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By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
If you, like me, thought the pandemic had finally sunk into the backdrop of the NBA season, boy were you wrong. COVID-19 postponements have once again taken center stage in Week 9, as several teams and key players will lose valuable games.
It’s a discouraging development for the NBA, especially as All-Star Weekend approaches, but as has been the case all season, the league will trudge on and look to reschedule the games during the second half of play.
Let’s dive into the specifics, as well as take a look at some of the other top fantasy storylines around the league in Week 9:
COVID-19 postponements are back in a big way
Just when it seemed like the league had begun to get a handle on COVID-19, it was reported Tuesday morning that the Spurs are dealing with multiple positive tests. As a result, the league set off a string of wide-ranging postponements affecting eight different teams. The Spurs remain quarantined in Charlotte, where they played their most recent game. San Antonio’s next four games, beginning with Tuesday’s matchup against Detroit, have been postponed. Meanwhile, the Hornets are conducting contact tracing, and their next two games are postponed.
For fantasy purposes, the Spurs are completely wiped out for Week 9, while the best-case for the Hornets is they play their final game of the week Saturday night against Golden State. At this stage, it’s possible that the contest could eventually be added to the list of postponements.
Scheduled opponents of the Spurs and Hornets — the Pistons, Cavaliers, Knicks, Bulls, and Nuggets — will each have a game postponed this week. In addition, the Pacers’ first game of next week (Monday, Feb. 22 vs. SAN) has been postponed, leaving Indiana with a three-game Week 10.
In the aftermath of the postponements, the league has added a game between the Nuggets and Cavaliers to Friday’s slate. As a result, the Nuggets will play four games this week, while the Cavs will play three, including Monday night’s loss to Golden State.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reports that Detroit and Chicago — both of which had their original games postponed Wednesday — will likely square off in Chicago on Wednesday night. That would give Detroit three games (at CHI, at MEM, at ORL) this week, while Chicago would play four, including Monday’s overtime win against Indiana.
Obviously, the situation is a mess on many levels, but it’s a particularly disappointing development for managers who grabbed Spurs center Jakob Poeltl off the waiver wire. As the fill-in for LaMarcus Aldridge, Poeltl is averaging 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks across six starts. Dating back to late-January, Poeltl has multiple blocks in seven of his last eight games. With next Monday’s game against Indiana postponed, the Spurs are currently scheduled to play only two games in Week 10.
After Tuesday’s game against San Antonio was called off, the Pistons were preparing to head to Dallas to face the Mavericks on Wednesday night. That game has since been postponed due to severe winter weather in the area that triggered a state of emergency declaration from the governor of Texas. Initially, the Pistons looked to be relegated to a two-game week, but as noted above, the league is working toward Detroit playing at Chicago on Wednesday night.
The Mavs, meanwhile, will play only one game (as of now, at least) after entering Week 10 with only two games on the schedule. If you were considering leaving Luka Doncic or Kristaps Porzingis in your weekly lineups, this development should be more than enough to pull them in favor of three- or four-game players.
Blake, Drummond sidelined indefinitely
On Monday, both the Cavs and Pistons announced their separate plans to hold a big-name player out of action while they seek a trade or buyout. Two former teammates in Detroit, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, will be shut down as their respective teams evaluate their options ahead of the March 25 trade deadline.
Of the two, Drummond is the far more appealing trade asset, as he’s on an expiring contract and isn’t weighed down by significant injury concerns and rapidly declining numbers. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Monday that the Raptors were in active talks with the Cavaliers regarding Drummond. Charania notes that several other teams, including Brooklyn and Dallas, have shown some level of interest in the 27-year-old big man.
Despite playing his fewest minutes (28.9 MPG) since his rookie season, Drummond is enjoying another productive fantasy campaign, averaging 17.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks through 25 games. His field goal percentage (47.4% FG) is down, and free throw shooting (59.7% FT) will always be a concern, but Drummond should return to being one of the league’s best volume rebounders and defensive-stat contributors once a deal is eventually reached.
Griffin’s situation is much more complicated. With Griffin sitting on perhaps the single worst contract in the league, teams won’t exactly be lining up to offer assets in exchange for the 31-year-old, who’s looked like a shell of himself in 20 appearances this season. Griffin is owed north of $36 million this season, and he holds a $39 million player option for the 2021-22 season. Trading Griffin would almost certainly entail taking back another team’s negative contract(s), and the Pistons may even have to shell out cash or draft picks to entice potential trade partners.
The two sides reaching some sort of buyout may be the more likely scenario, but that could present some serious long-term salary cap implications for Detroit — the same franchise that’s already waived and stretched Josh Smith, Dewayne Dedmon, and Zhaire Smith in recent years.
Removing Drummond from the Cavs’ rotation, and Griffin from the Pistons’ means a significant number of minutes are now up for grabs on a nightly basis. For Cleveland, ex-Net Jarrett Allen steps in as the likely permanent starter at center. In 10 total starts this season between the Nets and Cavs, Allen is averaging 15.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 31.1 minutes. In Monday’s loss to Golden State, he played 29 minutes and finished with 13 points, 14 boards, two blocks, an assist, and a steal.
In Detroit, the primary beneficiary looks to be rookie Saddiq Bey, who’s coming off of back-to-back impressive showings. Against Boston on Friday, Bey went 7-of-7 from three and finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds, both career-bests. He followed up with 16 points (4-8 3PT), six assists, four rebounds, and three steals in 38 minutes in Sunday’s win over New Orleans. Given the uncertainty surrounding the schedule, Bey loses some appeal in the short-term, but he’ll have a great chance to be a starting-caliber fantasy option going forward. As of Tuesday, Bey is rostered in only 37 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Checking in on KAT
A combination of a wrist injury and a positive COVID-19 diagnosis kept the Timberwolves’ best player out of action for 20 of the team’s first 24 games. Karl-Anthony Towns made his return against the Clippers on Feb. 10, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and a steal in 31 minutes. Towns followed up with 25 points and eight boards against Charlotte on Friday, and he followed up with his best all-around effort — 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocks — in Sunday’s road win over Toronto.
Considering how much time he missed, Towns’ fantasy managers should be encouraged by his production. However, his free throw rate will be worth monitoring in Week 9. Towns has generated just six total free throw attempts over his last three games, a notable downturn after he got to the line 25 times in his first four games of the season.
Noel’s time to shine in NYC
With Mitchell Robinson sidelined for at least the next month, Nerlens Noel was easily the weekend’s top waiver wire target. How highly valued was Noel? In the RotoWire staff league, he went for $50. Is that a wild overpay? Absolutely. But it speaks to just how much of a difference-maker — especially as a shot-blocker — Noel can be in a starting role.
Even before entering the starting five, Noel was averaging 2.0 blocks in 17.4 minutes per game while leading the league in block rate (min. 400 MP). In his first start against Houston on Saturday, Noel played a season-high 32 minutes and finished with 10 points, six boards, two blocks, and a steal. He followed up with six points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks in the Knicks’ win over Atlanta on Monday.
The average of those two games — 8.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.5 BPG — is a pretty good measuring stick for what to expect from Noel going forward, though his rebounding numbers should improve.
Lakers without Anthony Davis
Fantasy managers were dealt a tough blow Sunday night when Anthony Davis limped gingerly off the court after tweaking his calf late in the second quarter. The good news is Davis avoided any major damage, but he’s expected to miss several weeks and will likely remain out through the All-Star break. Davis’ numbers were down across the board relative to last season, but he was still among the league’s elite fantasy big men.
While the Lakers don’t have a clear replacement, Montrezl Harrell figures to be one of the primary beneficiaries of Davis’ absence. The high-energy big man is yet to start a game this season (and that will likely continue) but he’s averaging 16.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks when he plays at least 25 minutes. Raise that minimum to 30 minutes and Harrell is averaging 18.5 points (75.6% FG), 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.8 blocks in four qualifying games (31.3 MPG).
The other player to monitor is Kyle Kuzma, who enters Tuesday’s game in Minnesota with double-digit points in eight of his last nine games, including six straight. Kuzma tends to be only a three-category producer (points, rebounds, threes), but with increased opportunity ahead, he’ll be worth a speculative add in most leagues. In his six starts this season (31.3 MPG), Kuzma is averaging 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.0 block and 2.0 made threes (38.7% 3PT).
Brooklyn’s Big Three
The Kyrie and Harden show rolled through Sacramento on Monday night, with the Nets’ two backcourt stars combining for 69 points and 15 of the Nets’ franchise-record 27 made three-pointers. Kevin Durant is set to sit out for the fifth time in six games Tuesday against Phoenix, but he’ll have a chance to return for Thursday night’s showdown against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
It’s now been a full month since Harden made his Nets debut back on Jan. 16, and in that time all three of Harden, Irving, and Durant rank inside the top-12 in nine-category leagues (per-game value). With averages of 22.8 points, 11.6 assists, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.9 made threes per game, Harden ranks fourth behind only Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry, and Kawhi Leonard.
Irving checks in at No. 8, putting up 28.8 points per game and shooting 55.0 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three in 13 games since returning from his sabbatical. Durant’s game count is lower, but his 28.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.5 threes, and 1.9 blocks are good for a per-game ranking of 11th, just behind Fred VanVleet, who’s averaging 2.2 steals over his last 15 games.
Once Durant is healthy and the Nets can play an extended stretch with a full roster, chances are the numbers will begin to regress a bit and all three won’t sustain first-round value going forward. Even so, they’ve quickly been able to strike a balance when it comes to playmaking and scoring, with Irving recently revealing that he’s ceded point guard duties to Harden when the pair is on the floor together. The reduction in assists for Irving isn’t ideal, but it won’t be much of a concern if he’s going to continue to pile up big scoring nights at a ridiculously efficient rate.