We are two weeks and – in terms of games played – more than one tenth of the way through this squashed-together NBA campaign, and abrupt injuries, emerging trends and sudden rotation changes are still flying at us like tiny bits of metallic shrapnel after we accidentally put the silverware into the garbage disposal again. Let’s rip through some of the most notable topics currently occupying our fantasy hoops-crazed minds:
We’ve seen No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving for eight games now. Are his current stats (15.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.1 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.8 bpg, 0.9 threes) indicative of what he’ll do all season? In short, no – I think he can do more. I watched the entire Cavs-Blazers game on Sunday night, and Irving made a number of DVR rewind plays off the dribble and at the rim while showing an extremely aggressive scorer’s mentality (a season-high 21 points in 29 minutes of a lopsided loss). I’m not convinced that his assists or threes are due for a notable spike anytime soon, but there is potential for something in the vicinity of 18-plus ppg going forward.
Re: Iman Shumpert – Is it time to believe? Yes. Though he has only played four NBA games prior to Monday night’s matchup with Charlotte, the rookie is already the best guard on the Knicks roster (13.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.3 rpg, 2.7 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.0 threes in his last three games), and plays with a clear “Don’t sweat it, I’ve been here before” confidence – even though he hasn’t actually been here before.
For what it’s worth, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing Shumpert come off the bench because it would mean less time on the court with the FG-attempt vacuum known as Carmelo Anthony, but whether starting or not he should get starter’s minutes going forward. And as for the eventual return of Baron Davis, I’m not especially concerned – Shumpert can play shooting guard and is easily good enough to take more minutes from Landry Fields when that happens.
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Will it get better for Joe Johnson? Unfortunately – and as a Hawks fan I hate to admit this – I think the answer is “only marginally.” I had some hope that the second year of his vomit-inducing contract extension would be better than the first, but Johnson (16.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.9 threes on 39.6 percent from the field prior to Monday night) looks average and disinterested in even occasionally attempting to dominate. There’s some room for improvement on his current numbers, but it looks to me like last year’s stats (18.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.7 apg) are a fair approximation of the 30-year-old’s upside in 2011-12.
Speaking of the Hawks, here comes Josh Smith. I still scream at the TV every time he winds up to sling a lefty jumper at the rim, but there’s no mistaking that the Hawks PF awakened somewhere after that brutal 3 OT loss to the Heat last week. In the two games that followed – which had the Hawks playing on their second and third nights in a row – Smoove averaged 24.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.5 spg and 4.0 bpg on 62.9 percent from the field. He obviously won’t stay anywhere close to this hot, but it’s a terrific sign for fantasy owners who have waited patiently thus far.
What to make of this Markieff Morris-Channing Frye position battle in Phoenix? To reset: Frye has averaged 6.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.5 bpg and 1.0 threes on just 34.6 percent from the field in 21 minutes per game, while Morris in four games this month has posted 11.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 0.8 bpg and 1.8 threes. I expect some inconsistency from both in the short term, but Morris has played 30-plus minutes in three out of four January games and already looks like he can do the whole Channing Frye thing (hit threes, grab some rebounds, pick up some blocks) better than Frye can.
Is there cause for concern about Raymond Felton? Affirmative. Many had Felton pegged as a candidate for big-time production in the up-tempo Blazers offense this year, but in addition to being erratic and off-target (10.4 ppg, 6.8 apg on 34.8 percent shooting), Felton is also being adversely affected by Jamal Crawford. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Felton’s playing time (33 min. per game), but some of his time overlaps with Crawford, who tends to dominate the ball when in the game. Felton’s scoring and threes could increase, but for that to happen he needs to improve what has been pretty bad shot selection so far. Barring an injury to Crawford, I would estimate Felton’s current upside at around 12 points and seven assists per game.
Am I buying the Matt Barnes hot streak (15.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.5 bpg, 1.0 threes in his last two games)? In a word, no. And in another word, no. Barnes strung together some similarly productive games last season, but he has never averaged better than 10.2 ppg or 5.5 rpg and can’t be considered a realistic option unless you’re playing in a much deeper format.
Anything I’d like to travel back in time and change from last week’s column? Indeed there is. Most notably, I would like to revise a buy-low recommendation I made on David West, who at the time was averaging 12.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 0.8 spg and 1.0 bpg on 36.7 percent shooting, but is now at 10.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg after posting 7.0 ppg and 6.3 rpg in his last three games. Things should still get better for West, but his playing time of late (23 min. per game in his last five) is becoming a legitimate concern as the deliriously energized Tyler Hansbrough continues to cut into his minutes. The West-Hansbrough combo is working for the 6-2 Pacers in real life, but it’s not good news for West’s immediate future in fantasy leagues.
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Some random thoughts, just for the record: Now that he has found his outside shot, we’re seeing what a force Danilo Gallinari can be (first four games in January: 20.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.6 bpg, 1.6 threes on 52.2 percent from the floor) … I’m concerned about Elton Brand, but his peripheral stats (7.4 rpg, 1.3 spg, 1.1 bpg) are there to the point that I would try to stay patient … I was impressed by Tristan Thompson on Sunday (10 points, five boards, three blocks in 17 minutes) and would add him without hesitation if Antawn Jamison gets hurt.