There were only two games on Thursday night, both of which are discussed later in today's column. We begin with a quick look at NBA matchups.
Fantasy owners with weekly lineups often focus on the number of games played by a team/player in a given week, without only vague attention paid to matchups -- you cringe if your best player is going up against the Pacers. But if you play in leagues with daily lineups, and particularly if you've waded into the world of daily fantasy leagues, you're aware how critical matchups are for fantasy production. The following team rankings were valid last night, though the two games played on Thursday may have caused minor variations. Teams are listed in descending order for 'most' or 'highest' per game, but teams are listed in ascending order for 'fewest' or 'lowest' per game:
Most possessions per game (fastest pace) -- Lakers, Timberwolves, 76ers, Warriors, Rockets, Mavericks/Clippers
Fewest possessions per game (slowest pace) -- Raptors, Kings, Pacers, Grizzlies, Bobcats, Bucks
Allow the most points -- 76ers, Clippers, Rockets, Lakers, Wizards, Pistons
Allow the fewest points -- Pacers, Spurs, Bulls, Raptors, Bobcats, Suns
Allow the most steals -- Thunder, 76ers, Lakers, Mavericks, Bulls, Jazz
Allow the fewest steals -- Kings, Spurs, Knicks, Bobcats, Hawks, Suns
Allow the most blocks -- Bulls, Magic, Nuggets, Pelicans, Rockets, Raptors
Allow the fewest blocks -- Heat, Trail Blazers, Nets, Warriors, Clippers
Allow the most rebounds -- Lakers, Wizards, 76ers, Timberwolves, Bucks, Nuggets
Allow the fewest rebounds -- Grizzlies, Heat, Pacers, Raptors, Clippers, Trail Blazers
Allow the most 3-pointers made -- 76ers (at 12.3 per game, they are miles ahead of any other team), Rockets, Hawks, Thunder, Heat, Mavericks
Allow the fewest 3-pointers made -- Celtics, Trail Blazers, Magic, Warriors, Pacers, Raptors
Allow the most assists -- 76ers, Lakers, Wizards, Cavaliers, Hawks, Clippers
Allow the fewest assists -- Pacers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Jazz, Bucks, Celtics
Allow the highest FG percentage -- Pistons, Wizards, Pelicans, Clippers, Heat, Grizzlies
Allow the lowest FG percentage -- Pacers, Rockets, Warriors, Bulls, Spurs, Suns
Allow the most FT attempts -- Clippers, Mavericks, Warriors, Knicks, Nets, Celtics
Allow the fewest FT attempts -- Spurs, Timberwolves, 76ers, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Hawks
These rankings, all readily available on a dozen different sites, will change fairly often and are based on a small sample size, but they give some indication of teams’ strengths and weaknesses. So for instance, should you play Wesley Matthews vs. the Celtics on Friday? Possibly, but the Celtics negate Matthews' strengths by shutting down the 3-point line (fewest 3s allowed). They're more prone to chase shooters even if it leads to a foul (sixth-most FTs allowed), but Matthews only attempts 2.5 FTs per game and is making them at a 75 percent clip. The applications of such matchup-based data are limitless, and they're critical to maximizing the production of your roster. Now, let's dive into last night's games.
Andre Iguodala made 5-of-6 field goals and dished out nine assists vs. the Thunder on Thursday, and his final bucket was a game-winning 16-foot jumper which gave the Warriors a last-second victory. His shot was even more stunning since it came immediately after a dramatic shot from Russell Westbrook, who drained a contested 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining to give the Thunder an improbable, come-from-behind lead in the game's final seconds. It wouldn't last long.
According to NBA.com's gorgeous stats database, Iguodala shot better from the field, beyond the arc and at the FT line in 'clutch' situations last season. In the final five minutes of games decided by five or fewer points, his 3-point percentage took a particularly massive leap, from his 2012-13 average of 31.7 percent to a healthy 41.7 percent. His game-winner on Thursday night isn't as surprising in light of such information, but I just looked this stuff up -- my jaw dropped when Iguodala's shot dropped through the net last night.
The man who assisted Iguodala, fittingly, was Klay Thompson, himself the author of a team-high 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and three blocks. He attempted only one free throw, but that's forgivable from a guy making 50 percent of his voluminous attempts from downtown this season -- he was 6-of-9 from beyond the arc on Thursday and currently ranks fifth in the league in 3s per game.
(The temporary, one-game leader in 3-pointers per game is Wilson Chandler (hamstring), who drained four 3-point shots on his way to 12 points, five rebounds and two steals in his season debut on Wednesday. He only made 4-of-11 FGs overall but, but Brian Shaw has obviously given him a green light to shoot the ball, he's always been a versatile fantasy option when healthy, and Denver has a glaring need for a starting-caliber SF. It's worth repeating -- make sure that he's owned in your leagues.)
Getting back to the Warriors game, Stephen Curry scored 22 points with four 3-pointers and nine assists, further evidence that his ankle is just fine. Andrew Bogut scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds, adding three steals to compensate for a goose-egg in the blocks department. His current rate of 1.4 blocks per game is Bogut's lowest since the 2008-09 season, and he's averaging a mere 5.8 points, but at least he's healthy. David Lee scored 20 points for only the second time in the past seven games, adding four rebounds and three assists, while Harrison Barnes added 16 points in 23 minutes to lead all reserves. I like Barnes as a player but nothing about his stats last year (or this year) suggests he'll have reliable fantasy value in average leagues, particularly in a bench role.
Westbrook's would-be game-winner gave him a season-high 31 points on the night -- he made 13-of-20 FGs with two 3-pointers, nine boards, five assists and three steals in 36 minutes. Owners who plucked him out of the early-middle drafts have to be elated, and I imagine WB will be a common thread in winning fantasy teams this season. Reggie Jackson also played well, chipping in 12 points, five rebounds and three assists off the bench. The most encouraging outcome may have been his presence on the court down the stretch -- Scott Brooks played him alongside Westbrook in a small lineup with Serge Ibaka at center. It's hard to get too excited considering Jackson's lackluster play through eight games -- he's made 12-of-12 free throws but is shooting only 42.6 percent from the field, including a paltry 3-of-16 from downtown.
With Kendrick Perkins in Texas following the death of his grandfather, the Thunder started Steven Adams at center -- it didn't go well and he scored only three points in 14 minutes before cooling his heels on the bench without a single rebound or assist to his credit. He'll bounce back before long, but this is life for most NBA rookies.
Serge Ibaka seized the moment and wound up with 27 points on stellar shooting (9-of-14 FGs and 9-of-9 FTs), to go along with 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. He began the season with a few slow games before Russell Westbrook returned to OKC's lineup, but in the four games before Thursday's outburst he was averaging 16.5 points on 69.8 percent FGs, 9.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 2.3 blocks. His ability to deliver bona fide big-man stats, without sinking your FT percentage, gives him a unique edge in eight- and nine-cat leagues.
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Shifting our attention to the evening's other contest, James Harden's status for Thursday's game vs. New York was a mystery until just before tip-off. He sat out the previous night with an ailing left foot, and already this season he's dealt with a sore right foot, back and wrist, so owners had every reason to be apprehensive. Harden felt good enough to play, however, wound up dominating the Knicks with 36 points and nine rebounds en route to a 109-106 Rockets' victory.
He made two 3-pointers with one steal, two assists and five turnovers, but this game was all about Harden overcoming adversity to score the ball in bunches. He made 16-of-18 free throws which highlights his greatest strength in eight- and nine-cat leagues -- he's shooting 84.3 percent at the FT line, and he trails only Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant with 8.8 FT attempts per game.
That's great news for fantasy owners -- for example, his dominant evening helped me pass RW's Mike Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher), at least temporarily, in FT percentage in our 30-Deep matchup this week. The downside is that eventually Harden's physical approach will wear him down. He's averaging a career-high 40 minutes per game despite the above-mentioned ailments and gets to the FT line in ways which often differ from fellow FTs-per-game leaders Durant and Dwight. The NBA has actually adjusted their rules to account for Durant's patented rip-through jump shot, where he baits a defender into stretching out an arm only to raise up for a contact-laden jumper. Dwight's fouls are sometimes of the benign Hack-a-Howard variety, but they're often quite vicious -- fortunately he has the shoulders of a rhinoceros and can absorb obscene amounts of contact. Don't get me wrong, Harden is built like an industrial-strength welding machine for shooting guard cyborgs. But even so, the litany of abuse he takes on his way to the FT line will take a physical toll. And perhaps is already has, if his recent DNP and daily injury report are an indication...not to mention this not-safe-while-eating photo of his left foot.
Is it too early to nominate Jeremy Lin for sixth-man of the year? He's averaging 28.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.0 steals in Houston's past three games, despite ostensibly serving as Patrick Beverley's backup. He scored 21 points in 31 minutes vs. the Knicks, adding five boards and three assists, while Beverley had only five points and two assists in 27 minutes. The pendulum will swing both ways on this PG position-battle and owners should simply ride Lin's hot hand for as long as possible.
Omer Asik reportedly requested a trade after being shifted to the Rockets' second unit, and he never left the bench in Thursday's road win vs. the Knicks. Asik's obstinate approach to making millions of dollars is great news for Terrence Jones, who started at PF on Thursday and scored six points with eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 34 minutes. He didn't have any blocks but that seems like an anomaly, as he's amazingly averaged more swats (1.0) than turnovers (0.6) in his career.
Will the Rockets trade Asik? I have no idea, but my assumption is that they absolutely must trade him. He has enormous value around the league as a defensive anchor, he has a reasonable contract ($8.4 million next year in the final year of his deal), and he's openly dissatisfied with a role behind Dwight Howard. In the RW Draft Guide I pre-supposed that he would be dealt this year, and factored it into his season-long value. Unfortunately, and here is the real crux for fantasy owners...Asik may not be worth owning no matter where he lands. He averaged a double-double last season but blocked a relatively disappointing 1.1 shots per game, coupled with hellacious FT shooting and almost no assists or steals.
Greg Smith sprained his right knee early in Thursday's game and will have an MRI to determine the severity of the injury -- if he misses any time, both Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones will be pressed into heavy minutes every game, and with Asik presumably unavailable they must avoid foul trouble at all costs.
The Knicks fell to 3-5 despite an amazing performance from reigning scoring champ Carmelo Anthony, who looked the part on his way to 45 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a block. He made 17-of-30 FGs and 9-of-11 FTs and looks very comfortable back at the PF spot. The Knicks' small lineup produced 24 points from Andrea Bargnani, who is averaging a healthy 16.3 points on 53.6 percent shooting, with 1.7 triples, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game in seven starts. The FG percentage probably isn't sustainable, but it's all free money for fantasy owners who claimed him after Tyson Chandler (leg) went down 4-6 weeks.
J.R. Smith shot 4-of-16 from the field but compensated with a full stat line and zero turnovers, Iman Shumpert took a backseat offensively (two points) while playing his usual brand of defense and grabbing six rebounds, and Raymond Felton looked just as bad as he has all season. Felton scored eight points and handed out seven assists, but he turned the ball over five times and is clearly laboring with a hamstring injury which he has said might nag him for weeks. If you have enough depth, bench Felton until he gets it together. It's unclear to me why Mike Woodson wouldn't give Pablo Prigioni (seven minutes) and Beno Udrih (DNP-CD) more playing time, at the very least to get Felton extra rest. Oh well.
I'll conclude with a few bonus takes on three players of interest:
The Hawks didn't play on Thursday but I feel compelled to talk about Jeff Teague. He is easily averaging career-highs with 18.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 9.9 assists per game, in addition to a solid 0.8 three-pointers and 1.4 steals. What really catches my eye is that Teague is making a mere 40.3 percent of his field goals despite a career average of 44.9 percent, so his scoring numbers are bound to improve. He's also attempting 7.1 FTs per game vs. his previous career-high of 2.8 per game. Lou Williams (ACL surgery) has been upgraded to day-to-day and will return as soon as his conditioning allows, but I'm not overly concerned about the impact he'll have on Teague's production.
Fantasy owners were given a fright when Kyle Lowry tore a tendon in his left ring finger during a preseason game on October 23rd. The good news is that he's averaging 13.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game despite having his finger immobilized. If he wears the splint for exactly six weeks, it will be removed on December 4th.
A guy wearing a splint would rationally struggle with his shot, but Lowry is defying logic with a career-best 2.3 three-pointers per game on 43.8 percent shooting beyond the arc. He's still averaging 1.1 steals and 5.2 assists, both tolerable numbers, and the only category he's struggling in is FT percentage -- he's a career 78.2 percent shooter from the line, but he's at just 65.7 percent this year.
The Nets play 18 more back-to-back sets during the 2013-14 season, which means 18 potential DNPs for fantasy owners. They are as follows:
November: 15/16, 26/27, 29/30
January: 10/11, 20/21, 26/27, 31/Feb 1
February: 6/7, 12/13, 22/23, 26/27
March: 9/10, 23/24
April: 1/2, 4/5, 8/9, 15/16
Even if KG only misses 13-14 games this year, for instance, that’s 16.7 percent of his season (and fantasy value) down the drain. For perspective, he missed 14 games last season even without a strict policy against back-to-back sets, and despite playing a career-low 29.7 minutes per game. The additional rest may make him more effective and mobile during the games in which he plays, but the added efficiency will be nowhere near enough to offset a pile of DNPs. And if early returns this season are an indication, his extra rest won’t do much good – he logged six points and eight rebounds in under 15 minutes vs. the Kings on Wednesday, even though Brooklyn was coming off three consecutive days of rest.
Garnett was a top-50 option in eight-cat leagues last year, on a per-game basis, but the equation has dramatically changed in Brooklyn. No longer is Rajon Rondo threading passes through a thicket of defenders. No longer is Garnett comfortably operating as his team’s primary post option – even the Nets’ guards are proficient on the block. With more DNPs looming and such a maelstrom of question marks surrounding him, owners who don’t view KG as a luxury (i.e. those at the top of their leagues) may have to cut him if his production doesn’t improve in the next two weeks.