The Celtics have suddenly stopped giving effort and since that happens with every team at one point or another it’s not time to start in on Brad Stevens, who has gotten more out of this team than anybody could have expected this season. Boston got trounced in Denver last night by 31 points and as you can imagine the box score suffered, with Jordan Crawford scoring 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting with five assists and that’s about it in his 21 minutes, Avery Bradley scoring just 12 points in an empty line, and Jared Sullinger (eight points, seven boards) lasting just 14 minutes before being ejected after his second flagrant foul of the night.
Crawford has been a solid win for owners that made their acquaintance early in the year or on draft day, but he has been a mess over the last two weeks or so with just borderline 14-team value. The culprit has been the same old vice – his 37.8 percent field goal shooting and 1.7 combined threes, blocks and steals – and with Jerryd Bayless around to perform a similar role it’s possible the end is closer than Rajon Rondo’s eventual return.
Bayless debuted with six points on 3-of-11 shooting, three assists and three steals in 25 minutes off the bench, and of course the blowout was a good time for Stevens to get a look at his new backup-level combo guard. Stevens mentioned before last night’s game that he would use Bayless in the first half of games and see how things go from there, which is probably true of many Celtics players right now so I wouldn’t read too much into that.
It was somewhat surprising to find out that Sullinger is just one more flagrant foul away from getting a one-game suspension and if he gets a Flagrant-2 foul he’ll get dinged for two games. That’s not his biggest issue right now by any stretch, but it’s worth noting that with 60 percent of the season to go he’s likely to get dinged.
The larger issue for Sullinger is that he has played in 19 or less minutes in 4-of-7 games and while Stevens’ rotations have largely been a mess this appears to be directly linked to his left hand/wrist issue. He’s essentially playing one-handed out there and the two-week dive has dropped him to just borderline 12-team value on the season. Typically an injured guy with that type of value is pretty easy to drop, but I’d expect a healthy Sully to move back into the 10-team range at a minimum and if that juice is worth the squeeze you may want to hang on.
Kris Humphries lost his scant momentum with an absence due to his sprained left-ankle and with Sullinger on the other end of the see-saw it will take a significant slide by the latter for the Humph to hold his value. Owners can probably do better in 12-team leagues with the info we have right now. The same goes for backups Kelly Olynyk (six points, four assists, 21 minutes) and Vitor Faverani (10 points, five boards, 16 minutes).
MAKE WAY FOR THE PLAYERS
Denver’s situation got a little bit more interesting for fantasy purposes last night with reality sinking in that Andre Miller is probably as good as gone and Wilson Chandler suffering a groin injury to the same side as his prior (left) hip injury. Chandler has always had middle of the body issues and while he is day-to-day, guys like Randy Foye and Nate Robinson are worth owning in most standard formats.
Foye hit seven triples last night and has been handling the rock quite a bit lately, finishing with a season-high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting, five boards, five assists and one steal in a whopping 39 minutes. His struggles with consistency are well-documented, but as he was for Ty Corbin in Utah, Brian Shaw wants to use him as a spot-up option opposite the big-time interior attack that Denver doesn’t have (another story we’ve covered time and time again). Foye has played at a top-50 level over the last week and a top-90 level over a two-week sample, and the combo guard have his work cut out for him to keep up either level of play but if Chandler’s injury starts him down a bad road then you can probably pencil in Foye for at least the latter.
Robinson actually left during the second quarter due to a right ankle injury and returned during the third quarter, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, one three, five assists and a steal in 23 minutes. He needs about 25 minutes per game to be a safe late-round value with a hint of upside, and one has to think he can get there with Miller on the outs, even if it hasn’t played out with an average of just 20 minutes per game in his last four contests. Whereas Foye can be considered a must-own player in 10-12 team formats right now, I’d consider Robinson more of a mid-level add in 12-team formats at this time.
We’re also seeing a resurgence out of Kenneth Faried, who put up 21 and 13 with one block in 32 minutes, while J.J. Hickson scored 17 points with eight rebounds, two steals and a block in his 28 minutes. Timofey Mozgov was also productive within his own range of expectations with nine points, six boards and two blocks in 18 minutes, in what was a best-case scenario for a frontcourt with no easy answers for fantasy owners.
Mozgov has the most potent fantasy game built on the strength of decent percentages and a solid 1.2 blocks per game, but he’s the least likely to get minutes with just 20 of them per game. Hickson plays the most at 26 minutes per game but the only thing he can sort-of hang his hat on is scoring and rebounding, while Faried has similar issues with better efficiency and at 24 minutes per game this year he has been the middle child in this arrangement.
Faried has been the only one of the group to hold 12-team value on the season and at least for now he seems to be on the upswing, so he’s the guy to own in the group and from there unless you have a punting strategy in play I’d rather own Mozgov than Hickson in deeper leagues, as Hix has all-but tapped out his value and with Mozgov there is at least some upside in the event he can somehow log more minutes.
Damian Lillard is all Oakland and if you’ve been to the O you already know. There’s just a certain swagger with Oakland players and he has that in abundance, so when the Kings were running away with last night’s game he kept firing away and almost put together a comeback for the ages. He finished with a career-high 41 points with 26 of them coming in the final quarter on mostly broken coverage in transition, but still it was pretty amazing to watch all of Sacramento watch the clock slowly tick in complete fear.
If there is going to be a LaMarcus Aldridge slowdown the Kings might have given the league a blueprint last night with the way they ran a big at him on the baseline and defended with their power forwards over the top. It was a timing trap that didn’t shut him down by any means, but he didn’t look anything like the guy that was getting MVP consideration as he finished with 24 points on 8-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists, one block and four turnovers. As a guy that shoots a lot of long twos, he has had to work pretty hard to do what he has done so far this year, so owners will just want to make sure he doesn’t start showing signs of efficiency issues as teams figure out what the Blazers are doing.
Robin Lopez was left free as a result of all those traps and finished with 18 points, seven boards and two blocks, Wesley Matthews was muzzled to the tune of nine points on 3-of-12 shooting and an otherwise strong line, and Nicolas Batum went for 11 and 11 with five assists but no steals or blocks in his first game with a splint on his left hand. Yes, the big numbers come against the Kings, but they actually played pretty good team defense last night and it’s an encouraging result for Batum nonetheless.
The Kings’ players-only meeting was funny because it literally came about because of an anonymous Internet report built off a simple (and accurate) set of tweets from local radio host Carmichael Dave, which alluded to the fact that DeMarcus Cousins needs to walk the walk if he’s going to talk the talk, among other non-controversial tweets explaining obvious stuff everybody has discussed a million times. The anonymous report should have never been picked up and it didn’t even focus on DeMarcus, it focused on Isaiah Thomas saying that the team was pissed off at him for shooting too much. Multiple team sources told me that was garbage and I didn’t really even need to ask as the popular Thomas is the team’s go-to leader in the locker room, handling the issues that Cousins is yet to grasp and the two do it with pretty good synergy.
With all the losing they did have things to hash out and so they cleared the air with no major tension and with defense being the team’s biggest issue all eyes were on how the team would perform last night. While they had defensive issues throughout the game, it was a much cleaner product and that’s why they were able to take down Portland. Before they went into a prevent defense mode in the fourth quarter, Thomas had limited Lillard to just 15 inefficient points scored mostly on other players, Aldridge had been frustrated, and on the night the Blazers hit just 43.3 percent of their shots despite a 46-point fourth quarter.
Thomas nearly triple-doubled with 22 points on 5-of-14 shooting (2-of-6 3PTs, 10-of-12 FTs), seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals and zero turnovers, Cousins scored a season-high 35 points on 13-of-28 shooting with 13 rebounds, one steal and two blocks to further his All Star case, and Rudy Gay was on fire for most of the game with 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting, three treys, nine perfect free throws, five boards, four assists and one steal in his best game as a King. The team is going to bicker on nights when their bigs aren’t rotating and in other words while they’re learning team defense for the first time in five years. But the defensive issues aren’t on Thomas the way some in the media are portraying, which is a basically their way of saying we always knew he could score but the guy can’t defend so don’t look at two years' worth of reports where we totally missed that Thomas needed to be given the keys.
Now that Thomas has the keys the Kings have an identity, much like an old Kings team that had characters that started out as a bunch of misfits. Look for them to continue improving with plenty of speed bumps along the way, expect Thomas’ defense to improve off the ball and remain stellar on the ball where guys can’t get around him. Jason Thompson (seven points, six boards, two steals, 35 minutes) and Cousins are the keys to the team’s defense as a whole, since it falls apart when they blow coverage, and Gay needs to remain interested for it all to come together but it’s totally possible.
Marcus Thornton (three points, eight boards, one steal, one block) moved into the starting lineup with Ben McLemore (two points, 1-of-2 FGs, two assists, 18 minutes) struggling and that arrangement should continue until McLemore gets hot again or the last two months of the season come along, whichever happens first. McLemore’s value was most evident as a stash during that time anyway, and if you’re in a deeper league and want to drop him there’s probably a minimum two-week window where you’ll be able to pick him up. Thornton is much too streaky and unsettled in his role for a pickup but talk to me again if he has done it for a third game in a row.