By Juan Blanco, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Week 17 leads us into the All-Star break, so we have no choice but to deal with minimal games across the board. There are no teams with even three games on their ledger, leaving us to mostly sift through options from teams with two contests. Additionally, the dust is still settling on a flurry of trade deadline moves.
While this introduces uncertainty for some of the players in new locales, it also opens up plenty of opportunity for those that have moved into the roles that traded players have left behind.
Without further ado, let’s examine some of the tougher start/sit decisions for a truncated Week 17:
TEAMS WITH TWO GAMES: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards
TEAMS WITH ONE GAME: Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers
Start: Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat (two games)
The Heat’s backcourt continues to be besieged by injury, leaving Nunn poised for an uptick in usage heading into the short week. Jimmy Butler (shoulder) and Tyler Herro (foot) are dealing with health-related question marks, and another absence by Butler on Monday in a highly favorable matchup versus the Warriors will automatically boost Nunn’s value. He’ll enter the new week trying to climb out of a mini shooting slump (11-for-36 FG over the last two games) but with a chance at increased responsibility and an excellent opportunity to right the ship right off the bat.
Start: Elfrid Payton, New York Knicks (two games)
Payton has a firm hold of the starting point guard job in New York and has the benefit of two games on his plate. The veteran enters the week with five straight double-digit scoring efforts — including both a double-double and a triple-double -- and averages of 13.4 points, 9.8 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 2.6 steals over that span. Payton is also shooting an efficient 47.0 percent during that stretch, and he has a proven track record of checking off nearly every box on the stat sheet when given the minutes. For now, at least, he appears locked into a significant role each night.
Sit: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers (two games)
Oladipo is certainly tempting to deploy in lineups, especially if you’ve been waiting patiently through his recovery for the last several months. However, the star guard is still clearly getting his shot to round back into form after a 12-month layoff. Despite some improvement in his last two games, Oladipo is still shooting just 28.6% over his first five contests, including 21.2% from distance. The 27 year old clearly has too much talent to struggle like this over the long term, but he’s best left on the bench until after the All-Star break.
Sit: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (one game)
The second overall pick will draw a favorable matchup his one game against the Trail Blazers, but Morant’s recent production, while solid, isn’t anything that a two-game guard can’t make up for. The rookie has scored less than 20 points in five of his last six games, and he has serviceable-but-not-indispensable averages of 16.0 points, 6.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 steal over that period.
Start: Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets (two games)
LeVert has exploded on multiple occasions over the last several games, showing flashes of the caliber of play he’d exhibited before injuries in each of the last two seasons. The fourth-year wing has scored between 23 and 37 points in his last three games, as he’s taken over starting small forward duties. LeVert is clearly benefiting from the ongoing absence of Kyrie Irving, who could well be out through the All-Star break with his MCL injury.
Start: Christian Wood, Detroit Pistons (two games)
Wood is one of the players benefiting from trade-deadline moves, as he forms part of a new-look frontcourt alongside Thon Maker in Detroit with Andre Drummond now in Cleveland. While Maker has inherited Drummond’s center spot, it’s Wood who’s the far more appealing fantasy option, and he now has a chance at even more rebounding production with Drummond no longer an obstacle. Wood enters the week having posted five consecutive double-digit scoring efforts, including double-doubles in each of his last two games. You probably have some bigger names on your roster, but Wood should be in your lineups this week.
Sit: Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers (one game)
Not only does Harris get just one game this coming week, but it comes in a thoroughly unappealing matchup against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers. Josh Richardson is also back in action for the 76ers, which will lead to a usage hit (to some degree) for Harris. Moreover, the veteran wing enters a Sunday matchup against the Bulls on a bit of a rollercoaster as far as production and shooting are concerned. He’s scored 14 points or fewer in three of his last six games while shooting a pedestrian 42.7% over that span. The Sixers also beefed up their wing depth at the deadline, adding Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III.
Sit: Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies (one game)
Jackson only has one game this week, and he’s only averaging 11.8 points (on 35.7% shooting), 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists across his last five contests. His 3.0 blocks per game during that span help prop up his overall production, but given his continued issues with foul trouble, he’s simply too risky to deploy on a one-game week.
Start: Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks (two games)
Lopez has become a more consistent offensive contributor in recent games, and his two-game schedule this week includes a pair of favorable positional matchups. The veteran floor-spacer will see the Kings and Pacers, two squads ranked in the bottom 10 of the league in rebounding rate. Lopez has also stepped up with three double-digit scoring tallies in the last four games, and he’s played at least 30 minutes in all three of those contests. His shooting also appears to finally be coming around, as Lopez is shooting better than 48% from the field over the last 10 games on 10.6 attempts.
Start: Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors (two games)
Marc Gasol continues to be saddled with a hamstring injury that’s already cost him six games heading into the new week. Given that the issue has already flared up on more than one occasion this season and with the All-Star break right around the corner, it’s likely the Raptors take the cautious route with the veteran big man. If that’s the case, Ibaka will continue to start at center — a role in which he’s exceeded 20 points in four of six games during Gasol’s absence. Ibaka is averaging 21.2 points (on 60.9% shooting, including 48.1% from three-point range), 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists over that span, and he’ll have a good chance of extending that success in good matchups versus the Timberwolves and Nets this coming week.
Sit: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (one game)
Embiid enters a one-game week bothered by a neck issue, and he entered Sunday’s matchup versus the Bulls with three sub-20-point efforts in his last four games. His one game this week isn’t likely to do his production any favors, as the Clippers enter Week 17 tied for the seventh-highest rebounding rate (51.1%) in the league.
Sit: P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets (one game)
We’ve already looked at how one trade-deadline move benefitted an incumbent player (Wood), but we have the opposite scenario in Tucker’s case. Coach Mike D’Antoni has opted to go with a small-ball approach for the time being and is keeping Tucker at center in place of the departed Clint Capela. This is undoubtedly going to lead to some ugly stat lines for the 6-foot-6 veteran, with his two-point, two-rebound performance versus the Suns on Friday serving as an example. Tucker has routinely seen north of 35 minutes this season, but his minutes have actually taken a dip since the Capela trade. He saw 31 minutes of action against the Lakers on Friday before playing just 23 minutes in Saturday’s blowout loss.