By Jeff Erickson, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
After last week’s cornucopia of games (where 18 teams played four times) only nine teams have four games this week, five teams have just two, and one team, the Blazers, have only one game.
Here’s the full rundown:
Four Games: ATL, BKN, BOS, CHA, DEN, IND, LAC, MEM, NY
Three Games: CHI, DAL, DET, GS, HOU, LAL, MIA, MIL, NOR, OKC, ORL, PHI, SAS, UTA, WAS
Two Games: CLE, MIN, PHO, SAC, TOR
One Game: POR
Portland’s one-game schedule really hurts, because there’s three players that we start nearly every week in Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. Lillard sat out Saturday’s win over Atlanta with what was officially deemed a sore knee, though the Blazers suggested all along that they’d use the game as a rest day.
Their game is on Wednesday this week, so I’d venture a guess that he’ll play, but unless your alternative is a weaker option from one of the two-game teams, you have to sit Lillard this week. McCollum, despite his triple-double Saturday, and Nurkic are easier sit-decisions.
Likewise, you should bench all Cavs this week. Cedi Osman has had back-to-back big games, but he’s just three games removed from a single-digit scoring game and has had three games out of six with less than 20 Yahoo fantasy points. It only gets worse from there.
At center, if your two choices somehow were between Ante Zizic’s two games or Jusuf Nurkic’s one game, I might lean towards Zizic, knowing that Tristan Thompson will remain out with a foot injury, but his upside is so limited.
Devin Booker remains the best Phoenix player to roll with if you’re in a bind, but even he has been a little inconsistent lately. Plus, he’s a regular threat to get hurt and miss time with little notice. Teammates Kelly Oubre and Josh Jackson have had massive games recently, albeit sandwiched by mediocre outputs. They’re getting more of a run thanks to T.J. Warren’s ankle injury, which will keep Warren out until at least the second week of February.
The Timberwolves are losing point guards at the pace that Spinal Tap lost drummers, creating value for Jerryd Bayless in three consecutive games. That said, you can’t start him this week with only two games and the possibility that Derrick Rose or Tyus Jones might return. Karl-Anthony Towns is an obvious decision to start, while Andrew Wiggins is a borderline one.
The Kings don’t have a star that stands out in a two-game week. They’re not an offensive wasteland like Cleveland, but there’s just enough risk of health and inconsistency to shy away from the likes of De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein and Buddy Hield. It’s too bad, because the Kings’ two games are at home against Atlanta (last in the NBA in points against, 117.5 points per game) and Philadelphia (22nd, 112.2).
Finally, among the two-game teams, Kawhi Leonard’s usage has been a disaster for his fantasy owners. He just returned from a four-game absence deemed to be due to ‘rest’ with a productive game on Friday, and he’s missed a handful of other games when the Raptors have had back-to-back slates.
Toronto’s two games this upcoming week are on Thursday and Sunday, days where there’s a light slate. If you have daily moves, it would be especially advantageous to have him available, but it’s just so difficult to trust him. Kyle Lowry produces both with and without Leonard in the lineup and is a likely start for you. Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka are borderline decisions.
Now that we’ve covered the two-game squads, who are some potential free agents to grab among the four-game teams?
Dewayne Dedmon remains an occasional risk to miss games due to nagging injuries, and his play is usually limited to 25 minutes per game, but he’s frequently been productive in that time. He’s available in my home league, where I usually start Nurkic at center, so he’s a high-priority pick up for me this week.
Teammate Taurean Prince recently returned after a lengthy absence and just passed the 30-minute threshold in his sixth game back on Saturday against Portland. The Hawks had been easing Prince back after the emergence of Kevin Huerter, though Huerter also missed two games recently with a neck injury.
With injury comes opportunity, and such is the case with Brooklyn and Spencer Dinwiddie, who is out three-to-six weeks with torn ligaments in his thumb. In Dinwiddie’s absence, both Shabazz Napier and Theo Pinson had big spikes in playing time, with Pinson playing 26 minutes (and posting a 19-point, 8-rebound, 2-assist, 2-steal game) after sitting out the previous five games.
But it was Napier that picked up the start with Dinwiddie out Friday and is the better bet of the two to pick up and use this week. In my home league, which has 144 players rostered (12 teams, 12 players), has both Joe Harris and DeMarre Carroll also on the waiver wire. They average over 28 minutes per game and have been credible this season.
If you’re looking for a decent floor guy to take advantage of his four games, check to see if Marcus Morris is available. He’s averaging 24 Yahoo fantasy points per game and consistently tallies in the 20’s, but he also has a limited ceiling; the Celtics have copious options in the offense and he’s rarely their first choice. But the minutes are almost always there for him, at least.
Cut out of the same mode as Morris are three usual suspects from this space on the Hornets: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Marvin Williams. Setting aside positional needs, I’d rank the three in that order. Lamb has been better than Batum over the course of the season, but Batum has been slightly better lately and definitely better over the course of their respective careers.
With Jamal Murray sitting out Saturday with an ankle injury, Torrey Craig moved into the starting lineup and played 35 minutes against the Sixers. Because the Nuggets run so much of their offense through Nikola Jokic, that doesn’t translate into too may chances for assists, but at least Craig had a 15-point, six-rebound night Saturday.
Murray’s ankle was “really swollen” Saturday, so there’s at least a chance he misses more time this week. If that’s the case, Monte Morris should also be in line for more playing time.
Victor Oladipo’s devastating injury will test the Pacers’ depth for the rest of the season, assuming that they don’t add a major component by the trade deadline. Tyreke Evans was moved into the starting lineup Saturday and played 24 minutes, five above his average over the last 15 games. If he’s still available in your league, Darren Collison is your real target, and perhaps the best option of the week.
His recent form has been strong (three consecutive games with 35+ Yahoo fantasy points), plus he’ll be on the ball a lot more going forward. If you’re in a categorical league he is probably already owned for his assists, but he has the potential to have 8-to-10 per game.
Los Angeles Clippers
There aren’t too many available viable options on the Clippers. You can check to see if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Patrick Beverly might help you in a playing time bid, but even with Danilo Gallinari out for the past four games, their fantasy output has been pretty lukewarm. I prefer most of the options mentioned above.
Both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are reportedly on the block, but it’s hard to speculate on those that benefit from the trade without seeing the return. The Grizzlies don’t have too many pieces on their roster that are bursting at the seams, waiting for playing time. Yes, Jaren Jackson is a building block, but he’s already getting playing time.
With Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple both out, Justin Holiday is getting a good run of playing time. That should continue even without a trade, so he’s probably the best speculative player widely available on the Grizzlies.
New York Knicks
Emmanuel Mudiay is out with a shoulder injury for two weeks, and Trey Burke played 33 minutes in his stead Friday night. For now, he looks to be the better temporary point guard option over Frank Ntilikina. Coach David Fizdale’s playing time rotation is beguiling, but in the last week Allonzo Trier has emerged as the Knicks’ sixth man, and he posted two huge games last week and another solid — if not great — game Friday against the Nets. There’s a lot of volatility with Trier, but if you’re in a pinch he’s a reasonable option.
Finally, here are two other players to look at as short-term options. Jahlil Okafor has taken advantage of injuries to Anthony Davis and now Julius Randle to post four good games in a row. It’s hard to forget that he just turned 23 years old in December. The former third overall pick in the 2015 draft is considered a bust, but with playing time and opportunity can result in good production still.
Similarly, Kenneth Faried has gone from being out of Brooklyn’s playing rotation to an effective complimentary player to James Harden’s brilliance. He’s coming off of a 21-point, 14-rebound performance Friday night. Clint Capela is weeks away, so Faried should continue to get decent run in February.