I’ve never quite understood why people sometimes say they can “smell a breakout coming” from a certain player. It’s a phrase that sounds good, but really makes no sense when you think about it literally. After all, can we really smell impending statistical improvement, and if so, what does it smell like? Is it a pleasant scent, like freshly-baked baguette, sautéed garlic or a pan-seared ribeye? Or is it more putrid, like the smell of your basketball shoes and socks when you neglect to take them out of the gym bag for two days?
Whatever the case – and regardless of how silly the phrase may be – I have decided to use it right now, and I’m using it to tell you that I smell a breakout coming for Gordon Hayward.
In his last nine games, the 21-year-old has averaged 14.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.8 bpg, 0.8 3s (and 0.9 turnovers) on 50.5 percent from the field and 80.5 percent from the line. And in his last four games, Hayward has been even better: 15.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.0 bpg and 0.5 3s on 58.5 percent from the field and 78.6 percent from the line.
Those aren’t explosive numbers – and I suppose this would be more of a quiet, steady breakout than a truly monstrous one – but add it all up and you have a player capable of averaging 15-plus points and 4-plus assists with great percentages and something close to the coveted 1-1-1 (one 3, one steal and one block per game). Furthermore, Hayward has the potential to continue improving as the season goes on – he averaged just 8.0 ppg on 38.2 percent shooting with no 20-point efforts in his first 17 games, but has three 20-plus point outbursts (and the aforementioned 14.9 ppg scoring average) in his last nine games.
In sum, Hayward is emitting an odor. And I mean that in a positive way.
In other items on the Stew’s agenda this week…
Let’s take a moment (and by a moment, I mean several moments) to discuss Jeremy Lin. First, a quick anecdote: On Friday night I boarded a bus, at which point the driver immediately asked the score of the Knicks game. I informed him that the Knicks were up eight in the first half and that Lin had 14 points. His response, stated in complete seriousness: “Only 14?”
I relay this anecdote as a reminder of just how wild the Lin hype has become. Granted, he has earned it by averaging 26.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 8.0 apg and 2.0 spg in his last five games. And even though the league will make adjustments to make Lin’s life more difficult, there’s no doubt that he can legitimately play.
With that said, I submit to the committee that with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire out, we’ve seen an absolute perfect storm of circumstances for Lin to make a big statistical impact. It’s the very same storm that has allowed Steve Novak to get his most extended run since 2009, a stretch that has seen the end-of-the-bench sharpshooter average 15.5 ppg and 4.0 3s in his last four games.
Quite simply, what we’re seeing with the Knicks right now is not their normal layout, and the flow of this offense is going to change drastically when Anthony and Stoudemire return. Say what you will about the possibility of Melo suddenly being willing to move the ball more, but I’m of the belief that a guy who has been a high-volume iso scorer throughout his career is not going to change his style that dramatically his ninth year in the league. And Lin, who has averaged 19.4 FG attempts per game in his last five, will take a huge hit in that department once Melo (18.8 FG attempts per game) and Amare (15.6) return.
The bottom line: As enjoyable as this whole run has been (and as fun as it will hopefully continue to be), Lin’s value in fantasy leagues can’t possibly get any higher. He won’t have as many opportunities to drive and shoot once Melo and Amare are back, and I’m not buying the argument that his assists will get a big boost playing alongside them. After all, he’s already averaging an impressive 8.0 apg during this run. Can we really expect him to average more than that when the offense is inevitably going to get more stagnant?
If I had to guess, I’d put Lin closer to 13 ppg and 7-8 apg once the team's top two scorers are back. And I say this not to be a buzzkill, but to advise testing the trade value of a player whose circumstances really can’t get any better than they are right now. To be clear, I’m not saying that he’s going to self-destruct or that you have to unload him immediately, but if you evaluate the situation without getting caught up in the excitement, it’s obvious that Lin’s numbers are due to take a significant hit.
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In other news, here comes Jamal Crawford. He began the year consistently playing limited minutes as he got incorporated into Portland’s schemes (an average of 25 minutes per game in his first 21 games), but already has four games over 30 minutes this month, two games over 40 minutes and an average of 32 minutes thus far in February. Not shockingly, numbers have followed: Crawford is averaging 19.6 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.1 spg and 2.0 3s (43.6 percent from the field, 93.1 from the line) through his first seven games this month. Granted, Portland is just 3-4 during that run, so hopefully Nate McMillan won’t rethink his decision to unleash Crawford, but I’m optimistic that he can keep it going (with some inevitable rough stretches that are part of the life of a streaky shooter).
Meanwhile, I’m worried about Jarrett Jack’s knee. File this under pure speculation/I’m not a doctor/I have no access to the Hornets’ medical records, but this situation has some spooky similarities to the knee trouble that has held Eric Gordon out of all but two games this year. In both instances, the injury initially sounded pretty mild, and each player returned after missing a few games, but then had to shut it down again after that one-game return. It’s still too early to call this a Gordon situation given that Jack has only missed four games total with his injury, but I’m worried that the 4-23 Hornets just don’t have much incentive to rush him back. This falls under the category of “I hope I’m wrong” – and fortunately for Jack’s fantasy owners, I am sometimes – but I could see this turning into a multi-week absence.
With the injury to Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson has surged toward the top of my watch list. We should obviously expect some inconsistency from the 20-year-old – and beware that he’s a wretched free throw shooter (42.6 percent) – but the increase in playing time could yield some intriguing results. In the four games in which he has played 20-plus minutes this season, Thompson has posted 11.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 0.8 spg and 1.8 bpg. Don’t hesitate to add the No. 4 overall pick if you’re in need of boards and blocks.
With Danilo Gallinari (ankle) expected to miss another month, we should all take note of Corey Brewer. Brewer recently missed three games while on personal leave, but got his first start of the year on Saturday, posting 19 points, five rebounds, two steals and a three in a season-high 34 minutes. So far this season he has played 30-plus minutes on three occasions, averaging 18.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 spg, 0.7 bpg and 1.3 3s in those games. I’m not convinced that he’ll be a consistent scorer – and he’s not guaranteed big minutes every night – but Brewer has a chance to make a notable impact with Gallinari out.