I was gone for the last week on assignment and it’s great to be back. Tuesday night had a light slate with just five games, but there was no shortage of excitement as Kevin Durant tore the cover off the stat sheet, Gordon Hayward returned to action in a big way, and the Kings’ Big Three continued to surge. Let’s get right to it.
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When you think of bad teams you might overlook the Magic since many of their guys put up numbers on a nightly basis, but with an 11-31 record and a glaring hole at center right now they’re a team that could go in the tank on any given night like they did against the Nets. Victor Oladipo (10 points, 3-of-9 FGs, six rebounds, five assists, two steals, one three) and Jameer Nelson (nine points, 2-of-6 FGs, one three, 10 assists) played close to their current baselines, but Arron Afflalo was extremely quiet with just 11 points, two rebounds, a three and a steal in the loss. Afflalo missed three games about a week ago with a foot injury but has been fine since, so it’s time to wait a game before speculating over any residual effects.
Glen Davis scored 10 points with seven rebounds in his 24 minutes last night but had no other stats, highlighting how he needs to put up bigger popcorn numbers to be worth using in standard league lineups. Over the last four games he’s been just a borderline value in 14-team leagues but with Vucevic out he’s still worth consideration in most formats.
Tobias Harris continued to struggle with just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting with one three, four boards and no steals or blocks. Aside from being down by about three percentage points (42.6%) over normal levels from the field, he is averaging just 1.4 combined steals, blocks and threes compared to 3.3 in just four more minutes per game for the Magic last season. It’s highly unlikely that he forgot how to execute on all sides of the court, and more likely that the yet-to-be-NBA-level paid player is pushing the envelope on his return from a serious ankle injury. Without a substantial body of work for owners to hang onto here, the situation will be uncomfortable but there is still enough upside to hold on.
Speaking of no body of work, Kyle O’Quinn has been a bit of a double-double machine when he gets the minutes, as in I can count the games in which he has both gotten the minutes and double-doubled on one hand. Still, he has been making some muffled noise lately, and last night he put up 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds and two blocks. Over the last four games he has averaged 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 2.3 blocks while hitting 63.3 percent of his shots – good for top-90 value in standard formats. Vucevic’s concussion situation seems pretty bleak and Orlando injury reporting has been hit-or-miss this season, and the takeaway on O’Quinn is that he’s worth a look in 12-14 team formats if you’re desperate for a big man.
BROOKLYN BREAKING THROUGH
Whereas the Knicks are the comedy gift that keeps on giving, their neighbors in Brooklyn have managed to right the ship, which has interestingly corresponded with Deron Williams’ ankle injury and his subsequent return to a temporary bench role. We’ve talked about this in this space, as Williams appears to be a better fit as a No. 2/3 guy nowadays rather than the elite franchise player he was signed to be, and with a more deferential Shaun Livingston running the show things have gone much smoother for the Nets.
It’s also true that an old team thrown together like a fantasy squad that lost their bedrock big man is simply taking the time necessary to get on the same page. Either way, the days of Jason Kidd creating hilarious distractions for his team seem to be eons ago and owners can look forward to better stability out of a guy like Paul Pierce (13 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal, two blocks) that was drafted to be in lineups.
Williams (nine points, 4-of-10 FGs, one three, nine assists, two steals) simply needs to stave off the injury bug, and there’s no clear evidence that he can do that for the whole year, but he logged another 28 minutes last night and owners will take what they can get at this point. With just late mid-round value on the year and plenty of ambiguity about his future, owners can probably get in on a decent buy low offer as long as his owners don’t think he still plays for the Jazz. Livingston posted eight points on 3-of-9 shooting with four rebounds, six assists and one steal in 24 minutes, and he can be dropped for a hot free agent in 12-14 team standard leagues.
The rest of the box was a mess even in the win, with Joe Johnson putting up just 13 points, five boards, three assists and a trey with no steals or blocks, Kevin Garnett going for eight and five with a steal, and Andrei Kirilenko managing just four points, three boards and two blocks in 22 minutes. Johnson has been a top 80-100 value on the season but I’m skeptical about his ability to keep it up knowing that much of his production has come with plenty of guys out. Kirilenko is a better spec add than KG by having some semblance of upside, which isn’t saying much, and neither guy is a must-own player in 12-14 team formats.
Andray Blatche was a bright spot with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, five rebounds, three blocks, one block and one three, and Mirza Teletovic showed up with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, four triples, three boards, two assists and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench. Blatche shouldn’t have hit the wires after the injury to Brook Lopez, and needless to say he should be owned in all formats right now. Teletovic has been the epitome of roller coaster ride since Lopez went out, but when you add up all the peaks and valleys he has been a solid late-round value. That type of calculus makes him a better fit for deeper formats where owners won’t be nearly as glued to the Pepto.
RETURN OF RONDO
For owners that stashed Rajon Rondo, simply seeing him on the court in January had to feel like a win but as we saw last night he still has a ways to go before he’s the old Rondo. He missed all eight of his field goal attempts and had trouble turning the corner, finishing with one point (1-of-4 FTs), three rebounds, five assists and one steal in 26 minutes. There is talk that he could sit out tonight’s game against the Wizards, but if he feels good after last night it’ll be hard for him to sit with the Celtics seeing Avery Bradley (three points, seven minutes) go down to an ankle injury last night and Jerryd Bayless (toe) ruled out for the next week or so. Still, owners should expect Rondo and the Celtics to play it safe here.
Bradley is questionable for tonight’s game even if it sounds like he won’t go, so owners can assess his injury as a day-to-day ailment for now. Newly acquired Chris Johnson stepped in and scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting with two threes, three boards and a steal in his 25 minutes off the bench, and he’s the better deep league plug-and-play over Phil Pressey (two points, three assists, 22 minutes).
Kris Humphries (14 points, 7-of-10 FGs, 13 boards, one steal, 29 minutes) and Jared Sullinger (12 points, 4-of-14 FGs, 0-for-5 3PTs, 11 boards, two steals, 29 minutes) have gotten into a good rhythm and both are worth owning, with the former being a must-own player right now. Sullinger’s season-long numbers paint a less convincing picture, but he’s hot right now and I’d have a hard time passing up on him in a standard 12-team format. The fact that Brandon Bass (15 points, 5-of-7 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs, three boards, one steal, one block, 18 minutes) came out of last night’s game with a hip injury (day-to-day) only strengthens their case. Bass has slowed down recently but as a late-round value on the year he still warrants consideration for rosters, though owners shouldn’t pass up on any mid-to-high level free agents.
We’ve talked in depth about Jeff Green’s (12 points, 5-of-15 FGs, two threes, six boards, one block) fantasy shortcomings, which boil down to a lack of stat versatility, but I like him as a sneaky buy low candidate with Rondo back in the fold. Easier looks can only help his cause.
THAT NO GOOD LEBRON JAMES
LeBron got all the post-game pub for leading the Heat charge in their comeback win over the Celtics, but he’ll probably be the first guy to admit that he struggled in the game’s last few minutes with his decision-making. But that’s what happens when a really good team beats a bad team with their D-game -- we end up picking nits.
The reigning Finals MVP put up a beastly 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting with eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and 9-of-11 makes from the foul line, which is great, but it’s probably time to put him on blast in fantasy leagues given his ‘mere’ top 4-5 value. The consensus No. 2 overall pick and pricey auction selection has seen declines of 1.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.6 blocks compared to last season. It seems pretty elementary that he’ll get ridiculously hot as the Heat get more serious in the next 2-3 months, but the caution expected to be exhibited by Miami along with the fact that they’re likely to coast into the No. 2 seed are both unsettling issues for owners.
Dwyane Wade sat out another game and the only good news here is that he’s putting up top 20-30 value when he is actually on the court. Ray Allen started in his place and scored seven points on 3-of-7 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and one three, Mario Chalmers posted a quiet eight and six with one block, and Chris Bosh hit two 3-pointers to go with 16 points, six rebounds and a block in the win.
When I told you guys to buy low on Rudy Gay after the trade to Sacramento and that the biggest part of the trade would be freeing Isaiah Thomas, I’d be lying if I said I thought it would go this well so fast. Gay went nuts last night, tying a career-high with 41 points on 16-of-25 shooting, five treys, eight boards, and five assists as the Kings rolled all over the Pellies. As a top-20 value over the past month, he has hit 53.4 percent of his shots from the field and rendered talk about his inefficiency obsolete. Only LeBron James, David Lee and Blake Griffin are hitting at a higher clip among players that shoot more than Gay’s 15.6 field goal attempts per game over that 14-game span.
The key component here is the play of Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, but in particular the turning of the team over to Thomas has allowed players to settle into roles and finally move forward in their development. For Gay, that means he’s getting the ball in relatively good spots and isn’t being pressed into a No. 1 scorer’s role, and instead into a role more similar to his days with the Grizzlies.
Thomas scored 20 points on 6-of-17 shooting (5-of-6 FTs) with three treys, three boards, 11 assists and three steals, and it’s outright comedic watching the local media naysayers find reasons to justify sleeping on this guy for two years, which unfortunately for the good fans of Sacramento goes into the bucket known as ‘time lost.’
The Kings have taken massive steps forward during their last 13 games, going 7-6 over that span and 5-3 in the last eight contests with wins over Miami, Houston, Portland and Minnesota, and their road losses to Indy, Memphis and San Antonio were either tight and/or respectable. While DeMarcus Cousins (18 points, 11 boards, six assists, three steals, four blocks) has garnered all the hype and played well enough to be an All Star, both Gay and Thomas deserve to be on the outermost fringes of the All Star discussion, too.
Cousins got torched by the venerable Sam Amick earlier in the week for his lack of maturity and the need for him to fully embrace his role as franchise player. I don’t think we saw the needle move on his development in that area during last night’s game since he got yet another tech complaining about an obvious foul. There are way too many layers to the Cousins issue to totally jump in here, but a story like that isn’t released by a well-positioned writer of Amick’s stature on a whim.
Expectations are always going to be high for Cousins, but with the Kings’ improvement the timetable for his personal improvements has necessarily been sped up. It’s one thing to be mouthing off for a really bad team that gets very little national attention, but it’s another thing to stick out like a sore thumb on a team that’s making some noise. I have no information to suggest this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings were secretly happy to see somebody else play the bad cop, knowing that they have the support system in place to get the most out of an unflattering report.
The road to redemption for Cousins was always going to be bumpy, and seeing him make incremental, albeit slow gains in-between the ears, I’m still bullish on the idea that he slowly gets it together. The story has already come and gone in the 24/7 news cycle, but it’s the type of hard-to-quantify situation that we may look back on a few months from now as a turning point.
In fantasy leagues that would mean a jump up into the elite tier with guys like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and Kevin Love. He’s already a top 10-16 value in 8- and 9-cat leagues, respectively, and owners are probably still on pins and needles thinking that the next big disaster is right around the corner. You’re not going to be able to swindle his owner, but the question marks make him more attainable than your average first round talent.
TRY PELICAN TRY
The Pelicans are hurting in both the literal and figurative sense, and outside of Anthony Davis (16 points, 4-of-12 FGs, six boards, two steals, four blocks) there are no sure bets on any given night. Tyreke Evans (17 points, 6-of-15 FGs, three rebounds, three assists, six blocks against) hasn’t inspired any confidence in his consistency since arriving in New Orleans, but he’s positioned about as well as he’ll be at any point this season given the Pellies’ injury woes.
Blame his numbers on the ankle issues or his own one-dimensional play, but the bottom line is that he needs to lift his 41 percent field goal shooting toward his 45 percent career average and also find whatever 3-point shot he had in the past. Until he does that he’ll be a late-round value at best, but with plenty of history on his side chances are he’ll eventually get things cleaned up.
Brian Roberts has plenty of detractors in New Orleans because of his defense and shot selection, but unless the Pelicans think they have a find in newly acquired Tyshawn Taylor he’s going to continue putting up some variation of the 15 points, two rebounds and six assists he had last night. He did not have a steal, block or three, with the steals and blocks being an issue for him that isn’t going away. A late-round value over the last two weeks, that’s probably where he’ll hang out until Jrue Holiday returns.
Eric Gordon scored 35 points on January 15 against the Rockets, and since then he has really struggled and last night he put up just seven points on 2-of-6 shooting with one rebound, one assist and one steal in 27 minutes. The blowout loss probably explains the low minute total, and he has played anywhere between 32-42 minutes in the seven games prior to last night, but the last two games have seen him average a 3-of-8 shooting night with little to show in the box. This comes after just one game with single-digit shot attempts in the month of January, on a team that desperately needs his contributions, so I’ll be watching for signs that he is starting to break down.
Jeff Withey was the winner of the Pelicans’ rotating center experiment with a career-high 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 27 minutes off the bench. It should be noted that the Kings give up a lot of steals and blocks, and the game wasn’t close, but it was the most noise a New Orleans center has made in a while. Alexis Ajinca (four points, four rebounds, one steal, one block, 16 minutes) is marginally intriguing because of his versatility, but until Monty Williams ditches ineffective Greg Stiemsma (three rebounds, 11 minutes) it’s going to be hard for either guy to be used even in deeper leagues.
The Blazers lost just four games in December (DAL, @MIN, MIA, @NO) and with just two underachieving losses to Philly and Sac in January prior to this week the hype would have been deafening had they beat Houston on Monday and Oklahoma City last night. The next step for this team (other than acquiring another big man) is to adjust to the adjustment that teams will be making in their doubling of LaMarcus Aldridge, who hit just 12-of-26 shots last night (5-of-8 FTs) for 29 points and 16 boards.
Aldridge will be difficult to blunt in that respect with a rarely blocked turnaround jumper, and he’s coasting to top 10-12 value on the season with practically no efficiency drop despite a 3.3 increase in field goal attempts per game (21.1). He is also crushing the boards, with 2.5 more rebounds per game (11.6) than last season in one less minute per contest compared to last year, with defensive numbers in line with career averages. I want to say that he can’t keep these stellar rates up, but that’s going to come down to the doubling factor and whether or not teams employ a timing-based double including an over-rotation on the first pass. That’s the only thing that has worked against L.A. this season and even that hasn’t been able to slow the low-end MVP candidate down.
Damian Lillard got the Thabo Sefolosha treatment last night and finished with just 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting and four assists to go with a steal and block. Wesley Matthews got hot with 21 points, four treys, four boards, four assists and a steal, and Nicolas Batum made the best out of a bad situation with the finger injury on his non-shooting hand. Batum posted two steals, two blocks, five boards and a three to go with a concerning three points on 1-of-4 shooting. Some missed games could be in his future after re-injuring his finger last night, though he did stay in the game and log 35 minutes.
Robin Lopez double-doubled with 10 and 10 to go with a block last night, which gives him 16 such efforts this season after posting just 15 in his entire career before this season. He’s a top 75-100 play on the season (9/8 cat). Owners that added Mo Williams for the Blazers’ five-game week were paid off, as he hit 6-of-10 shots for 13 points, two boards, nine assists and a trey in 26 minutes. Especially with Batum’s scoring a question mark right now, he’s worth a look not just for the games played factor but also as a short-term speculative add with top-100 value over the past two weeks.
KEVIN DURANT GOD MODE
Somewhere along the line I made a passing mention about the potential to see some truly historic numbers out of Kevin Durant, which wasn’t so much a hot sports take as it was a nod to his truly limitless upside. The absence of Russell Westbrook was supposed to propel Durant into this uncharted territory, and while there are very real problems with the Thunder’s unhealthy reliance on KD, in fantasy leagues this is irrelevant.
Durant had another jaw-dropping game in last night’s win over the Blazers, scoring 46 points on 17-of-25 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and matching 6-of-7 marks from the stripe and from deep. The Slim Reaper isn’t just dominating fantasy leagues this season – he’s destroying them in ways only a select few have in the past. To put this in perspective, owners considering trading Durant in standard leagues would lose on a deal including two late first round picks in return. With an average of 30.9 points to go with marks of 50.2 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from deep and 88.1 percent from the line, he is a threat to be the first NBA player to average 30 points while striking at the fabled 50-40-90 rate.
On the other end of this equation is Reggie Jackson, who should be being prepped for the playoffs by an expanded role now when the games don’t matter, but hasn't really been given the keys to the Thunder offense. The good news is that he has finally been given a bit of rope from Scott Brooks over the past two weeks, playing 32.5 minutes per game while returning solid mid-round value to owners in that span. Perhaps the best news is that he has averaged 1.9 steals during that time, as his season-long combined total of steals, blocks and threes has been a paltry 2.1 in 27.0 minutes. The next step in both fantasy and reality basketball will be for the coach to implement an actual offense that gets Durant working off the ball more often, with Jackson getting his kicks by dishing the ball rather than having to score in order to maintain his fantasy value.
Serge Ibaka slowed down from his torrid pace on a 4-of-15 shooting night, but made up for it with five blocks to go with 10 points and five rebounds in a typically light 31-minute night. Slowly but surely he has returned top-20 value on the season and is steadily climbing, and if Brooks ever takes off the blinders and plays him closer to 35 minutes per night he could move into a first round value.
In comments that will probably fly under the radar, Brooks said after the game last night that he was playing Kendrick Perkins for ‘chemistry’ reasons and Durant said that the Thunder are “going to ride (Perkins) until the wheels come off.” Brooks’ comments might be the first public revelation that it’s not about ability with Perkins, and Durant’s comments speak to how deep the organization’s commitment is to the big man as well as other vets like Derek Fisher.
Eventually this will become the story behind the Thunder’s missed championship window, but it’s fascinating to watch the unwavering commitment and it’s also a bit endearing to watch a basketball band of brothers pull in one direction. These guys are all-in on Perk from top to bottom, with Brooks on the front-end taking all the lumps while golden boys in Durant and Sam Presti get to roller-skate.
RUN RICKY RUN
The Wolves haven’t been adorned with massive expectations this season, but a trip to the playoffs and a positive vibe surrounding Kevin Love’s long-term status with the club would be enough for most fans. Things got pretty rocky last week but they’ve now won two games in a row, including last night’s easy win over the Jazz, and they’re just one game below .500 in the vaunted Western Conference.
Perhaps the best news stemming from last night’s win was the fact Ricky Rubio managed to play most of the game, scoring 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting with five rebounds, 13 assists, five steals and a three in 39 minutes. Rubio has found himself on the bench during the fourth quarter too many times to count this season, in part because he’s shooting just under 20 percent from the field during that frame, but the uncomfortable part for both owners and fans has been the fact that Rick Adelman doesn’t fully trust their supposed-to-be franchise point guard.
Yes, everybody goes underneath the screen on the pick-and-roll and that clogs up the offense, but a player with Rubio’s much-ballyhooed vision should be able to push through that and stay on the floor. The situation speaks to how steals (Rubio averages a league-leading 2.7 per game) are overrated in reality, since Rubio’s trouble on the defensive end is also contributing here, and overall it just feels like there is something more to the issue than meets the eye right now. Or better put, that Rubio and Adelman aren’t seeing eye-to-eye and therefore the minutes are being held in escrow on a nightly basis.
All the while, Rubio is still a top 35-50 play on the year in standard leagues (8/9 cat) while averaging just 31.4 minutes per game and 35 percent from the field. Any uptick above those low-end markers will push him into beast territory, though outside of the obvious (shooting) – owners probably won’t know if Adelman trusts him until that switch has already been flipped. Still, with a solid floor and seemingly high disregard for his services in fantasy circles, prospective owners should hope for another dud and have their buy low offer ready and waiting.
Rubio’s 3-of-5 shooting line won’t inspire much belief in an offensive renaissance, but the day-to-day status of both Kevin Martin (18 points, 5-of-16 FGs, two threes) and Alexey Shved (two minutes) will put the ball in his hands a bit more and J.J. Barea is officially worth a look as a short-term speculative play. Martin sliced the pinkie finger on his shooting hand and had it X-rayed (negative) after the game, while Shved suffered a broken nose in the second quarter and did not return.
Barea put up 15 points, three assists, one steal and three treys on 6-of-11 shooting in just 21 minutes, a reminder of how he can get going relatively quickly. Corey Brewer (19 points, 7-of-11 FGs, one steal, two blocks) will also get a chance to stabilize his value if Martin or Shved miss time (in that order), but he’s also in the same bucket as Barea as a short-term spec add.
Kevin Love nearly triple-doubled with 19 points, 13 boards and eight assists as he continues to push along at his top 4-6 pace in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively.
The good news for the Jazz is that they got Gordon Hayward back from a five-game absence due to a hip injury, and the bad news is that he was the only player to show up for last night’s loss to the Wolves. Hayward hit 10-of-17 shots for 27 points, two threes, five boards, five assists, three steals and a 5-of-6 mark from the charity stripe, and over his last eight games he has been ripping off top-4 value highlighted by a 50.9 percent mark from the field. At 42 percent on the season, if he can nudge the number up to 44-45 percent he’ll move his season-long top 36-48 value up by about two rounds.
Alec Burks got hot late when the game was out of reach, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and one trey in his 29 minutes. As usual he did not have a steal or block and I’m not buying his standard league value with Hayward back in the fold. Richard Jefferson (four points, 18 minutes) was also a pretty obvious bet to fizzle out in that regard, too.
Derrick Favors missed last night’s game due to a lingering hip injury that happened on the first play of Friday’s game against Detroit. He played through it on Friday and Saturday and was checking to see if he could play through it last night, so the silver lining is that this sounds day-to-day at this stage.
Enes Kanter got the start in his place against the Wolves’ big lineup, and aside from early foul trouble he laid an egg with just four points on 2-of-8 shooting, six boards and no steals or blocks in 21 minutes. Making some movement toward respectability over the past few weeks, I’m a bit shocked that we haven’t seen reports that Big Turkey is back on the IHOP diet. With just 1.1 combined steals and blocks in 25 minutes per game on the year, that’s the improvement I’ll be looking for before getting behind any sort of bounce-back here, even if Favors misses more time and Marvin Williams (four points, four rebounds, two blocks, 19 minutes) falls off. I’d call him a low-to-mid level stash for those that are struggling at the center position, and it should be noted that rookie Rudy Gobert (eight points, six boards, one steal, three blocks, 27 minutes) could eventually eat into Kanter’s role if he doesn't get his act together.
Williams’ owners have been starving over the past few weeks as he has fallen below 12-14 team value, though his season-long value is still in the late-round range. With more durability risk than most, owners can move along but I might file his early-season top 75-100 value into the memory bank before making a move. Ty Corbin loves him. Trey Burke also dinged owners last night with just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting, two boards, five assists, one three and one block, which isn’t the worst line but with just top 110-125 value in 31 games he isn’t really taking advantage of his opportunity in fantasy leagues.