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Rampage Into the Break

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Summer League Summary 3
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The 2014 summer league is winding down. Mike Gallagher sums up some of the noteworthy players

We’re cruising into the All Star break and the trade deadline is right around the corner, and with 65 percent of the season done it’s officially crunch-time in fantasy leagues.  Frankly, I’m not sure where all the time went but there’s no time to wax poetic about that.  There are 13 games tonight and it’s a classic time for surprise DNPs and the like.  Stay glued to our player news page and be sure to follow me on Twitter to get your news in real time

We’ll be putting out trade deadline pieces throughout the next week and All Star break is when the deal-making truly starts to take form.  If I had to project how much action we’ll see during this deadline it will definitely be more than last year, but how much more is debatable at this point.  All it takes is for one domino to fall and things can get crazy, but it’s definitely much too early to call the action. 

Let’s clear the slate of last night’s action, which was fairly significant for a seven-game night, and then we’ll be back together tomorrow to pick up all the pieces from what is likely going to be a very interesting night. 

OFFENSIVE DEFENSE

The Mavs got caught looking ahead to the Pacers game tonight and got walloped by the Bobcats when the defense didn’t get off the bus.  Dirk Nowitzki survived an ankle injury and said he will play tonight, finishing last night’s game with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds and one assist.  Monta Ellis took a nice step forward from his hamstring injury with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, four rebounds, seven assists and two steals, but like everybody else he was a zero on defense. 

Shawn Marion (six points, four rebounds, 28 minutes) still doesn’t look right following his shoulder injury but especially with the All Star break right around the corner owners should be nowhere near panicking on the mid-round value.  Jose Calderon got served with just eight points, two assists and two threes in his 23 minutes before being benched, and Samuel Dalembert broke the miniscule momentum he had created with four points and six boards in his 18 minutes while getting abused by Big Al.  Devin Harris (nine points, five assists) injured his foot when it was stepped on and that makes him a hard deep-league spot-start tonight, if he plays.   

SHARING IN CHARLOTTE

The Bobcats came into last night’s blowout win over the Mavs ranked 23rd in assists as a team and ended up setting the league-high mark for the year with 42 dimes.  Josh McRoberts showed why he has been so valuable to the Bobcats this season as a general facilitator and post-entry guy with 13 assists to go with his nine points, two steals and three treys.  He’s not going to be anywhere near this good going forward, obviously, but he’s well worth an add in 12-team leagues after a game like this.  He’s a top 85-100 value on the season after his recent surge. 

Al Jefferson is delivering body blows to my dismissive preseason ranking with another solid 30-point night, hitting 14-of-23 shots with eight rebounds and two blocks.  It’ll be a horse race down to the end on a season-long No. 56/35 rank (8/9 cat) I gave him.  He’s at No. 48/32 and needs to stay relatively healthy to beat me down. 

Kemba Walker (seven points, 2-of-9 FGs, nine boards, nine assists, two blocks) left the game late due to Achilles’ soreness, but beat writer Rick Bonnell openly questioned if the allure of playing in his hometown of New York would keep him in the lineup tonight.  Unless the tenor of the news changes there shouldn’t be any mad scramble to add Ramon Sessions (five points, eight assists, 23 minutes).  The same thing applies to Anthony Tolliver (22 points, five threes, one rebound, 5-of-5 FTs), who is a candidate for straight zeroes if he’s not hitting his threes. 

HAWKIN UP HAIRBALLS

I’m not sure why Atlanta is getting the love it seems to be getting from some pundits (I honestly can’t recall who they are), but I’ve heard the Hawks projected as the third best team in the East and I know we’re talking about the East here but this is a team that has serious problems with depth.  As we’ve talked about here they are a relatively easy team to defend when any of their main cogs struggle, which is what happened with Paul Millsap (15 points, 6-of-15 FGs, two boards, one block) and Jeff Teague (12 points, 6-of-9 FGs, three assists, one steal, one block). 

There’s nothing wrong with Millsap’s value, which should stay in the top 10-20 range as long as he’s healthy.  Teague addressed two big areas last night by hitting more than half of his shots while putting up defensive stats, but it’s going to take more than this meager output to convince owners that he’s going to start hitting triples or stealing the ball. 

DeMarre Carroll (11 points, one three, one block) had a down night and Kyle Korver (seven points, two threes, three boards, four assists, one steal, one block) couldn’t score but he had an otherwise versatile night.  Both are guys you want on your fantasy squad given their locked-in roles. 

Elton Brand has made some noise over the last five games with 2.0 blocks per game and along with 8.2 points and 7.0 boards he’s worth a look as a desperation play in deeper formats.  Mike Scott (18 minutes, eight points, two boards, two threes) is a bit of a roller coaster for 12-14 team owners and he struggled last night, but he has been a late-round value in those formats throughout the last two months and he’s doing it in just 20 minutes per game.  That’s an upside equation owners should try to make room for in those leagues. 

RISE OF TAJ

Say whatever you want about the depleted Bulls – they’re nowhere near tanking and Taj Gibson is on the verge of busting out.  He scored 24 points on 12-of-19 shooting with 12 boards, five assists and a block in 46 minutes with Carlos Boozer (calf) out.  Boozer is expected to sit out at least through the All Star break and the toothpaste is already out of the tube on that position battle, even if Boozer will return to his starting job according to longtime Bulls writer Sam Smith. 

While Tom Thibodeau won’t let Boozer lose his job due to injury, it doesn’t really matter as Gibson’s role has evolved whether he starts or comes off the bench.  He’s a piece of the offensive attack now on a team that’s asking Kirk Hinrich (10 points, 4-of-12 FGs, two threes, six assists, two steals) to step up due to their lack of firepower.  The same reason D.J. Augustin (13 points, 4-of-11 FGs, four threes, four boards, four assists, one steal) has been called upon to be a pillar of the offense is the same reason Gibson will be, too – the Bulls don’t have anybody else to go to.  Jimmy Butler hit 5-of-9 shots for 12 points, 13 boards and a steal last night but he hasn’t been able to hit north of 40 percent, and Mike Dunleavy (15 points, six boards, one steal, one block) is hit or miss. 

When Boozer returns he’ll probably be given 5-10 games to hold his starting job or he may even hang onto it indefinitely, but the minute distribution is all-but certain to swing heavily in Gibson’s favor.  If the Bulls suffer even one injury to the frontcourt, his playing time will go through the roof.  He will continue to be called upon to score the rock.  Sell-high if you’re getting a sweet deal, but this isn’t a by-the-book sell-high moment. 

Butler is a by-the-book buy-low guy as he can’t shoot this bad forever, Augustin is a solid hold, and owners should be fading Hinrich’s value at all times. 

Joakim Noah’s triple-double of 19 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists and three blocks could have easily gotten the cover of this article, but there’s really nothing new to see here.  He’s not going to stop playing until he gets dragged off the floor and Thibs will nod in approval all the way.  The Bulls need him to be this type of player.  If he stays relatively healthy and doesn’t add at least a round to his season-long top-36 value I’d be surprised. 

WASHINGTON GRIDLOCK

After averaging 30 points for two games against the Cavs and Spurs, John Wall got outplayed by Isaiah Thomas on Sunday and last night he struggled after losing his pick-and-roll buddy in Marcin Gortat (fouls) as Grizz coach Dave Joerger put it after the game. 

Wall ended up with just five points on 2-of-10 shooting, three rebounds, five assists and no steals, blocks or threes against Nick Calathes.  Absent a minor injury to somehow pop up over the next few days, it sure seems like he has checked out a few days early.  As for any worry about Bradley Beal’s impact, I have none.  If anything, the gains Wall will make in his high-volume field goal shooting will probably overshadow any minimal losses in counting stats.  He hits six points higher from the field with Beal in the lineup. 

The Wizards probably win this game if they get anything out of Wall, Trevor Ariza (10 points, 2-of-7 FGs, four boards, one steal, one block) or Marcin Gortat (10 points, six boards, zero steals or blocks, 22 minutes, foul trouble).  That’s because Bradley Beal went absolutely unconscious with a career-high 37 points on 15-of-24 shooting, five treys, five boards and two assists in 37 minutes.  It’s safe to say the minute limit has probably elapsed and the All Star break is a nice little bonus toward his durability. 

His top-100 per-game value on the year is nowhere near the amount of hype that Beal gets here and elsewhere.  However, he has been able to lift his value over the past month by maintaining a 44.1 percent field goal percentage in his limited 31-minute per game role.  Less is more in fantasy leagues when you’re firing away at a high volume sub-40 percent mark from the field, and the minute-limit had a calming effect on Beal in that respect. 

Now the trick is going to be whether or not he can maintain that type of efficiency because steals (1.0) and blocks (0.2) aren’t his thing.  Everything else is.  If he can add it all together he can be an early round play.  I think there is enough potential improvement and special talent here to guarantee a mid-round return as long as he is healthy. 

Nene added 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, three steals and one block in his 36 minutes, and owners should be working the phones hard trying to move him while he’s upright. 

GRIZZLED ROOKIE

The Grizzlies find themselves in a unique situation with Nick Calathes playing legitimately well and Mike Conley (ankle) being locked in as their point guard of the future.  Calathes scored 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in another start for Conley, which is obviously great for owners and only going to last as long as Conley remains out.  Opposing teams certainly have plenty of tape on Calathes and being honest here I haven’t had the time to dig deep here and really look at his game.  Teams are probably doing the same thing I’m doing if they’re in the market for a point guard and wondering if Memphis might deal their backup. 

And that’s the unique opportunity here.  For Memphis he is nothing but a backup playing behind Conley and the team really likes Courtney Lee.  Tony Allen is signed long-term.  Calathes looks like a less-flashy version of Greivis Vasquez at the point, a big guard with the ability to both make plays and also hit the three.  Athleticism is obviously an issue (as are free throws).  One key difference I’ve seen in just a small amount of tape review is that he seems to have better defensive awareness than Vasquez and might be able to survive or at least be hidden, and his 0.8 steals in 16.1 mpg this year shows that he can play the passing lanes. 

Can the Grizzlies dangle this six-game audition as legitimate trade bait?  Calathes has averaged 15.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.5 threes and 53.5 percent shooting (42.9 3P%) while going 3-3 following last night’s win over the Wizards.  Would it make sense for them to do it?  Can they get by turning their offense over to Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Courtney Lee when Conley isn’t on the floor?  This may be the team’s best time to convince another suitor that they can get a massive bargain on a 20-25 minute contributor making just $2 million this year and next – one that is showing he can hold his own at two guard slots in a pinch. 

This would be a bold move for a team competing to win now.  Not having a backup point guard lined up could prove to be a disaster now or in the playoffs and Calathes is a nice luxury to have.  But if Conley gets hurt at any point the Grizzlies aren’t winning anything anyway.  Finding a backup point guard to fit into a 15-minute per game slot shouldn’t be the end of the world, and at this rate they won’t want to pay what Calathes is worth at the end of next year. 

If he’s worth that much.  Maybe this is small sample size theatre and in his next audition he crashes and burns.  Right now the Grizzlies hold a what-if card that’s probably worth more to another team right now than he will ever be for the Grizzlies, even if he’s shaping up to be a rock solid backup for a team competing to represent the West. 

Marc Gasol owners have to feel better after he put up 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a perfect 4-of-4 mark from the line.  After two straight eight-point games and a very slow start to his comeback a result like this would suggest that he’s fitting in nicely to my top 20-40 projection once he gets closer to 100 percent, perhaps after the All Star break.  I’ve been bearish on Gasol all season, and that projection could slide if he doesn’t get things fixed after some rest. 

Zach Randolph went for 13 and 10 on 4-of-11 shooting with no steals or blocks, and that’s not getting it done for owners who should view him as a late-round asset in standard leagues.  Courtney Lee’s ankle isn’t yet at 100 percent, which underscores his new value proposition as he was still able to score 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting with two steals, one block and a three in 34 minutes.  Let’s worry about Tony Allen’s return when it happens, even though it would be a surprise if Lee didn’t at least lose a few rounds off his mid-round value over the last month.  James Johnson blocked his 16th 3-point attempt on the season last night, and I don’t have any idea where that stands among his peers but it sure seems like a unique feat.  He dropped in 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting (7-of-10 FTs) with two rebounds, two steals and one block in 25 minutes off the bench.  A top 65-80 play over the past two months I have no idea why that can’t work for owners in standard leagues.  Unless he falls off a cliff that’s a large enough sample size to set it and forget it. 

THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF MIAMI

It was a prototypical LeBron James game in the Heat’s eventual takeover of the Suns last night, and the game’s No. 1 player ended up with 37 points on 12-of-22 shooting (11-of-14 FGs), nine boards, three assists, five steals and two threes in 41 minutes.  There are plenty of reasons to buy into James’ legacy as an NBA player, and though I’ve questioned where the Heat stand on the list of great teams – the fact that James has done what he has done with his supporting casts is nothing short of incredible. 

Last night’s performance against the Suns doesn’t do anything to move the needle on his legacy or start etching him into the NBA’s Mount Rushmore.  But what he does with a savvy but depleted Heat team in this year’s playoffs will, as a three-peat essentially opens the door for him. Win and he gets into the discussion.  Whether he stays in Miami or goes somewhere else, he's almost certain to negotiate a better roster situation than he has right now with Dwyane Wade on his last legs and Chris Bosh not getting any younger. 

If he wins this season, he'll have taken the fatally flawed Cavs to the limit (before tapping out) and he'll have carried most of the load in a three-peat.  If he doesn't make it, he'll have titles against a dysfunctional Thunder team and a Spurs team five years past its prime.  Any subsequent titles won't require the Herculean lift of the first two.  Even if he wins a couple more it will likely be as a No. 1A or as a No. 1B, which will pale in comparison to what his legacy will be if he does that and goes for the trifecta this year as the No. 1, 2 and sometimes 3.  

Add to that type of run and then we'll start the exercise of figuring out who to knock off of basketball's Mount Rushmore (Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Anthony Randolph). 

For fantasy owners, the next two months should be great.  LeBron looks like he’s in incredible shape and he’ll have a message to send before finally gearing down for the playoffs. 

Dwyane Wade did not play last night because that’s what he’s all about this season, and Chris Bosh was effective with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and eight rebounds but he did not have any steals or blocks.  Mario Chalmers has been hit or miss lately and last night won’t do much to change that assessment on a 13-point, one-assist night with two steals and a three.  While LeBron could end up taking some of Chalmers’ touches during the aforementioned surge, it seems much more likely that this is more of a dip in the point guard’s production and a buy-low moment. 

GREEN DAY

The Suns played down to the size of Miami last night and though they hung in they eventually lost.  Owners of Miles Plumlee (14 minutes, two points, six boards) can find some solace in the fact that he was likely benched because he couldn’t make the Heat pay on the offensive end of the court, though my game plan would always be to pound the Heat at all costs. 

It was your otherwise typical outing for the Suns.  Gerald Green had a ‘good’ night with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, five threes, five boards, one steal and one block, and when you factor in the bad nights he has been a top 40-50 value over the past 30 games.  Plan accordingly. 

Channing Frye hit 6-of-13 shots for 15 points and that’s usually good news as it came with three treys and six boards but no steals or blocks. P.J. Tucker was a necessity against James and turned in a good line with 14 points, eight boards, five assists, one block and two threes.  Frye is a must-own guy returning mid-round value with a heavy tilt upward in 9-cat leagues, and Tucker is a late-round guy that comes and goes but is extremely hot right now with early round value this week. 

Goran Dragic finally slowed down with 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting with two threes, three boards, nine assists, four steals, one block and a 5-of-5 mark from the line.  Owners can cut him some slack as he’s returning top 15-20 value on the season, but let me be the first guy to suggest selling that action high before the All Star break.  There’s enough ambiguity about Eric Bledsoe’s injury to return a stud, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a story run about Bledsoe’s timetable this weekend.  With the Suns talking with the Lakers about a trade that could benefit them now in a playoff run, that would seem to indicate that Bledsoe’s season is not in jeopardy.  That’s enough fog for owners to clear a decent profit, albeit with some risk, but that’s the business we have chosen. 

Markieff Morris logged 33 minutes and put up 12 points, three boards, two blocks and a steal, which as usual will whet the appetite but it’s anybody’s guess if owners can catch him when he’s hot.  As just a lower-end late round value in 12-team leagues on the year, it’s anybody’s guess if he’ll ever tap into the elusive upside.  He fits the profile of a player one would want to hold, but I wouldn’t pass up on a mid-level free agent to do it. 

HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT

Maybe it was the announcers but the Thunder/Blazers game just wasn’t all that exciting for a heavyweight fight that went down to the wire.  Neither team could buy a bucket late but the Thunder were able to prevail on the road because Kevin Durant was Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge (5-of-22 FGs) was banged up and ice-cold.  Durant saw coverage from two excellent defenders in Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews but still threw down 36 points on 15-of-28 shooting with 10 rebounds, a three and a steal, though the eight turnovers and meager two assists effectively throw a bone to Batum and Matthews for the job they did. 

Beyond Durant it was a roller coaster at best with the starters going scoreless deep into the game, but Reggie Jackson was able to claw back and finish with 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a three, and Serge Ibaka still managed 11 boards to go with his seven points, one steal and two blocks.  There was a Jeremy Lamb sighting as he hit a big shot late and finished with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, five rebounds, two threes and a steal.  Owners can view his value skeptically in standard leagues until Scott Brooks extends his role, but so close to the All Star break he might be setup for a nice game if Thabo Sefolosha (hand) misses Thursday’s game. 

Wack fantasy leaguers tracking Kendrick Perkins (two points, three boards, 27 minutes) and Derek Fisher (six points, two threes, 15 minutes) were probably thrilled with the outcome.  Fisher has been on fire from distance lately, hitting 19 of his last 34 shots from deep for 56 percent.  The regression on that bad boy is going to make for good theatre as the youngsters will likely get pushed aside while it’s going on. 

Also in the head-scratching department, the Thunder couldn’t inbound the ball down the stretch and Durant was forced to get open on his own way too many times late. 

Playoff opponents will live with their counter to Durant's isolation (a highly committed double) over something with screen-action heading toward the hoop.  The Thunder better have something drawn up when that happens.  Improv just isn’t going to cut it.   

STOTTS AND STUFF

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it here or not but I’m fairly shocked by how much I find myself nodding in agreement with whatever Terry Stotts does in Portland.  I love the aforementioned cross-matches on defense, the out-of-bounds plays, using Wesley Matthews in the post and Nicolas Batum as a facilitator – or my favorite – a defensive philosophy that discourages the stupid diving gambles by help defenders that leave 3-point shooters open.  Since Gregg Popovich isn’t allowed to win the award anymore, Stotts would have my Coach of the Year vote and it wouldn’t be close this season. 

The Thunder win last night’s game if they get anything resembling normal play from LaMarcus Aldridge, who hit just 5-of-22 shots for 12 points, 12 rebounds and a block while dealing with general soreness and a potential groin injury.  The All Star break couldn’t come at a better time and Aldridge has put distance between himself and the athleticism questions entering this year.  That has always been contingent upon his ability to stay healthy and I’ve had concerns about how hard the Blazers are riding him all year.  Aldridge has proven me very wrong about him all season long, and again the break is timed perfectly.  Owners can only hope that he takes it easy when he’s in New Orleans. 

The Blazers roll into Staples Center to face the Clippers on the SEGABABA tonight in what could be a heavily contested game between playoff adversaries.  Even though Aldridge told Blazer’s Edge that he would be playing tonight, just watch out for a surprise DNP. 

The rest of the box wasn’t earth shattering but there was an outstanding performance from Robin Lopez (17 points, 14 boards, one steal, two blocks, 7-of-9 FGs) and Batum hit 5-of-8 shots (3-of-5 3PTs, 5-of-5 FTs) for 18 points and four assists while dealing with Kevin Durant on the other end.  Damian Lillard (16 points, 5-of-15 FGs, three boards, seven assists) and Wesley Matthews (2-of-10 FGs, 11 points, 7-of-8 FTs, two steals) also share some of the blame for last night’s loss, and with some slippage lately they're both in solid buy-low territory. 

Joel Freeland went down to a knee injury and will be out 4-8 weeks, and I’ll discuss Chris Kaman in detail later but he looks like a great fit for Portland heading into the trade deadline.  To be clear there have been no reported rumors on that and I haven’t heard anything myself, but the Blazers already needed to add a backup big to solidify their position as strong contenders to come out of the West.  At $3.2 million expiring this season, the Blazers would be silly not to find a way to make that work. 

DO ME A FAVOR AND FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON

The Jazz have been a quiet fantasy squad lately with just five games played in the prior two weeks, and last night’s box score in their win at Staples against the Lakers won’t do much to change that.  Gordon Hayward (15 points, 5-of-13 FGs, eight boards, seven assists, two steals, two threes) posted a sneaky monster line, and Alec Burks (24 points, 8-of-11 FGs, 7-of-11 FTs, three boards, one steal, one three, 29 minutes) continued to pose questions about trees making noise in uninhabited forests. 

Derrick Favors wasn’t bad with 11 points, 10 boards, one steal and three blocks as he tries to put distance between he and his hip injury, and Jeremy Evans spoke up with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, five boards, three steals and two blocks in a bench-leading 26 minutes.  Evans is worth a look in deeper leagues as a slippery mid-to-late round value (9/8 cat) value in a small four-game sample, with averages of 20.5 minutes, 8.8 points, 5.5 boards, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks and 68 percent shooting.  In the same number of minutes (19.2), he has been just a 14-16 team value and owners can plan accordingly. 

These were all great lines, but without the type of sizzle that might move some of the fantasy spotlight in their direction.  That’s probably good news for the buy low prospects of Hayward and Favors, and for guys like Trey Burke (eight points, 3-of-11 FGs, four boards, eight assists, one steal, one three) and Marvin Williams (nine points, seven rebounds, one three, 22 minutes) that didn’t produce all of this quiet could help push them to the wire. 

I’m holding on both Williams and Burke unless a mid-level free agent in 12-team leagues hits the wire, and in the case of Burke I’m being extra patient in 8-cat leagues.  In 9-cat leagues the juice isn’t worth the squeeze until you drop down to 14-team leagues, but as a rookie that will continue to get as much run as he can handle he profiles as a late-round floor with a smidge of upside. 

Hayward had a stretch of first-to-second round ball about a month ago but his last 2-3 weeks have been the yin to his fantasy yang, with averages of 10.5 points, 0.7 threes, 6.2 boards, 5.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 3.5 turnovers and just 32.2 percent shooting from the field over his last six games.  His assists have been up with Burke struggling and as is the case with many players, as he’s asked to do more his efficiency goes down.  This is a text-book buy low moment for the top 45-55 fantasy play on a per-game basis this season. 

Favors is trickier buy low play since it’s hard to say what’s up with the big man.  Just a top-75 value on the season, owners investing a high draft pick in him haven’t gotten their money’s worth because rather than taking a step forward he has basically stood in one place.  His minutes have risen as expected (23.0 to 31.0 mpg), though some might argue that’s not enough and an indictment of the duplication at the center position between Favors and Enes Kanter (six points, 11 rebounds, 21 minutes).  That’s an extremely loaded topic because one could point fingers at Kanter for his waning athleticism and lack of defense, Favors’ inability to make plays at power forward and ultimately at Ty Corbin and GM Dennis Lindsay for lacking the system or foresight to make the duo work. 

For his part, Favors has taken the minute increase and shown corresponding bumps in field goal attempts (+3.2), rebounds (+2.4) and steals (+0.3), while holding his field goal percentage (-0.06%) and adding a free throw per game (4.0) to the mix.  His blocks have risen by just 0.2 per game (16.6%) compared to his 35 percent increase in minutes and his mere 0.3 fouls per game increase shows a player with less aggression on that end. 

Again, he’s moving forward like he’s standing still on one of those giant airport treadmills.  His usage percentage (20.7) is a mirror image from last year to this year – begging the question – are the Jazz ever going to get him involved as a primary offensive weapon?  He’s currently fifth on the Jazz in terms of utilization percentage, behind Alec Burks (24.2), Hayward (23.5), Kanter (23.4) and Burke (23.0). 

In order we can nitpick about some of the reasons why he would trail a sixth man, primary weapon, point guard or offensively-minded big man, but when you add it all together we come back to the premise – he’s standing still. 

At some level we can’t take out a crystal ball and predict whether or not the chicken or egg will cede to the other.  It’s going to take Favors giving Corbin a reason to call his number, and it’s going to take Corbin deciding to lose games he may not want (or be able) to lose while Favors and his teammates shift focus to his development. 

Either way, owners will want to key in on the status of Williams, as he’s the guy that Corbin has circled the wagons around in his attempt to win games this season.  As long as he’s healthy, he’s going to be playing near his top 75-115 level at his season average of 26.5 minutes per game under the current arrangement.  And in that respect, owners with an eye on the mathematics of standard leagues will want to disregard some of our dismissive blurbs on his value and he should be owned in most formats. 

But eventually Williams is going to get hurt and/or the Corbin dynamic will change from him coaching for his job to something else – good or bad – and the directive from above will be to develop the cogs of the future with guys like Williams and Richard Jefferson (two points, 0-for-4 FGs, 20 minutes) exiting stage left.  The hip injury for Favors is a bit disconcerting since it has lingered since it was first reported on January 21, but the All Star break couldn’t come at a better time. 

We know what Favors’ value is in his current role.  Owners probably feel like the 45 games under his belt are a large enough sample size to project his rest-of-the-season value, especially with numbers that fit into nice, easy-to-understand buckets.  But the combination of low perceived value, buyers’ remorse and a logical jump in utilization to close the year are too much for me to pass up as the fantasy trade deadline approaches. 

NEXT MAN UP

Usually it’s the Lakers that dominate discussion in these parts because of their so many moving parts but the situation has actually become pretty stable from the standpoint of expectations.  The point guard pecking order is going to start with Steve Nash (two points, two assists, 17 minutes), and when he invariably gets ruled out before or during a game it will pass to Jordan Farmar (DNP, hamstring) for now, and if and/or when Farmar gets hurt then control of the Lakers’ passing game will go to the only healthy point guard in Kendall Marshall. 

This is why I’ve been doing jumping jacks lately to keep you guys from dropping Marshall, despite the fact that he needs big-time minutes to accumulate the popcorn numbers and threes to offset his lack of defensive stats.  He’s obviously a must-own player given all of the circumstances right now in L.A., and there is probably a 50/50 shot for him to keep that status for the rest of the season.  You can use Kobe Bryant’s return as the barometer for that. 

There was a small update on Kobe’s situation buried deep in a post-gamer from the L.A. Times, saying that he continues to experience swelling and pain in his fractured left knee while adding that he might return later than Xavier Henry (knee).  For what it’s worth I don’t have a lot of faith in Henry’s return and sources close to the team have opined (read: not reported) that they don’t think Kobe will return this season, but standing on the other end of that equation is a guy that has blown away injury timelines for his entire career. 

Steve Blake (five points, 2-of-11 FGs, five rebounds, eight assists, two steals, 36 minutes) will hold his minutes even when Kobe returns unless his arm falls off, and that may actually happen if he continues to play through the pain he is experiencing.  He’s questionable on a game-to-game basis until he can make it through a game without the injury being reported on, and his field goal percentage will likely suffer until then, too.  He’s still a must-start player until further notice. 

So I’ll continue to keep an open mind on Kobe’s return, but owners will need to go by their rosters here and be ready to make a brutal drop if they have to.  I’d try to hang tight through the next evaluation after the All Star break at a minimum. 

Jodie Meeks’ return after the All Star break will complicate life for Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson, but both guys should be owned for the chance they’re one of the last men standing in Mike D’Antoni’s fantasy friendly system.  The same goes for Meeks, too.  If I have to guess Nick Young (knee) is going to be week-to-week for at least a few more weeks and maybe more.  In that same L.A. Times report that covered virtually everybody, his name wasn’t mentioned once. 

Johnson (15 points, one three, six rebounds, 37 minutes) should continue to be owned until his role is threatened and from there owners can assess the production. 

Chris Kaman could have led this recap off with his 25 points (11-of-24 FGs), 14 rebounds, four assists, one steal and three blocks in one of his trademark Swaggy Kaman games.  This has trade deadline written all over it and it’s going to be interesting to see the Lakers gauge value for Pau Gasol and Kaman in concert, since they probably need to keep one of them for fear of pissing off the front row seats. 

For those considering a Kaman add – and make no mistake he’ll be gone as soon as your league allows it – he effectively represents a bet that Gasol gets traded.  He’s not going to replace Jordan Hill or Robert Sacre as muscle down low, or at least I don’t think he will.  D’Antoni has never seemed like a fan and it’s because he’s just not a good fit for what they do on either side of the floor.  And if Kaman does get traded, it would have to be to a distinct place like Philadelphia for him to have value.  With not so much as a rumor of that possibility, owners again are betting that Gasol gets moved or fades away with injuries. 

I’m going to hold Hill (seven points, one rebound, 17 minutes) through the trade deadline as he profiles as an upside guy with Gasol’s future hazy.  The same goes for Ryan Kelly (three points, one block, 18 minutes), and owners will want to note that new starter Shawne Williams (11 points, six rebounds, two blocks, two threes) got the call on the same night that Kaman was brought into the first unit.  While I have to admit I sort of forgot how much D’Antoni loves him some Williams, it’s possible that he views Williams and Kaman as a package deal. Kelly is also in the same boat as Hill and Kaman with regard to Gasol, and unlike some of the Lakers’ wings he could actually have a sustainable role as a stretch four as guys get healthy. 

It doesn’t hurt that for each of these stashes, owners know they won’t be invested for all that long.  Once the trade deadline comes and goes and Kobe’s timetable gets updated, there will be clarity about the Lakers’ future and owners will be able to easily cut bait if things don’t break the right way. 

MONEYBALL

A game after outplaying John Wall and being arguably the best player on the floor, Isaiah Thomas was still the target of some local writers’ ire on the off day and he outplayed Kyrie Irving once again last night.  Do your best to ignore the naysayers – it’s pretty ridiculous out there. 

His shooting wrist has been a bit of a problem but I’ve been told on good authority that the issue is minor so that’s what I’ll choose to believe until we see otherwise.   The Kings are looking for a backup point guard and if they’re able to get one that passes the sniff test it’s possible that Thomas gets a much-needed breather, but he’s an early round value and there is no looking back.  I’m told that Mike Malone loves what he brings to the table, and though the Kings’ record doesn’t show it he has done a great job evaluating situations this season.  His opinion is going to matter and he’s realistic about Thomas’ first year playing in a legitimate organization – with plenty of rough edges to smooth out but two-way ability and special playmaking talent.  He’s a classic moneyball play for the Kings to make this summer when matching a sizable, but humble offer sheet, knowing they can lock down the point guard position for much less than the going rate. 

My only question is whether or not the naysayers in the media are parroting a skeptical front office or the media naysayers are simply sleeping at the switch.  Again.  For the third year in a row.  

Rudy Gay continued to show signs of his flu but there may also be a little bit of early All Star break blues mixed in.  He hit just 4-of-12 shots for 14 points, nine boards, three assists, one steal and one block, but numerous defensive lapses stood out when watching the tape.  I’m not worried about his role or production in this system. 

DeMarcus Cousins (21 points, 10 boards, one block, 5-of-12 FGs, 11-of-16 FTs) may also have been called out by Malone for pouting in comments the coach made after the game.  The comments were directed at the entire team but Cousins said in the game following his snub from the exhibition that his focus wasn’t where it needed to be.  The Kings have a big measuring stick game tonight in New York.  If they don’t bring the effort then there might be some sort of message sent organizationally.  A big trade would certainly be the goal from management, but absent that it’s hard to say how that would manifest itself.  All I know is that the Kings aren’t about to let anything spin out of control in the embryonic stage of this particular ownership group’s development. 

Anybody not listed in this recap should be dead to fantasy owners in most formats.  Malone would have an easier time benching folks for effort if the Kings had any sort of depth whatsoever. 

THAT’S MISTER NUMERO UNO

It was sort of funny reading Adrian Wojnarowski’s scathing piece on fired GM Chris Grant, since the cherry on top of Grant’s tumble and Woj’s piece ended up going for 19 and 10 on 6-of-9 shooting with three treys and a steal in 30 minutes.  The Cavs won and Woj’s piece dove into the dysfunction behind Grant and his dealings with other teams, highlighting some offensive trades offers to other teams that one might find in a fantasy league (don't be that guy or gal).  Woj also goes on to highlight the respect new GM David Griffin has around the league and goes on to say that he’ll be aggressive at the deadline.  Look for more on that as we cover the deadline over the next few weeks. 

I added Bennett in a 12-teamer last week and I’ve been itching to do it elsewhere since he has officially had the turn-the-page moment.  Weight was obviously an issue after shoulder surgery and everything snowballed from there, and as we’ve discussed the Cavs have had so many problems they haven’t been able to give proper attention to Bennett.  Now that is over and though it could very well be bumpy, this is a team that lacks inside scoring and playing next to and also behind Luol Deng the rookie has a solid veteran to learn from.   He’s just a 16-team value over his last four games with averages of 19.8 minutes, 10.8 points, 6.5 boards, 1.0 threes, 0.8 steals and a 51.9 percent mark from the field.  I see him as a guy with late mid-round upside if all goes well.  Adjust your adds accordingly. 

I have absolutely zero interest in Tristan Thompson’s 16 and 13 with two steals last night since it is attached to just top-200 value over the last two weeks.  If you punt five or so categories and drink four fingers of Jack maybe you can strap on the beer goggles and take him for a spin. 

We also haven’t been so hot on Luol Deng around here and I'm not writing him off even though he is dealing with an Achilles, playing in a tough situation in Cleveland, has the potential to be traded, and may have a hard time prying the ball from Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters’ cold, dying hands.  It’s been reported that the Cavs have been shopping Waiters and it’s obvious they have no problem with him pushing the envelope to help get that done.  Is it enough to add Waiters (20 points, eight assists, two threes, 7-of-17 FGs) after three straight voluminous games?  Not for me.  Not only is he clinging to 12-team value over a four-game span, but we have plenty of history of waiver-wire production even in big minutes.   

As for Deng, I think he still has mid-round potential in Cleveland if he’s still there after Waiters is done being showcased.  A trade out of town should be assessed as value-neutral at this foggy juncture and he should be owned in all formats at this time. 

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