By Jeff Erickson, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Welcome to Week 9, where the schedule is remarkably balanced. There are no five-game teams, nor are there any two-gamers. Let’s take a quick look at the details:
Four Games: BOS, CLE, DAL, IND, LAC, LAL, MEM, MIA, OKC, PHI, PHO, SAC, TOR, WAS
Three Games: ATL, BKN, CHA, CHI, DEN, DET GSW, HOU, MIL, MIN, NOR, NYK, ORL, POR, SAS, UTA
Injuries and trades are the biggest factors this week when making our roster moves on the margins. There’s less of a concern about benching any of our stars or even second-tier starters due to their number of games, so let’s look at those aforementioned situations instead.
Let’s start with the Denver Nuggets this week. Though they only have three games, a slew of injuries have created playing time opportunities for a handful of players that could have a lasting impact.
Gary Harris is out three-to-four weeks with a hip injury, Will Barton has missed all but two games and remains out on a week-to-week basis. Now, Paul Millsap has been diagnosed with a fractured right toe. On Saturday night, Jamal Murray shuttled in-and-out of the game with a sore shin, and was limited to 24 minutes — well short of his 35 minute average. The good news for Murray is that he ultimately returned and finished out the game.
Who will step into the void? Juancho Hernangomez was covered in this space for Week 6, and his good run has only gotten better. He played a season-high 40 minutes Saturday night. So while this is a bit of a status quo update for him, the good news is that his usage within those minutes should also increase to the point where he’s useable even in three-game weeks.
The real playing time beneficiary due to Millsap’s injury is Trey Lyles. The fourth-year player out of Kentucky started Saturday night and played 38 minutes. He notched nine points and 10 rebounds. After a pretty efficient campaign in his first season with Denver last year, Lyles has struggled with his shot this year. He’s shooting only 42.0% from the field (down from 49.1%) and 26.7% from three-point range (down from 38.1%). He’s reaching the same levels based on volume, and he’ll get a chance to improve while Millsap is out.
As for Harris’s replacement, that time has been shared between Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley and Monte Morris. Even though he got the fewest minutes of the three on Saturday night, I like Beasley the best of this crew. The third-year player out of Florida State has scored in double-digits four of the last six games, including 19 points in 23 minutes on Saturday.
Darren Collison, IND
With Victor Oladipo out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Pacers frequently have turned to Bojan Bogdanovic to provide much of their scoring. He delivered a 26-point effort against the Magic on Friday night.
Indiana has also gotten good work out of Collison, who is averaging 11.8 points, 6.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.6 threes over his last five games. It’s been noteworthy to see that he and Cory Joseph have seen their minutes increase while Oladipo is out, yet Tyreke Evans has actually lost a few minutes over the last three games. The Pacers get four games this week, three at home and none of them are back-to-back.
Collin Sexton and Alec Burks, CLE
George Hill is now with the Bucks after Friday’s trade, and Rodney Hood is battling a foot injury. Sexton was already getting a good run of playing time, as well he should as the eighth overall pick in the draft. But he’s taking it to another level with Hill gone, having scored more than 20 points in his last three games. We’d like to see him distribute the ball more (he’s averaging only 2.7 assists per game), but that could come with time and better teammates to pass to.
Burks is more of a short-term fill-in, but with Hood out he has played 34+ minutes the last two games with big ones on Friday and Saturday night. The Cavs have four games this week, three at home, and none back-to-back. If Hood’s foot injury persists, Burks and Cedi Osman should continue to benefit.
Josh Jackson, PHO
It’s been a frustrating sophomore campaign for the 6’8 forward out of Kansas. His overall minutes have been down over five minutes per game, and he’s seen his production decline across the board as a result.
The good news is that he’s playing more over the last five games, thanks to injuries to Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. The problem is that he’s just not hitting his shots. His FG% is down to 39.6% from an already-low 41.7%, and his 3P% has dropped to 25.0%. Even with four games this week and the increased playing time, it’s difficult to start Jackson, especially if you’re in a categorical league that uses shooting percentages.
Kyle Kuzma, LAL
In contrast to Jackson, Kuzma has flourished in Year 2 with the Lakers. It helps to be on a franchise that’s not actively trying to lose, but that’s shorting Kuzma’s accomplishments. He has 21.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.0 threes in 36 minutes over last five games, with the last three coming in the wake of Brandon Ingram’s ankle injury.
This good run dates farther back than Ingram’s injury, however. He has scored 20+ points in six of his last eight games. Kuzma should be a lineup mainstay even when the Lakers have three games in a given week, though he has four this week.
Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo, MIA
Whiteside has been away from the team the last two days due to the potential birth of a child, and not based as a punishment for his early departure at the end of a game last week. Adebayo has played 29 and 32 minutes respectively in Whiteside’s absence and put together two productive games. Watch the Whiteside situation carefully — there are rumblings that he wants a trade, which could mean a permanent bump in playing time for Adebayo.
Marvin Bagley and Willie Cauley-Stein, SAC
Bagley missed two games last week with a back injury only to return over the weekend. However, he played only 10 minutes in Saturday night’s loss to the Pacers. The Kings have one more road game on their current trip, Monday in Chicago, then return home for two games Wednesday and Friday before hitting the road again.
All that travel can’t be great for his back, so while the lack of back-to-back games this week is nice, you might tread carefully with Bagley this week. Cauley-Stein had a slew of big games earlier this season but then his impact waned as Bagley emerged. However, he did have two double-double games in his last five, and could still provide similar impact whenever Bagley is hindered.
Daniel Theis, BOS
This is a bit of a deeper dive, but both Al Horford (knee) and Aron Baynes (ankle) sat out Saturday night and the Celtics have four games this week. Theis filled in for the two injured centers Saturday and played 32 minutes, He contributed 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks. He’s a good illustration of how much playing time matters in the NBA.
Unfortunately for Theis, he’s all four games removed from back-to-back DNP’s, and two games removed from playing only eight minutes. It’s really hard to use him in a traditional league where one sets their lineups for the full week, but if you’re in a league with daily start/sit decisions, he could be a nice asset.