New Year’s Eve is a time for reflection, a time to hold your loved ones, and a time to make memories with your friends. In the NBA it’s also the beginning of the real regular season and in fantasy leagues it’s the time in which your team better have its act together because the next four months are going to come very fast.
But back to the former point, it’s an honor to write for this site and also for NBC in general, and it’s especially an honor to write for one of the smartest NBA readerships there is. There are knuckleheads on every comment board, but at Rotoworld the meritocracy still exists.
I’d like to thank NBC for supporting me in virtually everything I’ve done, including taking significant time to report the Kings relocation story for the past two years, which has unintentionally paid off on the fantasy front because it has opened many doors for me by giving me backchannels to ask about players, etc.
As for the Kings story it took me around the United States and into places that 12-year old me could have never dreamed about, including an interview with David Stern and trips to New York where the final votes would be decided. I got a lot of hate from Seattle for my reporting, and I got a lot of love from Sacramento because that reporting would eventually pan out. All the while I did battle with the NBA’s top insiders and I held my own, with a lot of help from some of the best sources a guppy reporter could hope for. Again, all of it was a pinch-me moment.
1,000+ people faced imminent unemployment if the Kings were to move, and I watched as an entire community of diverse backgrounds pulled together and did what Seattle could not do years earlier – which philosophical arguments about arena funding set aside -- was to compel their politicians to pay the NBA’s price to be one of 29 cities in their club.
I learned a lot about people during that time. Ignoring some of the ugliness that I’ll probably save for a book on the topic -- the vast majority of what I saw was truly special. Seattle fans took the high road and shared images of togetherness with their Sacramento counterparts, and in Sacramento hundreds of people literally stopped their lives and fought for their city.
As I sit back and reflect on this crazy year and what it meant to me the best part was seeing this positivity, and the way that sports connected people from all different backgrounds to achieve a common goal. There’s something special about knowing that civic responsibility could still be a thing, or people could turn to basketball the way they did in the Philippines after a natural disaster, or how thousands would cheer the BatKid all the way to AT&T Field where the San Francisco Giants play baseball so he could bag another bad guy.
Sports bring us together. Sports add flavor to our life. But mostly, sports give us a way to explain the beauty of our being. And for that I am truly grateful to be a small part of it. Happy New Year to all of you guys.
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THE PAUL BEARER
The Hawks took over late in a very early Tuesday morning game against the Celtics to get a win, and owners of Paul Millsap have to be laughing all the way to the bank after his slow start. With Al Horford out for the year and the Hawks already thin to begin with, he’s well on his way to top-20 fantasy value and he’s actually been a top 8-13 value over the past two weeks in 8- and 9-cat leagues respectively. Last night he scored 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting (10-of-14 FTs) with 15 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. One of the reasons I had him ranked so highly in the preseason is that his stat set allows for fast ascension all the way up to elite ranks, so don’t be surprised if he holds onto first round value for the rest of the year.
Jeff Teague scored 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting with no threes, six boards, five assists and no steals or blocks, highlighting the fantasy deficiencies that have kept him from breaking out this season, but on a team that will trend toward a faster pace with very little depth he’s a major buy low candidate. Kyle Korver hit his sole streak-extending three on a four-point play in the fourth quarter, and finished with a respectable 14 points, three boards, five assists, one steal and one block, while Lou Williams disappeared with zero points on eight missed field goal attempts in 16 minutes. Maybe his knee wasn’t up to par or maybe he was yanked for the bad shooting, but he’s also a guy who needs to be held as the fourth best player on the Hawks roster.
Mike Scott got a start at small forward and you can see Mike Budenholzer wants to get him minutes, but the fantasy production still isn’t there with eight points, seven boards and one block on 4-of-12 shooting in 28 minutes. I added him in a deeper 12-team league knowing that he can fill it up quick, though his defensive stats are a major drag and he’ll need to make good on those scoring and rebounding stats to last on my roster longer than a week or two. Still, the depth issues here make him a guy to watch very closely. Shelvin Mack also fits that bill, though he’s likely a better fit for deeper leagues, but he has 14-team value over the last two weeks even after an off-night of five points on 1-of-9 shooting with one three, five boards and five assists in 23 minutes.
WHAT IF KRISTEN STEWART WAS SEVEN FEET TALL AND PLAYED CENTER FOR THE CELTICS
The Celtics lost Jared Sullinger (two points, 10 boards, three assists, one block, 20 minutes) to a left hand injury in yesterday’s game but Brad Stevens said he could have returned had Kelly Olynyk (21 points, 8-of-11 FGs, three treys, four boards, five assists, one steal, two blocks) and Kris Humphries (18 points, 10 boards) not been running so hot late.
Humphries is persona non grata in fantasy leagues but Olynyk has always had some intrigue given his ability to produce across county lines, and if you’re desperate for a center he’s worth watching or even a speculative pickup depending on how desperate you are. It’s just hard to see him maintaining the production and efficiency needed for standard league value when Sullinger is back in the lineup with his normal workload, but stranger things have happened in Boston’s rotation I suppose. It’s also worth noting how undermanned the Hawks are up front and in general.
The rest of the starting lineup really struggled in the loss, and owners will simply want to forget about most of what they saw in an unnaturally early game. Jordan Crawford scored eight points on 3-of-15 shooting with six rebounds, five assists and one trey, Avery Bradley hit just 2-of-10 shots for eight points, five boards, two assists and a block, and Brandon Bass had just eight points, five rebounds and two steals in his 21 minutes.
Jeff Green (eight points, five boards, 21 minutes) may have tweaked his leg during a dunk and that’s something we’ll be watching, but there’s not enough to go on and no clear beneficiary if he’s going to miss any time so owners should simply wait to see if he pops up on the injury report.
KYRIE KNEE ALERT
The big news for Cleveland wasn’t their blowout loss to the Pacers and it was obviously the knee injury to Kyrie Irving, who said he felt a pop in his knee and he’ll be going in for an MRI today. Now Irving was able to return to the game and play and that’s a great sign, but given his injury history, his value to the franchise, and the chance there was some small damage that the team missed these are all pretty big red flags here. Jarrett Jack (eight points, three boards, six assists) isn’t doing it for me as a standalone play this season, but if I have any dead weight on my roster I’m making the speculative add here. I’d even consider Dion Waiters (12 points, four boards, two assists) in that respect, but only after Jack and for both guys owners need to be willing to pitch them back to the scrap heap in a day or so if Irving gets the all-clear.
The other random news for Cavs owners to think about is a potential Pau Gasol acquisition, as right now that seems to be the theoretic trade that makes most sense to me, though it’s early enough in that process that owners shouldn’t drastically lower projections for Anderson Varejao (14 points, 11 boards, one block, one steal) or Tristan Thompson (seven points, 13 boards, no steals or blocks, 3-of-11 FGs). Varejao is the only guy with real value of the two, though it’s conceivable that getting rid of the cancer in Andrew Bynum could miraculously spark his game. I won’t be holding my breath.
We could quibble about Roy Hibbert’s two rebounds or Lance Stephenson’s six points, but these are the type of things that happen to good teams playing bad teams as the Pacers throttled the Cavs yesterday. George Hill put the clamps down on Kyrie Irving and finished with 13 points, six boards, two assists and three treys, Stephenson added four boards and eight assists to his otherwise unsightly line, Hibbert had 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with one steal and five blocks to supplement those two boards, and David West had just eight points, four boards, and three assists but did have three blocks in the blowout win.
EASY DOES IT
The Warriors were likely going to outclass the Magic any way one sliced it on Tuesday, but when Nikola Vucevic went down it became a foregone conclusion. This led to some pretty mild stat lines by recent comparison, but Klay Thompson was able to get off for 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, one three, one steal and two blocks in his 30 minutes and maybe that will turn things around for him after a slow month.
Stephen Curry logged just 29 minutes and had a quiet nine points, five boards, eight assists and he’s still having problems with turnovers as he gave the ball away six times. His 4.1 turnovers per game has actually managed to knock him down to No. 7 in the 9-cat rankings, and I’d like to say he’ll clean that up but the Warriors still don’t have anybody to take him off the ball with greater consistency.
Andrew Bogut went for eight and 11 with no steals or blocks in his 21 minutes, David Lee hit 11-of-15 shots for 22 points, nine boards and two rare blocks, Andre Iguodala got to take a night off with just eight points, two rebounds, and two assists in 22 minutes and Harrison Barnes just isn’t a good fantasy option with another awful night at two points on 1-of-7 shooting, seven boards and that’s it in 27 minutes.
OH NO IN ORLANDO
The fact that Nikola Vucevic hurt the same left ankle that caused him to miss time earlier in the season isn’t the greatest news for his situation and as usual the injury reporting was non-existent after the game in Orlando. Owners simply have to cross their fingers and hope for day-to-day indications rather than week-to-week signs, and remember that Tobias Harris’ ankle injury was basically unreported this year. We’ll do our best to get you guys information and read the tea leaves.
So while everybody struggled last night in the loss, Vucevic's injury is a silver lining for Glen Davis (10 points, three boards, two assists) and Tobias Harris (five points, 2-of-11 FGs, nine boards, one block). Davis has played like a guy that should be on the waiver wire for the last two weeks, while Harris has shown flashes of last season’s play but altogether has been a late round value over that span. Davis should be owned while Vucevic is out at a minimum, and Harris should be owned in all formats regardless of the big man’s status.
If you’re sifting through the bottom of the barrel you may want to keep an eye on Andrew Nicholson (five points, three boards, 14 minutes) and Maurice Harkless (five points, four boards, one steal, one block), and if I had to guess Nicholson has the easiest path to value if Vucevic misses serious time, though you wouldn’t know by last night’s box score. Victor Oladipo had eight points, two boards and two assists in just 17 minutes, and yes he’s still a great buy low candidate for the second half of the season.
The Nets are going to be playing with ‘nickname’ jerseys on January 10 and that’s gotta be the most hilarious and stupid thing I’ve heard of in a while given the state of affairs in Brooklyn. In all seriousness they should petition the league to call that off, as there is nothing to joke about right now for the Nets. Last night brought more unintentional hilarity in their blowout loss to the Spurs, and there wasn’t much to glean in the box score as a result.
Deron Williams was outplayed by Tony Parker and finished with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting, four rebounds and six assists, Joe Johnson was impotent with nine points, one three and one steal and that’s just about it, Kevin Garnett looks like he should retire and had two points with three boards while missing all five of his field goal attempts, Mirza Teletovic managed 12 points and two threes but did not grab a rebound, and Paul Pierce was the only player to somewhat meet expectations with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, one three, three boards, six assists and a steal.
Owners can ignore big performances from Mason Plumlee (15 points, 13 boards) in the big picture, but while Andray Blatche is out for personal reasons he could be worth a look. I will add this, though, we don’t have any idea right now what the situation is for Blatche, and given his history owners should give Plumlee a slight bump in that respect. Andrei Kirilenko (back) returned to action and played 11 minutes with four points, one rebound and two assists, and the only good news there is that he was diving on the floor and appeared to be fine. If there is any time to take a flier on him it’s right now and with some mid-round upside in a best case scenario he fits the profile when looking for a waiver wire guy, and I’d call him a mid-level pickup in that respect.
Owners in standard leagues can ignore the decent outing from Alan Anderson (13 points, five boards, three steals, one three, 25 minutes) and the solid outing from Shaun Livingston (15 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals) as being enhanced by garbage time.
TAKING MY LUMPS
I’m going to take my lumps with my Kawhi Leonard (six points, six boards, two steals, one block) ranking but it’s hard to get down on him in such a lopsided game. If I had a dollar for every excuse I’ve made for the guy I’d have like 22 dollars. Tony Parker went for 18 and six, Tiago Splitter put up 12 points with three boards and two assists in just 19 minutes, Manu Ginobili scored 15 points with three treys, four boards and four assists in just 20 minutes, and Danny Green scored just three points off the bench in his 17 minutes.
Marco Belinelli started again and had 10 points with two threes, six boards, three assists and a steal, and despite the role reversal there Green still holds the value edge on Bello and is still worth owning in standards despite the ugly-looking production each night. Belinelli will need to pick up the pace on the popcorn numbers to offset his defensive stat deficiencies to truly be a standard league pickup, but if he’s starting and he continues to gain traction he’ll be a guy to watch for.
The Kings are now 3-3 in their last six games with a home win over the Heat, last night’s road win against the Rockets and they almost nabbed a win in San Antonio. It’s no surprise that turning over the team to Isaiah Thomas (17 points, 10 assists) has been the big difference maker, and the perennially underrated point guard is sitting on 30 assists and five turnovers over his last three games. He has been a top 10-15 value in December since taking over the point position and there’s no turning back. Enjoy the ride.
DeMarcus Cousins is slowly turning the narrative, too, and he had his second statement game in three tries last night as he took over late and the key has been the way he has been keeping his cool. He had 17 points, 16 rebounds, four steals and a block and if he can keep the positive vibes up while the Kings win half their games I think he can nab an All Star spot. If defense remains an issue and the opposite of all that happens I think he’ll pay the price for his past petulance.
Rudy Gay continued to play efficient ball with 9-of-19 makes for 25 points, six rebounds, one three and one steal, and he’s been humming along at a top-25 level over the past week or so. Ben McLemore also turned in a nice night with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting with two threes, four rebounds and three assists, highlighting some of his late-season upside as the Kings are bound to increase his role as the year goes on.
I WILL NOT WRITE HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
The Rockets really struggled on the defensive end last night and they’re simply a different team in that respect without Patrick Beverley in the lineup. From a fantasy perspective, though, a game against the Kings can make off nights look much better than they normally would be.
James Harden got loose for 38 points on 12-of-26 shooting with five treys, 9-of-10 freebies, 10 boards and just one assist, Jeremy Lin hit 7-of-10 shots for 14 points, six assists, two steals and one block, Dwight Howard was outplayed by Cousins for the second time this year and went for 15 and eight with one block, and Chandler Parsons scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting (1-of-7 3PTs) with five boards, one assist, one steal and one block.
Terrence Jones had a big night with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting with 11 boards, two steals and four blocks, highlighting why owners need to stick with him through thick and thin. He needs to lift his free throw percentage well above his current 60 percent, though, if he’s going to truly tap into all that upside.
MORE IN MAKING ME LOOK SILLY
Aside from having one of the league’s best fan bases and a media that is sterling when compared to similar sized markets, there is a ton to love about the Blazers and the way they are setup and last night they stuck it to the Thunder in OKC. My doubts about LaMarcus Aldridge’s efficiency issues are waning, though it’s still early, and he once again led the team with 25 points on 10-of-23 shooting, 14 rebounds and two blocks. He’s a top 10-20 play on the year and unlike Al Jefferson he’s making me look silly on his preseason rankings.
Part of that miscalculation has been the presence of Robin Lopez (12 points, five boards) to take away the need to expend energy defending other bigs, and also the maturation of a starting lineup that may be the best in the West. Nicolas Batum has been great facilitating the offense and had 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting to go with three boards, three assists and two steals last night, while ice-cold killer Damian Lillard put up 21 points on 6-of-15 shooting with four treys, a perfect five foul shots, six rebounds, 11 assists and one steal.
Wesley Matthews could not find the range with just 5-of-16 makes from the field but still managed to knock in 16 points with two threes, four perfect free throws, seven rebounds, seven assists and one steal. Altogether they simply had more firepower than the Thunder, and if they add a veteran big man for the reserve unit they could end up being the favorite to come out of the West.
SAME STORY, DIFFERENT DAY
Not much is new in Oklahoma City, where the beat writers openly admonished Scott Brooks for playing Reggie Jackson just 29 minutes last night, and Kendrick Perkins combined with Derek Fisher for 46 minutes with six points, six rebounds, four assists and one block on 2-of-8 shooting in the loss. Jackson is still a must-start player and put up a respectable 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists and a steal, but it’s just a wee bit frustrating that he’s not being let loose to put up the big numbers he’s capable of while Russell Westbrook is out.
Kevin Durant is going to a one-man wrecking crew for the next few months, and he had 37 points with three treys, 14 boards, three assists and a steal, and Serge Ibaka was also limited by Brooks to just 31 minutes en route to a 17-point, four-rebound, three-block night. Jeremy Lamb is also going to be just a low-end value until Fisher stops getting playing time, as evidenced by his 10 points, six rebounds and one assist with nothing else to show for his 21 minutes.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
The Raptors continue to show why matchups and chemistry matter nearly as much as talent in the NBA, as they have surged since the Rudy Gay trade and took another win in Chicago over a depressing Bulls team. This was one ugly box score, with the exception of a huge bright spot in Jonas Valanciunas, who put up 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting with nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 38 minutes. His recent solid play is just the most recent indictment of Dwane Casey, who simply needed to let the rookie big man get his feet wet and play through his mistakes.
DeMar DeRozan is in a bit of a slump and that continued with an 11-point, eight-rebound night that included a 3-of-12 mark from the field. Owners shouldn’t worry and this is a bit of a buy low moment. Amir Johnson left briefly due to a knee injury and we’ll be tracking that, and finished with nine points on 1-of-4 shooting (7-of-8 FTs), six boards and one block. Owners shouldn’t do anything drastic there.
Terrence Ross had a very slow night with six points on 3-of-6 shooting (no threes), six boards and one block in 28 minutes, and those are going to be the breaks for a young player that’s a fourth or fifth option at best on most nights. He’s been a late-round value over the last two weeks and therefore the juice has been worth the squeeze in standard formats. John Salmons (eight points, three assists, one block) continues to get heavy minutes (31), proving once again his power over coaches and general managers, and as usual there’s nothing to see here for fantasy purposes.
I don’t like writing about the Bulls because of the aforementioned depression. It’s hard not to wonder what would be if the Bulls didn’t ride their guys so hard, but for now they’re clinging onto their health and also their edge every single night. At 12-18 it’s hard not to think that guys will start getting traded and/or shut down as the year goes on. At the center of it, Derrick Rose’s injuries are enough to make one sick knowing he is one of the NBA’s great competitors.
As for last night’s loss to the Raptors, there were no big winners in the box score outside of Jimmy Butler (15 points, seven boards, two steals, one block, one three) and Joakim Noah (seven points, 16 boards, six assists, one steal, one block, 2-of-10 FGs). Taj Gibson met expectations with 12 points, five boards and a block in his 30 minutes, and Mike Dunleavy was semi-useful with 13 points, one three, three assists and a steal in his 25 minutes.
Outside of that, Kirk Hinrich (four points, three boards, three assists, one block) and Carlos Boozer (four points, five boards) combined to hit just 2-of-17 shots, Luol Deng (Achilles) returned and hit just 6-of-15 shots for 16 points, four boards, four turnovers and a steal, and D.J. Augustin cooled off with six points on 3-of-4 shooting and three assists in just 20 minutes.
Hinrich is a very low-level asset with plenty of injury risk, and for that reason alone owners may want to see how things play out for Augustin for a few games, but one has to believe that Tom Thibodeau is going to ride Hinrich at Augustin’s expense until the former falls apart. Gibson is a guy that owners should work to hold onto given the injury risks up and down the roster above him, and Mike D is on the radar as a guy that can be used in a pinch until his next injury is discovered.
You wouldn’t know it by the Bucks’ 7-24 record or by Larry Drew’s weird rotations, but last night they looked semi-tough with a starting lineup of Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. Perhaps that’s because they were playing the Lakers, but especially with Brandon Knight going off for a career-high 37 points, eight rebounds, four steals, three treys and two lonely assists – and Sanders and Alphabet roaming around – the product looked decent.
Ridnour scored 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three in his 35 minutes, while O.J. Mayo played just eight minutes and missed all five of his shots. Bucks writers have been stymied by the Mayo situation – and some opposing writers have called his weight into question – but clearly there is more than meets the eye going on here and that puts him into a weird stash category usually reserved for malcontents and headcases. He’s certainly droppable, and he’s probably best suited for owners that have a big cushion and can afford to take the risk of holding him.
I didn’t like seeing Khris Middleton (five points, one three, one steal) go all the way down to 17 minutes after playing so well recently, and really the whole thing reeks of Maloof/Kings business but without the evil edge. The lame duck operation under outgoing owner Herb Kohl will probably let Drew pull off a less amazing Keith Smart dive, or something like that. As I was breaking my neck a few weeks back to hold Middleton, I’m doing the same here and seeing how it plays out. The same goes for Antetokounmpo, who had a much better night with eight points, 11 boards and one assist, and continues to show growth on a game-by-game basis.
As much as I’ve hated it recently, too, I’ve been gobbling up all the Ersan Ilyasova drops. This is not for the faint of heart, and last night he did well with 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 12 boards and two steals, but this is all about weathering the storm on his now perennial early season slump. With the typical light injury reporting out of Milwaukee it’s possible his ankle was hurting him more than anybody was letting on, and there aren’t any obvious signs of decline in his game other than those awful numbers. In other words, there are reasons to hold out hope that he can be a useful addition for the bottom half of your roster.
Larry Sanders scored seven points on 3-of-8 shooting with 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks, and the hope here for Sanders, Ilyasova and John Henson is that Drew simply uses them in a three-big rotation while ditching Ekpe Udoh. At any rate, perhaps the time off gave Sanders something to think about and he’s ready to take on the last two-thirds of the season with an edge.
NOT YOUR GRANDPAPPY’S LAKERS
It must be hard for the casual Lakers fan to understand why they’re losing at home on New Year’s Eve to the Milwaukee Bucks, but this is what happens when your point guard Jordan Farmar is returning too early from his hamstring injury and the team is playing Jodie Meeks 42 minutes per game.
Farmar (zero points, four rebounds, seven assists) left last night’s game after playing just 20 minutes and is going to be evaluated Wednesday, and Kendall Marshall is all of a sudden under the spotlight after impressing solid beat reporter Mike Trudell among others in a 10-point, seven-assist, two-trey night. Farmar could miss one game or he could miss a few weeks -- it’s impossible to say and he’ll be evaluated on Wednesday -- but Marshall looks like a poor man’s D.J. Augustin that’s worth consideration as a short-term add.
Pau Gasol returned from his respiratory illness, one that caused two big-name Lakers reporters to call into question his toughness, and scored 25 points with six boards and four blocks in 36 minutes. Randomly, I was asked a week ago about whether or not he was available on the trade market the other day by the guys at ESPN in Vegas, who off-the-topic really know their stuff, and the answer then and now is an absolute yes and that may be why he and/or the Lakers are playing it safe. Early posturing reports have indicated that the Lakers are talking with Cleveland, Chicago and even Houston, but it’s a bit early for GMs in both fantasy and reality to be jumping over any aspect of this potential deal.
A potential deal may give owners added reason to hang onto to Jordan Hill (four points, four boards), who played just 12 minutes last night and was probably held back because the Lakers were losing, trying to showcase Gasol, and also using a losing strategy of playing down to the size of their opponent. Hill’s biggest enemy has always been his own durability, followed by Mike D’Antoni’s fascination with all things small, but a Gasol exit would undoubtedly relieve some of that pressure on both he and Chris Kaman (DNP-CD).
Nick Young continued to be worth owning with 25 points on an ugly 8-of-21 shooting with three treys, six boards, 6-of-6 makes from the stripe and nothing else, while Meeks hit just 2-of-9 shots for four points and two steals as he rolls along the bottom of his trough. Shawne Williams is worth a look anytime the Lakers’ rotation thins up as it did with Wes Johnson (illness) out, and he put up five points, 11 rebounds, one three and a career-high five blocks. Owners should remain skeptical of his long-term value, obviously.