Youth in Revolt
The Sixers were the most recent team to put a Lakers notch on their belt last night, led by some young legs and Jrue Holiday’s 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting with 10 assists, two steals, and two 3-point shots. Evan Turner also got into the act, scoring 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting with 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and one block. I mentioned that his first off-night last week had me concerned that Turner might lose some of his mojo, and that happened for two more nights, but every time he bounces back (and especially like this) it’s a strong sign that he might justify some of that No. 2 pick pedigree. I’ve been as down on Turner in fantasy leagues as anybody, and not necessarily for his overall play, but because of his poor shot and peripheral stats. He’s still on the outside of the top-75 and looking in at 8- and 9-cat leagues, but he has doubled his 3-point shooting percentage from this year (44%) to last (22%) and he’s getting 50 percent more steals (0.9). It’s progress.
Jason Richardson is slowly getting back in shape after a back issue, and had another slow night with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting with two rebounds, three assists, and no steals or blocks in 27 minutes. Owners should probably see this out for another game or two, as he was a mid-round producer before taking time off. Dorell Wright scored 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting (all threes) with seven rebounds in 23 minutes, and owners can safely move on. Spencer Hawes might have sent owners reaching for the wire after Friday’s clunker, but he has been back in their good graces since then and had another nice night with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, five rebounds, six assists, and four blocks in the win. Give him a hard look if he’s floating around your wire.
You Know What Karl Malone Calls Rap?
The Lakers are really starting to look like the Karl Malone and Gary Payton squad, but we’ll continue to table that discussion as Steve Nash (12 points, 10 assists, 35 minutes) and Co. get fully assimilated. Part of the problem is that Dwight Howard (seven points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, 1-of-7 FGs, 5-of-10 FTs) is clogging up the middle on offense but doesn’t really add a ton of value down there. This moves Pau Gasol (2-of-12 FGs, 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one block) to the perimeter, where he’s serviceable, but for a team with two of the league’s best 7-footers they have no inside punch. This makes everything exponentially harder and the Kobe Bryant crutch gets used early and often. Bryant scored 36 points on 14-of-29 shooting with six rebounds and zero assists, and in crutch mode the Mamba did his thing by trying a fallaway 30-footer against two defenders in the game’s critical moment (he missed).
As usual, Kobe’s aversion to trusting his teammates has the potential to rear its ugly face again this season, and Mike D’Antoni’s perimeter-based approach lends itself to that sort of thing. In the meantime, the defensive issues are glaring as Gasol and Howard both stood flat-footed and watched as Jrue Holiday dunked home the dagger deuce.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does For Smart
I was talking with a Kings beat writer last night and he relayed a few stories of how Keith Smart has responded during gaggles when asked about his rotation. Smart has gone with the ‘next question’ routine, short answers like ‘we won didn’t we’ and he is visibly frustrated by the questions. And based on what we’ve heard over the past week from reliable sources about Geoff Petrie being a lame duck, and what we know about the Maloofs’ lack of money, it sure seems like Smart is not only going to go down with the ship on this issue -- but he also has plenty of leash to do what he wants. He knows he’s not going to get fired unless things get Defcon-5 bad, and he has drawn a line in the sand on the issue of his point guard rotation and he’s not budging.
You know where this is heading, as Isaiah Thomas had put the team on his back the last time out and the Kings got a win. I’ve stashed him where I could and started him this week, but I’m about as pessimistic about his chances of getting freed as I have been about any player we’ve seen held back in recent memory. Last night was just the most recent entry into evidence, as Thomas (12 points, 4-of-10 FGs, two threes, two rebounds, two assists, one steal, 26 minutes) was benched for all but a few seconds of the fourth quarter for Aaron Brooks (seven points, 2-of-8 FGs, three rebounds, three assists, 22 minutes). Brooks was atrocious all night, but along with his reserve teammates they started getting lucky about halfway through the fourth quarter on ill-conceived shot attempts while the Pistons tried to give the game away. So Smart rode the luke-cold second unit for most of the fourth, despite the fact they also got rolled in the second and third quarters, and the whole debacle was summed up when Brooks intentionally fouled while his whole team was screaming not to foul and the Kings’ luck ran out late.
After the game Smart made overtures about riding the hot hand, and there is no end in sight for his quest to prove whatever it is he is trying to prove. He killed any chance of keeping the Golden State job by benching Stephen Curry relentlessly, and fantasy owners just have to hope that Thomas can do what he did last year – which was put up big numbers despite being put in the corner (literally and figuratively) during the minutes he was on the court.
Marcus Thornton (ankle) will not play for the rest of the week, and while I’ve been the staunchest supporter of his fantasy value and I will continue to hold him in most situations – the sheer ridiculousness of Smart’s rotations might finally be getting to me. If/when Tyreke Evans (knee) returns, all of the problems inherent within the Kings’ take turns offense are going to get worse for anybody not named Tyreke. In the meantime, John Salmons (10 points, 4-of-9 FGs, six assists) will continue to act as the team’s point guard for half of its possessions despite the fact that he’s ruining any idea of effective offense, and Jimmer Fredette (14 points, 4-of-10 FGs, three treys) will continue to be held back, as well.
I issued my mea culpa on Fredette after the game, as I’ve now seen him perform against a big enough sample of defenders to confirm that his skills are not matchup-driven. Early in the year, he was enjoying extremely favorable matchups in a garbage-time environment while being given the ultimate green light to shoot. My skepticism is all but gone for a guy that had trouble getting the ball up the court during Summer League, and his shooting efficiency and 3-point shooting are going to offset his lack of peripheral stats if he can ever get the minutes. Think Ray Allen over the two prior seasons to get an idea of his upside. Francisco Garcia will continue to start at shooting guard while Evans and Thornton are out and he is underrated in his ability to take bad shots. He might be the worst offender of the bunch. He’ll need to do better than 1-of-6 makes to make the combination of threes, steals, and blocks a threat in most fantasy leagues.
DeMarcus Cousins was the other unexplainable benching in a game in which he put up 21 points on 10-of-21 shooting with 14 rebounds and three steals. I loved what I saw when he came to Thomas’ aide after Charlie Villanueva issued a cheap shot during the game. To that end, Thomas had folks talking suspension with his reaction, but a closer look showed that he didn’t appear to throw punches and his rap sheet is clean – I’d be surprised if he got hit with a game off.
Keep Bangin the Drummond
Rodney Stuckey (ankle) did not play last night and that gave the keys to Brandon Knight, who scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with two threes and four assists despite hurting his foot during the game. We’ll keep an eye to see if it swells overnight, making him questionable for Friday’s matchup. Will Bynum stayed on the right side of the ledger with 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting with four assists, a steal, and a three, and could remain there for a few more games with the potential missed time for Knight and Stuckey. Greg Monroe went for 18 and 11 with a solid line, while Austin Daye had another nice night with 13 points and two threes, the last of which pretty much sealed the game on a missed assignment by reserves James Johnson and Travis Outlaw. I’m still pretty bearish on Daye in anything but 16-20 team formats.
Andre Drummond fell to me in a 12-team league the other day and I picked him up and plugged him right into my lineup this week with Anderson Varejao out, and he rewarded me with seven points, 11 rebounds, one steal, and three blocks in 21 minutes. At one point I thought he was going to dunk a Kings player through the hoop. Dude is a beast and I think he’s a must-own player at this point with all that upside. Charlie Villanueva will be on suspension alert but he looked decent during his time on the floor, scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting (all threes).
Mo Better Blues
Mo Williams is heading to New York to get a second opinion on his sprained thumb, and that might be real bad news considering he had a 2008 surgery on it due to a torn ligament. It’s possible he’s trying to avoid surgery again here and that is the impetus for the visit. So far Williams’ absence has brought Jamaal Tinsley (eight points, 11 assists on Sunday) into the fantasy fold, but the real issue is whether or not it can move the ball into Gordon Hayward and/or Randy Foye’s hands more, and if the injury and losses can spark an overhaul of the Jazz system.
Right now Ty Corbin is riding veteran Al Jefferson to a fault. The whole team has been slumping in the box score and in general, except for Jefferson, who I’ve chronicled quite a bit for his bottom barrel defense but more importantly the team’s overreliance upon him from a system perspective. While Hayward and Foye have been a bit more productive as of late, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors are being held back while Corbin cuts his positions (PG/SG/etc) into halves and goes with the hot hand.
Unfortunately, nobody can really generate a hot hand when the ball goes in to Jefferson and rarely comes out, with only the undisciplined teams attempting to double Jefferson at the expense of choking off the rest of the lineup. Maybe it will take a trade to force the issue, but it would be preferable for Jazz fans that they cut Big Al’s minutes down and use him in a high-usage role during those minutes. If that starts to happen, then that could be the rising tide to lift all boats in Utah, and this developing situation with Williams could be the critical juncture that causes the Jazz to re-evaluate.
News and Notes
Deron Williams said that he might be worn down after playing so much offseason basketball over the past two years. The hits just keep coming. Ricky Rubio (back) isn’t traveling with the Wolves for their two-game road trip, and if you held this long you should probably wait until he has been given ample time to work the kinks out. Gerald Wallace (knee) is probable for tonight’s game against the Thunder, as is C.J. Watson (knee).
We had a news item on Roy Hibbert’s general underachievement, but this item from Pacers blog 8.9 seconds is worth a read if you’re evaluating him. George Hill (groin/thigh) is questionable for tonight’s game, and didn’t exactly look close to playing on Monday. D.J. Augustin is the plug-and-play if Hill can’t go, but beyond that owners shouldn’t expect anything else. Avery Bradley (shoulders) said that he will make his season debut tonight, and owners should simply wait-and-see what happens to Jason Terry.
Rajon Rondo (hip) is questionable but Leandro Barbosa hasn’t exactly been a must-grab spot-starter. There was another report that Derrick Rose (knee surgery) would be returning around the All Star game, and there is enough stability with the reporting now for Rose to be a must-own player in any weekly league or daily league with games played limits. It would be shocking if he wasn’t a top-50 guy for March and April if he can return near February 17.
Joakim Noah (illness) did not practice yesterday and I’m thinking a Joakim Noah New Year’s Eve party would be worth its own blog post. Kirk Hinrich (knee) did not practice, either, and Nate Robinson needs to do more for owners when given the opportunities playing behind a guy that is approaching Mike Miller territory for injuries. Daniel Gibson is still in the NBA concussion protocols, freeing up about 15-20 minutes in the rotation.