We’re four weeks into this absurdly dense NBA season, and vexing new conundrums are surfacing in the world of fantasy hoops every week. For instance: Chris Paul missed all five games last week with a hamstring injury that initially seemed mild, Dirk Nowitzki – who has averaged 79 games played the last 12 seasons – has been shut down for at least four games to improve conditioning, and Dwyane Wade has already missed more games this year (seven) than he has in each of the last three seasons.
The bottom line: It’s a strange, unpredictable, injury-ravaged NBA world these days, and as always, the Stew now attempts to bring clarity to some key situations across the league. Let’s begin:
Is John Wall officially going berserk? At long last, we can answer that question in the affirmative. After averaging just 12.8 ppg on 34.3 percent shooting in his first 11 games, Wall has posted 24.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 8.4 rpg, 1.2 spg and 1.2 bpg in his last five. He’s still shooting just 40.9 percent during that stretch and has yet to hit a three this season (0-of-8 so far), but a player many people drafted in the second round is finally beginning to return appropriate value.
Dorell Wright is playing better, but should we really be that excited? During his current six-game run, Wright has averaged 14.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 2.5 3s, numbers that compare favorably to last season’s breakout of 16.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 2.4 3s. However, Wright’s assists are still down during this streak (1.0 apg as opposed to 3.0 last season), and the rest of his recent stats (1.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.0 TOs) reflect a player who’s still considerably less involved than he was last year. In addition to shooting less (10.3 FG attempts per game in his last six as opposed to 14.0 per game last season), Wright is shooting outside more: 58.1 percent (36-of-62) of his recent shot attempts have come from three-point range. It’s good news that Wright is hitting his threes (and therefore scoring more), but there’s still no reason to expect a sudden return to last season’s all-around productivity.
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Why is Gerald Wallace so afraid of leaving home? In case you hadn’t noticed, Wallace – who missed Saturday’s game with a finger injury – is averaging an obscenely lopsided 20.1 ppg on 63.2 percent shooting at home, as opposed to 8.3 ppg on 29.6 percent shooting on the road. It’s actually an extreme exaggeration of a career-long trend (15.0 ppg at home, 11.8 on the road), and ultimately I would expect this odd imbalance to correct itself. In the meantime, I’m going to send the Blazers a DVD of Hoosiers so that Wallace can watch that one scene in which Gene Hackman explains to his team that the opponents’ court is the exact same dimensions as their home court.
Is the fun over for Kawhi Leonard? I was never really buying in to begin with – in part because he’s a rookie playing for Gregg Popovich and in part because it aggravated me how many times I put the “h” before the “w” before finally getting it right – but either way, there’s no overlooking the fact that Leonard has averaged just 4.7 ppg in his last three games. Granted, he did have a nice line Saturday night (eight points, 11 rebounds, a steal and a block), but Leonard isn’t a major factor in 3s (26.9 percent – 7-of-26 – on the season) and doesn’t consistently do much other than score a little bit, rebound a little bit and pick up some steals, meaning that you should be able to find more reliable options in standard-sized leagues.
Speaking of slightly disappointing swingmen, were our expectations too high for Paul George? It looks that way. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a big believer in George’s potential, but at age 21 he’s just not ready to consistently handle high-volume stats. George has scored more than 15 points just three times all season, and aside from solid numbers in threes (1.6) and steals (1.2), he’s not explosive in any single counting stat (11.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.5 bpg). It’s also worth noting that in his best category (3s), George has actually been overachieving, hitting 49.0 percent from beyond the arc this year, including 28.6 percent (4-of-14) in his last six games. His scoring still could escalate as the season goes on, but it’s clearly time to lower our lofty preseason expectations and realize that George is just a low-end contributor at the moment.
Elton Brand: on the decline or still pretty useful? The answer lies somewhere in between. The 32-year-old is playing seven less minutes per game this season (35 last season, 28 this season), but his last eight games have been notably solid: 12.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.4 spg, 2.0 bpg. He’s prone to clunkers because the Sixers won’t play him much more than 20-25 minutes in lopsided games, but the defensive stats alone (1.3 spg, 1.6 bpg on the season) make the slowed-down version of Brand a viable option in most formats.
Was that James Johnson outburst on Saturday night just a mirage? It looks that way. There was certainly some cause for excitement (and a speculative waiver wire add) after Johnson’s 23-point, six-rebound, two-steal, four-block breakout on Saturday night, but he was back to his routine of nice D stats but not much else on Sunday (seven points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks in 19 minutes). Johnson would be a very appealing waiver wire add if he somehow got his scoring together, but with just two games of more than eight points all season, there’s not much hope that he’s on the verge of figuring it out.
Productive player I would actively be attempting to trade: Nene. Quite simply, I’m worried about that lingering heel injury, which forced him to miss another game on Friday before returning to play 45 minutes (with 12 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block) on Saturday. To be clear, I realize that it’s not easy to bring yourself to shop him given the stats lately (14.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.1 bpg in his last seven games), but considering his shaky free throw shooting (61.8 percent on the season), high turnovers (a career-worst 3.1 per game) and lingering injury risk during a season that offers very little relief, now would be a wise time to see if another owner in your league is willing to trade you a productive player less likely to induce headaches going forward.