By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Midway through Week 22, let’s take a look around the league at the players and storylines impacting the fantasy basketball landscape.
The Milwaukee Bucks still lead the Eastern Conference …
…by 2.5 games, but they’re in the midst of their roughest stretch of the season, with — cover your ears, kids — three losses in their last five games. For most teams, that’s just how things go over the course of an 82-game schedule, but Milwaukee hasn’t dropped three-of-five since November, and its league-best defense just allowed 121 points to the Spurs on Sunday.
Since the All-Star break, the Bucks are still an elite offense — second in the NBA behind Detroit — but they’ve begun to lag defensively, posting a 111.4 defensive rating in 10 games since the break. That’s nearly seven points per 100 possessions lower than their season-long mark and good for 19th in the league in that span.
On a more positive note, the Bucks got Donte DiVincenzo back from a lengthy injury layoff last week. He returned for Thursday’s win over Indiana and broke out with 11 points in Saturday’s 131-114 romp of the Hornets. The rookie out of Villanova is averaging 13.3 minutes in three games since returning but could lose his spot in the regular rotation once George Hill and Sterling Brown are healthy.
A suspension will almost certainly be coming for Serge Ibaka …
…who’s lucky he didn’t connect on a swing at the head of Cleveland’s Marquese Chriss on Monday night. The two got tangled up, literally, while battling to control a long outlet pass at the end of the third quarter. Ibaka appeared to flop, prompting a comment from Chriss, which Ibaka clearly did not appreciate. At the time of the incident, Toronto had already lost Kyle Lowry to an ankle injury and was down 14 to one of the worst teams in the league.
Both Ibaka and Chriss were subsequently ejected, and given Ibaka’s growing history of on-court scuffles, ESPN’s Bobby Marks speculates that the veteran could be handed a ban of three-to-five games. Ibaka was previously suspended one game each for altercations with Robin Lopez in 2017 and James Johnson a season ago.
Assuming the league comes down on Ibaka, Marc Gasol will be in line to start the next the next few games, beginning with Thursday’s home matchup with the Lakers. Gasol has been rather inconsistent as Toronto alternates its starting center based on matchups, and he’s coming off of a poor performance Monday night, when he finished with just two points, seven rebounds, four assists and three turnovers in 22 minutes as the starter.
Joel Embiid made his return …
… Sunday afternoon against the Pacers and didn’t show many signs of rust, finishing with 33 points on 21 shots, while getting to the line 15 times. Embiid also hauled in 12 rebounds, though he did commit five fouls in 28 minutes. All indications are that Embiid will play Tuesday night, and he appears to be good to go moving forward after missing a string of eight games coming out of the All-Star break.
That doesn’t mean the Sixers won’t be cautious with Embiid’s workload, however, and it’s certainly possible he could be held out of one-half of Philly’s three remaining back-to-back sets. The Sixers are virtually locked into a top-five seed, though moving ahead of Indiana and into the three spot — doubly avoiding Boston in Round 1 and getting out of Milwaukee’s side of the bracket — should still be a priority.
The Suns have (rightfully) been skewered …
… for a number of questionable-at-best personnel moves over the last few seasons, but the acquisition of Kelly Oubre has revived the restricted-free-agent-to-be’s young career. Back in December, Phoenix netted Oubre (and, briefly, Austin Rivers) in a deal that sent Trevor Ariza to Washington. The Suns probably never should’ve signed Ariza in the first place, but they were able to turn him into a much younger asset in Oubre, who they’ll have to pay this summer but who also makes more sense for their developmental timeline.
With 45 small forwards currently on the roster, Phoenix will have some sorting out to do come June and July, but Oubre has made his case to be a part of the future — perhaps even ahead of former No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson, who’s made few tangible strides in Year 2.
Entering Tuesday, Oubre is a top-85 player in Yahoo leagues for the season, and that number jumps closer to the top-70 over the last month. Benefiting from T.J. Warren’s ongoing absence, the 22-year-old has started the last nine games and is averaging 18.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks in that span, while hitting 35.3 percent of his threes. There have already been murmurs that Warren could be shut down for the season, so Oubre’s productive run has a good chance to continue into April.
Jrue Holiday is set to be reevaluated …
… sometime this week, but in the meantime, the Pels will continue to showcase second-year guard Frank Jackson. The Duke product has started the last two games in Holiday’s place, scoring 20 and 23 points, respectively, while launching 38 combined field goal attempts with just two assists. Distributing has never been Jackson’s calling card — and the Pelicans still have Elfrid Payton running the point — but the 20 year old could be a decent source of scoring in the short term, should Holiday end up missing weeks, rather than days. For the season, Jackson is putting up 14.7 points and 4.5 assists per 36 minutes.
Andre Drummond has top-10, and even top-five, value …
… in some Yahoo leaguesover the past month on the back of 19.6 points, 16.9 rebounds, 2.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks in his last 12 games. Dating back to Jan. 25, when he returned from a three-game injury absence, Drummond is averaging 20.4 points and 16.3 rebounds, while converting 67.8 percent of his 6.2 free throw attempts per game — up 10 percentage points from his season-long number.
In eight games since joining the Blazers, Enes Kanter …
… has once againproven he can be productive in a limited workload. Kanter has topped 20 minutes only once in that span but still holds averages of 10.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game. Those numbers aren’t overly appealing in standard leagues, but Kanter can still have some utility in deeper formats — particularly for owners in desperate need of rebounds.