We’ll get to the player in the headline of this column (Markieff Morris) in a second, but first, an important announcement: We are all on Isaiah Thomas alert.
In case you missed it, Mr. Irrelevant got the first two starts of his career over the weekend, posting an impressive 18.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 7.5 apg and 2.0 3s in those two games (including a 23-8-11 line in 43 minutes on Sunday). There are no guarantees that he’ll stick in the starting five the rest of the way, but the diminutive lefty has looked impressive during his longer auditions (in the eight games in which he’s played 25-plus minutes, Thomas has posted 12.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.4 apg, 0.9 spg and 1.8 3s). And considering that the player he replaced (John Salmons) has looked slow and out of sync all year, there’s a solid chance that Thomas is in the starting five to stay.
As for the aforementioned Markieff Morris… The rookie still isn’t consistent while coming off the bench and platooning with Channing Frye, but there’s no ignoring what he has done in his last six games: 13.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.7 spg, 1.8 bpg and 1.3 3s in just 23 minutes per night. That’s a tough pace to maintain in such limited playing time, and you’ll have to be willing to sit through some disappointing lines, but Morris’ combo of points, threes, steals and blocks makes him worth considering in many leagues at the moment.
Follow me on Twitter: @MattStroup
From the “airing of grievances” department, I have a few things to say regarding Gordon Hayward. I spent quite a few paragraphs in last week’s Stew touting the Jazz swingman’s recent play, only to see him average an outrageously smelly 4.3 ppg in four games. I still have faith in his long-term potential (and would expect him to break out of his slump sooner rather than later), but it’s completely understandable if you feel like cursing my poorly-timed prognostication and moving on. (And yes, for the record, I am once again launching an investigation as to whether or not there is actually a Roundball Stew cover jinx.)
For the second straight week, I call our attention to Tristan Thompson. The rookie disappointingly played just 12 minutes in his first of three games last week, but bounced back to post 13.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 2.5 bpg in 28 minutes per game over his next two. He’s a shaky free throw shooter (3-of-6 on Sunday, 46.2 percent on the season), and remains likely to run into foul trouble on occasion, but his upside as a rebounder/shot-blocker is legit.
After briefly losing faith, I have renewed confidence in Randy Foye. To be clear, Foye isn’t an ideal fit for the Chauncey Billups role because he’s an inconsistent outside shooter, but he’s still capable of putting up solid peripheral stats even when his shot isn’t falling. Despite averaging just 6.3 ppg on 5-of-26 shooting in his first three games last week, Foye ended up averaging a respectable 10.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.5 3s in four games, salvaged in large part by a 21-point effort on Saturday. Granted, last week’s production came with awful shooting (13-of-43, 30.2 percent), but Foye isn’t quite that bad a shooter (41.2 percent for his career), and has the potential to put up somewhere around 12 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists per game with good threes and steals going forward. And it obviously has to help his confidence that J.R. Smith no longer looms as a threat.
From the recommended spot-start department, Corey Brewer warrants a close look this week. In his last five games (all starts), Brewer has averaged 14.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 2.4 spg and 1.2 3s. His production will only last as long as Wilson Chandler is out of the picture and for as long as Danilo Gallinari (ankle) is out, but with three games prior to the All-Star break, Brewer is an intriguing spot-start option this week.
Meanwhile, the return of D.J. Augustin has yet to ruin Kemba Walker. In his first two games coming off the bench in the wake of Augustin’s return, Walker has posted 14.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 2.0 spg and 1.0 3s in 28 minutes per game. And regardless of whether he’s coming off the bench or starting, I expect Walker’s playing time to remain in that range. The No. 9 overall pick visibly gives the dreadful Charlotte offense a much-needed second gear, and he should continue getting at least 25-30 minutes per game with the team carrying a league-worst 4-27 record.
Elsewhere, we have a Marco Belinelli sighting. In his last six games, the (sometimes) sharpshooter has posted an eye-catching 15.8 ppg, 1.2 spg and 2.2 3s (along with a far less exciting 1.3 rpg and 2.3 apg during that run). I’m not a big believer in Belinelli’s long-term potential, but he’s worth a look (especially in deeper formats) during the Hornets’ upcoming three-game week.
In closing, a few words on Nicolas Batum. We’re all aware that Batum has been playing quite well, but his recent run warrants some perspective. In nine games so far this month (four starts), the 23-year-old has put up 18.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.8 spg, 1.4 bpg and 2.6 3s on 50.0 percent from the field and 80.8 percent from the line. That makes him the No. 4 overall player on Basketball Monster’s 9-category leaderboard this month, behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
And during his current four-game run as a starter, Batum has averaged an explosive 22.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.3 bpg and 2.5 3s on 52.9 percent from the field and 81.8 percent from the line (good for No. 18 on Basketball Monster’s 9-category leaderboard). If starting the rest of the way – and at this point, it’s hard to imagine how Nate McMillan can possibly send him back to the bench – Batum has legit top-15/top-20 potential for the rest of the season, and monstrous keeper league value as a player with the upside to return top-10 stats next year.