I’m rocking a big-time flu and Tuesday became a Big Tuesday with a 12-game slate so we’re going to jump right in it.
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THE FLIP SIDE
You’d think it’s fun having the gym to yourself every night, but Spencer Hawes (nine points, three boards, one three, one steal, two blocks), Thaddeus Young (zero points, four rebounds, one steal, one block, 0-for-7 FGs) and Evan Turner (four points, 2-of-13 FGs, one rebound, two assists) were all yanked early with the Cavs cruising and each player looking like ‘dead horses’ according to Brett Brown. This is the flipside of overutilization and owners shouldn’t look into it too much.
That left Michael Carter-Williams free to exploit the tender Cavs defense for 33 points, six rebounds and five assists, but even he wasn’t truly on his game as the league leader in steals went without a theft on the night. James Anderson disappeared for about a month but he showed some of the upside he flashed earlier in the year with 15 points, five boards, three steals and two blocks, but given the aforementioned benchings and the absence of Tony Wroten (flu) the needle doesn’t really move here.
QUITE A MILESTONE
Given how bad the Sixers are and the regularity that the opposition tees off on them, owners almost have to disregard any big performances like the one we saw out of C.J. Miles last night. Yes, Miles has done some things to improve his defense and thus his standing on the team but he was all by himself with regularity last night as he canned 10 threes en route to 34 points, five boards and two steals.
He’ll be a hot pickup but you won’t find me going near him in a 12-14 team league with Luol Deng on his way and plenty of guys in Cleveland to ensure that he doesn’t get anywhere near that utilization on a normal night. Jarrett Jack (back) didn’t play and Dion Waiters (12 points, four boards, eight assists, two steals) will likely eat before Miles does.
Anderson Varejao went for 18 and 14 with a block and Tristan Thompson put up 12 and 10 with one steal as everybody enjoyed the Philly bump. Kyrie Irving also returned from a somewhat mysterious knee injury to score 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting with eight assists, three blocks and two threes.
TOUGH ROAD TO HOE
NBA players are professionals (well, most of them) and travel issues aren’t going to change the dynamic of a game in most cases, but both the Raptors and Pacers had really tough travel issues given the frosty weather we’re seeing and when you factor in a tough Pacers defense it’s certainly not time to panic on guys like Jonas Valanciunas (four points, 1-of-6 FGs, eight boards, one steal, one block, 32 minutes), Amir Johnson (zero points, 0-for-5 FGs, three boards, one steal, 21 minutes) or Terrence Ross (three points, 1-of-8 FGs, eight boards, three steals, one block).
Valanciunas and Johnson will get a Pistons team coming off a tough loss in their next game and that means they get to deal with Andre Drummond and Co., and it also means you may want to float buy low offers on the two bigs that sit in inboxes from now until after that game. As for Ross, the only thing wrong last night was the shooting and the ups and downs of a 3-point shooter will continue all year, and for measurement’s sakes he’s been a mid-round value over the past two weeks so stay the course.
Patrick Patterson got loose for 20 points off the bench, hitting 8-of-14 shots (including two threes) with six rebounds and one block in 32 minutes. The explosion is good enough to give him late-round value over the past two weeks but I’d have a hard time going there in a 12-team league knowing that he’s peaking and Johnson is bottoming, with corresponding regressions likely coming for both players. In a 14-team league feel free to give him a look, though.
The Pacers have been a bit confounding to a lot of people I follow despite the fact they’re still winning and it’s not like they haven’t been blowing teams out because they have been. Paul George has really slowed down lately and that’s part of what happens when a team starts to integrate a player like Danny Granger, who logged 32 minutes last night and put up 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebounds, one steal and one three.
George hit 4-of-12 shots for 11 points with just two rebounds, two assists and a steal and that sound you hear is a lot of reactionary owners panicking over the potential that Granger could actually knock George off of his stud status. And if you were to purely look at George’s numbers it would be easy to get scared, as the season’s No. 7 fantasy play has fallen to a third round level over the past month and a top 50-70 value over the last two weeks.
A few things are at play here and to cut to the chase they all point to buying low on George if it’s possible. Jumping in here, the Pacers don’t view Granger as garbage in the way fantasy nation does. They’ve also held him out for a very long time knowing that he could be a big piece for them in the playoffs. Right now is all about exploring what he can and cannot do for the team and generally assimilating him for future use.
George dealt with some foul trouble last night and Granger mopped up some of his minutes, and if you're looking into that aspect of things there is no way that Granger is getting the 32 ticks he got last night on a regular basis. Hell, it's hard to believe he'll stay healthy on a 20 mpg platform. That said, I do think there is some low-level value potential for Granger that is better suited for deeper leagues, but assuming he can stay healthy he’s going to settle back into a 25-minute role and eventually the team will be turned back over to George and Co. once they’ve gotten Danny back into a rhythm.
Just as George’s No. 7 overall value on the year hasn’t plummeted because of a bad few weeks or even a month, I’d be pretty shocked if he was knocked out of the first round by the end of the year. George Hill (11 points, two assists) and David West (four points, 12 boards, one steal, three blocks) are bigger candidates to take a hit, and even those guys should see their roles rebound a bit once the experimentation with Granger is returned to a normal state. Oddly enough, the guy everybody feared would take the hit, Lance Stephenson, is trucking right along with his top 80-100 value and had a near triple-double last night with 13 points, 10 boards, eight assists and one steal.
Feathers have been ruffled for owners of Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster at various points in the last month or so, and while they’ve shown flashes of being able to produce with one another (something I bought into) they’ve shown more signs of being a bit crowded on the wing lately. Beal is getting healthy now and had his first Beal-like game in a while with 21 points on 10-of-18 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and one three. He’s not all the way back but this is a big step in that direction.
Webster’s owners went into the panic room and have probably moved on in many cases after his last two weeks, and now it’s Trevor Ariza’s owners that are sweating at the temples after he had another awful four-point, three-rebound and two-assist night with no threes and just one steal in 24 minutes. Webster, for his part, scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting (including two threes) with three boards, one assist and one block in 31 minutes off the bench. With everybody’s production going down even with the group at less than full strength, I might actually key in on the health and minutes that Nene is seeing.
Nene played 15 minutes last night and he has averaged just 22 minutes per game in nine contests over the last month. It’s been pretty obvious that things flow much better when he’s on the court and it could be the case that the wing issues have less to do with the wings than most folks are thinking. As for Ariza’s slide, I also have a hard time reconciling his poor production in a small sample size compared to his season-long early round numbers and I have no problem calling this a buy low moment, though I’ll be watching the situation very closely over the next few games.
Gerald Henderson ended up taking 19 shots in last night’s loss to the Wizards, scoring 27 points with 10 field goal makes, seven boards, one three and a 6-of-8 mark from the foul line. Kemba Walker got his with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting, three rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers, and that type of usage out of the backcourt meant that Al Jefferson would hit just 3-of-9 shots for six points with 10 rebounds, four assists and no steals or blocks on the night.
That utilization will likely flip-flop for Henderson and Jefferson, with the latter still holding steady at a top 50-70 value when he’s been on the floor this season. Henderson’s fantasy deficiencies are well-known and he’s still just a borderline value in 12-team leagues with only 1.5 combined steals, blocks and threes per game on the year. Josh McRoberts disappeared with just two points and three boards in 26 minutes, but he’ll probably put up a big popcorn line in a few games and get added only to be dropped when this happens again. Charlie Work is best used as a deep league asset.
I’ve been working to add Michael Kidd-Gilchrist knowing that anything short of a faceplant will result in big minutes when he returns in the next week or so, but to be clear I’m not considering him a must-add player in 12-team formats. There’s simply not enough history of him producing consistently to go there like that.
The operative question in New Orleans is going to be when Ryan Anderson will return from his herniated disc in his neck/back and the answer to that question is ‘nobody knows.’ It certainly won’t help that the Saints are still in the NFL playoffs and that leaves maybe 1-2 guys covering the New Orleans beat. The biggest beneficiary of his absence appears to be Al-Farouq Aminu, who put up six points, five boards, three steals and two blocks against the Heat. He’s worth owning in all 12-team formats until we get a timetable on Anderson.
There weren’t too many great lines in such a lopsided matchup outside of the expected one from Anthony Davis (22 points, 12 boards, three steals, two blocks). Eric Gordon posted a solid 15 points, two threes, three assists and one steal, and Tyreke Evans was barely serviceable with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting with three rebounds, one assist, one three and no steals or blocks.
The question about which big man would step up, if any, is still a mystery as Jason Smith (eight points, four boards) appears to be the most reliable producer when healthy but therein lies the rub for him. Alexis Ajinca (four points, two boards, 14 minutes) looks like a guy that could put up versatile numbers if he could stay on the floor, but to date he hasn’t been able to do either of those things and is a desperation stash for very deep leagues at best right now. These two and Greg Stiemsma (zero points, five boards, 15 minutes) are operating in a three-way timeshare to be avoided right now.
NBA PLAYERS GET ALL THE CHICKS
The biggest news coming out of Miami was that LeBron kissed a granny in the stands. Mario Chalmers didn’t play due to his precautionary-level Achilles’ injury, so Norris Cole started and put up his customary nine points with two threes and not much else. There’s nothing to grab onto here with Cole.
Dwyane Wade nearly triple-doubled with 22 points, eight boards and eight assists, LeBron scored 32 points with three treys and a mild line by his standards, Chris Bosh went for 12 and nine with a three and no steals or blocks, and Chris Anderson cawed to the tune of 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting with seven boards, one steal and one block. Ray Allen scored 11 points with two threes as a late-round value but more importantly he might make a sequel to He Got Game, where I hope he can build on lines like ‘put a fork in him.’
SO BAD IT’S GREAT
Sending the Pistons to New York to play the Knicks is a little like watching pro wrestling. It’s so bad that it’s good and seeing all the chatter about Josh Smith’s game-tying attempt at the end of regulation I was really expecting the worst when I sat down to watch – and the man did not disappoint. It was the type of shot that one takes when they haven’t picked up a ball in a year and it feels like a boulder. Smoove finished with a very solid 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting (8-of-9 FTs), 12 boards, five assists, three steals, two blocks and one three, and it wouldn’t be a Smoove line without the eight turnovers to give owners heartburn.
We also had Brandon Jennings hitting just 2-of-12 shots for five points, three boards, five assists, two steals and one three. He tweeted something after the game about being a pass-first point guard nowadays, and there was some debate about whether or not he was complaining or explaining, and the bottom line is that sticking him with Smith and Greg Monroe was just a recipe for disaster without solid organizational leadership in place to control the bad shots. Feel free to buy low on Jennings as he’s definitely at a low point in his stat graph.
Raymond Felton (12 points, six assists) returned to action and Beno Udrih left the game with a knee injury and that pretty much cleans up the point guard position in New York for owners. Iman Shumpert came back to earth with five points on 2-of-8 shooting, six boards, five assists and two steals, and I actually view that as a good game for him since his activity numbers didn’t hit the ocean floor. I’d probably hang on for at least another game to see where this goes as the Knicks are paper thin. Besides, you gotta own at least one player from this team to make sure you get to see the comedy every night.
If it’s not Shumpert I’d personally love to own J.R. Smith for comedic reasons, though on a serious note he simply can’t continue to hit just 2-of-6 shots for six points and not much else with the team currently constructed as it is. He could get injured or do a bunch of stupid things to not produce, but a healthy and somewhat level-headed Smith simply has to start taking and making more shots, making him worth holding in standard formats. He also tried to untie somebody’s shoe after the league warned him for the last shoelace incident. You can’t make this stuff up and it reminds me of a high school teammate that used to go for a turtle tap to the man section when rebounding free throws.
Andrea Bargnani showed why he is a hold despite the rocky outings with 13 and 11 with a three and two steals, and Kenyon Martin is showing some desperation spot-start appeal with six points, seven boards, five assists, one steal and two blocks in 30 minutes. If Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 13-of-24 FGs) doesn’t break his elbow hoisting up shots or while trying to elbow his way onto a flight out of town I’d be shocked.
My Warriors are going through their now annual easy part of the schedule where the organization starts chirping about David Lee being an All Star as they beat up on teams like the Lakers, Nuggets, Cavs, Magic, Hawks, Wizards and last night’s Bucks. They also have beaten a disinterested Heat team, an oddly overrated Suns team that should be underrated but the ol' Internet overcorrection is taking place, and a Clippers team that hasn’t exactly been world beaters this past month.
A game against the Bucks or a 10-game stretch against the aforementioned is a playground for a guy like Lee, who continued his hot streak with 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting, 18 rebounds and one block. Bad teams usually don’t have guys that can beat Lee on the other end to the point that the Dubs have to react, and this will probably be the best time of the year to trade the top-20 value over the last month. Andre Iguodala (11 points, 3-of-3 FGs, three treys, seven boards, five assists) is still not quite at full strength, and eventually when the team plays better competition you won’t see Stephen Curry (15 points, 5-of-18 FGs, seven turnovers) messing around the way he was last night.
I have no clue what Larry Drew is doing on a night-to-night basis. It must really suck as a player and I’ll just leave it at that (or probably not). Luke Ridnour’s insertion into the starting lineup has taken a lot of the shine off of guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo (two points, 1-of-3 FGs, five boards, five assists, two steals, 24 minutes) and Khris Middleton (10 points, four rebounds, one steal, 31 minutes). Ridnour hit just 2-of-9 shots for four points, three assists, one steal and one block in his 26 minutes, and if I had to guess Drew simply wants his veteran presence in the lineup. For what it’s worth I’m still hanging onto the two young guys, but check back with me next week to see if I still have that kind of fortitude.
Basketball is such a confidence-based sport and these coaches that think you can get game-to-game results pulling guys in and out of the lineup simply amaze me. Give a guy a job, let him keep or lose it, and save everybody including yourself some stress. Good Ersan Ilyasova showed up and scored 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting (2-of-5 3PTs, 6-of-8 FTs) with six boards and two steals, and if Synergy were up and running last night I’d be able to tell you if he did it against David Lee or not.
Larry Sanders sucked last night with just five points on 2-of-10 shooting, six boards and no steals or blocks in his 30 minutes, and at one point he busted out a crossover move you know he has worked on way too much in practice. He beat his guy but his left-handed layup attempt nearly broke the backboard, and all of that came off a busted set that’s bound to happen when using one’s 500th different lineup combination in a year. Just be patient and hope for the best at this point, and if there is any silver lining it’s that it looks like Gary Neal is getting booted for his confrontation with Sanders – a sign of who has juice around those parts for now.
O.J. Mayo saw 25 minutes off the bench and scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting with three treys, three boards, one assist and one steal. It’s official – he’s a blimp. Okay, maybe not a blimp but at one point I thought Big Baby played for the Bucks. He can still score and in the prior game he scored 20 points, but I think we can guess what’s going on here in terms of his disappearing act this season. Add that to Drew’s ongoing rotation changes and there’s enough to keep him out of must-own status in 12-team leagues, but I still would rather add a guy like Mayo than somebody without upside.
Manu Ginobili hit a game-winning layup with 1.8 seconds left last night in overtime against the Grizz and also ended up on the injury report with a hamstring injury. And with Kawhi Leonard scoring 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting with two threes, six boards and two steals it feels like Pop is trolling me, giving me a small taste of what good Leonard could be, but in reality when the jump didn’t take shape early in the year it’s probably not best to put out a Leonard alert after any one game he does this. On the other hand he will be a buy low candidate until he’s either not or the season has ended, and the hope is obviously that something like an injury to one of the Big Three jumpstarts him.
Ginobili has had a great season simply by being effective and staying relatively healthy, but it sounds like he’ll miss at least one game and that opens the door for Marco Belinelli (19 points, two threes, four boards, four assists), who has been an eleventh round value over the past month. It’s also hard to send owners running to the wire with this news since he’s currently a hard guy to count on in lineups, but at least there’s a decent floor to offset some of the risk. Danny Green is actually a better fantasy value despite yet another ugly 2-of-8 shooting night, as all of his comparative advantages were on display with one three, three steals, six boards and one block in his 23 minutes.
Tim Duncan went gadzooks with 24 points, 17 boards, four assists, one steal and two blocks as he continues to put the early season shooting slump behind him. He’s an early round value over the last month and that makes this a great time to test his market value. Boris Diaw projects to be the best pickup following the Tiago Splitter injury news, but he put up just 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting with three boards, one three and a steal in his 26-minute return from illness.
The Grizzlies have been a consistent fantasy squad over the past few seasons but this season they’ve lost both consistency and dynamism, with everybody not named Mike Conley and Zach Randolph being a crapshoot ever since the team went away from Kosta Koufos (eight points, six boards, 13 minutes). Conley busted out of a minor month-long slump with 30 points, six boards, five assists and three steals, and Randolph did his thing with 17 and eight with practically nothing else in the overtime loss to San Antonio.
James Johnson rose from the dead with 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting, one three, four boards, five assists, one steal and two blocks in 32 minutes off the bench, and with Tony Allen out for about two weeks he looks like a strong short-term pickup at the least. Adding to his value is the fact his per-minute production didn’t really fall this past week even if his minutes did.
Courtney Lee isn’t going to break any doors down with his potential but he walks into an interesting situation given Allen’s absence, and last night he debuted in Memphis with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, two threes, one steal and one block in 26 minutes. Those look a lot like a better than average good night from his Houston days and it’s a decent baseline for owners to target in a pickup, if those numbers indeed work for you.
Jon Leuer scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting with nine rebounds, one steal and zero threes in his 27 minutes, and he’s also worth a short-term speculative look with Allen’s absence freeing up minutes across the rotation. He’s been a late-round value over the last four games while Ed Davis has really fallen off after a small burst, though he did well to get two blocks with his six points and four boards in 22 minutes last night. Owners can watch that action from the wire.
The Suns’ fringe fantasy players are a mixed bag, but the team has become predictable on the whole and that was the case last night in their loss to the Bulls. Gerald Green filled in for Eric Bledsoe (knee) with 15 points, three triples, three boards and a steal, Goran Dragic led the way with 21 points and an otherwise down stat line, and Miles Plumlee got loose for 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Alex Len (three points, six minutes) is back on the court after a long absence due to his ankle injury, but owners shouldn’t be worrying about a changing of the guard at center anytime soon.
The aforementioned fringe crew struggled in the loss, with Channing Frye posting a mellow 11 points, seven boards and one three, P.J. Tucker falling further off the wagon with four points, three boards and one block, Markieff Morris putting up six points, six boards and three blocks, and Marcus Morris scoring just four points to go with two rebounds, one steal and one block. Outside of Frye none of them are truly trustworthy, but as we’ve discussed many times Markieff has some upside while his brother Marcus and Tucker are relatively stable plays better suited for deeper formats.
IF YOU LOVE THEM THEN LET THEM GO
I’ve talked about how depressing covering the Bulls has been and I was actually thrilled to see them throw the towel in, even if the greater Chicago area should be on the lookout for Thibs and Joakim Noah crawling up the sides of buildings breaking things now that Luol Deng has been traded to the Cavs. Carlos Boozer was also held out due to knee issues and owners can’t be thrilled about where this is heading for him, as he’s staring down an amnesty provision and you know he’s not going to grind out a tanking season even if Tom Thibodeau has no tank in him whatsoever.
Noah seemed to take his anger out on the Suns last night as he scored 14 points with 16 rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block while refusing to speak with media after the game. Owners should be worried without panicking on both him and Boozer, as they’ll still be big contributors for the Bulls so long as they’re healthy, but if you can move these guys at 90 cents on the dollar I’d personally be all for it.
Jimmy Butler hasn’t been spectacular lately and had another awful shooting night with just 4-of-18 makes for 13 points, no threes, five boards, three assists and four steals, but he’s going to get all he can eat in this situation and he’s a hold/buy recommendation without a doubt. Kirk Hinrich (nine points, three assists, two threes, two blocks) has no real value even in the best of times and he’s heavy on the trading block, so D.J. Augustin is a must-own player in my book even with issues with durability and defense. Augustin scored 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting with two threes, two boards, nine assists and a steal in his 29 minutes and with or without Hinrich I have a hard time not seeing him running this team in a few weeks.
Tony Snell hasn’t been great when given big minutes, either, but he’s a decent pickup candidate with something like a 50 percent chance to have a late-round floor in a few weeks. He scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting with two threes, four rebounds and that’s it, and he’ll need to hit a bunch of threes to offset his other deficiencies, but if the Bulls are running a skeleton unit out there that includes Snell he’ll probably pick up enough garbage stats to help that equation along.
Taj Gibson scored 19 points with 10 rebounds and three assists in his 42 minutes last night, highlighting why he needed to be held during the dark days a few weeks back. If he’s available run and pick him up with some patience in your back pocket for the next few weeks while things get sorted out in Chicago. Mike Dunleavy didn’t wow folks with his eight points, seven rebounds and one block last night, but he could be fitting to go on a run with all this wide open space. I can’t see passing him up in a 12-team league unless I’m stacked.
SAVING KENDALL MARSHALL
With the exception of Mike D’Antoni’s big man rotation the Lakers have settled into a predictable fantasy unit, with Kendall Marshall putting up yet another electric line of 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting with three treys, three boards and six assists in last night’s loss to the Mavs. Marshall also had six turnovers and no steals or blocks to go with his typically bad defense, but he’s a great fit in Mike D’Antoni’s fantasy friendly system and with top 40-50 value in the last two weeks he’s a must-start player.
Jodie Meeks has also earned that status with second-to-third round value over the same span, and last night he threw together 24 points on 6-of-16 shooting with four threes, four boards, six assists, four steals and an 8-of-9 mark from the line. Wesley Johnson joined the show with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, four rebounds and three treys in 36 minutes, and all of their values will be stable like this if Nick Young (19 minutes, two points, 1-of-7 FGs) continues to deal with back issues. Young has issues in 9-cat leagues where his 3.0 giveaways over his last seven games have pushed him to the bottom of the top-180 over that period, but on the season he’s been a 12-team value and owners will want to cut him some slack in both the turnovers and ‘back’ departments.
As for Johnson, I’ve been a proponent of adding/holding him even through some of these leaner times, at least with the expectation that he’ll be useful while Kobe is out, and even with Young in the fold I like his chances to return late-round value with some late-mid round upside. His fantasy game is explosive enough to survive on threes, steals and blocks and the upside comes in if he’s an actual producer on offense. It’s reassuring to know that he’s a top 100-120 value on the season.
Robert Sacre (seven points, 10 boards, one steal, 28 minutes) got the start at center and Jordan Hill (nine points, five boards) played just 20 minutes. It won’t be surprising if we hear about Hill’s most recent struggles with his back or knees, and I’ve been adding Sacre as a desperation play in deeper leagues with the hope that Pau Gasol (15 points, 13 boards, five assists, two blocks) gets traded and the Lakers tank hard.
With Shawne Williams getting waived, Ryan Kelly saw 27 minutes and put up five points on 1-of-5 shooting (1-of-4 3PTs) with four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. He’s a prototypical D’Antoni type player and while he’s not worth a speculative add in 12-14 team leagues, he’s worth watching if and when the Lakers throw in the towel.
MAKING UP FOR MARION
The big story for the Mavs last night wasn’t exactly big, but Shawn Marion (eight points, seven boards, 15 minutes) isn’t traveling to San Antonio for tonight’s game against the Spurs. He suffered a shoulder contusion that was downplayed by Rick Carlisle after the game, even if it sounds like a multi-game absence isn’t out of the question.
Wayne Ellington (zero points, seven minutes) started the second half in order to keep the rotation intact if I had to guess, and the real winner as expected was Vince Carter with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, three 3-pointers, five boards and a steal. He’s exactly the type of borderline late-round guy you want to check into whenever one of the Mavs’ core goes down. Jae Crowder had four steals and a block but those numbers are fluky and he has flopped at every fantasy opportunity he has ever received.
The Mavs’ three-headed center monster continued to twist and turn with DeJuan Blair (15 points, nine boards, one steal) getting another start, Samuel Dalembert (zero points, five boards, one steal, two blocks, 13 minutes) getting the boot, and Brandan Wright somewhere in the middle with eight points, three boards, three assists and no steals or blocks in his 18 minutes.
Carlisle is either playing the matchups or rotating them as he sees fit, but this doesn’t appear to have any end and counting on either of the bookends in Blair or Dally seems like a losing battle. Wright still has late-round value in his more stable, albeit scant 19 mpg backup role over six games, which both highlights his upside and speaks to his downside all at the same time. The only one that has 12-team value on the season is Wright, and if you’re relying on any of the three you’re probably hurting to say the least.
Monta Ellis continued to shoot closer to the 40 percent mark he has posted over the last two weeks than his 45 percent mark on the season, hitting 7-of-18 shots for 16 points, nine assists and five steals. With just mid-round value lately, owners should be looking into buy-low offers for the key cog of a Mavs fantasy squad that is really stable. Dirk was Dirk with 27 points, seven boards and four assists, and Jose Calderon posted his customary 12 points, two threes and eight assists but did spice it up with five steals in the win.
THE SEVEN STAGES OF SCOTT BROOKS
I’m well past the stages of incredulity (apparently there are seven to make that heading work) that come with watching Scott Brooks coach, even if I still have to mention the issues here because they’re a part of what we discuss, and it’s entertaining to no end watching the Thunder beat writers grapple with how to cover him on a daily basis. Last night it was Derek Fisher playing 12 fourth quarter minutes and covering Gordon ‘Career Night’ Hayward for much of it. It’s just a really interesting case study for Brooks, who is by all accounts a great guy and friends with many in the media, but now all these guys that stumped about his coaching abilities are going to have to explain what this is when the Thunder lose yet again in the playoffs.
The Thunder lost last night, too, and rather than use an actual offense to get other guys involved they just handed the ball to Kevin Durant and said ‘do things,’ and Durant did exactly that with 48 points on just 14-of-34 shooting but 17-of-19 makes from the foul line. Even though his efficiency was down and the star calls were up, it’s just the most recent example of how hard this guy is going to walk with Russell Westbrook out. He added seven boards, three treys, five assists, four steals and two blocks to this stat line of the year entry.
Reggie Jackson did well to put up 20 points on 6-of-14 shooting with five boards, six assists, four steals, one three and 7-of-10 makes from the line, and it’s hard not to believe that the only reason he was unleashed like this was that Serge Ibaka (flu) was out. Brooks would be wise to use this time to let him play through mistakes, smooth out the rough edges, etc, but what would I know I'm just a doctor. Jeremy Lamb hit just 4-of-14 shots for nine points, four boards, one three and two steals in 27 minutes. As a top-75 play over the last two weeks owners should cut him slack for this down night.
If you’re in a wack fantasy league Kendrick Perkins and Fisher combined for 37 tough, veterany minutes with a combined eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal and eight fouls.
THAT HAYWARD IS SO HOT
Gordon Hayward got HOT. In his own fantasy line of the year entry he hit 13-of-16 shots for a career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, one block, two threes and a 9-of-13 mark from the line. A top 6-8 play over the past two weeks and a top 40-50 play on the season he is finally meeting expectations, though he needs to keep improving his season-long 41.5 percent field goal shooting in order to get deep into the early rounds where owners expected him to be.
Everything else was in its normal place for the Jazz in their win over the Thunder. Trey Burke put up a mixed bag line of 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and six assists, and while the always problematic shooting was on display he hit a three and had two steals, addressing at least one of the things he needs to improve on for fantasy owners (steals). Derrick Favors put up 15 and five with three blocks, Marvin Williams had 12 points, four boards, two threes and a steal, Alec Burks was mediocre with nine points, four boards and one block, and Enes Kanter gave his typical 10 points and five boards in 13 minutes.
The Celtics have suddenly stopped giving effort and since that happens with every team at one point or another it’s not time to start in on Brad Stevens, who has gotten more out of this team than anybody could have expected this season. Boston got trounced in Denver last night by 31 points and as you can imagine the box score suffered, with Jordan Crawford scoring 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting with five assists and that’s about it in his 21 minutes, Avery Bradley scoring just 12 points in an empty line, and Jared Sullinger (eight points, seven boards) lasting just 14 minutes before being ejected after his second flagrant foul of the night.
Crawford has been a solid win for owners that made their acquaintance early in the year or on draft day, but he has been a mess over the last two weeks or so with just borderline 14-team value. The culprit has been the same old vice – his 37.8 percent field goal shooting and 1.7 combined threes, blocks and steals – and with Jerryd Bayless around to perform a similar role it’s possible the end is closer than Rajon Rondo’s eventual return.
Bayless debuted with six points on 3-of-11 shooting, three assists and three steals in 25 minutes off the bench, and of course the blowout was a good time for Stevens to get a look at his new backup-level combo guard. Stevens mentioned before last night’s game that he would use Bayless in the first half of games and see how things go from there, which is probably true of many Celtics players right now so I wouldn’t read too much into that.
It was somewhat surprising to find out that Sullinger is just one more flagrant foul away from getting a one-game suspension and if he gets a Flagrant-2 foul he’ll get dinged for two games. That’s not his biggest issue right now by any stretch, but it’s worth noting that with 60 percent of the season to go he’s likely to get dinged.
The larger issue for Sullinger is that he has played in 19 or less minutes in 4-of-7 games and while Stevens’ rotations have largely been a mess this appears to be directly linked to his left hand/wrist issue. He’s essentially playing one-handed out there and the two-week dive has dropped him to just borderline 12-team value on the season. Typically an injured guy with that type of value is pretty easy to drop, but I’d expect a healthy Sully to move back into the 10-team range at a minimum and if that juice is worth the squeeze you may want to hang on.
Kris Humphries lost his scant momentum with an absence due to his sprained left-ankle and with Sullinger on the other end of the see-saw it will take a significant slide by the latter for the Humph to hold his value. Owners can probably do better in 12-team leagues with the info we have right now. The same goes for backups Kelly Olynyk (six points, four assists, 21 minutes) and Vitor Faverani (10 points, five boards, 16 minutes).
MAKE WAY FOR THE PLAYERS
Denver’s situation got a little bit more interesting for fantasy purposes last night with reality sinking in that Andre Miller is probably as good as gone and Wilson Chandler suffering a groin injury to the same side as his prior (left) hip injury. Chandler has always had middle of the body issues and while he is day-to-day, guys like Randy Foye and Nate Robinson are worth owning in most standard formats.
Foye hit seven triples last night and has been handling the rock quite a bit lately, finishing with a season-high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting, five boards, five assists and one steal in a whopping 39 minutes. His struggles with consistency are well-documented, but as he was for Ty Corbin in Utah, Brian Shaw wants to use him as a spot-up option opposite the big-time interior attack that Denver doesn’t have (another story we’ve covered time and time again). Foye has played at a top-50 level over the last week and a top-90 level over a two-week sample, and the combo guard have his work cut out for him to keep up either level of play but if Chandler’s injury starts him down a bad road then you can probably pencil in Foye for at least the latter.
Robinson actually left during the second quarter due to a right ankle injury and returned during the third quarter, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, one three, five assists and a steal in 23 minutes. He needs about 25 minutes per game to be a safe late-round value with a hint of upside, and one has to think he can get there with Miller on the outs, even if it hasn’t played out with an average of just 20 minutes per game in his last four contests. Whereas Foye can be considered a must-own player in 10-12 team formats right now, I’d consider Robinson more of a mid-level add in 12-team formats at this time.
We’re also seeing a resurgence out of Kenneth Faried, who put up 21 and 13 with one block in 32 minutes, while J.J. Hickson scored 17 points with eight rebounds, two steals and a block in his 28 minutes. Timofey Mozgov was also productive within his own range of expectations with nine points, six boards and two blocks in 18 minutes, in what was a best-case scenario for a frontcourt with no easy answers for fantasy owners.
Mozgov has the most potent fantasy game built on the strength of decent percentages and a solid 1.2 blocks per game, but he’s the least likely to get minutes with just 20 of them per game. Hickson plays the most at 26 minutes per game but the only thing he can sort-of hang his hat on is scoring and rebounding, while Faried has similar issues with better efficiency and at 24 minutes per game this year he has been the middle child in this arrangement.
Faried has been the only one of the group to hold 12-team value on the season and at least for now he seems to be on the upswing, so he’s the guy to own in the group and from there unless you have a punting strategy in play I’d rather own Mozgov than Hickson in deeper leagues, as Hix has all-but tapped out his value and with Mozgov there is at least some upside in the event he can somehow log more minutes.
Damian Lillard is all Oakland and if you’ve been to the O you already know. There’s just a certain swagger with Oakland players and he has that in abundance, so when the Kings were running away with last night’s game he kept firing away and almost put together a comeback for the ages. He finished with a career-high 41 points with 26 of them coming in the final quarter on mostly broken coverage in transition, but still it was pretty amazing to watch all of Sacramento watch the clock slowly tick in complete fear.
If there is going to be a LaMarcus Aldridge slowdown the Kings might have given the league a blueprint last night with the way they ran a big at him on the baseline and defended with their power forwards over the top. It was a timing trap that didn’t shut him down by any means, but he didn’t look anything like the guy that was getting MVP consideration as he finished with 24 points on 8-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists, one block and four turnovers. As a guy that shoots a lot of long twos, he has had to work pretty hard to do what he has done so far this year, so owners will just want to make sure he doesn’t start showing signs of efficiency issues as teams figure out what the Blazers are doing.
Robin Lopez was left free as a result of all those traps and finished with 18 points, seven boards and two blocks, Wesley Matthews was muzzled to the tune of nine points on 3-of-12 shooting and an otherwise strong line, and Nicolas Batum went for 11 and 11 with five assists but no steals or blocks in his first game with a splint on his left hand. Yes, the big numbers come against the Kings, but they actually played pretty good team defense last night and it’s an encouraging result for Batum nonetheless.
The Kings’ players-only meeting was funny because it literally came about because of an anonymous Internet report built off a simple (and accurate) set of tweets from local radio host Carmichael Dave, which alluded to the fact that DeMarcus Cousins needs to walk the walk if he’s going to talk the talk, among other non-controversial tweets explaining obvious stuff everybody has discussed a million times. The anonymous report should have never been picked up and it didn’t even focus on DeMarcus, it focused on Isaiah Thomas saying that the team was pissed off at him for shooting too much. Multiple team sources told me that was garbage and I didn’t really even need to ask as the popular Thomas is the team’s go-to leader in the locker room, handling the issues that Cousins is yet to grasp and the two do it with pretty good synergy.
With all the losing they did have things to hash out and so they cleared the air with no major tension and with defense being the team’s biggest issue all eyes were on how the team would perform last night. While they had defensive issues throughout the game, it was a much cleaner product and that’s why they were able to take down Portland. Before they went into a prevent defense mode in the fourth quarter, Thomas had limited Lillard to just 15 inefficient points scored mostly on other players, Aldridge had been frustrated, and on the night the Blazers hit just 43.3 percent of their shots despite a 46-point fourth quarter.
Thomas nearly triple-doubled with 22 points on 5-of-14 shooting (2-of-6 3PTs, 10-of-12 FTs), seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals and zero turnovers, Cousins scored a season-high 35 points on 13-of-28 shooting with 13 rebounds, one steal and two blocks to further his All Star case, and Rudy Gay was on fire for most of the game with 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting, three treys, nine perfect free throws, five boards, four assists and one steal in his best game as a King. The team is going to bicker on nights when their bigs aren’t rotating and in other words while they’re learning team defense for the first time in five years. But the defensive issues aren’t on Thomas the way some in the media are portraying, which is a basically their way of saying we always knew he could score but the guy can’t defend so don’t look at two years' worth of reports where we totally missed that Thomas needed to be given the keys.
Now that Thomas has the keys the Kings have an identity, much like an old Kings team that had characters that started out as a bunch of misfits. Look for them to continue improving with plenty of speed bumps along the way, expect Thomas’ defense to improve off the ball and remain stellar on the ball where guys can’t get around him. Jason Thompson (seven points, six boards, two steals, 35 minutes) and Cousins are the keys to the team’s defense as a whole, since it falls apart when they blow coverage, and Gay needs to remain interested for it all to come together but it’s totally possible.
Marcus Thornton (three points, eight boards, one steal, one block) moved into the starting lineup with Ben McLemore (two points, 1-of-2 FGs, two assists, 18 minutes) struggling and that arrangement should continue until McLemore gets hot again or the last two months of the season come along, whichever happens first. McLemore’s value was most evident as a stash during that time anyway, and if you’re in a deeper league and want to drop him there’s probably a minimum two-week window where you’ll be able to pick him up. Thornton is much too streaky and unsettled in his role for a pickup but talk to me again if he has done it for a third game in a row.