Tuesday night was one of those nights where reality basketball trumped fantasy basketball in the Heat and Pacers game, John Henson left no scraps on the table, Paul Millsap continued to make his presence felt, and Deron Williams returned to game-action. Kevin Love looked for a nickname and in the meantime posted a Kevin Durant line, while Durant did exactly that, and Kyrie Irving got off the schnied. The Knicks are speeding up the Benny Hill music and Kobe Bryant continued his disrespect of Father Time.
There were eight games last night and we have another nine games tonight, so let’s get right down to the task at hand as we accelerate into the second quarter of the season.
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IT’S HOT AS HELL
By the time this column posts Mike Woodson might not be the Knicks’ coach anymore, and that sound you hear is Iman Shumpert (two points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block) rolling over and over again until the job is done. Raymond Felton left halfway through the game due to a hamstring injury and it sounds like he’s going to miss some time, so get your pooper scoopers out and be ready to choose between Pablo Prigioni (six points, 2-of-5 shooting, two threes, three boards, nine assists, 27 minutes) and Beno Udrih (DNP-CD). In Prigioni’s defense the locals want him to play more and the only issue there is how much he can handle and, of course, can he do the job for fantasy owners. He can’t be any more risky than Udrih was while Felton was out the last time.
Carmelo Anthony hit 12-of-19 shots (including three treys) for 29 points, eight rebounds and three assists, which of course meant the Knicks were going to lose because it’s impossible for him to do well and have the Knicks win on the same night. That’s partially unfair, but that’s just the way the season has gone in New York. Andrea Bargnani hit just 5-of-17 shots for 11 points to continue his recent slide, with just three rebounds, a steal and zero trifectas to round out his terrible night. Even with the bad showing he has been a revelation in fantasy leagues with solid mid-round value over the past two weeks, and despite practicing a little bit Tyson Chandler (leg) has said that he’s not close to returning so keep plugging Bargs into lineups going forward.
If there is any saving grace for the Knicks in both fantasy and reality it’s that Chandler’s return will provide a morale boost at a minimum and he should make life easier for everybody. There’s also the chance that a firing of Woodson could shake things up, and in a best-case scenario a new coach could go the way of the Sixers and try to playground ball their way to a better record. That could be a Jimmy-rigged way to jumpstart the box score and it could also be a recipe for a spectacular disaster. Either way you won’t be able to stop looking.
The Cavs have slowly (I repeat slowly) been able to lower Mike Brown’s blood pressure, and you’ll probably be as surprised as I was to learn that they’re 7-3 at home this year. Kyrie Irving has probably been on your ‘people to write sternly worded letters to’ list after his 0-for-9 goose egg the other day, and I’m sure some of you out there outright robbed folks on a buy low deal just before he went off for 37 points and 11 assists last night. I’ve been as critical of Irving, the Cavs’ defense and their effort in general, but the beat guys have slowly been coming around on their defense and in the case of Irving – the only thing that can derail him is if the Cavs become a sideshow. This past week or so has gone a long way toward dimming that prospect.
Andrew Bynum’s production was bound to have a market correction as the big man hit just 1-of-6 shots for three points, eight rebounds, two assists and one block in 24 minutes. He’s still just a late-round value at best over this hotter stretch, but with a hint of upside he’s a good fit on the end of benches for the center deficient, if anything because he’ll be easy to drop when injuries inevitably strike. That’s some awful logic but in a weird way it works.
Tristan Thompson turned in a serviceable 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds but no steals or blocks, which might be a metaphor for the inconsistent season he has had thus far. He has played well enough this past week to be owned in 12-team formats so give him a look and hope a turnaround in Cleveland will have his name on it.
Jarrett Jack scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with three treys and that’s about it. Some folks around here think he’s ready to get it turned around but I just haven’t seen anything that screams such things from rooftops. He’s in the same exact boat as Thompson when it comes to pickup advice, but with added mileage on the odometer. Dion Waiters scored just six points and had four turnovers. He needs to have a serious sustained run of productivity before owners should take the leap.
While Tiago Splitter hasn’t shown it in the box score, his absence defensively was felt as the Spurs struggled to dispatch a Raptors squad that made it back into Toronto from L.A. at about 5:30 in the morning yesterday. Aron Baynes picked up the slack, scoring 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting with six rebounds in 21 minutes in what might be his best line of the year going forward. This quickly turned into a San Antonio bench game as Manu Ginobili put up 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting with five rebounds, nine assists, one steal and one block in his customary 23 minutes. He’s quietly having a top-75 season.
Boris Diaw has been a stop-gap solution for owners in standard leagues and a viable solution in deeper leagues but he had just two points and not much else in 18 minutes last night. Those are the breaks with Pop, and it’s also possible that Diaw turns back into a pumpkin after a surprising start. He played well on Monday so owners may want to see what the next game turns up, but not at the expense of a hot free agent. Kawhi Leonard continued along his top 45-60 trajectory with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal and one three. It’s tiresome to constantly say this without seeing any results, but he’s at his bottom and can only improve. And no, he's probably not going to hit my lofty preseason mark (mea culpa), but it's too early to rule him out of the top 2-3 rounds on the year. But nevertheless, stone away.
RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY
The Raptors are going to be a lot more fun to watch now that Rudy Gay has been sent packing to Sacramento, and Kyle Lowry wasted no time picking up the extra touches with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds, seven assists and one steal. It’s not a voluminous effort by any means but he’s handling the rock more and that’s a recipe for success with the normal injury caveats in place. DeMar DeRozan even got into the spirit of giving with seven assists to go with his 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting (no threes).
It looked like Jonas Valanciunas was going to get busy and every time there’s the slightest whiff of that the Toronto beat writers go crazy, and like usual he wasn’t able to capitalize upon a fast start with just 14 points, four rebounds and two assists to finish the night. Still, the Gay trade is overwhelmingly positive news and JV needs to be owned in all standard formats.
The trade is also great news for Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson, with the former scoring 14 points on an ugly 4-of-13 shooting to go with five turnovers, but the sophomore played 38 minutes and made sure his four makes were from deep. There is some face-plant potential but anything short of that will result in a sustained role for Ross and with that will come 3-pointers, decent rebounds for a guard, and there is enough meat to this bone for owners to give him a hard look in 12-14 team formats.
Johnson on the other hand looks like money in the bank, at least for right now, as he had another scorching night with 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds and a block. He has rehabilitated his value into the middle rounds on the year and been a top 20-30 value over his last six games, scoring 15.2 points with 6.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 71.4 percent field goal shooting and a 91.7 percent mark from the line.
The Raptors don’t play until Friday and they already have Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons in town, with Greivis Vasquez expected to arrive today and that gives them all plenty of time to get ready for that contest. Vasquez is the only player that seems to be in the team’s future plans, and a change of scenery could do him some good but not enough good to matter in 12-14 team leagues just yet. And unlike the Sacramento media, the Toronto media is already wise to his true value as a backup point guard in the association so there won’t be the massive media push to obtain a true timeshare like there was in Sacto for him to start. Dwane Casey has been known to needle Lowry, but I’d stop short of calling this a sell-high moment for him.
Patterson could also use a change of scenery and a road map to find his missing jumpshot, but nevertheless I could see Casey interspersing both he and Chuck Hayes into the rotation and that could prove meddlesome for both Johnson and Valanciunas. Hayes isn’t capable of playing any more than 15 minutes per game in a reasonable estimate after his heart condition and time in Sacramento essentially wiped away his once elite-defense.
Patterson still has an outside shot at being a quality player in the association, though, so this might be a sell-high moment for Johnson. I just wouldn’t bank on it given Johnson’s stature on the team and overall effectiveness down low for the Raps. Of course, Tyler Hansbrough (shoulder) is still lingering and has been used to foil Johnson in the past, too. It’s fair to wonder if his injury contributed to Patterson’s inclusion in this deal, but there’s no real evidence to support that beyond pure speculation.
Sacramento fans will tell you that John Salmons has mystic ways of gobbling up playing time and it’s certainly something to think about when assessing the value of Ross, but with the next year on his deal all-but wiped off the books the advantage goes to Ross before the position battle even starts.
Last night’s Eastern Conference Finals preview lacked some of the theatrics of the season’s best games to date, but for hardcore basketball enthusiasts the slug-fest was about as good as gets. I went on record calling the Pacers this year’s champs barring a major change in dynamics in the East, but this was truly a tale of the home team wanting it more while also having superior overall depth and talent. The Heat are arguably in their own preseason, though, so this result can probably be discarded as a measuring stick in the grand scheme of things.
Still, the dynamics in this game were representative of everything we’ve come to know about the Pacers and Heat, with Indy’s defense clamping down on LeBron James (17 points, 6-of-16 FGs, six assists) on offense, though he did grab a season-high 14 rebounds in the process. The ongoing issue inside for the Heat didn’t get any better, as Chris Bosh was lucky to have the ball land in his lap with just three rebounds to go with 12 points, two steals and a block. It doesn’t help when Shane Battier (15 minutes, five points, one rebound) is the starting power forward. Michael Beasley was held out due to his hamstring once again and he might provide some relief on the glass in future matchups, but it sure looks to me like the Heat are going to have to make a trade to get a big man in order to three-peat.
Mario Chalmers had his lunch handed to him in a My Little Pony lunchbox with just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting to go with three rebounds and two assists, but he did have two steals and a block to lessen the blow. After a solid start he has been better off left on fantasy benches over the past two weeks, but he should pick up the pace soon so try to avoid missing out on the expected uptick.
Dwyane Wade had a little something saved up for the big game and finished with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. He has been a top 10-25 value when on the court in his last five games, averaging 19.4 points with 5.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals in 34.5 minutes.
THE CLUBBER LANGS
The Pacers came out tight, in particular George Hill, who looks very underconfident right now and even airballed a free throw in a five-point night. He hit just 2-of-4 shots but did rack up eight rebounds, six assists and two steals with a glass-half empty line if you consider his season-to-date. His assists (4.1) have moved near last year’s mark (4.7) and everything else is in place but his shooting, which sits four points below his career mark at 40.3 percent per game right now. First he needs to get his confidence back, but his consistency in that department in recent years suggests that he’ll get things turned around and that would necessarily mean a rise back to the mid-round value range.
Paul George also started out slow last night and Miami is always going to profile well as a Paul George stopper, so his slow 17-point night on 4-of-11 shooting can be forgiven. Roy Hibbert had his way inside and is the key to my championship prediction, with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with five boards and a block. He looks like an eighth-grader playing with elementary school kids out there laying the ball up from point-blank distance.
David West was the undoing of the Pacers in the playoffs last year, but he came through last night with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds, four assists and a dagger late, though the seven turnovers were a really bad look. Lance Stephenson scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebounds, five assists and a steal, and his value is probably overstated in fantasy leagues as a late-round value being held down by just 1.8 combined steals, blocks and threes per game. I’m not buying any impact on his production by Danny Granger, but it shouldn’t be summarily dismissed and owners might want to test his value on the market.
The NBA is all about matchups and the when the Wolves take on the Pistons they’re able to nullify the Pistons’ big front line with a big front line of their own, using Kevin Love to stretch them out and Nikola Pekovic to land body blows all night. So it wasn’t surprising to see a 27-point blowout win for Minny, and it’s never really a surprise to see Love go off for 26 points, 16 boards, seven assists, four treys and a perfect 10-of-10 mark from the line. Love, who has yet to accumulate a nickname around here, is cruising with top 7-8 value on the year. It’s probably time we get this guy a nickname.
Pekovic turned in an 18-point, five-rebound night with no steals or blocks, Kevin Martin scored 18 points with three treys and four steals, Corey Brewer scored 11 points with one triple, four assists and a steal, and Ricky Rubio finally got loose for 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting with one three, four boards, nine assists and two steals. Even with all the well-documented inconsistency he is a top 30-45 value on the season, and since it’s been a while since we’ve tracked his progress toward that decades-best steals mark I used to mention he’s at 2.9 hamburglers per game. If the season ended today he’d have that mark if not for a rookie named Michael Carter-Williams who’s sitting at 3.13 per contest. Dirty.
No starter played more than Pekovic’s 33 minutes last night, so these guys could have done more damage had the game been close.
DESTROYAH VS. GODZILLA
Andre Drummond’s matchup against Godzilla left him with just eight points, eight boards and two blocks, and owners can make a mental footnote when they’re playing FanDuel or other daily games that he’s going to struggle against more physical players. Josh Smith was strangely efficient with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but he still took five 3-point shots and hit just one to let us know that the universe is still intact. As is customary with the Pistons, the nightly odd-man out was Greg Monroe (10 points, 5-of-7 FGs, two boards, three assists, one steal, 20 minutes).
Monroe played all the way into the second quarter and after a half of a quarter’s rest he came back in to finish the first half, but getting pulled with the team down by 15 points mid-way through the third his minutes looked the worst of the group. The takeaway is that Detroit is still tinkering with how to play their big front line and Monroe got the worst of it last night. He does this every once in a while and so far the issue sits in the ‘what are you gonna do’ bucket as it’s impossible to predict when it’s going to happen and it’s not detrimental enough to mark a value change.
Brandon Jennings has been fitting in for some time now and over the last two weeks he has been a top-25 play in 8-cat leagues. Last night he knocked in 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting with two triples, four boards, seven assists, one steal and six turnovers. While he is averaging 38 minutes over that span he is also giving the ball away 4.6 times per game, which both makes sense and also drops his value into the top-75 range in that measurement, too.
Chauncey Billups returned and played 18 minutes and I wouldn’t rule out that he simply goes back to the bench for rest whenever Rodney Stuckey (knee) returns. Stuckey almost played last night so he’ll be back soon, and if that random speculation doesn’t play out things could get a little tight for him, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there after a consistent start to the year. More than likely Billups’ minutes would upset the muted improvement for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored a career-best 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting with two threes, four rebounds and one block in 33 minutes. KCP still needs some help before he should be on 12-16 team radars just yet.
HEY EVERYBODY COME AND SEE HOW SMART BRAD STEVENS LOOKS
While the Celtics have exceeded expectations for the first quarter of the season they didn’t have an answer for Deron Williams last night, but for a team that once seemed like a fantasy quagmire they’ve really morphed into something owners can plan around. Even Avery Bradley (22 points, 8-of-16 FGs, three treys, three boards, two steals) has been consistent while posting top 50-60 value over the past two weeks, and with value like that he’s well worth a look-see even if conventional wisdom says he’ll probably cool off right as you get him into your lineup.
Jordan Crawford cruised along to 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting with two rebounds, four assists, one steal and two threes, Jared Sullinger maintained late-round value with 15 points, five boards, three assists and two bombs, and Brandon Bass continued to surprise with 13 and 11 on 4-of-12 shooting (5-of-8 FTs) with one block. Slapped with the late-round value label seemingly forever, Bass has been a top 75-100 play on the year and a top-50 guy over the past two weeks just like Bradley. And unlike Bradley he’s likely to play somewhere between the two landmarks until Kelly Olynyk (ankle) returns.
Jeff Green got hot from deep and made all four of his long-range attempts, finishing with 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds and two steals. His value for the year is still on the wrong side of the top-100 due to just 0.7 combined steals and blocks per game, but he has improved his popcorn numbers over the past two weeks to return top 60-65 value. Unfortunately, he’s probably maxed out until those defensive numbers regress and I also like his chances to earn better keep when Rajon Rondo returns to loosen up the defense. He’s just going to have to keep scoring at his 20-point per game clip over the last seven games to keep putting distance between him and his slow start.
THE OTHER D-WILL
Deron Williams returned to action and not a day sooner for the Nets, who got a season-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting (including a three) with three rebounds and seven assists from their point guard in last night's win over the Celtics. The question for him won’t be whether or not he can do this – because we know he can – but rather if he can get past this ankle injury and keep his waning explosiveness over the course of the season.
With Williams back in the fold one could almost guarantee an immediate decline for Joe Johnson, which played out as he scored just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting with three rebounds and one 3-pointer and that’s it. Johnson has been able to hang onto late-round value this season with Williams mostly out, and I have no problem with owners acting swiftly on a drop. He’s just not built to produce in fantasy leagues with his poor peripherals and dependence upon heavy touches to produce as is.
The old leprechauns got a crack at their old squad as Paul Pierce returned early from his broken shooting hand injury and Kevin Garnett almost resembled old form in an 11-point, nine-rebound, three-assist effort over 26 minutes. KG should basically be dead to most owners in standard formats unless you’re streaming, while Pierce is still worth a look even if his return looked a lot like most of his nights this season after a four-point, seven-rebound and three-assist effort that included an 0-for-3 mark from the field.
Pierce logged 22 minutes off the bench and Jason Kidd talked about possibly keeping him in a bench role, which is semantics for a guy that’ll play as many minutes as his aging body will allow. The case for keeping him at the end of your bench is that he can’t possibly play any worse than he has to start the year.
Alan Anderson maintained some deep league credibility with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting with one triple, four boards and one steal in 35 minutes, and unfortunately if Pierce can climb into a 26-28 minute role it will probably knock Anderson down enough to where he can no longer be used in 12-14 team formats.
Brook Lopez (24 points, three boards, one block) still isn’t rebounding but he hit at a 10-of-13 clip from the field to make up for it, and Andray Blatche did well to put up 11 points, nine boards, one steal and one block in just 20 minutes, but that type of playing time over the past two weeks has held him below 14-team value. Playing behind a bunch of injury-prone guys I think there’s space to hold in 12-team formats unless the trend continues for a week or so.
CUSTOMARY AND UNREASONABLE
The Thunder survived a bad Russell Westbrook shooting night to beat the Hawks in Atlanta, which is the mark of a good team playing a decent team with no depth. Westbrook hit just 6-of-21 shots for 14 points but nearly triple-doubled with nine boards, 11 assists and four steals. Andre Roberson drew a start for Thabo Sefolosha (knee) but played just 12 minutes, which meant that Reggie Jackson was more or less locked into 30 minutes off the bench.
Yes, Derek Fisher still stole his customary 15 minutes and led the wack fantasy league standings with just two assists and three missed shots in his gritty display of tough-toughity-toughness. Jackson scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting (including a three) with four rebounds and three assists but no steals or blocks. In the last two weeks he has gained 2.5 minutes per game over his season-long 25 minutes per game average, and as expected that has netted him about 15-25 ranks up to the top-85 region in that span. As it usually goes in Oklahoma City, they will slowly but surely figure this out, probably when they're down 3-1 in the conference semifinals after playing Fisher and Kendrick Perkins a combined 50 minutes per playoff contest. Just hang on. Steve Kerr will hopefully shame Scott Brooks with another tweet about how good Jackson is.
Kevin Durant went off for an increasingly familiar 30 points, 10 boards, five assists, one steal and two blocks, and Serge Ibaka also turned in 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting with 10 boards and two blocks. Also in the slowly but surely department, Ibaka continues to gradually climb the ranks and currently sits as a top 15-30 play on the year (9/8 cat). Durant has reclaimed his place atop the fantasy standings as the game’s top overall play.
TOO MUCH WEIGHT
Jeff Teague seems to be a good poster boy for the Hawks this season, as the lack of depth forces him and his teammates to take on more responsibilities than is truly efficient. Efficiency and/or fatigue has struck each of the Hawks at one point in time or another to start the year, but for Teague it has hit the worst this season. He ran into Russell Westbrook in the Hawks’ loss last night, which negated his quickness advantage, so naturally he hit just 5-of-15 shots for 17 points, five boards, six assists, three steals and no threes. Until he improves his shooting and starts hitting threes, he’s going to have a hard time significantly improving on his top 50-100 value on the year (8/9 cat).
Teague could use the assistance of a fully functioning Lou Williams, who continues to recover slowly from knee surgery and posted a paltry eight points on 3-of-6 shooting (including two threes) with just one assist and one steal in his 19 minutes. Without anybody else to break down defenses off the dribble, Teague is forced to create his own 3-point looks and that’s not really the strength of his game. Even if Williams doesn’t break into his old mid-to-late value form he should gradually improve and that could be an indicator that Teague isn’t stuck in his current stat set.
As for Sweet Lou, owners can certainly pass him off for a hot free agent in 12-14 team formats, and it’s also worth noting that Shelvin Mack’s stronger play could also be cutting into Williams’ load. A reasonable guess might have Lou producing in about three weeks. Mack scored a career-high 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting with three treys and six assists in 20 minutes, and 20-team owners will want to give him a look. He’s been a top 130-150 value over the past two weeks.
Kyle Korver hit a three to keep his streak alive and didn’t exactly allay concerns that he might be getting bogged down by the thing, finishing with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting, six rebounds, three assists and a steal in 37 minutes. He, too, could use a guy like Sweet Lou getting back on top of his game to get him more looks.
It took a little bit but Paul Millsap is lighting up the box score on a regular basis, and last night he put up 23 points on 5-of-18 shooting with two threes, 12 boards, three dimes, one block and a raging 11-of-12 mark from the charity stripe. I had the guy ranked at No. 20/13 (8/9) because the mercury rises pretty quickly with his stat set, and over the last two weeks he has shown that with first and second round value in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively.
The Sapper is shooting 41.5 percent from deep but at 50 percent from the field he’s right in line with his 51.5 percent career average, and any drop-off in 3-point shooting will likely be offset by an expected increase in foul shooting as he’s eight percent below his career mark (71.9 percent) there. From there his other stats are all in a comfortable range with career norms, so it’s not just reasonable to believe that he can hold his value but the free throw shooting regression could bring him into that elite range we discussed at the beginning of the year.
The Bucks are nowhere near respectability but as noted they’ve moved toward some consistency in the rotation while John Henson has started to go nova. Henson scored 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting with 14 rebounds, two assists, three steals and six blocks in 41 minutes, and Larry Drew offered his usual mixed words after the game about Henson finally proving his durability or some other blather. The bottom line is that Henson has forced Drew’s hand and the end result is likely a ticket to big-time fantasy value for the rest of the year. He shouldn’t have hit the cutting room floor at any time this season, and if you drafted him or picked him up congrats to you for your new fantasy toy.
O.J. Mayo’s struggles carried on with a seven-point, seven-assist night with two blocks and a 2-of-12 shooting line. He’s bound to get things figured out but he’s among the top fantasy buzz-kills this year with just late-round value on the season. Brandon Knight chased Mike Dunleavy around for much of the night and that’s probably why he grabbed 10 rebounds, but the 19 points on 8-of-23 shooting, two assists and six turnovers didn’t do much to clarify his value. Still, the shot attempts and overall production here suggest he’s pointing toward that late-mid round value we talked about last week.
Khris Middleton’s ankle has moved him from a somewhat stable value to a questionable one, as he played through the injury and scored just eight points on 2-of-6 shooting with four rebounds, one steal and one block in 33 minutes. He didn’t start the second half and that seemed matchup-driven as Drew rolled with a three-guard lineup, but it’s certainly something to watch as he had ankle issues in the offseason and in college. That said, good luck trying to figure out which of his ankles is hurt now and which one was hurt way back when, as I searched for at least a half hour to figure out both situations and came up empty. For now I’m holding given his mid-round value over the past two weeks and lack of clarity about Caron Butler’s knee situation.
Ersan Ilyasova is reprising his role from last season, which included me hanging onto the anchor only to be paid off (sort of) by a solid second half surge. Last night he scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting with two steals but was basically a goose egg everywhere else in his 31 minutes. Yes, Henson’s productivity probably has something to do with it, and setting that aside for a second the reality here is that Ilyasova has no guarantee of being good now or in the future – but with recent history to refer back to we all have to hold for now. Ekpe Udoh is your 20-team play right now as he’s getting the scraps from Longshank’s table, and posted another low-end box of four points, five boards, one steal and two blocks in 22 minutes. Drew has no choice but to play him for at least that amount as long as his body holds up.
FLYING SOUTH IN THE WINTER
The Bulls are an interesting conundrum right now as one could make the case for tanking pretty easily – if you’re into that sort of thing – and with basically the entire team classified as an injury risk this thing could go south pretty quick. Joakim Noah (thigh bruise) missed last night’s game but will travel for tonight’s game, which sort of sums up his season in a nutshell.
Kirk Hinrich might as well be injured after an 0-for-10 shooting night that included one point, four rebounds, six assists and three steals, which is why he was pegged as a late-round value in a best-case scenario even in an uncontested role. Hinrich is also a notorious injury risk and it stands to reason that Tom Thibodeau will be forced to play Marquis Teague (two points, 1-of-7 FGs, six assists, 23 minutes) heavy minutes at some point. Just expect Thibs to punch out Benny the Bull and then re-enact the scene from The Crying Game before he submits.
Tony Snell scored 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting (1-of-5 3PTs) with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 38 minutes, which is a well-rounded line by his standards, but even with all the playing time left behind by Jimmy Butler’s toe injury he has been just a borderline value for 12-team owners. We blurbed that Butler might be back by Friday’s game at the soonest and he has yet to practice, but with a return seemingly sooner rather than later Snell can be moved for a hot free agent. Just keep in mind that he could be one of the last men standing at the end of the year and improvement in that scenario shouldn’t be ruled out.
Mike Dunleavy has been iffy since Butler’s injury but the injury to Luol Deng has forced him to step up his game, and last night he backed up a productive outing over the weekend with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, two threes, five boards, three assists and two blocks in 44 minutes. Deng appears to be day-to-day with his Achilles’ injury but even in Chicago where injuries are treated like mild nuisances one has to think the Bulls will play it sort of safe if there is any sign of trouble.
Complicating matters for all involved is the team’s heavy schedule over the next 10 days, with seven games over that span and last night’s game being the first of four games in five nights. Carlos Boozer (21 points, 12 boards, four steals, one block) and Taj Gibson (10 points, nine boards, two blocks) should be relatively safe bets to get the Bulls through the rough.
The Suns caught the Lakers in a good spot as they’re still working to get Kobe Bryant acclimated, and they delivered a 114-108 win at Staples Center last night. Going back to last year’s rankings of Goran Dragic, the big question was whether or not he could continue to hit free throws at an elite rate (80.5 percent at 4.5 FTAs per 36 mpg in 11-12). When he essentially matched his career mark (74.8 percent) it kept him from reaching the lofty expectations that some like myself had predicted. Now we’re looking at the same issue but from the other side as Dragic hit 11-of-11 freebies last night and he has hit at an eerily familiar clip this season (80.4%).
The Dragon finished with 31 points on 9-of-18 shooting with two threes, five assists and a steal, and the high-volume (5.7 FTA/gm) foul shooting has helped keep him in the top 40-50 range on the season, with Eric Bledsoe’s return not putting a dent in his value just yet. While it is fair to assume that Bledsoe will eventually do just that, it’s also not fair to summarily write it in stone. All of that adds up to a one-round sell high recommendation, best targeted at a player that is also a buy low target for maximum impact. Otherwise, rolling with Dragic is the way to go.
Bledsoe was no slouch either last night, scoring 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting (1-of-6 from deep) with four rebounds, nine assists and three steals, and with just mid-to-late round value over the past two weeks there’s still a sliver of a buy-low window open. And yes, trading Dragic for Bledsoe would be a great way to do business.
The Morris twins were also big factors in the win, with Markieff Morris scoring 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go with seven boards, three assists and a block, and brother Marcus Morris scoring 22 points on a tidy 10-of-13 shooting with four rebounds, two threes and a block himself. Marcus has been the more consistent of the two, while Markieff has flashed better, albeit more elusive upside. In related news they also traded girlfriends for the night and never told a soul about it.
P.J. Tucker continued to post a varietal blend of stats with just four points on 1-of-5 shooting, but he added the hoppy taste of 11 rebounds to go with a pair of distinctive steals and the hint of a sole block. While he is still worth owning in most formats, his counterpart in Gerald Green (three points, one three, three turnovers) is about three games past expired in 12-14 team formats. Miles Plumlee might also be too ripe for consumption after a six-point, six-rebound night, as one can only wonder how long I intend to go with this weird metaphor of wine, beer and decayed fruit.
YOU MEAN TO TELL ME HE’S NOT DEAD
Kobe, Kobe, Kobe – that was actually chanted at a Jay-Z concert at Staples Center the night before last. One could only sit back and laugh as the obituaries got walked back into casual mentions that the future Hall of Famer was bound to get back on track. Kobe took the proverbial step forward in his return from the world’s most famous Achilles’ injury since its namesake was dipped in the Styx. Or maybe the most famous since yesterday’s Sacramento City Council meeting, where pro-arena crowds put their own spin on an Achilles' heel to point out that Seattle’s Chris Hansen had donated money to try and blow up their arena deal. Intended to be funny, that picture turned out to be unintentionally hilarious.
Kobe scored 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting with no threes but was perfect on eight free throw attempts, and chipped in with two rebounds and three assists in his 29 minutes. I mentioned that we may see point-Kobe and post-Kobe this season, and in the first game we saw the former and last night we saw the latter so perhaps there is something to that guesswork. Get him in your lineups.
Steve Blake gave owners some more piece of mind with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting, one three, five boards, 10 assists and two steals in a whopping 39 minutes. Steve Nash’s return, if it happens, should be worried about when it happens and not before. Kobe still has plenty of room to progress and that will necessarily dip into Blake’s bucket, but Blake started showing these signs last year and it’s fair to say that he has grown as a player late in his career.
One has to think that Pau Gasol’s ankle issue will eventually cause him to take at least one game off at some point, but he scored 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting last night and was able to get to the line eight times (making seven). His five rebounds are definitely an indicator that he needs a rest, but for now he’s towing the line by staying in lineups – but with borderline value in 12-14 team leagues over the last two weeks owners should probably be rooting for that game off.
It was funny to hear Mike D’Antoni talk about wanting to get tough inside before the game only to start Shawne Williams (four points, four rebounds, 15 minutes) at power forward. It was equally as funny to hear him talk about getting whooped up inside after the loss. It probably wasn’t funny to those that speculated on Robert Sacre (DNP-CD) amidst injury concerns over Jordan Hill (13 points, seven rebounds, 19 minutes), as small doses of hype from the normally plugged in L.A. media might have overstepped its bounds.
Then again, this is Mike D’Antoni we’re talking about here so it wouldn't be surprising to see the minutes jump up and down for both guys going forward and maybe even swing in Sacre's favor for at least for one more try this season. He had a particularly bad start in the Lakers' last game and D'Antoni looks like he hasn't forgiven him yet, and it didn't help that the opposing Suns play small ball. Sacre is still a bottom tier center in the association, but if he can keep from being too oafish he has physical tools the Lakers desperately need. 25 minutes per night would make him a viable fantasy asset for those trolling for centers.
The issue with Hill, unfortunately, is that his knees and body in general can only handle so much. His playing time is probably linked more with that than Mike D’s slippery rotations, and with rankings south of the border in 12-14 team formats over the past two weeks he has lost the title of must-own player. If you have the space to stash he’s still a viable hold because he can post mid-round value when he’s humming, but the key here will be gauging his health in relation to playing time and so on.
Jodie Meeks (13 points, five boards, one three, 33 minutes) edged out Wes Johnson (five points, two steals, one block, one three, 20 minutes) for player to own status last night, but with the top 35-50 value Johnson has been producing in the past two weeks (top 60-90 this year) -- I don’t think we can call Meeks the player to own just yet. I know D’Antoni loves himself some Meeks, but Johnson has looked explosive all season and his fantasy game holds that advantage in spades over the guy who shall inherit the earth.
To add to the confusion about roles there was a late-breaking tweet from beat writer Ramona Shelburne that Kobe would be used more “as a 3/4 than as a facilitator,” which would fly in the face of my point-Kobe theory and also open up space for some of the murky wing crew. We’ll have to see how that goes as banging with bigger bodies doesn’t really sound like a sustainable plan when coming off a major injury no matter how small D’Antoni wants to play.