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Fantasy Basketball Week 5: News, notes, and updates from around the NBA

·10 min read
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By Nick Whalen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Week 5 of the NBA season will officially bring us past the one-month mark of the 2020-21 season. Thus far, it’s been a season marred by postponements, but the COVID-19 issues seem to have slowed down — at least, to some degree — following last week’s multi-team outbreaks.

While a few notable names, including Jayson Tatum and Karl-Anthony Towns, remain sidelined, the Washington Wizards are the only team (at least for now) faced with enough cases to threaten additional postponements. Hopefully, that means we can return to focusing on what’s happening on the court in Week 5.

In this week’s look around the league, we’ll dive into some noteworthy debuts, injury concerns in Portland and Indiana, the return of Ja Morant, a resurgent Paul George, and much more:

COVID-19 Update

It’s not the topic I’d prefer to start with, but the fact is COVID-19 continues to be the primary storyline of the 2020-21 fantasy basketball season. For the most part, last week’s outbreaks appear to be under control, but with Wednesday’s Wizards-Hornets matchup called off, Washington has now had five consecutive games postponed. Seven Wizards players have contracted the virus, and it was reported Monday that one staff member also tested positive. The hope is that Washington can return to some form of practice Wednesday, but at this juncture, it’s very much unclear if playing Friday’s game against Milwaukee is realistic. As of Tuesday morning, the Wizards only have six eligible players — two short of the eight required for a game to take place.

  • Karl-Anthony Towns tested positive for the virus late last week and is expected to miss roughly two weeks of action. If that timetable holds up, he’ll miss at least two of the Timberwolves’ four games in Week 6. Juancho Hernangomez also tested positive and will remain out through at least the end of Week 5.

  • Boston’s Jayson Tatum is still away from the team following a positive test, but he’s reportedly been asymptomatic, a good sign for his conditioning when he’s cleared to return. When, exactly, that will be, remains up in the air, but it’s possible the star wing could return as early as Friday in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Robert Williams is expected to return from his COVID-related absence Wednesday night, also against Philadelphia.

  • Tomas Satoransky and Chandler Hutchison missed another game Monday due to COVID-19 protocols. Neither player has been available since Dec. 29 against Washington.

Portland’s bad injury luck

It feels like every year the Blazers are befallen by a crippling injury, and that’s once again the case after Jusuf Nurkic sustained a fractured wrist last week that will sideline him for at least two months. Nurkic was off to a sluggish start — 9.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.9 BPG — but was coming off of his best game of the season (18pts, 12reb, 2stl, 3blk in a win over the Kings) the night before the injury. With Zach Collins on the shelf following ankle surgery last month, the Blazers will turn to Enes Kanter and Harry Giles to soak up most of the minutes at center. Through two games, Kanter has totaled 21 points, 23 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and five blocks in 56 minutes. Giles has five points, eight boards, and two assists in 26 minutes.

On top of the Nurkic injury, the Blazers learned Tuesday that CJ McCollum will miss at least a month due to a sprain and hairline fracture in his left foot. He’ll wear a walking boot for the next month before being re-evaluated.

While Nurkic had underwhelmed before his injury, McCollum was on the other end of the spectrum, enjoying the best start to any season of his eight-year career. Over his first 12 games, McCollum averaged 27.6 points, 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and just 1.1 turnovers, while posting a 47/43/84 shooting line. In nine-category leagues, McCollum ranked as the seventh-most-valuable player on a per-game basis and the second-most valuable player in terms of total value.

Playing without McCollum for the first time Monday afternoon, the Blazers inserted Rodney Hood into the starting lineup. Hood, who missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, finished with 21 points (9-14 FG, 2-6 3PT), two rebounds, two assists, and a steal in 25 minutes. He looks to be the primary beneficiary in McCollum’s absence, but three-point gunner Gary Trent — who went 1-of-9 from the floor Monday — could also pick up increased minutes.

Oladipo’s impressive Rockets debut

Victor Oladipo played his first game in a Rockets uniform Monday night, finishing with 32 points in 32 minutes while adding nine assists, five rebounds, and two steals. He did commit seven turnovers, but for the most part, Oladipo looked plenty comfortable, as his scoring and assists totals both marked new season-highs. It’s worth noting the Rockets were without John Wall, who will cut into Oladipo’s usage once he’s back from the sore knee that’s cost him the last three games. Wall is considered questionable for Wednesday’s game against Phoenix.

  • Jarrett Allen is yet to debut for Cleveland, which had both Sunday’s and Monday’s scheduled matchups against Washington postponed. Assuming everything holds, Allen will be available for Wednesday’s game against … the Brooklyn Nets. It’s unclear how the minutes will break down between Allen, Andre Drummond, Larry Nance, and JaVale McGee, but the Cavs haven’t been shy about deploying supersized lineups this season. Looking ahead, the eventual return of Kevin Love (calf) will add yet another big man to the mix.

  • Another quick Cavs note: Both Collin Sexton and Darius Garland returned to practice Monday, foreshadowing a potential return for Wednesday’s game against the Nets.

LeVert bracing for surgery on kidney

The Pacers were dealt a major blow over the weekend when it was revealed that Caris LeVert has a small mass in his left kidney. It’s a major — and, frankly, bizarre — setback for the 26-year-old, who is expected to undergo surgery and miss at least a couple of months. How this did not come to light until he arrived in Indiana is an investigation for another day, but in the immediate future, the Pacers have no replacement for the 20-point-per-game scorer they sent to Houston in exchange for LeVert.

  • For now, the big winner appears to be Justin Holiday, who played 35 minutes against the Clippers on Sunday and finished with 15 points, three rebounds, an assist, and three steals. Edmond Sumner started alongside Holiday and Malcolm Brogdon and finished with nine points, three rebounds, two assists, and three steals in 21 minutes. At this point, Sumner looks to have the slight edge over Aaron Holiday.

Turner diagnosed with fracture in hand

The Pacers received more bad injury news Tuesday morning when Myles Turner was diagnosed with a “slight fracture” in his right hand. It’s a tough break, literally, for the 24-year-old, but he’ll avoid surgery and is not expected to miss extended time. Turner is off to a blazing start on the defensive end, establishing himself as, hands down, the league’s premier shot-blocker.

Through 12 games, Turner has 10 multi-block games, including seven games with at least four blocks. He’s on pace to become the first player since Dikembe Mutombo in 1995-96 to average at least 4.0 blocks per game. Turner is also on pace to shatter Manute Bol’s single-season block percentage record, which has stood since 1988-89 (min. 1,000 minutes played). Turner currently sits at 11.6 percent, while Nerlens Noel (10.6%) and Chris Boucher (10.4%) are also within striking distance of Bol’s record (10.8%).

Kyrie expected back Wednesday

Steve Nash said Tuesday that he expects Irving to return from his extended absence — let’s call it a sabbatical — for Wednesday’s matchup against the Cavaliers. The circumstances of Irving’s leave remain somewhat murky, but it appears he’s ready to get back to playing basketball after missing the last seven games. In his seven appearances this season, Irving is averaging 27.1 points, 6.1 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals with incredible shooting efficiency (50/43/100), making him the second-most-valuable fantasy player on a per-game basis, behind only Nikola Jokic.

  • The Nets have looked just fine without Irving in their two games since acquiring James Harden from Houston. In his debut against Orlando on Saturday, Harden worked his way to the line 15 times and finished with 32 points, 14 assists, 12 rebounds, and four steals. In Monday’s win over Milwaukee, he went for 34 points, 12 assists, and six boards. Harden has played a ton of minutes (81 total) and committed a ton of turnovers (15) thus far, but he looks noticeably more engaged with the Nets than he did in Houston. Irving’s return adds another high-usage guard to the mix, but don’t expect Harden’s numbers to take a significant hit.

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden
So far, so good for James Harden, the Brooklyn Net. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

The return of ‘MVP’ Paul George

Coming off of a disastrous postseason, George was mostly clowned for his preseason vow to return to MVP form in 2020-21. It remains unclear if George is aware that he has never won an MVP, but he’s certainly in the discussion this season thanks to a red-hot start offensively. George is averaging 3.3 more points per game than last season, despite taking fewer shots (15.8 FGA/G, down from 16.3) and roughly the same number of free-throw attempts.

He’s been on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 51.0 percent of his 8.0 attempts per game entering Wednesday’s game against Sacramento. George is also shooting a career-high 92.3 percent at the line, propelling his True Shooting percentage up to a preposterous 68.8 percent. By comparison, George’s previous career-high in True Shooting was last season’s 58.9 percent mark. At some point, George is due to regress toward the mean, but so far it’s been a nice bounce back for a star many were ready to write off after his struggles in the bubble. As of Tuesday, George ranks sixth overall in nine-category fantasy value.

Chris Boucher: Top 10 fantasy player

Boucher was a popular breakout candidate coming into the season, but he was still a late-round selection in most drafts with Aron Baynes clearly ahead of him on the depth chart. While Baynes is still inexplicably starting over Boucher, the 27-year-old has been a monster off the bench, and he enters Tuesday as the 10th overall player in nine-category Yahoo leagues. Over his last six games, Boucher is averaging 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, and 1.3 assists with a 66/54/82 shooting line. He’s also committed just eight turnovers in 310 total minutes.

Considering Boucher was a 32 percent three-point shooter over the previous two seasons, he’s bound to cool off in that respect. But as long as he’s playing close to 30 minutes on most nights, he’ll continue to be one of the major steals of the fantasy season.

Morant back in action

Ja Morant was back on the floor for Saturday’s win over the 76ers less than three weeks after spraining his ankle on Dec. 28 in Brooklyn. In 31 minutes, Morant posted 17 points, six assists, and a steal. On Monday against Phoenix, Morant put up 17 points, 10 assists, three rebounds, two steals, and a block in 34 minutes.

  • Jaren Jackson Jr. appears close to making his season debut for Memphis. He’s without a firm target date but dropped hints over the weekend that his return is “not that far” away. The Grizzlies play two games in Portland on Wednesday and Friday before returning to Memphis for a home/home back-to-back set against Sacramento on Sunday and Monday.