With nine games going on in an eclectic night in the association, we saw Doc Rivers nab all the headlines in his return to Boston, the Knicks and Bulls had a complete and total barf-o-rama, the Spurs and Thunder enjoyed blowouts, and though there were some big lines it was very quiet until the nightcap where Stephen Curry did Stephen Curry things hitting a game-winner after sending Shawn Marion to SeaWorld.
So we’re going to jump right in and break this bad boy down and at the end I’m going to take a detailed look at the Rudy Gay situation in Sacramento. Spoiler alert – I’m going to tell you to buy him low.
To catch all the fantasy action in real-time and get NBA news as it hits, you can click here to follow me on Twitter.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a $10,000 Fantasy Basketball league that includes Thursday and Friday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts at 8pm ET on Thursday. Here's the link.
The Magic snapped a six-game losing streak last night in their win over the Bobcats, but more importantly for fantasy owners they got Nikola Vucevic back from a sprained ankle and he wasted no time getting to work with 12 points, 14 boards, one steal and one block. Jameer Nelson’s knee didn’t appear to be an issue as he racked up 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting with three treys, seven boards, six assists, a steal and a block, while Victor Oladipo (10 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block) and Arron Afflalo (16 points, 6-of-18 FGs, four rebounds, five assists) had slow nights by recent comparisons in the win.
It was good to see Glen Davis (17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block) continue to produce with Vucevic back, and with public perception about Tobias Harris’ value being about as low as it’s probably going to get it’s a great time to sell-high on Baby with the pitch that he’s still doing it with Vooch in the fold.
Efficiency shooting the ball is going to be the Bobcats’ bellwether all year, and last night each of their three main scorers laid an egg in that department. Kemba Walker hit just 4-of-18 shots for 10 points, four assists, three steals and four blocks, Gerald Henderson hit just 3-of-14 shots for 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, one block and one three, and Al Jefferson hit just 4-of-10 shots for 10 points, 11 rebounds, one steal and one block. Call it the Jefferson effect until the big man proves he can succeed at the same time as his perimeter players do.
Jeff Taylor’s return from a heel injury was under the microscope as he was a popular add after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury, and he started off with a whimper on an eight-point night with one triple and that’s about it in 31 minutes. You’ll probably want to give him at least a game to get his legs underneath himself, but the addition of Chris Douglas-Roberts wasn’t exactly good news (it wasn’t terrible news either) and Taylor needs to show quickly that he can turn the page on past inconsistency.
WHAT’S UP DOC
Doc Rivers’ return to Boston grabbed all the headlines and his team grabbed a win behind Chris Paul’s 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting with seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals. DeAndre Jordan struggled with dunking and in general, pinning a dunk attempt between the rim and the glass for the highlight films, and he finished with just five points, six rebounds, one steal and one block.
Blake Griffin rolled his ankle but said that he would play in tonight’s game, and based on his 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one steal it’s probably a safe bet that he’ll go in a nationally televised contest. Jamal Crawford continued to enjoy life without J.J. Redick as he rolled for 21 points, two threes, three boards, three assists, one steal and two blocks, and Stephen Jackson made his debut and had just three missed field goals in 12 minutes. It remains to be seen what he has left in the tank.
Rajon Rondo will return and ruin this, but if he weren’t around then Jordan Crawford would be a candidate for Most Improved Player. He scored 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting with five rebounds, nine assists and one steal, and it’s not the stats that are doing the talking here it’s the restraint he has been able to show under Brad Stevens.
Avery Bradley cooled off right as he was finally added by owners, scoring eight points on 3-of-8 shooting (including two threes) with three boards, one steal and one block in 33 minutes. It was a versatile enough line to provide value, but he needs to be scoring at a higher rate to offset his fantasy deficiencies.
Brandon Bass has burst onto the scene over the last few weeks and he put up another good one last night with 17 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. It has helped that the rotation has solidified with Kelly Olynyk injured and Vitor Faverani being phased out, and owners can be cautiously optimistic that Bass can be a mid-to-late round value all year long (health permitting).
I wrote at some point that Jeff Green needed to keep his scoring up to offset some pretty ugly fantasy peripherals, and he’s keeping up his end of the bargain with a 29-point outing last night. He hit three triples and had a block to go with four rebounds, but I need to see much better progress on his defensive stats before getting too high on his value. He’s a mid-round value over the past two weeks with averages of 2.3 triples, 20.9 points and 50.5 percent shooting from the field. He’s certainly not going to shoot like that all year long and he’s not going to hit that many threes, so the improvement has to come on the defensive end if he’s going to come near the lofty preseason expectations.
SAN ANTONIO SHELLACKING
The Spurs mopped the shiny new Bucks floor with Bucks players themselves in a 109-77 win, so there wasn’t much to glean other than that Tim Duncan is shooting the ball well again after a slow start, which was to be expected. He hit 9-of-12 shots for 21 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in just 24 minutes, Tony Parker went for 15 and five in his 21 minutes, and Manu Ginobili was quiet with 11 points, five rebounds and a steal in his 24 minutes.
Kawhi Leonard hit just 3-of-8 shots from the field without a three, but got to the line eight times (making seven) and added five rebounds and two steals in his 24-minute appearance. Boris Diaw got on track with nine points, four rebounds and four assists for deep league owners wondering if he’s going to turn into a pumpkin, and Jeff Ayres grabbed 10 rebounds and literally did nothing else in his 25 minutes.
WHAT THE BUCK
At some point Larry Drew is going to have to take responsibility for his team’s erratic play even if the Bucks lack talent and have been dealing with injuries. It’s not like O.J. Mayo (three points, that’s it), Brandon Knight (eight points, that’s it), and John Henson (four points, eight boards, one steal, 21 minutes) are garbage. It’s a little bit of everything going wrong right now for Drew and his guys, but the tinkering and lack of overall direction with the development of players like Henson are a blemish.
If somebody out there gets cute and thinks that Henson’s big night was a sell-high moment, or heaven forbid he gets dropped, be right there to pick him up. Khris Middleton (two points, 1-of-7 FGs, two rebounds, 15 minutes) was benched along with the rest of the starters, but at least he has an ankle injury that could have been the culprit.
I don’t think we can blame an ankle injury for Ersan Ilyasova’s 3-of-16 shooting night, with also included six rebounds, two assists, one steal and one trey in 39 minutes. I’m not even going to point to the minutes or shot attempts as silver linings here, as he’s just simply in the dumps and needs to be on benches until he gets things worked out. There’s still enough upside and expected production to put up with him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had the best night of his short career with 15 points, eight rebounds, two steals and one block in 33 minutes. His hat is officially thrown in the ring in terms of minutes and a future big-time role with the team, but he’s still more sizzle than steak in most fantasy leagues with nowhere near usable value in 12-16 team formats. I’d like to see him smooth out some rough edges before we talk about a stash, though in Dynasty leagues it’s another story depending on one’s format.
PAR FOR THE COURSE
The Pistons should be winning games against teams like New Orleans that have depth issues, even on the road, but the same culprits of inefficient shooting and mental lapses doomed them to an overtime loss. Josh Smith (5-of-15 FGs, 11 points, five boards, three assists, one steal, two blocks, one three) incurred a lane violation late that allowed Tyreke Evans to put the game out of reach, which is just about par for the course. Brandon Jennings hit just 10-of-23 shots but filled up the stat sheet with 25 points, four threes, five rebounds, four assists and six steals, and Greg Monroe was the odd-man in with a season-high 28 points on 13-of-22 shooting and 10 boards. True to form, he had no steals or blocks and hit just 2-of-7 free throws to keep things slippery.
Andre Drummond was guarded well by Jason Smith and had an ‘off-night’ with just 10 points, 11 rebounds and one block. As I thought might happen, Rodney Stuckey (knee) returned and Chauncey Billups went right back to his assistant coach role on the bench. Stuckey picked up right where he left off with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting, four rebounds and four assists, and he deserves a pickup in 12-team leagues if he was prematurely dropped. His consistency gives his borderline value in those formats a nice little boost.
FLY PELICANS FLY
Don’t look now but the flying Pelicans are one of the league’s best fantasy squads with just enough minutes and touches to keep everybody fat and happy, even with Tyreke Evans returning early from his ankle injury. You gotta watch out for small markets and injury reporting, as Evans’ injury looked pretty bad on TV but he said after the game that it essentially wasn’t a big deal. Heck, the injury almost seemed to rejuvenate him as he played with solid energy and finished with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting (6-of-6 FTs, no threes), seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in 24 minutes.
I mentioned on Twitter that I spent a boatload to acquire Al-Farouq Aminu in my big money leagues and part of that was a mental four-week absence I had assigned to Evans, but the absence isn’t necessarily critical to Aminu’s value – it just made him a no-brainer pickup. He played 43 minutes last night and scored 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting with 14 rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks. The big question will come with Anthony Davis’ eventual return, but on a unit that is so thin with guys like Davis and Eric Gordon (14 points, six assists, two threes) that have proven to be injury risks he has a chance to parlay all of this into long-term value.
Jason Smith is a guy that doesn’t get nearly enough respect around the league, and last night he showed why notching 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting with 16 rebounds and two blocks against one of the league’s best frontcourts. He’s tough and surprisingly athletic, and while owners can’t be thrilled with very late-round value in 12-team formats over the past two weeks at least you know what you’re getting nightly.
Jrue Holiday kept his foot on the gas with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, two threes, four boards, eight assists, two steals and a block, and he has been a solid first round value over the last two weeks with averages of 18.5 points, 1.2 treys, 6.0 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.5 blocks. His 51 percent shooting over that span is about 5-6 points too high and he is also shooting free throws seven points better (85.4%) than his career average, so a slight sell-high window exists but in a cushy situation it’s time to be picky.
Ryan Anderson had one of those nights where he disappears on the glass, with just one rebound in 36 minutes, but he hit a big three late and finished with 22 points on 6-of-18 shooting, four threes, a steal and a block. He’s a top 10-25 value over the past two weeks and while he’ll struggle to meet that mark when Davis returns, he’s still going to get all the run he can handle so don’t panic when that happens.
THE TURN STANDS FOR TURNOVER
The Philly and Minny matchup looked to be an upset in the Sixers’ favor before youth and inexperience set in, as Evan Turner (13 points, 6-of-16 FGs, eight boards, four assists) coughed up the ball nine times and Wolves came howling back for the win. Tony Wroten had a rare solid shooting night, hitting 8-of-13 field goals for 20 points, three rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block in another start for Michael Carter-Williams (knee). MCW is day-to-day right now so that ride will be ending soon and Wroten doesn’t have the peripherals to be a standard league asset beyond that.
James Anderson showed why it was so hard to quit him with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting, two triples, eight rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes off the bench, though for the record I did quit him in a deeper 12-team league and until he shows consistency he’s more of a 14-team guy at best. Just be ready to move if the Sixers sustain serious injuries to any of their core guys.
Hollis Thompson was on the other side of that tug-of-war with just five points on 2-of-2 shooting, two rebounds and a steal in 19 minutes. While he’s the preferred defensive option for Brett Brown he’s also bound to be inconsistent, so the needle needs to slide back over to caution versus the hopeful expectations folks might have had when he broke into the starting lineup.
Spencer Hawes bounced back from a bad outing to post 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting with four threes, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks as his dream season continues. Thaddeus Young added 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting with four boards, two steals and a block, and he has been a top 50-60 play over the past two weeks.
RUN RICKY RUN
It barely deserves mentioning anymore that a game against the Sixers is likely to break the box, so owners can mostly disregard the results of any one contest against them. Still, it’s fun to think what-if when looking at Ricky Rubio’s 21 points (9-of-10 FTs), five rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two threes last night. Kevin Martin (five points, 1-of-9 FGs) went cold and his knee is on the radar, though there hasn’t been any news to suggest that owners should be overly concerned at this point. Kevin Love*, who has still yet to generate a suitable nickname, scored 26 points with 15 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a three, and Corey Brewer’s struggles continued as he hit just 4-of-13 shots for 10 points, two threes, three rebounds and that’s it. Brewer has been a 16-team value over the past two weeks with just 0.8 steals, 1.6 threes and 40 percent shooting in his last five games.
*Update: Reader @Nimlicious has put McLovin on the table. I think that name would have been solid if it wasn't so played out. I think we owe it to fantasy's top-7 play to either decide McLovin works or think of something that it so good it sticks. Send your nickname idea to me on Twiter at this link.
**Update II: 'The Love Machine' (he's just a love machine) has taken over the lead, courtesy of @Wneil12.
The Thunder took their act to Memphis last night and whooped up on a short-handed squad, and Russell Westbrook got on track hitting 7-of-12 shots for 27 points with six rebounds, nine assists, two steals, two threes and a blistering 11-of-11 makes from the stripe. Kevin Durant was allowed to ease off the accelerator with just 18 points and a reasonable line in the blowout win, while Serge Ibaka posted a solid 12 points on 6-of-14 shooting with seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Jeremy Lamb hit 7-of-9 shots and three treys for 18 points in 28 minutes. He’s a 14-16 team play with upside that is capped by Thabo Sefolosha’s eventual return and the fact he has to wait in line behind Reggie Jackson. Jackson scored a quiet 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and one three in 23 minutes, and though his shooting (49% FGs, 95% FTs) is out of control he averages just a combined 1.7 steals, blocks and threes per game in 25 minutes on the year. He needs to improve in those areas if he’s truly going to make an impact this season.
Steven Adams left last night’s game due to an ankle injury (video link) and did not return, and to me it looked like the minor variety but either way there’s not a lot of impact unless you’re in a wack fantasy league (least stats wins) dominating with Scott Brooks' bosom buddies. If you're new around here and nobody has showed you the bathroom, this is of course my weekly update on Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher. These two iron clad war horses combined for four points on 1-of-3 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and two steals in 26 minutes last night. And they were also masters of karate and friendship for everyone.
THE PALE AVENGER
Despite being overwhelmed as a team the Grizzlies’ fantasy assets survived, with Mike Conley scoring 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go with two triples and nine assists, and Zach Randolph going for 17 and eight with two steals on an inefficient shooting night (5-of-12 FGs, 7-of-12 FTs). Kosta Koufos also struggled from the field, hitting just 3-of-10 shots for 12 points, seven boards and one block, while the Pale Avenger Jon Leuer continued to be relevant with 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting, two threes, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks and a perfect five freebies in 32 minutes.
Leuer looks like a decent bet to be a mid-to-late round value until Ed Davis (ankle) returns, so if you have a roster spot to burn don’t hesitate to make a short-term pickup. Jerryd Bayless stepped in for Tony Allen (hip) and hit 5-of-10 shots for 11 points and nothing else, and he can be left on the wire until he shows us a lot more.
*Update: Ed Davis is targeting a return on Friday. Owners may want to hang on to Leuer for a game to see how things go, but if that return gets confirmed then Leuer will be favored to dip below late-round value.
I’M MIKE D AND I GET RESPECT
There isn’t much to say about the Bulls other than that they’ll be a wreck until they get Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng back, as their offense is seven points per 100 possessions worse than the league’s worst offense when Deng is out. The Bulls are relying on Carlos Boozer (12 points, 12 rebounds, two steals) and Mike Dunleavy (20 points, 7-of-24 FGs, yes 7-of-24 FGs, three treys, eight boards, three assists, three steals, one block) to do all of the heavy lifting on offense with predictable results.
Kirk Hinrich had one of the worst possessions I’ve seen in a while late in last night’s game, which the Bulls nearly won in a fourth quarter comeback, and he finished with 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and four steals in 40 minutes. It speaks volumes about Marquis Teague (seven points, 2-of-7 FGs, 20 minutes) that he can’t make any headway in such a thin unit.
Joakim Noah returned to action and did well to post 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks, and Taj Gibson scored 12 points on 2-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds and two blocks. Inefficiency is going to be an issue for everybody (hello Tony Snell 1-for-7 shooting night) until Deng and Butler return. I saw our blurb mentioned that owners may want to consider cutting Gibson if he has a couple of stinkers, and I’ll go against that by saying owners should hang onto him all year. He could end up being a solid middle-of-the-lineup fantasy starter when the Bulls start playing for next season.
THOU SHALL NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE
I was watching other games but Twitter was alive and well making fun of the Knicks last night as they seemingly twist the knife into Mike Woodson’s back by a quarter-inch per contest. They squandered their 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter in impressive fashion, all while playing against the backdrop of rumors about the Knicks being interested in somehow convincing Tom Thibodeau to clean up the mess next season.
Carmelo Anthony hit just 9-of-21 shots as he went into one-man mode, a hybrid of his own pressing and Woodson’s lack of offensive scheme, and finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, one block, a three and 11-of-12 makes from the foul line. The Knicks aren’t going to win under this arrangement, but fantasy owners are as Anthony is ripping fantasy leagues for first round value over the past two weeks.
Iman Shumpert left last night’s game with a bruised left knee and did not return after playing 13 minutes, and he’s as interesting of a character as any in New York right now. The injury was to the same knee he had surgery on, and hopefully for Shump things are just so bad internally with him that the team had a quick hook.
Andrea Bargnani continued to struggle with just eight points on 4-of-10 shooting, three rebounds, one steal and one block in 27 minutes. Joakim Noah could be in a wheelchair and bust Bargnani up and down the court all night. I said yesterday to hold onto him and his mid-round value after a pair of bad games, and unless he makes it five in a row I think you have to hold at least until Tyson Chandler gets back and that’s not anytime soon.
Amare Stoudemire is making a small amount of noise and he put up 14 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block in 30 minutes. We could be seeing STAT’s last stand of sorts, and I wouldn’t put it beyond him to have a useful stretch over the next two weeks, but whether or not anybody wants to wade into those waters is unlikely. J.R. Smith scored seven points on 2-of-8 shooting and you won’t hear me complain if you drop him and move on. Pablo Prigioni started at point guard and hit just 2-of-9 shots (including two threes) for six points, two assists and four steals in 31 minutes. What a mess.
TAKE WHAT THE DEFENSE GIVES YOU
The Jazz might as well have had the Kings hold their hands on their way to the basket last night, as plain old dumb struck the Kings and allowed one of the league’s struggling teams to shoot 54 percent on the night. As such, the box score for the Jazz looked great. Gordon Hayward hit 7-of-15 shots for 17 points, four rebounds, four assists and a three, and Trey Burke hit 4-of-8 shots (including a three) for 11 points, nine assists and a steal.
Derrick Favors (back) returned and put up 17 and seven with three blocks, and Marvin Williams (Achilles) returned to force Enes Kanter (eight points, three boards, one steal, 17 minutes) to the bench. Williams scored eight points on 3-of-8 shooting with two threes, four rebounds, five assists and two steals, and he’s clearly Ty Corbin’s preferred option over Kanter right now. Give Williams a hard look in any standard league but realize he’s brittle these days, and as for Kanter I’m simply waiting for somebody in the Utah media to report that he’s 25 pounds over last year’s weight.
It’s hard to tell just by looking at him, but his foot-speed and power just isn’t there this season and he’s looking like an early-season bust. The whole idea of playing two husky big men together in Kanter and Favors is that they have to be versatile enough to cover at least a little bit of space, and Kanter isn’t even providing the power to help offset that losing equation. With activity numbers much lower than last year’s rates, all signs point to a guy that is out of shape, and I’m switching sides on the hold equation at least a little bit, recommending that folks at least consider dropping Big Turkey.
I prefer to hold when there is an upside element involved, and again I’m going to focus on the activity numbers to make a call. He was at roughly 2.0 combined steals and blocks per-36 minutes last year, and he is at 1.26 in that department this year. If he trends upward I’ll probably stay the course, if he doesn’t or it doesn’t happen fast enough I’m moving along.
Alec Burks was able to tee-off in such favorable circumstances, scoring 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting with three treys, three boards, two assists and a block in 25 minutes. He has played at a top-100 level over the past two weeks but his season-long value is still in the tank at the top 180-200 range. The recent surge makes him worth a look, but discounting the early season returns especially as the team is getting healthy seems overoptimistic.
Jeremy Evans (nine points, six boards, three assists, one block, 20 minutes) is a much better play with late-round value on the year in just 21.7 minutes per game. He might have a hard time getting that much run as guys like Brandon Rush (20 minutes) and the aforementioned returnees chip away at the available minutes, but in a 14-team league I have no problem hanging onto Evans to see if he can keep it up.
Richard Jefferson scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting (including three 3-pointers) with one rebound, three assists and one steal in just 21 minutes, and owners simply need to disregard this line in their evaluation of Arcade Fire. He’s struggling to stay in the top-200 on the season in his 28 minutes per game.
Monta Ellis returned to Oracle Arena in what felt like a happier return than past trips, and if I wanna slip on my armchair psychologist hat it’s because Warriors fans no longer have to feel guilty about making comparisons. Andrew Bogut is healthy, the Warriors are contending and unsavory parts of that trade such as Richard Jefferson’s contract have come to pass. Monta, for his part, is doing great in Dallas and the public is finally starting to come around on a guy who has been coached by Don Nelson, Keith Smart, Scott Skiles and Scott Skiles’ replacement. Being used correctly under Rick Carlisle, Warriors fans can look at the deal – even if they have qualms with it – and say it has ultimately benefitted both parties.
To be fair, too, I was as big of a critic of the deal as any when it went down. Aside from the RJ contract, perhaps the biggest issue I had with it, I thought an injury-prone Aussie wasn't enough return. Most folks were going to gauge the deal on Andrew Bogut's health, and while things could change he looks great right now. While the RJ part of the deal is indefensible, the move has paid off and as a Dubs fan I'm more than happy to say they got that part right.
Ellis took the pregame applause in stride and scored 21 points on 8-of-20 shooting with four rebounds, five assists and three steals as he ran all over the Dubs, but wouldn’t you know Steph Curry would be the favorite son when he drained a game-winner with time expiring. Jose Calderon scored 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting (including three treys) with four rebounds and five assists, Dirk Nowitzki continued to crush expectations with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, three triples, seven boards, one steal and two blocks, and Shawn Marion scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting with nine rebounds, two steals, one block and a three of his own in the loss.
The big fantasy story for Dallas right now is the return of Brandan Wright from his shoulder injury, which could come as soon as Saturday against the Bucks. The fact that reporters are asking the question of who should start after his return should suggest he has a chance at that, and last night’s poor showing by the current bigs couldn’t have come at a worse time for DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert.
Samuel Dalembert has been ice-cold lately and he turned in a zero-point, four-rebound, one-block night that included four missed field goals in 24 minutes, and DeJuan Blair hit just 2-of-8 shots for four points, nine boards and no steals or blocks in his 23-minute start. Blair has also fallen to 16-team levels in standard leagues over the past two weeks, and all of this has happened before Wright has stepped foot on the court.
While one of the two has a decent shot at holding some type of value when Wright returns, there’s no way to guess which one that will be and if you’ve held this long in a standard format then it’s time to let go. As for Wright, he has the ability to touch mid-round value in a better-case scenario and for that reason alone it’s worth considering an add. I’d consider him a mid-tier free agent right now with a decent amount of risk.
Stephen Curry is working hard to carry the Warriors right now, who are suddenly exposed for their lack of ballhandlers and inability to defend smaller, athletic guards – with both of those issues pointing out how crucial Andre Iguodala’s health will be in the playoffs. Aside from the aforementioned game-winner (click to watch) and with more highlights than a Limp Bizkit backup rapper, he finished with 33 points on 13-of-25 shooting, six 3-pointers, four rebounds, 10 assists and three steals in 44 minutes. Curry also had eight turnovers in this workhorse role, and he’s going to be a blast to own until Iguodala gets back (and beyond). You just hope they don’t run him into the ground.
Because the offense is somewhat bogged down, Klay Thompson is going to be more volatile than usual and last night was one of his off-nights, as he hit just 3-of-14 shots for 11 points but he made them count with all the makes being triples. With two 20-percent shooting nights in his last four games, he’s been more of an early-mid round value over the past two weeks than the top 20-30 guy he’s been on the year.
I’m not going to dive into the whys behind David Lee’s tumble in the media, both at home and nationally, but I’ll say that his bandwagon is pretty much limited to team employees and anybody that sips said boosters’ Kool-Aid. It’s been building for a while and a few articles were floated around the Twittersphere that essentially discussed the obvious defensive issues and a slight decline in his game, but now more than ever it seems like a consensus has been struck that Lee needs to cede some minutes to Draymond Green, in particular.
Team owner Joe Lacob is besties with Lee and the organization has wrapped itself around him for years now. Mark Jackson comes from the Scott Brooks coach-by-narrative school and believes that you dance with the one you came with. There is not going to be any wholesale role change, but the calls for less Lee will be loud and deafening if the Warriors lose and he is getting exposed nightly. Lee scored 15 points on 7-of-16 shooting with 11 rebounds, one steal and one block, and with three less mpg (33.6) per night than the previous season he’s a predictable top 70-85 value so far on the year. While it’s probable his 48.1 percent shooting will improve, the ever-so-slight loss of athleticism will make shots harder and I wouldn’t be banking on a return to the 50-52 percent shooting he has enjoyed the past two seasons.
As for Green, he has been disappointing since Iguodala’s injury but he was a key to the Warriors’ win last night and finished with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, one steal, two blocks and one trey in 28 minutes. Jermaine O’Neal is contemplating season-ending shooting wrist surgery (that I think he’ll play through if I have to guess), and the takeaway is that the frontcourt is both thin and injury prone – so the forward group could be pressed into more action pretty much at any time.
Iguodala’s absence has certainly opened things up for Green (20 mpg this season), but nevertheless it’s not hard to see 25 minutes per night as a baseline given Lee’s potential decline and the growing reality that the Warriors need Green on the court to solidify their frontcourt defense. This leaves him as a guy with some 14-16 team appeal right now, but if you start to sense that all of the aforementioned is underway then you’ll want to keep an eye on him in standard leagues, too.
EVALUATING THE RUDY GAY TRADE
I was watching the Kings game last night and was sort of in awe as to how a team can get railed on by observers for lack of effort when defensive rotations are failing left and right. I watched about 60 possessions while the game was still in doubt and guys were fighting through screens, playing hard and then when somebody whiffed on an assignment it really did look like effort was the issue, even though it was really the mental aspect that was breaking down. While one can argue that defensive awareness is in of itself a mental effort, there are simply guys that for whatever reason just don’t get it. Jason Thompson is that guy. He also doesn’t know when he fouls and that’s why he’s constantly complaining and in last night’s game he single-handedly turned the Kings’ defense inside-out.
Don’t get me wrong he’s a great guy and one of the player heroes of the team’s effort to stay in Sacramento, but he’s also the guy (in my opinion) that DeMarcus Cousins is talking about after many games when he says things like ‘we just can’t keep making the same mistakes,’ as he said last night. And when you pair him next to another guy in Derrick Williams (13 points, seven boards, one block, 6-of-11 FGs, 32 minutes) that lacks defensive awareness, it’s going to be a disaster on nights things aren’t going the team’s way.
The good news for Kings fans is that Thompson is the favorite to be the next player traded in Pete D’Allesandro and Vivek Ranadive’s quest to makeover their franchise faster than the Warriors did. Rudy Gay will also join the starting lineup, and unless the team decides they want to use Thompson as a place-holder starting power forward it looks like they’ll go with a smaller forward set of Gay and Williams.
Let’s reset real quick, though, because many of you have asked and I haven’t had a chance to write about this trade yet, and the new reality of the Kings has changed significantly since we last talked. To get it out of the way I’m somewhere between liking and loving this trade, with the ‘like’ portion of that lending itself to the risk-reward quotient of bringing in a guy like Gay, and the ‘love’ portion of that being the sole fact that Isaiah Thomas (20 points, seven assists) has been freed.
Gay is the poster boy for all that is wrong in the statistical universe and I’m pretty sure he sells dead parakeets to little blind boys, too. He peaked in 2010-11 when he was a first round fantasy player, shooting 47.1 percent from the field, 40 percent from deep for 1.0 triples per game, and that was the result of playing in a tight Grizzlies offense that tilted toward Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Then in 2011-12, Randolph played just 28 games and that necessarily meant that Gay would need to step up. Though he didn’t experience a big change in usage he was called upon to create more than before, which is where we first saw his efficiency drop (1.6% to 45.5 FG%), resulting in fantasy value in the top-30 range.
Having earned the right to initiate the offense more in Randolph’s absence, the cycle that has currently plagued Gay started to show its face. Yes, his offensive game was improving and at the same time Randolph’s game was off due to his knee injury, as well as the general decline that is normal for a player who at that time was in his 12th season.
Lionel Hollins chose to embrace the idea of Rudy freelancing more in 2012-13 and that’s when Bad Rudy was born. He shot himself into a 40.8 percent hole that year in Memphis, attracting the attention of the stat world while the Grizzlies simultaneously changed ownership and hired noted analytics expert John Hollinger into their front office. All of a sudden the media was Billy Beane and Gay and Hollins were Art Howe and the old crusty scout. The perfect storm was created when Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo was standing before the firing squad looking for a last-second pardon, amidst plenty of front office chaos, and he saw in Gay a silver bullet to turn things around so he triple-downed on the experiment.
Gay came into Toronto hailed by management as a No. 1 player and given carte blanche on the court, with old school Dwane Casey more than willing to play along with the idea that zone defense was still illegal. Rudy improved his shooting by a smidge when he got to Toronto and also jumped up a full 1.0 FGAs per game over his banner 10-11 campaign, with a notable rise in 3-point attempts (4.0/gm) and that has led to this year’s disaster, where Gay has taken a whopping 18.6 shots per game at a historically bad 38.8 percent clip.
At no point did Casey tell him to stop shooting – and in fact he did the opposite – he encouraged him to shoot more.
This is what happens when somebody tries to step into big shoes and comes up short. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, and in the case of Gay he’s still a very good player, albeit an expensive one if he takes a $19 million player option next season that will be hard for him to turn down if he crashes and burns in Sacramento. The operative question, other than the freeing of Isaiah Thomas, is what the Kings could have done with that money. And I think the answer to that question is vague enough to make this deal work if we’re strictly speaking on the merits of acquiring Gay.
Free agents are still in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to Sacramento, though that will change as Ranadive projects to be a top-tier owner in the association. If Gay works out they will have the inside track on re-signing a player in his prime at a position they’ve been woeful at for years. If he doesn’t work out or is simply ‘meh,’ they can be off the hook in enough time for when they’re truly serious about competing. Gay might play well enough to command a 3-4 year deal at $10 million per year or more and decide to walk. There are a lot of different ways this can play out and the deal has upside without much downside, and that’s before we get to the real crux of the issue and that is the Pizza Guy.
I’m sure many of you pictured me in a pool of my own vomit after celebrating the news of IT being freed. The move should have been made when he was a rookie and by waiting the entire team was set back considerably in terms of their development. To put a number on it, the Kings lost at least 100 games in which they could've been molding Thomas into something even better than he is right now, while extending that same courtesy to teammates that would've had better overall experiences on the court.
For fantasy leagues this means an upgrade on the entire team. Even in last night’s loss, following the previous game in which they handled Dallas, they were still able to show a tempo and rhythm that cannot exist when you have a timeshare at the point guard position.
The players have wanted to embrace Thomas' consistency since he jumped onto the scene in his rookie year. They've played exasperated basketball under a Maloof-Keith Smart combo that I challenge anybody to top in terms of chaotic dysfunction. This is a development that they are already embracing with open arms, and while I understood taking what was free money in Greivis Vasquez when parting ways with Evans – it just turned out to be fool’s gold.
A well-meaning and excitable fellow, Vasquez eagerly anointed himself a team leader basically while he was on the plane to Sacramento, and that’s a hard sell when you’re letting your man blow by you every night. It’s also a hard sell when Thomas has been the heart and soul of the team since arriving. With two different players with two different styles in a lineup desperately needing continuity, the Kings continued to look disjointed and it was obvious which guy needed to take the reins.
Now, with Thomas they have a guy that doesn’t turn the ball over much, a guy that can get out and run, make plays, pass the ball, and most importantly dictate the tempo. This is the rising tide that lifts all boats in Sacto. And even though he gets no credit for this locally, the elite on-ball defender changes the equation on the other side of the floor, too. Look for Ben McLemore (four points, 1-of-8 FGs, 33 minutes) to continuously improve, look for Williams to do the same, and when Gay arrives expect him to step in line behind the leadership of Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins (21 points, 11 boards, 23 minutes).
Yes, you read that right, Cousins. The big man is blossoming under Mike Malone, who is a legitimate top coach in the association. Cousins has walked the line all season with very few blowups, all while experiencing the blowback from referees he has earned in his career, all while being targeted by opponents that are trying to get in his head. Off the court he has been a model citizen and if you covered the name on his jersey one might put him up for some sort of achievement award. He’s not going to let Gay enter his locker room and start hoisting up a ton of bad shots. Neither is Malone and neither is Thomas.
So Gay is returning to his Memphis roots by way of Sacramento, and if all goes right for fantasy owners he will rediscover that early round magic, which means he’s a green-highlighter buy low candidate after posting just top 50-80 value this season (Writer's Note: there was a typo here earlier). He might take a handful of touches away from Cousins and Thomas, but more than likely they’ll come from the cast of characters that is either already gone or on their way out.
There is no reason he can't get up 14-16 shots per game, and again the big story in both fantasy and reality will be his efficiency. Look for the Kings to get him moving toward the basket and shooting with his feet set. With proper coaching and support I think he'll once again be able to look at the stat sheet. You have until Friday to swing a deal and maybe a few games after that.
McLemore and Williams are going to be worth owning for the rest of the season, and while I wasn’t cheerleading the Williams deal he is well-positioned to learn defense in this arrangement. He’s going to play 30-35 minutes per game and is a big part of the uptempo attack. McLemore is already playing that much and is built to fly.
And in a trade that was headlined by the battle over stats and substance, the Kings will have found their point guard of the future, even though he was sitting under their noses the entire time. In their defense, it only took new ownership 18 games to figure it out. It’s taken everybody else much longer.