Were you not entertained?
Maybe moderately excited? Or did you randomly bellow noises that would make Toronto mayor Rob Ford blush and/or scamper off like a Pamplona bull?
I’m going to take the over on your pulse rate as Tremendous Tuesday started with a pair of rookies triple-doubling in the same game for the first time ever, which may or may not have overshadowed Arron Afflalo’s 43 points in that double-overtime thriller. The night then gingerly moved into the Isaiah Thomas show, and finally ended with the Splash Brothers completing a 27-point comeback and covering the -7.5 spread to boot.
I had to turn up the weird action movie music on Pandora just to chill out.
So let’s get weird and break down this eight-game night, which will be followed by another eight-game Big Wednesday, and yet another shot at a basketball lobotomy.
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THIS IS MY O-FACE
The two rookies in question were none other than Victor Oladipo and Michael Carter-Williams, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to follow up on whether or not this stat was right – but some fine sage on Twitter said it was the eighth time in history there were two triple-doubles in the same game – let alone by rookies. So we’re gonna believe them.
Arron Afflalo continued to hold a blow torch to opposing owners’ feet with a career-high 43 points and Glen Davis scored a career-high 33 points. Jason Maxiell even got into the act with Nikola Vucevic out scoring 12 points, though all of that wasn’t enough as the Magic lost by one point in double-overtime to Philly.
While these are lofty results by any explanation, it’s a reminder to fire up your guys against the Sixers, who are forced by personnel issues to play at a break-neck pace. Afflalo hit 14-of-27 shots (5-of-13 3PTs, 10-of-11 FTs) and also chipped in with six rebounds, five assists and two steals, as he continues to hover at the border of first and second round value on the year. His shooting at 48.8 percent from the field and 46.3 percent beyond the arc is going to come back to earth – that’s a given – but nothing else is out of place and owners can safely project top-25 value for the rest of the year within normal parameters (as long as he’s still in Orlando). Let that be your guide for trades and such.
Oladipo scored 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting (0-for-5 from deep, 10-of-12 from the line) with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and just three turnovers in a massive 52 minutes. That was his O-Face. He is a top 20-40 value (8/9 cat) over the past two weeks with averages of 35.4 minutes, 16.6 points, 0.8 threes, 5.3 boards, 4.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 44.9 percent field goal shooting, 84.8 free throw shooting and 3.5 turnovers per game. Guess what? He can improve on those numbers even if Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo stick around. He’s that good and Orlando’s system is that wide open for him.
Big Baby’s 33 points on 15-of-24 shooting was backed up by just three rebounds, three assists and two steals in his (gulp) 50 minutes. It’s not surprising that in a game dominated by quick leapers that he would struggle to clean the glass, more so than usual, but I’d like to take a moment and point out what a good job he has done with his conditioning and diet. He went from overweight guy with foot issues and a role issue to boot, and the fact that he can even play this much after so much time off is proof that he worked hard to reclaim his standing with the team. He’ll settle in as a late-round value when it’s all said and done, including the impact of Tobias Harris’ eventual return. It just won’t be pretty when there’s a full house.
As for Harris, I don’t know about you guys but hearing about a 7-10 day rehab was music to my ears, since it started to feel like surgery would have to be on the table for an issue that lingered so long. Continue to hold him as he fits in with what the Magic are trying to do on offense and they’ll make room for him to gain a foothold on at least a 20-minute role, with 25-30 and then more if/when guys get hurt or leave via trade.
Nikola Vucevic’s ankle issue sounds pretty minor and he’ll be questionable for Friday’s game, and with two days off the entire team will get a chance to recover after last night’s marathon. Andrew Nicholson (eight points, four boards, two steals, one block, 38 minutes) and Moe Harkless (zero points, eight minutes) missed their windows to produce and can go back to the scrap heap if you speculated on them in daily leagues or deeper formats. E’Twaun Moore (two points, 22 minutes) failed to launch again in the loss.
One of these days when the Sixers’ roster improves, they will slow down their pace of play and Michael Carter-Williams’ numbers will take an inevitable hit. It’s just not happening anytime this soon and probably not this season. Just keep this inevitability in mind when assessing keeper league value and the like. MCW posted another insane line of 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting with 12 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and the sole blemish of seven turnovers.
He’s a top 12-36 value (8/9 cat) over the past two weeks and more or less the same value on the season, a great indication of his staying power for the rest of the year. If anything, he’ll get better if he can improve his 40.8 percent field goal shooting and 67.1 percent shooting from the line. As I said earlier this week, I’m not ready to concede that his 3.1 steals and 0.7 blocks per game are major outliers. Once again, it’s the system. The only concern that owners should have here is the rookie wall, which is a very real concern considering how much they run and how much they use him.
Thaddeus Young continues to make up for lost time in another solid 25-point, 12-rebound night including 10-of-20 makes from the field, three treys, two steals and one block. Don’t look now but he’s a top 55-60 value on a per-game basis and there’s plenty of room for him to improve along the stat line.
James Anderson hasn’t been getting the love in the blurbs, but I just can’t quit him because of all the aforementioned system advantages. He’s an injury or two away from serious value if he can simply stay healthy. Anderson scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting (2-of-4 3PTs, 5-of-9 FTs) with two rebounds and that’s it in 29 minutes, and his demotion to the second unit is an issue of course. I’m not entirely sold on the idea that Hollis Thompson (10 points, 4-of-5 shooting, two threes, five boards, one block, 33 minutes) can hold onto enough minutes to significantly cut into Anderson’s minutes, and while he is just a late-round value on the season he’s a mid-level stash in standard formats.
Thompson has been a borderline value in 12-14 team formats over just about 25 minutes per game in the last week or so, and again I just don’t see him getting enough minutes and touches to make it all work. As a younger player he has the potential to surprise, though, so keep a close eye on him this week. Tony Wroten’s shooting percentages and overall raw play have been an anchor to his value in both fantasy and reality, and last night he logged just 13 minutes to shut the door on his fantasy value in the short-term. We’ll revisit if he gives us a reason to.
One of my go-to guys for analysis is Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated, and as usual he did a very good job breaking down the Pistons, and their issues with the bigger lineup on both sides of the floor. I’ll sum it up for you by saying their issues are solvable, even if there is no guarantee that guys like Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings will comply by adjusting their games to compensate for the various weaknesses.
Last night they got to attack a team in the Heat that will always struggle with bigger frontlines, pulling out the victory in South Beach behind a balanced and familiar box score. Andre Drummond fouled out after 23 minutes, otherwise his 10 points and 18 rebounds would have looked a lot more like his monster Sunday night.
Brandon Jennings hit just 5-of-9 shots (including two threes) with four rebounds, five assists, four steals and seven turnovers, as he continues to roll with mid-round value in 8-cat formats and high-end, late-round value in 9-cat formats. Unfortunately for owners there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room for his numbers to improve outside a potential six-point regression in free throws to his 81 percent career mark. His 8.2 assists per game are also a bit high on first glance, but perhaps he’s going to take his chess pieces and put them to work.
Josh Smith (15 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block) tried to shoot the Heat back into the game all night, connecting on just 7-of-21 shots while missing all four of his 3-point attempts. What else is new for the top 65-100 value in 8- and 9-cat formats. Greg Monroe posted 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting with six boards, five assists, one steal and two blocks in the plus-matchup, and Mr. Consistency Rodney Stuckey rolled along with 16 points, two boards, three assists and a perfect eight attempts from the foul line. Kyle Singler scored 18 points but we need to see it again (and again) to go near him in most formats.
DRINK DUFF (RESPONSIBLY)
Dwyane Wade took the night off and one could argue his teammates did as well, as the Heat shot just 43.9 percent from the field and didn’t get enough contributions behind LeBron James (23 points, full line), Chris Bosh (14 points, six boards) and Michael Beasley (23 points, 9-of-16 FGs, three treys, four boards, one steal) to deliver the home win.
I’ve been banging the Beasley drum all season with appropriate levels of caution but I think the time is now to take a chance on the guy. He’s a borderline value in 12-14 team formats in just 17.2 minutes per game, albeit with a 54.7 percent mark from the field that is 10 full points above his career 44.9 percent average. He’s also hitting an unsustainable 52.9 percent of his threes while shooting four points better than his 75.8 percent career mark from the line. The bottom line? He is forced by circumstance to take better shots, and it wouldn’t be surprising for him to split the difference in those shooting numbers.
It also wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the side of a milk carton at any point going forward, or more than likely return sporadic production that waxes and wanes with the health of the Big Three. The environment is the key here – in everything from on-the-court to off-the-court issues – but on the court let’s just say that life is good when defenses are bending toward LeBron James.
As I’ve said a million times now, the Heat could really use him as a bona fide third or fourth scorer in the playoffs, and during the meat of the year they could use him to take the weight off the Big Three’s shoulders. I’m going to make the add here for anything but a better mid-round upside stash or an extremely consistent late-round producer. The upside here caps out at a top-75 value in a 25-30 minute role (with an advantage in 8-cat leagues) so plan accordingly.
After a really bad stretch the Bucks still haven’t turned things around the win-loss column, and they lost in Boston last night, but at least they’re competing and gaining some stability in their rotation. Brandon Knight scored 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting with four rebounds, six assists and a steal in 31 minutes. He is a mid-round value over the last four games with averages of 14.8 points, 2.0 threes, 5.0 boards, 5.3 dimes, 1.3 steals and marks of 40.4 percent from the field and 81.8 percent from the line. Perhaps the most important development is that he’s providing point guard stats and not the shooting guard numbers from prior years. If he can hold onto his role and keep from driving off a cliff, I see top 60-80 numbers in his future with about a 30-rank swing downward in 9-cat leagues.
Other good news for Knight’s value is that O.J. Mayo (19 points, 6-of-12 FGs) appears to be getting comfortable while Knight is doing his thing. On the other hand it wouldn’t be a report without pointing out the injury concerns that have plagued him thus far. With the type of projection I just laid out there I think owners can find the space on their roster in all 12-team formats, with a tiebreaker going against him in 9-cat formats.
Khris Middleton continued to do his part to add to the stability equation, with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting (3-of-3 3PTs), four rebounds, three assists and one steal in 33 minutes. Caron Butler’s eventual return will definitely complicate matters, especially with the organizational platitudes being made by Larry Drew and others about Butler’s role on the team – but if they’re doing it right they move Butler around the second unit while preserving Middleton’s development with the starters.
Butler can command more touches with the reserves and the team won’t be juggling the rotation as he inevitably gets injured throughout the year. Middleton isn’t breaking down any doors with his late-round value in 25 mpg, but while he’s playing this consistently he should be owned in all 12-team formats for both his current production and hopes to play 30-35 mpg down the road.
Ersan Ilyasova owners got a nice four-game week to gamble with and he returned seven points with seven rebounds in 21 minutes to effectively make it a 3.5 game week (or more likely a three-game week). As long as he’s heading down the road to recovery it’s a win in my book. Like a handful of players that aren’t meeting expectations right now, all we need to do is look to last season for a reminder of why patience is important in fantasy leagues. Ilyasova went on a tear in the second half of the year and he could do exactly that this year.
It was tough luck for those that took a flier on Giannis Antetokounmpo last night, as the rookie played just 15 minutes with four points, three rebounds and a block. Doctors think he will grow to be a seven-footer and the upside here is about as good as it gets, though Caron Butler would need to exit stage left for him to have the stability owners need in standard formats this season.
STICK THIS IN YOUR CRAW
Jordan Crawford has definitely stuck in my craw as I identified him as the only ball-handler capable of running Boston’s offense while Rajon Rondo was out, put him at the top of the depth chart with a big workload before the year started, and then proceeded to drop him at the first sign of panic in a big money league because I had injury issues. I should have known better, and he kicked me yet again with 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting with four treys and five assists.
There were conflicting reports about whether or not Rondo was cleared to return to practice yesterday, with the latter report cleaning up the earlier report and providing the most insight when Rondo all-but admitted he would be seeing a doctor next week. I’d guess that’s the visit in which he gets cleared to return to practice and then from there we’ll be on Rondo watch, much to the chagrin of Crawford’s owners.
Jared Sullinger carried on with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds, two steals and one block, Brandon Bass went for 19 and six, and Jeff Green did not record a steal or block but did continue to be active in the box score with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and three treys on a 6-of-9 shooting night. Sullinger is a top 60-80 value these days, Bass is a low-end plug-and-play, and Green needs Rondo to return to truly realize his value.
TWO SHIPS PASSING IN THE NIGHT
The Nuggets have won seven straight and took their turn on the piñata better known as the Brooklyn Nets. I’ve covered it in detail but the Nuggets have picked up their pace and that’s playing to their strengths, but the story last night was how plodding backup center Timofey Mozgov went off for 17 points and a career-high 20 rebounds to go with a steal and two blocks over 31 minutes. Yes, this came against the Nets, their backups, and also in a blowout, but the Nuggets really want to make good on signing Mozgov so this isn’t a line to shrug off.
Not when he’s already a 14-16 team value on the season in just 19 minutes of action per night.
Starter J.J. Hickson (eight points, seven boards) played just 16 minutes and produced well in such limited time, but he has been scuffling overall recently and therefore the door is absolutely open for Mozgov to walk through it. Whether or not he can do it – in particular when the team is better off playing fast – is a question that can only be answered by waiting to see what happens next. We’ve seen too much bad Mozgov to officially say the light bulb has turned on, at least for now.
But with numbers that don’t scream regression in any one place, a jump of even five minutes per game could make him a borderline fantasy starter and if he can hit the jackpot with a 25-30 minute role he has top-60 upside. That’s enough to make a speculative add and if you need a center I think that makes him a must-add player since centers probably don’t grow on trees in your league if you’re eyeballing Mozgov in the first place.
Right after Hickson picked things up following the JaVale McGee injury, I recall being mildly optimistic about his value. But upon closer review and some time to see how things have progressed he has struggled to stay in the top-200 in his 25 minutes per game this season. The main problem for him has always been the lack of peripheral stats, so he needs massive popcorn numbers to float his value. I’d move along in any standard format and making the switch for Mozgov is a no-brainer in my book.
Nate Robinson (nine points, three assists, 20 minutes) needed X-rays on his right (shooting) wrist last night, and while they came back negative and he says he’ll play on Friday the standard shooting wrist disclaimer applies. While this indeed seems mild by comparison to other such injuries, it could easily impact his shooting and thus his main source of fantasy value. As a solid mid-round value over the past two weeks owners will want to give him another game of leash, but Ty Lawson (13 points, six assists) is surviving his nagging ankle injury so both Robinson and Andre Miller didn’t get the bump owners were looking at.
The most recent drama for Jason Kidd came when he announced he had “reassigned” assistant coach Lawrence Frank to daily reports, which may consist of stick figures of Kidd spilling soda onto his crotch over the next few years of his contract. I actually had a guy ranting at me that the soda incident didn’t have any impact on Kidd’s coaching situation, but the circus sideshow element is definitely eating away at this team and expectations are really, really high for Mikhail Prokhorov.
Frank and Kidd clashed about Frank’s voice with the team, with competing national reporters offering both guys’ side of the story including a Marc Stein report that some of the players agreed Frank was too loud of a voice. Adrian Wojnarowski is on the other side defending Frank. Perhaps a Kidd firing is sitting at First and Goal at the one-yard line. All fantasy owners need to know is that this is a Grade A mess until it won’t be. Remember, we’re just cracking open the month of December and these guys are built to play in May and June if they can get through April.
Getting more bad news out of the way for Nets fans, Andrei Kirilenko (back) said that he does not have a timetable for return. Between that, Kevin Garnett’s (17 minutes) general risk, Brook Lopez’s (21 minutes) injury history, and Paul Pierce’s hand injury there is ample reason to hang onto Andray Blatche (15 points, six boards, 24 minutes).
Feel free to give Alan Anderson (eight points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals, one block, one three, 30 minutes) a short-term look, though he’s struggled to hold borderline value in 12-14 team formats, even in a 28-minute role over the past two weeks. His only glimmer of hope is that he gets the green light, since he’s taking nearly three less shots per game over the same amount of minutes from this year to last.
Tyshawn Taylor started and played 34 minutes, but still managed just 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting and two assists. Woof. With all the turmoil it’s hard to say what exactly is going on with Shaun Livingston, but he has really cooled off and neither of these guys are worth owning in normal sized formats.
The Suns ran into a better, more-focused Grizzlies squad and eventually bowed out of contention in the fourth quarter in a 110-91 loss. Eric Bledsoe (nine points, 4-of-13 FGs, zero threes, three boards, five assists, no steals or blocks) was the victim of rust and also a typically stout Memphis defense, and he’s probably about as affordable as he’s going to get on the open market. Goran Dragic (16 points, 7-of-13 FGs, five assists, one steal, one block, one three) is settling into his likely role and production, while Miles Plumlee continued to stay on track with 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes.
Gerald Green is being watched closely by owners since Bledsoe’s return and last night might have been enough to scare them off, as Green hit just 1-of-8 shots (1-of-7 3PTs) for six points, three assists and that’s it in 24 minutes. When he’s not ice-cold he’ll shoot (and hit) a bit more shots, but if he doesn’t lay claim to his bench role it could be easy for him to fall off the wagon in standard formats. As it stands he’s clinging to late-round value over the past week or so, and owners should feel free to drop him for a hot free agent should the opportunity present itself.
Markieff Morris scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists and a block in 25 minutes, and with top-100 value on the season I’m holding him in 12-team formats unless I’m truly stacked. The Suns’ system is too friendly and any number of things could happen for him to build on that rank and quickly.
Marcus Morris scored 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting with three treys, six boards, two steals and a block, and while I like his brother Markieff better owners shouldn’t totally write him off. He’s a late-round value on the year in 12-team formats in a big enough sample size to not be ignored as a stop-gap solution or starter in a four-game week. P.J. Tucker had just five points and a steal in 22 minutes, and he’s also a late-round value in 12-team formats but it sure seems like in a perfect world the Suns would have Green or the Morris twins take the ball and run with it.
TOEJAM AND EARL
Zach Randolph missed another game due to his ingrown toenail, and it’s great to see somebody with personal hygiene that’s up to par with my own. Ed Davis reminded everybody that he’s a capable NBA player with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 12 boards and two blocks in a matchup that certainly favored his style, and with Randolph all-but certain to clip those toenails he’ll return to being a deep league guy with some limited upside pretty quick.
Jon Leuer had his name called for the first time all season with a career-high 23 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, a three and a 10-of-13 shooting line. He had some random explosions like this when he was in Milwaukee, so he’s not statistically adverse, but he needs an injury or two in front of him before he warrants consideration in the vast majority of formats.
Tony Allen survived a hip injury that briefly sidelined him and finished with 11 points, 5-of-11 FGs, and four steals in 24 minutes. Unless there is bad news with that hip he should be in most lineups going forward as a top 65-70 play in standard formats on the year. Mike Conley had the Suns on skates with his 18 points and 14 assists as he continues to cruise along at a top 20-25 rate, and Kosta Koufos should be surprising absolutely nobody with another 14 points, 12 boards, one steal and two blocks in the win.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Through three quarters last night against the Mavs the Bobcats finally got everybody going at the same time, but fell apart in the fourth quarter and failed to ride old war horse Al Jefferson in the final frame. Still, this was an encouraging night for all of their fantasy values, even if it came against one of the league’s more deficient defensive backcourts in banged up Jose Calderon (ankle) and Monta Ellis.
Jefferson hit 6-of-10 shots (7-of-10 FTs) for 19 points, 12 boards and three blocks, and he’s currently the No. 52/37 play on a per-game basis in fantasy leagues (8/9 cat). He’s going to improve as the season goes on but my concerns of small decreases in everything from minutes to field goal percentage and rebounding still persist. Durability and explosion are key issues and right now his 67.5 percent foul shooting and 1.6 blocks per game are going to regress in opposite directions, so there is no real hope for a major jump in value unless he can stay totally healthy and get his minutes up. I still don’t like his odds to do either of those things and ultimately exceed my preseason ranks.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist broke his left hand and he’ll be out for a while, which opens up the rotation right where Jeff Taylor could theoretically step in and be a fantasy factor. The only problem is that Taylor is inside of his own head right now and played just three minutes last night. Anthony Tolliver (26 minutes, three points, three boards) gobbled up lots of minutes and while he could theoretically go back to his Golden State days, his Atlanta days are a reminder to proceed with extreme caution. My sense is Taylor is the guy they’d like to play, but if he’s not hitting shots he becomes a big-time liability for an offense that is going to stand around and watch Jefferson operate.
As for Kemba Walker (7-of-15 FGs, 16 points, seven boards, five assists) and Gerald Henderson (7-of-11 FGs, 16 points, three boards) it was good to see them play efficiently with Jefferson dominating the touches. Walker even commented after the game that he needed to keep going back to Big Al, and that’s a sign he’s ready to relinquish control of the team. That’s not great for his fantasy value and for everything I know about Jefferson’s impact on his teammates’ production I feel like I swung and missed here having Kemba ranked so highly. He’s a top 80-100 play on the year and he’ll need to create some major synergy to avoid being a huge bust.
Josh McRoberts has probably been added and dropped as much as anybody in your 12-team league and the loss of MKG will probably float his value in those formats. He scored 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in 30 minutes last night and is worth a long look as a recommended add.
Owners should also be ready to move on Taylor if he shows signs of life, as Steve Clifford would probably prefer to play him heavy minutes at the three instead of rolling out a three-guard lineup with more Ramon Sessions, who struggled last night with 1-of-9 shooting, six points and two boards in 21 minutes. Likewise, if Taylor struggles and the Cats go small, Sessions could become a late-round value pretty quick.
Props go out to Jose Calderon (ankle) for getting back on the floor and one has to wonder about the development of Shane Larkin (nine minutes) and Gal Mekel (six minutes), most notably after all sorts of Larkin hype has fizzled. Calderon limped his way to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting (including four treys) but had just one assist and his issues were also the likely culprit for Shawn Marion’s slow night (eight points, 10 boards, one steal, 4-of-10 FGs).
Samuel Dalembert (two points, six rebounds, zero steals or blocks, 17 minutes, four fouls) got knocked around by Al Jefferson, and DeJuan Blair (two points, seven boards, three assists, five fouls) did too. That’s not a great way to be retained by fantasy owners with Brandan Wright’s return looming. Both are playing well enough to be owned and also given some benefit of the doubt, particularly in center-scarce formats, if anything because there is so little information about Wright’s situation in general. How is his shoulder? Will he step into a job or does he have to wait his turn? Wright can accumulate value pretty quick if given the minutes, but outside of very competitive, deeper formats this is a watch-from-the-wire moment for him in standard formats.
JOKE OF THE DAY
The Thunder did what the Thunder do (or is it the Thunder does what the Thunder does). This necessarily meant that Russell Westbrook (15 points, 7-of-19 FGs, eight boards, seven assists, seven turnovers) and Kevin Durant (27 points, 11 boards, three assists, two steals, one block, 10-of-10 FTs) were going to get theirs. Serge Ibaka (13 points, nine boards, two blocks) is now the No. 32/14 fantasy play on the year (8/9 cat), and over the last two weeks he’s a top 15-20 play. As durable as they come, I’m not ready to write off my first round grade for him just yet.
What can we say about Reggie Jackson that we haven’t said already, as usually friendly local beat writers make daily jokes about his lack of playing time. Last night he got a reprieve on that front, logging 31 minutes en route to 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and a three to continue hovering at the bottom of the top-100. Jeremy Lamb scored 14 points with a pair of threes in 24 minutes, and he’s sneaking into very late-round value in 12-team, 9-cat formats on the year. One has to think that the only direction is up for both players.
If you’re in one of those bizarro fantasy leagues where you start guys with the least value, Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher combined for 31 minutes, three points, two boards, four assists, a steal and a block. You can’t dream of value like that.
THE PIZZA GUY DELIVERS
Isaiah Thomas needed a bit of a reality check, as his defense had been slipping and being told to gun for the second unit his shot selection and ball security became issues over the past two games. Hence, the two stinkers and we saw Greivis Vasquez secure most of the playing time in that span. Things were on track for a similar outing as Thomas sat on just three points entering the fourth quarter, with Vasquez on his way to a 12-point, seven-assist night and 26 minutes under his belt.
Then the Pizza Guy delivered … and delivered … and delivered again. You could see the fire brewing, and the concentration lapse that can happen when a young player (finally) gets recognition simply disappeared. Thomas was back to playing excellent on-ball defense and like he did last year in Oklahoma City, he took over the fourth quarter and outscored the Thunder all by himself by the score of 21-19. He did it all – heat check threes from well beyond three, defensive plays diving on the ground, and the only thing he couldn’t do was race the ball up the court with no timeouts to score on a game-tying attempt that bounced off the rim.
Mike Malone raced out to center court to hug his player, knowing that he had been down recently, reminding him that the end result didn’t matter here. The Kings and Malone are tired of moral victories, but this was exactly that and it’s not surprising that locker room sources all talk about the great job that Malone is doing in Sacto.
DeMarcus Cousins, who was a late scratch due to a seemingly minor ankle injury, is volunteering all over Sacramento and with obvious exceptions he’s toeing the line just fine this season. While the Kings look terrible at times, they continue to play twice as hard as they ever did in the past five seasons.
For guys that have frustrated owners at times like Thomas (through no fault of his own), this is a great sign for their fantasy value. Thomas is a top 50-60 value on the season and should be in lineups all season long barring an unprecedented faceplant. For however much the team and local media want to make Vasquez the poster boy, Thomas drew his name into concrete on center court and even his staunchest detractors were left slack-jawed and yodeling. He is the beating heart of Sacramento’s increasingly scrappy unit.
Ben McLemore scored 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting with two threes, three boards, three assists and a steal in 29 minutes, and he’s doing the typical play-too-fast thing that rookies do. He’s still flashing incredible upside a handful of times per game. On a chase down block attempt his hand hit above the square, so start lobbying for him now to be in the dunk contest. In fantasy leagues he is putting up 14-16 team value over the past week and that makes him a mid-level roster stash right now – the minutes will be there late in the year and the only question for owners is when it all comes together.
You can count me out of the group of people that are sipping the Derrick Williams Kool-Aid, whether we’re talking fantasy or reality. Williams scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with one steal but goose-egged the rest of his stat line over 27 minutes, highlighting why he has a long way to go before anybody should be anointing this trade a win for Sacramento. Yes, the deal was fundamentally sound, but Williams has to do his part and that means crashing the boards, playing defense and understanding the offensive flow. A few flashy dunks aren’t selling me on any of those three issues and in fantasy leagues there’s nothing really to grab onto here. He’s not going to put up huge popcorn numbers consistently enough to offset his deficiencies in 12-14 team formats.
ROB FORD LEVEL EVENT
I was engulfed in the Kings game so I didn’t get to see all of the Raptors / Warriors game, but what I saw starting in the fourth quarter is what happens to a team that relies on one-on-one play. With no decipherable offense and absolutely no defense to show for their 27-point lead at one point, the Raptors wilted faster than a drunken best man that decides to tear up his speech and throw it over his shoulder.
The good news for fantasy owners is that everybody emerged okay for the most part, with DeMar DeRozan pacing the scoring with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, two threes, three assists and zeroes everywhere else. Rudy Gay hit 6-of-12 shots for 18 points, but had just four rebounds and zero assists to go with a three and two steals, and Kyle Lowry scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting with four rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two threes. Lowry also was evaluated (and passed) tests for a concussion last night after a shot to the face. Just keep an eye on things but it looks like he’ll be alright.
While the Raptors did well enough early to offset the late implosion for fantasy owners, one has to wonder what this game will do their psyches going forward. They’re living – or more accurately dying – by their wing attack and the papers aren’t going to be kind this morning. It was the type of loss that begs for change.
Amir Johnson got the message and on the topic of him and Jonas Valanciunas, I have been able to go back and see on tape the issues that have caused them to get benched. Johnson’s energy had been waning, which is what happens when you stand around and watch people play iso-ball, but he rectified that with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 10 rebounds, one steal and one block over 33 minutes. Tyler Hansbrough still played 29 minutes in his start, but managed just two points on 1-of-4 shooting to go with nine rebounds, three assists and a steal.
As long as Johnson is playing well he should go back to being a guy with mid-round upside, so run and grab him if he was dropped. Likewise, if Psycho T isn’t scoring and rebounding in chunks his value goes in the tank pretty quick, and he needed separation from Johnson to hold any sort of sustainable value. This position battle isn’t set in stone, but with those types of metrics I think owners can drop Hansbrough for a hot free agent in standard formats.
Valanciunas’ issues are a bit more pronounced, and also a chicken and egg situation at the same time, but the tape revealed a guy who is still showing his age by being out-of-sync with his teammates on both sides of the floor. Like most young players, the only cure for this is experience and the conundrum is whether or not to give that guy experience at the expense of wins and losses. The problem here, of course, is that Dwane Casey and the Raptors have stubbornly maintained that the team belongs to the wings, and that doesn’t allow for JV to take positive steps even when the strategy calls for him to be the point of attack. He started off quick but finished with just eight points, six rebounds and a block in 27 minutes, and for the foreseeable future he is simply a roster stash in 12-14 team formats.
ANY GIVEN TUESDAY
Jermaine O’Neal doesn’t have a nickname that I’m aware of, so I nominate Any Given Sunday as a nod to the motivational speeches and post-game interviews he’s dealing on a regular basis now. He apparently went all Al Pacino in the locker room at halftime and he was a big part of the Warriors’ comeback, relegating Andrew Bogut to the bench on an 11-point, eight-rebound, one-block night in 23 minutes off the bench. There’s no real fantasy value here for a number of reasons, but anybody that is surprised that he’s paying dividends for the Warriors didn’t play much fantasy basketball last year, as he was an effective big man for the Suns in spurts. For the Warriors he can give them spurts, and apparently he can give them goose bumps, too.
Stephen Curry might outplay his contract in one season, as Curry God-mode resulted in 27 points, three treys, three boards, 10 assists, five steals and one block, but it was the beauty of his shots that made this thriller. If Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Alba made love to a basketball at center court, Oracle Arena wouldn’t have noticed as Curry drained a moon-ball three over the outstretched arms of Rudy Gay.
Klay Thompson was his normal combination of silent but deadly with six dead-eye shots from his 3-point holster, finishing with 22 points, three rebounds, seven assists and a steal. Life without Andre Iguodala is pretty good. The same goes for Harrison Barnes, who scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and two steals over 31 minutes, and Draymond Green played big minutes down the stretch to finish with three points, one trey, five boards, two assists and three steals in 27 ticks – which are exactly the numbers you picked him up for as a stop-gap solution in 12-14 team formats.
Sam Amick reported that Warriors GM Bob Myers is “hopeful” that Iguodala can return in a “week or two,” which may be the most honest information owners will get for a while. Through normal channels, expect a tight lid to be kept on things and in the meantime all of the aforementioned will continue to do the job for fantasy owners.
TODAY IN KOBE
Kobe dunked a basketball yesterday and after two more days of practice (today and tomorrow) he will target Friday’s game in Sacramento for a return. Whether or not he goes is a mystery still, but it sure would be nice for weekly owners to get a look at the goods before the next session. I mentioned this a week or two ago and I’ll say it again – it will be interesting to see what style of play he goes to coming off what is a career-ending injury for mere mortals. Call it a gut feeling, but I see him operating out of the post more and moving the needle incrementally from ‘shoot’ to ‘pass.’
NEWS AND NOTES
J.R. Smith rested yesterday and this reportedly doesn’t have anything to do with his knee, but it’s hard to believe the knee isn’t at play here in some shape or form. The Knicks are gearing up for Thursday’s Toilet Bowl with the Nets, as New York’s two teams are battling for dysfunctional supremacy on every level.
Otto Porter (hip) has a chance to make his debut this week, highlighting a sudden embarrassment of riches on the wings for the Wiz, at least as we look to the later part of the year. Porter has a ton of catching up to do and he could easily be on the outside of the rotation looking in, though Friday’s game would be a good spot to see what he can do with the next game after that being two days later on Monday. Regardless, don’t go adjusting your projections for Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal just yet. Porter has a nice stat set from college, so if he ever got the opportunity he could make some noise but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Marquis Teague is back on the fantasy radar after Mike James suffered a sprained MCL. James played through it last night, but will likely take some time off. Needless to say Teague doesn’t have Tom Thibodeau’s confidence, but Kirk Hinrich’s health is the main factor here so keep an eye on him.
SOMEWHAT LARGE WEDNESDAY
DEN @ CLE: Keep an eye out for Nate Robinson’s wrist injury but otherwise the story will be Timofey Mozgov’s follow-up to his big night. Earl Clark is on the injury report with an illness, and it wouldn’t shock me at all to hear that Anthony Bennett gets the start at small forward. Keep your expectations tempered, but that’s flier-level stuff if it happens. Speaking of big nights from big men that came out of nowhere, Andrew Bynum will look to make good on his last performance while his teammates will simply try to stop bickering and play some defense.
LAC @ ATL: I’ll be watching Darren Collison heading into this game to see if the Clippers decide to roll with more three-guard lineups now that J.J. Redick is out. The alternatives are Jared Dudley, Willie Green and rookie Reggie Bullock. It doesn’t hurt that Atlanta’s poor guard depth makes this a plus matchup. Kyle Korver (ribs) is still day-to-day and that opens things up considerably for DeMarre Carroll and Cartier Martin, while Lou Williams is more or less on his own program. Sweet Lou will play as many minutes as his on-court rehab will allow. Korver isn’t making his life breaking the 3-point shooting record any easier by doing it cold whenever he returns.
DAL @ NO: The Mavs have the potential to scuffle with Jose Calderon gutting out this ankle injury on the tail-end of the back-to-back. You may want to back off daily league projections for players like Shawn Marion, Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair that are reliant upon others to get them the ball. Then again, the Hornets are paper thin right now so the ease factor could offset the issue. Anthony Davis got slapped with a 4-6 week timetable with his non-displaced fracture in his left hand. I’m getting asked a lot about whether or not to trade for him and the answer is going to be yes most of the time. If it was his right hand I’d be a bit more gun shy, and yes he’s an injury risk but it’s hard to hold this injury against him as it was just an unlucky break all the way around. Get your Hornets fired up tonight, as all of the fantasy worthy guys are getting big minutes and plenty of touches to go around.
PHO @ HOU: The Suns may have struggled last night but a game against Houston will do wonders for them in this projected shootout. The Rockets came out flat in their last game and they need to push the pace to be at their best, and Patrick Beverley’s owners need him to be a part of that equation. Chandler Parsons is questionable with his back issue, and the crew of Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi and Aaron Brooks will be called upon to pick up the slack if he can’t go.
DET @ MIL: The Pistons head into a trap game against the Bucks with a rematch of last night’s game coming this weekend. The Bucks will simply try to put one foot in front of the other again tonight.
IND @ UTA: What can the Pacers and Paul George do for an encore after their tough loss to the Blazers? Beat up on the Jazz, though I like the way the Jazz matchup even if they’re more than a cut below Indy. Gordon Hayward profiles decently as a guy with length that could bother George. Look for whoever is getting covered by Richard Jefferson to have the big night, and George Hill will likely teach Trey Burke a thing or two about defense tonight.
Jeremy Evans missed yesterday’s practice with the flu and is a game-time decision tonight. An absence could help Enes Kanter get off the schnied. Marvin Williams’ heel issue is of bigger consequence for Kanter, as Williams walked like John Elway to the defensive side of the floor on Monday night after a fast break dunk, reminding us that he’s a tough bet to stay healthy at this stage in his career. If Kanter was dropped in your league, something I’m not really down with to begin with, find the room on your roster to make it work. The Jazz have a lot invested in him and they need to make it work with him and Derrick Favors as a tandem.
SA @ MIN: Kawhi Leonard showed a few flashes of his ever-elusive upside last week but the overall picture hasn’t been pretty, relatively speaking of course, and I’ve been enjoying the coverage over at Pounding the Rock on the whole topic (and believe me it’s a topic). As with Ersan Ilyasova, and also with Kawhi last year, things don’t always end how they start and that’s the takeaway for now. Am I going to sit here with my head in the sand and say everything is great? No, and I’d expect you guys to hold my feet to the fire if I did. Gregg Popovich is a results-based guy and Leonard is still playing without confidence, but some of his indicators are easily fixable (3-point shooting) and he hasn’t even gotten to the point where he can build on performances, improve, etc. Nor have the Spurs had any reason to rush his development early in the year. It’s going to take a major change in direction for Leonard to live up to my lofty preseason ranking, but as those that cover the team closely know – this story is far from being written.
The Wolves make for a great opponent if you’re a basketball nerd, as Pop and Rick Adelman can move their chess pieces around the board in a game that could easily be the one we’re talking about tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tiago Splitter play a bit more to counter Nikola Pekovic, while Boris Diaw is probably the Spurs’ best matchup against Kevin Love. That presents some lineup issues for Pop to navigate, since Duncan banging with Pek isn’t something the Spurs want in bulk at this time of year.
OKC @ POR: The Thunder expended way more energy than they wanted to against the Kings last night, and we all get treated with another test of what the Blazers are capable of. Serge Ibaka hasn’t been the best perimeter defender in the past, but he has refined that part of his game and he’s going to challenge LaMarcus Aldridge’s towering fadeaway as well as anybody in the league. Nicolas Batum covering Kevin Durant is delectable, Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard is a treat, and Kendrick Perkins vs. Robin Lopez is a buddy sitcom waiting to happen.