Tuesday night was one of those nights where reality basketball trumped fantasy basketball in the Heat and Pacers game, John Henson left no scraps on the table, Paul Millsap continued to make his presence felt, and Deron Williams returned to game-action. Kevin Love looked for a nickname and in the meantime posted a Kevin Durant line, while Durant did exactly that, and Kyrie Irving got off the schnied. The Knicks are speeding up the Benny Hill music and Kobe Bryant continued his disrespect of Father Time.
There were eight games last night and we have another nine games tonight, so let’s get right down to the task at hand as we accelerate into the second quarter of the season.
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IT’S HOT AS HELL
By the time this column posts Mike Woodson might not be the Knicks’ coach anymore, and that sound you hear is Iman Shumpert (two points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block) rolling over and over again until the job is done. Raymond Felton left halfway through the game due to a hamstring injury and it sounds like he’s going to miss some time, so get your pooper scoopers out and be ready to choose between Pablo Prigioni (six points, 2-of-5 shooting, two threes, three boards, nine assists, 27 minutes) and Beno Udrih (DNP-CD). In Prigioni’s defense the locals want him to play more and the only issue there is how much he can handle and, of course, can he do the job for fantasy owners. He can’t be any more risky than Udrih was while Felton was out the last time.
Carmelo Anthony hit 12-of-19 shots (including three treys) for 29 points, eight rebounds and three assists, which of course meant the Knicks were going to lose because it’s impossible for him to do well and have the Knicks win on the same night. That’s partially unfair, but that’s just the way the season has gone in New York. Andrea Bargnani hit just 5-of-17 shots for 11 points to continue his recent slide, with just three rebounds, a steal and zero trifectas to round out his terrible night. Even with the bad showing he has been a revelation in fantasy leagues with solid mid-round value over the past two weeks, and despite practicing a little bit Tyson Chandler (leg) has said that he’s not close to returning so keep plugging Bargs into lineups going forward.
If there is any saving grace for the Knicks in both fantasy and reality it’s that Chandler’s return will provide a morale boost at a minimum and he should make life easier for everybody. There’s also the chance that a firing of Woodson could shake things up, and in a best-case scenario a new coach could go the way of the Sixers and try to playground ball their way to a better record. That could be a Jimmy-rigged way to jumpstart the box score and it could also be a recipe for a spectacular disaster. Either way you won’t be able to stop looking.
The Cavs have slowly (I repeat slowly) been able to lower Mike Brown’s blood pressure, and you’ll probably be as surprised as I was to learn that they’re 7-3 at home this year. Kyrie Irving has probably been on your ‘people to write sternly worded letters to’ list after his 0-for-9 goose egg the other day, and I’m sure some of you out there outright robbed folks on a buy low deal just before he went off for 37 points and 11 assists last night. I’ve been as critical of Irving, the Cavs’ defense and their effort in general, but the beat guys have slowly been coming around on their defense and in the case of Irving – the only thing that can derail him is if the Cavs become a sideshow. This past week or so has gone a long way toward dimming that prospect.
Andrew Bynum’s production was bound to have a market correction as the big man hit just 1-of-6 shots for three points, eight rebounds, two assists and one block in 24 minutes. He’s still just a late-round value at best over this hotter stretch, but with a hint of upside he’s a good fit on the end of benches for the center deficient, if anything because he’ll be easy to drop when injuries inevitably strike. That’s some awful logic but in a weird way it works.
Tristan Thompson turned in a serviceable 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds but no steals or blocks, which might be a metaphor for the inconsistent season he has had thus far. He has played well enough this past week to be owned in 12-team formats so give him a look and hope a turnaround in Cleveland will have his name on it.
Jarrett Jack scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with three treys and that’s about it. Some folks around here think he’s ready to get it turned around but I just haven’t seen anything that screams such things from rooftops. He’s in the same exact boat as Thompson when it comes to pickup advice, but with added mileage on the odometer. Dion Waiters scored just six points and had four turnovers. He needs to have a serious sustained run of productivity before owners should take the leap.
While Tiago Splitter hasn’t shown it in the box score, his absence defensively was felt as the Spurs struggled to dispatch a Raptors squad that made it back into Toronto from L.A. at about 5:30 in the morning yesterday. Aron Baynes picked up the slack, scoring 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting with six rebounds in 21 minutes in what might be his best line of the year going forward. This quickly turned into a San Antonio bench game as Manu Ginobili put up 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting with five rebounds, nine assists, one steal and one block in his customary 23 minutes. He’s quietly having a top-75 season.
Boris Diaw has been a stop-gap solution for owners in standard leagues and a viable solution in deeper leagues but he had just two points and not much else in 18 minutes last night. Those are the breaks with Pop, and it’s also possible that Diaw turns back into a pumpkin after a surprising start. He played well on Monday so owners may want to see what the next game turns up, but not at the expense of a hot free agent. Kawhi Leonard continued along his top 45-60 trajectory with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal and one three. It’s tiresome to constantly say this without seeing any results, but he’s at his bottom and can only improve. And no, he's probably not going to hit my lofty preseason mark (mea culpa), but it's too early to rule him out of the top 2-3 rounds on the year. But nevertheless, stone away.
RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY
The Raptors are going to be a lot more fun to watch now that Rudy Gay has been sent packing to Sacramento, and Kyle Lowry wasted no time picking up the extra touches with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds, seven assists and one steal. It’s not a voluminous effort by any means but he’s handling the rock more and that’s a recipe for success with the normal injury caveats in place. DeMar DeRozan even got into the spirit of giving with seven assists to go with his 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting (no threes).
It looked like Jonas Valanciunas was going to get busy and every time there’s the slightest whiff of that the Toronto beat writers go crazy, and like usual he wasn’t able to capitalize upon a fast start with just 14 points, four rebounds and two assists to finish the night. Still, the Gay trade is overwhelmingly positive news and JV needs to be owned in all standard formats.
The trade is also great news for Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson, with the former scoring 14 points on an ugly 4-of-13 shooting to go with five turnovers, but the sophomore played 38 minutes and made sure his four makes were from deep. There is some face-plant potential but anything short of that will result in a sustained role for Ross and with that will come 3-pointers, decent rebounds for a guard, and there is enough meat to this bone for owners to give him a hard look in 12-14 team formats.
Johnson on the other hand looks like money in the bank, at least for right now, as he had another scorching night with 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds and a block. He has rehabilitated his value into the middle rounds on the year and been a top 20-30 value over his last six games, scoring 15.2 points with 6.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 71.4 percent field goal shooting and a 91.7 percent mark from the line.
The Raptors don’t play until Friday and they already have Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons in town, with Greivis Vasquez expected to arrive today and that gives them all plenty of time to get ready for that contest. Vasquez is the only player that seems to be in the team’s future plans, and a change of scenery could do him some good but not enough good to matter in 12-14 team leagues just yet. And unlike the Sacramento media, the Toronto media is already wise to his true value as a backup point guard in the association so there won’t be the massive media push to obtain a true timeshare like there was in Sacto for him to start. Dwane Casey has been known to needle Lowry, but I’d stop short of calling this a sell-high moment for him.
Patterson could also use a change of scenery and a road map to find his missing jumpshot, but nevertheless I could see Casey interspersing both he and Chuck Hayes into the rotation and that could prove meddlesome for both Johnson and Valanciunas. Hayes isn’t capable of playing any more than 15 minutes per game in a reasonable estimate after his heart condition and time in Sacramento essentially wiped away his once elite-defense.
Patterson still has an outside shot at being a quality player in the association, though, so this might be a sell-high moment for Johnson. I just wouldn’t bank on it given Johnson’s stature on the team and overall effectiveness down low for the Raps. Of course, Tyler Hansbrough (shoulder) is still lingering and has been used to foil Johnson in the past, too. It’s fair to wonder if his injury contributed to Patterson’s inclusion in this deal, but there’s no real evidence to support that beyond pure speculation.
Sacramento fans will tell you that John Salmons has mystic ways of gobbling up playing time and it’s certainly something to think about when assessing the value of Ross, but with the next year on his deal all-but wiped off the books the advantage goes to Ross before the position battle even starts.
Last night’s Eastern Conference Finals preview lacked some of the theatrics of the season’s best games to date, but for hardcore basketball enthusiasts the slug-fest was about as good as gets. I went on record calling the Pacers this year’s champs barring a major change in dynamics in the East, but this was truly a tale of the home team wanting it more while also having superior overall depth and talent. The Heat are arguably in their own preseason, though, so this result can probably be discarded as a measuring stick in the grand scheme of things.
Still, the dynamics in this game were representative of everything we’ve come to know about the Pacers and Heat, with Indy’s defense clamping down on LeBron James (17 points, 6-of-16 FGs, six assists) on offense, though he did grab a season-high 14 rebounds in the process. The ongoing issue inside for the Heat didn’t get any better, as Chris Bosh was lucky to have the ball land in his lap with just three rebounds to go with 12 points, two steals and a block. It doesn’t help when Shane Battier (15 minutes, five points, one rebound) is the starting power forward. Michael Beasley was held out due to his hamstring once again and he might provide some relief on the glass in future matchups, but it sure looks to me like the Heat are going to have to make a trade to get a big man in order to three-peat.
Mario Chalmers had his lunch handed to him in a My Little Pony lunchbox with just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting to go with three rebounds and two assists, but he did have two steals and a block to lessen the blow. After a solid start he has been better off left on fantasy benches over the past two weeks, but he should pick up the pace soon so try to avoid missing out on the expected uptick.
Dwyane Wade had a little something saved up for the big game and finished with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. He has been a top 10-25 value when on the court in his last five games, averaging 19.4 points with 5.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals in 34.5 minutes.
THE CLUBBER LANGS
The Pacers came out tight, in particular George Hill, who looks very underconfident right now and even airballed a free throw in a five-point night. He hit just 2-of-4 shots but did rack up eight rebounds, six assists and two steals with a glass-half empty line if you consider his season-to-date. His assists (4.1) have moved near last year’s mark (4.7) and everything else is in place but his shooting, which sits four points below his career mark at 40.3 percent per game right now. First he needs to get his confidence back, but his consistency in that department in recent years suggests that he’ll get things turned around and that would necessarily mean a rise back to the mid-round value range.
Paul George also started out slow last night and Miami is always going to profile well as a Paul George stopper, so his slow 17-point night on 4-of-11 shooting can be forgiven. Roy Hibbert had his way inside and is the key to my championship prediction, with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with five boards and a block. He looks like an eighth-grader playing with elementary school kids out there laying the ball up from point-blank distance.
David West was the undoing of the Pacers in the playoffs last year, but he came through last night with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds, four assists and a dagger late, though the seven turnovers were a really bad look. Lance Stephenson scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebounds, five assists and a steal, and his value is probably overstated in fantasy leagues as a late-round value being held down by just 1.8 combined steals, blocks and threes per game. I’m not buying any impact on his production by Danny Granger, but it shouldn’t be summarily dismissed and owners might want to test his value on the market.