The NBA is gearing up for the pre-Christmas stretch run and that means a jam-packed 12-game Big Wednesday after just five games last night. Damian Lillard stole the show yet again with another game-winner, Kobe Bryant rolled into Memphis and took a win from the new-look Grizzlies, the Thunder and Warriors rolled, and Rudy Gay hit a speed bump leaving last night’s game early with a knee injury.
So let’s set them up and knock them down, as we’re going to recap last night and look ahead to all 12 matchups.
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THE SILENT ASSASSIN
Portland is on fire and LaMarcus Aldridge is doing his best to make me look like a fool in my preseason ranking of him, but the story last night was Damian Lillard’s continued stranglehold over clutch moments. Lillard buried his second game-winning shot in three games, and finished with a career-high eight 3-pointers, 36 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and one block. The total package is good enough to make the Silent Assassin a top-15 fantasy play even while he’s shooting just 40 percent on the year. In other words, there is room to go up.
Aldridge posted an increasingly familiar 26 points on 11-of-22 shooting with 15 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block, but it was revealed that he has been dealing with pain in his right (shooting) hand. He underwent a fluoroscopy scan after the game and results were negative, and at this point I think we have to assume that it won’t be a big deal given how well he has played through it.
That doesn’t mean a missed game or two couldn’t be in his future, but rather that this particular ailment is unlikely to be the thing that shakes him off his current blistering pace. At 48.6 percent shooting on an additional 2.2 field goal attempts per game over last season, and nearly two more rebounds per game over last season (11.0), those are the areas I would expect any decline to be in and one has to think that whenever the Blazers cool off as a team that would be the time it happens. If it happens.
It was pretty standard fare elsewhere for the Blazers, as Wesley Matthews hit three treys to go with 19 points on yet another efficient 6-of-10 shooting night. Robin Lopez got handled by Andrew Bynum and managed just eight points, six rebounds and one steal in 20 foul-plagued minutes, and Nicolas Batum struggled to hit just 3-of-13 shots but made up for it with 14 points (6-of-6 FTs), two treys, nine boards and a block.
WEATHERING THE STORM
The Cavs appear to have weathered the early-season storm and despite constant trade rumors they’ve managed to stay competitive lately with four wins and three losses in December. The Omer Asik ‘sweepstakes’ is something I’ll cover later on, but it deserves mentioning that Dion Waiters is the guy with a target on his back in Cleveland. Right on cue, the feast-or-famine lottery pick hit 11-of-19 shots for 25 points, two threes, three boards, five assists and one steal in 31 minutes.
Waiters is still just a deep league guy in fantasy leagues, but if he does find his way out of Cleveland he could become very interesting – particularly in a place like Philly where Waiters was “reportedly” interested in playing according to Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling. I threw the air quotes on that because the report has been roundly dismissed as a really bad agent leak, but the takeaway is the same, nonetheless. Be ready to move if the tea leaves suggest an improvement in environment.
Kyrie Irving was bound to get up for a matchup against another young elite point guard in Damian Lillard, and he rose to the occasion with 25 points and 10 assists, though it did take 22 shots to get there. It’s way too early to close the book on this discussion, but if GMs are selecting today I think they take the no-frills choice in Lillard. As mentioned, Andrew Bynum started off hot but the Cavs got flummoxed by the Blazers’ fronting and doubling schemes, so Bynum produced most of his 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals in the game’s first half. Owners will want to monitor the Cavs’ ability to improve in that department when assessing his value. For now he’s just a desperation stash.
Jarrett Jack scored 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting (including a three) with five rebounds, four assists and one steal in 28 minutes off the bench. Over the past two weeks he has been tucked in at the bottom of the top-100, and shooting just 43.5 percent in that span there is a small amount of room for him to improve as a 45.4 percent shooter over the past two years. He would also benefit tremendously if Waiters was to be traded and Cleveland doesn’t take a guard back somehow, so I’d have a hard time not making a speculative pickup in 10-12 team formats. An no, he’s not in the clear after a season that has seen him post just top 140-160 value.
ONE GAME AT A TIME
The Kobe Bryant show went to Memphis and caught a major break by not having to face Mike Conley, and behind the incrementally improving play of Kobe the Lakers were able to scratch out a win. The Mamba scored 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting (including a three) with five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block, but owners had to hold their breath as he went down to a hyper-extended knee during the game and eventually returned. There doesn’t appear to be much worry about the knee, and with Kobe looking like an old man in his first few games back this is a great time to float out a buy low offer. He’s only getting better as the year goes on.
Figuring out the rest of the Lakers outside of Pau Gasol (21 points, nine boards, three blocks) is a chore, though Jordan Farmar’s return will hopefully do enough to knock out the pretenders. Jodie Meeks (13 points, three treys, 34 minutes) will probably get too many minutes from noted fan Mike D’Antoni, but Farmar will probably be in for at least 25 minutes and in all reality he should play 35 minutes for a team desperately needing point guard play. Meeks is going to have a hard time staying above 25 minutes and a 20-minute role sounds about right.
Wesley Johnson scored seven points with five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block in his 32 minutes, and he’s the guy fantasy owners want to succeed given his mid-round upside when everything is clicking. My guess is that Meeks takes too much from both Johnson and Nick Young (18 points, three treys, one steal, one block, one swaggy post game quote) for any of them to be owned in standard formats. Farmar is a must-own player that I’ve seen on way too many wires lately. Go run and grab him if that’s the case.
Jordan Hill played just eight minutes after accumulating four fouls and saw his minutes go to Robert Sacre (five points, three rebounds, one steal, three blocks). I’ve been keeping a close eye on Sacre lately just because the Lakers’ various PR outlets were hyped about him for all of about 48 hours last week, and boy is he an adventure on the court. He has electric football player disease in that there is no discernible reason for where he runs, and for a guy that has yet to get any meaningful minutes in the NBA he is surprisingly lazy running up and down the floor.
Making this situation a mess is that D’Antoni could give two rubber ducks about keeping his big men happy, so Hill could get screwed at times that he shouldn’t be and then he’ll have durability issues to boot. Still, I think owners have to take a chance on Hill’s value, as he’s a late-round guy in just 21 minutes per game on the year. If he can wiggle his way into a 24-27 minute role that’s going to be some mid-round value, which is what you’re looking for at the end of your fantasy bench.
The most interesting thing going on in Memphis right now is their test-run of the John Hollinger labeled and up-tempo version of the Grizzlies. This has meant the phasing out of Kosta Koufos (13 minutes, two points, six boards) and the introduction of Jon Leuer (13 points, three treys, seven boards, one steal, one block) into the mix. Leuer can space the floor and opens up the inside for Zach Randolph (18 and 16, 7-of-22 FGs), and this most recent departure from traditional Grit and Grind should be noted when assessing Leuer’s value.
Leuer doesn’t have a huge body of work to refer back to but he’s shooting exactly at career levels this season (50.4 percent), hitting an unsustainable 52.4 percent of his threes, and otherwise putting up numbers that don’t scream outlier. All of that has been good for top 130-160 value in 20 minutes per game on the season, whereas over the last two weeks while Leuer has been cooking he’s been running at a top 50-60 value in 28.7 minutes per game over his last seven contests. It’s a pretty good representation of his value range on both ends of the spectrum. Overtaking Ed Davis he can probably sustain that 20-minute per game workload whenever Marc Gasol returns, and that would make him a solid stash that has proper upside but also can be used in a pinch.
It doesn’t hurt Leuer’s case that nobody can seem to stay healthy in Memphis, as Tayshaun Prince left last night’s game with an undisclosed injury and Mike Miller suffered a fairly bad looking ankle injury. Mike Conley missed the game and is day-to-day with a thigh contusion, Quincy Pondexter is out for the year, and Tony Allen is just getting back on the floor after dealing with a hip issue.
That has opened the door for Jerryd Bayless (13 points, 6-of-13 FGs, two assists, one steal, 28 minutes), who has been a mixed bag for the past two seasons. Though it stands to reason that he could play a sizable role for the Grizzlies with all those guys hurt, it would have been nice to see him produce at a much higher level when given the chance last night. He has shot just 37 percent from the field over his last seven games and on the year he has lacked the dynamic edge that once characterized his fantasy game. He’s worth a speculative add for the chance he can continue to see 25-30 minutes per night, but I’d consider him to be more of a stop-gap solution than anything else.
Allen scored 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block, and anytime he is getting the 30 minutes he got last night he’ll be worth using in fantasy lineups. He’s a top 80-85 play on the year in just 25 minutes per contest.
OKC IS OKAY AND TODAY IN DEREK FISHER
The Thunder traveled to Denver and secured the first win from two boring late games that were not nearly as close as the scores would suggest. As usual, they enjoyed strong performances out of surging Russell Westbrook (21 points, 9-of-16 FGs, 13 rebounds, eight assists) and Kevin Durant (30 points, full line), while Serge Ibaka went for 17 and 10 with a block.
Derek Fisher logged 20 minutes and saw action in crunch time, in case you were wondering why Reggie Jackson (eight points, two assists, two steals, 20 minutes) had a down night. The best anybody can tell Jackson’s shoe needed to be fixed in the second half and Scott Brooks simply never went back to him. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind at this point that Brooks intends to ride Fisher all the way through the playoffs, and I’m calling my shot right now that it becomes a primary focus on Twitter and elsewhere when the Thunder pay dearly for it. Just hang onto Jackson, who is a late-round value with plenty of upside if he is freed by Brooks.
Jeremy Lamb (nine points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block, 22 minutes) is a viable late-round play in 12-team, nine-cat leagues. Consider using him when the wire is dry in weekly formats when the Thunder have a four-game week.
THIS IS MY SURPRISED FACE
As was the case with the Thunder, the Nuggets didn’t have any major surprises in the box score. Ty Lawson got back on track with 17 points, 13 assists, four steals and a three, Wilson Chandler scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting with two rebounds, three assists and one triple, Kenneth Faried went for 13 and seven with a steal and block, and Nate Robinson put up 12 points, two threes, two assists and a steal in his 25 minutes off the bench.
Chandler has been a mild disappointment with late round value in the games he has played this season, but with 2-3 percent worse field goal shooting (43.6%) and 8-9 percent worse free throw shooting (69.7%) than career averages there is some room for improvement.
J.J. Hickson was able to bust loose for 20 points, 14 rebounds and a block, and now has averages of 14.9 points, 9.3 boards, 56.2 percent field goal shooting, 59.5 percent foul shooting (5.3 FTAs/gm) and a combined 1.4 steals and blocks over the past two weeks. That’s a lot of scoring and rebounding to get to 11th round value over that span, so unless you’re punting all but three categories I’m not getting too excited about his season-long top 165-175 value in standard formats.