By Jeff Erickson, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The trade deadline has passed, and the All-Star Game is upon us this upcoming weekend. That means we have abbreviated schedules in Week 18 and Week 19. Most major sites have sensible scheduling, including Yahoo, and have combined the two weeks to give us a real sampling of games.
As such, this article will focus on the combined week. If you are looking for the number of games individually in Week 18 and Week 19, realize that Week 18 mirrors the combined list — the Knicks are the only team with three games, and the Lakers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Jazz have just one game. In Week 19, every NBA team has two, and only, two games.
Number of Games – Combined:
Five Games: NYK
Four Games: ATL, BOS, BKN, CHA, CHI, CLE, DAL, DEN, DET, GSW, HOU, IND, LAC, MEM, MIA, MIL, MIN, NOR, OKC, ORL, PHI, POR, TOR, WAS
Three Games: LAL, PHO, SAC, SAS, UTA
One obvious benefit of using the combined Week 18-19 schedule is that it puts the players from those five teams back in play. Having a three-game schedule for a 30-point player (using the Yahoo fantasy scoring scale) against a 20-25-point player with four games is a lot closer than that same comparison between a one-game player against a two-game player.
So who benefits the most among those five three-game teams?
For the Lakers …
… we’ll see how much they work Reggie Bullock into the rotation when he makes his team debut Sunday against the Sixers. Chances are though, he averages fewer minutes and touches initially and will be pretty tough to start.
LeBron James is an obvious start, even with his “load management” designation. The two players on the margin that I’d still start in many circumstances are Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, and I’d stray away from Kyle Kuzma for this week. You might miss out on a big game if James sits one out, but Kuzma’s recent production has been too sporadic for my liking.
The Suns have turned tanking into an art form …
… having lost 13 in a row, but there’s still fantasy value to be mined. The first player to watch will be the oft-injured Devin Booker, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. He’s probable for Sunday’s game against the Kings — if he plays, that gives us a one-game buffer to get his minutes back up, and make sure he makes it through without a setback.
With all of their roster moves, the Suns now have a bit of a narrow tree, thus making Kelly Oubre, Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson reliable starts recently.
The Kings are a tricky team to handicap …
… as their production comes from different sources on a near nightly basis. Buddy Hield has emerged as the closest thing to a steady producer for them in his third year. Long-criticized for not being able to create his own shot and bring little else besides sporadic scoring to the table, Hield has improved across the board this year. Most notably, he’s shooting 45.5% on three-point attempts; he’s also been picking up more rebounds, up to 5.1 per game, including 31 over his last four games. Adding Harrison Barnes to the mix might cut down his shot attempts as Barnes gets more acclimated to the team, but in the short term he’s not a big threat.
The other Kings’ primary producers have been all over the map recently. Marvin Bagley had a monster game Monday against the Spurs, tallying 52.9 Yahoo fantasy points, but then followed that up with 25.5 and 11.4 points, respectively. De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein and Bogdan Bogdanovic have also seen similar fluctuations. They are all borderline start-sit decisions for this scoring period.
The Spurs were the first team to …
… introduce the concept of resting healthy players midseason for a regular season game, in order to preserve them for the playoffs. Though their spot in the playoffs is far from assured, they were at it again last week, sitting both LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan against Golden State on the front end of a back-to-back.
For those of us hating the practice, it brings a small layer of schadenfreude to see them lose four in a row. But it also makes us a little uneasy starting them this period — but I wouldn’t worry too much about that, seeing how their games are spaced out. I would be wary of using Rudy Gay, however, after he sat out their most recent game with a minor ankle injury. The payoff upside just isn’t high enough to justify the risk.
Lastly among the three-game teams is Utah …
… and the process with them seems pretty cut-and-dry. Start Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell if you have them, and you can use Ricky Rubio in a pinch. The Jazz didn’t make any significant roster moves in advance of the trade deadline, so there’s no odd playing time issues to deal with here either.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Knicks …
… the lone five-game team for the period. But they’re a total mess right now. Kevin Knox is getting the most reliable playing time, but his production has fluctuated wildly lately, with a range between 4 and 41 Yahoo fantasy points over his last 15 games.
The two most reliable fantasy producers lately have been new arrivals from Dallas, Dennis Smith and DeAndre Jordan, and it should be all systems go for them. Now that Wesley Matthews is a Pacer, that does open up a little bit of playing time and shots for others, perhaps Allonzo Trier benefiting the most — but he’s extremely volatile.
A final complication is the status of Emmanuel Mudiay, who has been out since January 23 with a shoulder injury. Two weeks is a long time to rule a player out. It’s entirely possible he comes back during this period and shifts the playing time picture.
And that underscores a greater point — playing time is in flux as a result of the trade deadline in a lot of places. We can’t possibly break down every playing time change as a result of the trades in this space, but let’s hit a couple of major movers.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers shocked me by trading away their best player this year, Tobias Harris, in an overnight deal early last week. But it makes sense for them. Harris is a free agent at the end of the year, and can you realistically envision them winning a playoff series this season?
So they positioned themselves to be stronger in the future, both in terms of cap space and with draft picks, plus they added an interesting rookie in Landry Shamet. Between that trade and two other deals with the Grizzlies and Lakers, they now have a collection of middle-tier players all splitting the minutes and the ball fairly equally.
Saturday night’s game against the Celtics was remarkable both in how they dug out from a big deficit, and in how so many players contributed. It won’t always unfold this perfectly, but seven players had between 26.8 and 36.3 Yahoo fantasy points: Patrick Beverly, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Ivica Zubac, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. For Shamet, Zubac and Gilgeous-Alexander, this could be an opportunity to establish a firmer toehold in the offense.
Mike Conley surprisingly wasn’t dealt before the deadline, but Marc Gasol, JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi and Shelvin Mack (no longer “Still the Mack” apparently) are all gone, leaving plenty of playing time opportunities in their wake. The problem here is that the Grizzlies are still making that transition, so what occurred Saturday against the Pelicans isn’t guaranteed to repeat going forward.
For instance, Ivan Rabb started at center, has played 28+ minutes in four of his last five games, and even though coach J.B. Bickerstaff gave him a vote of confidence (“I think he has earned it…”), he’s been starting because Memphis held Gasol out in advance of his trade and Jonas Valanciunas hasn’t been able to play yet due to immigration issues. So I’m hesitant to take Bickerstaff’s words at face-value — ultimately I see Valanciunas taking over more minutes.
Meanwhile, Delon Wright should get a new lease on his professional life in Memphis, though that could be delayed a bit with Conley sticking around.
John Wall is out for this season and probably next, Otto Porter is a Bull, and Jeff Green just injured his hip, so new opportunities abound in our nation’s Capitol. New acquisitions Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis should get significant run the rest of the season. Parker has had two big games since arriving, posting 42.2 and 37.0 Yahoo points respectively. His minutes should be a lot more consistent with the Wizards than they were with the Bulls.
Portis had similar numbers in those two games, the only difference being is that he was already in favor in Chicago before the trade. But one hidden benefit to the trade is that the Wizards tend to play higher scoring games generally, lifting all boats.
With the All-Star game coming up next weekend, we’ll take next week off and resume for the stretch run in two weeks. Good luck in your leagues!