This NBA campaign has gone from “Let’s see how this whole condensed season unfolds” to “Wait a second, we’re already in the stretch run?!?!” alarmingly quickly, which I suppose is what happens when approximately one fifth of an 82-game slate gets erased by a lockout. And since I just realized that the preceding sentence contains absolutely no revelations and essentially amounts to some NBA small talk, let’s waste no more time in getting to the business at hand:
Goran Dragic is about to unleash the fury. On some level I feel like I’m stating the obvious here, but with Dragic owned in 28 percent of Yahoo leagues as of Monday morning, it appears to be worth a reminder: When given extended run, the lefty Slovenian PG is legitimately a beast. In his four starts this season, Dragic has posted 18.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 8.8 apg, 1.3 spg and 2.8 3s on 57.8 percent from the field and 90.9 percent from the line. In 12 career starts, he has averaged 14.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 7.5 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.8 treys, and I fully believe that 17 ppg and 8 apg with good steals and 3s is well within reach as long as Kyle Lowry (bacterial infection, 2-4 weeks) remains sidelined.
Some perspective on Evan Turner: I suppose you could say I’m of two minds on the whole Turner breakout. The good news is that he’s a shooting guard contributing power forward stats: 17.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.5 apg (and 0.3 treys) in his first four starts this year, including 24 points and a season-high 15 rebounds on Sunday. The bad news (“bad” being a relative term here) is that Turner is impersonating one of those power forwards who don’t get many steals or blocks: 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg in his four starts. To be clear, producing something in the range of 15-plus ppg, 7-8 rpg and 3-4 apg would still make Turner quite useful, but it’s a yellow flag for his value that he’s still not a consistent outside shooter and doesn’t appear ready to contribute high-volume defensive stats either. And yes, you could probably file this under nitpicking, but I think it’s worth noting nonetheless.
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A few words about Isaiah Thomas, and the coach who suddenly refuses to give him big minutes: After averaging 16.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.8 apg and 1.6 3s in his first eight starts this year (in an average of 34 minutes a game), Thomas has seen his playing time dip to 22 minutes per game in his last four, a stretch accompanied by 10.3 ppg, 3.0 apg, 1.8 spg and 2.0 treys per game.
What makes this frustrating is that Thomas really hasn’t done anything to warrant the sudden dip in minutes. Sure he’s undersized, and the Kings do need to develop No. 10 pick Jimmer Fredette, but Keith Smart would be wise to figure out a solution that doesn’t limit the minutes of Thomas, who looks like the team’s best distributor and can be a game-changing outside shooter. Unfortunately, there’s no telling when or if this situation will change, and though I would advise patience with Thomas, it also wouldn’t shock me to see Fredette eventually get a look as the starting PG. The bottom line: If this were only about giving the best players the most run, Thomas would easily be getting 30-plus minutes a game. But Smart is trying to play Fredette while keeping veterans like John Salmons and Francisco Garcia happy, resulting in a messy and frustrating situation.
Meanwhile, what’s going on with Jordan Crawford? Just as he was beginning to sizzle (21.8 ppg, 2.4 3s, 52.8 percent from the field in eight games between Feb. 14 and March 3), Crawford laid a total dud last week, averaging just 9.0 ppg on 26.2 percent from the field (11-of-42) in three games. From my vantage point – and I did luck into some courtside seats for Blazers-Wizards on Saturday night – Crawford looks tentative and uncertain as to when he should shoot right now, and the best thing for his confidence might be a move back to the bench so that he can enter the game as a no-conscience gunner. Either way, I’m definitely sticking with him for the Wizards’ upcoming five-game week, and remain confident in his ability to put up numbers for the woeful and disorganized Wiz down the stretch.
Luke Ridnour is suddenly in a great situation, but we need to keep expectations in check. In his career, the 31-year-old has never averaged better than 11.8 ppg and has only topped 6.0 apg once (7.0 apg in 2005-06 with Seattle). So while he’s basically a must-own player now that Ricky Rubio (torn ACL) is done, it’s worth keeping in mind that Ridnour’s 14-point, 10-assist, 43-minute performance on Saturday isn’t all that close to a realistic expectation. And with J.J. Barea (ankle) nearing a return, I would forecast Ridnour somewhere around 12 ppg and 6-7 apg the rest of the way. In other words, if you’re choosing between the aforementioned Goran Dragic and Ridnour, I personally would aim for Dragic, who will lose his job if/when Kyle Lowry makes it back, but has significantly more upside than the safe but not especially explosive Ridnour.
Raymond Felton might be finding his stride, but I’m not convinced anything all that great is ahead. I watched all of Felton’s 21-point, five-assist, and zero-turnover effort against the Wizards in person on Saturday night, and I don’t know how to put this other than to say that there was really nothing inspiring about it. In fairness, Felton has averaged a solid 15.8 ppg, 7.0 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.0 3s in his last four games, which suggests that he could finally be in sync after beginning the season out of shape. However, he still doesn’t look all that quick or explosive, his jump shot remains unsightly and I don’t think this recent scoring surge is sustainable. On the whole it’s a good sign that he’s playing better, but I’m still expecting big scoring nights from Felton to be the exception rather than the rule.
Other Thoughts: Danilo Gallinari was awful in his first four games back last week (4.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.3 apg), but patience is in order even if you have to bench him this week … Mike Dunleavy’s last four games: 15.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.8 treys in 36 minutes per game … I don’t really trust him to score consistently, but it’s worth noting that Chandler Parsons has posted 14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 bpg and 0.5 3s in his last four games … Gerald Green broke out for 26 points and one insane dunk on Saturday, and even though it was probably just a random outburst, I’ll be checking in to see what he does Monday night … Deeper league heads-up: Klay Thompson has posted 14.5 ppg and 2.5 3s in his last four.