With Week 1 in the books and Week 2 already on its way, this is that prime week of the season for trading that I was talking about last week. Point being – we are probably about one week from knowing what many of the shadowy fantasy plays will ultimately look like. Yes, there will be plenty of surprises after next week, but once there is two-plus weeks of film and results on guys there will have been enough exposures for owners to know what they have.
In terms of rankings and current production, it’s certainly not time to be calling guys booms or busts, so you won’t see me crowing about LaMarcus Aldridge’s No. 41 rank, Al Jefferson’s DNPs, or worrying about Kawhi Leonard’s No. 90 rank or Gordon Hayward’s No. 82 rank. Or Serge Ibaka’s No. 213 rank.
Many teams treat this first week as an unofficial preseason and even the ones that aren’t doing that can look like they’re stuck in the preseason. It’s very easy to get caught up in this, so as I mentioned do your best to look deep into the numbers and try to understand how or why things are going down.
Aldridge is moving away from the hoop which I believe hurts his overall value, but he could get called back down there given the center issues in Portland.
Jefferson’s ankle was never going to heal quickly but it looks like he’s nearing a return. Will he miss his window to assert his dominance over his teammates or will he walk right through it, and even if he does command the cachet needed to hoist up 15-18 shots per game, is he going to have the same ability to produce the way he did in past campaigns?
Is Kawhi going to fade to the fringes of the Spurs’ system with the old Big Three doing their things and randoms like Boris Diaw stepping up? Or is he just a slow starter?
Hayward’s numbers are full of outliers, so you know what’s going on there.
Ibaka was tasked with creating his own shot, and along with a steady dose of trying to do too much, when Kevin Durant didn’t start smoothly it set the stage for some really bad offense by the Thunder as a whole. Will Ibaka benefit from having Westbrook back? Of course, and now he can let his offensive game blossom without having to force it.
I cherry picked these guys to talk about since they seemed to generate the most chatter around here, but really you can do the same exercise for every guy in the top-150. And if you’re good at that exercise, you just might swing a deal now that you could never conceive of having swung later.
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ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
Chris Bosh missed last night’s game in his old Toronto stomping grounds due to the birth of his child and that set the stage for LeBron James (35 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, one block) to remind everybody of his presence, and Dwyane Wade also picked up slack with 20 points, six boards, five assists and two steals.
People have been sleeping on Mario Chalmers (five points, one three, four rebounds, seven assists, two steals) this season, as he has been extremely consistent year-over-year and projects to be a guy that picks up slack for the Big Three as they rest up for another chip.
Shane Battier (eight points, two threes, one steal, one block) and Ray Allen (14 points, three treys) picked up some slack as predicted, and Michael Beasley saw the first four minutes of his season and made the most of them with six points on two 3-point buckets. Assuming he doesn’t go and totally screw things up, the Heat are going to throw him into the fire to see what he has eventually, though there's no telling when that will be. They need to develop another impact scorer between now and the Finals in the worst way, just in case something happens to Wade or Bosh.
A HORSE IS A HORSE
It’s pretty damning that the Raptors need a front line of Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier to entice them to go to Jonas Valanciunas in the post, but that they did as the big man totaled 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting with nine rebounds and a block in 27 minutes. About half of the Raptors’ upcoming games in the next two weeks feature larger backcourts, so hopefully that will lead Dwane Casey to some water and also make him drink.
Of course, that would normally be an easy call with Rudy Gay turning in yet another inefficient night with just 3-of-10 makes on his way to 13 points, 10 rebounds, a steal and a three, but the Raps just love watching him chuck away. DeMar DeRozan hit 8-of-15 shots for 21 points, but reverted back to past form with just three assists and a steal to his credit and three misses from beyond the arc. Owners may want to keep the champagne on ice just a little bit longer.
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LET’S GET DEFENSIVE ABOUT IT
Derrick Favors struggled last night against the Nets with just six points, five boards and one steal but he isn’t on the top of anybody’s busts lists while averaging 11.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game to go with a steal and block. Still, his 44.7 percent mark from the field and 68.4 percent mark from the line and lower-than-projected defensive numbers have him buried with late-round value so far. Look for him to clean up the field goal shooting a bit and get those defensive numbers up, and from there the scoring and rebounding will improve, as well. Buy low.
Enes Kanter (21 points, eight rebounds, seven turnovers) is having the same problems with defense (0.0 steals, 0.5 blocks per game) but he’s already paying dividends scoring and on the glass with 17.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. He has also started out the season shooting 91.7 percent from the line on 12 attempts, which won’t continue but stronger than normal foul shooting was one of the reasons I took him up to No. 46/80 (8/9 cat) in the Bruski 150. He’ll get the defense straightened out to lift him out of his current No. 60/93 rank.
Gordon Hayward scored 22 points with five rebounds, four assists and one three, but owners will be surprised at his No. 80/103 rank which is depressed by 40.3 percent field goal shooting and 66.7 percent foul shooting. He’ll get that turned around and if your opponent is tuned into the fact that his rank is low this might be a buy low moment, but good luck with that.
John Lucas was semi-serviceable with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three in 34 minutes supplemented by garbage time. If you started him in his four-game week this is probably paying the bills, for what it’s worth. Alec Burks scored 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting (no threes, 5-of-9 FTs) with five rebounds, four assists and three treys. He’s faltering in one area or another on most nights but he has shown the ability to post versatile lines, but whether he can put it all together and also survive Trey Burke’s return to exceed late-round value is certainly in question.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
The Nets put their feet on the throats of the Jazz early last night and never turned back, which led to abbreviated nights for just about everybody. Joe Johnson rebounded from a terrible outing with 12 points, two threes and two steals – which also qualifies as a good night for him. Deron Williams got a much-needed breather as he played just 24 minutes en route to 10 points and eight assists, and Brook Lopez went off with 27 points, seven rebounds, two steals and one block in just 25 minutes. Lopez is a first round value so far this season and while I like him as a fantasy play I would be trying to deal his somewhat overstated injury risk, especially if I have big men in reserve.
Kevin Garnett played just 14 minutes and that is bound to happen anytime the score and situation merit. Andrei Kirilenko had no need to play more than the 17 minutes he saw, scoring six points with five rebounds and no other stats. He’s coming around slower than most owners should have the patience for, which is a downgrade from the now-or-never flier recommendation I had been giving him last week. He still has the chance at elevating his game, it’s just that the slowness of his recovery sort of downgrades the chances he can do that.
The Pacers are the NBA’s only unbeaten team after winning in Detroit last night, and if only I trusted offshore books I’d have bet heavy on them, the Nets and the Clippers off the top of my head with their 10-to-1 type championship odds.
The Pacers, in particular, have to be considered the top threats to the Heat considering they’re improving after pushing Miami to the brink – and the Heat on the other hand are getting older and that’s it. And in terms of championship squads, the Heat don’t really stack up to other winners considering they beat a Scott Brooks-coached Thunder squad with major flaws and a Spurs team cashing social security checks.
Balanced and tough, the Pacers also fit well with fantasy owners given their consistency and defined roles. C.J. Watson filled in for George Hill and his annual early season hip issues, scoring 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting (including a three) with one rebound, five assists and one block. I’ll admit he has some slight intrigue in case the Pacers aren’t being forthcoming about Hill’s hip, but while I’m at it I might as well visit Area 51 and upload my secret JFK footage to YouTube.
Roy Hibbert (eight points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks, 34 minutes) is showing signs of breakout like many predicted, and I’m sort of kicking myself for not having him higher than the No. 32/36 rank (8/9 cat) that I had him at. Part of the beauty of the season that he’s about to have is that it’s going to be predicated very much by referee respect, as foul trouble has been a big concern for him but his reputation as a guy that goes straight up grew exponentially during the playoffs. In the end, these are the money guys that prognosticators get paid to take chances on. Will he jump up considerably from the 28-29 mpg he has averaged the past two years? He’s at 28 mpg in this short season so the jury is still out, but I think he can clear 31 mpg at the very least and with that comes all-but guaranteed early round value.
Lance Stephenson (10 points, six boards, seven assists, one steal, two threes, 39 minutes) and Paul George (31 points, 10 boards, four assists, four steals, four threes, 12-of-18 FGs) are making Danny Granger expendable, and while Stephenson won’t play 39 minutes when Granger and Hill are back he’s still going to hold his role and I don’t expect Granger to hurt him much, if at all. The combination of Hill and Granger will bring him back to earth a bit, though.
As for George the thing that kept me from being more bullish was the likelihood his high volume field goal percentage held him back, and right now at 52.9 percent on the year he’s nearly 10 percentage points ahead of last season. He’s also hitting 45 percent from deep and stealing the ball 0.5 times more per game than last season. Obviously these numbers can’t hold and he’s going to be passed over in the rankings by LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and probably Kevin Love at a minimum. Anthony Davis is already ahead of him and he still has room to grow, while James Harden should trend toward last season’s numbers if you can block out his early lackadaisical play, his teammates’ growth and his laundry list of nagging ailments.
If you have the chutzpah, anybody not named LeBron or Durant is probably acquirable in an early season blockbuster for George owners. And no, I wouldn’t blame you if you held tight as there is some degree of superstar ascension that overrides typical mathematical explanation here.
Brandon Jennings moved back into the starting lineup for the Pistons last night but aside from having their hands full with the Pacers there wasn’t much to note on their box. Jennings put up a familiar line of 17 points on 6-of-20 shooting with three rebounds, six assists, two steals and a three, which is understandable given the rust but also a reminder of prior sloppy nights.
Chauncey Billups stayed in the starting lineup at shooting guard but scored just four points on 2-of-5 shooting with three rebounds and one assist in 24 minutes. It’s going to be hard for Mo Cheeks to justify giving him that much run when lines like this start piling up, and that will cue larger roles for Rodney Stuckey (nine points, 16 minutes) and eventually Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (four minutes, five points). Will Bynum (five points, three assists, 16 minutes) will always be the guy that the Pistons call upon in a pinch, but beyond that it will be hard to predict when he’ll be usable.
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WAITING FOR JEFFERSON
Beat writer Rick Bonnell said he wouldn’t be surprised if Al Jefferson (ankle) returned on Friday, but that is just an educated guess so owners should err toward projecting the status quo this week.
Gerald Henderson finally showed up to the dance in last night’s win over the reeling Knicks with 18 points, eight rebounds, two steals, one three and a 7-of-8 mark from the line. He’s going to be a productive member of the Bobcats’ squad, but even if Jefferson did pass the ball Henderson doesn’t project well as a kick-out option. He’s profiling like a late-round option in this young season, which is a bit lower than the cusp of mid-round value I had him projected at to start the year.
As you know I’ve projected Jefferson lower than most thought humanly possible, and the guy that will help that prediction along will be Kemba Walker (25 points, five rebounds, six assists, one steal, three treys). Walker had X-rays taken on a bruised left shoulder last night but returned to the game and the issue doesn’t appear serious. He’s quickly becoming one of the NBA’s better point guards, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he reacts to watching Jefferson inhale basketballs like Mega Maid circa Planet Druidia. My guess is he cuts into Al’s margin just enough to help land the beat up Winnebago at that crazy low No. 56/35 (8/9 cat) mark.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is getting his act together and had another solid night, scoring 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting with eight rebounds, one steal and three blocks. Unless you’re in a shallow format you should probably find room on your roster unless, of course, you are stacked. His fantasy game has lots of upward potential. Josh McRoberts (two points, one rebound, 22 minutes) disappeared and while Cody Zeller didn’t impress with just seven points and five rebounds in 18 minutes, Jefferson’s return alone is enough to keep McBob on a short leash.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
The one thing the Knicks couldn’t afford was an injury to Tyson Chandler as their only backups at center consist of Cole Aldrich (DNP) and his bad knees and yet-to-be acquired Jeremy Tyler. Chandler is getting evaluated today after leaving last night’s game with a knee injury that had Knicks beat writers predicting bad things, and if that plays out you can kiss the Knicks’ season good-bye (if you hadn’t already).
Aldrich played serviceably in Sacramento but durability is the obvious concern, as is the chance he can’t duplicate that play, but he’ll be worth a look if the news is bad on Chandler. Tyler is recovering from his own foot injury so he can be left alone for now. It’s hard to see Kenyon Martin (two points, two blocks, 18 minutes) handling anything more than 24-27 minutes at best and even that seems woefully optimistic.
Hilariously, this could mean a return of Andrea Bargnani (six points, 23 minutes) to the center position, at least until somebody like Nikola Pekovic snaps him in half. And no, I’m not running to the wire to grab him.
I had Metta World Peace (18 points, six rebounds, three steals, two treys) playing a solid 30-plus minutes before the season started and you have to figure that he maxes out in any scenario without Chandler around, which makes him a must-own player in my book even if he has question marks about efficiency and per-minute declines over last season.
Iman Shumpert (14 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, three treys, 33 minutes) is humming along at a mid-round pace right now, and normally he’d be taking a decent-sized hit by the return of J.R. Smith but with this Chandler news he’s most certainly a hold as the team will figure to play small. Carmelo Anthony will be forced to play almost exclusively at the four in this scenario, which he doesn’t like, and it’s hard not to see things unraveling a bit for him with his pending free agency and New York being all-but-guaranteed to be bad until 2015-16 when cap space clears up.
GREEN WITH ENVY
While the Suns play just two games next week and Gerald Green’s reign of terror figures to be short, the last two outings have been a real eye-opener about what can be done from a fantasy perspective in the Suns offense. He hit another six 3-pointers last night, finishing with 18 points, three rebounds, three assists, and three blocks over 31 minutes in fill-in duty for Goran Dragic. Dragic is reserving the right to play tonight but he’s doubtful in all reality with his ankle injury, so Green probably gets at least one more chance to round out his four-game week.
Marcus Morris gets a little breathing room by default in this arrangement, and he put up a season-high 16 points with nine boards, one steal and two triples in 26 minutes. P.J. Tucker still profiles as the team’s starting small forward indefinitely, but Morris shouldn’t be discounted in fantasy leagues down the road when an opportunity invariably arises. Miles Plumlee has shown some of his pedigree with slower outings as of late, but last night’s 10 points, five boards and one steal in 29 minutes was an improvement over his goose egg on Sunday. He’s the only big man the Suns can rely on until Alex Len gets up to speed, and that’s not happening overnight, so I’d hold Plumlee with a tiebreaking factor going to the Suns’ fantasy friendly system.
Channing Frye (19 minutes, four points, three boards) saw a lot of minutes on Sunday (34) and between the matchup with Anthony Davis and the carryover fatigue from so much run after a year off, it wasn’t surprising to see a slow night. Conversely, Markieff Morris went off with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a three, flashing the upside that we know he’s capable of but as usual the consistency will be the question for him. Again, the fantasy friendly system makes him a guy owners should take a chance on.
Eric “Mount” Bledsoe erupted for 25 points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals and a 10-of-12 shooting mark. With or without Dragic around, I can’t believe I’m kicking myself for not going higher than No. 17 in 8-cat formats with my rank.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
The Pelicans lost at home to the Suns and are really struggling in their backcourt right now as Tyreke Evans (nine points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block, one three, 21 minutes) and Jrue Holiday (three points, 1-of-7 FGs, five rebounds, nine assists, two steals, two blocks, one three) just haven’t been able to get anything going. It’s a really combustible situation for them playing next to Eric Gordon (20 points, 7-of-17 FGs, three rebounds, five assists, three steals, 34 minutes), as Gordon has never really brought up the level of his teammates while dominating the ball. It also doesn’t help that the trio didn’t really get to know one another, and when you factor in the ankle issue for Evans and also his history being unable to integrate with teammates this is not an overly surprising stumble.
I’m not giving up on Evans and I might even get crazy with a conservative buy low offer, since Gordon’s injury history is well documented and he’ll eventually get things figured out. Part of the issue is that Monty Williams is very stubborn with his rotations, too, so Evans is getting elbowed out by Al-Farouq Aminu (eight points, six boards, two steals, one block, 27 minutes), while Brian Roberts (17 points, 7-of-14 FGs, five assists, three steals) is going to take every inch that is afforded to him coming off the bench.
I wish I had put a bit more emphasis on using Jason Smith in deeper leagues heading into the four-game week, as when he’s healthy he’s a pretty good bet to put up something like the 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and one block he had over 26 minutes last night. Greg Stiemsma (16 minutes, one block) is not a threat to anybody’s playing time.
KOBE BRYANT, BLACKED OUT BEAR HUNTER
The Lakers got run by the Mavs last night and they are going to be a mess until Kobe Bryant (Achilles) returns. Based on his Twitter account that could be sooner rather than later depending on how you want to interpret his cryptic statements. Given the depth of the Lakers media I’m simply going to wait until we hear something more substantial before trying to figure out what he means by his ‘blackout’ or ‘bear hunt.’
In the meantime you can expect a different top producer every night, outside of Pau Gasol (10 points, eight boards, four assists, no steals or blocks), and last night that was Nick Young with 21 points, three steals, one three and an 8-of-12 shooting mark. He’s just as likely to score five points in the next one and even if he does better than that his fantasy game stinks.
Steve Nash (five points, four assists, 2-of-8 shooting) should be dead to fantasy owners at this point. Wes Johnson (seven points, seven rebounds, two steals, one block, one three, 21 minutes) has held bottom half of the draft value but his role is so tenuous that it’s hard to get behind him with or without Kobe around. The only player that should truly interest owners at this point is Jordan Farmar (11 points, seven assists, two threes), who will have a shot at mid-to-late round value once the Lakers decide to pull the cord on Nash.
Monta Ellis isn’t wasting any time in his new digs, putting up a 30-point, nine-assist line last night that included marks of 11-of-14 from the field and 8-of-8 from the line. The last time somebody had that type of efficient yet voluminous output was Wilt the Stilt way back when real-time scoring was handled by carrier pigeon and abacus. The opposing Lakers are terrible so take the outing with the appropriate level of salt, but the early returns suggest that Monta has staying power in the top 15-30.
You can disregard the bench performances by Jae Crowder (18 points), Gal Mekel (nine points, four rebounds, six assists, 26 minutes) and DeJuan Blair (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists, five steals, one block, 19 minutes) as functions of garbage time.
PANIC AT THE DISCO
Oh, Danny boy, the vultures, the vultures are swirling. Perhaps I should have known that Marco Belinelli and a resurgent Manu Ginobili (six points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals) would give Pop options to discard Danny Green with. But even though Bello was brought in for Green (four points, 2-of-7 FGs, zero threes, one steal, one block, 24 minutes) after an errant pass in the Spurs’ win over the Nuggets, the Italian sharpshooter only played 11 minutes and Ginobili hit just 1-of-9 FGs on the night.
This isn’t so much about them as this is about Green struggling in the finer points of the game and on defense, which is carrying over into his offensive production. As one of the league’s premier 3-point shooters I can’t see these struggles carrying on, so I’m holding him except for super hot free agents. However, that’s not a hard position and he needs to take immediate steps before Belinelli in particular starts to earn Pop’s trust.
As for Kawhi Leonard (14 points, 7-of-14 FGs, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, 34 minutes) as I alluded to in the opener I’m nowhere near panicking on the uber-talent. The fact of the matter is that his fantasy game is explosive and a similar slow start netted him No. 40/24 ranks (8/9 cat) on a per-game basis last season. It’s highly unlikely he takes a step back this season, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of him being the offensive option that Pop envisions him to be.
Tim Duncan nearly triple-doubled with 17 points, eight boards, eight assists and four blocks last night. It’s pretty clear that this isn’t the year that he slows down, with obvious caveats to DNPs and playing time in force. Tiago Splitter scored 12 points with eight rebounds and a block, and with outliers in blocks (0.3) and field goal percentage (48.1%) on the season owners can see he’s headed to late-round value at a minimum. I’m all but certain that I’m not jumping on the Boris Diaw (nine points, eight boards, one steal, one block, 26 minutes) bandwagon even with Matt Bonner leaving last night’s game with a calf injury. There’s just too much history there and too much best-case scenario stuff going on.
SQUARE PEG, ROUND HOLE
The Nuggets have the potential to be a mess all season long given the team’s desire to play inside out with a roster that’s not really good enough down low to do that. It’s an interesting decision by Brian Shaw to handle things that way, and perhaps it is being done with an eye on the future, but there’s no reason that roster can’t run and it’s just the most recent head-scratcher for a franchise with plenty of those moments this summer.
Ty Lawson (20 points, eight assists, 6-of-17 FGs) may see his efficiency dive as the offense falters, but he’s the one constant fantasy owners can count on in Denver right now. JaVale McGee struggled yet again (nine points, seven rebounds, two blocks, 21 minutes) as foul trouble was a problem and the light bulb doesn’t appear to have turned on. As I told somebody on Twitter, McGee was one of the guys I hated to rank high because it’s totally possible he plays his way out of a solid opportunity. But if he can toe the line anywhere close to expectations the Nuggets are ready to make him the centerpiece, and with that comes some serious fantasy value. Hopefully a No. 65/74 (8/9 cat) projected rank in the Bruski 150 was able to balance all of that.
Kenneth Faried (15 points, eight rebounds, one steal, 28 minutes) jumped back into the starting lineup and perhaps that will mark the beginning of his stranglehold over J.J. Hickson (four points, seven rebounds, one block, 17 minutes). Because of the aforementioned issues I see a lot of tinkering, and since Hickson is the team’s (gulp) best interior offensive threat I don’t know how Shaw goes away from him if he truly wants to establish that inside-out game.
The only thing that’s going to stop the Hawks’ fantasy guys from rolling along is a lack of depth, as they’ll be exposed to overuse and efficiency troubles as the year goes on. Otherwise, it’s all gravy.
Paul Millsap went gonzo against the Kings last night with 25 points, 11 boards, four assists, four steals, a block and two threes on 9-of-15 shooting to snap the buy low window shut. Kyle Korver is producing at a top-20 level even after his nine-point, one 3-pointer outing last night, which is a value much too rich for his blood but a solid mid-round valuation on the year is definitely in reach. Jeff Teague had a scare when he tweaked his left ankle on a cameraman’s foot, but returned and finished with 18 points, 10 assists, a steal and two threes.
DeMarre Carroll (six points, two rebounds, one steal, 35 minutes) and Cartier Martin (nine points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, one three, 25 minutes) could easily get this type of run for the foreseeable future, but both of them will be challenged with making their presence known in the box score. For Carroll he will need to keep from being a glue guy only, and for Martin his challenge will be consistency coming off the bench and a mediocre skill set. I wouldn’t pass on a hot free agent to hold Carroll, but I also wouldn’t summarily dismiss his fantasy value – after all he’s still hovering around late round value with a 30 percent mark from the field that will eventually be corrected.
The Kings were all over the place last night and anybody that thought things were going to go smoothly from the start was certainly being overoptimistic. There is still the issue of bad fundamentals, on both a team and individual level, and while it’s said that effort is something that can’t be coached it’s certainly something that can be instilled over time through culture change. A season’s first four games is the feeling out period in which Mike Malone’s point can be hammered home, and reality checks (i.e. losses) can be used to provide the proper motivation needed to succeed.
That’s a long way to go to say that things are going to be bumpy for a guy like DeMarcus Cousins (11 points, six boards, one block, 29 minutes), who now has two straight games under his belt where effort and composure have led to lesser minutes. The good news is that he genuinely cares, and if anybody needs time to undo programming it’s him. I may have mentioned it here or not, but I fully expect Cousins to have at least one moment where everybody questions his fortitude, and these smaller lapses are not it. The salient question surrounds how he responds to these setbacks, and so far he hasn’t fallen off the wagon to the extent that fantasy owners or Kings fans alike should be overly worried. The team also has to learn how to get him the ball, and that will come as the rotation begins to solidify itself. I’m aggressive enough here to call this a buy low moment, as the team is nowhere near giving up on the big man and as you know he’s all upside.
I love how you guys remind me every time Isaiah Thomas takes over a game. Patrick Beverley is a man after my heart, but IT2 is the truth for how he constantly responds to being doubted and/or demoted to the bench. He’s averaging 30 minutes per game to Greivis Vasquez’s 25 mpg, and he once again single-handedly put the Kings on his back to the tune of 26 points, five assists and a steal before missing the comeback-completing final shot.
Sacramento media that bet heavy on Vasquez’s (nine points, four assists, 20 minutes) pass-heavy ways are quick to point out what they perceive to be Thomas’ flaws, but he’s been the best or second best player on the team in each of their games and Malone is smart enough to see that. Whether or not he’s starting, he’s going to be a fantasy dynamo and while he’ll need to hold or increase the minutes to keep up his current third-round value, the only number that’s crooked in his stat line is his 49 percent mark from the field and even that’s not too far off from a reachable 45 percent season mark.
Ben McLemore could have easily been the lead for the Kings write-up tonight, as the star of the pregame show (always an insight into management’s thoughts in Sac) looked great again with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes. I think the Kings can shoehorn him into some small forward minutes if they don’t want to stop showcasing Marcus Thornton (15 points, three treys, three steals) for trade, but I’m strongly considering an across-the-board add of McLemore where he’s available. He’s going to have his speed bumps even if he gets starter’s minutes eventually, but he’s a physical presence and has already shown that he’s plenty capable of playing at this level. I like him to finish with at least late round value on the season.
BEVERLEY KILLS, THAT’S WHERE YOU WANT TO BE
I hope some of you guys asking if Beverley should be picked up in the 24 hours before it was announced he was returning early got their man. We had a gut feeling that he would return early after Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin said he looked good in warm-ups on Monday, as the shellacking the Rockets defense took that night was begging for a dose of Beverley’s everything. In his return he provided just that, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, one three, four rebounds and one assist in a whopping 29 minutes. I’m obviously as bullish as they come on the kid, and nothing I’ve seen this season is close to moving me off that prediction, whether they start him or not.
James Harden (33 points, seven boards, three assists, one steal, two blocks, eight turnovers) got back on track and added two threes to go with a 9-of-10 mark from the line. The turnovers are obviously unsightly but that’s going to happen when things get sloppy for a team with breakneck pace like the Rockets.
Just because Beverley is the toast of the town in Houston doesn’t mean that Jeremy Lin (12 points, one three, two rebounds, four assists, two steals) is just going way, as the Rockets are employing an eight-man rotation right now and there isn’t anybody riding the pine that figures to change the calculus for him. Should Beverley creep into the 32-35 minute range that could change, but for now consider Lin to be a relatively stable asset.
Chandler Parsons disappeared with nine points, six rebounds, and two steals, highlighting one of the reasons I wasn’t gung-ho about him this season (71/67) – the Rockets just have too many options for him to duplicate last year’s numbers.
Credit the Doc with having the requisite faith in Omri Casspi, as the Kings and Cavs castoff is fitting in just fine with the Rockets and had another solid seven-point, eight-rebound, five-assist night in 24 minutes. The key is that he is rebounding well enough for Kevin McHale to play him at both the three and four slots, and with 24 minutes per night he’ll hit enough threes and get enough miscellaneous stats to stay owned in standard leagues. The only caveat to that is whether or not one of the currently discarded power forward group of Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas or Greg Smith can throw their hat into the ring this season. It’s too early to summarily say that they cannot.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
The Blazers found themselves staring across at two big-time interior presences in Omer Asik and Dwight Howard, and with Joel Freeland (hip) out and Meyers Leonard getting a big-time reality check that left LaMarcus Aldridge (21 points, 9-of-19 FGs, five rebounds, two steals, one block) playing a lot of center last night.
Of course, he wants to play away from the hoop and he certainly doesn’t want to bang with guys like that all season long, but if anything were to happen to Robin Lopez (zero points, six boards, one steal, three blocks, 18 minutes, five fouls) he wouldn’t have much choice and I think it would help his fantasy value. I just don’t think he gains as much in terms of scoring while away from the hoop, while he certainly loses on the glass and blocks are harder to come by – not to mention a natural drop in field goal percentage associated with jumpers.
Damian Lillard (22 points, four treys, four boards, five assists) didn’t have a steal or block but was otherwise solid, Wes Matthews scored 19 points with three treys, Nicolas Batum was silent but deadly with 13 points, three boards, four assists, three steals, one block and one three, and Mo Williams made an appearance in fantasyland with eight points and seven threes but not much else. It’s hard to get behind Williams in standard formats when he’s not getting it done without C.J. McCollum around.
NEWS AND NOTES
Trevor Booker (finger) is expected to play tonight in a nice matchup against the Sixers, while Nene (calf, Achilles) is a game-time decision. Nene is still feeling pain in his leg and Marcin Gortat will likely have another nice opportunity on his hands tonight.
Brandon Knight (hamstring) is questionable for tonight’s game against the Cavs and Nate Wolters and Gary Neal will get another chance to produce if he cannot go. Ersan Ilyasova took yesterday off as he tries to get his ankle injury under control, and I like what I’ve seen from him so far in terms of quickness as he looks like he shed a few pounds. Larry Sanders did not practice yesterday either due to a thumb injury so he’s questionable for tonight, too.
Harrison Barnes (toe) is questionable for tonight and I’m leaning toward guessing he won’t play, but a return wouldn’t surprise me either. Andrew Bynum said he was feeling “little, sharp pains” in his knees, just like owners that took the plunge are feeling “little, sharp pains” in their stomachs hearing about that.