Funny how time flies when the schedule features a silly number of games packed into a relatively brief timeline, and as of Monday, the majority of the league’s teams were already approaching the one-third mark of this odd but entertaining NBA campaign. Here are some key topics the Stew has been pondering as we begin Week 6:
Exactly how valuable is Paul Millsap? Utah’s starting PF got off to a relatively unspectacular start (12.7 ppg in his first nine games), but lately Millsap has gone flat-out berserk, averaging 21.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.8 spg and 0.7 bpg on a high-volume 52.7 percent from the floor in his last nine games. That makes Millsap the No. 4 overall player in Basketball Monster’s 9-category rankings during that stretch (behind only Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love), and for the season, he has surged to No. 8 overall on the Basketball Monster leaderboard. It may be a bit ambitious to think that Millsap can remain in the top-10, but the 26-year-old is looking like no worse than a second-round value this season.
Is Blake Griffin finally ready to add “Consistent Shot-Blocker” to his resume? Griffin matched his old career-high with two impressive blocks against Memphis on Thursday, then set a new career-high with four blocks against the Nuggets Sunday night. That recent binge gives him an average of 1.3 bpg in his last eight games, many of them downright monstrous (including one Al Harrington layup that he swatted off the backboard Sunday evening).
So can he keep averaging 1-plus bpg going forward? Basically, it’s just a matter of effort. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Griffin doesn’t play hard – in fact, he plays as hard as anyone in the league – but up until now, he hasn’t consistently tried to block shots. Given that this is still just an eight-game run it’s too soon to say that this trend will definitely continue, but if he stays focused on it, the only thing preventing him from dominant fantasy stats are missed free throws (which, unfortunately, remain a major issue).
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Is Kyle Lowry’s shooting slump a legitimate cause for concern? Lowry has shot a miserable 19.0 percent (8-of-42) in his last four games, including 13.8 percent (4-of-29) in his last three. That’s obviously cause for some concern, but it should be noted that the first of those four games was a triple-double and the second was an 8-8-10 line (on 2-of-16 shooting) before back-to-back quiet games in easy wins over the weekend. The bottom line: Lowry is struggling badly with his shot, but A) he has never been a marksman (42.7 percent during his breakout campaign last year); B) he has still averaged 9.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 7.3 apg and 1.8 spg during his slump and C) Houston continues to win and he should be allowed to play through it. Stay patient if he’s already on your roster, and if not, there’s a brief window here to attempt to buy low.
Is that breakout coming for Jrue Holiday? Since we haven’t done one in a couple of weeks, let’s break out a side-by-side stat comparison of Holiday in 2010-11 and Holiday through his first 20 games of 2011-12:
2010-11: 14.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 6.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.0 3s, 2.7 TOs, 44.6% FG, 82.3% FT
2011-12: 14.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.9 spg, 1.3 3s, 2.7 TOs, 43.7% FG, 87.2% FT
As you can see, his increases (in points, steals, 3s and free throw shooting) have mostly been marginal, while he has actually been worse in rebounds, assists and FG% this year. Add it up, and he’s No. 49 on Basketball Monster’s 9-category leaderboard, a solid position, but only slightly better than his final ranking last year (No. 58).
So what’s the story? One thing holding back his numbers is the fact that the Sixers have been surprisingly deep and balanced, the league’s only team with seven players averaging in double figures. Holiday does lead Philly in FG attempts per game (13.4), but the team just isn’t set up for one guy to consistently get big stats. He’s still plenty valuable and has a lot of upside at age 21, but he’s not on the brink of becoming a truly elite fantasy PG during this abbreviated season.
Is now a good time to buy low on Raymond Felton? Let me answer that succinctly: no. Quite simply, circumstances just aren’t lined up for Felton to put up big numbers going forward. Yes, he’s better than the 7.5 ppg and 4.3 apg he has averaged on 31.4 percent (11-of-35) shooting in his last four games, and he should be better than his career-lows of 10.4 ppg and 36.8 percent shooting. However, with Jamal Crawford playing plenty of backup PG (and averaging 16.5 ppg, 5.5 apg and 2.3 3s in his last four games), Felton frequently becomes an afterthought in the Portland offense (his 10.5 FG attempts per game are fifth on the team). There’s certainly room for some improvement if he starts shooting better, but his ceiling in this offense remains low as long as Crawford is healthy.
Is the fun over for Iman Shumpert? After posting an encouraging 18-5-7 line last Saturday (Jan. 21), the Knicks rookie averaged just 6.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 0.3 3s on 29.7 percent shooting (11-of-37) in four games last week. That, we can all agree, is atrocious – and makes Shumpert tough to start during the upcoming week – but I would advise staying patient if possible, because Shumpert is aggressive and talented enough to make a fantasy impact even if coming off the bench for New York. Situations like this one are why we have bench spots in fantasy leagues.
Is Kirk Hinrich’s return going to siphon value from Jeff Teague? It’s a logical question in theory, but if you’ve watched the Hawks this season, there’s no denying that Teague has been a major catalyst in Atlanta’s 15-6 start. He did have an ugly game on Friday night (in part because he sprained an ankle), but he bounced back with 24 points in just three quarters of a blowout win on Sunday and should retain something in the range of top-50 value going forward.
Is there reason to believe in Tiago Splitter? In his last four games, the Spurs backup big man has averaged 14.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.8 spg and 0.6 bpg on 67.4 percent FG shooting in 26 minutes per game. Granted, one of those games (a 25-10-4 line) came without Tim Duncan in the lineup, but Splitter is playing well enough to warrant consideration despite coming off the bench, and would become a must-own if Duncan ends up missing a significant stretch of games at any point.
Other Things to Consider: He’s still not a consistent scorer (and had just six points on Sunday), but James Johnson has averaged 12.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 spg and 2.5 bpg in his last six games … A big factor holding back Tyreke Evans’ fantasy value: a lack of threes. He’s at 24.4 percent (10-of-41) on the season, and has hit more than one three in a game just once all year … When Randy Wittman took over as Wizards coach, he publicly challenged JaVale McGee to lead the league in blocks. In Wittman’s first three games, McGee has averaged 4.3 bpg.