The NBA is gearing up for the pre-Christmas stretch run and that means a jam-packed 12-game Big Wednesday after just five games last night. Damian Lillard stole the show yet again with another game-winner, Kobe Bryant rolled into Memphis and took a win from the new-look Grizzlies, the Thunder and Warriors rolled, and Rudy Gay hit a speed bump leaving last night’s game early with a knee injury.
So let’s set them up and knock them down, as we’re going to recap last night and look ahead to all 12 matchups.
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THE SILENT ASSASSIN
Portland is on fire and LaMarcus Aldridge is doing his best to make me look like a fool in my preseason ranking of him, but the story last night was Damian Lillard’s continued stranglehold over clutch moments. Lillard buried his second game-winning shot in three games, and finished with a career-high eight 3-pointers, 36 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and one block. The total package is good enough to make the Silent Assassin a top-15 fantasy play even while he’s shooting just 40 percent on the year. In other words, there is room to go up.
Aldridge posted an increasingly familiar 26 points on 11-of-22 shooting with 15 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block, but it was revealed that he has been dealing with pain in his right (shooting) hand. He underwent a fluoroscopy scan after the game and results were negative, and at this point I think we have to assume that it won’t be a big deal given how well he has played through it.
That doesn’t mean a missed game or two couldn’t be in his future, but rather that this particular ailment is unlikely to be the thing that shakes him off his current blistering pace. At 48.6 percent shooting on an additional 2.2 field goal attempts per game over last season, and nearly two more rebounds per game over last season (11.0), those are the areas I would expect any decline to be in and one has to think that whenever the Blazers cool off as a team that would be the time it happens. If it happens.
It was pretty standard fare elsewhere for the Blazers, as Wesley Matthews hit three treys to go with 19 points on yet another efficient 6-of-10 shooting night. Robin Lopez got handled by Andrew Bynum and managed just eight points, six rebounds and one steal in 20 foul-plagued minutes, and Nicolas Batum struggled to hit just 3-of-13 shots but made up for it with 14 points (6-of-6 FTs), two treys, nine boards and a block.
WEATHERING THE STORM
The Cavs appear to have weathered the early-season storm and despite constant trade rumors they’ve managed to stay competitive lately with four wins and three losses in December. The Omer Asik ‘sweepstakes’ is something I’ll cover later on, but it deserves mentioning that Dion Waiters is the guy with a target on his back in Cleveland. Right on cue, the feast-or-famine lottery pick hit 11-of-19 shots for 25 points, two threes, three boards, five assists and one steal in 31 minutes.
Waiters is still just a deep league guy in fantasy leagues, but if he does find his way out of Cleveland he could become very interesting – particularly in a place like Philly where Waiters was “reportedly” interested in playing according to Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling. I threw the air quotes on that because the report has been roundly dismissed as a really bad agent leak, but the takeaway is the same, nonetheless. Be ready to move if the tea leaves suggest an improvement in environment.
Kyrie Irving was bound to get up for a matchup against another young elite point guard in Damian Lillard, and he rose to the occasion with 25 points and 10 assists, though it did take 22 shots to get there. It’s way too early to close the book on this discussion, but if GMs are selecting today I think they take the no-frills choice in Lillard. As mentioned, Andrew Bynum started off hot but the Cavs got flummoxed by the Blazers’ fronting and doubling schemes, so Bynum produced most of his 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals in the game’s first half. Owners will want to monitor the Cavs’ ability to improve in that department when assessing his value. For now he’s just a desperation stash.
Jarrett Jack scored 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting (including a three) with five rebounds, four assists and one steal in 28 minutes off the bench. Over the past two weeks he has been tucked in at the bottom of the top-100, and shooting just 43.5 percent in that span there is a small amount of room for him to improve as a 45.4 percent shooter over the past two years. He would also benefit tremendously if Waiters was to be traded and Cleveland doesn’t take a guard back somehow, so I’d have a hard time not making a speculative pickup in 10-12 team formats. An no, he’s not in the clear after a season that has seen him post just top 140-160 value.
ONE GAME AT A TIME
The Kobe Bryant show went to Memphis and caught a major break by not having to face Mike Conley, and behind the incrementally improving play of Kobe the Lakers were able to scratch out a win. The Mamba scored 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting (including a three) with five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block, but owners had to hold their breath as he went down to a hyper-extended knee during the game and eventually returned. There doesn’t appear to be much worry about the knee, and with Kobe looking like an old man in his first few games back this is a great time to float out a buy low offer. He’s only getting better as the year goes on.
Figuring out the rest of the Lakers outside of Pau Gasol (21 points, nine boards, three blocks) is a chore, though Jordan Farmar’s return will hopefully do enough to knock out the pretenders. Jodie Meeks (13 points, three treys, 34 minutes) will probably get too many minutes from noted fan Mike D’Antoni, but Farmar will probably be in for at least 25 minutes and in all reality he should play 35 minutes for a team desperately needing point guard play. Meeks is going to have a hard time staying above 25 minutes and a 20-minute role sounds about right.
Wesley Johnson scored seven points with five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block in his 32 minutes, and he’s the guy fantasy owners want to succeed given his mid-round upside when everything is clicking. My guess is that Meeks takes too much from both Johnson and Nick Young (18 points, three treys, one steal, one block, one swaggy post game quote) for any of them to be owned in standard formats. Farmar is a must-own player that I’ve seen on way too many wires lately. Go run and grab him if that’s the case.
Jordan Hill played just eight minutes after accumulating four fouls and saw his minutes go to Robert Sacre (five points, three rebounds, one steal, three blocks). I’ve been keeping a close eye on Sacre lately just because the Lakers’ various PR outlets were hyped about him for all of about 48 hours last week, and boy is he an adventure on the court. He has electric football player disease in that there is no discernible reason for where he runs, and for a guy that has yet to get any meaningful minutes in the NBA he is surprisingly lazy running up and down the floor.
Making this situation a mess is that D’Antoni could give two rubber ducks about keeping his big men happy, so Hill could get screwed at times that he shouldn’t be and then he’ll have durability issues to boot. Still, I think owners have to take a chance on Hill’s value, as he’s a late-round guy in just 21 minutes per game on the year. If he can wiggle his way into a 24-27 minute role that’s going to be some mid-round value, which is what you’re looking for at the end of your fantasy bench.
The most interesting thing going on in Memphis right now is their test-run of the John Hollinger labeled and up-tempo version of the Grizzlies. This has meant the phasing out of Kosta Koufos (13 minutes, two points, six boards) and the introduction of Jon Leuer (13 points, three treys, seven boards, one steal, one block) into the mix. Leuer can space the floor and opens up the inside for Zach Randolph (18 and 16, 7-of-22 FGs), and this most recent departure from traditional Grit and Grind should be noted when assessing Leuer’s value.
Leuer doesn’t have a huge body of work to refer back to but he’s shooting exactly at career levels this season (50.4 percent), hitting an unsustainable 52.4 percent of his threes, and otherwise putting up numbers that don’t scream outlier. All of that has been good for top 130-160 value in 20 minutes per game on the season, whereas over the last two weeks while Leuer has been cooking he’s been running at a top 50-60 value in 28.7 minutes per game over his last seven contests. It’s a pretty good representation of his value range on both ends of the spectrum. Overtaking Ed Davis he can probably sustain that 20-minute per game workload whenever Marc Gasol returns, and that would make him a solid stash that has proper upside but also can be used in a pinch.
It doesn’t hurt Leuer’s case that nobody can seem to stay healthy in Memphis, as Tayshaun Prince left last night’s game with an undisclosed injury and Mike Miller suffered a fairly bad looking ankle injury. Mike Conley missed the game and is day-to-day with a thigh contusion, Quincy Pondexter is out for the year, and Tony Allen is just getting back on the floor after dealing with a hip issue.
That has opened the door for Jerryd Bayless (13 points, 6-of-13 FGs, two assists, one steal, 28 minutes), who has been a mixed bag for the past two seasons. Though it stands to reason that he could play a sizable role for the Grizzlies with all those guys hurt, it would have been nice to see him produce at a much higher level when given the chance last night. He has shot just 37 percent from the field over his last seven games and on the year he has lacked the dynamic edge that once characterized his fantasy game. He’s worth a speculative add for the chance he can continue to see 25-30 minutes per night, but I’d consider him to be more of a stop-gap solution than anything else.
Allen scored 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block, and anytime he is getting the 30 minutes he got last night he’ll be worth using in fantasy lineups. He’s a top 80-85 play on the year in just 25 minutes per contest.
OKC IS OKAY AND TODAY IN DEREK FISHER
The Thunder traveled to Denver and secured the first win from two boring late games that were not nearly as close as the scores would suggest. As usual, they enjoyed strong performances out of surging Russell Westbrook (21 points, 9-of-16 FGs, 13 rebounds, eight assists) and Kevin Durant (30 points, full line), while Serge Ibaka went for 17 and 10 with a block.
Derek Fisher logged 20 minutes and saw action in crunch time, in case you were wondering why Reggie Jackson (eight points, two assists, two steals, 20 minutes) had a down night. The best anybody can tell Jackson’s shoe needed to be fixed in the second half and Scott Brooks simply never went back to him. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind at this point that Brooks intends to ride Fisher all the way through the playoffs, and I’m calling my shot right now that it becomes a primary focus on Twitter and elsewhere when the Thunder pay dearly for it. Just hang onto Jackson, who is a late-round value with plenty of upside if he is freed by Brooks.
Jeremy Lamb (nine points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block, 22 minutes) is a viable late-round play in 12-team, nine-cat leagues. Consider using him when the wire is dry in weekly formats when the Thunder have a four-game week.
THIS IS MY SURPRISED FACE
As was the case with the Thunder, the Nuggets didn’t have any major surprises in the box score. Ty Lawson got back on track with 17 points, 13 assists, four steals and a three, Wilson Chandler scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and one triple, Kenneth Faried went for 13 and seven with a steal and block, and Nate Robinson put up 12 points, two threes, two assists and a steal in his 25 minutes off the bench.
Chandler has been a mild disappointment with late round value in the games he has played this season, but with 2-3 percent worse field goal shooting (43.6%) and 8-9 percent worse free throw shooting (69.7%) than career averages there is some room for improvement.
J.J. Hickson was able to bust loose for 20 points, 14 rebounds and a block, and now has averages of 14.9 points, 9.3 boards, 56.2 percent field goal shooting, 59.5 percent foul shooting (5.3 FTAs/gm) and a combined 1.4 steals and blocks over the past two weeks. That’s a lot of scoring and rebounding to get to 11th round value over that span, so unless you’re punting all but three categories I’m not getting too excited about his season-long top 165-175 value in standard formats.
WRONG TIME, WRONG PLACE
The Pelicans ran into a rejuvenated Warriors squad that just got Andre Iguodala back, and the Dubs wasted no time putting Iguodala onto Ryan Anderson (21 points, 6-of-16 FGs, six boards) for a significant stretch, though Anderson did manage to survive by scoring when Iguodala wasn’t on him. Having one leg chopped out from underneath them, the Pelicans couldn’t survive a 1-of-9 shooting night from Eric Gordon (five points, 25 minutes) and with no bench to speak of this game became a snoozer real fast.
Jrue Holiday (11 points, three boards, six assists), Jason Smith (12 points, four rebounds) and Al-Farouq Aminu (10 points, eight boards, two steals, one block) more or less survived in a situation where each starter played between 24-29 minutes in the blowout loss.
ANDRE THE GIANT
Andre Iguodala scored just two points with two assists in 17 minutes, but he flashed his athleticism on a nasty missed dunk attempt, helped slow Ryan Anderson down, and also took just enough pressure off of Stephen Curry (28 points, 11-of-19 FGs, two threes, four boards, 12 assists, three steals) to keep Warriors fans from jumping off of the Golden Gate. I’ll never understand why folks get so freaked out in December, but that’s the way it is when life without Iguodala almost assuredly means an early playoff exit.
David Lee got to defend Al-Farouq Aminu and be defended by Anderson, and without any pressure on either side of the floor he was free to grab 17 rebounds and score 21 points. Lee has been a top 65-75 player this season and has had a fair amount of time without ceding touches to Iguodala, and this is a great time to sell high on the Bay Area’s new whipping boy. Aside from his name being bigger than his game, he is an extremely consistent fantasy play, albeit at lower levels than many thought before the year. Opposing owners tend to be more open to trade offers involving safer players and if you can snag a top-50 player you’re doing it right.
Harrison Barnes scored just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting with four rebounds and a three and that’s it in his 24 minutes off the bench. I’ve covered this a few times and there are essentially two different Barnes. When heavily involved in the game plan he’s a versatile producer, and when he’s anything less than that he falls off the map. I don’t own him anywhere, but if I did I’d have no hesitation dropping him for a hot free agent in 12-14 team formats. And while a front line of Andrew Bogut (eight points, 10 boards, one block), Draymond Green (seven points, seven boards, 27 minutes) and Andre Iguodala might be a defensive enthusiast’s dream, the return of Iguodala also knocks Green off the fantasy radar in most formats.
The Kings missed a few open looks and made a handful of mistakes in the first quarter, and that’s all it took for a mediocre team on the road to get down 35-22 in the first quarter to the Bobcats. And because anytime Isaiah Thomas has an off-night I get double-digit emails, I was expecting to see some real chaos but it just wasn’t there. The Kings offense looked better in that quarter than I’ve seen it look in a very long time, and as long as Rudy Gay’s knee issue truly is minor I’m still on board with predicting positive trajectory for this team.
Gay finished with just four points on 1-of-6 shooting, three rebounds and one assist, as he complained of tightness and was pulled early in the third quarter when Mike Malone noticed that he wasn’t moving well. You never want to see a player show an injury like that after a big trade, but given the amount of eyeballs on his health situation one would have to think that this is a fairly minor situation. If it’s not, then the folks in Toronto might have some splainin to do next time Pete D’Allesandro is on the phone. For now, I’m still down with going after a buy low offer and this knee thing could end up really helping your cause in that department.
Until Jason Thompson (nine points, nine boards, one steal, one block) is traded, which isn’t necessarily going to be the easiest task, it will be a bit of a bumpy ride for Derrick Williams (22 minutes, five points, zero boards, one steal). That’s because Quincy Acy (five points, three boards, one steal, two blocks, 20 minutes) has some toughness that the Kings lack on the inside, though I’d caution folks by saying his game last night wasn’t as good as the good folks in Sacramento thought it was.
Williams has no excuse for disappearing like he did, but it’s worth mentioning that the Kings’ second unit is going to struggle with Jimmer Fredette and Ray McCallum running the point. They’re simply overmatched at the NBA level as signal callers, at least at this time. While there is fantasy potential for Williams and I do believe he’s going to improve as the year goes on, I don’t know that he can overcome his various statistical deficiencies to provide proper upside for owners’ patience. As for Gay’s injury, he said he’s shooting to play tonight so as of right now the needle doesn’t move for Williams in that respect.
The other guy that stands to benefit from Isaiah Thomas’ ascension to full-time starter was Ben McLemore, and he is struggling about as much as one can struggle at the NBA level without getting yanked. His big issue is that he can’t make a shot right now, hitting just five of his last 35 shots and 2-of-10 shots last night for seven points, three rebounds and three assists in his 30 minutes.
He isn’t the first rookie that has struggled with his shot and with a record of success in college this is a moment to brace for his corresponding hot streak. His minutes are more or less locked in stone as long as he eventually gets it together, and though there is some concern about how many touches he’ll get with Gay around there should be enough opportunity for him to have some mid-round upside by the end of the year. Given the stability of his minutes I can’t see letting him slide to the wire in standard 12-team format, even if there is a 25-percent ballpark chance that enough goes wrong for him to be a waste of a roster spot.
DeMarcus Cousins had a rough first quarter and didn’t touch the ball in the fourth quarter, but still managed 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 17 rebounds, six assists and three steals. He turned the ball over six times and there isn’t enough sandpaper in the world to smooth out the rough edges this season, but he’s taking nightly steps forward on all levels and it’s really a joy to watch. Redemption stories always are, and owners would be wise not to get caught up in the idea that his temper equates to being a dumb basketball player. He sees things that players many years his senior don’t see, and the challenge for him over the next three seasons is to simply put it all together while learning how to keep his cool. When (not if) he does that, he will be the best true big man in the league. He’s nearly at that level already.
Thomas missed a few bunnies and had a few desperation heaves kill his shooting last night, but he still finished with 21 points on 8-of-23 shooting with two threes, four assists and just two turnovers in 36 minutes. The Sac Bee wrote that he’s expected to play 40 minutes per game this season and chances are his owner is thrilled but it’s also possible they overlook his top-12 value over the past two weeks. After all, just a month ago people were hailing the arrival of Greivis Vasquez as the cure for the Kings' point guard woes. The only truly unsustainable production over that two-week span is his 48.6 percent shooting, but at just 36 minutes per game in that sample he could theoretically inch above his already amazing fantasy value in a best-case scenario. He’s one of the best shot-makers in the league and the 44.7 percent career shooter has never worked in a system like the one he’s running right now, a system that’s only going to get better.
I’m comfortable trading away any projected value below the top 20 for the Pizza Guy, and I’d rather own him over non-pizza-guys like Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Klay Thompson, Ricky Rubio, and even a guy like Eric Bledsoe just to throw out a range of bigger and smaller names. If you get cold feet for whatever reason, go stare at his 5.3 free throws per game so far on the year and remember that he could threaten to hit 90 percent of them going forward.
The Bobcats were able to exploit the notably poor frontcourt defense of the Kings, with wings and bigs failing to pick up on the pick-and-roll or otherwise getting beat in space. Gerald Henderson (20 points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, two blocks) and Kemba Walker (24 points, four treys, three boards, five assists, one steal, one block) both hit 7-of-13 shots. That helped make up for a very bad outing by Al Jefferson, who got handled on both sides of the court by DeMarcus Cousins. Jefferson hit just 5-of-13 shots for 10 points, nine boards and three steals, as he continues to post just top 50-75 value on a per-game basis this season.
Jeff Taylor continued to underwhelm with just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting (including two threes) with three rebounds, two assists and a steal. He has been just a top 150-175 value over the past five games, hitting 36.2 percent of his shots over that span with otherwise predictable totals. His only real value is as a stash with the hope he shoots about 5-7 percent better over the next few weeks, which would move him closer to last year’s 43.1 percent mark, which came on 3.7 less field goal attempts. That type of hot streak would make him a mid-to-late round value, and with nobody to challenge him for a little while if that calculus makes sense for your roster give him a look. For what it’s worth I’m not so sure he’s going to be able to do it.
Don’t look now but Josh McRoberts (24.5 minutes, five points, 2-of-5 FGs, five boards, four assists, one steal) might be ceding time to Cody Zeller (23.5 minutes, seven points, 3-of-7 FGs, five boards, two assists, one block). I’m not sure this is the changing of the guard, nor am I sure that I’m ready to see life in Charlotte without Charlie Work.
It cracks me up to see the reports flying around the Twittersphere that essentially create leverage for Houston in the Omer Asik sweepstakes even though there is no real leverage to be had. That’s why Daryl Morey set up an artificial deadline of Friday and reporters have linked Atlanta, Philly, Boston, Cleveland and even a “wild card” team to be named later to this deal. Names such as Paul Millsap, Thaddeus Young, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and Spencer Hawes have all been thrown about, with Houston’s desire to upgrade the power forward position almost always cited as the impetus for the Rockets’ interest in a deal.
The interesting thing on Houston’s end is that while Terrence Jones has slowed down recently, he isn’t exactly chopped liver and the team has shown good promise with him manning the four slot. Jones is actually a great fit for what they’re trying to do, though on the flip side the Rockets are one player away from serious title contention. Additionally, there is no guarantee that an upgrade of any one player would address the team’s biggest weakness, which is figuring out how to tell Dwight Howard that the team runs better at a break-neck pace, and specifically when they’re not entering the ball into him at the post.
The Rockets simply want to get out from underneath Asik’s $15 million contract cost for next season, but while they have nice leverage in the sense they can be choosy it’s not exactly a seller’s market for them on this deal. There are a limited set of teams that would be willing to take on Asik’s contract, let alone trade something of great value for it, and that’s what owners will want to focus on when trying to read the tea leaves in preparation for this imminent deal.
The deal I’ve seen that makes the most sense would be the one sending Asik to Boston, Green to Cleveland where they need a small forward, and Houston getting back a first round pick that’s likely to have some near future protection on it and some change. That kind of deal would benefit Asik, be a fairly lateral move for Green, and Jones’ owners would rest assured that his value is safe for the predictable future. Then again, that rumor was shot down by Chris Mannix early this morning, for whatever that is worth.
The trouble areas for this situation are for the Philly guys, in particular Hawes, as they would move out of the jackpot system and into something less – and for Hawes it would kill his early round value. Moving Hawes in a deal for any top-40 player could look genius by the end of the week, but as the case with these type of situations you’re playing with fire whether you act or not. Likewise, anybody moving into the Philly system would gain serious value, and beyond that I don’t think there is too much owners can plan for. Just be ready to move a half-step before strong rumors turn into fact.
NEWS AND NOTES
Michael Carter-Williams (knee infection) could return Friday, and the good news is that Brett Brown addressed how things have dragged out, saying “there’s no conspiracy theory” while acknowledging that it’s been a long time. Figuring out which coaches can be trusted and which ones cannot when it comes to injury reporting is a big deal, and in the case of MCW there has been some precedent set by David Lee and others for infections to be long, drawn out issues. Silence in these situations can mean trouble, so at least Brown is talking openly and it feels like Friday could be the day. We’ll see.
IND @ MIA: After taking Round 1 in Indy, the Pacers will really set the NBA world on fire if they head into Miami and take another win. Danny Granger is targeting a return on Friday, so it’s going to be the status quo on the Indy side tonight. LeBron James (ankle) didn’t practice yesterday and that was to be expected as he gears up for the big game. I’d be shocked if he didn’t play. The Heat aren’t going to push Michael Beasley to come back early from his hamstring injury, but they could use his firepower tonight so it wouldn’t surprise me if he returned, too.
UTA @ ORL: Utah is getting closer to full strength and they’ll have a decent matchup against an Orlando team that plays looser than most squads. Enes Kanter put up numbers in limited minutes on Monday, but he needs to have a breakout moment in his position battle with Marvin Williams before he’s anything but a mid-level stash.
On the Magic side they are at full strength right now and that means expectations should be lowered incrementally for everybody across the board except for Nikola Vucevic. Tobias Harris has had decent spring in his step since returning but he hasn’t elbowed anybody out of his way yet. He has a few more games before owners should be holding that against him.
Meanwhile, Glen Davis (shoulder) is going to play through injury to try and hold off Harris, which could backfire, and he is the leading voice among those that are disenfranchised by seeing minutes and touches go to the ball-dominating backcourt. It’s buy low territory for Victor Oladipo while things are crowded, which is the most important takeaway from the Orlando side, as it’s probably the last such time for owners this season.
CHA @ TOR: Al Jefferson will square off with a hoss in Jonas Valanciunas, but he’s a hoss that will fall for the many pump fakes that Big Al employs and by that it’s a solid matchup. The Raptors do have a few different guys they can throw at him, though, and if Chuck Hayes gets activated he could actually be a decent cover. The Raptors have experienced an addition by subtraction situation with Rudy Gay out of the picture, and though Charlotte has improved on defense there’s no reason to downgrade any of the usual suspects for Toronto on the account of this matchup, especially with the Bobcats having to fly north of the border on the tail-end of a back-to-back.
WAS @ BKY: Nene (foot) practiced yesterday and early morning reports paint a picture that seems more probable than questionable, but he’s shaping up to be a game-time decision, nonetheless. Trevor Booker is his beneficiary, as is the whole Wizards team considering how much better he makes everybody else when he’s on the court. Look for articles to come out about limiting Bradley Beal’s minutes. Randy Wittman and Beal both profile as types to play with fire as he recovers from a leg injury that could evolve into a season-ender in a worst-case scenario, and owners may want to root for lower minutes for the next few weeks. There should be no discussion about whether or not Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza are going to hold their value if healthy. Until proven otherwise, they’re must-start players for the foreseeable future unless they’re truly limited by injury.
Brook Lopez (ankle) went through all of yesterday’s practice and sounded confident that he will play tonight, and though he won’t be a must-start guy on a busy night if Lopez can’t go, Andray Blatche will still be worth consideration in your lineup. The return of Deron Williams has shored some things up for the team, and if you were thinking about taking a chance on Andrei Kirilenko the time to pick him up will be in the next 7-10 days as he’s ‘hoping’ to start practicing by Christmas. There’s a ton of risk there, but somebody else will take the plunge by the time he’s on the practice court in competitive formats.
If there was ever a sell-high moment for Joe Johnson it is after he hits 10 threes, and unless the team truly remains snake-bitten by injuries I don’t see him being owned in standard formats by the end of January. Paul Pierce ditched the glove on his previously injured shooting hand and is starting to make some noise. If he’s on your wire I can’t see letting him slide unless you’re truly stacked in a 12-team format, even if he’s probably going to be a pain in the ass all year. Mid-round upside guys with a proven track record are hard to come by.
DET @ BOS: Rodney Stuckey flashed a shoulder injury in Monday’s game and only played 16 minutes, so we have him on our injury report despite the lack of news about it over the last 24 hours. Consistent all season, it would explain his recent struggles. Chauncey Billups (undisclosed) is considered day-to-day right now and unless there’s something bigger going on than simple rest I’d expect him to go if Stuckey can’t go. If they both don’t play, however, then Kyle Singler would be a desperation spot-start in deeper formats.
The only new wrinkle going on in Boston is the reintegration of Kelly Olynyk, who isn’t guaranteed anything in Boston’s rotation but is likely to at least grab 10-20 minutes per game. It’s highly doubtful that his minutes come at the expense of either Jared Sullinger or Brandon Bass with the way they have been playing. If you’re desperate for a center, though, just keep one eye on the Big O for the time-being. Beyond that, Avery Bradley could have slipped under the radar in your league and he has been producing at a mid-round level lately while generating a small amount of hype in Boston. He’s going to struggle to hold his value when Rajon Rondo returns, but it’s possible a trade could work out in his favor. I think there’s enough upside there to give him strong consideration as a long-term add, and as a short-term add he’s as good as anybody that one could hope to find on a 10-12 team wire.
SAC @ ATL: Rudy Gay’s (knee) potential absence would give owners of Ben McLemore and Derrick Williams more to hang onto on a busy 12-game night. Regardless of his status, we’ll be watching to see how Mike Malone handles his wing rotations, as he was toying with the idea of playing big with the backup minutes at shooting guard, and that might help free up minutes for Williams down the road.
On the other side Jeff Teague sort of broke out of his slump on Monday, but he’s still shooting the ball poorly and the on-ball matchup isn’t great for him against Isaiah Thomas. On the flip side the Kings really struggle on the pick-and-roll so the Hawks would be wise to get that going with Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Lou Williams’ progress is going to be tracked closely for the next two weeks regardless, and he’ll get a sweet matchup against Jimmer or Ray McCallum, while also having a plus matchup against anybody other than Thomas. Likewise, the aforementioned bigs and Kyle Korver can also get a bump as the Kings struggle both in space and down low, so give them a bump in your daily leagues and the like.
NY @ MIL: Kenyon Martin (abdomen) has been ruled out for at least two weeks, and Pablo Prigioni (toe) was also ruled out for at least two weeks earlier in the week. Raymond Felton (hamstring) is also doubtful not just for tonight but also the near future as the team is talking about having him come off the bench to protect his injury. Amare Stoudemire said on Twitter that he’s not injured after Mike Woodson said he could be out a while with a knee injury. In other words, it’s Wednesday if you’re a Knicks fan.
The only saving grace for the proud fan base is that Tyson Chandler (leg) could return tonight, which would put a big dent in the fantasy value of Andrea Bargnani, though it might not be a fatal one considering the depth issues in New York. It just moves him further away from the basket, taking away his already shaky boards and blocks value. Beno Udrih is a must-own player with all this chaos going on, though he is far from a safe fantasy value in this quagmire of a season. It would be a perfect time for the team to pump up Iman Shumpert’s trade value, but it feels like he could tender his resignation on any given night. Still, you have to speculate about a chance at significant touches so he’s worth strong consideration as an add. Shump started the season with mid-round value after the first few weeks before fizzling out.
Without debating the merits of whether or not Woodson should be fired, a loss to Milwaukee could easily push him off the plank. The only takeaway there is that a new coach might play Melo at the four and install a faster pace.
Caron Butler (knee) wasn’t mentioned as a possibility to play tonight by Larry Drew but as usual the reporting is light out of Milwaukee. Khris Middleton is dealing with his ongoing ankle injury and though he will play, this could be shaping up to be a Giannis Antetokounmpo game at small forward. Alphabet still doesn’t profile as a lock to produce when given the minutes, but he has the versatility to drop a fantasy bomb if he can ever put it all together. I’d venture to say he’s a solid spot-start if Middleton gets held out, too. O.J. Mayo missed practice yesterday for his grandmother’s funeral, which may or may not explain his season-long struggles, and he’s questionable for tonight until we get an update. Luke Ridnour and Nate Wolters would be worth a look as spot-starters in deeper formats if Mayo can’t go, with an added bump if Gary Neal (foot) can’t play.
POR @ MIN: LaMarcus Aldridge (hand) isn’t even on our injury report but we’ll be keeping one eye out for any bad news and also watching for any impact in tonight’s matchup of premier power forwards. To that end, in the search for anybody that can cover Aldridge’s patented turnaround jumper, a guy as tall as Kevin Love might be the right match. Then again, many have tried and many have failed so far this season.
The Wolves are hurting on the wing right now as Kevin Martin (knee) and Dante Cunningham (ankle) are questionable. While news has been light on Chase Budinger (knee surgery), he has traveled with the team and though a surprise activation is a longshot it wouldn’t be crazy. Either way, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum have a plus matchup, while Nikola Pekovic’s low center of gravity should be enough to cause Robin Lopez some fits down low. In any event, this figures to be one of the best games of the night with all the star power on the court.
MEM @ DAL: We’ll be watching for updates on Mike Conley (thigh) and if there is any silver lining it’s that he doesn’t miss games. That said, team blog 3 Shade of Blue said they’d be willing to bet he doesn’t go. Tayshaun Prince (undisclosed) is also questionable and with Mike Miller likely out for at least a little bit Jerryd Bayless is all but assured of 25 minutes even if Conley can play. In Conley can’t go he’s a must-start spot play even after last night’s slow outing.
Dirk Nowitzki had nice things to say about Brandan Wright yesterday and it’s becoming clear that he didn’t lose his position due to injury. That’s not a given, but he’s a must-own player in 12-team formats for the efficiency in which he accumulates fantasy value in limited minutes. Dirk was dealing with an illness but practiced on Monday and it would be a big surprise if he didn’t play.
SA @ PHO: Tony Parker will miss tonight’s game and at least the next one with a bruised left shin, and we don’t have to look any further than Eric Bledsoe for an example of how that can work. Factor in how conservative Gregg Popovich will be with this situation and it’s fair to give a bump to his teammates, but as usual the question is who will get the bump.
The good news for Kawhi Leonard owners is that I’ve noticed an uptick in his touches, even if those touches usually result in a non-assisting pass. I’ve also noticed the tiniest bit of added assertion, but overall the switch has yet to be flipped on preseason expectations. Perhaps Parker’s absence is what does the trick, though I tend to believe after a quarter of the season that we’re looking at a slow ascent rather than a herky jerky one.
Cory Joseph probably has the inside track on starting but the best stat accumulator to harness any benefit would be Patty Mills. Betting on any one particular guy to pick up the value is almost a fool’s errand, but there are a lot of touches on the table for the whole team and Pop has been pretty stingy with Manu Ginobili’s minutes all year.
The Suns are at full strength and they’ve been playing good basketball lately, but a game against the Spurs even without Parker can spin things out of control pretty quickly. Look for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to draw some coverage out of Leonard, but the overriding theme of the night will be whether or not the athletes of Phoenix can beat the experience of San Antonio. Whoever comes out on top in that equation is going to have the better box score, rather than any big exposure created by a matchup deficiency.
CHI @ HOU: Kirk Hinrich (back) said his back feels better and he traveled with the team to Houston where he will probably be a game-time decision. As of now D.J. Augustin is the better fantasy play between he and Marquis Teague, and owners simply need to figure out who to invest in once Hinrich succumbs to a more serious injury down the road.
Reports weren’t as rosy about James Harden’s status after yesterday’s practice and the term ‘high ankle’ sprain has been bandied about. “I have rolled my ankle a couple of time, just like every other NBA player. But this one was pretty bad,” he said. He didn’t practice but he did some cardio and shot around, adding that it was hard to walk on Monday. I don’t know where the early week optimism came from, but it certainly sounds like he’s on the wrong side of a coin flip to go.
Chandler Parsons (back, toe) practiced and that sounds good for his chances to play, while Jeremy Lin (back) did not practice and sounds doubtful to play in tonight’s game. Terrence Jones (flu) practiced and he sounds like he will play, and Omer Asik will likely be out until he is traded. This leaves Aaron Brooks as a decent target for spot action even on a busy night, while Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi are also worth a look.
NO @ LAC: Tyreke Evans would normally seem like a long-shot to play after suffering multiple ankle injuries this season, but after his most recent miraculous return it’s worth considering him to be day-to-day until we hear otherwise. Keep in mind that New Orleans injury reporting is among the worst in the league. Either way you’re going to fire up all of your fantasy guys while they’re getting healthy touches and minutes, with or without Evans in the fold.
Matt Barnes (eye) is hoping to return tonight and though he has been a mess this season I could see making a speculative add in 12-14 team formats with the team being so thin on the wings. I’d call him a sneaky low-level waiver add at this time. For what it’s worth it looks like J.J. Redick is targeting a return around mid-January. Similarly to New Orleans, you’re going to fire up all of your Clippers tonight, including Jamal Crawford who has all the minutes to himself at shooting guard.