The Bucks are nowhere near respectability but as noted they’ve moved toward some consistency in the rotation while John Henson has started to go nova. Henson scored 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting with 14 rebounds, two assists, three steals and six blocks in 41 minutes, and Larry Drew offered his usual mixed words after the game about Henson finally proving his durability or some other blather. The bottom line is that Henson has forced Drew’s hand and the end result is likely a ticket to big-time fantasy value for the rest of the year. He shouldn’t have hit the cutting room floor at any time this season, and if you drafted him or picked him up congrats to you for your new fantasy toy.
O.J. Mayo’s struggles carried on with a seven-point, seven-assist night with two blocks and a 2-of-12 shooting line. He’s bound to get things figured out but he’s among the top fantasy buzz-kills this year with just late-round value on the season. Brandon Knight chased Mike Dunleavy around for much of the night and that’s probably why he grabbed 10 rebounds, but the 19 points on 8-of-23 shooting, two assists and six turnovers didn’t do much to clarify his value. Still, the shot attempts and overall production here suggest he’s pointing toward that late-mid round value we talked about last week.
Khris Middleton’s ankle has moved him from a somewhat stable value to a questionable one, as he played through the injury and scored just eight points on 2-of-6 shooting with four rebounds, one steal and one block in 33 minutes. He didn’t start the second half and that seemed matchup-driven as Drew rolled with a three-guard lineup, but it’s certainly something to watch as he had ankle issues in the offseason and in college. That said, good luck trying to figure out which of his ankles is hurt now and which one was hurt way back when, as I searched for at least a half hour to figure out both situations and came up empty. For now I’m holding given his mid-round value over the past two weeks and lack of clarity about Caron Butler’s knee situation.
Ersan Ilyasova is reprising his role from last season, which included me hanging onto the anchor only to be paid off (sort of) by a solid second half surge. Last night he scored 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting with two steals but was basically a goose egg everywhere else in his 31 minutes. Yes, Henson’s productivity probably has something to do with it, and setting that aside for a second the reality here is that Ilyasova has no guarantee of being good now or in the future – but with recent history to refer back to we all have to hold for now. Ekpe Udoh is your 20-team play right now as he’s getting the scraps from Longshank’s table, and posted another low-end box of four points, five boards, one steal and two blocks in 22 minutes. Drew has no choice but to play him for at least that amount as long as his body holds up.
FLYING SOUTH IN THE WINTER
The Bulls are an interesting conundrum right now as one could make the case for tanking pretty easily – if you’re into that sort of thing – and with basically the entire team classified as an injury risk this thing could go south pretty quick. Joakim Noah (thigh bruise) missed last night’s game but will travel for tonight’s game, which sort of sums up his season in a nutshell.
Kirk Hinrich might as well be injured after an 0-for-10 shooting night that included one point, four rebounds, six assists and three steals, which is why he was pegged as a late-round value in a best-case scenario even in an uncontested role. Hinrich is also a notorious injury risk and it stands to reason that Tom Thibodeau will be forced to play Marquis Teague (two points, 1-of-7 FGs, six assists, 23 minutes) heavy minutes at some point. Just expect Thibs to punch out Benny the Bull and then re-enact the scene from The Crying Game before he submits.
Tony Snell scored 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting (1-of-5 3PTs) with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 38 minutes, which is a well-rounded line by his standards, but even with all the playing time left behind by Jimmy Butler’s toe injury he has been just a borderline value for 12-team owners. We blurbed that Butler might be back by Friday’s game at the soonest and he has yet to practice, but with a return seemingly sooner rather than later Snell can be moved for a hot free agent. Just keep in mind that he could be one of the last men standing at the end of the year and improvement in that scenario shouldn’t be ruled out.
Mike Dunleavy has been iffy since Butler’s injury but the injury to Luol Deng has forced him to step up his game, and last night he backed up a productive outing over the weekend with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, two threes, five boards, three assists and two blocks in 44 minutes. Deng appears to be day-to-day with his Achilles’ injury but even in Chicago where injuries are treated like mild nuisances one has to think the Bulls will play it sort of safe if there is any sign of trouble.
Complicating matters for all involved is the team’s heavy schedule over the next 10 days, with seven games over that span and last night’s game being the first of four games in five nights. Carlos Boozer (21 points, 12 boards, four steals, one block) and Taj Gibson (10 points, nine boards, two blocks) should be relatively safe bets to get the Bulls through the rough.
The Suns caught the Lakers in a good spot as they’re still working to get Kobe Bryant acclimated, and they delivered a 114-108 win at Staples Center last night. Going back to last year’s rankings of Goran Dragic, the big question was whether or not he could continue to hit free throws at an elite rate (80.5 percent at 4.5 FTAs per 36 mpg in 11-12). When he essentially matched his career mark (74.8 percent) it kept him from reaching the lofty expectations that some like myself had predicted. Now we’re looking at the same issue but from the other side as Dragic hit 11-of-11 freebies last night and he has hit at an eerily familiar clip this season (80.4%).
The Dragon finished with 31 points on 9-of-18 shooting with two threes, five assists and a steal, and the high-volume (5.7 FTA/gm) foul shooting has helped keep him in the top 40-50 range on the season, with Eric Bledsoe’s return not putting a dent in his value just yet. While it is fair to assume that Bledsoe will eventually do just that, it’s also not fair to summarily write it in stone. All of that adds up to a one-round sell high recommendation, best targeted at a player that is also a buy low target for maximum impact. Otherwise, rolling with Dragic is the way to go.
Bledsoe was no slouch either last night, scoring 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting (1-of-6 from deep) with four rebounds, nine assists and three steals, and with just mid-to-late round value over the past two weeks there’s still a sliver of a buy-low window open. And yes, trading Dragic for Bledsoe would be a great way to do business.
The Morris twins were also big factors in the win, with Markieff Morris scoring 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go with seven boards, three assists and a block, and brother Marcus Morris scoring 22 points on a tidy 10-of-13 shooting with four rebounds, two threes and a block himself. Marcus has been the more consistent of the two, while Markieff has flashed better, albeit more elusive upside. In related news they also traded girlfriends for the night and never told a soul about it.
P.J. Tucker continued to post a varietal blend of stats with just four points on 1-of-5 shooting, but he added the hoppy taste of 11 rebounds to go with a pair of distinctive steals and the hint of a sole block. While he is still worth owning in most formats, his counterpart in Gerald Green (three points, one three, three turnovers) is about three games past expired in 12-14 team formats. Miles Plumlee might also be too ripe for consumption after a six-point, six-rebound night, as one can only wonder how long I intend to go with this weird metaphor of wine, beer and decayed fruit.
YOU MEAN TO TELL ME HE’S NOT DEAD
Kobe, Kobe, Kobe – that was actually chanted at a Jay-Z concert at Staples Center the night before last. One could only sit back and laugh as the obituaries got walked back into casual mentions that the future Hall of Famer was bound to get back on track. Kobe took the proverbial step forward in his return from the world’s most famous Achilles’ injury since its namesake was dipped in the Styx. Or maybe the most famous since yesterday’s Sacramento City Council meeting, where pro-arena crowds put their own spin on an Achilles' heel to point out that Seattle’s Chris Hansen had donated money to try and blow up their arena deal. Intended to be funny, that picture turned out to be unintentionally hilarious.
Kobe scored 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting with no threes but was perfect on eight free throw attempts, and chipped in with two rebounds and three assists in his 29 minutes. I mentioned that we may see point-Kobe and post-Kobe this season, and in the first game we saw the former and last night we saw the latter so perhaps there is something to that guesswork. Get him in your lineups.
Steve Blake gave owners some more piece of mind with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting, one three, five boards, 10 assists and two steals in a whopping 39 minutes. Steve Nash’s return, if it happens, should be worried about when it happens and not before. Kobe still has plenty of room to progress and that will necessarily dip into Blake’s bucket, but Blake started showing these signs last year and it’s fair to say that he has grown as a player late in his career.
One has to think that Pau Gasol’s ankle issue will eventually cause him to take at least one game off at some point, but he scored 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting last night and was able to get to the line eight times (making seven). His five rebounds are definitely an indicator that he needs a rest, but for now he’s towing the line by staying in lineups – but with borderline value in 12-14 team leagues over the last two weeks owners should probably be rooting for that game off.
It was funny to hear Mike D’Antoni talk about wanting to get tough inside before the game only to start Shawne Williams (four points, four rebounds, 15 minutes) at power forward. It was equally as funny to hear him talk about getting whooped up inside after the loss. It probably wasn’t funny to those that speculated on Robert Sacre (DNP-CD) amidst injury concerns over Jordan Hill (13 points, seven rebounds, 19 minutes), as small doses of hype from the normally plugged in L.A. media might have overstepped its bounds.
Then again, this is Mike D’Antoni we’re talking about here so it wouldn't be surprising to see the minutes jump up and down for both guys going forward and maybe even swing in Sacre's favor for at least for one more try this season. He had a particularly bad start in the Lakers' last game and D'Antoni looks like he hasn't forgiven him yet, and it didn't help that the opposing Suns play small ball. Sacre is still a bottom tier center in the association, but if he can keep from being too oafish he has physical tools the Lakers desperately need. 25 minutes per night would make him a viable fantasy asset for those trolling for centers.
The issue with Hill, unfortunately, is that his knees and body in general can only handle so much. His playing time is probably linked more with that than Mike D’s slippery rotations, and with rankings south of the border in 12-14 team formats over the past two weeks he has lost the title of must-own player. If you have the space to stash he’s still a viable hold because he can post mid-round value when he’s humming, but the key here will be gauging his health in relation to playing time and so on.
Jodie Meeks (13 points, five boards, one three, 33 minutes) edged out Wes Johnson (five points, two steals, one block, one three, 20 minutes) for player to own status last night, but with the top 35-50 value Johnson has been producing in the past two weeks (top 60-90 this year) -- I don’t think we can call Meeks the player to own just yet. I know D’Antoni loves himself some Meeks, but Johnson has looked explosive all season and his fantasy game holds that advantage in spades over the guy who shall inherit the earth.
To add to the confusion about roles there was a late-breaking tweet from beat writer Ramona Shelburne that Kobe would be used more “as a 3/4 than as a facilitator,” which would fly in the face of my point-Kobe theory and also open up space for some of the murky wing crew. We’ll have to see how that goes as banging with bigger bodies doesn’t really sound like a sustainable plan when coming off a major injury no matter how small D’Antoni wants to play.