By Juan Blanco, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
We’re already heading into Week 4 of the NBA season and at this point, the landscape is beginning to crystallize across much of the league. However, injuries and suspensions have already started taking their toll on numerous teams, but those developments have also opened up more opportunities.
We’ll delve further into some of the beneficiaries in this week’s column while also examining which normally solid plays may be worth sitting based on their reduced number of games this week.
Without further ado, let’s delve into some candidates trending both upward and downward as the new week approaches.
Teams with four games: BOS, PHI, ATL, HOU, MEM, NOP, SAS, MIN, GSW, LAC, LAL
Teams with three games: BKN, NYK, TOR, CHI, CLE, DET, IND, CHA, MIA, ORL, WAS, DAL, DEN, POR, UTA, SAC
Teams with two games: MIL, OKC, PHO
Start: Fred VanVleet, TOR (three games)
The Raptors are suddenly down both Kyle Lowry (thumb) and Serge Ibaka (ankle) for multiple upcoming games, thrusting VanVleet into point guard duties and an even bigger role than usual overall. VanVleet is already sporting a 23.8 percent usage rate with both those aforementioned players off the floor this season, and if he continues to man the point, that figure should actually rise. Toronto also has a solid three-game week upcoming in a West Coast road-swing that will see them engaged in what should be some fairly fast-paced matchups versus the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Mavericks.
Start: Jaylen Brown, BOS (four games)
Somewhat similar to VanVleet, Brown suddenly finds himself in an especially favorable situation due to a teammate’s injury. The broken hand Gordon Hayward suffered Saturday afternoon against the Spurs will open up opportunities for several players, and Brown was the first one to step up as soon as Hayward went down against San Antonio. Brown finished the contest with a season-best 30 points, adding seven rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Brown had 18 shot attempts, as well, and although his usage will naturally fluctuate from game to game, he’s certainly primed for a bump in his role, especially considering he already owns a solid 21.2% usage rate with Hayward off the floor this season.
Sit: Ricky Rubio, PHO (two games)
Rubio draws the dreaded two-game week, automatically lessening his appeal. The veteran did record a pair of double-doubles last week, but he still sports a 37.0% success rate from the field that ranks as his lowest since the 2014-15 season. He also matches up this week against two of the more improved defensive squads in the league this season in the Lakers and Hawks, which are both allowing significantly fewer points per game compared to last season. Rubio has been surprisingly solid as a rebounder and has boosted his assists this season, but there are players with more games and better matchups for you to focus on this coming week.
Sit: Gary Harris, DEN (three games)
Harris may have three games coming up this week, but he hasn’t exactly taken advantage of his opportunities very often this season. The defensive-minded wing has been dealing with an ankle injury, which may be playing a part in his 40.0% shooting — including 27.3% from three-point range — over his last four games. Harris currently carries his worst shooting percentage overall (40.5%) since his rookie year, and he’s also posting the second-lowest usage rate of his career. Harris has single-digit point tallies in three of his past four games, leaving him as a less-than-appealing option going into the new week.
Start: Jabari Parker, ATL (four games)
John Collins’ 25-game suspension has propelled the starting-caliber Parker into the first unit, and he’s already responding with some strong, multi-category production. Parker has already scored between 18 and 25 points in each of his first three starts and is currently shooting a career-high 57.0%. The floor-spacing big can pitch in on three-pointers as well, and he’s put up double-digit shot attempts in five consecutive games overall. With a 24.5% usage rate with Collins off the floor this season and a four-game week that will see him tangle with some fast-paced opponents in the Suns and Clippers, Parker is an easy start in most leagues.
Start: Jaren Jackson, Jr., MEM (four games)
Jackson has gotten off to a bit of an uneven start thanks in part to injury, but the 2018 fourth overall pick’s talent is undeniable. Jackson is over the knee issue that previously hampered him and isn’t on any sort of minutes limit, and he already looked to be rounding back into form against the Mavericks on Saturday night (23 points, four rebounds, two assists, one block) — his second 20-point effort of the season. Jackson is a threat for a double-double any time he takes the floor, and given the Grizzlies’ accelerated pace of play (105.9 possessions per 48), he’s locked into plenty of extra opportunities any time he takes the floor.
Sit: Khris Middleton, MIL (two games)
Middleton has been as solid as you’d expect this season, but on a two-game week, he should probably be left on the bench in favor of a four- or even three-game player. The talented wing will only see action against the Bulls and Pacers this week — two teams in the top half of the league in defense. For what it’s worth, Middleton has had a bit of up-and-down production recently, posting a pair of sub-20-point efforts over his last four games, while shooting just 7-for-25 from the field in those contests.
Sit: Danilo Gallinari, OKC (two games)
The veteran has taken well to his new home in OKC, although both his rebounds (4.8) and assists (1.6) averages have taken tumbles compared to last season. Gallinari draws a pair of difficult matchups in the two games he’ll play this week, with a road matchup against the Pacers before a home game against the 76ers and their seventh-ranked defense.
Start: JaVale McGee, LAL (four games)
We saw McGee make excellent use of a modest workload on many occasions last season, and he’s starting to hit his stride once again as the Lakers continue to figure out the best way to deploy both him and Dwight Howard down low. McGee heads into Sunday’s action with back-to-back strong efforts versus the Bulls and Heat, with the latter contest producing his first double-digit rebound effort of the season over just 17 minutes. McGee also has at least one block in five consecutive games, and he’ll see some time on the floor this coming week in what could be faster-paced matchups against the Suns, Warriors, and Kings.
Start: Ivica Zubac, LAC (four games)
McGee’s cross-town counterpart is worthy of consideration during the coming week, with the young big starting to show signs of coming into his own. Zubac is coming off his first double-double of the season against the Trail Blazers, and he came within one rebound of accomplishing the feat as well just two games earlier. As with McGee, the minutes are a bit of a concern for Zubac, as he’s yet to play more than 20 minutes in any game. However, Zubac’s efficiency (career-high 68.1% shooting) is helping him churn out a career-high 9.6 points and 6.8 rebounds across just 16.1 minutes over his first nine games. The Clippers draw a Serge Ibaka-less Raptors team to open his four-game week, which also includes a matchup against the Pelicans’ 28th-ranked defense.
Sit: Willie Cauley-Stein, GSW (four games)
True to how he’s handled the center position in past seasons, coach Steve Kerr isn’t giving his top option at the position much run compared to other teams. Cauley-Stein hasn’t logged more than 25 minutes in any game thus far and has single-digit point tallies in four of seven contests he’s suited up. The blocks have been there the last two games (six overall), but the rebounding production remains average at best on most nights. With Draymond Green likely to return in Week 4, Cauley-Stein could see even less opportunity.
Sit: Richaun Holmes, SAC (three games)
Holmes has been a pleasant surprise this season and while he does have a three-game week, he’s still a bench consideration. The fifth-year vet has produced just 10 points over his last 60 minutes, providing a glimpse of how fickle he can sometimes be, outside of rebounds. Holmes will run into some difficult opponents in the Lakers and Celtics late in the week, and he’ll also match up with the Blazers and Hassan Whiteside.