By Jeff Erickson, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Before we start breaking down the individual teams’ respective schedules, the first item that jumps off the page is that we have a slew of day games Monday, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The first game tips off between the Thunder and Knicks at 12:30 p.m. ET (that’s 7:30 a.m. in Hawaii!), followed by six more day games. Set those weekly lineups early — maybe even Sunday night, followed by a quick injury check Monday morning.
Before we get into those injuries, here’s the games-per-team breakdown:
Four Games: CHI, CLE, DAL, HOU, LAC, MEM, MIA, MIN, NOP, NYK, OKC, ORL, PHO, POR, SAC, TOR, UTA, WAS
Three Games: ATL, BKN, BOS, DEN, DET, GS, LAL, MIL, PHI, SAS
Two Games: CHA, IND
Because there are so many early decisions, I thought I’d list the major players that might have day-to-day injury issues for the Monday slate of games, so that you can narrow your search before tip-off. I won’t list the long-term injuries; only those players that have a chance to return this upcoming week.
Cleveland (1:00 pm ET):
Tristan Thompson has missed the last two games with a foot injury. Ante Zizic has started in his place, with Larry Nance Jr. also out. Nance went out with an MCL sprain on January 9th and will be out a minimum of two weeks. That could place him back this upcoming week, but so far there’s been very little to suggest an immediate return.
Detroit (2:00 pm ET):
Andre Drummond missed Saturday’s game after suffering a concussion on Friday. Zaza Pachulia started in place of Drummond on Saturday. The NBA Concussion Protocol doesn’t dictate a specific amount of time to pass before a player clears, but 24 hours obviously was always going to be too short. Watch for more reports Monday morning.
Ish Smith aggravated the groin injury Friday that previously kept him out for a month, returning just on Monday last week. He had averaged 20 minutes per game in his first two games back — that time will flow between Reggie Jackson and Jose Calderon.
Dallas (2:00 pm ET):
By the time you read this, the Mavericks might have traded Dennis Smith, who has missed five consecutive games with an illness (read: reason to keep him out while he’s on the trade block). With J.J. Barea out for the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, there’s a lot of available minutes at either point guard or small forward — or wherever Luka Doncic isn’t playing.
Atlanta (3:00 pm ET):
Kent Bazemore has been out since Dec. 30 with an ankle injury and as of a week ago did not have a set timetable for his return. He also hasn’t resumed practicing, so presumably he won’t be ready for Monday’s game.
Orlando (3:00 pm ET):
Aaron Gordon was well on his way to a huge game Friday night (23 points, four rebounds and five assists in 31 minutes) before leaving with a back injury that forced him to miss Saturday’s game. Any missed game is a disappointment, but a game against fast-paced Atlanta is especially sad to miss.
Memphis (5:30 pm ET):
The Grizzlies host the Pelicans in a game where both teams are facing critical decisions in advance of the trade deadline 2.5 weeks from now. Anthony Davis is out for at least a week for the Pels, and Marc Gasol is a game-time decision after missing his first game of the season with a back injury. Memphis has lost five in a row and has utterly collapsed in the West, falling behind everyone besides Phoenix. New Orleans has fallen to 12th in the West, 3.5 games behind the Clippers for the final playoff spot. They don’t have to trade Davis now, but they could get more for him in advance of this trade deadline.
Boston (6:00 pm ET):
Gordon Hayward missed Saturday’s game due to personal reasons. By the time Monday’s sit/start deadline rolls around, hopefully we’ll know more about his absence.
Houston (8:00 pm ET):
Chris Paul is due back from his hamstring injury “sometime during this upcoming week,” though at the current moment the Rockets haven’t further defined that timetable. Normally I wouldn’t recommend a player with that much uncertainty, but Paul is an important enough player that it might merit rolling the dice with him, especially with Houston playing four games this week.
Utah (9:00 pm ET):
The Jazz have a trio of injured point guards, with Ricky Rubio (hamstring), Raul Neto (groin) and Dante Exum (ankle) all out. Exum is the least likely to return this upcoming week, with both Rubio and Neto in line to be re-examined during the week. In their absence, Donovan Mitchell has been starting at the point, while Grayson Allen has been averaging around 20 minutes per game after returning from an ankle injury.
Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 pm ET):
LeBron James (groin) is expected to return to practice Sunday, though he’s not expected to play Monday against the Warriors.
Lonzo Ball left Saturday night’s game with an ankle injury that looked pretty bad. Though X-rays ultimately were negative, he couldn’t put any weight on the ankle immediately after getting hurt.
Meanwhile, Ball’s backup Rajon Rondo (hand) is getting closer to returning, but is still listed as doubtful for Monday’s game. One could wonder whether either LeBron or Rondo will be accelerated in reaction to Ball’s injury.
We won’t go beyond Monday’s game-time decisions given the additional 24 hours and the likelihood that so much could change before those players hit the court.
Turning to the slate of games, there are 18 teams with four games, and just two — Charlotte and Indiana — with two games. With so many teams playing four games, it’s difficult to justify use of any Hornets or Pacers. Let’s look at the best fantasy player on average between the two teams, Kemba Walker.
He’s averaging 38 Yahoo fantasy points per game, but that average is buffeted by a three-game stretch at the end of December where he scored 63.8, 45.8 and 53.7 fantasy points, respectively. In his past 10 games since then he’s exceeded his average just once and reached it one other time.
Let’s just assume for the sake of argument he averages 40 in these two games. That still puts him at 80 points for the week. Now compare that to Dwyane Wade of the Heat, who has four games this week. Wade averages just 25 fantasy points per game, though his recent output has been stronger. But again, let’s assume that Wade even comes in a little below his average at 23 fantasy points per game — you still profit with a total of 92 points.
The comparison only gets worse after that. Looking at the Pacers, they are a balanced team with four players averaging near 30 fantasy points, topped by Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner at 33 Yahoo fantasy points. Yet that balance works against starting those individual players, unless you’re chasing a particular category like Turner’s blocks. But on average, even a three-game player that averages 25 fantasy points per game is going to top Oladipo by around 10 points, let alone how much a four-game player will top him.
With so many teams playing four games, it might not be sufficient to just pick players with four games and call it a day. You might have to decide between multiple four-game players. So let’s use RotoWire’s Opponent Averages Tool to see if we can find some edges.
Kris Dunn, Bulls
Dunn is coming off a pretty tough week, with poor results at the end of their West Coast swing against the Lakers and Nuggets, and then again at home Saturday against the Heat. But some relief comes in the form of their schedule this week. Not only are the Bulls playing four games, but two games come against the Cavs, one against the Heat and the other against the Clippers.
The Cavs allow the most fantasy points per game to the point guard position in the NBA at 50.4, the Heat are a close third at 50.0, and the Clippers are seventh at 48.6. This is a good week for Dunn to get back on the positive side of the ledger.
Evan Fournier, Magic
Fournier’s numbers for the season are down a little bit, but this could shape up to be a good week for him. Not only is Aaron Gordon iffy, but they hit the Atlanta lottery this week. The Hawks allow an NBA-worst 117.7 points per game, and opposing shooting guards average 45.6 fantasy points per game — nearly five points clear of the next team, Minnesota. Fournier had a poor shooting night Saturday, but in his previous four games he has scored at least 16 points. The Atlanta game is on Monday (the game that Gordon is most likely to miss), making it more likely that Fournier will get more shots.
Jaren Jackson, Grizzlies
Jackson’s production can be all over the map, but the 19-year old rookie out of Michigan State is finding a good way to co-exist with JaMychal Green on the court and is getting a little more playing time with Kyle Anderson out. Moreover, the Grizzlies play New Orleans and Sacramento, the two worst defenses against small forwards and among the worst against power forwards. Justin Holiday and Omri Casspi should also benefit from the added playing time resulting from Anderson’s injury.
Jerami Grant, Thunder
Grant has parlayed Oklahoma City’s extremely narrow tree — only six Thunder players currently healthy average 20+ minutes per game — into a breakout season of sorts, averaging 12.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over a career-high 31.9 minutes per game. This week the Thunder open against the Knicks, the worst team in the NBA at defending power forwards. They also face Milwaukee and New Orleans among their four opponents for the week who also struggle against power forwards.
Luke Kornet, Knicks
Even before the Knicks’ overseas trip to England, Enes Kanter had missed the two previous games with an illness, so it’s worth checking his status before Monday’s tip. Kornet averages 16 more minutes and 19 Yahoo points per game more when Kanter is out, and they get a game against Brooklyn this week. The Nets are the worst in the league at defending the center position.