stretch, which would mean efficiency issues that would probably hit everybody not named Noah. That’s just something to watch for, not necessarily plan for just yet.
IT’S ALREADY BEEN WROTEN
The worst team in modern NBA history lost their 22nd straight game last night, but the Sixers have now played the Bulls and Pacers tightly so maybe they will get a win before it’s all said and done this year. Part of that has been the play of Tony Wroten, who started and scored 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting with six rebounds, seven assists, two steals, four threes and the ol’ Achilles’ heel of 1-of-6 foul shooting. Of course this line works for owners, but unless you’re punting the freebies he’s always going to be a late-round guy with upside in the event he can chill on the high-volume Dwight Howard act from the foul line.
Thaddeus Young scored 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting with four triples, four rebounds and four steals as the top 20-30 play continues. Both he and Michael Carter-Williams (16 points, 7-of-16 FGs, nine boards, seven assists, one steal) pay through the nose as teams key in on them defensively, but shooting percentages aside they're threats to go big on any given night.
DNPS FOR MIAMI
It’s no secret that it’s rest season in Miami and LeBron James’ absence, while annoying and debilitating, wasn’t exactly surprising news. Dwyane Wade returned to action and had a quiet 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting with three rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block, and Chris Bosh hit just 3-of-11 shots for six points but did save his fantasy night with 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Mario Chalmers was also light on the offense with seven points on 3-of-6 shooting (including a three), but he also saved his fantasy night with 11 assists. The saving grace for all of these guys is the Heat’s triple-set of four-game weeks.
Chris Andersen scored 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting with eight assists and zero steals or blocks in 20 minutes, and though he projects to be a guy that could use rest he’s also a solid big man pickup due to the favorable schedule. We’ve been talking about Ray Allen (14 points, one three, two steals) in the same regard for a while, too.
Michael Beasley drew the start and scored 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and a steal, but mental mistakes kept him from being on the floor in crunch time as the Heat couldn’t beat the tanking Celtics in Boston last night. Beasley could end up making noise down the stretch, but it’s hard for fantasy owners to trust him if his coach doesn’t. Norris Cole could also be an interesting name to watch if the Heat get really loose with the DNPs, and last night he put up 10 points, three rebounds, four assists, one steal and two threes in 26 minutes off the bench. By all accounts the coaching staff is happy with him and he has taken a step forward this season.
SAME AS IT EVER WAS
The only thing that didn’t make sense for the Celtics last night was the fact that they were able to beat the Heat, because everything else was the same as it ever was. Rajon Rondo returned from his prescribed rest to just miss out on a triple-double, scoring nine points on 4-of-8 shooting (no threes) with 10 rebounds and 15 assists. Jeff Green hit three 3-pointers to score 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and zero steals or blocks, which is an extremely versatile line by his standards. Avery Bradley picked up right where he left off before he got hurt with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting (including six threes), four rebounds and one assist in 41 minutes. He’s a must-own player after quickly asserting his territorial rights.
Brad Stevens destroyed the Celtics’ fantasy frontcourt situation by playing Kris Humphries (seven points, two boards) just 15 minutes, and Kelly Olynyk saw just 20 minutes on his way to a disappointing 10 points, five boards, one trey and that’s it. Brandon Bass (18 points, four rebounds, one steal, 30 minutes) was brought back into the fold after falling off the face of the earth, and Jared Sullinger scored 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting with two threes, four rebounds, three assists and one block in 31 minutes off the bench. If I had to guess the order I’d own or play them in it would be Sullinger, Olynyk, Humphries and Bass, but I’ll just be honest and say I have no clue who is going to do what anymore. The fantasy playoffs aren’t the time nor place for that junk.
SECURITY BLANKET IN CHARLOTTE
The Bobcats are now just one-half game ahead of the Hawks after last night’s loss to the Nets, and they need to be careful that they don’t hit a rough patch while the Knicks continue to surge from the No. 9 slot 4.5 games back of them. Until they have their playoff seeding settled they are going to continue going in to Al Jefferson as their first, second and third option on offense, and the obvious concern is that Big Al will go hard until he breaks and in the meantime both durability and efficiency could be at risk. He scored 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting with 12 rebounds last night which is a solid night, but zero steals or blocks and five turnovers are little hints for a guy trending downward with top 30-40 play over the last eight games.
Kemba Walker also struggled in this one with just seven points on 2-of-8 shooting with four rebounds, seven assists and 1-of-6 makes from deep, and Gerald Henderson scored 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting (including a three) with six rebounds, three assists and one steal. After hitting 1.4 triples per game over the last five contests he is working with top-100 value in that span, and it makes sense that he would have more spot-up opportunities with the Bobcats turning to their security blanket in Jefferson. Still, a 3-4-3 schedule has me a bit bearish on recommending an add in 12-team formats based on this small sample size. Henderson has been a 14-team guy for most of the year.
Gary Neal scored 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting with three treys, four perfect free throws and that’s just about it in his 27 minutes, and based on the strength of 55.7 percent field goal shooting over the past seven games he’s a mid-to-late round value in that span. That will shift to a late-round value or worse when the shooting levels out, but a desperate owner looking for a one-game flier might want to try and catch him while he’s hot. Chris Douglas-Roberts hit three treys of his own and finished with 13 points, three boards, three assists and a block in 22 minutes, and he’s a peg or two below Neal for fantasy purposes.
TO THOSE WHO WAIT
Good things happen when Deron Williams (25 points, eight assists, three treys, 6-of-6 FTs) gets healthy and he looks as explosive laterally as I’ve seen him in some time. As for vertically, that ship probably sailed over the past two years. With a trio of four-game slates he’s set to be a difference-maker with high-end early round value, which will help make up for yet another underwhelming season. The Nets won and that makes them 8-2 over their last 10 and they’re stalking Chicago and Toronto for the No. 3 and 4 seeds, respectively.
Shaun Livingston has been available in a ridiculous number of standard leagues and the mid-round value over the last few weeks answered the call again with 17 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 32 minutes. He’s a must-own and must-add player returning value like that with a favorable schedule coming up. Mason Plumlee (11 points, seven boards, one steal, one block, 19 minutes) and Andray Blatche (13 points, five boards, one steal) held their ground in fantasy leagues as low-end producers in 12-14 team formats. In the spirit of Rick Pitino and March Madness, Kevin Garnett isn’t walking through that door.
Don’t panic on Paul Pierce (seven points, five boards, one steal, one block, one three, 28 minutes) because of the schedule alone and Joe Johnson (20 points, eight boards, three assists, three treys, one steal) is actually going to be a fantasy factor down the stretch, presuming he doesn’t end up getting prescribed rest at the wrong times. With the Nets in the middle of a tightly bunched playoff picture, that doesn’t sound like a huge concern at this point.
ARE WE THERE YET?
The Jazz turned in another normal, uninspired performance against a Grizzlies team fighting for their playoff lives. To that end, keeping the game to a 10-point loss can be seen as a victory for Utah here, and the box was full of typical Jazz fantasy output. Derrick Favors took a step backward after starting to gain some momentum and what else is new, as he scored just six points with eight rebounds and one steal. Enes Kanter switched spaces with Marvin Williams against Memphis’ big lineup, and he turned in 12 points with 12 rebounds and a steal as he continues to be a low-end option in 12-team leagues. After the upcoming four-game week, he’s merely a stash in the remaining three-game weeks for the chance Ty Corbin rolls him out there for 40 minutes per night. That’s the type of volume he needs to be startable in standard formats as blocks and steals are the well-chronicled culprit.
Trey Burke scored 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting with three triples, two boards and six assists. After hitting the rookie wall he has now been a consistent top-100 value over the last month. Owners can work with that in the upcoming four-game week, but the three-gamers after that will be a bit of a question mark. Gordon Hayward scored 16 points with five boards, five assists and two steals, while Marvin Williams scored nine points with five boards, one steal, one block and one three in his 23 minutes just to show people he can. Williams' health and effectiveness playing for a tanking team are too many red flags right now. Alec Burks scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting (including two threes) with six rebounds, four assists and a steal in his 30 minutes off the bench, and he’s returning solid late-round value in 8-cat leagues over the last two weeks. Turnovers make him more of a borderline play in 12-team leagues over that same span, but he’s worth a look like most of these guys at the end of your bench.
WHO WANTS TO PLAY THE GRIZZLIES?
The Grizzlies are getting Marc Gasol up to speed at precisely the right time and they were able to easily dispatch the Jazz last night. They will probably pass up the Mavs for the No. 7 seed and take some pressure off of themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot in the uber-competitive West. Gasol went for 20 and 10 with three assists and four blocks, Zach Randolph joined the fun with 21 and 11 with a steal, and Mike Conley started moving things in the right direction with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, four rebounds, seven assists and three steals in the win. Conley has been just a mid-to-late round play since returning from his ankle injury, and with two straight four-game weeks owners would be thrilled if he’s ready to start playing at his normal top-15 level.
The Raptors nearly gave away a gift-wrapped game against the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans but came away with a win behind yet another stellar effort out of DeMar DeRozan, who scored 31 points on 9-of-19 shooting (2-of-4 3PTs, 11-of-13 FTs) with three rebounds, four assists and three treys. He’s rocking a top-35 season and the arrow is only pointing up.
Kyle Lowry scored 23 points with a typically full stat line but struggled with efficiency (6-of-18 FGs, six TOs), and Amir Johnson battled through omnipresent ankle issues to score 17 points with nine rebounds, one steal, two blocks and a three. Ride Johnson and hope the wheels don’t fall off, literally. Until we know what Patrick Patterson’s (elbow) status is feel free to check into Tyler Hansbrough (seven points, 13 boards) in deeper formats. The Raptors’ upcoming pair of four-game weeks certainly helps Psycho T if Patterson is slow to get back.
With no Anthony Davis (illness) as a late-scratch I’m not entirely sure how the Pellies were able to hang around the Raps, which is more a statement about the latter than it is about the former, who are expected to suck just about every night. Tyreke Evans kept rolling with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and one block, and Eric Gordon scored a typical 15 points with two threes and not much else.
Al-Farouq Aminu scored 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting with one three, 10 boards and one block in 33 minutes. The Pelicans have given him a million chances this season and none of them have panned out, so with or without Davis on the floor we need to see this again before flinching. Even with a pair of four-game weeks around the bend, owners that are desperate for a big man would be wise to ignore decent outings from Jeff Withey (nine points, four boards, one steal, two blocks) and Alexis Ajinca (10 points, seven boards, two steals, one block). One look at the game log will tell you why.
RICKY TICKY TRIPLE-DOUBLE
The Wolves are going to have to rattle off a bunch of wins as they’re still 5.5 games out of the No. 8 slot in the West after last night’s overtime victory in Dallas. Kevin Love (35 points, eight boards, three assists, one block, two threes, 11-of-14 FTs) and Dirk Nowitzki went at it late and Love brought home the bacon last night. He split a double-team in the post and put the Wolves ahead for good on one end, and then successfully defended Dirk’s game-winning attempt on the other end. Love was joined in the hot column by Ricky Rubio, who posted his third career triple-double with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 10 rebounds, 15 assists, four steals, one block and 6-of-7 makes from the stripe in 49 minutes. For all of the complaints that Rubio seems to garner, he’s within striking distance of his late-second, early-third round ADP and getting hot at the right time could push him over the top.
Gorgui Dieng double-doubled for the second straight time in replacement duty for Nikola Pekovic (ankle), scoring 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting with 11 rebounds, one steal and one block in 25 minutes. Pek traveled with the team but has already been ruled out of tonight’s game against the Rockets, and it’s anybody’s guess when he’ll return to action after that.
The Wolves embark on a trio of four-game weeks starting on Monday and they’re going to have to throw Pekovic into the fire at some point if they are entertaining any thoughts of the playoffs, which is a pretty big tell that his history of ankle injuries will be a factor down the stretch. His top-75 value when on the court and the favorable schedule are more than enough reason for owners to see this out unless their hands are forced.
As for Dieng, there isn’t much if any history to look back on in order to gauge his potential, but common sense suggests he has a decent shot at eight and eight with 2.0 combined steals and blocks if he’s getting 25 minutes in this starter’s role. The question is whether or not he’ll be matchup proof, get yanked for rookie-level mistakes, or if Pek will come back and ruin him in short order. Make your desperation big man add accordingly.
Dante Cunningham (three points, 18 minutes, one block) has been ruined by Rick Adelman’s decision to play big with Dieng and also because Robbie Hummel (six points, four boards, two threes, 21 minutes) has been elevated into an every-night rotation role as a stretch forward. Hummel is the player to own between he and Cunningham, and both guys are worth a glance in deep leagues given the Wolves’ favorable schedule. You can add J.J. Barea to that list if you’re punting field goal percentage, and last night the little man got hot with 15 points, five boards, four assists, two threes and a steal in 19 minutes off the bench.
Corey Brewer played 48 minutes and scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting with one three, four rebounds and a steal. He’s been rolling along at a late-round value with a clear advantage in 9-cat leagues, and he’s a must-start player next week in those formats and a serviceable play in 8-cat counterparts.
DEFENSELESS IN DALLAS
The Mavs looked a lot better about a month ago and now they are the team that the Suns are most likely to replace if they can climb back into the top-8 in the West. They simply don’t have enough defense and they need most of their offensive weapons clicking at the same time to accommodate for that. Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 11-of-27 FGs, 0-for-7 3PTs, three rebounds) had an off-night from deep and on the glass, and Monta Ellis got red hot late to finish with 22 points, four treys, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Ellis’ owners are probably relieved this morning after a terrible month of very late-round production with shooting the primary problem.
Shawn Marion showed up with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals, and that couldn’t have come at a better time as he was coming off his own terrible week and now has two solid games under his belt. The Mavs have a middle-of-the-road 3-4-3 schedule but they are sprinting through the finish line as a team and that means Marion should be owned in most 12-team formats.
Samuel Dalembert scored seven points with 14 rebounds, one steal and three blocks in just 22 minutes, and Rick Carlisle didn’t play him at all during the fourth quarter or in overtime, which pretty much sums his situation up. Make him do something again before batting an eye. Vince Carter bounced back as expected, hitting 4-of-7 shots (including three treys) for 14 points, five boards, three assists, one steal and one block. If he was dropped he’s a mid-level free agent in 12-team formats.
Devin Harris also continued to exceed expectations with 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting (no threes), four rebounds, four assists, two steals and a perfect five freebies in 32 minutes off the bench. He now has a solid two weeks of late-round value with averages of 10.8 points, 1.3 treys, 2.3 boards, 3.5 assists, and 1.2 steals while hitting 53.8 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line on 3.3 attempts per contest. He’s being trusted for heavy usage when on the floor and is putting up those numbers in just 18.9 mpg in that span, so any increase in his role could provide some mid-round upside. With injury risks and a middling schedule factored in, I’d consider him a low-level add in 12-team standard leagues but an add-candidate, nonetheless.
The Pistons’ mess this season has not been surprising in the least and last night’s ejection of Josh Smith for not knowing when to shut up was probably the last straw for folks near the team, at least for this year. Their playoff chances were already fading but Smith’s ejection keyed a Nuggets’ turnaround and the loss moved Detroit to 6.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the Leastern Conference. Brandon Jennings struggled with just seven points and five assists in 30 minutes and his idiosyncrasies have their fingerprints all over the season too, but he wasn’t happy with the situation in the locker room after the game. Smith exited before reporters were allowed in for postgame questions.
Andre Drummond missed the game with his neck injury and he’s firmly in the questionable department for Friday’s game against the hungry Suns. Add it all up and it’s a recipe for early vacations and shutdowns, which may not be the worst thing for guys like Smith and Greg Monroe (22 points, five boards, three assists, four steals, one block, 9-of-12 FGs) if it’s Drummond that gets the kid gloves going forward. They’ll get to play their natural positions and would get a sizeable bump in fantasy value, though Smith’s head has to be in a strange place as the big money signee most emblematic of the team’s problems.
For however long Drummond is out, everybody will simply slide over a spot and that means guys like Rodney Stuckey (18 points, two steals, 37 minutes) and Will Bynum (12 points, 10 assists, one three, 22 minutes) will get a little breathing room. They’re still profiling as deep league values at best on a per-game basis because of their various fantasy deficiencies, but with a 4-4-4 schedule on the slate after this week they are worth a hard look in 12-team formats even if Drummond returns.
Kyle Singler left during the game due to a jammed or sprained right (shooting) thumb but returned in the fourth quarter and finished with 13 points, nine boards, one block and three treys in 26 minutes. He’s a must-own player most likely for the rest of the year unless this injury somehow worsened overnight.
With the various absences and because the Nuggets are terrible defensively and in general, there were appearances by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (nine points, 10 boards, two steals, one three, 2-of-11 FGs, 28 minutes) and Charlie Villanueva (13 points, four boards, three treys, 17 minutes). One look at their game logs will show why they need to back up those lines a few more times before owners give them attention in most formats.
LAST SECOND LAWSON
As mentioned Ty Lawson (sinus infection) was a late-add to the starting lineup and then was scratched just minutes before tip-off last night, and if you were able to shuffle Aaron Brooks into your lineup then you get a tip of the cap. Brooks went nuts for 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting with one three, six boards, a career-high 17 assists and a 6-of-7 mark from the line for good measure in his 47-minute start. Lawson will probably return for the next one so the celebration will be short-lived for Brooks, and he won’t get a Pistons team mailing it in every night. I don’t think the needle moves much if at all for Brooks as a deep league value at best.
Randy Foye’s turnaround is complete after backing up his bounce-back game the last time out with 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting, five treys, five boards, five assists and three steals in 44 minutes. As mentioned in various places around here, he carried a ton of load over the last couple of months and when Lawson returned Foye was finally able to rest a handful of nicks and dings. Especially with Wilson Chandler questionable for Friday due to the injection he received for his long-term hip injury, and the shutdown concerns surrounding something like that, Foye is poised to be a solid contributor for the rest of the year.
Kenneth Faried kept things moving with 15 points, eight boards, one steal and one block, and Brian Shaw answered honestly before the game saying the trade deadline was really weighing on Faried’s mind while causing his poor performance. That doesn’t exactly reflect well on anybody, but at least these guys figured it out eventually. Timofey Mozgov went for 11 and nine in 18 minutes but he’s still just a 14-16 team desperation play at center, and J.J. Hickson went for 11 and 11 with a block in his 26 minutes. That’s not paying the bills for owners in standard leagues due to his well-chronicled fantasy deficiencies.
OLD FOLKS IN ORLANDO
We might have seen the beginning of the shutdown process start for Jameer Nelson (knee) in last night’s loss to the Suns. The Magic’s fantasy situation has been pretty clear cut for a while now, but if and when Nelson calls it a year it’s going to be much easier to swallow the team’s remaining 3-3-3 schedule in the fantasy playoffs.
Guys like Victor Oladipo (14 points, 6-of-18 FGs, one three, three boards, nine assists, two steals, six turnovers, 37 minutes) and Tobias Harris (23 points, 7-of-13 FGs, one three, nine boards, three assists, 8-of-11 FTs, 32 minutes) will be all-but guaranteed massive workloads. Arron Afflalo, though a shutdown risk to some degree, will also have a wide open window to return to dominating form. Last night’s 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting (3-of-5 3PTs, 5-of-5 FTs) three rebounds and one assist was a bit lacking in versatility, but it stopped the bleeding for Afflalo and gave hope that he can turn the corner on the ankle injury that has been sapping his effectiveness.
Kyle O’Quinn (six points, 11 boards, four assists, two steals, one block, 2-of-9 FGs, 32 minutes) was automatic per usual, and Nikola Vucevic (eight points, three boards, nine minutes) looked good before getting tossed for squabbling with the refs and throwing the ball at Channing Frye’s foot. If there’s any silver lining it’s that Vucevic didn’t have to push his recovering ankle injury too much. If you’re in a deeper league looking for a deep sleeper of the bunch, Andrew Nicholson scored nine points with four rebounds and one triple in 14 minutes off the bench. If Nelson takes a bow and Afflalo ends up joining him in a shutdown, then he’ll be the guy that picks up the slack as everybody slides down a spot.
Despite his bad game last night, Harkless (one point, two rebounds, one steal, one block, 32 minutes) is still profiling like a late-round value with a 2-3 round advantage in 9-cat formats. The trio of three-game weeks coming up really do put pressure on him to perform above his baselines in 12-team formats, but on the other side it’s totally feasible that the Magic try to take this time to focus on his development.
FIGHTING IN PHOENIX
As we’ve talked about here the Suns played over their heads for the first half of the season and the subsequent fall has made them the odd-team out in the West – but they’re still fighting and their win against the Magic brought them to within 1.5 games within the No. 8 seed. Fantasy-wise there wasn’t too much to report as everybody played within expectations. Goran Dragic scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting with two threes, one board, six assists and two steals, though he’s probably on empty after carrying so much load lately. Don’t be surprised if his numbers end up losing just a small amount of shine due to that and Eric Bledsoe’s return.
Bledsoe is still knocking off the rust and he hit just 3-of-11 shots (including a three) for seven points, seven boards, six assists and three steals in just 24 minutes. Obviously, the best has yet to come and he’ll get another four-game week next week to help augment the recovery process. Miles Plumlee played well in limited minutes with 10 points, nine boards and two blocks, which is just the most recent incremental step toward his previous form. He’s not there, but he’s worth a look if you need a big man in 12-14 team leagues.
Channing Frye has been in drop discussions around here but he showed his staying power with 12 points, five boards, three blocks and two treys in just 22 minutes. You’ve gotta be looking at a mid-level free agent or better to make the move and I’d have a hard time picking this game as the impetus to move on. Markieff Morris had a slow night with 12 points, five boards and one steal but he has weathered some bad games and has shown a late-round floor with plenty of upside. He’s in the same exact boat as Frye from a decision-making standpoint.
Gerald Green hit four treys and that certainly pays the bills for owners, but the new reality of his situation is evident as he logged just 25 minutes en route to 14 points, one steal and that’s just about it. He’ll be worth owning but his value has definitely taken a significant hit. Now it will be all about riding the waves to a late-round floor with some mid-round upside.
MORE IN SPUR OF THE MOMENT DNP DECISIONS
The Spurs are going to raise owners’ blood pressure as they do every season down the stretch, and after 32 minutes for Tim Duncan (12 points, 16 boards, six assists, three steals) and 33 minutes for Tony Parker (25 points, five assists) they should probably top an inestimable list of Gregg Popovich DNP candidates for Friday in Sacramento. The Spurs then turn around and play the Warriors on Saturday and the only good news is that they get two full days off before that back-to-back. Owners already know to beware.
Manu Ginobili (13 points, six assists, three treys, 22 minutes) continues to roll along in limited minutes and he’s right up there with the other graybeards on the DNP watch list. Danny Green has played better since injuring his shooting wrist and had another dandy last night with 6-of-8 makes for 16 points, three triples, two steals and one block in just 24 minutes. Green should be owned in all formats for his extremely high ceiling when hot, though time off would make sense for him if the injury continues to linger.
Owners looking for sneaky pickups should look (in order) at Patty Mills (seven points, 15 minutes), Marco Belinelli (10 points, two threes, 26 minutes), Tiago Splitter (10 points, eight boards, one steal, three blocks, and Boris Diaw (eight points, six boards, six assists, one block, two threes, 24 minutes). After Mills the other three guys are tightly bunched. The Spurs are looking at two straight four-game weeks following this one, and with each missed game by a key cog they’re going to see their floor improve. And since they’re all borderline late-round values in 12-14 team leagues on the season, the extra game advantage and the chance for enhanced roles is a nice mix of safety and upside. In deeper formats Cory Joseph (two minutes) is also worth a look if it starts raining DNPs.
Kawhi Leonard has been one of my tougher picks of the year and though I warned folks to take him closer to his ADP in the second or even third rounds of drafts it sure feels like many of you took him closer to my late-first round, early-second round evaluation. The hand injury was a freak thing and I won’t obsess over that, but Leonard didn’t take the early leap many expected him to take. Fast forward to his return from injury and he has been the No. 5 and 8 fantasy play over the past month in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively, averaging a ridiculous 14.5 points, 1.4 threes, 6.9 boards, 2.1 steals, and 1.5 blocks while hitting 55.8 percent from the field and 90.3 percent from the line. The shooting is unsustainable and to a lesser degree so are the blocks, but the overall shape of his fantasy production is something to behold.
It’s not going to change the fact that he’s one of my bust picks this year, but turning it on at the right time for owners will hopefully mitigate some of the pain for those in playoff formats.
While the Knicks are basking in the afterglow of all Phil Jackson everything all the time, the Lakers are left with an almost cartoonish Mike D’Antoni losing his way under immense scrutiny and condemnation by most. I don’t say ‘cartoonish’ to be mean and I don’t even really mean anything literal by that word, but figuratively the circus around his job status and the Lakers’ future is going to be a wild card down the stretch. It’s anybody’s guess where the Lakers go from here in the offseason, but Jim Buss will have the bulls-eye drawn squarely on his back as the NBA’s first family looks to make a cannonball-level splash.
The good news is that I think D’Antoni puts his head down in the meantime and rolls with the guys that fit his roles, and with everybody rooting for ping pong balls anyway he won’t get much pushback unless the Lakers start losing by 40 again. Pau Gasol (22 points, 10 boards, six assists, one steal, four blocks) is a prime shutdown candidate and though he's productive and relatively healthy it’s anybody’s guess what he’ll do as we get closer to the end.
Robert Sacre (seven points, 11 boards, one steal, one block) profiles like a guy that the Lakers can throw out there for 30-plus minutes in the last two weeks of the season, and with Jordan Hill (knee) and Chris Kaman (foot) being total question marks Ryan Kelly (34 minutes, 14 points, six boards, two steals, one block, one three) could end up being locked into a huge role. With two four-game weeks after this one on the slate I hope you guys have been on that bandwagon with me because otherwise it’s probably too late to grab him.
Kent Bazemore (13 points, 5-of-11 FGs, three treys, three assists, six steals, 29 minutes) has the capacity to play himself out of a game, though it’s not likely, and more importantly he is both healthy and versatile enough to log big minutes in D’Antoni’s system. Xavier Henry (32 minutes, 24 points, four boards, one three, 9-of-22 FGs) has been featured even more than Bazemore lately, but there’s no comparison between their respective fantasy value. Bazemore is operating at a late-round level despite falling off the map two weeks ago and has tremendous upside in Mike D’s system, while Henry can only be truly relied upon for points and he carries deficiencies nearly everywhere else to go with plenty of injury risk. I think the Lakers enjoy Henry’s playmaking ability when he’s rolling but they could turn off the spigot if and when he goes truly cold.
Kendall Marshall saw just 23 minutes last night and that’s a bit disappointing considering that Henry played most of his backup point guard minutes and had zero assists while jacking up 22 shots. Marshall scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with three rebounds and three assists, and I’m going to give it at least one more game before writing a full-time role off. Henry’s surge also has a bit of a random quality to it in that the team certainly wants to see what he has after a similar burst of productivity earlier in the year, and within that context is the fact that he has worked his butt off to get back on the floor to showcase himself for whatever his next contract may be. The Lakers may go away from Henry once he has had his fill, and there is always the ever-present risk of aggravation to his bad knee. Playing their only true point guard less than 30 minutes per game seems a bit weird even by Mike D standards.
Wesley Johnson logged just 16 minutes last night on his way to eight points, five rebounds and two threes without any defensive stats. Given his relative utility to the team it will take more bad outings combined with some other red flag to move me off of the upcoming pair of four-game weeks. Yes, Nick Young could come back and complicate everybody’s lives and so could Steve Nash, but there’s no way I’m planning around Nash and Young’s situation reeks of a guy rushing back too early to try and audition for his next deal. Assuming the Lakers want to play ball like that (Young isn’t teetering on the edge of the NBA landscape like Henry is), it’s anybody’s guess if he can move other guys off of their minutes and touches.
In the end, if Gasol gets shutdown there could be a dynamic similar to Philly earlier in the year in which the pace of playground play is the rising tide to lift all boats, more so than is already happening.
THEREIN LIES THE RUB
Regular readers know that I’ve been stuck on the Pacers as my title pick all season long and that the last 3-4 weeks went from mild concern to real problems with the way Indy has conducted its business. I noted yesterday that it was a terrible spot for them to play in New York on the night of Phil Jackson’s introduction to the crowd and subsequent standing ovation. Indy had trouble dispatching the worst team in NBA history on Monday, so a suddenly surging Knicks squad was certainly going to be a problem.
So they lost and snapped a four-game winning streak and they still hold the top spot in the East over the Heat, but this has remained one of the more perplexing situations because aside from Roy Hibbert’s cliff dive there hasn’t been an easy explanation for the struggles. Trusty Dean Oliver of ESPN said the same thing I had been thinking for weeks last night when he noted how the team just looked a half-step off up and down the lineup. But something else I’ve seen hints of may have finally revealed itself definitively when Hibbert called out anybody not named Paul or David for shot selection and trying to do too much.
"We've fallen in love with the jump shot for a while," Hibbert said. "People feel like they have it going and they want to do it themselves sometimes. That's just how it works. I feel like two guys that I have 100 percent trust in doing that is Paul [George] and David [West]. I feel like they should have carte blanche on whatever they want to do in terms of attacking the paint and (put) the ball's in their hands because they've earned my respect."
Hibbert went on from there, adding "They're able to do it at a high level, even if they start off a little slow but I know they're going to bring it. Those guys have the green light whenever they have it, but other than that I think we should move the ball and get people involved."
It’s a bit much to say ‘shots fired’ because nobody has insinuated that there is animosity in the locker room, but that’s a not-so-veiled message to George Hill (seven points, 3-of-7 FGs, one three, six boards, four assists, one block) and more likely to Lance Stephenson, who has also been on the other end of a now suddenly more meaningful comment made by Hibbert about stolen rebounds. Stephenson scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting with two threes, nine boards, two steals and another dud handing out the ball with just two assists.
The Pacers’ offense has never been setup to be an elite force, but it certainly has the potential to be one of the better units in the league. It has also bogged down not just recently but historically whenever Hibbert struggles, and it was only when George developed a mid-range game and refined the overall product that the Pacers became truly special. Stephenson was always a bit player until last year’s playoffs, and then this season he has enjoyed a coming out party all while he is gunning for a new contract.
That’s the salient point here and though there are times or even long stretches when Stephenson is a dynamic playmaker, he is still a young, often reckless player that is still finding his way in the NBA. There hasn't been much talk about Stephenson's potential financial motivations in the press, but the big man’s comments effectively put that issue in the spotlight for those that are paying attention, whether it’s about money, The Quan, or whatever it is that is causing Stephenson to assume the role of a No. 1B guy rather than a No. 2 or 3 or even 4.
The end result is a team that has allowed this metamorphosis to slowly erode their trust on offense because the pecking order isn’t intact. And if more Stephenson is part of the problem for the offense, it certainly doesn’t help that he’s the only one besides George that can get his own shot in a pinch. George hit just 4-of-17 shots (2-of-9 3PTs, 7-of-8 FTs) for 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one steal, and he is clearly pressing to live up to his now defunct MVP candidacy -- while Stephenson continues to run nearly as much of the show. David West (eight points, six rebounds, two blocks) and Hibbert are both reliant upon these guys to get their touches, and surely Hill (seven points, six boards, four assists, one block) has had to adjust with less ballhandling opportunities on his end.
Perhaps Hibbert waited until he had a big night offensively (20 points, 8-of-10 FGs, three boards, zero blocks) to speak up about the offense, or maybe the pressure of continued poor performance was too much with time running out. The Pacers wouldn’t be the first team in history to lose focus on the defensive end when issues on the offensive end start to mount. This certainly fits the profile of a basketball death spiral, but then again it would also fit the profile that none of this matters past March. I would be more worried had Hibbert not said anything and the Pacers continued to show half-step deficiencies without any explanation that made sense besides simple fatigue.
The Pacers are having a crisis of character. New characters such as Evan Turner (three points, 17 minutes) and Andrew Bynum (knee, out for rest of week) represent more questions than answers with the way things have gone down since their arrival. They have four weeks to work out their pecking order and now that grievances have been aired the next step is usually to hash it out. Whether or not they do that effectively will effectively determine who advances in the East, so I’m going to stay on the Pacers train knowing that buy-in there has typically been strong. Stephenson isn’t off-his-rails killing this team – it’s quite the opposite – but his ascension and contract issues show how thin the line between winning and losing can be at the NBA level.
TAKE A BOW
Phil Jackson took his bow for the skeptical yet giddy Madison Square Garden crowd last night and it’s been covered in every way possible, but it’s pretty amazing what hope can do to float an otherwise bad situation. The Knicks have now won seven straight games and what appeared to be a disaster-level situation is now a four-game deficit behind the sinking Hawks. The mediocre Bobcats sit just a half-game ahead of Atlanta in the seven slot. Whereas questions surrounding Carmelo Anthony dominated the landscape over the last few months, now it seems crazy that he wouldn’t want to re-up with Jackson leading the charge given the numerous financial and competitive advantages staying would bring to the table.
I thought Melo might go out and try to make a point last night and he was solid with 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting (10-of-12 FTs), three rebounds, five assists and three steals in the win over Indy. Tyson Chandler returned from his personal absence and posted a spry seven points with 14 rebounds, one steal and one block in 39 minutes, and Amare Stoudemire got a start and scored 21 points with four rebounds in 29 minutes. Stoudemire will get pushed more than the Knicks would like while they’re in a hurry to make up ground, but days off are probably inevitable. He profiles like a late-round value when he’s on the floor but with a pair of four-game weeks coming up he’s worth a look in 12-team formats.
Raymond Felton scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting with one three, six boards, six assists and two steals in 28 minutes. If he’s still floating around your wire it’s time to pick him up with top-100 value over his last six games. All the positive vibes in New York can certainly help with the in-between-the-ears issues he’s facing, but if that sounds too much like the Zen talking owners can go back to the schedule for comfort. Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of the more one-dimensional players I’ve seen lately, as he completely disappears when his shot doesn’t fall. After getting red hot over the past week he missed all seven of his shots and finished with just two points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. I can only see using him in a 12-14 team league if I’m in need of a Hail Mary in the points and 3-point shooting departments.
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