The Blazers lost just four games in December (DAL, @MIN, MIA, @NO) and with just two underachieving losses to Philly and Sac in January prior to this week the hype would have been deafening had they beat Houston on Monday and Oklahoma City last night. The next step for this team (other than acquiring another big man) is to adjust to the adjustment that teams will be making in their doubling of LaMarcus Aldridge, who hit just 12-of-26 shots last night (5-of-8 FTs) for 29 points and 16 boards.
Aldridge will be difficult to blunt in that respect with a rarely blocked turnaround jumper, and he’s coasting to top 10-12 value on the season with practically no efficiency drop despite a 3.3 increase in field goal attempts per game (21.1). He is also crushing the boards, with 2.5 more rebounds per game (11.6) than last season in one less minute per contest compared to last year, with defensive numbers in line with career averages. I want to say that he can’t keep these stellar rates up, but that’s going to come down to the doubling factor and whether or not teams employ a timing-based double including an over-rotation on the first pass. That’s the only thing that has worked against L.A. this season and even that hasn’t been able to slow the low-end MVP candidate down.
Damian Lillard got the Thabo Sefolosha treatment last night and finished with just 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting and four assists to go with a steal and block. Wesley Matthews got hot with 21 points, four treys, four boards, four assists and a steal, and Nicolas Batum made the best out of a bad situation with the finger injury on his non-shooting hand. Batum posted two steals, two blocks, five boards and a three to go with a concerning three points on 1-of-4 shooting. Some missed games could be in his future after re-injuring his finger last night, though he did stay in the game and log 35 minutes.
Robin Lopez double-doubled with 10 and 10 to go with a block last night, which gives him 16 such efforts this season after posting just 15 in his entire career before this season. He’s a top 75-100 play on the season (9/8 cat). Owners that added Mo Williams for the Blazers’ five-game week were paid off, as he hit 6-of-10 shots for 13 points, two boards, nine assists and a trey in 26 minutes. Especially with Batum’s scoring a question mark right now, he’s worth a look not just for the games played factor but also as a short-term speculative add with top-100 value over the past two weeks.
KEVIN DURANT GOD MODE
Somewhere along the line I made a passing mention about the potential to see some truly historic numbers out of Kevin Durant, which wasn’t so much a hot sports take as it was a nod to his truly limitless upside. The absence of Russell Westbrook was supposed to propel Durant into this uncharted territory, and while there are very real problems with the Thunder’s unhealthy reliance on KD, in fantasy leagues this is irrelevant.
Durant had another jaw-dropping game in last night’s win over the Blazers, scoring 46 points on 17-of-25 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and matching 6-of-7 marks from the stripe and from deep. The Slim Reaper isn’t just dominating fantasy leagues this season – he’s destroying them in ways only a select few have in the past. To put this in perspective, owners considering trading Durant in standard leagues would lose on a deal including two late first round picks in return. With an average of 30.9 points to go with marks of 50.2 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from deep and 88.1 percent from the line, he is a threat to be the first NBA player to average 30 points while striking at the fabled 50-40-90 rate.
On the other end of this equation is Reggie Jackson, who should be being prepped for the playoffs by an expanded role now when the games don’t matter, but hasn't really been given the keys to the Thunder offense. The good news is that he has finally been given a bit of rope from Scott Brooks over the past two weeks, playing 32.5 minutes per game while returning solid mid-round value to owners in that span. Perhaps the best news is that he has averaged 1.9 steals during that time, as his season-long combined total of steals, blocks and threes has been a paltry 2.1 in 27.0 minutes. The next step in both fantasy and reality basketball will be for the coach to implement an actual offense that gets Durant working off the ball more often, with Jackson getting his kicks by dishing the ball rather than having to score in order to maintain his fantasy value.
Serge Ibaka slowed down from his torrid pace on a 4-of-15 shooting night, but made up for it with five blocks to go with 10 points and five rebounds in a typically light 31-minute night. Slowly but surely he has returned top-20 value on the season and is steadily climbing, and if Brooks ever takes off the blinders and plays him closer to 35 minutes per night he could move into a first round value.
In comments that will probably fly under the radar, Brooks said after the game last night that he was playing Kendrick Perkins for ‘chemistry’ reasons and Durant said that the Thunder are “going to ride (Perkins) until the wheels come off.” Brooks’ comments might be the first public revelation that it’s not about ability with Perkins, and Durant’s comments speak to how deep the organization’s commitment is to the big man as well as other vets like Derek Fisher.
Eventually this will become the story behind the Thunder’s missed championship window, but it’s fascinating to watch the unwavering commitment and it’s also a bit endearing to watch a basketball band of brothers pull in one direction. These guys are all-in on Perk from top to bottom, with Brooks on the front-end taking all the lumps while golden boys in Durant and Sam Presti get to roller-skate.
RUN RICKY RUN
The Wolves haven’t been adorned with massive expectations this season, but a trip to the playoffs and a positive vibe surrounding Kevin Love’s long-term status with the club would be enough for most fans. Things got pretty rocky last week but they’ve now won two games in a row, including last night’s easy win over the Jazz, and they’re just one game below .500 in the vaunted Western Conference.
Perhaps the best news stemming from last night’s win was the fact Ricky Rubio managed to play most of the game, scoring 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting with five rebounds, 13 assists, five steals and a three in 39 minutes. Rubio has found himself on the bench during the fourth quarter too many times to count this season, in part because he’s shooting just under 20 percent from the field during that frame, but the uncomfortable part for both owners and fans has been the fact that Rick Adelman doesn’t fully trust their supposed-to-be franchise point guard.
Yes, everybody goes underneath the screen on the pick-and-roll and that clogs up the offense, but a player with Rubio’s much-ballyhooed vision should be able to push through that and stay on the floor. The situation speaks to how steals (Rubio averages a league-leading 2.7 per game) are overrated in reality, since Rubio’s trouble on the defensive end is also contributing here, and overall it just feels like there is something more to the issue than meets the eye right now. Or better put, that Rubio and Adelman aren’t seeing eye-to-eye and therefore the minutes are being held in escrow on a nightly basis.
All the while, Rubio is still a top 35-50 play on the year in standard leagues (8/9 cat) while averaging just 31.4 minutes per game and 35 percent from the field. Any uptick above those low-end markers will push him into beast territory, though outside of the obvious (shooting) – owners probably won’t know if Adelman trusts him until that switch has already been flipped. Still, with a solid floor and seemingly high disregard for his services in fantasy circles, prospective owners should hope for another dud and have their buy low offer ready and waiting.
Rubio’s 3-of-5 shooting line won’t inspire much belief in an offensive renaissance, but the day-to-day status of both Kevin Martin (18 points, 5-of-16 FGs, two threes) and Alexey Shved (two minutes) will put the ball in his hands a bit more and J.J. Barea is officially worth a look as a short-term speculative play. Martin sliced the pinkie finger on his shooting hand and had it X-rayed (negative) after the game, while Shved suffered a broken nose in the second quarter and did not return.
Barea put up 15 points, three assists, one steal and three treys on 6-of-11 shooting in just 21 minutes, a reminder of how he can get going relatively quickly. Corey Brewer (19 points, 7-of-11 FGs, one steal, two blocks) will also get a chance to stabilize his value if Martin or Shved miss time (in that order), but he’s also in the same bucket as Barea as a short-term spec add.
Kevin Love nearly triple-doubled with 19 points, 13 boards and eight assists as he continues to push along at his top 4-6 pace in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively.
The good news for the Jazz is that they got Gordon Hayward back from a five-game absence due to a hip injury, and the bad news is that he was the only player to show up for last night’s loss to the Wolves. Hayward hit 10-of-17 shots for 27 points, two threes, five boards, five assists, three steals and a 5-of-6 mark from the charity stripe, and over his last eight games he has been ripping off top-4 value highlighted by a 50.9 percent mark from the field. At 42 percent on the season, if he can nudge the number up to 44-45 percent he’ll move his season-long top 36-48 value up by about two rounds.
Alec Burks got hot late when the game was out of reach, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and one trey in his 29 minutes. As usual he did not have a steal or block and I’m not buying his standard league value with Hayward back in the fold. Richard Jefferson (four points, 18 minutes) was also a pretty obvious bet to fizzle out in that regard, too.
Derrick Favors missed last night’s game due to a lingering hip injury that happened on the first play of Friday’s game against Detroit. He played through it on Friday and Saturday and was checking to see if he could play through it last night, so the silver lining is that this sounds day-to-day at this stage.
Enes Kanter got the start in his place against the Wolves’ big lineup, and aside from early foul trouble he laid an egg with just four points on 2-of-8 shooting, six boards and no steals or blocks in 21 minutes. Making some movement toward respectability over the past few weeks, I’m a bit shocked that we haven’t seen reports that Big Turkey is back on the IHOP diet. With just 1.1 combined steals and blocks in 25 minutes per game on the year, that’s the improvement I’ll be looking for before getting behind any sort of bounce-back here, even if Favors misses more time and Marvin Williams (four points, four rebounds, two blocks, 19 minutes) falls off. I’d call him a low-to-mid level stash for those that are struggling at the center position, and it should be noted that rookie Rudy Gobert (eight points, six boards, one steal, three blocks, 27 minutes) could eventually eat into Kanter’s role if he doesn't get his act together.
Williams’ owners have been starving over the past few weeks as he has fallen below 12-14 team value, though his season-long value is still in the late-round range. With more durability risk than most, owners can move along but I might file his early-season top 75-100 value into the memory bank before making a move. Ty Corbin loves him. Trey Burke also dinged owners last night with just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting, two boards, five assists, one three and one block, which isn’t the worst line but with just top 110-125 value in 31 games he isn’t really taking advantage of his opportunity in fantasy leagues.