LIFE WITHOUT LARRY
The Bucks killed me yesterday in a couple of lineups I was forced to play Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova, and in case you were chilling underneath a large piece of granite you now know Sanders is under investigation for a bar fight. Somewhere Kevin Garnett is shaking his head. I’m not going to sugar coat it, this sounds bad especially when you consider that he complains about his playing time on Saturday, allegedly gets into a bar fight on Sunday with his wife about to go in labor on Monday. He misses Tuesday’s practice with a sore right thumb and then accusations fly on Wednesday that he smashed a champagne bottle over some dude’s head late Sunday night (again, allegedly).
As I said on Twitter in the wee hours, it would have been wise for Sanders’ camp to get out ahead of this story with some sort of response to the media, but he surely has competent legal counsel and there is probably a good reason they’re waiting. Chances are they want to see the complaint and gather some facts before playing their first card. The alleged victims needed eight stitches to repair his forehead and if the allegations are true it would reportedly be a serious assault (battery) and from there we travel into too much law for a fantasy column. The point is that he could be facing more than just punishment from the league, though serious jail time would appear to this layman to be unlikely unless somebody seriously wanted to make a career prosecution out of this.
This leaves fantasy owners in a serious bind, and obviously you have to hold until this all gets sorted out, but it’s certainly time to start looking at life without Larry for a little while. On the flip side of this situation sits Zaza Pachulia, a Larry Drew carry on, who has been playing exceedingly well lately. He scored 14 points on 2-of-4 shooting and hit 10-of-10 free throws to make him a perfect 21-of-21 on the season. Zaza also added nine rebounds and seven assists and with 41 minutes logged last night he’s going to be a hot pickup given the Sanders news. While he’s going to settle in near his 74 percent career foul shooting mark, it’s extremely encouraging to see the kind of touch he’s displaying. Expect the numbers to even out, which implies lower than 74 percent shooting in the near future, but hitting that many in a row suggests that he has figured something out from the stripe. A top 20-30 value right now at this early juncture, he could easily post mid round value if the Sanders issue goes supernova.
It says something about Pachulia, too, that we’re talking about him first and John Henson second. That’s because Henson himself is a hot pickup in those spots where he wasn’t previously owned. He scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 39 minutes, a line that would look familiar if he ever got that much run consistently, but even if we account for Ilyasova’s eventual return to full strength and a reasonable timeline on Sanders’ return he has proven his worth. Henson profiles very well as a late-round value in a limited bench role, and from there the upside is tremendous.
Ilyasova was rested in a good spot to string together some days off, as the Bucks play on Saturday and then their next game is on Tuesday against the Bulls. He almost started last night but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team doesn’t just bite the bullet and give him Saturday off to maximize his recovery time. Brandon Knight (hamstring) is another guy that fits that definition even though he’s reportedly nearing a return, so go ahead and hang onto Nate Wolters (nine points, eight rebounds, six assists, 33 minutes) and Gary Neal (23 points, four assists, four treys, 31 minutes) until we learn that Knight and/or Luke Ridnour (back, also close) are a go. Quickly on Wolters – he has consistently impressed and owners need to file that fact away in their Rolodex. It looks like the Bucks got a steal in the second round.
O.J. Mayo had his second straight big night after a bumpy start, scoring a season-high 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting with six 3-pointers and not much else. He’s a top 50-70 value on the season and that should rise as he levels out.
The Suns somehow convinced the Spurs to play small with them and they nearly stole a road win, with Markieff Morris breaking out in the process. He scored 23 points on a ridiculous 11-of-13 shooting with 12 rebounds and a steal in 30 minutes off the bench. Morris looked fluid down low and with the Suns’ fantasy friendly system last night was an example of why you wanted to take a chance on a guy like him. He should be owned in all formats, obviously.
Gerald Green kept his foot on the gas with 15 points, three treys and one block but with Goran Dragic (ankle) possibly returning on Friday the good times could be ending soon. See things out in case Green has leapfrogged other players to hold onto a serviceable role in standard leagues, but get ready to make other moves on Friday night or down the road in case the right situation presents itself.
Miles Plumlee bounced all the way back with a solid outing against a good team, finishing with 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, six rebounds, one steal and two blocks in 28 minutes. Again, it’s all about the system here and he’s a good fit for it. The good times will outweigh the bad until Alex Len can make his own push, which profiles as a longer-term development at this time.
Channing Frye was a dud with just three points on 1-of-4 shooting and four rebounds in 20 minutes, highlighting how he’ll be tough to count on while he gets his sea legs underneath him. P.J. Tucker saved a 1-of-7 shooting night by posting four rebounds, two steals, two blocks and a three in 29 minutes, and don’t look now but he’s a top-80 play on the season. I think things get complicated when Dragic returns but that’s good enough for him to be owned and started in most formats.
STAYING THE COURSE
I was able to take in a solid 2-3 quarters of the Spurs’ 99-96 win over the Suns last night, and you have to know that I was watching Kawhi Leonard with a very close eye. He had another slow night, scoring eight points on 4-of-9 shooting (no threes) with six rebounds and one steal in 27 minutes.
Getting the business at hand out of the way, I’m still nowhere near panicking on his high ranking and in particular after watching him play – tentative to a fault – I’m actually encouraged by knowing exactly where his bottom is this season. He passed up open shots, bailed out mismatched defenders, and he would often drive into the lane only to retreat or pass out of a shot opportunity. Even in transition he seemed to gravitate toward the spot on the court in which nothing was going to happen.
Leonard clearly isn’t comfortable shouldering offensive load right now and Pop sent a message last night limiting him to those 27 minutes. So that’s the bad news, but the good news is that there is no way he continues that mindset over a full 82-game season. This has been his M.O. since entering the league – the slow starts – and once the jitters are coaxed out of him we’ll see a Serge Ibaka-like rebound in the box score. So yes, this is official buy low territory and we haven’t even gotten to the point in time in which the Big Three either gets hurt or rested.
Danny Green paid off owners that went with my cautious recommendation to hang tight, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting (including three treys) with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocks in 36 minutes. Marco Belinelli (four points, 1-of-6 FGs, four rebounds, one block, one three) still logged 31 minutes and Manu Ginobili (nine points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, one three) still saw 27 minutes of his own, as the Spurs decided to play down to the Suns’ size with their own small lineup.
Green isn’t in the clear and those defensive numbers are obviously a bonus, but he handled hard close outs well and found himself a bit on the defensive end, which is a key component of his playing time going forward. I still think as one of the league’s premier 3-point shooters that he will survive this season and provide mid-to-late round value.
Boris Diaw has been playing well but started to show some of his past form with a 5-of-14 shooting mark en route to 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and one block in 27 minutes as the team’s starting center. As mentioned the Spurs were matching up with the run-and-gun Suns, so Tiago Splitter (nine points, 2-of-2 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs, seven boards, 11 minutes) could be back the next time out and I’m still bearish on the idea that Diaw has sustainable standard league value.
As for Splitter, he’s still lingering around borderline late-round value and all of his numbers are all-but guaranteed to improve so I’m not looking to drop him in competitive, standard formats.
TWO MINUTES FOR HIGH STICKING
The Mavs got dropped by a better team with plenty of motivation in the Thunder last night, so seeing some faded lines isn’t all that surprising. Monta Ellis scored 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting with five rebounds, three assists, one triple and seven turnovers, Jose Calderon had just nine points, two rebounds, three assists, three steals and a trey, Samuel Dalembert was quiet with six points, nine boards and no steals or blocks, and Dirk Nowitzki put up just 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two 3-pointers in the loss. All of the lines were usable, but all of them are a step down from prior efforts.
Shawn Marion (17 points, four rebounds, two steals, two blocks, 33 minutes) and Jae Crowder (17 points, three treys, two steals, 25 minutes) enjoyed life without Vince Carter, who got ejected after a Flagrant-2 foul for intentionally elbowing Steven Adams. Carter was contrite after the game and acknowledged his wrongdoing, and while the elbow/forearm was sort of weak it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a one-game suspension for it. Then again, the league could account for the half of basketball Carter missed and call it even. There isn’t really a value adjustment here for any of these guys, except for the associated bump for Marion and Crowder if Carter gets dinged.
DeJuan Blair has stayed on the deep league radar lately and posted eight points with three rebounds and a steal in 19 minutes, so give him a look if you need a short-term fix until Brandan Wright eventually returns.
HERE WHERE I GIVE CREDIT TO SCOTT BROOKS
It doesn’t pay well to get one-sided on analysis and you see it all the time on the Internet, and if there was ever a candidate to question everything with it would be Scott Brooks. He’s still playing Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher between 30 and 40 minutes per game, he botched two shots at a title before injury struck Russell Westbrook last season, and generally speaking the Thunder don’t seem to run the way they should.
But last night Brooks did a really smart thing and that was to allow Serge Ibaka to play the game’s first 13 minutes without rest. The idea was to get him going and that was exactly what happened, as Ibaka scored 17 points on a sweet 8-of-10 shooting (including a three) with 13 rebounds, one steal and three blocks in 36 minutes.
This was obviously what I envisioned when I ranked him so high, as the blend of higher percentage shooting, a three every now and then, good rebounding numbers and of course the defensive stat throwdown. As mentioned yesterday he is going to benefit from Westbrook’s (22 points, 10-of-20 FGs, four assists) return and he’s a prime example of not panicking early on.
The bench play of Steven Adams became a national storyline after Dirk Nowitzki called him “the white Kendrick Perkins,” which is just all sorts of awesome, and the reality that Perkins needs to take a bow is a King Kong sized elephant sitting on top of Chesapeake Energy Arena. Adams had six points, nine boards, two steals and one block in 20 minutes off the bench, and the intentional elbow from Vince Carter didn’t so much as faze him – earning him tough points in the press.
Fantasy owners in 12-14 team formats can watch this action from the wire, though, as he hit just 44.3 percent of his freebies in college and he logged just 23.4 minutes per game in last season’s freshman campaign at Pittsburgh. In other words, while he’s better than Perkins he’s raw and that will likely depress an already speculative value.
Jeremy Lamb stepped into some leftover minutes due to Reggie Jackson’s exit due to a hip contusion, scoring 13 points with three rebounds, three assists, one block and three treys in 20 minutes off the bench. Jackson isn’t expected to miss time so owners should evaluate Lamb as they normally would, but with a bit of an improved outlook because he’s generally keeping pace with where he needs to be in his development. Still, owners can do better in most standard formats.
Thabo Sefolosha looks like he may be a victim of Lamb’s ascension after logging a five-point, four-assist, two-steal night with no threes over 24 minutes. He was visibly upset with each substitution last night, and if Brooks is going to play Fisher every night then he looks like a guy owners can bail on. If his low-end value is usable I might wait a game, however, just to see if he can bounce back.
Kevin Durant stopped trying to do too much and voila, he posted a solid 23-point, 10-assist line with plenty of goodies. Look for last night’s game to be a launching pad of sorts for the Thunder offense, which is a night-and-day turnaround from less than a week ago.