Now in my 17th season playing fantasy basketball (rookie year: 1997-98; first fantasy team: horrendous), I try not to overreact to one box score out of 1,230 during the course of a season. But when a player I've been expecting to break out (Jimmy Butler) fires up a career-high 18 shots in his first game after a prominent teammate (Luol Deng) was traded, it’s very tough not to take notice.
So for me, the first priority in the aftermath of the Deng-to-Cleveland trade wasn’t running to add Mike Dunleavy or Tony Snell; it was making an offer for Butler before his post-Deng breakout happens. Along those lines, Butler made just four of his 18 shot attempts on Tuesday (13 points, five boards, three assists, four steals in 41 minutes), but the layout of the Bulls roster has set him up for a spike in value very soon. He’s already a difference-making player in steals (1.9), while also averaging 0.6 bpg and 1.0 3s. But he has only attempted 9.2 shots per game, a number that is due for a significant increase. So if you bump Butler’s current scoring average (12.2) into the 15-16 ppg range – well within reach now that Deng is gone – you have a player who currently sits No. 82 in 9-category leagues, but is likely to make a notable move in the rankings in the weeks to come.
In sum, I'm still kind of embarrassed that I drafted Rik Smits with an early-round pick in my first fantasy league, and go get Jimmy Butler. .
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In other basketball-related matters…
More fallout from the Andrew Bynum-Luol Deng trade: Anderson Varejao gets a renewed lease on his upgraded value. In his last five games, Varejao has posted 12.2 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.6 spg and 1.2 bpg, including an 18-point, 25-rebound game on Jan. 2, and 18 points and 14 boards in just 26 minutes on Tuesday. And now that Pau Gasol is not coming to Cleveland, Varejao should keep the starting center job for the rest of the season.
That is, if all of his limbs and ligaments stay attached. As you may know, Varejao has played a total of just 81 games the last three seasons (an average of 27 games per year), so it’s truly anyone’s guess as to when one of his kneecaps will go flying off. With that said, he’s a lot of fun to have on a fantasy roster right now, and it’s not like it’s 100 percent guaranteed that he’ll sustain a major injury, so if you’re looking to sell high, make sure you get an impact player in return.
Also happy he avoided the Andrew Bynum trade: Pau Gasol. I’m not sure he can stay clear of injury at his current pace (37 minutes per game in his last five), but Gasol is fully back to being an elite fantasy asset right now. Last five games: 21.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 4.4 apg and 2.8 bpg, numbers that make him the No. 17 player on Basketball Monster’s 9-category leaderboard during that stretch. In one sense, they’re numbers that scream sell-high given Gasol’s durability issues. But as is the case with Varejao, it’s very possible that Gasol is more valuable to you than he is to all the other skeptics in your league, who are convinced he’s going to get hurt at any moment. Of course, it's true that both players could get hurt at any moment, but I’d rather gamble on Gasol and Varejao staying healthy and lose than trade them away for a more durable but less productive player.
Other Random Thoughts: As a Hawks fan I cringe every time DeMarre Carroll shoots a 3, but he is providing some interesting low-end value at the moment. Last four games: 10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.8 spg and 0.8 3s in 36 minutes per game. … Tobias Harris is disappointing right now (first four games of January: 10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 0.5 spg, 1.0 bpg, 0.5 3s on 37.5 percent shooting), but he has still only played in 14 games due to his ankle injury. With his playing time right where it should be (34 minutes per game this month), he should be headed for peak production soon. Wednesday’s line (11 points, eight boards, a steal, a block and a trey on 5-of-12 shooting) was just a few made shots away from being right on par with what he averaged for Orlando last year. … Kevin Durant is averaging 39.0 ppg and just 1.0 turnovers in his last three games heading into Thursday night, including 48 points with no turnovers on Tuesday. That’s just obscene. … Gordon Hayward has averaged 27.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 spg, 1.3 bpg and 3.0 treys in his last three games, but it’s painful to think that he was on some benches in weekly leagues for his 37-11-7 line on Tuesday with the Jazz only playing twice this week. … Thanks to some good luck, I ended up sitting courtside at the Warriors-Hawks game last Friday night. Turns out I was sitting right next to Harry Douglas. Also turns out that Harry borrowed my friend’s photo and took credit for it himself.