By now I’ve had time to swallow my pride with the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard in my 12-team, 16-player per team big money league, as I spent $225 of $1,000 FAAB dollars on him in our weekly waiver format about a month back. I shirked Gregg Popovich’s hatred toward fantasy owners for a chance at Leonard’s upside, which coincidentally enough was highlighted last night as he scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting with 10 rebounds, five steals, and a block. And while the result isn’t actionable for owners, it did give me some indication that I wasn’t totally off my rocker.
But rather than talk about that game, I’m taking my talents to South Beach where my most recent shot-in-the-dark FAAB play was starting at point guard for the Kings. That’s right, Mr. Irrelevant, the allegedly 5’9” Isaiah Thomas was quite a conundrum for me and my remaining $360 budget on Sunday night. The good news was that I still had the fourth-highest budget in the league, and being dead-last in assists I needed to take a shot at a playcaller to keep from punting the category going forward. When waiver requests were due, Thomas had two good games under his belt but no confirmation on the starting job, and with Keith Smart adamant about Tyreke Evans being the team’s point guard – I took the shot with a $191 bid, hoping and fearing that the No. 60 overall pick was going to be on my roster come Monday.
Thomas took a back seat to his teammates with not much to show on the stat sheet in the first half, but he erupted for a 20-point third quarter and finished with a career-high 24 points, three rebounds, five assists, five 3-point shots, and just two turnovers. The Kings have not had less than 20 assists as a team in each of his three starts, and while Keith Smart isn’t going to stop using Evans as the primary ball-handler, we’re already seeing his role change. He’s running off of screens now and slowly learning other aspects of the game, but admittedly it’s going to be a work in progress.
Thomas, on the other hand, is being used early in the shot clock to get the team into their sets, and then secondarily as a ‘second half of the shot clock’ creator when plays break down. The rest of Thomas’ offense is coming as a main cog of the transition attack, but also because he has a nose for the ball and, simply enough, because he knows where to stand on the court. An opportunistic player, he has impressed onlookers nearly every time he has taken the court, which I say knowing full-well he hasn’t pitched a perfect game on the hardwood. But damn, the kid can play.
So, if he’s still available in your league, or if you’re just wanting to get a sense for how he will do going forward – it comes down to this. If given the minutes, I have no question that he will put up must-start numbers for your fantasy squad. He has posted mid-round value in just 26 minutes per game over his last seven contests, averaging 13.6 points, 1.7 threes, 3.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 47.8% FGs, 85% FTs (on 9.9 attempts/game), and a squeaky clean 1.3 turnovers. If you look at just his last four games, he returns late second round value in 9-cat leagues and actually loses some value in 8-cat leagues because he has only coughed up the ball seven times. Is he likely to keep averaging 18.5 points, 2.3 threes, 4.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in the 32-minute role he carved out over that four-game span? Probably not, but I can’t say that with certainty amidst talk that Smart is going to shorten his rotation, continue to start Thomas, and with no clear villain to his value.
Evans still went off for 21 points, seven rebounds, and 10 assists last night, and though he took a few hero shots late, he seems to be meshing just fine with Thomas. DeMarcus Cousins cooled off with nine points on 3-of-13 shooting, but it’s not like his touches totally disappeared. Marcus Thornton still got his, scoring 23 points with four threes and a fat line, Jason Thompson had 16 points and 10 boards, and Francisco Garcia even had three triples for 11 points. All of this scoring came on the road against the Heat, too, who the Kings hung with until about mid-way through the fourth quarter.
Yes, there are risks. John Salmons (hip), who did not play, could be forced onto Keith Smart by management but that’s not really their style, and depending on who you listen to, Geoff Petrie might not have that type of swag anymore. Jimmer Fredette was ruined by the lockout and the Kings’ early-season woes, and whether you want to put it on him or the situation (I have arguments for both) he has played his way out of a consistent rotation spot. Theoretically, he could improve and cut into Thomas’ value. As for Thomas, he also has a bone chip fracture in his left hand that’s still hurting him, though it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. And yes, the Kings are a young team and their expected struggles could make for a fluid situation, as they could decide it’s time to put the ball back into Evans’ hands full-time if things go haywire.
Those risks pale in comparison to the chance that Thomas continues to take care of the ball, hit key shots, run the ball, and facilitate the offense as the team’s only true point guard. He’s as confident as they come, his technique on both ends of the floor is surprisingly sound, and his strength and leaping ability hides his height a bit. And as we’ve seen with Jeremy Lin, NBA talent evaluators aren’t having that great of a month, as Lin (undrafted), Nikola Pekovic (No. 31 in 2008), and Thomas are all burning up the charts. The recommendation here is to hold unless you can get back a Round 8 value or higher, with the emphasis being on ‘or higher.’
FOUR QUARTERS OF FURY
1ST QUARTER: Darko Milicic has a stomach muscle ailment and not an illness, as his value is still Lin spelled backwards (hey, no Pun!). Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is doubtful for tonight’s game and there’s really no reason to push him here if you’re the Wolves. Michael Beasley and scorekeeper Martell Webster were the big minute guys when Pek went out on Monday, and if you’re looking at a spot play Beasley is perfect – as the Wolves will get a cheap opportunity to showcase him before the big pow-wow this week. Andray Blatche (shoulder) is expected to return shortly after the break, and yes he should be owned in all formats, and yes he has 35 million reasons to be shoved back into his starting job … but he’s not going to have unlimited leash. Trevor Booker has played well and will be right on his tail. That said, the upside with Blatche is too much to pass up on. Tyrus Thomas sucks, or as Paul Silas put it, “he’s not playing well.” What a waste of athletic ability.
2ND QUARTER: Jerryd Bayless (ankle) is likely to play tonight, and owning him everywhere, I have only dropped him in two unique situations that aren’t really representative of a standard 12-team league. While his ankle injury increases the injury risk a bit, nothing has really changed his value as a stash, except for the increase in Jose Calderon trade rumors. Linas Kleiza (knee) is still questionable for tonight, and I get the sense he’s going to have off days for maintenance all year long. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raps give him the extra day for rest. Kleiza is a guy that you’ll want to grab when he’s healthy, valuing him as if he’s going to be an inconsistent asset all year. Kevin Garnett (personal) will play tonight. Gerald Henderson (hamstring) will not play tonight, but he shouldn’t be on the wire in any 12-team leagues. Michael Jordan loves him and he was the team’s de facto leader before going down to injury. His peripheral stats have been a drag, but there’s enough value and relative upside to justify a slot on your roster.
3RD QUARTER: Dwyane Wade hit 11-of-16 shots for 30 points, four rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, and two blocks, in the quietest big-time night I’ve seen in a while, but the fantasy story in the Heat box score was Mario Chalmers’ season-high six 3-point shots. He finished with 20 points, three assists, and a steal, and it looks like the hand injury is in the rear-view mirror. And if you think Wade’s big night was quiet, Chris Bosh went for 20 and 10 and the Heat still have about a half-day before they can file a missing person’s report. Brook Lopez will play tonight and owners should expect a 20-minute effort with anything else being a bonus, though Kris Humphries’ absence is a nice omen. Richard Hamilton (thigh) is expected to return after the All Star break, and if you need a productive player he’s well worth a look. Tom Thibodeau said that Derrick Rose (back) felt fine after Monday’s game, and after looking good in that game, we’re tentatively expecting him to go tonight.
4TH QUARTER: Raja Bell (adductor) is a game-time decision for tonight's game, but this smells a lot like your typical pre-All Star break shutdown. That means Gordon Hayward gets a chance to totally redeem himself, and I’ve talked about Bell’s impact on Hayward but with Bell out on Monday I had to go back to the tape. Hayward got shook on a drive by Danny Green two minutes into the game and was benched in lieu of C.J. Miles for the entire first quarter. He played as well as could be expected in his remaining minutes, though the two-post offense for the Jazz is ball-hogging a bit and it's not helping matters, either. We’ve mentioned it, but there will be one nightly loser between Hayward, Miles, and Josh Howard when Bell is out, and on Monday it was Hayward. The good news is that, if he was benched for the Green drive, he played great the rest of the game.