Steve Nebraska Strikes Again

Aaron Bruski
Rotoworld
Ryan Knaus examines the first 200 picks in a 30-team expert draft, where position eligibility is paramount

Top-200 Draft Overview

Ryan Knaus examines the first 200 picks in a 30-team expert draft, where position eligibility is paramount

For a seven-game night there was a lot going on in the association so we’re going to jump right into things, but before jumping in owners of any Pistons and Hawks players will want to be on the Atlanta weather report today.  Apparently the freeway system just stopped when freezing, icy conditions stranded thousands of motorists along the roads.  Hopefully everybody is okay out there and if the sun doesn’t do its part to warm things up the NBA could cancel the game in Atlanta tonight. 

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STEVE NEBRASKA STRIKES AGAIN

It’s not a sexy nickname but Anthony Davis is the most complete player we’ve seen in the NBA since LeBron James and before that Kobe Bryant, and I’m not going to stop short of saying that his footprint can’t exceed those guys.  He’s quiet and plays in a small market, but we’re in uncharted territory with a big man hitting 12-of-18 shots from all over the court for 30 points, seven boards, three assists, one steal, eight blocks and a 6-of-7 mark from the line as he did in last night’s win road win in Cleveland. 

Monty Williams has stubbornly withheld the keys to the New Orleans offense, and it’s not the worst coaching offense but it’s on both player and coach to force the action here and make the defense react every time down the floor.  The No. 2 and 4 player on a per-game basis this season (9/8 cat), he’s averaging 20.4 points, 10.4 boards, 1.5 steals, 3.3 blocks and marks of 51.9 percent from the field and a respectable 76.2 percent from the line.  He’s a first-team all-NBA candidate so any talk about whether or not he should make the All Star team is silly. 

The Pellies got contributions from most of their guys, including a monster under-the-radar night from Eric Gordon, who nearly triple-doubled with 20 points, seven boards, nine assists and one steal.  To the last point about Williams utilizing Davis, he did that last night and everybody benefitted.  Brian Roberts (12 points, 4-of-8 FGs, two triples, four rebounds, six assists) was used more off the ball and as team blog Bourbon Street Shots pointed out last night, it’s a much better role for him on a team with plenty of ballhandlers. 

Tyreke Evans is always dealing with something these days, and whether it was his ankle or the illness, he racked up five fouls and lasted just 19 minutes en route to a three-point, five-assist night with three steals.  Unless there is a very bad pregame report about his health it’s hard to bench him knowing he could explode on any given night, even if the peaks and valleys have added up to a late-round product.  As an aside, it was pretty funny listening to Monty Williams talk about Evans’ unwillingness to pass and his inability to shoot.  You’d think the Pelicans would have sat down with Evans and said ‘this is a problem we need you to fix’ considering that is every scouting report on Evans since he entered the league. 

Greg Stiemsma was rewarded with 31 minutes after taking advantage of some very lax Cavs defense, and finished with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, 11 rebounds, one steal and two blocks.  That puts him atop the center rankings in New Orleans, which is sort of like winning NBA Coach of the Year or Most Likely to go Bald in your high school yearbook.  Run away from all of them. 

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

Another game…another Mike Brown post-game presser questioning his team’s effort and execution.  The only true bright spot came in the form of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett posting his best game as a pro with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, two threes, eight boards and one block in 31 minutes.  There are whispers that Bennett is a head case and he wouldn’t be the first rookie to question his own abilities, but being in the fishbowl because of his draft status he won’t be given the same leniency during his career.  Ever. 

The Cavs’ next game on TNT against the lackluster Knicks would be prime territory for Bennett to turn the narrative in his favor, or at least stop some of the bleeding, and it will be interesting to see if the Cavs’ think he has enough confidence to withstand a truly bad performance.  For fantasy owners this is one of those low-likelihood, but potentially high-value moments if we assume for a second his efficiency and productivity can provide returns if he snaps out of his rookie funk. 

I have doubts that he can be a mid-round value in a best-case scenario with problems on defense and, of course, the question about his shooting (25.9 FG%).  Looking at his teammates, Anderson Varejao is day-to-day with his knee injury and Tyler Zeller got benched for his defense last night. Varejao trade rumors have died down but a lot can happen between now and the deadline.  If you don’t see a probable report from Brown downplaying expectations in advance of Thursday’s game, and you have some serious dead weight with nothing great on the wire, consider taking Bennett for a one-game test drive.

Kyrie Irving defended his coach after the game and put up 23 points with a normal stat line, and Dion Waiters scored 21 points with four assists, two steals, one block and three treys in an otherwise sloppy night.  Irving has rehabbed his value into the top-30 range and Waiters is still waiver wire fodder in standard leagues despite the random outbursts with too many problems to name here.  Jarrett Jack (two points, three boards, three assists, two steals) is even lower on the Totem pole. 

Luol Deng (six points, three assists, one steal, 31 minutes) is still getting up to speed with his teammates and is being bothered by his Achilles’ injury.  There is certainly buy low appeal here but there’s a decent amount of risk.  After being run into the ground by Tom Thibodeau, on his own volition of course, it’s possible this becomes a season of relative rest.  Tristan Thompson went for five and five on 2-of-10 shooting, further highlighting my lack of excitement any time he posts a vanilla double-double.  Box score watchers will see Zeller’s 13 points, 10 rebounds, one steal and perfect five free throws and get excited, but knowing he got benched for defense isn’t exactly an endorsement of future results.  He’s a short-term speculative play in deep leagues unless he picks up steam or news on Varejao worsens. 

NOWHERE WITHOUT NIKOLA

The Magic are what they are right now – a really bad team getting destroyed on the inside – and a matchup against the big frontline of the Pistons was bad news from the beginning.  Jason Maxiell was brought in to start next to Glen Davis but Orlando still got outrebounded 56-40 and the Pistons’ starting frontcourt combined to go 17-of-30 from the field with 30 rebounds. 

The key issue for the Magic is the return of Nikola Vucevic from a concussion, and if you own any of the impacted players in that discussion this piece from NBA.com’s John Denton is a must-read. It’s about three days old but it shows the give and take in the concussion protocol and it’s full of detail, and it’s good to see Orlando on top of this situation after Tobias Harris’ ankle injury went virtually unreported to start the season.  If I had to guess I’d say he’s still week-to-week rather than day-to-day, but the fact he’s traveling with the team is obviously a good sign.

Big Baby (eight points, five rebounds, one steal) has fallen off a cliff and it’s hard to say if a move to power forward will help when Vucevic returns, but it certainly couldn’t hurt at this point. Harris (14 points, nine rebounds, 4-of-13 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs) continues to post mixed results on a nightly basis and he’s still not stealing, blocking or hitting threes with zeroes in that department last night.  He needs to get the deficient areas on track in order to escape the quicksand of late-round value, despite averaging 18 and 11 over his last eight games.  Again, the problem areas are so different from career norms (particularly on defense), that it’s entirely viable that the ankle is still limiting him and that there is a regression on the way. 

Victor Oladipo didn’t slow down in his likely temporary move to the bench, scoring 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting with two threes, four rebounds, three assists and six turnovers in 26 minutes.  He’s had some big games but I think there may actually be some buy low appeal since he has yet to be truly unleashed, and after the trade deadline it could be time for him to retake the lead on Michael Carter-Williams for Rookie of the Year.  Kyle O’Quinn regained some of the deep league appeal he had acquired in the prior week with four points, 11 rebounds and four steals in 27 minutes, which gives him low-end value in 14-team leagues over an eight-game stretch.  He’s a short-term desperation play in 14-16 team leagues. 

THREE IS A CROWD

Andre Drummond was benched harshly in Sunday’s game and played just 11 minutes.  Last night he got some positive reinforcement from Mo Cheeks and followed it up with a 13-point, 17-rebound night including one steal and two blocks in 33 minutes.  He hit the ground hard and took his shoe off which indicated an ankle injury, but he went right back into the game and there was nary a mention of it in any of the postgame reports and he didn’t hit our injury report.  Josh Smith took advantage of the Magic’s soft interior with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting, one steal and two blocks, though he had just two rebounds in the blowout win. 

If there is any silver lining on Smith’s top 85-115 value on the year, which has been depressed by the usual shooting issues, it’s that the Greg Monroe trade rumors have already kicked in.  Marc Stein released a report that the Pistons are turning down phone calls right now, but being tied to Drummond and Smith for the foreseeable future and knowing the big-man lineup isn’t working – they’d be crazy to pass up any relatively fair offer.  Monroe went for eight and 11 with a steal last night, and if I owned him anywhere I’d be hoping for a trade.  His very late-round value in 12-14 team leagues can only go up. 

WORKING OUT THE KINKS

The Celtics have been a bit of a mess since the seemingly minor trade sending Courtney Lee to Memphis in exchange for Jerryd Bayless.  I can’t see the principals mattering that much here, but it’s been the first 2-3 week stretch of the year in which both Brad Stevens and outside observers are questioning his team’s effort.  It’s also a full-blown metamorphosis for the team with Rajon Rondo (seven points, 3-of-13 FGs, two rebounds, five assists, one steal, 27 minutes) taking back the controls, and naturally he's going through the crap portion of his on-court rehabilitation. 

The Celtics got destroyed last night by the Knicks and the best performance of the bunch – Jeff Green’s 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting with two threes, seven boards and three steals – was still hindered by the team’s overall inefficiency.  Owners shouldn’t try to read much into this 26-point loss, but timeshare issues between Jared Sullinger (eight points, three boards, 19 minutes), Brandon Bass (four points, four rebounds, 17 minutes) and Kris Humphries (12 points, five boards, 22 minutes) are going to stress owners out.  I think owners need to take the long-view here and use 2-4 week splits to make decisions about who to use and when.  Sullinger and Bass have been borderline 12-14 team guys over the last two weeks, while Humphries has been a cut above with more solid late-round value, and a value that is significantly enhanced in 9-cat leagues with just 0.9 turnovers per game in that span. 

Chris Johnson continues to look good as he hit 4-of-7 shots (all threes) for 12 points with just one rebound and one assist in 22 minutes.  He has been a mid-to-late round value in his five games with the same advantage that Humps has in 9-cat leagues, and Brad Stevens talked about getting him more minutes during the game.  Still yet to be extended into another 10-day contract, which seems likely with Avery Bradley’s return from an ankle injury still hazy, he’s a much better fit at shooting guard than Gerald Wallace (five points, 2-of-7 FGs, three rebounds, one block, 23 minutes).  It makes sense that Stevens would defer to his veteran over a newly signed 10-day guy, but a 1-2 week window in which Johnson gets a chance to earn the lion’s share of minutes every night sounds like a decent bet.  I’d call him a mid-level ‘short-term’ add in 12-team standard leagues. 

While Rondo has not been himself lately, he has seemed healthy from the perspective of a return from ACL surgery, so yesterday’s news that he wasn’t necessarily ruled out for the SEGABABA (second game of a back-to-back) tonight wasn’t all that surprising.  Both the player and team will play things safe if there are any concerns, but there is something to be said for the organization needing to regain normalcy with Rondo calling the shots.  It doesn’t hurt that the team would love to know what they have in Rondo for not just this trade deadline, but down the road.  Don’t be surprised if he goes tonight against the Sixers in what could be a confidence building exercise, though Stevens reportedly backed off a bit about Rondo’s status for today in an early morning report.

EVERYBODY LOVES ANDREA

Reading the quotes from Berman of the Post’s gamer last night I don’t think the Knicks are throwing any tantrums over Andrea Bargnani’s elbow injury.  “We’re definitely stepping up to the challenge and it makes the offense flow,’’ said Carmelo Anthony about the small ball. “Everyone’s feeling like themselves once again.’’  BOTP also writes:

Without referring to the 7-foot Bargnani, Woodson said “guys are more committed’’ and added, “We’re back to playing small ball again. The ball’s moving, guys are shooting threes and feeling good about themselves. It’s kind of nice to see.’’

I’d have loved to seen the tape and/or body language on that, and surely we’ll get round-the-clock coverage on that, but one has to wonder if an order was made to play Bargnani from above.  After all, they did trade a 2016 first round pick that could be a doozy with the way things are going in New York, and the Knicks aren’t beneath that sort of thing.  All of this is a big deal because Anthony is custom-built for the power forward position in today’s NBA, with an easy adjustment that can be made against teams with burly power forwards. If I’m Woodson and I wasn’t 100 percent blind to that, I’d hope that somebody leaks that under the guise of plausible deniability on his part. 

And wouldn’t you know it the Knicks have won their last four games, and last night’s slaughter of the Celtics brought about some abbreviated stat lines.  Perhaps the biggest news was Iman Shumpert’s shoulder injury, an issue he has dealt with since the preseason, and any time off that he faces will help usher in the upgraded version of the Knicks fantasy squad. 

Leading the way will be J.R. Smith, with all circus-level caveats set aside, and last night he put down another deposit on his fantasy value with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting, three treys, five assists and two blocks.  He has been running at a late-round level over his last seven games since being benched, with solid numbers everywhere except the foul line (59.1% on 3.1 FTAs/gm) over that span.   That’s exactly what he has shot on the season and if you haven’t noticed he stands 6-12 inches from the foul line when he shoots – a sign of the little man in one’s head – but the 73.8 percent career shooter should get that cleaned up.  If the Knicks start running and gunning again he could threaten a consistent mid-round value in a best-case scenario and he’s a must-own player in my book, even with all the risks. 

Raymond Felton struggled in his 27 minutes with just seven points on 3-of-6 shooting (including a three) with two assists and two steals, but this isn’t the game to measure him with.  An increased pacing and spacing can help the overweight point guard get loose more than he has been all season, and I’d consider him a mid-level add given his solid floor and potential for growth. 

If the news on Shumpert seems at all iffy, owners may want to give Tim Hardaway Jr. a look after another solid 16-point, two-triple night.  He’s averaging 12.5 points, 2.3 treys, 1.0 steals and 54.1 percent shooting from the field over 26.4 mpg in his last four contests, which is good for late-round value with an advantage in 9-cat leagues (0.8 TO/gm) over that span.  He fits the profile of a guy to ride into a lost season if you’re the Knicks. 

Tyson Chandler put up 12 and 13 without any steals or blocks in his 23 minutes, and he’s back into the mid-to-late round range over the last 1-2 weeks.  Owners will take that after re-evaluating Chandler’s prospects as the season has gone on.  Jeremy Tyler might have staked out a role as backup center with a career-best night of 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks. 

Any center desperate owner should be watching this situation closely and if you’re in that category give him a hard look.  He’s an injury or two away from having the full-time role to himself, as scary as that sounds.  However, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to avoid free throw issues (56.9% career) and block enough shots (1.5 per-36 career with likely efficiency drop) to give him mid-round upside in a best-case scenario, which is just food for thought. 

GIN-OH-NO-BILI

The Spurs got more bad news on the injury front when Manu Ginobili (nine points, 14 minutes) went down to a hamstring injury. There was at least one report that Spurs Spanish play-by-play guy Paul Castro said the injury wasn’t serious but instead ‘merely tightness,’ but we’ve been around the block long enough to know that any injury in January is going to be treated with kid gloves.  For what it’s worth, beat writer Jeff McDonald was of the impression that the injury shouldn’t be dismissed as minor, and team blog Pounding the Rock referred to his time off as “a few games.”  We’ll know soon enough. 

All of the injury news has thrust Boris Diaw (season-high 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two threes, two blocks) into the third consistent fantasy slot next to Tony Parker (17 points, four assists) and Tim Duncan (12 points, 14 boards, one steal, four blocks).  Capturing fantasy value after one of the Spurs’ main cogs goes down has always been difficult, but it makes sense that Diaw would take the step up after being a borderline 12-14 team value all year. 

Marco Belinelli (11 points, 5-of-12 FGs, 1-of-7 3PTs, one steal, 38 minutes) has not been able to take the leap and the 3-point shooting regression was bound to hit him sooner rather than later.  He’s now 2-of-14 from deep over his last four games and still shooting a pristine 46.7 percent on the year, and there is a pretty good chance he’ll bounce back the other direction so consider him for pickup for both that reason and also his safe workload until the All Star break. 

Beyond this group if you’re looking at the trio of Patty Mills (seven points, two assists, one steal, two blocks, 28 minutes), Cory Joseph (eight points, five assists, 23 minutes) and Nando De Colo (seven minutes, two steals) – I like them in that order for those in deeper leagues and the random aspect here is that De Colo is the only height the Spurs can put on the floor at the shooting guard position with Manu out.  Fishing in this group is exactly that, a fishing expedition. 

THUMBS DOWN

The Rockets took advantage of a weary Spurs team and did so without James Harden, whose thumb injury crept up and knocked him out of last night’s game.  He sounds like he’s day-to-day and there was some speculation about whether or not he would play yesterday, so hopefully his late evaluation on Tuesday isn’t about to drop a more significant morning report early on today.  Stay glued to the player news page for more.

There weren’t a whole lot of surprises outside of individual swings in performance.  Jeremy Lin took over playmaking duties on the perimeter with 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting, three rebounds, eight assists, one block, one three and a perfect seven free throws.  It was a perfect time for Lin to earn some trust with owners that were getting a bit gassy over his recent performance. 

Patrick Beverley still isn’t looking for his shot, and that’s just a fact of life in the slower Dwight Howard-friendly scheme, but he has shown a bit more spunk lately and he put up 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a three.  Even with the 30 percent shooting in the five games since his return from a hand injury, Beverley has been a late-round value with a nice bump in 9-cat leagues with 0.6 turnovers per game in that span.  He still needs an epiphany on offense to have any impactful fantasy value. 

Dwight Howard was hacked all night to the tune of 25 foul attempts, and he made 13 of them on his way to a 23-point, 16-rebound night with six turnovers and a block.  He’s so bad in Roto leagues that he’s just a top-100 guy in 8-cat leagues and outside of the top-200 in 9-cat leagues.  The same valuation applies to head-to-head leagues, but obviously you can punt the free throws and turnovers and make it work.  It is what it is. 

Terrence Jones got back on track with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds, one steal, one block and a 3-of-8 mark from the line.  Jones is just that rare cat that can hit more than 50 percent of his field goals and drill the occasional three, but stand him at the free throw line and he’s struggling to hit 6-of-10.  If he can figure out the charity stripe the top 40-60 play over the last month will vault into early round status. 

If you’re digging deep for value in the event Harden misses more time than expected, Omri Casspi (five points, eight boards, one steal, 15 minutes) doesn’t appear to be sharing minutes with Francisco Garcia.  Garcia is out with a knee injury but is also in the trade rumor mill, but like Harden that’ll be a day-to-day thing going forward. 

GASOL GONE WILD

I’ve been on Marc Gasol’s case pretty much from start to finish – at least as much as one can get on Marc Gasol’s case.  He wasn’t exactly living up to his ADP to start the season and his return from the knee injury hasn’t been great, but the Grizzlies have enjoyed having their defensive anchor back, going 6-1 with him in the lineup with the league’s best defense during that time. 

Gasol’s explosion hasn’t been there, but the intuitiveness alone has been a major upgrade.  The good news is that he finally busted out with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block in last night’s win in Portland.  A top-60 play on the year in the games that he has played, he’s been sunk by 44.8 percent shooting and 0.6 less blocks (1.1) than last season.  He has also been hit by a not-so-surprising three-minute drop in playing time, as Kosta Koufos is a fine backup, but an outing like this is just good enough to fade concerns over his knee, and not too good to get owners drunk.  They’re probably hurting from a year of missed expectations, and he’s practically guaranteed to bring that shooting number up, while the blocks should regress in the right direction, too. 

I think he probably hovers in the top 20-40 range for the rest of the year, so tune your buy low offers accordingly. 

Mike Conley can hang out with John Wall in the spurned Team USA point guards club, and after voicing some annoyance with not being named to the player pool he outplayed Damian Lillard, who was named to the squad in his second season.  Conley posted 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting with three rebounds, seven assists and a steal across from his counterpart, while limiting Lillard to 16 points on 16 shots with just three assists and zero trips to the foul line.  Lillard’s potential ceiling may be higher than Conley’s, but this is a clear case of the shiny new toy being more desirable than old reliable. 

Zach Randolph loves playing in his old Portland digs and he put up 23 points with 10 boards, three assists and a steal, but in standard leagues he’s a losing fantasy player if you’re banking on those contributions.  With a high-volume 42.6 percent field goal percentage and a high-volume 74.5 percent free throw percentage over the last month, not to mention just 0.6 combined steals and blocks, he’s a late-round fantasy play.  The return of Marc Gasol isn’t great news but it hasn’t really moved the needle here.  Anybody not understanding the valuation of fantasy assets probably thinks his value is much higher, so see what you can get for him after any big night.

James Johnson (four points, six rebounds, one assist, 17 minutes) had a slow night and started to drift out of his lane, so coach Dave Joerger tightened the leash a little bit, but as a top-75 value over the last month he’s a must-start player in most formats right now.  The key here?  Dude has gotta be at least 30 pounds lighter than in Sacramento and maybe even 45 pounds lighter.  I can’t recognize him. 

Courtney Lee scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting with just three steals and a triple to his stat line in 31 minutes, but this interview with Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien should shed some light on something I sort of assumed when the team added Lee.  They love the guy.  They also really like Johnson and Allen, too.  The only guy they don’t seem to love is Randolph and it’s not hard to see why with the aforementioned statistics.  I’m not saying I don’t like the Grizzlies better with Randolph next to Gasol because I do, but this is a team that wants to start firing up threes for the next five years – not 44.4 percent from the field on 15.3 attempts with 0.0 threes per game. 

LAMARCUS THE LONE STAR

LaMarcus Aldridge was the only Blazer to truly show up in last night’s home loss to the Grizz, scoring 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting with 16 rebounds and two blocks.  He has either held his ground or improved significantly in every single stat category this season, but most importantly he looks like he’s in the best shape of his career and that bodes well for him holding up. 

I worry about his ability to keep this up because the Blazers are riding him ridiculously hard, but that said the leap into superstardom has had its benefits – he’s getting called for nearly a full foul less per game than two seasons ago and he’s going to the line 0.6 times more (5.3 FTA) than last season.  Everything is geared up for him in the Blazers’ scheme, he’s protected by Robin Lopez in the five-slot, and he’s going to be protected just a little bit more by the refs.  I’m probably still fading his late first round value somewhere into the second or high third round, as the shooting percentage in particular just seems too good to be true, but I’m not arguing with anybody that takes the opposing position. 

The rest of the squad has struggled a bit lately, and it’s hard to get on any of them after the Blazers jumped out to such a fast start, but Damian Lillard (16 points, three assists) and Wesley Matthews (eight points, 2-of-9 FGs, two threes, five assists) have backed off their gaudy early starts.  Matthews’ regression shooting the ball was to be expected, and owners will notice that Lillard’s value can shoot down quickly if he’s not putting up big popcorn numbers.  That's because he’s only good for about 1.0 combined steals and blocks per game and he shoots a high-volume 42 percent from the field.  The guy whose value is still subject to downward trend is Matthews, as his 47.4 field goal percentage on the season is still a bit too high for his 44.7 career mark.  Regardless, these are still two guys with stable roles that owners want. 

Nicolas Batum (10 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal) played through his right ankle injury as well as his ongoing shooting finger issue, and it’s not hard to envision him and/or the team targeting the All Star break for some rest.  Owners probably aren’t thrilled with his top-40 value after spending a second round pick, and lately he has been a top 80-90 value, so a risky but calculated play would be to make an offer right now with a top 30-40 guy like trade deadline candidate Thaddeus Young or somebody of similar ilk.  Who knows, you may be able to go for a deeper profit with the way things have gone.  One key indicator will be Batum's blocks, which are nearly half (0.6) of last year’s total (1.1), and a point in his favor is his current 80.7 percent foul shooting, which should move closer to his consistent, career-long 83.4 percent. 

RUNNING INTO A WALL

At times the Wizards look like they could be some trouble in the playoffs, with rangy athletes everywhere and a guy in John Wall that should theoretically draw a double-team on every play.  At others they look like a disjointed unit with no feel for where to deliver the ball, and that’s when they actually have key offensive cog Nene in the lineup.  Still, their strength on defense was able to expose a Warriors squad for needing more playmakers to handle the ball, holding the usually high-flying squad to 37.5 percent shooting at Oracle. 

Bradley Beal carried the weight on the offensive end after a slow first half, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half on a 8-of-19 shooting night including four treys, seven boards, four assists and a steal.  On the other end, John Wall blanketed Stephen Curry and though he struggled to hit 6-of-19 shots, he made the most of his night with three 3-pointers, eight boards, five assists, three steals and one block.  Wall looked like the best player on the floor (including Steph) and still isn’t near his ceiling, and after being snubbed on the Team USA player pool there’s gonna be a boulder on that shoulder for the rest of the season.  

Beal stuck to his 30-minute limit again last night and so far the returns on that program have been better than the season-long results.  On the season he has been just a top-90 standard league value in the games he has played, whereas over the last two weeks he has been a top 40-50 play.  The key difference for Beal has been his high-volume 43.2 percent shooting (41% career) and 1.5 steals over the last eight games, and decent-sized bumps in rebounding, assists and free throw percentage to boot.  Sometimes players with expanded roles can suffer from efficiency drops or ‘value leakage,’ usually derived from trying to do too much, and the hope for suffering Beal owners is that easing off the gas pedal can help him curtail some of the trappings that featured players fall into. 

Marcin Gortat hit just 2-of-8 shots but finished with eight and 12 to go with a steal and block.  He is good for one cringe-worthy play per night, but playing next to Nene he looks more like a luxury than he would next to most power forwards and he’s cruising along at a top 60-70 value over the last two weeks.  Nene put up a typical 16 points, seven boards, two assists, two steals and one block, and he should be in most if not all lineups whenever he’s relatively healthy. 

Trevor Ariza scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting with one triple, 11 boards and three steals in his 38 minutes, and his defense on Stephen Curry on the game’s deciding play was nothing short of spectacular.  He has put concerns from a few weeks back to rest with top 15-25 value over the last eight games.  And while it hasn’t been pretty, Martell Webster has eked out borderline 12-team value over the past two weeks, though this past week he’s been much worse than that.  He chipped in with 10 points, two threes and a block in his 28 minutes.  Give him a look in 14-16 team formats, but keep in mind that those who cover the team aren’t exactly thrilled with his defense lately. 

WHEN STRENGTH BECOMES WEAKNESS

Everything is larger than it really is for my Golden State Warriors.  Mark Jackson and Co. generally put too much positive spin on things, and weaknesses tend to get overlooked and strengths are overplayed.  But you can’t argue that Jackson hasn’t made this a brash team.  You can see it in the way that pint-sized Stephen Curry talks Reggie Milleresque trash after a big make, and certainly Andrew Bogut (four points, 14 rebounds, three blocks) has made trade naysayers like me pay by both staying healthy and also by instilling a little junkyard dog into the fight. 

So it wasn’t surprising to hear Jackson call the Wizards a “bad to average” team (with ‘average’ being his correction), even after the Wizards should have beaten them by 10 last night.  He truly believes that the Warriors are among the elite teams, and while the truth is that they’re just a cut below that until they shore up some things, even a critic-turned-skeptic-turned-open mind like me has to approve of the killer instinct. 

The only question is whether or not they can keep the bravado from obscuring the facts.  The fact is that Curry (23 points, 8-of-23 FGs, four assists, four steals, six turnovers) still has to do too much, and until Andre Iguodala (five points, 2-of-7 FGs, eight boards, three assists, three steals) can take pressure off of him the Warriors will be subject to the chance Curry can’t outmaneuver his opponent with winning efficiency.  This happens against quick guards and teams with long, rangy players like the Wizards.  Even when David Lee (11 points, 2-of-10 FGs, five boards) isn't dealing with a bad shoulder he can get slowed down by competent defensive players, and Klay Thompson (13 points, 5-of-17 FGs, six boards, four assists, two steals, one block) can’t be counted on to break down a defense. 

Because of the team’s commitment to Thompson and Lee as full-time players, players like Jordan Crawford (15 minutes, nine points, one assist) and Draymond Green (17 minutes, eight points, three boards, one steal) won't get the minutes to help handle the ball and in Green's case to plug the holes created by Curry and Lee on defense.  And even if Harrison Barnes (five points, three assists, two steals, 23 minutes) had any confidence right now, he’d have to take a now-imaginary leap to be able to help on either end of that equation. 

The easy answer to this situation is to take from Lee to give to Green and Barnes, knowing that Barnes is a great fit at the power forward position against many teams and Thompson’s shooting is too valuable to take off the floor.  But until the Warriors can get penetration from the perimeter by somebody other than Curry (15 mpg out of Crawford isn’t moving the needle), the team is going to be easy to defend when a John Wall-type is across the floor.  With Lee in the lineup instead of Barnes, the only other player that can be counted on to work the perimeter is Iguodala, and right now he’s not answering the call.  Whether it’s the slow road back from injury, his natural deference, or that he simply can’t draw double-teams the way he has in the past – if he’s the bellwether then the Warriors simply lose in the playoffs if Curry gets a bad matchup. 

It’s going to take an honest assessment out of Jackson in order to get a handle on that.  He's going to have to take from Lee and maybe even Klay a little bit to get Crawford, Barnes and Green into the right spots.  Egos are going to have to be checked, and bravado is going to be the last thing that helps. 

NITPICKING FOR $500, ALEX

The Pacers strike me as your everyday championship-caliber team going through the dog days of January.  Their record isn’t bad and their league-leading point differential hasn’t changed at all, but they just don’t seem to have the same pop as they did earlier in the year.  The stats show that over the last month for guys like Paul George and Roy Hibbert (11 and 10 with one steal), who have both performed about three rounds lower than their top-8 and top-75 season-long values, respectively.  George hit just 4-of-21 shots for 14 points and an otherwise normal stat line in last night’s road win against the Lakers, and he’ll be ridden just a tiny bit for going on a L.A. marketing blitz – fair or not.  Slides aside, both of these guys will hang around their season-long values, and while owners probably shouldn’t plan on it after a half-year it’s still possible that Hibbert takes the leap forward that we have yet to see. 

Conversely, the All Star push has been on for Lance Stephenson (15 points, 14 boards, six assists, two steals), whose value has gone about three rounds in the right direction over the last two weeks at a top 50-65 clip.  George Hill (13 points, seven boards, three assists, one steal, one three) has come out of nowhere in that same span with early round value, averaging 10.4 points with 1.1 threes, 4.9 boards, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals and outright shocking averages of 58.1 percent from the field and 93.8 percent from the line. 

He’s not going to keep shooting like that, and he’s certainly being choosey with his shot selection after losing a lot of confidence throughout the year, but maybe he’s ready to break out of that funk.  Owners aren’t asking for early round value, but a consistent mid round value after posting just top 80-100 value on the year would be a pretty big win.  David West went right at Ryan Kelly and finished with 19 and eight, and Danny Granger chipped in with 10 points, two threes and six boards, but he’s only a guy to watch from afar in standard leagues. 

TODAY IN KOBE

For the Lakers, last night wasn’t so much about their 17th loss in 20 games, but instead about the Kobe Bryant news (which wasn’t really all that surprising).  An evaluation on a player of his age and mileage on a team in the Lakers’ position didn’t really profile as a triumphant return in time for the All Star game.  Still, the details of Bryant’s injury situation aren’t flattering.  He’s experiencing what he is coining ‘internal swelling’ and he’s still going to be limited to low-or-no weight activities along with plenty of the stationary bike.  Another issue is that the injury is to the same leg as the Achilles’ injury, so it’s hard to say if he’ll be strengthening it to the degree it needs to be strengthened after so much time off. 

Again, as intrepid team reporter Mike Trudell put it on the air, this “isn’t a setback,” but instead it’s not the good news that folks were hoping for.  I think a lot will be dictated by the trade deadline, and with the Lakers playing their way out of the playoff picture it gets a lot easier to justify keeping Kobe out the full year.  On the other hand, Kobe is going to play when Kobe wants to play.  He doesn’t want to lose valuable time on the floor at the end of his career.  Practices and open gym don’t cut it.  He knows that and he won’t throw in the towel – at least it doesn’t look like that right now – but the timetable could get mighty conservative.  I’ll probably wait at least until the All Star break in the one spot I own him in, and by then we should know where he stands. 

In the game itself Kendall Marshall had another solid showing with 11 points and 13 assists.  As I said on Twitter we can pick out flaws in his game, but I think he has earned minutes going forward and also a shot at the starting job when the cavalry returns, too.  I’m guessing he’ll have a 2-4 game leash to continue making his mark when the first guy gets back.  That looks like it could be Steve Nash on Tuesday, and if I had to guess the order from there it would be Jordan Farmar and then Steve Blake.  Nash represents a red flag injury risk that will get any and all veteran consideration, while Farmar is an explosive guy that would probably take a back seat to a healthy and productive Blake.  I don’t like Marshall’s chances of running that gauntlet, but he has the durability edge and owners will simply want to ride him until the wheels fall off. 

On the other hand, Pau Gasol (21 points, 13 boards, zero steals or blocks) owners have hopefully been working the phones trying to see what they can get.  It’s correct to point out that his value will probably remain fairly consistent wherever he may get traded, but the concern for current owners is that his groin injury and value as a trade chip lend itself to missed games and general disarray.  With three weeks to go until the trade deadline, his value could plummet pretty quick here.  On a side note, Jordan Hill (10 points, 12 boards) is probably on a ton of wires during a two-game week and lackluster January, but I’ve upgraded him to being a mid-level stash for the chance that Gasol slows down, misses time with the groin, or gets traded in a tanking scenario. 

Everybody else got great news with the Kobe report, so owners can hold Jodie Meeks (21 points, two threes, two steals) despite the foot injury, which is a mild concern at this point.  The All Star break is in a great spot for him.  Wesley Johnson produced so poorly over the past two weeks and was yanked around enough by Mike D’Antoni that he was dropped in many 14-team formats despite his late-round 12-team value on the year.  He started and put up seven points, 10 boards, one three and a block and if he can secure that elusive 30-minute role he’ll be on most rosters once again.  Ryan Kelly (10 points, three boards, two blocks, 6-of-7 FTs) got exposed on defense in his 19 minutes but he did enough good fantasy things on a bad night to hang onto some of his intrigue.  Against teams not playing bruisers like David West he profiles like a D’Antoni favorite.  The Manny Harris experiment might be ending after an 0-for-6 night, and that’ll help ease the minute issue all around.  Nick Young had a down night with just 5-of-16 makes for 12 points and not much else, but like Meeks, Johnson and Kelly the Kobe news adds piece of mind to an already must-own equation. 

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