NEAL BEFORE KAWHI
Or after, as Wednesday’s action would show. Kawhi Leonard was a hot pickup last night, after scoring 11 points with eight rebounds and two blocks over 38 minutes in his second straight start at shooting guard. Guessing what Gregg Popovich is going to do is exactly that – a guess – but the lack of shooting range amongst the starters I discussed yesterday appears to have taken a backseat to the fact that the Spurs have a handful of big opposing shooting guards to deal with. Last night it was Kevin Martin, and on Friday it will be a combination of Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, and then on Sunday it will be Jared Dudley.
Gary Neal (seven points, 3-of-10 FGs, one rebound, two assists, no threes, 21 minutes) has been forced into the backup point guard role and personally I’m kicking myself for not seeing the personnel matchups yesterday. Dropping Neal for Leonard makes a ton of sense, but the bottom line is that owners simply need to be on their toes here. As for Neal, I will be hanging onto him for at least another game to see if he can break out. The minutes are there with Manu Ginobili (hand) out and he can be an elite source of threes if he pans out. Keep in mind that conditioning could also be an issue for him, having just returned from an appendectomy and rushed into action within the last week.
Tony Parker has also quietly taken over scoring duties as we thought he would, albeit a few games late. He scored 28 points with five boards, eight assists, and a steal last night, and had 22 points with eight assists on Tuesday. If you bought low it looks like the move will pay off. On the other hand, DeJuan Blair has gone back into inconsistent mode, playing just 16 minutes last night with nine points and three rebounds. Some things never change. Tim Duncan passed Larry Legend on the all-time scoring list last night, and finished with 17 points, 11 boards, five assists, three steals, and two blocks. If you can find an owner that’s not paying attention, that’s one helluva brochure.
YOU’RE BETTER WHEN YOU’RE MAD
Deron Williams suffered a Grade-1 ankle sprain last night, and instead of leaving the game traditionally he decided to let an official have it. He may play angry all year long with the way the Nets are grasping at straws on and off the court. Williams finished with 16 points, 13 assists, and three treys, and the injury doesn’t sound serious.
WHEEL OF FISH
What a difference a week makes as DeMarcus Cousins continued to lay it on thick after Keith Smart’s hiring, scoring 21 points with a career-high 19 rebounds, a steal, and a block in Wednesday’s road win over the Raptors. In the four games since Smart was hired, Cousins has averaged 18.3 points, 13.5 boards, 0.3 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 52 percent from the field (73% FTs). In an 8-cat league, that’s good for late first round value on a per-game basis over that span, though in 9-cat leagues that drops to early fifth round value due to his 4.5 turnovers per game over the same time-frame.
This is a really small sample size, but owners have an interesting question now. Do you sell the mercurial big man? Or do you hold with the belief that he’ll only get better and has a coach in Smart that he doesn’t hate. Let’s take a gander at what’s behind Door No. 3 and look at the numbers. Last year he shot 43 percent, this year he’s shooting 43 percent, and that 52 percent mark that’s buoying his aforementioned valuations – that’s probably going to trend toward 43 percent, too. Again, we're only talking about four games here, but if you can sell DeMarcus now at the peak of owners’ wonder you’re probably doing a good job. The field goal percentage, turnovers, and potential for God knows what else is lurking if you’re brave enough to take what’s in the box.
Tyreke Evans scored a season-high 29 points with seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals, and while he hit all 14 of his free throws, Evans hit just 7-of-22 shots from the field. I took the liberty of watching all of those shot attempts, and though I’m not exactly breaking news in saying this – he’s an awful point guard. When he’s open he doesn’t shoot, instead taking a dribble or faking into a much tougher shot. As for passing, good luck with that. He has lost the ability to turn the corner, and now resorts to an equilibrium-destroying spin move on every other drive. If Evans played almost anywhere else, there would be no discussion about him being ‘the man’ or starting at point guard. Only the Kings, whose rookie year 20-5-5 marketing campaign and lack of a true No. 1 guy could create this circumstance. Owners may see the glitzy lights of his recent scoring binge, but realize the cause of the Kings’ cold needs to move off the ball, perhaps all the way over to small forward. With 4-of-8 games scoring 26-plus points, Evans has moved up to sixth and eighth round value in 8- and 9-cat leagues, respectively. If you can find an owner that thinks the new coach and superficial box scores are a signal his value is moving toward his late-early round ADP – make the move.
Of course, when a true PG starts running the show in Sac, things start to click. That’s what happened when the last selection of this year’s draft, Isaiah Thomas, started taking over the second half of Wednesday’s game. He finished with a career-high 20 points with three rebounds, six assists, a steal, and three treys in just 25 minutes off the bench. I asked Sam Amick of SI.com and formerly a beat writer for the Kings about Thomas early in the summer and he said it was too early to see if he could play at the NBA level. I was with him on that. Since then we’ve watched as Thomas has impressed in nearly every bit of game action he has seen. The Kings are going to have a hard time shifting around minutes for this year’s Mr. Irrelevant, but if Jimmer Fredette can’t win over the locker room and assume ball-handling duties, Thomas is the only other guy on the roster that can get the Kings into an offense. There’s value in that reality somewhere, but it’s going to take time to fester in the minds of Keith Smart and Kings management. In the meantime, Marcus Thornton (thigh) is day-to-day and there’s simply too much clutter to add Thomas until you’re in the 16-20 team range. Just don’t be surprised if we’re talking about him down the road.