By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s a light week for the NBA, with just nine teams playing four games and three teams playing twice. The light week means there is less harm in playing the teams with two games, the Pacers, Timberwolves, and Magic. There is also more benefit to playing the teams with an extra game, the Bulls, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Pistons, Rockets, Kings, Raptors, and Jazz.
After the wildly uneven Week 14, the league’s schedule is about as balanced as it gets in Week 15. There are between six and 10 games Monday through Saturday. Sunday is light with only four games, but otherwise, the week is flat.
Since no teams play both Saturday and Sunday, managers in close contests heading into the weekend may want to look to pick up an extra player who plays both Friday and Sunday later in the week. If you act Thursday morning, you could even get someone with three games in four days (Nuggets, Raptors).
The players below are listed in the order I’d recommend adding them.
This article will focus on players available in at least 50 percent of leagues.
But first, on Lauri Markkanen:
The Bulls announced Friday that Lauri Markkanen will miss at least the next month with a stress reaction. The good news? If there's a time to miss several weeks, it's in February, with the All-Star break falling in the middle of the month. The bad news? Well, outside of the obvious, it could be difficult to discern how the Bulls adjust, as Markkanen had yet to miss a game this season. As such, we don't have a baseline to work with for how Jim Boylen will adjust his rotation. Additional injuries to Otto Porter, Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford make things even more cloudy, but at some point, it becomes a process of elimination. In the short term — with those three, plus Markkanen out — Luke Kornet (10 percent rostered) and Thaddeus Young (39 percent rostered) are probably the biggest winners.
Of those two, Young is the more appealing choice with a much better track record, but Kornet quietly has four double-digit scoring games in his last five. The other name to keep an eye on is Chandler Hutchison, who's currently rostered in 0% of Yahoo leagues. The second-year forward is dealing with a minor shoulder issue, but he's expected to play Friday night against Sacramento and should see at least a slight bump in minutes. Hutchison is yet to show much at the NBA level, but he is averaging 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 free throw attempts, and 0.9 steals in just 15.9 minutes per game thus far.
Trevor Ariza, Portland Trail Blazers (26 percent rostered)
Next week’s games: Hou, at LAL, Uta
First things first: Ariza is not going to score 21 points every night, as he did in his Blazers’ debut Thursday. I clearly think he’s worth adding, but we need to be realistic about our expectations. He’s in his 16th NBA season, he’s been a great fantasy producer for almost all of those, but he’s scored 21 points or more in just 70 of his 1,044 career games — 11 times over the past two seasons. Ariza is a solid all-around producer and a particularly good source of threes and steals, but he’s usually a slight minus in scoring.
Now, as for why I see him as a top add: Ariza is an almost perfect fit for what Portland needed, a legitimate 3-and-D guy with the size and strength to cover opposing power forwards. They gave up on Moe Harkless and Evan Turner over the offseason because they didn’t provide enough “3.” The guy they pinned to replace that pair, Kent Bazemore, lacked “D.” Ariza is good at both and that’s why they traded for him.
It would be shocking if Ariza played less than the departing Bazemore, who averaged 30.2 minutes as a starter. Ariza was already inside the top-120 in 9-cat since the start of December, and that was at just 27.2 minutes per game and on a Kings’ team with worse spacing and worse passing. His stats aren’t flashy, but I think the boost in minutes and the improved role will get Ariza into the top-100 over the rest of the season.
Jerami Grant, Denver Nuggets (34 percent)
Next week’s games: at Mem, Uta, at Mil, at Det
NBA injury reporting is worse than spiders and stubbing your toe. Paul Millsap (knee) has missed eight games already, but the Nuggets have not given a timetable for his anticipated return. Based on the way the season has gone, it’s hard to imagine Grant remains an all-leagues option once Millsap returns. But until then — and Millsap could miss a lot more games, we really have no idea — Grant is an all-leagues add and more valuable than Ariza (Ariza is listed first because I expect his value to last until the end of the season). In the last eight games without Millsap, Grant has started and averaged 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.1 steals and 1.0 threes. And that’s no fluke. In terms of per-minute production, those numbers might even be a little below what we should expect from Grant.
Maxi Kleber, Dallas Mavericks (51%)
Next week’s games: at OKC, Pho, at Hou, Atl
Pour one out for my homie, Dwight Powell. Powell’s season ended Tuesday when he tore his Achilles. Powell is hard to replace, and though Kleber offers a similar fantasy profile, there’s a reason Powell started and played more. There is a strong possibility that the Mavericks will look to the trade market to find a new power forward/center, and if such a trade occurs, it would totally negate everything I’m about to say about Kleber. But there is no guarantee that such a trade occurs, and until it does, Kleber should be a solid pickup.
Kleber is already a top-130 guy in 9-cat, and that’s despite playing just 25.2 minutes per game. Sure, a lot of that value comes from his low turnovers, but he’s averaging 1.7 threes and 1.0 blocks, which are also major contributors. He’s a great free-throw shooter and provides break-even value at FG. Assuming his minutes increase, he should easily get into double-digit points and six-plus rebounds. He’s not quite as strong or athletic as Powell, but he’s big enough that he can replace Powell in most lineups.
UPDATE: The Mavericks traded for Willie Cauley-Stein, but he has yet to make his debut. Monitor how Dallas uses both Cauley-Stein and Kleber closely before making a decision.
Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder (48%)
Next week’s games: Dal, at Sac, at Pho
Noel has been a staple in this column this season. I’m super high on him long-term, and he’s so efficient on a per-minute basis that he’s rosterable even if he doesn’t hit 20 minutes per game. I did a deep dive on him a few weeks ago, and most of what I wrote then still holds (the main difference is that Adams has improved a bit since lowering my lofty expectations for Noel).
I’m calling out Noel here because Adams injured his ankle this week, forcing him to leave Monday’s game in the first quarter and then to miss Wednesday’s game. Since NBA injury reporting is worse than watching American Pie with your parents, we don’t know if Adams will play Friday or if he’s out until the eventual heat-death of the universe. Any time that Adams is out, Noel is a must-start in all leagues, even very shallow ones.
UPDATE: Noel had surgery to repair a fracture in his right cheek and was added to the injured list. Monitor the situation closely before adding.
Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (29%)
Next week’s games: Cle, at Bkn, Tor, Den
Jackson returned Wednesday from a back injury that has cost him most of the season. He was impressive, scoring 22 points and adding four assists, three rebounds, and two steals. Jackson has some skills as a scorer and a passer, and there are certainly some rosters who could benefit from adding him. That said, he’s not good enough to help everyone. Whether or not Jackson takes over the starting PG spot, Derrick Rose is going to play more minutes, and Bruce Brown has earned a stable role in the rotation as well. Jackson is worth adding in points leagues, deep leagues, or for managers who need points and assists, but a lot of standard league managers should pass.
Other recommendations: Daniel Theis, Celtics (22 percent rostered); Eric Gordon, Rockets (44 percent rostered); Shabazz Napier, Timberwolves (20 percent rostered); Tim Hardaway Jr., Mavericks (46 percent rostered); Furkan Korkmaz, 76ers (5 percent rostered); Matisse Thybulle, 76ers (14 percent rostered); Derrick White, Spurs (41 percent rostered); Kris Dunn, Bulls (32 percent rostered)