With only a handful of games remaining in the NBA season it will be difficult for fantasy owners in roto leagues to make up much ground. A devoted few are still scouring the league for every rebound, assist and steal they can find, however, and some head-to-head leagues continue until the bitter end of the season. Friday’s Dose begins with a brief list of players who are thriving down the stretch and might still be available on the waiver wire, before enumerating this summer’s potential free agents (unrestricted and restricted), briefly looking ahead to the 2014-15 season, and finishing with a quick look at Thursday’s games.
Last Call for the Waiver Wire
I had Timofey Mozgov on this list, since he's emerged as a somewhat under-the-radar top-80 value over the past two weeks. He changed the equation during Thursday's nationally-televised game, however, scoring 23 points with a career-high 29 rebounds as Denver escaped with a 100-99 road victory. Mozgov also set a new NBA season-high with his rebounding, which during a post-game interview he humbly attributed to boards “falling into [his] hands.” He did take a ridiculous 3-point attempt with under a minute remaining in a two-point game (he's 4-of-19 from downtown on the season), but the damage was limited since his inevitable miss was rebounded by Kenneth Faried.
Mozgov's career-best game made me curious about his typical rebounding rates, so I filtered NBA.com’s stats to determine his "percentage of rebounds per chance," with a 'chance' defined as any time a player was “within 3.5 feet of a rebound.” Among players who average at least 15 minutes per game, this season's leaders are Kevin Durant and LeBron James (which I found to be surprising and illuminating), followed by Kendall Marshall, DeAndre Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett, Russell Westbrook and Andre Drummond.
According to that metric, the 7'1", 250-pound Mozgov ranks 207th in the NBA. That puts him directly below Avery Bradley and above Jameer Nelson, though he still beats out Tiago Splitter, Amare Stoudemire, Tristan Thompson, Robin Lopez and Zaza Pachulia.
However, Mozgov fares much better when judging "contested rebounds," i.e. rebounds claimed while an opponent was within 3.5 feet. By that metric the Nuggets' 27-year-old center ranks 17th in the NBA, just below Omer Asik, Greg Monroe, Serge Ibaka and Jordan Hill, and just ahead of Patrick Patterson, Anthony Davis and Jonas Valanciunas.
Mozgov is absolutely worth owning in fantasy leagues for the Nuggets' final three games if he's still available, but keep in mind that his fantasy outlook for the next few years is clouded a contract which keeps him in Denver through 2015-16. That happens to be the same time that JaVale McGee's fully guaranteed contract expires. Here are the per-36 numbers for both McGee and Mozgov during their brief careers. They are remarkably similar with the exception of shot-blocking and FT shooting, though in fairness Mozgov hasn’t had many unfettered chances to play to his full ability in the NBA.
JaVale McGee: 15.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.8 steals and 3.3 blocks, with 54.1 percent FGs and 58.4 percent FTs.
Timofey Mozgov: 13.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals and 2.0 blocks, with 51.3 percent FGs and 73.7 percent FTs.
Moving on to another potential waiver wire candidate, we have Lakers’ PG Jordan Farmar. He scored 15 points with two 3-pointers, five rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks in his return from a groin injury this week and has been a solid fantasy option when healthy. With Steve Nash (nerves) likely done for the year and Kendall Marshall struggling, Farmar should be quite useful in L.A.'s final four games.
Tristan Thompson switched to shooting right-handed this summer, but the move didn't have a big impact. His FG percentage dropped a few points to 47.4 percent, while his FT percentage increased from 60.8 percent to 68.9 percent. His points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks all decreased from 2012-13, even though he played slightly more minutes, and generally speaking he's been a lousy fantasy option. That's all changed in the past few weeks, however, as Thompson has locked in with averages of 11.3 points, 8.5 boards, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks, all while making 55.3 percent of his FGs and a whopping 94.1 percent of his FTs (16-of-17 in the past five games). He's still prone to quiet games and his defensive stats are poor for a mobile 6'9" big man, but fantasy owners might as well deploy him while he's on a roll.
Kyle O'Quinn continues to provide stealthy mid-round value despite playing around 25 minutes per game. The backbone of his value is 2.7 blocks per game over Orlando's past six matchups, to which he's added 9.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.0 steals. To put those numbers in perspective, Anthony Davis is the only player to have averaged at least 1.0 steals and 2.0 blocks this season. O’Quinn has only been doing it for a half-dozen games, but the list of players who have averaged 2+ blocks and 1+ steal for a season is short and illustrious, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elmore Smith, Robert Parish, Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Marcus Camby, Ben Wallace, Andrei Kirilenko and Josh Smith. Those are the only players who’ve done it since the 1974-75 season.
Pelicans swingman Anthony Morrow has stepped up his game since Eric Gordon (knee) got injured, and over the past two weeks he's scoring 17.6 points on stellar 58.9 percent FGs and 91.7 percent FTs. That includes 2.1 three-pointers per game, as well as 2.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.7 steals, and it adds up to third-round value in nine-cat leagues. Gordon needs surgery and he won't return this season, and Anthony Davis (back) has also been shut down for New Orleans' final four games, so Morrow should have a steady green light offensively.
Josh McRoberts - It's hard to believe that McBob is still unowned in some leagues. He returned from a sprained ankle on Wednesday and picked up where he left off, scoring 12 points with two 3-pointers, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 34 minutes. He's a rock-solid value despite averaging under 10 points in 30 minutes per game, thanks to good shooting percentages, reliable 3-point shooting, and a trickle of rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He's likely to opt out of his $2.8 million player option to become a free agent this summer, and he's a great guy to use as a segue to the next section.
Here are quick lists of unrestricted FAs, restricted FA, and guys with player options. I sorted the unrestricted FAs by position because they are more numerous. NOTE: These may not be 100 percent accurate but I tried to cross-reference them with multiple sources. I left out a few players who may not be in the league next year anyway, like retirement-bound Shane Battier.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Mario Chalmers, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Farmar, Patty Mills, Aaron Brooks, Steve Blake, Devin Harris, Luke Ridnour, Beno Udrih, Toney Douglas, Derek Fisher, Garrett Temple
SG: Jodie Meeks, Vince Carter, Rodney Stuckey, Thabo Sefolosha, Ray Allen, Jerryd Bayless, Xavier Henry, C.J. Miles, Jimmer Fredette, Ben Gordon, Shannon Brown, Brandon Rush
SF: Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, Al-Farouq Aminu, Marvin Williams, Caron Butler, Danny Granger, Richard Jefferson, Michael Beasley, James Jones
PF: Dirk Nowitzki, Jordan Hill, Boris Diaw, Kris Humphries, Dante Cunningham, Kenyon Martin, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, Anthony Tolliver, Antawn Jamison, Jason Smith
C: Pau Gasol, Marcin Gortat, Spencer Hawes, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Jermaine O'Neal, Greg Stiemsma, Emeka Okafor, Greg Oden, Cole Aldrich, Nazr Mohammed, Dexter Pittman
Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe, Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward, Lance Stephenson, P.J. Tucker, Evan Turner, Avery Bradley, Patrick Patterson, Kent Bazemore, Greivis Vasquez, Brian Roberts, Kevin Seraphin, Ed Davis, Shelvin Mack, Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford, Mike Scott, Greg Smith, Ekpe Udoh, E'Twaun Moore, Lavoy Allen
Player Options/Early Termination Options:
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Josh McRoberts, Channing Frye, Mo Williams, Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Nate Robinson, Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Andrei Kirilenko, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen, Darrell Arthur, Anthony Morrow, Jonas Jerebko, Alan Anderson, Jason Richardson
The Future is Now
The fact that most fantasy owners' seasons have ended doesn't make the final week irrelevant — whether you're in a dynasty or re-draft league, it's imperative to think about which players might break out next year.
Jonas Valanciunas - JV has been inconsistent this season, at times appearing lost offensively, and coach Dwane Casey showed no compunction about yanking him from games when he struggled. His playing time dipped below 26 minutes per game in February and it seemed he was on a downward trajectory, but he showed progress in March and has been simply phenomenal in four April games with averages of 20.0 points on 67.4 percent shooting (72.0 percent at the FT line), 10.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 blocks. Those numbers have come in under 34 minutes per game, and although the FG percentage is unrealistic it provides a glimpse of his enormous potential. JV has been a borderline option in nine-cat leagues this season, coming in as a 12th-round value, but over the past two weeks he's vaulted into the top-20. It's unwise to put too much stock in one scorching month, but I'd still peg him as a middle-round fantasy pick next season.
Marcin Gortat's season has taken a similar path. After mediocre play for months, he finally found his groove once Nene (sprained MCL) went down, and is posting top-40 value over the past two months (averaging 15.4 points on 58.0 percent shooting, with 10.5 boards, 1.9 assists and 1.3 blocks). Gortat will be a free agent this summer and his value hinges largely upon which team signs him, but at least we've been reminded what he can do with an unfettered role as a starting center.
Kawhi Leonard has been a 'breakout' candidate for the past few years, and we're seeing why this season—despite playing only 29.0 minutes per game, he's racked up top-20 value with averages of 12.6 points, 1.0 threes, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks. I'd be shocked if he doesn't establish himself as a season-long first-round value next year, as the aging Spurs will need Kawhi and Danny Green to take on more prominent offensive roles. Even Gregg Popovich is unlikely to restrict Kawhi to sub-30 minutes yet again in 2014-15.
Ryan Anderson recently had surgery to correct a herniated cervical disc, and the Pelicans haven't provided any timetable for his return. He's under contract for two more fully-guaranteed seasons, however, and if he is ready for opening night he could be a steal for risk-taking fantasy owners. In just 22 appearances this season, he was posting career-best numbers with 19.8 points, 3.0 triples, 6.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. He was also making 95.2 percent of his free throws, which would have ranked higher than this season's qualified FT% leader Brian Roberts (94.5 percent).
Spurs at Mavericks
Tony Parker (back) was ruled out well in advance of Thursday's game, and Aron Baynes (ribs) was also unavailable, but Manu Ginobili (calf) was available as the Spurs held on for a 109-100 win in Dallas. Manu looked good while scoring 10 points with two 3-pointers, seven assists and two steals in 29 minutes, and Gregg Popovich seems serious about getting his key players solid minutes down the stretch to keep them in rhythm for the first round.
Tim Duncan hyper-extended his knee and briefly left the court, but the Spurs quickly declared him healthy and he returned to score 20 points with 15 rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in a whopping 39 minutes of action. He's played 40 minutes once this season but is averaging just 28 minutes overall, and his lofty playing time suggests that he might be rested for Friday's game vs. the visiting Suns. The same may also be true for Manu, so owners should keep a close eye on Rotoworld's player news page on Friday afternoon.
Kawhi Leonard's late-season surge continued with 16 points, two 3-pointers, a season-high 16 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 37 minutes. The biggest surprise of the night for San Antonio, beyond Duncan's playing time, was Patty Mills logging 36 minutes as the team's starting PG ahead of Cory Joseph (who scored three points in eight minutes). Mills pitched in 26 points on 9-of-25 shooting, including six 3-pointers, and he also handed out six assists and two steals. The minutes were a season-high and Mills posted an excellent +/- rating of +26 in a game which the Spurs won by nine points, so Popovich had to have been pleased with what he saw. Before hurrying to pick up Mills, however, keep in mind that Tony Parker (back) remains day-to-day.
The Mavericks were fighting for their playoffs lives but the loss trimmed their lead to just one game over the ninth-place Grizzlies. In a delicious twist from the schedule-makers, the Mavs and Grizzlies will meet on April 16, the final day of the season, with a potential playoff spot on the line. They shot 47.0 percent as a team, led once again by Monta Ellis (24 points, four assists) and Dirk Nowitzki (19 points), but they were foiled by their own lousy perimeter defense—the Spurs drained 16-of-34 shots from downtown (47.1 percent).
The victory gave San Antonio a 3.5 game lead over Oklahoma City, and they'll earn home court advantage throughout the playoffs with a single win (or OKC loss) in the final six days of the regular season. The Spurs also have the best point differential by a wide margin, outscoring their opponents by an average of 8.2 points per game. The Clippers are second (+7.0), the Thunder are third (+6.6) and the Heat come in fourth (+5.4).
The Spurs' 61-18 record also gives them a win percentage of .772. That would be the highest in Spurs' franchise history, on pace to eclipse their .768 percentage from the 2005-06 season, and it's the 24th-highest in NBA history. Of the 23 teams with superior win percentages: 15 won the NBA championship, three lost in the NBA Finals, three lost in the Conference Finals, one fell in the Conference semi-finals, and the 2006-07 Mavericks memorably lost to the eighth-seed Warriors in the first round of the 2006-07 playoffs despite having a stellar 67-15 record (.817 win percentage).
Nuggets at Warriors
The Warriors got a combined 45 points from Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, the latter of whom also added seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. Their offensive burden was sometimes painful to watch, however, and fellow starters Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut combined for just 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting. The good news is that David Lee (hamstring, nerve irritation) has begun on-court workouts and he was questionable for Thursday’s game, so he may return to action during the Warriors’ final four games of the regular season. He played through a torn hip flexor during last year’s playoffs and nobody should be questioning his willingness to play hurt.
I discussed Timofey Mozgov earlier, but his enormous game might have been for naught if Kenneth Faried hadn’t gathered a crucial rebound and scored the go-ahead basket at the end of regulation. The Manimal finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds, one assist and one steal. He said recently that a weight was lifted from him once the trade deadline passed and he was still in Denver, and the change has been patently obvious for his lucky fantasy owners. His play over the past few months should convince Denver to keep him off the trade market next season, during which he’ll make a relative pittance of $2.3 million. He’ll be eligible for restricted free agency in the summer of 2015.
Rotoworld’s Matt Stroup recently provided one-word summaries of Aaron Brooks’ 10 games from March 15 through April 2: “Good, Bad, Dominant, Awful, Solid, Gross, Great, Bland, Decent, YAHTZEE.” He played 39 minutes in Thursday’s road win but the summary for fantasy owners would be “Disappointing,” as he scored only eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, with zero 3-pointers, two rebounds, seven assists, one steal and two turnovers. Brooks will be an unrestricted FA this summer and he’s still only 29 years old. He’s a weak defender and a career 41.5 percent shooter, however, with a 1.94 assist-to-turnover ratio, and is unlikely to find work as a starting PG unless injuries hand him the job as they have in Denver. Brooks’ assist-to-turnover ratio has plummeted to 1.58 this season, and even his career mark (1.94) would put him outside the NBA’s top-50 for this year, alongside scoring-oriented guards like Randy Foye, Norris Cole, Reggie Jackson and Brandon Knight.