Week 3 is underway and the fantasy season has officially begun to take shape, which means owners can now start making longer-term plans while still having plenty of opportunity out there on speculative transactions and the like.
And with four games to recap but more importantly a full review of Big Wednesday on the docket, we’re going to jump right into the action.
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The Bucks’ season has taken a sharp turn toward craptastic with the Larry Sanders news (out an estimated six weeks for bar fighting), and on a serious note it’s not going to help them curry local support to build an arena. Seattle is licking its wounds and has serious questions about their own arena plans, but they have big-time support from the same power brokers that pushed so hard to make it seem like the Kings were indeed moving to the Pacific Northwest.
Milwaukee might be the one city with a losing squad that wasn’t salivating in Chicago last night, where college superstars took turns ratcheting up the tanking talk.
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It was telling that Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) was ruled out so quickly for the team’s three-game road trip, as Zaza Pachulia (18 minutes, three points, five rebounds) is still dealing with his offseason Achilles’ injury and the Bucks could really use him. They’re either trying to prep him for life without Larry or he had no business returning so early. Chances are reality lies somewhere in the middle.
I added Pachulia in the spot I autodrafted Sanders and he’ll need to really nosedive for me to consider a drop with all the minutes he’s about to get. John Henson (18 points, three rebounds, one steal) is positioned to earn at least late-round fantasy value on the season as long as he meets modest expectations, so owners should buckle down and hang tight if he falters in games when the Bucks struggle as they did last night.
Khris Middleton is somebody to watch in deeper leagues until Ilyasova returns, even though he was not all that inspiring with just seven points, seven rebounds and a three last night. Caron Butler (4-of-15 FGs, 10 points, two threes) is no spring chicken and Giannis Antetokounmpo (11 points, four rebounds, three treys) is still extremely raw. Mpo certainly has Dynasty league appeal given his chance at multi-category productivity, but he needs a few more dominos to fall before he sniffs rosters in most redraft formats for the foreseeable future.
While Brandon Knight’s (six points, six assists, 0-for-2 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs, 24 minutes) eventual return to 100 percent health is bound to end runs for Gary Neal (18 points, three treys, three boards, four assists) and Nate Wolters (nine points, three boards, three assists, three steals, 24 minutes), I can’t help but wonder if Wolters is going to be a thorn in Knight’s side all year. It’s early, but the Bucks run much more smoothly with Wolters calling the shots than they do with Knight, and it’s possible he’s just not pure point guard material.
Milwaukee certainly wants Knight to be the man and they’ll give him every chance to do so – and this is certainly the time for owners to let him heal and see how things play out – but point guard is a position in which teams typically roll with the hot hand. So we’ll watch.
The Heat cut through the Bucks very quickly with Mario Chalmers (15 points, four rebounds, seven assists, two steals, one trey) leading the way and doing his damage in just 25 minutes. Chalmers was one of the easier guys to project this season given his consistency from year-to-year, and knowing the Heat were likely to shift some of the overall responsibility to his younger legs, it’s not out-of-this-world crazy to see him rocking the early round value. I had him at No. 85 in the Bruski 150 and if he continues to take the full-step forward he has been showing and not the incremental one that I was willing to give him credit for, he might perch himself in the top half of the middle rounds. I doubt you can beat that calculus in a sell-high deal.
Michael Beasley was the other guy to make some noise for Miami last night, scoring 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting (including two threes) with one rebound and three assists in 20 minutes. No, this is not a run-to-the-wire moment, especially with Ray Allen and Udonis Haslem out, but I have no idea why folks were summarily writing him off. The Heat are paper thin, old, injury prone and they could really stand to develop another scorer for the playoffs. Beasley will need to overcome the inherent flaws in his fantasy game (among other things) to join the standard league or even deep league discussion. Just don’t be surprised if we’re talking about him after the ball drops in Times Square.
The Wizards fell flat after a tough game against the Thunder, getting handled by the Mavs in a 105-95 loss last night. John Wall (14 points, 10 assists, one three) and Marcin Gortat (12 points, 12 boards, one steal, four blocks) continued to roll along, but the fantasy story of the night was Trevor Ariza continuing to blast away expectations. Ariza poured in 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting with five triples, seven boards and four steals in 37 minutes. He’s an early round value averaging 37.7 minutes per game, which is a neon-red sign to sell-high given his injury history. A durable mid-round value should be considered a prudent return.
Bradley Beal followed up his career-best scoring night with a 2-of-10 dud to finish with nine points, three rebounds and seven assists. For all of the great things he has done (19.3 points, 2.9 threes, 3.9 boards, 3.6 assists per game), he has absolutely torpedoed his value with 39.8 percent field goal shooting, 70.8 percent foul shooting (on 3.4 attempts per game), and just 1.0 combined steals and blocks per contest. Beal is going to improve in each of those deficient areas at least incrementally, but he needs to take the proverbial step forward in 1-2 of those areas and also expand in the areas he’s proficient in to become a rock solid early round play.
The Mavs’ box score was entirely predictable last night, with just Samuel Dalembert (15 points, five boards, two steals) and Vince Carter (16 points, four treys, three rebounds, three assists) standing out in any capacity. Monta Ellis (19 points, four rebounds, seven assists, one three) was singled out by Rick Carlisle for bothering Bradley Beal into his 2-of-10 shooting night, and Dirk Nowitzki passed Jerry West to land at No. 16 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 19 points, eight rebounds, two threes, two steals and a block. Everybody in Dallas is rolling along and the injury bug has stayed away.
FLY PELICAN FLY!
The Pelicans are still a mess and it has been really hard to watch Tyreke Evans lately, who was a game-time decision and played after a seven-minute outing the last time out. Evans hit just 4-of-13 shots for 11 points, four rebounds, six assists and a steal in 31 minutes last night, and owners should thank their lucky stars that he was able to produce that with the way he was playing. These aren’t ankle issues, either. He was terrible on defense and on offense he played the way he was accustom to playing in Sacramento – which meant plenty of predetermined drives to the hoop into thick traffic – but Monty Williams was content to let him do his thing so he accumulated some garbage time stats.
This might be Williams’ biggest coaching challenge to date, and fans can’t be happy with Evans being slotted into a pure backup role and also being terrible while he’s at it. Fortunately for fantasy owners he won’t continue to shoot 32.5 percent from the field and 60 percent from the line all year, and likewise he’ll gain some explosion and also get with the program (slowly) as the season rolls on. He’s a stat magnet even when he’s playing bad, and the Pelicans’ depth issues go hand-in-hand with Evans’ contract to give natural incentive for him to stay on the court.
His basketball IQ issues aren’t going away without some serious mentoring, and those issues will only be magnified if the Pelicans continue to play at the league’s ninth slowest pace while carrying three guards that need the ball in their hands to be effective. More possessions can be a band-aid to help that along.
I’d hold onto Evans unless you’re in a shallow league and even then I’d do what I can to make space for the guy. He has mid-round upside and it’s way too early to call it a season.
Jrue Holiday (seven points, five assists, 2-of-11 FGs) is still struggling, and again, he could really benefit from a system change by Monty. Aside from ball stoppers in Evans and Eric Gordon (17 points, 5-of-13 FGs, three steals, no threes), the Pelicans offense has no direction in general and Holiday is standing and watching the action way too much.
Gordon has been a pleasant surprise so far and that deserves mention. He is playing at about a mid-round level and his lateral quickness has been impressive, though his leaping ability has declined as expected and it’s anybody’s guess how long he can keep this up. Advances in knee treatments have created surprise recoveries in the past, but forgive me if I don’t give Gordon the benefit of the doubt right now. If I can get a positively situated mid-round value in return right now I make that deal in a second.
Perhaps the most consequential Pelicans news of the night, though, was the knee injury suffered by Greg Stiemsma. Injury updates are bound to be sparse as usual coming out of New Orleans, but he had to be carried off the court and X-rays have already shown that he has a sprained knee. He’ll get an MRI today and who knows what that will bring. Even though Stiemsma doesn’t play much, this just piles onto the reasoning that made me put Anthony Davis (15 points, five boards, two steals, no blocks) so high in my preseason rankings.
Williams spent most of last year logjamming Davis and Ryan Anderson into mostly just one bucket of minutes at power forward. This year, only injury prone Jason Smith (eight points, three boards, two steals) and Stiemsma have stood in-between those two fantasy starters and an unchallenged stake at not one, but two buckets of minutes for both of them in the frontcourt.
Lou Amundson has been signed and I actually think Williams will use him more than most people might think for a guy that played without a name stitched on his jersey last night. Regardless, it has become all-but clear that Davis isn’t just going to justify my preseason ranking – but he’s going to wedge himself into the discussion for top fantasy player honors this season. I’ll go as far as to guarantee that barring injury he will join the top tier of players including Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul.
And if the Pelicans can ever start clicking, it’s possible we’ll get a preview of what could be fantasy’s best player for years to come. He’s that dynamic.