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Dose: All Eyes on Cousins

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Ryan Knaus examines fantasy values by position eligibility, with center-eligible players proving to be …

It felt good to sleep after last week’s trade deadline, but there is no rest for the weary.  The last two months of the season are usually good for about 10 surprise fantasy difference-makers, and your league’s trade deadline is probably close to passing or has already passed.  Owners tend to let up after the All Star break, and at the same time teams that are on the bubble of making the playoffs are ready to wheel and deal. 

In other words, it's go time. 

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PORTLANDIA

With LaMarcus Aldridge (groin) out, more often than not it has been Damian Lillard (31 points, four treys, 11-of-13 FTs, seven rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block) picking up the slack and the same was obviously true last night in the Blazers’ win in Denver.  Short of Steph Curry, I don’t know whose late-game 3-point attempts look more menacing at the peak of their arc.  He’s enjoying a five-game stretch with top 10-15 value while Aldridge remains out, and for now that seems to be somewhere between day-to-day and week-to-week.  After tonight’s game the Blazers have two days off and then they play every other day from March 1-11, so there is no obvious break in the schedule to target besides the March 1 game.  Durability has always been the concern for Aldridge so owners should hope he takes the time to get things right. 

Robin Lopez got loose for a career-high seven blocks to go with his 12 points, 10 boards and one steal.  He has quietly been one of the better signings of the offseason and he’s enjoying a two-month stretch with top 40-60 value.  Can’t beat that with a bat.  Thomas Robinson (two points, five rebounds, one block, 14 minutes) followed up his big game by hurting his left knee and there is some concern that he could miss time.  Dorell Wright scored 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block over 27 minutes in another start at power forward. 

Wright has produced sneaky low-end value in 12-14 team leagues over his last four games with 7.5 points, 1.5 treys, 4.3 boards, 1.3 combined steals and blocks, and 52.6 percent shooting from the field in just 18.7 mpg.  He has the look of a mini version of past models and with Robinson and Aldridge potentially missing games here in the next week he’s worth a look as a short-term play.  Mo Williams (14 points, two threes, one steal, 26 minutes) probably fits the same description if it becomes an all-hands-on-deck moment. 

THE DENVER OMELETTE

The Nuggets are a mess but at least they competed in last night’s home loss to the Blazers, but in the end they didn’t have enough firepower with Ty Lawson (ribs) out and Wilson Chandler M.I.A.  Chandler hit just 3-of-12 shots for seven points, eight boards, one three and no steals or blocks in his 26 minutes, and the only good news is that he cracked double-digit shot attempts after a three-game slump in that department.  He hasn’t been worth owning production-wise over the last month or so, though owners may have seen fit to hang on given his role for the Nugs. 

Chandler is hitting 2.2 threes per game over that span but everything else is down, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to learn he’s gutting out one of his trademark mid-body injuries while the team is banged up.  As a top 90-110 player when on the floor this year owners may want to cut him some slack in 12-team formats, in particular because a bounce-back could have a mid-round effect, but in a what-have-you-done-lately world I don’t blame anybody for making a drop – especially in crunch time. 

Timofey Mozgov (14 points, six boards, two blocks, 25 minutes) moved into the starting lineup and I’ve definitely felt like I’ve been on an island talking about his potential for fantasy value.  A really lame island.

The move to the starting lineup isn’t likely to change his minutes much, and I’m not even convinced that it sticks, but it does have the potential to both improve and stabilize his workload.  From there, the type of line we saw last night is totally in his grasp.  The organization has been high on him and it does make sense to pivot the minutes for Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson around him and not whatever the alternative is.  He’s been an on-again, off-again low-end value in 14-team leagues over the last two months, so he’s worth a look for owners that need a big man with the hopes he can take a step or two forward.  Expecting more is asking for a late-season breakout and that’s asking for more than the odds are telling us. 

Hickson went off for a career-high 25 rebounds, 16 points, one steal and one block in 30 minutes off the bench, which is somewhat downgraded against a depleted Portland frontcourt, but it’s worth a tip of the cap nonetheless.  It should be instructive that Hickson still isn’t rated in the top-200 in standard leagues over the last five games including this monster.  If you’re punting in all of his deficient categories you could squeeze out some value but then again you’re probably doing it wrong.  Faried scored 11 points with six rebounds and three assists and that’s it in his 22 minutes from last night, and he has held a late-round value for some time but owners have to hope that the new lineup doesn’t send him back to his early season woes. 

Aaron Brooks did his normal fill-in routine with 14 points, five rebounds and six assists, Randy Foye scored 17 points with three treys, five boards, three assists and a steal, and Evan Fournier fizzled with nine points on 2-of-13 shooting, two boards, three assists and two steals in 31 minutes.  Fournier has some holes in his fantasy game, including field goal percentage and defensive stats, so he needs to keep cooking in order to be worth owning.  Ty Lawson’s looming return is probably enough to thwart that, but I get the sense that Fournier will outlast some of his teammates in a lost season and make some noise one more time.  As of now there’s not enough meat on that bone for standard formats. 

LOVE LINES

I don’t know why but it seems like Kevin Love’s monster nights don’t get as much run as they should.  33 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, two blocks, three treys and 10-of-14 freebies is absurd and when you pair it with his solid durability this season he is the No. 4 and 2 fantasy play on the year (8/9 cat).  Dante Cunningham kept his solid run going with 12 points, five boards, three steals and three blocks, Corey Brewer (18 points, 7-of-9 FGs, one three, two steals) was useful and Chase Budinger (10 points, one three) was not in the Wolves’ road win over the Suns last night. 

Budinger has been a bust in 12-14 team leagues and Brewer has had some low-end value in standards, and both are droppable knowing that Kevin Martin (thumb) is returning at any time now.  Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is coming back soon too, as plugged-in writer Darren Wolfson said he would be shocked if Pekovic doesn't return in the next game on Saturday in Sacramento, provided he isn’t off somewhere being a badass doing badass things per every single Pekovic joke ever.  Cunningham owners can make the drop in advance knowing it’s not the end of the world. 

FANTASY PHOENIX

It wasn’t apparent during the game but Goran Dragic did indeed sprain his ankle in the third quarter of last night’s game, which explains the lackluster 16 points with three rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one three in 25 minutes before fouling out.  He’s questionable for tonight’s game in Utah and the short flight will pose additional risk of swelling, but the bigger issue facing owners is what to do with Eric Bledsoe coming back soon. 

Assuming the ankle isn’t a big deal, because if it has any long-term component to it then the Suns could easily justify leaning on Bledsoe if the tables turn injury-wise, but assuming it’s not a big deal then Dragic has earned at minimum a No. 1B role.  He’s also the favorite for the No. 1A role at this time.  I’d discount him by about a round and that’s it if you’re looking to sell high.  All things equal that means you’re looking for a well-situated second to third round player in 8- and 9-cat leagues, respectively.  Ish Smith (seven points, seven assists, four steals, 29 minutes) is the spot-play in the event that Dragic misses time. 

Markieff Morris (24 points, 9-of-20 FGs, three rebounds, one steal) is the other story out of Phoenix these days, and after yet another solid night he’s starting to resemble a consistent fantasy play.  His last five games have brought back averages of 19.4 points, 0.2 threes, 6.2 boards, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 54.7 percent shooting from the field.  That’s good for early round value and the next stage of his evolution is probably going to settle in the middle rounds, assuming he doesn’t fall back into his old on-again, off-again pattern.  The overall package is well worth owning in all formats and has been for much of the year, but if you’re looking at where to peg his value that’s your likely answer. 

Miles Plumlee’s minutes (17) and production (six points, seven boards, one steal, two blocks) have steadily waned, and Morris has been behind that and benefiting from the stability of the extra minutes.  Plumlee hasn’t even been the best Plumlee in the family lately (that would be Mason) and he can be dropped in 12-team formats if he hasn’t been already. 

P.J. Tucker (six points, 16 boards, one steal, two blocks) continued to do at least one thing exceedingly well per night and the defensive stats put a bow on this effort.  He has been a solid late-round value this season and should be owned in most formats even though he is far from a must-start player.  Channing Frye’s (four points, three boards, one block, 25 minutes) slumps aren’t even that bad as he’s still posting top-80 value over the past four games.  He may end up getting hurt by the return of Bledsoe and the rise of Markieff, but I’m not dying to drop him as a result of what we’re seeing right now.  Gerald Green (19 points, 7-of-15 FGs, one three, six rebounds, one block) is a sell-high candidate but that’s pretty obvious at this point. 

JAMES AND THE GIANT BASKETBALL HOOP

James Harden just absolutely mauled the Kings last night in the Rockets’ blowout win.  Ben McLemore has plenty of athleticism but still struggles with staying in front of average offensive players, and watching Harden toy with Ben and otherwise run downhill was plain old fun.  He finished three points short of a career-mark with 43 points on 11-of-20 shooting, 6-of-9 3PTs, 15-of-16 FTs, two rebounds, eight assists and three steals before mercifully calling it an early night. 

The whole box was skewed because of the big score, but Dwight Howard (20 points, 11 boards, two blocks) continued to look more polished in the post while surviving a knee-knock with DeMarcus Cousins that had him leave the game for a stretch.  We have him on the injury report for tonight’s game against the Clippers and there wasn’t any talk about missed time after the game, so he’ll probably go in the marquee matchup. 

Terrence Jones hit 5-of-5 shots for 11 points but had just two rebounds to go with his one block and his energy has come into question too many times lately.  He has been terrible for the last week or two and he needs to have a make-good game before drop questions start to creep in.  He’s still a top 65-85 value over the last two months and there is some goodwill that comes with that, and last night’s game is certainly not one to obsess over.  One just has to wonder if the trade deadline and All Star break sort of scrambled his circuits.  The Rockets need to get him going for the playoffs and I’d still bet on that over a trip to the waiver wire. 

Likewise, this isn’t the time to panic on an improving Patrick Beverley (five points, one steal, one three, 26 minutes).  He has been a solid mid-round value over the last two months while hitting just 36.3 percent of his shots, speaking to the sneaky value that averages of 9.4 points, 1.8 threes, 4.0 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.4 blocks per game can bring.  Now if he actually did anything with the ball on offense we’d be on to something. 

Defensively, if he doesn’t make the first team voters should lose their ballots.  He has my vote for Defensive Player of the Year with what he does on nearly every play to impact the possession.  He’s the Deion Sanders of the NBA, but unlike Deion he’s willing to tackle.  Beverley will never have the sheer size/strength/athleticism combo that a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan brought to the men’s side of the court, but his brilliance lies in the fact that without a hand-check he can ride any player in this league at the hip and also get enough elevation to challenge a shot.  That he can’t cover a LeBron or Kevin Durant can’t be held against him, as even LeBron is ill-equipped to cover a Tony Parker, Chris Paul or Stephen Curry.  Beverley not only chops the head off the snake, but he also does about a million other things that two-way players don’t have the energy to do.  The Rockets will pay him under $1 million next season on his current contract.  Filthy. 

Jordan Hamilton got an extended look in 24 minutes and posted 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting (including two threes) with five rebounds, one steal and one block.  There isn’t a lot of space for him to work within and this game should be ignored given the score and opponent, but it was definitely in the game plan to get him some early minutes.  If the Rockets want to upgrade their athleticism on the wings he’s a logical place to look.  Just watch this from afar and from the wire in most formats. 

STOMPED IN SACTO

Nothing was terribly surprising in the Kings’ box score last night even with the score being out of hand early in the first quarter.  The big story, though, was DeMarcus Cousins going ballistic and needing to be restrained from a referee for a total of two technical fouls (Nos. 14 and 15).  More on that in a bit.

Isaiah Thomas hit just 4-of-14 shots for 12 points, three rebounds, five assists, three steals and two treys while dealing with the Patrick Beverley treatment, and for the first time in a while I was not nodding in agreement with Mike Malone on his game plan last night.  The Rockets not only had Beverley to stunt the Pizza Guy, but they trapped, hedged and overplayed everything.  Too often the Kings were left without enough ballhandlers to beat the pressure and like that the game was over. 

Ben McLemore’s shot is broken.  He hits just 4-of-16 looks last night for 15 points, four steals, one three and six perfect foul shots, but most of the shots he missed weren’t close and the ones he made came in garbage time.  If he had the dribbles to buy some time it would help him immensely, and he also lacks the finishing touch to make defenders fear the blow-by the way they should for a guy with McLemore’s athleticism.  It all adds up to underconfident, awkward and rushed looks, and even when he’s wide open he’s not a good enough shooter to make the defense pay with consistency.  He’d do well to go on a diet of cuts and dives to the hoop and work outward from there, taking just the wide open threes he needs to take to keep the defense honest. 

Rudy Gay’s efficiency is back now that the Big Three are intact, as expected, and he hit 10-of-16 shots for 25 points, three rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block and two threes.  I hope you didn’t sell high.  In a past life he’d have taken the challenge of defending James Harden, and that’s something for teams to note when considering his athleticism.  He’s still an above average NBA athlete, but he relies more on his craftiness than the average NBA fan would think. 

ON DEMARCUS COUSINS

The next tech for DeMarcus Cousins is a one-game suspension and I doubt the league will rescind the more palatable first tech from last night for any number of reasons (take your pick).  As you could imagine most of the Twittersphere reset their conclusions about his progress in the problem child department, but regular readers will know that this was always to be expected and I think I may have even mentioned some future event that would make everybody turn on him. 

It’s real armchair psychologist stuff to sit here and try to figure out if and when he’ll figure out how to manage his temper.  It’s deeper than that and it has to do with Cousins’ perceived lack of fairness about how he is refereed, fair or not, and then you throw in a fundamental lack of understanding about what is and isn’t a foul and it steamrolls from there.  From ownership to the coaching staff and everywhere in-between all of this was expected and a part of the deal with Cousins.  As I said on Twitter last night, this is where owner Vivek Ranadive and Co. will either make their money or lose their money. 

But with each incident comes room for growth, and Kings teammates have no problem talking openly about the issue – especially now that Rudy Gay has entered the locker room.  Sources close to the team have told me that Gay’s presence has been immediately felt, similarly to the way Luol Deng walked into Cleveland and said ‘y’all are messed up.’  Gay’s quote last night after the game about Cousins is the most recent example of this (courtesy of Blake Ellington of Sactown Royalty). 

“You got to put your hand in the fire to realize how hot it is...Sooner or later he's going to figure out how hot it is.”  Gay doesn’t care that this could come back to Cousins – he has already made his point in private and feels 100 percent comfortable saying it in public – after all, he’s not the one tied to Cousins long-term and it’s the right thing to say.  The organization is probably happy he said it. 

Cousins has apologized for things like this in the past, with varying levels of remorse, and chances are the apology from last night was heartfelt.  That’s to be expected and neither cheered nor booed, as actions are all that matter at this point, and you can expect that the organization is going to move quickly to get at the root causes of the issues, because that’s just how they roll. 

In the end this will be one of many steps backward that will provide opportunities to chip away at Boogie’s psychological armor.  After all, isn’t the armor why any of us act like asses at any given point in time?  If anybody thought this was going to be a one-year project, they were severely mistaken.  It’s going to take all of the Kings’ horses and all of the Kings’ men to put Boogie back together again.    

TORONTO TURNAROUND

The Raptors are quite the turnaround story and no one player exemplifies that better than Kyle Lowry, who had a bad night (13 points, 3-of-15 FGs, 0-for-9 3PTs, 7-of-7 FTs, five boards, nine assists, one steal) by his standards but is arguably the most surprising player returning first round cumulative value this season.  Other contenders include Dirk Nowitzki and Blake Griffin (8-cat, No. 12).  With Nene suffering an injury and the Bulls one key injury away from obliteration, the Raptors have moved into a clear No. 3 position in the Leastern Conference.  Everybody will point to Rudy Gay’s departure, but it’s really the arrival of an entire bench unit via Sacramento that has coalesced with the fact that Gay is not around any longer to carry out Dwane Casey’s instructions to shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot some more.  Balance is good. 

Amir Johnson logged 36 minutes and put up nine points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one 3-pointer, and with Patrick Patterson playing just 25 minutes with three points, eight boards, four assists, one block and one three it’s possible the new minute distribution is in effect.  Of course, all of this is contingent on Johnson’s ankle staying in good shape and that’s anything but a foregone conclusion at this point.  Johnson is worth owning in 12-team formats once again but owners should keep a late-round grade on him at best until he proves that he can ratchet it up, not to mention stay healthy. 

Terrence Ross hit five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points, two steals and one block, and over the last five games he has rated in the top-100 on the strength of 2.2 triples per game and 51.6 percent shooting from the field.  He moves to a low-end value in 12-team leagues when you look at the last month in which he has hit 44 percent of his looks, and he’ll continue to be a boom-or-bust play along the same lines as his month-long value. 

Jonas Valanciunas (two points, six boards, one block) played just 17 minutes and the beat writers turned on him long ago, and it sure seems like he has taken steps backward as the year has gone on.  Dwane Casey has also never seemed like a huge fan so he doesn’t have any rope and he’s not doing anything with the rope when he gets it.  I’m pretty sure I’ve said something along these lines but let me make it official that he’s droppable in 12-team formats and he’s not a must-own guy in 14-team leagues.  With the Raptors playing for the playoffs now, there won’t be any forced development here. 

DeMar DeRozan could have led this recap off but it’s getting increasingly normal to see the big boy lines, and last night he looked the part with 33 points, four rebounds, six assists, one steal and 9-of-13 makes from the charity stripe.  His fantasy deficiencies are well-known but he has made up for them with volume during a top 40-50 season so far.  He’s at the stage of his career where he’ll probably figure out the 3-point shot, either next year or the year after that.  When that happens, watch out. 

BUZZKILL

On the other side of the spectrum are the Cavs, which was the storyline in just about every postgame recap from Cleveland last night.  After winning six in a row they lost their last three games, and the concern was that the feel-good stuff following Chris Grant’s firing would eventually wear off.  That hasn’t happened yet as the team is still playing hard and they’re also beat up right now, but all of the losing has put them in a bad hole and if the playoffs get out of reach that would represent the perfect storm for things to get off track. 

Kyrie Irving still isn’t playing like the guy that owners thought they were getting on draft day, but the overall shape of his numbers has approached the preseason projections.  The biggest killer has been a 41.7 percent field goal percentage over his last 14 games, which has held him to top-25 value over that span while the rest of his numbers are in line with norms.  Last night he logged 45 minutes en route to 25 points, four rebounds, nine assist, two steals and one three while hitting 10-of-22 shots.  As long as he doesn’t get fed up I think owners can feel good about early round value the rest of the way, which isn’t exactly endearing considering his high draft day cost.  The one silver lining for his value is that a full deck including Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes and Jarrett Jack could help keep him from doing too much, the key problem with his fantasy game right now. 

Deng hit just 3-of-14 shots for eight points but things are starting to come together as he added nine boards, five assists and two steals in his 40 minutes.  Now that he knows he’s stuck in Cleveland (from his point of view) he and his teammates can settle down about his role, so owners can be fairly optimistic that he’ll return solid late round value.  On the other hand, I haven’t had a real chance to talk about Anthony Bennett (nine minutes) for a while since I mentioned I was trying to take a flier on the guy.  Obviously the trade deadline did him no favors and the limited minutes will probably crush his confidence. 

Spencer Hawes moved into the starting lineup and is a much-needed floor spacer for the Cavs.  He finished with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, three treys, seven boards and one block in 32 minutes.  It makes sense to keep him in the starting lineup unless Anderson Varejao’s back injury requires the pre-game and halftime warm-ups to stay loose, but either way owners can slot him in for 25-30 minutes unless Varejao returns and starts tearing it up. 

I definitely undersold Hawes’ shot at value by barely nudging you guys to wait a game before dropping him after the deadline, and that needs to be updated to a must-own status in all leagues for the chance he holds off an injury-prone Varejao.  The old Sideshow Bob before Robin Lopez became the new Sideshow Bob started his on-court work according to Mike Brown.  Hawes' owners shouldn't be overly worried about Varejao's eventual return because the players' roles are complementary.  Hawes has something the rest of the frontcourt doesn’t have with his outside touch and I underestimated his ability to deliver in a different system.   He has easy mid-round upside if everything goes reasonably well. 

Jarrett Jack had a nice night in the box with 12 points, three boards, four assists, two steals and a three over 26 minutes, and we need to see much more of that before owners in 12-14 team leagues give him much thought.  Tristan Thompson was able to hold the late-round value we talked about while going for 15 and 11 over the last six games, but last night’s 13 and nine with the usual zeroes elsewhere isn’t going to cut it and he basically got his legs chopped with Hawes’ arrival. 

NO MORE BLAZEMORE?

As I’ve said a million times this year the Lakers are their own call-in fantasy show with the combination of Mike D’Antoni’s fantasy friendly offense, the tanking, the multiple players with value and all of the injuries that have hit.  The most recent wrinkle has been the addition of Kent Bazemore – or should I say Blazemore as he has set career-highs in scoring in three straight games.  A hot add that the Doc was all over this weekend, I too bought the hype and made a big waiver play in one league even if I was too chicken to start him during the three-game week.  He scored 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, three steals, one three and a 6-of-8 mark from the foul line over 39 minutes in another start. 

While this has gone on both Blazemore and MarShon Brooks (11 points, four assists, two threes, one block, 27 minutes, 4-of-10 FGs) have been thrown into what has felt like an instant audition, though the Bazemore play feels like it has more to it given some of the comments made by the Lakers since he was acquired.  The 6’5/201 combo guard has excellent athleticism on a team that lacks exactly that, and unlike Wesley Johnson he can be counted on to handle the rock and that’s a plus in D’Antoni’s system.  From a fantasy perspective my biggest concerns were over his lack of versatility, which is something he addressed last night, but his three-game sample is still reliant upon averages of 18.3 points, 1.3 treys, 2.3 steals and 45.2 percent shooting to reach a top-80 value in 8-cat leagues (top-140 in 9-cat due to 3.0 TPG).  That’s small sample size theatre but owners can get a sense of the type of volume he’ll need to cash in on the recent hype. 

Which brings us to the most interesting aspect of last night’s game, which was Pau Gasol’s postgame comments that basically said to D’Antoni – I’m an old ass man and I’m not running up and down the basketball court to watch Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks hoist up shots.  Gasol wasn’t the only one to complain – Kendall Marshall added his commentary about the lack of ball movement too – and the comments were extensive enough and pointed enough to be a legitimate agent of change for tonight’s game against the Grizzlies. 

Gasol scoffed at the idea of D’Antoni playing another small lineup tonight against the twin towers of Zach Randolph and his brother Marc, so don’t be surprised if Jordan Hill (two points, three boards, one block, 10 minutes), Chris Kaman (six points, four rebounds, two blocks, 14 minutes) and Robert Sacre (six minutes) get a lot more action.  Owners that were stashing either Hill or Kaman in advance of the deadline can probably move on, though one of them is likely to put up a big line when D’Antoni bends to the will of his No. 1 guy tonight. 

Marshall’s (18 minutes, zero points, four assists) owners should wait at least one more game to see how things turn out even after the disastrous results as of late. Aside from having the best durability playing next to a pair of injury-prone point guards in Jordan Farmar (five points, seven assists, one steal, one three, 21 minutes) and Steve Nash (DNP-nerve irritation), owners aren’t going to come across a situation so telegraphed as this.  The incumbent players aren’t happy with the new guys and if things don’t get immediately better for Marshall than they aren’t likely to get better at all, and beyond that there is a stash element for Marshall’s owners to consider here, too.  Farmar has upside in the sense that he profiles like a guy that could handle a starter’s role if healthy but with all the new additions I don’t know that he gets that.  Dropping him for a hot free agent is fine in my book, though in a 14-team league I’d consider him a viable stash. 

Wesley Johnson (15 points, five boards, two threes, one steal, one block, 25 minutes) had a good night and though it feels like he has been all over the board if you stuck with him throughout the year he has paid off.  With mid-to-late round value over the last five games, mid-round value over the last month, late-round value over the last two months, and finally top 85-115 value on the year has been ugly at times but effective.  And just like usual it’s anybody’s guess if he can hold off the various threats to be an asset for you in tonight’s game. 

Jodie Meeks (13 points, five boards, three steals, one three) probably had his own Steve Blake role with D’Antoni before Blake left town, but now that Blake is gone he may just be Mike D’s favorite player on the squad.  Be cautiously optimistic that the good times will continue to roll.  Ryan Kelly (seven points, one three, two blocks, 15 minutes) busted out on me and wasn’t helped by the deadline at all, and he can be watched from the wire in most formats.  I like his block and three per game combo over the past month, but he needs to take (and make) more shots if he ever gets another big-minute opportunity. 

Aside from Meeks, whose role is stable, the fact that Nick Young looks like he returned early from his knee injury is a big driver of the aforementioned values.  Young clearly felt like his role with the team was threatened and probably made things worse, and he’ll be facing a choice to either get right and use a season in which he exceeded expectations to get a mini mid-level or mid-level exception type deal next season – or roll the dice and try to end the year on an even higher note.  This doesn’t sound like a choice at all if there is any sort of ambiguity about his health, but then again he was aggressive enough to come back early under those circumstances once already.  And no, I’m not holding him in 14-16 team leagues to see where the low-upside player goes from here. 

THE RICH GET RICHER

Life is good if you’re Evan Turner and life is good if you’re the Pacers.  Turner went from the outhouse to the penthouse and the Pacers found themselves on a Kings golden era-inspired cover of GQ Magazine this week.  On the court they’re getting a player in Turner that spent the entire year pushing the boundaries of his game.  Of course he’s nowhere near as good as the numbers in Philly suggest, but in terms of having the wheels spinning before letting off the e-brake they’ve accomplished exactly that.  He got plenty of run in his debut last night, logging 26 minutes en route to 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting with six rebounds, two assists and one steal.  The game got away from the Lakers in the second half so his minutes and usage were undeniably spiked as the Pacers used the scoreboard to get their new player acclimated, but the takeaway is the same as it ever was.  He makes my favorite to win it all even more dangerous and even more athletic.  Scary. 

The best news is that Turner does all of this without really impacting anybody else.  He’ll pick up some scoring slack when asked to and he’s plenty capable of moving the ball.  Is he worth owning in standard leagues?  Nope.  Owners of Lance Stephenson (13 points, nine rebounds, three assists) need not worry about anything but one of his teammates decking him for stealing their rebounds, which I’m only half kidding about.  George Hill (14 points, 6-of-9 FGs, three boards, three assists, two steals, one block) picked up the pace after a small slow stretch, but he has moved his value into safer mid-to-late zone and when you look at the last two months he’s a mid-round value hitting 51.4 percent shots from the field. 

Paul George hit just 6-of-18 shots for 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block, one three and 7-of-7 freebies.  The buy low window slammed shut last week.  David West turned in 11 and 12 with three steals and two blocks, and Roy Hibbert got four big blocks to go with 10 points and six boards to help fend off angry owners.  Hibbert’s shooting has improved but his attempts have gone down and his counting stats have actually gone down despite a near two-minute per game increase in playing time.  He has been a victim of Stephenson aggressively stealing his rebound chances.  

THE FLAMING MOE

The Magic couldn’t get any stops and they didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with a much better Wizards squad, even without their key cog in Nene.  The absence of Arron Afflalo (ankle) and exodus of Big Baby would appear to give Tobias Harris (11 points, four rebounds, zero steals/threes/blocks) a chance to improve on his increasing role, but that beneficiary last night was Moe Harkless.  Harkless scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting with five rebounds and two treys in 38 minutes, but while his status has been upgraded with Baby out of the picture there’s still not enough to hold onto here in most reasonably-sized formats.  Despite the off-night Harris has looked like last year’s late-season destroyer with early round value over the last week or so, including last night’s stinker. 

Jameer Nelson played through his sinus issue and logged seven points with four rebounds, eight assists, one three and six turnovers, and with value on the wrong side of the ledger in standard formats he hasn’t been a must-own player for about two weeks.  He has hit just 32.4 percent of his shots in his last 12 games with averages that look a lot like last night.  He starts and there’s no telling what noted tinkerer and Nelson enthusiast Jacque Vaughn will do here, but assuming there’s nothing wrong with his health a bounce-back for the Magic’s starting point guard could become useful and has a mid-round upside.  On the other end of that scale lies the reality that Victor Oladipo gets the reins and Nelson fades into the background while the team harvests metaphoric ping pong balls. 

Oladipo had friends and family in town for his return home and he came through with 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting, two threes, two boards, five assists, one steal and a perfect four free throws in his 35 minutes.  For a guy with insane hype, including from yours truly, it seems like he has yet to break out so owners may be surprised to find that he is a top 35-65 cumulative play (8/9 cat) on the year.  I had him at No. 30/66 in the Bruski 150 and I’m pleasantly surprised by the solid ranking since Nelson and Afflalo have hung around all year. 

There is something to the Kyle O’Quinn (10 points, nine boards, one block, 21 minutes) improvement, as he has held consistent late-round value with a decided advantage in 9-cat formats (0.9 TPG) over the last month.  Vaughn clearly trusts him to handle the ball at the top of the pattern and Glen Davis’ exit has given owners something relatively safe to hold onto here.  He won’t be a must-start guy and he may even have weeks where his value dips below the standard league line, but if you’re hurting for a big this is an easy, safer add to make. 

PICKING UP THE SLACK

In the first game post-Nene injury news the Wizards pulled together and beat a bad Magic team, so the new Core Four of John Wall (27 points, five boards, seven assists, two threes, one steal), Bradley Beal (21 points, four assists, one three), Trevor Ariza (22 points, 7-of-10 FGs, five threes, three boards, four assists, three steals) and Marcin Gortat (21 points, 10 boards) all got their rocks off.  This is going to be an easy fantasy team to plan for going forward, but the biggest question facing all of them is whether or not Nene’s absence steals away at their efficiency to offset any gains or even sets them back some. 

Earlier in the year when Nene was out of the lineup the offense stagnated and struggled, but the hope here for owners will be that they’ve all grown enough as a team to find a way to make it work.  I do find it interesting that Drew Gooden is the 10-day pickup for the Wiz because he profiles well as a ball-mover on offense, but it’s anybody’s guess what he really has in the tank.  For what it’s worth his Wizards connections run deep and he might have approached the year with a limited list of teams he’d play for, including the Wizards, and he may not be damaged goods.  Gooden is on a prove-it basis in fantasy leagues without a doubt, however.

Trevor Booker tweaked his left ankle and injuries have been the book on him for a while.  He quickly returned and finished with three points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks, which pays the bills in fantasy leagues but we’ve yet to see him next to Kevin Seraphin (DNP-knee).  Seraphin’s injury is truly day-to-day, and then Al Harrington (14 minutes) and Chris Singleton (14 minutes) are there to chip in with very low expectations.  Booker needs about 25 minutes per game to have a legit shot at late-round value in 12-14 team leagues, and probably more than that to justify the add that many owners just made.  With or without Seraphin back and taking 20-plus minutes, this will probably be a value-killing timeshare for all involved.   

MY NAME’S MIKE D AND I GET RESPECT

The Bulls somehow stole last night’s game in Atlanta in an eclectic finish that hinged on a few untimely mistakes by Atlanta and a few questionable calls, but it was also the type of game that Chicago is better equipped to finish than the fledgling Hawks.  Mike Dunleavy was the understated story of the night on the Bulls’ side, with 22 points on 6-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists, four threes and a perfect six free throws while playing all but nine seconds.  He’s sitting on a mid-round stretch of five games, averaging 12.2 points, 2.0 threes, 6.6 boards, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks while hitting just 37.3 percent of his shots.  Look for him to continue playing heavy minutes while providing must-start numbers until Jimmy Butler (ribs) returns.  Butler is closer to day-to-day than he is week-to-week by recent reports, and once Butler returns look for Dunleavy to go back to the iffy late-round value he has been over the last month.  

I’m not buying Tony Snell’s 10 points, three rebounds, five assists, one steal and one three in 35 minutes, since he has proven many times this season that he can disappear on a moment’s notice.  As long as Carlos Boozer (17 points, 11 rebounds, one steal, two blocks, 28 minutes) is healthy I’m a bit more optimistic about his value than I’d normally be for a guy that has been surpassed by Taj Gibson (14 points, eight rebounds, one steal, 27 minutes) in Tom Thibodeau’s eyes.  The fact is that the Bulls need every piece of offense they can get right now and Boozer gives them exactly that.  He’ll have a mid-to-late round grade as long as he’s upright. 

Joakim Noah celebrated his 29th birthday with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 12 rebounds, three assists and three steals over 27 minutes.  He will be a common thread on winning fantasy teams with his top-25 cumulative value this season.  Kirk Hinrich (14 points, 3-of-12 FGs, 6-of-7 FTs, two threes, three assists, three steals) continues to operate at his late-round ceiling in a heavy minute role, and there is still more than enough room for D.J. Augustin (10 points, 2-of-14 FGs, one three, six assists, two steals) to hang onto his late-round floor.  Augustin has really struggled with his shot over the last 13 games, hitting just 34.6 percent, which is a direct result of being asked to be the team’s No. 1 offensive player at times.  When he gets back on track, particularly after the next injury to an already-thin Bulls squad, it could look like the late-early round numbers he jumped onto the scene with.  More than likely the value will be in-between both extremes.

TEAGUE TIME?

This is the Jeff Teague everybody thought we’d see.  But true to his nature after playing fifth fiddle for so many years, it took most of his teammates getting ushered to the exits before he decided to aggressively push the issue on offense.  Teague hit 10-of-20 shots with Paul Millsap (knee) out for 26 points, three treys, seven assists and of course no steals and no blocks.  That last dig notwithstanding, the three-game stretch with Millsap out of the picture for two-thirds of it has resulted in the type of shooting (47.9%), scoring (23.3 points) and playmaking numbers (6.0 assists) that would float his expected lack of defensive stats (0.0 combined steals/blocks). 

Perhaps he can put everything together when Millsap returns, remaining aggressive while notching a steal per game and hitting closer to his 44.3 percent career mark from the field than his 41.6 percent mark on the year.  The ongoing ankle issue certainly doesn’t help that calculus.  The only hope for owners is that the light bulb turned on.  Nothing more and nothing less.  For Teague, it has always been mental, and you can thank years of playing with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith for that – as inexcusable as it is for him to be nibbling around the edges on this year’s roster. 

Elton Brand made folks double-take with 42 minutes on the court, seven points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks, and he’ll be worth a look if you need a big man for however long Millsap is out.  Millsap is day-to-day (out tonight) but the Hawks are going to play it safe here, and the other two guys that would normally spell Brand – Gustavo Ayon (shoulder) and Pero Antic (ankle) – haven’t practiced yet despite getting game-to-game updates on their status.  After tonight the Hawks have three days off, play the Suns on March 2, and then get another two days off before playing the Blazers on March 5.  Ayon and/or Antic could conceivably return tonight and we’ll find out soon enough, and altogether the Hawks have the ability to give these guys nine days of rest while missing just three games.  Put that in your green egg and smoke it. 

Mike Scott (12 points, seven boards, two triples, three assists, one steal, 33 minutes) was predictably productive in extended minutes, and he profiles like a guy that could get leaned on down the stretch – especially if the Hawks decide to keep Millsap fresh for the playoffs.  Still, the chance that Millsap returns and moves him back to the fringe of 12-14 team value is real so he’s a luxury to own long-term rather than a necessity.  Shelvin Mack scored 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and a trey in a start, but he has never really been able to cash in on his momentum this season.  He’ll be worth a look in spot-action tonight with Millsap out but from there his body of work suggests he’s a low-end deep league play at best. 

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