Fantasy Basketball Notes: Zion Williamson's workload is steadily rising — and so are the results

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By Nick Whalen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Welcome to this week’s tour around the NBA, where we’ll focus on several key storylines impacting the world of fantasy basketball. The All-Star break is right around the corner, but not before a full Week 16 slate, followed by an abbreviated Week 17.

Looking ahead at next week’s schedule, no team plays more than twice, so while it’s an odd week, it’s fairly balanced. Only the Bulls, Cavaliers, Rockets, Grizzlies, Knicks and 76ers play one game, and each of those teams completes its pre-All-Star schedule on Tuesday or Wednesday. For the majority of the league, the break officially begins Wednesday night, but the NBA does stack two games — Clippers/Celtics and Thunder/Pelicans — on Thursday.

Personally, I’d prefer to see the league do away with the Thursday games, as All-Star Weekend festivities begin less than 24 hours later in Chicago. With the Rising Stars Game taking place on Friday night, it creates a de facto back-to-back for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Zion Williamson, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Of course, historically, the Rising Stars Game isn’t exactly Game 7 of The Finals, but it’s possible that Williamson, in particular, could take it easy. Since his return, the Pelicans have yet to face a back-to-back set.

Speaking of Zion Williamson ...

... Sunday’s loss to Houston marked his sixth game back, and the Pelicans were willing to extend his workload up to 33 minutes. Williamson’s totals have risen quickly since his debut on Jan. 22, and he now sits at an average of 30.7 minutes over his last three games. That number could creep a little bit higher as Williamson gets in better shape, but somewhere in the 30-to-32-minute range is a pretty reasonable expectation for the rest of the season.

While Williamson is yet to hit a three-pointer since going 4-for-4 in his debut, his production elsewhere has been remarkably consistent. He holds averages of 19.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists, with a field-goal percentage north of 61 percent. Williamson is still struggling at the line (53.1% FT), though he’s hit 11 of 15 attempts over his last two games.

Damian Lillard’s red-hot last two weeks have nearly pushed him ...

.... over 30 points per game for the season, and he now ranks as the No. 2 overall player in standard Yahoo leagues (total production), behind only James Harden. Over the last eight games, Lillard’s offensive numbers are staggering: 45.1 points per game; 9.6 assists per game; 53.2 percent from the field; 52.8 percent from three; 7.1 made threes per game.

If you remove his pair of pathetic 34-point outings to begin that run, Lillard’s numbers over his last six games jump up to 48.8 points (!!!) and 10.2 assists per game on 55/57/92 shooting splits. He’s hit at least six threes in each of those games — an NBA record — and at least eight threes in four of them. In consecutive games against Golden State, Dallas, and Indiana, Lillard went a combined 27-of-47 from beyond the arc. Using Yahoo’s DFS scoring system, Lillard is averaging 73.0 fantasy points per game over his last six.

Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers
This Dame run has been absolutely incredible. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

In Memphis, Josh Jackson has quietly resurfaced ...

... to appear in each of the Grizzlies’ last three games. He saw his first NBA action of the season late in last week’s win over the Knicks, which was, of course, overshadowed by Elfrid Payton going full 2006 Sean Taylor on Jae Crowder. After Crowder was ejected, it was Jackson who stepped to the line and hit three free throws in his place. Two nights later in a blowout loss to New Orleans, Jackson played 29 minutes, finishing with 13 points (6-14 FG), five rebounds, one assist, and one steal.

He followed up with 12 minutes of action off the bench in Monday’s 96-82 win over Detroit. Fantasy-wise, Jackson is unlikely to make an impact this season, but he appears to be on the right track to a permanent return to the NBA. The former top-five pick spent the first three months of the season with the Memphis Hustle of the G League, where he put up 20.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks per game in 26 appearances.

For the second time this season, Kristaps Porzingis has stepped up ...

... in the absence of Luka Doncic. With Doncic in the lineup, Porzingis has been good but not great, struggling to find his place in an offense clearly centered on its primary ball-handler. But with Doncic again nursing an ankle injury, Porzingis has put up huge numbers in back-to-back games. In the Mavs’ first game without Doncic on Friday in Houston, Porzingis went for a then-season-high 35 points and 12 rebounds in 36 minutes A few nights later, he went 6-of-13 from three to finish with 38 points and 12 boards in a win over Indiana. Porzingis got to the line 13 times against Houston and 12 times against Indiana — his two highest single-game totals of the season.

Markelle Fultz handed out a career-high 14 assists in Monday’s win ...

... over Charlotte. It continues to be an up-and-down season for the former No. 1 pick, but he’s missed only one game and holds averages of 11.7 points, 4.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 27.8 minutes. Fultz finishes well at the rim and is a much-improved free throw shooter, but the glaring hole in his game is still his outside shot (25.9% 3PT on 1.7 3PA/G). With that deficiency, he wouldn’t be of much help to this year’s Sixers, but you have to imagine there’s still some regret for giving up on Fultz in favor of two low-level picks and a wing who’s not even in the league this season.

Clint Capela could be on the move before Thursday’s deadline ...

... with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN noting Monday that the Celtics are among the teams Houston has engaged in trade talks. Boston is in need of an upgrade at center, though a trade out of the Rockets’ run-and-gun system could be a slight hit to Capela’s fantasy value. The 25 year old is a top-50 player on the season thanks to his rebounding (13.8 RPG) and shot-blocking (1.8 BPG), which help offset his lack of floor spacing and poor free-throw shooting (52.9% FT).

The Pistons are terrible. Really, really terrible.

Detroit shot 34.7 percent as a team and scored 29 points — total — in the second half of Monday night’s loss in Memphis. Andre Drummond was able to salvage another big double-double (25pts, 18reb), but the rest of Detroit’s starters managed just 23 points on a combined 8-of-50 shooting. If Drummond is traded for picks and/or spare parts before Thursday, this roster could be one of the all-time train-wrecks over the final two months.

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The Wizards are gradually inching closer to full health ...

... and they welcomed both Rui Hachimura and Mo Wagner back to the mix Monday night. Hachimura was immediately back in the starting lineup against the Warriors, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with eight rebounds in 26 minutes. Wagner came off the bench to add eight points and two boards in 12 minutes. For now, Scott Brooks is sticking with Ian Mahinmi as his starting center, but the veteran played only nine minutes Monday night.

At some point, Mahinmi figures to cede that spot to Thomas Bryant, who played 29 minutes off the bench. The Wizards say Bryant is still under a minutes restriction, the parameters of which are unclear. Bryant has now appeared in 11 consecutive games — including making five starts — since missing more than a month due to injury.

Victor Oladipo has been cleared for a bump in minutes ...

... as he continues to work his way back from the torn quad tendon that kept him out for the first 47 games. After playing 21, 22, and 23 minutes in his first three games back, Oladipo will be cleared for a maximum of 28 minutes, beginning with Wednesday’s game in Toronto.

Oladipo hit a huge, game-tying three in his debut against Charlotte last Wednesday, but outside of that shot, it’s been a pretty rough start. In Wednesday’s loss to Dallas, Oladipo finished with nine points on just 4-of-17 shooting, meaning he’s now a combined 8-of-39 from the field and 3-of-21 from three. Oladipo deserves patience in coming back from such a serious injury, but fantasy managers should consider holding him out of weekly lineups until after the All-Star break. He’ll also sit out one half of the Pacers’ upcoming Friday/Saturday back-to-back set.

Waiver Wire Watch

Glenn Robinson III, Golden State Warriors (38% rostered)

I, too, am having trouble coming to terms with this Warriors roster, but Robinson has been one of the few constants in what’s been an exceedingly strange year for the franchise that ruled much of the last decade. Robinson is a top-100 player on the season, and he’s been even better than that over the last few weeks. He doesn’t add much defensive value, but Robinson has scored in double-digits in 11 of his last 12 games, averaging 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steal and 1.8 made threes in that span.

Shabazz Napier, Minnesota Timberwolves (42% rostered)

If Minnesota’s desperate attempt to snag D’Angelo Russell is successful, then Napier probably isn’t much of a consideration. But if he’s still the starting point guard come Thursday night, he’s worth at least a bench spot in most leagues. Over his last four games, Napier is putting up 12.0 points, 9.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.5 steals, and he recently had a run of five straight games with multiple steals. You’ll have to live with his pedestrian percentages, however.

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