Last night wasn’t so much a Big Wednesday as it was a Weird Wednesday, as owners of Paul George and Mike Conley can attest. Throw in a bunch of blowouts and it felt more like April than early March, but nonetheless there were plenty of storylines on a busy night so let’s jump right in.
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ADVERSITY IN INDY
I wrote yesterday that this was the time of the year that ringless teams start to forge their championship identity. I also wrote that the Pacers would likely come out angry against the Bobcats following their last-second loss to the Warriors, and through a combination of injuries and lack of mojo the exact opposite happened in last night’s blowout loss.
A few different things are catching up with Indiana right now and the shoulder injury to George Hill (17 points, 6-of-10 FGs, three treys, three boards, one assist, zero steals, 31 minutes) and back injury to Paul George (0-for-9 FGs, two points, seven boards, one block, 34 minutes) shouldn’t be overlooked. It wouldn’t have been surprising if Hill didn't play last night had C.J. Watson (arm) not been ruled out, but he was productive in the box and by virtue of that owners can be cautiously optimistic that he’ll stay off the sidelines.
Defense has been the problem for Indy for a few weeks and Hill hasn’t been consistent in that department this year, nor has popular DPOY candidate Roy Hibbert. George talked after the game about how his back injury limited him. The Pacers just aren't the Pacers when they're not locking down the important side of the court.
Hibbert got rolled by Al Jefferson and that’s the type of matchup he should excel in with his mastery of (and rep) for verticality. But Hibbert hasn’t had the mobility he showed in last year’s playoffs, leading to drops in rebounding and defensive stats despite a small minute increase over last season. On a night in which George is struggling mightily, he needs to be a legitimate initiator of offense and he just hasn’t been able to do that this season, both taking and making less shots than he did last year.
Part of this can be attributed to the increased role for Lance Stephenson (12 points, eight boards, three assists, two threes), but nevertheless part of the Pacers’ appeal has been their across-the-board strength at all five positions and lately they have been slipping in that department.
Owners will want to keep an eye on Hill and George for their respective injuries, and Stephenson appeared to tweak his groin and wasn’t moving well throughout the game. The team heads out for a Texas two-step starting with the Rockets on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday, with the former being as big of a game for the Pacers’ psyche as it is in terms of cachet for fans.
David West (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists) spoke in frustrated tones after the game, signaling that everything that could be said has been said in the locker room. As I said yesterday, the Pacers are just a half-step off everywhere. Add it all together and the Pacers have been winning ugly for a while now, which incidentally has been good enough to hang onto the best record in the NBA.
The time for talk is over. They know that and these are the moments that championship teams are made of. Like many teams, they need to find a way to get their star easier looks off the ball. The wear and tear of carrying the load has certainly knocked George back. Stephenson and the whole group need to move the ball a little bit better. Struggles on offense are carrying over into their defense, which has lost nearly 10 points per game off of its points allowed average over the last month or so. Evan Turner scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting with five assists and two threes all while holding a mop, and that was probably the lone, yet important silver lining to come out of last night. He needs to be ready to provide quality execution of ballhandling duties in the event the big guns don’t show up.
Most importantly, they need to get that angry chip back onto their shoulder and press their advantage defensively. Defense leads to offense as it’s all so simple, yet if it were that easy everybody would be doing it. I’ll have to check their championship odds before I go do my spot on ESPN Vegas this Friday morning, because I’m sure they’ve improved their value and I’m still betting on them to get things figured out.
BIG AL BONANZA
Big Al Jefferson took my fade recommendation to heart, clearly. It’s noted that the Pacers are a mess right now, but anytime you go for 34 points on 16-of-25 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and a rare prayer of a three it’s worth a tip of the cap. He and I are running neck-and-neck on my preseason prediction but he’ll get me if something doesn’t change with his health here pretty soon. And I’d be happy to be wrong because I don’t and never will root for injuries, but the Cats are going to ride him as hard as they can until the playoff scenario clears itself up.
They’re three games behind an all-important No. 6 seed (to avoid IND/MIA) and four games ahead of No. 9 Detroit. That gives Charlotte a pretty good chance of being headed toward a No. 7/8 seed and that might be when the Bobcats decide it’s more important to give Jefferson some time off his feet rather than fight over those last two seeds. It’s all just food for thought as you plan for final playoff weeks and the like.
If I got the fade recommendation on Jefferson wrong I was able to get the ride recommendation on Kemba Walker (19 points, 7-of-14 FGs, nine assists, one three, one block) correct, as Walker busted out of a week-long slump. Chris Douglas-Roberts started for injured Gerald Henderson (calf), who sounds like he’s more week-to-week than day-to-day right now, and CDR posted a healthy 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with three treys, two boards, three assists and three steals in 29 minutes.
Gary Neal hangs out on the other side of that equation and logged 25 minutes off the bench with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, two threes, four rebounds and one assist. Douglas-Roberts can be considered a low-level speculative add for 12-14 team formats (9/8 cat) with the hope owners can squeeze 1-2 weeks of action out of him, and Neal needs to be more productive before owners in most normal leagues should be making an add.
The Jazz are a bad basketball team, but they weren’t supposed to be this bad and last night was more of the same as they lost in Washington. The most interesting thing from Utah’s perspective last night was a pair of tweets from beat writer Steve Luhm after Gordon Hayward was benched early in the second half.
“Not sure that’s the problem,” said Luhm, adding “Interesting stuff going on with (Ty) Corbin and Hayward. Neither being signed for next year adds to the dynamic.”
Luhm has been around a while and whether he's reading between the lines or knows more that he can't say, it's an interesting comment and perhaps the first cracks to show in the locker room. And if there is any truth or substance to this comment it will be the most recent quiet indictment of the job Corbin is doing.
Neither of his big men are playing well, with Derrick Favors (five points, five boards, four blocks, 26 foul-plagued minutes) showing little progress and Enes Kanter (11 points, eight boards) regressing this season. Trey Burke (14 points, 5-of-14 FGs, two threes, four rebounds, three assists, zero steals) is barely treading water.
Hayward hit 5-of-12 shots for 12 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 37 minutes so it’s not like he struggled or saw his minutes clipped at all in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been predicting a nice bounce-back shooting the ball and though some purported tension might complicate things I’m still bullish that the shots will start falling at about a 43-45 percent clip for the rest of the year, which would return easy early round value.
With all the losing and bad play it's fair to wonder if or when the team will start making vacation plans and what type of impact that will have on fantasy values. Favors was a buy low guy I’ve wavered on throughout the past few weeks and he could really use a strong kick to pay back owners staring down a loss this season. Though Burke has posted late-round value over the last two weeks, he’s proven to be plenty capable of dipping south of the 12-team mark as he did the previous week. If Favors’ hip is acting up, it would be great if the team simply reported it and gave folks a narrative to explain the struggles.
Marvin Williams scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting (including a three) with nine rebounds and three assists in his 21 minutes. The locals are calling for Kanter to return to the starting lineup, and that would of course put him in the running for some late-round value to end the year if it comes with expanded minutes. The math has finally turned its back on Williams, whose value has tanked over the past two weeks and he just doesn’t look like the same guy since the trade deadline by most reports. A pre-emptive stash of Kanter makes sense if you need a big man, but everybody else in 12-team leagues can be choosy with how they approach the chance that Kanter gets developed down the stretch.
Alec Burks scored 19 points with four assists, two threes and a steal in 37 minutes, but still can’t crack the top-200 with major fantasy deficiencies everywhere but the popcorn stats (points, rebounds, assists).
I jokingly wondered if we would see a Drew Gooden triple-double before it was all said and done, and that didn’t happen but the old war horse did put up 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and a steal over 19 minutes in last night’s win over the Jazz. Let’s wait until it’s confirmed that he’ll finish out the year in Washington (likely) and then let's see if he can do something like this again before considering him for fantasy leagues. I do like that he can play the distributing forward role that Nene so critically brought to the table, but there are simply more questions than answers right now when it comes to Gooden's productivity and durability.
The rest of the box was pretty much old hat with John Wall going for 14 and 10 with one steal and two blocks, and Trevor Ariza is still blasting away expectations after scoring 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, five rebounds, four threes and a steal. Marcin Gortat kept things rolling with 16 and nine, four rebounds and no steals or blocks. Bradley Beal has slowed down with the 3-point shooting lately but hit two bombs last night, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting, five rebounds and a steal in the win. Hitting just 0.9 triples per game over his last seven contests has kept his value in the late rounds, and Beal needs to be north of 20 points per game to cross over into top-half of the draft value. He just doesn't have the defensive numbers to do it, otherwise. I’d be pretty surprised if he doesn’t double the 3-point output from that sample.
I covered the Warriors in depth yesterday after their win in Indy, citing the paradox of their hot streak and big win against the backdrop of their many problems. Last night’s blowout win in Boston, in that respect, doesn’t really change much but it’s commendable nonetheless as they move to 7-2 after the All Star break. If they can put some distance between themselves and the No. 7 and 8 seeds in the West playoff chase it would be a big boost, too, as most of the team could definitely use a breather.
Stephen Curry (14 points, 6-of-10 FGs, three rebounds, four assists, one steal, one three) was the most recent addition to the injury list with a “sore right leg” that caused him to leave the game with the outcome nowhere near in doubt. Nobody is overly concerned about it and beat writer Rusty Simmons noticed that he left the locker room with a sleeve over his knee, so we’ll simply watch and see if anything comes of it. One thing is certain, though, the Dubs definitely need to find a way to reduce his workload before the nicks and dings add up.
Klay Thompson’s game-winner from Tuesday carried over inside the arc as he hit 7-of-15 shots on the night and just 1-of-8 from downtown. It looks like Thompson (18 points, three assists, three steals) is making a concerted effort to operate in different areas on the floor, but whether or not he can initiate enough offense to move the needle on the Curry situation is debatable. He’s been producing at a mid-to-late round value (9/8 cat) over the last two weeks.
David Lee went for 18 and 10, Andrew Bogut played through his various maladies and put up a solid four points, eight boards, four assists, one steal and three blocks in his 24 minutes, and Andre Iguodala floated his value with a three, steal and block to go with 11 points, four rebounds and one assist. Jordan Crawford scored 15 points during garbage time and there wasn't much to say other than that the Celtics were really bad.
The Celtics don’t have enough talent to sustain injuries or inconsistency from the guys that they do have, and it’s against that backdrop in which the Warriors showed up and knocked the Celtics out early. Rajon Rondo was productive with 14 points, five boards, seven assists, one steal, one block and one three, but his seven turnovers were indicative of a team that had a hard time running to the right spots. For his part, Rondo has played at a top 40-60 level over the last month, and though his steals (1.2 SPG) are down his 3-point shooting (1.4 3PG) is up and that’s an interesting wrinkle for next year.
Jeff Green scored just four points on 2-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and two blocks, and I’d go easy on him for the blowout nature of the game but he’s just a top 100-120 value over the last 12 games and things haven’t gone any better on the season. Rajon Rondo’s return has given him a small bump but not enough to crow about. He’ll fall in the group of case studies in which career-norms clash against new environments and added responsibilities. Green’s body of work before this season suggested that he was going to struggle in fantasy leagues (something I chose to ignore with trepidation). That's where the money gets made in the offseason -- figuring out who is going to make a jump and who isn't.
I won’t be breaking any news by sharing this Brad Stevens quote about his four-headed timeshare at two frontcourt positions. Stevens actually did break some news by saying that Jared Sullinger slightly twisted his ankle this past Saturday against the Pacers, and added that because Sully hasn’t “practiced hardly at all” that his minutes were being monitored from the bench.
Stevens then added “I just think these guys are playing well right now, Bass and Hump, and I think you could go any of four ways really. At the end of the day, [all four of Boston's bigs] are all going to play a lot of minutes for us." Again, this isn’t new, but confirmation of what you already know.
Sullinger hit just 1-of-7 shots (9-of-10 FTs) for 11 points, four rebounds and a steal in his 26 minutes, and he’s got both the biggest name value and is probably the safest player among the big man group. Brandon Bass (11 points, eight boards, no steals/blocks, 24 minutes) has been the most productive lately with some late-round value over the past two weeks, Kris Humphries (two points, three boards, one block) has been a ghost, and Kelly Olynyk (toe) returned to action in a big way last night to throw his hat in the ring.
Olynyk scored 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting (including three treys) with five rebounds, three assists, one block and a perfect four free throws in 27 minutes off the bench in the blowout loss. While it would be easy to dismiss this production as a function of the score, Olynyk has put up sneaky late-round value over the last 10 games with averages of 23.0 minutes, 10.2 points, 0.8 threes, 6.8 boards, 2.5 assists and 0.8 combined steals and blocks. Though it seems like Stevens will ride a meritocracy to the finish, the rookie big man should be higher on the list of priorities as a guy to develop. He’s a low-to-mid level add right now in 12-team formats depending on one’s needs.
Jerryd Bayless got hit hard in the blowout loss, scoring just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting (no threes) with three boards and that’s it in his 22 minutes. Yesterday all we knew was that Avery Bradley was getting an MRI and that a timetable wasn’t yet known, and today we know that the MRI is actually designed to be the last check before he gets back to basketball activities.
Bayless had a nice window to be productive and has averaged 27.9 mpg over his last six games, but 64.3 percent foul shooting and just 2.0 combined steals, blocks and threes per contest over that span kept him from helping owners in 12-14 team standard formats. Owners that rode that ride out of necessity may want to wait and see if Bradley’s update is leaked early in the day today, but for the most part it’s fine to move along even if we know the free throw shooting will correct itself.
LIKE KOOL-AID WITH NO SUGAR
The Grizzlies get a ton of playoff hype for a team not yet qualifying for the playoffs, with one reporter even going so far as to report a conversation with a scout calling them the favorite in the West. That’s sort of comical but they do have a nice defensive framework, yet none of it works without Zach Randolph on the block to attract double-teams for an offense that can get bogged down. Randolph missed last night’s blowout loss against the Nets due to the flu, and the Grizzlies’ box got pretty ugly for everybody but Marc Gasol (18 points, seven boards, two steals, one block).
Mike Conley got skunked on eight shot attempts and finished with just two points, three boards and three assists. He just hasn’t gotten back on track since returning from his ankle injury, and with the Grizzlies fighting for their playoff lives it’s possible he’s playing on a bad wheel right now. He has eight games under his belt now, so pretty soon it would be nice to see improvement out of one of the league’s most consistent fantasy plays.
James Johnson managed to score 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting with one rebound, one assist and two threes in just 14 minutes, but blew a wide open layup early in the game and still can’t get consistent minutes for Dave Joerger. The only silver lining here is that he’s coming off an ankle injury of his own and it’s possible that Johnson gets a bit more run as that improves. He’s a low-to-mid level stash in standard formats for the hopes he can do whatever needs to be done to unseat Tayshaun Prince (one rebound, one assist, 17 minutes), who predictably bombed after a rare productive outing in his last game.
Courtney Lee scored just four points on 2-of-7 shooting with two rebounds, two assists and a line-saving three steals in his 26 minutes. He’s still a mid-to-late round value over the last week or two as guys have returned and his numbers have slowed. In other words, there’s enough current value for owners to see this out. Nick Calathes won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award and put up 10 points, five boards, five assists and four steals, but unless something happens to Conley he has no real fantasy value. The same goes for Jon Leuer, who added 19 points, five boards and three treys in garbage time last night.
BREAKING EVEN IN BROOKLYN
Don’t look now but the Nets are above .500 for the first time this season and all it took was $180 million to get there. They dispatched the Grizzlies in easy order behind 21 points from Joe Johnson including five treys, two boards, four assists and a steal in the win. Despite averaging 14.3 points with 2.8 threes and a steal over his last four games, he still profiles as a deep league play unless the Nets get hit by injuries again. He’s not going to be quite so proficient from deep on a go-forward basis.
Deron Williams hit 7-of-13 shots for 16 points, three rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two threes, which looks great as he continues to deal with a right (shooting) wrist injury. Williams has a history with that wrist and it bit owners badly a few years back, but for now it seems like this is on the less serious side of an issue that often sneaks up on folks.
Marcus Thornton scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with four treys and a pair of steals in 26 minutes off the bench, which comes on the heels of a three-point effort and similar oscillations since joining the Nets. As mentioned yesterday, Brooklyn needs scoring but Thornton isn’t all that high in the pecking order with guys like Williams, Paul Pierce (14 points, eight boards, two threes, one steal, 6-of-6 FTs), Johnson and even Andray Blatche (12 points, four rebounds, one steal, three blocks, 16 minutes) all commanding touches.
A four-game sample for Thornton shows averages of 22.0 minutes, 14.5 points, 2.0 threes and 0.8 steals on 50 percent shooting, which is good for low-end value in 12-14 team leagues. Shaun Livingston (two points, five boards, three assists, one steal, one block, 23 minutes) isn’t going away and it’s going to take Thornton improving his workload to the type of run he got last night in order to be a safe low-end play. It’s plausible, but it’s not probable without an injury somewhere in the guts of the rotation. Livingston is actually more valuable right now and has been on a bit of a steals binge with 2.5 per game over his last four contests to go with 60 percent field goal shooting and normal low-end popcorn stats.
Speaking of stealing, Andray Blatche is also averaging a big number with 2.8 thefts per game over his last four contests, and I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that he had first round value in 9-cat formats over that span. His numbers were mostly in a believable range with averages of 12.8 points, 7.8 boards, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 48.6 percent shooting, but then you get over to the 94.1 percent foul shooting on 4.3 attempts per game and it starts to make sense. Obviously he’s nowhere near that valuable in fantasy leagues, but he has a month of top 75-100 value under his belt and I’ve been seeing way too many drop questions for a guy with that type of return.
The Bulls have morphed from the midseason depression to emerge as one of the league’s more enjoyable teams to watch. Joakim Noah is arguably the best big man in the game right now and he put up his third triple-double of the season with 10 points, 11 boards, 11 assists and two blocks. He also had a splint on his thumb after the game that nobody around the team is overly concerned about.
Chicago simply outclassed the Pistons on their home floor last night, and they got a big-time contribution out of D.J. Augustin (26 points, 7-of-14 FGs, 10-of-10 FTs, two threes, six assists), who has been due for a breakout and should be owned in all formats after this. As we’ve discussed in this space he has a mid-round upside and a late-round floor unless he falls off a cliff shooting the ball. It’s worth noting that Kirk Hinrich (10 points, two assists, 22 minutes) and Mike Dunleavy (seven points, two assists, two blocks, one three, 43 minutes) were both quiet last night and there will be some give-and-take there as the players trade off bigger games. Mike D is still a strong hold and Hinrich has a late-round ceiling with plenty of risk.
Jimmy Butler posted 18 points, 12 boards, four assists and three steals as he continues to roll, and Taj Gibson followed right behind him with 22 and five with a steal in 31 minutes off the bench. Carlos Boozer got clipped down to 24 minutes and notched just 10 points and five boards as a late-round value heading down the stretch, at best.
Josh Smith put up a patented Smoove line with 15 points on 6-of-21 shooting, one three, nine boards, five assists, two steals and a whopping six blocks. Greg Monroe got loose for 27 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals, but there’s enough data on this group to now not to move the needle there unless Brandon Jennings’ toe situation worsens. Even then, a guy like Monroe would only see a small bump.
Kyle Singler went for 16 and six with not much else but he did hit 6-of-7 freebies to sweeten the pot, Andre Drummond scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds and no steals or blocks, and Jennings posted nine points on 4-of-7 shooting with nine assists, one steal and one block while aggravating his toe injury. There’s not much owners can do but hope for the best while riding the situation out. Rodney Stuckey (eight points) and Will Bynum (four points, 1-of-11 FGs) fell further into deep league purgatory. The loss to Chicago put the Pistons three games behind the torpedoing Hawks for the last playoff spot in the Leastern Conference.
The Kings haven’t played a good team for four games and last night they got the worst one of the bunch in the Bucks, who provided practically no resistance in a lopsided win for Sacto. The Kings are a very stable fantasy squad with their Big Three taking care of business nearly every night and last night was no different.
DeMarcus Cousins (21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one steal) went for the putter throw in a game officiated by Joey Crawford and must have seen Virginia Venit because his only flirtation with a 16th technical was limited to just a few stomps and one apocalyptic stare into the skies. His teammates oughta nickname him Happy Cousins to lighten the mood over his anger management issues and also force him to listen to Pharrell’s Happy on loop during pregame warm-ups. The idea is insanely stupid and it just may be stupid enough to work.
Rudy Gay scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a perfect six foul shots, and that sound you cannot hear is the stat community explaining how a player so maligned now regularly hits more than half of his shots (it’s the economy, stupid). Isaiah Thomas got thrown out in the waning minutes of garbage time for two hilariously touchy technicals, and finished with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, three treys, three boards, six assists, four steals and four perfect freebies of his own. The Pizza Guy is a top 12-20 value on the season (8/9 cat).
The only real roster movement to speak of is happening with Ray McCallum, who has a little bit of a cult following in Sacto. I’ll leave that for another day because it’s rife with all sorts of internal politicking and strange anti-Thomas sentiment among some media, but for the most part he’s simply a good kid that plays the game the right way and that’s easy on the eyes after years of Tyreke Evans ball. Assuming he can hold steady as competition improves, and there are some issues there on both sides of the ball, I actually like him to hold onto a significant role down the stretch. And I'm surprised to find that I like him better at shooting guard than I do at the point.
Unlike at the point where he doesn’t have the size/speed/strength combo to stay in front of his man or beat his man, at the two that combo starts to work more to his favor. He can get an edge off the dribble, create a more flexible offense by adding a second ballhandler, and defensively he can play cat and mouse a bit while daring guys to shoot. He’s going to get beat by all but the worst offensive point guards in the league, but he can be competitive against the non-elite shooting guards of the NBA.
It’s already working, as the Kings desperately need a ballhandler and aren’t getting anything out of Ben McLemore (four points, 26 minutes). McLemore needs to polish his game over the summer and work on his instincts defensively, because Ray Mac is better than him on that end and it’s not really close right now. We’ll have to see what McCallum can do with the minutes he gets because he’s not going to get a lot of touches, but 25-plus minutes per game to finish the year seems doable and 30 mpg wouldn’t surprise me in the month of April.
It’s strange to say but the Bucks have actually chilled out a bit from a fantasy perspective, but let’s be real they’re still a massive mess. Ersan Ilyasova (nine points, five boards, 30 minutes) will likely get a suspension after some sort of violent shove on Reggie Evans, which is just par for the course, right? Just keep mumbling to yourself about the upcoming five-game week and together we’ll make it.
Brandon Knight scored 25 points with five rebounds, six assists, two threes and a 9-of-10 mark from the field, and he’s still the only sure bet out of the bunch. Khris Middleton scored 11 points with two threes, four boards and two steals and that should be enough goodwill to keep owners happy for now. Jeff Adrien is Larry Drew’s new mancrush and he scored 15 points with five boards and a steal in 22 minutes off the bench. There’s still nowhere near enough to hang onto for 12-14 team leagues, but if he can shore up the versatility issues then he may be onto something. Ramon Sessions (nine points, three boards, three assists, one three, 17 minutes) eased back into a more likely baseline and that keeps him firmly in deep league territory. Fat O.J. Mayo scored eight points and he’s basically done for the year in fantasy leagues.
John Henson is the biggest mystery as he had another defensive stat outage and posted just six points and seven boards in 24 minutes. In fairness, he spent all night getting snapped in half by DeMarcus Cousins, but this isn’t a new development and I found it odd that he was copping to hitting the wall in reports from before the game. If he hit a wall and it’s not injury related that’s one helluva wall because defensive stat producers don’t typically disappear like this. Our blurb basically gave you guys the green light to cut him, and I won’t be doing that just yet, but it’s certainly an option on the table.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored just five points with one rebound, three assists, one block and one three in 18 minutes, highlighting why he’s not yet ready for prime time in fantasy leagues. He’s a 14-16 team guy until further notice.
EVEN THE SUN SHINES
The Knicks finally got a win in Minny after sitting in the No. 5 slot for ping pong balls entering last night’s game, which of course is a first round pick that they have to convey to Denver. Carmelo Anthony (33 points, five boards, five assists, three steals, three treys) is on autopilot and if/until the Knicks fall out of playoff contention that’s not changing. Tyson Chandler also continued his solid play in fantasy leagues with 15 and 14 but did not have a steal or block. It was funny hearing him call out Kevin Love’s defense when his has been gathering plenty of attention lately, though they’re operating in different realms on that front.
Raymond Felton finally had a good night with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting, two threes, three boards, eight assists, four steals and a block. I’d love to say that he’s back but the Wolves’ defense is pretty bad and so is Felton these days. I will say this, though, it’s not like the Knicks have a lot of talent on offense. If he’s been distracted by his off-the-court stuff and for whatever reason that has let up, there is a late-round ceiling he could tap into in standard leagues. I’d call him a low-level stash after one good night.
Amare Stoudemire has shown flashes of utility a number of times this year and last night he took advantage of the weaker interior defense of the Wolves, scoring 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting with eight rebounds, one steal and two blocks in 31 minutes. He has moved into some low-end value in 12-team leagues over the last four games and has been a 14-game value over a two-week span, and I’d consider the former his ceiling in games when he’s actually on the floor.
J.R. Smith scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting (including two threes) with five rebounds, five assists and no steals or blocks. His 13.4 points, 1.8 treys, 3.4 boards and 3.5 assists over the last eight games appear respectable on the surface, but just 0.5 combined steals and blocks, 38.7 percent shooting and a low-volume 58.3 percent mark from the line have torpedoed his value in that span. Look for his steals as an indicator of whether or not he’ll move back into a startable status, because the other numbers are mostly there and the shooting should correct itself a little bit.
Kurt Rambis had to have enjoyed a good laugh hearing Tyson Chandler rip Kevin Love’s defense last night, as Love’s former coach was notorious for benching Love because he would position himself for rebounds rather than challenge shots or be active in the paint on defense. That’s a classic argument of which approach is better, and the answer to that can only be answered in the tape on a case-by-case basis. But ballooning rebounding numbers and offensive stats have pushed Love into elite territory for those ranking the best power forwards in the game, and Chandler’s statement is the first I’ve heard in a while that will shed light on the fact that Love and his teammates aren’t winning many games. Defense is at the top of the list of reasons why as Love, Ricky Rubio and Co. just don’t put a lot of fear in the opposition on the front.
We’ll see if Love’s deficiencies on that end start to gather more attention in the Twittersphere, but it’s something for GMs and fans of teams chasing him in free agency should certainly think about. Love hit just 6-of-17 shots for 19 points, three treys, eight boards, two assists and no steals or blocks, and the fact that qualifies as a down night is a testament to his first round value. Kevin Martin’s shot isn’t yet in place since his return and he hit just 3-of-10 shots for 12 points, two threes, three boards and zero steals in his 28 minutes. Corey Brewer scored 16 points with six rebounds, one block, zero threes and a perfect six foul shots, and though he’s hot right now hitting 51.6 percent of his shots over the last three games that will subside and he profiles as a deep league play these days.
Rubio hit just 4-of-6 shots for 11 points, six rebounds, eight assists, two steals and six turnovers in his 32 minutes. He has been slumping pretty hard lately and it’s not even the shooting that’s doing him in, it’s the decreasing number of steals he’s bringing in (1.3 SPG over the last six games). It’s possible he’s hitting a wall after a knee injury complicated the start of his NBA career, but on the bright side he has hit 51.5 percent of his looks over the last six games. Owners should watch for any news on the injury front or anything to suggest he’s got dead legs when assessing his future value. Otherwise a bounce back seems likely in the theft department.
Nikola Pekovic played 26 minutes under his playing time restriction and turned in 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and that’s it, which qualifies as a good game in the grand scheme of things.
I KEEPZ IT REALZ
Rick Carlisle is one of the better quotes in the NBA. He keeps it reals. After last night’s loss to a reeling Nuggets squad he said he should have benched his starting unit 3.5 minutes into the game because of their effort, and that’s just not something you hear all that often no matter how badly coaches want to say it. But that’s what you get when you’ve won a chip and have a solid working relationship with upper management. For the Mavs, who are still 1.5 games ahead of Memphis after the Grizzlies lost last night too, the defensive situation with Jose Calderon (five points, six assists), Monta Ellis (16 points, four assists, one steal, one block, one three) and Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 13-of-20 FGs, seven boards) was always going to be a problem. It was one of the reasons that a rim protector like Brandan Wright seemed more like a necessity than a luxury, and Samuel Dalembert also figured to help in that department.
I mentioned in yesterday’s Dose that the needle wouldn’t move on Wright unless he had a breakout game last night, and he hit the lower-end of that boundary with 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting, three boards, one steal and two blocks in 25 minutes off the bench. The sweetener here is that Dalembert (one rebound, one assist, 10 minutes) was benched for laziness and Bernard James (10 minutes, four boards) started the second half in his place. With Dally, you just never know when he’ll finally tip his coach over, and once again we simply don’t know if this marks a shift of Wright into a more prominent role. But in terms of making an add he becomes a low-level speculative add and if you are center-desperate he can be called a mid-level add for his ability to rise the fantasy ranks relatively quick.
Shawn Marion showed small signs of life with 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting with seven boards but he didn’t have any steals or blocks. I was fairly surprised to see that Marion has mid-round value over a seven-game sample now, with averages of 11.0 points, 0.4 threes, 6.3 boards, 1.6 steals and 56.9 percent shooting. As I guessed when heading over to the game log, an early-February stretch in which double-digits only occurred twice in the box score fell out of the back of the sample. So while Marion hasn’t been breaking down any doors, he is doing just enough to be worth owning in 12-teamers again, though he’s not quite a must-own player. The next game to fall out of that same sample is a 22-point, seven-rebound, two-steal effort against the Sixers. He falls into the late rounds without that game included. Math!
SIGNS OF LIFE
Ty Lawson has always showed signs of being an injury prone player and the trend has worsened this season. So while it’s been great for both owners and teammates that he’s back his heel injury last night felt like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown's swinging foot. He has missed 13 games already this season and he’ll head into Friday’s game questionable after taking today off, as he comes off another electric game of 20 points, six boards, seven assists, two steals, two threes and 8-of-9 freebies. His play has clearly energized his teammates, probably because they feel like they have an actual shot at winning now, and they got a much needed win for their locker room last night against the Mavs.
Wilson Chandler has been an understated and somewhat steady fantasy asset this year, though the past few weeks haven’t been kind. He’s now back on the abundant side of the box after another solid 21-point effort including three treys, five boards and two steals, but he has to get the free throw issues worked out to capitalize on these big numbers. Getting to the line 5.7 times per contest over his last three games, he has hit just 64.7 percent of his looks. He has had problems in that department all season, hitting six points worse than his 77.7 career mark, but the good news here is that he’ll regress upward and getting to the line a lot will necessarily mean he’s active once again.
Randy Foye (16 points, three boards, four assists, four threes, two steals, 38 minutes) hurt his left quad during the game but it didn’t hit the postgame reports at all. He hasn’t really been slowed by Lawson’s return and owners can be cautiously optimistic that he continues to put up solid numbers.
Kenneth Faried is hot again and last night he had 16 points, eight boards, four assists, a perfect six foul shots and just zeroes in the defensive stat categories as a blemish. He’s slowly crept into safe mid-to-late round value over the last month or so. Timofey Mozgov keeps getting shoehorned into the lineup, perhaps because of pressure over his contract and Brian Shaw’s desire to play big, but he isn’t doing anything to inspire confidence in either fantasy leagues or in reality. He missed all five of his looks last night but did nab 10 rebounds with a block in 21 minutes, which fits the shape of his production to date if he makes 2-3 of those shots. He has some appeal as a desperation option at center, but feel free to look elsewhere after he has done nothing with his move into the starting lineup.
J.J. Hickson decided to play some defense last night with a career-high tying five blocks to go with his 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, five boards and three assists in 26 minutes. Am I interested? Call me when he nears the top-200. Hickson is hitting just 45 percent of his free throws in February and March. He’s a points and rebounds specialist at best.
IT’S OVER FOR KORVER
All good things must come to an end and a blowout loss to the Blazers was the end of Kyle Korver’s 3-point shooting streak, which concluded at 127 consecutive games. Mike Budenholzer gave him ample opportunity to extend the streak in 28 minutes of action, and Korver said after the game that he didn’t want to extend the streak during garbage time. Korver hit 1-of-9 shots on the night for five points, two rebounds, three assists and a block, and this may actually be a good thing for him to get off of his mind as he preps for the stretch run.
The box was a disaster and this sort of thing is going to happen to the Hawks until they get Paul Millsap back, who is taking his time returning from his knee injury. Jeff Teague scored 10 points with three assists and I’ll wait a game before weighing in on the aggression issue, as I did see him attack the hoop a few times in a worst-case scenario performance by the team. Mike Scott (four points, three boards) has squandered most of this recent opportunity and he’s not a must-own guy with Millsap theoretically returning at any time, and Elton Brand squashed whatever value he had in a six-point, three-board effort with Pero Antic back in the fold.
Antic scored 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds and no steals or blocks in his 16 minutes. Owners can expect this type of a line as he ramps up and he’s worth a look for the center-desperate, and he should also be watched in general for the late-mid round upside he brings to the table for a team with no depth. Still, his health and ability to produce are both question marks with limited history to rely on. Lou Williams played just five minutes last night, which is a pretty big red flag for a guy with knee issues. In terms of fantasy value it’s a killer right when he was starting to pick up some late-round steam, and he’s most certainly droppable.
For all of these guys consider that the Hawks have a 4-4-4-4 finish during the fantasy playoffs, bumping up their value by a round or two.
TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT
The Blazers had a field day and the story in Portland right now is LaMarcus Aldridge’s minute limit and the potential that his groin injury is the beginning of durability issues down the stretch. Aldridge hit just 1-of-13 shots (8-of-8 FTs) for 10 points and swore after the game that it was just timing issues, but with just six rebounds to go with two blocks the activity numbers since returning don't back his theory up. Nicolas Batum has picked up the slack on the glass and had another big number with 18 boards to go with his 14 points, three treys and one assist. Everybody else coasted with low-end lines in the blowout win, and Mo Williams got some extra love with 15 points, four rebounds, five assists and three treys.
IT’S A TRAP
Last night’s game on the road against the Magic looked like a trap game for the Rockets following their win over the Heat on Tuesday, and Houston did their part early to make that a reality. But they eventually got their act together and a total team effort kicked in to shoo away an Orlando team playing without Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo.
James Harden scored 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting (2-of-7 3PTs, 7-of-7 FTs) with three rebounds and six assists, and his slow rolling boil has moved him into a top 5-9 value over the last month or two. The surge moves him to a top 7-10 value on a per-game basis this season (8/9 cat), and with a healthy handful of missed games he’s just the No. 9 and 17 fantasy play on the year. That’s not disastrous for a top 3-5 fantasy pick, but it’s pretty damned close. The value leakage between the top and bottom of the first round in fantasy is nearly a factor of two, meaning that the top-end guys are worth nearly twice as much as the low-end guys. Yes, that’s crazy but that’s how it goes and something for owners to chew on every year.
Terrence Jones turned in another gem with 17 points, 11 rebounds, one steal, two blocks and a three while hitting 8-of-10 shots. He put Tobias Harris on a blow-by poster and his last three games have produced top-20 value, with all questions about his motor seemingly put to rest. Chandler Parsons has been a mess lately with the flu and migraines and his value has been in the tank, so last night’s 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting with two threes, six boards, seven assists and a steal were just what the doctor ordered (right after the doctor ordered a game against the Magic).
I got into an interesting exchange with Amin Elhassan of ESPN in the wee hours of yesterday morning about Dwight Howard (19 points, 13 boards, two steals, six turnovers), who returned to Orlando for the second time and got himself a tiny little video tribute. He saw my comments about liking Patrick Beverley for Defensive Player of the Year and mentioned that it would be hard for Beverley to win because he’s not the best defensive player on his own team.
That’s not a blasphemous position or anything, but it speaks to the level of reputation that Howard brings to the table in league circles.
His blocks are down by 25 percent (1.8) over last year’s disaster season in L.A. (2.4), one in which Howard apologists have claimed his back issue was the thing holding him back. Regular readers will know I’ve been praising Howard for his play on offense for a few weeks now and he does indeed look like he’s moving better on the floor, but I’d say it’s something like 50/50 health and happiness that’s triggering any added activity over last season.
Still, Howard isn’t rebounding in lieu of challenging shots, and his reduction in steals and blocks is either one of two things – he’s either less productive because he’s no longer challenging as many plays, or he’s getting less opportunities to do such things. If it’s the former it simply shows a player with plenty of mileage taking the long-view with how much energy he expends on that side of the floor, if it’s the latter then the perimeter defense around him has tightened up. It’s the latter.
The improvement in perimeter defense isn’t because Harden and Parsons are doing a great job, but Beverley is and he’s both choking off point guard penetration and causing general havoc. Folks have even gone so far as to say that Beverley is taking chances on defense because he knows Howard is behind him to clean up mistakes, but that’s simply not true. He plays defense on the hip of the offensive player and recovers in most cases, and the best of his opponents usually need a screen to get free.
Beverley got popped in the nose last night, breaking it, and he struggled hitting just 1-of-8 shots for four points, one assist and two steals in his 32 minutes. He’ll get fitted for a mask and looks good to go for Friday’s big game against the Pacers. Diminutive point guards are never going to get the respect a defensive big man will get when assessing that side of the court, but when figuring out which player is having the bigger impact on the other – the numbers for Howard are striking. And with more elite point guards than elite centers running around the NBA, it begs the question of where a defensive stopper is more valuable.
Either way it’s a fascinating conversation for defense nerds to ponder and a good controversy for my dark horse pick in the West to have.
THE MIGHTY QUINN
Jameer Nelson missed last night’s game due to an illness and that wasn’t too surprising, but when Victor Oladipo landed on the injury report with a sore left ankle it definitely came out of nowhere. Jacque Vaughn attributed the absence to general wear and tear, so hopefully this truly is a maintenance situation and not something that will linger. Arron Afflalo (ankle) returned to action and looked pretty good, scoring 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting (no threes) with two rebounds, four assists and a steal. He’s poised for a big finish as long as the ankle doesn’t act up.
Tobias Harris hit just 3-of-12 shots for 10 points and five boards but he’s still showing off the improvement in his fantasy game by turning in a steal and two blocks on an otherwise down night. He has been a top 40-60 player over the last month and a top 20-30 player over the last two weeks, based largely on the fact that he stopped being a non-factor in the peripheral stats I’ve been hammering him over all year. He’s also poised for a big finish and that also goes without saying for Nikola Vucevic, who put up 15 and 10 with four assists and a steal while hitting 7-of-9 shots. He has hovered at a top-40 level seemingly all season.
Kyle O’Quinn had yet another serviceable night with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds, one steal and three blocks in just 16 minutes. Don’t let the low minute totals and lack of name recognition fool you, he has been a mid-round play for a month with averages of 7.0 points, 6.8 boards, 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks with percentages that are a mild net-positive.
Ronnie Price (eight points, five assists, six turnovers) got the start for Nelson and there’s not enough meat to that bone to consider anything but a very-deep league spot-play if Nelson stays out. Maurice Harkless, on the other hand, is worth being in lineups until everybody is back and healthy, and he turned in another good one with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, two threes, five steals and one block. Consider stashing him for the stretch run if the good times come to an end, too, since Nelson profiles as a shutdown candidate for a team chasing ping pong balls.