How Joe Dumars still has his job is pretty amazing to me. The Pistons lost to the Bucks last night and are 17-25 on the season after bringing in square pegs in Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith to fit their round holes. The good news is that Smith and Jennings are the only contracts on the books in 2015-16, and the bad news is that Smith won’t be worth the $14 million per year for 3.5 more seasons and Jennings isn’t taking the overdue step forward.
While Jennings busted out of a big-time slump with 30 points on 11-of-23 shooting, three treys, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block, Smoove had yet another disastrous shooting night with 2-of-10 makes from the field (4-of-8 FTs) for eight points, six boards, six assists and three steals. I could see buying low on Jennings, within reason, since his 37.4 percent field goal shooting on the year has a very strong chance of improving at least a little bit.
Greg Monroe snapped out of his own funk with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds and four assists, but nothing about his late-round value in standard leagues seems to be out of place. Though he will be up and down until further notice, his role is relatively locked in and that makes him worth dealing with compared to some other late-round values that are all over the place.
Zach Lowe made a great comment on Twitter this morning when he said there should be a separate Basketball Reference page for Rodney Stuckey when he is in a contract year. Stuckey looked great again with 23 points off the bench in his 33 minutes, hitting 8-of-16 shots (7-of-8 FTs) with two rebounds and one assist. He’s been relatively consistent this season with his late round value, and that means he’s worth a look with the goal of having a more bankable asset at the end of one’s bench. If you’re looking for upside, look somewhere else.
I try not to transpose any of the Sacramento relocation experience onto the Bucks’ situation, but Larry Drew is doing his damndest to reprise the Keith Smart act with his 19th different starting lineup in 41 games this season. I can get behind some of the moves, such as starting Ersan Ilyasova at small forward to go up against Josh Smith, and playing Caron Butler big minutes with O.J. Mayo either ill or getting a high fructose corn enema. I can’t get behind anything else. Nor can I explain anything else. Drew successfully fouled up by three points late before a 3-pointer could be lifted by the Pistons, which makes him appear progressive until you realize he holds guys out for entire first halves when they get two fouls in the first quarter.
Like Smart, Drew thinks he can outsmart the game and find the perfect matchup for each situation, discounting the value that continuity and clear roles can have for a team. For owners, it may be helpful to think of him as a more approachable Scott Skiles.
Butler had family and friends in town for the game and grew up in nearby Racine, and after griping about playing time last week he put up 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting (2-of-10 3PTs) with seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block in 32 minutes off the bench. Unless the two truly have an arrangement worked out on playing time, which sounds unlikely, look for Drew to reward Butler with another solid set of playing time in the next 1-2 games and from there he needs to be outstanding to hold his job.
The Bucks want Giannis Antetokounmpo (four points, 1-of-3 FGs, five rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block, 26 minutes) and Khris Middleton (10 points, 3-of-6 FGs, two threes, two boards, four assists, four steals, two blocks, 30 minutes) to play but unfortunately they’re both getting jerked around by Drew, so they’re still better stashes than they are week-to-week assets. I’ve added Giannis this week in one standard 12-teamer and held Middleton in some deeper 12-teamers and they’ll have a decent amount of rope this week.
Ilyasova’s start at small forward returned 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting with six rebounds and a steal, and while it’s one of his more normal looking lines it’s fair to disregard this one knowing that he’s unlikely to start at small forward a whole lot this year. He’s on the right side of standard 12-team ownership values for the first time all season with late-round returns in the last two weeks, which have included his trademark inconsistency. I’ll probably hold on any Ilyasova positions for the next two weeks and if he doesn’t get it together I’ll start to cut him loose.
Larry Sanders missed last night’s game with the flu and got admonished by beat writer Gery Woelfel for doing so, and that’s your daily ‘why the eff did I draft Larry Sanders update.’ Kidding aside, you’ve come too far to let something like that be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. John Henson started with 12 points, three rebounds and three blocks in 21 minutes, Ekpe Udoh went for four and four in his start at center, and Miroslav Radulijica played the entire fourth quarter and finished with eight and eight to go with two steals in 20 minutes.
LEAN ON ME
The Thunder got a mixed performance out of Kevin Durant (36 points, seven boards, five assists, one steal, one block) that was roundly panned as yet his most recent amazing performance, but I have a feeling nobody in OKC will be thrilled about his 11 turnovers and he did most of his damage after Kawhi Leonard (finger) left the game. Still, a win against the Spurs is a win against the Spurs, and the best news for Thunder fans is that Reggie Jackson went off with 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting, three treys, two boards, eight assists and two steals in 38 minutes. The leash is getting loosened, albeit with no real guarantee that Brooks doesn’t tighten it back up on any given night.
Jackson also pitched a perfect game on the turnover front, which is sort of funny knowing that the Thunder desperately need somebody to get Durant the ball in the flow of a discernible offense. Even on a big night for Jackson, the team is still complicit with using Durant as a one-man show, no matter how little it does for them to train on such a strategy since he’ll be doubled mercilessly in the playoffs. Scott Brooks has two guys in Jackson and Jeremy Lamb (nine points, six assists, 24 minutes) that will need to be maxed out in terms of both minutes and performance for the Thunder to compete against the Pacers or Heat.
A balanced attack with Russell Westbrook, Jackson, Lamb, Durant and Serge Ibaka (14 points, nine boards, two steals, five blocks) would be able to defend everything except big lineups, and if guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Steven Adams are used correctly defensive issues can be addressed. It’s really the Thunder’s only chance, and they’ll need to outright bench Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, and none of this will ever happen.
YEAR OF THE HAND
It’s been a rough season for Kawhi Leonard enthusiasts such as this guy right here, and you know things are bad when you hop in your car and the Spurs radio guys say ‘if you just tuned in, the news isn’t great for the Spurs.' You say to yourself 'not Kawhi' only to get the payoff, "Kawhi Leonard could be out a while with a broken fourth metatarsal on his right (shooting) hand." I'm superstitious enough to believe that you can't think of the potentially injured player's name during this period of uncertainty, yet I always do. And yeah, that's dumb as all hell but so is adding up a bunch of basketball stats every day like a bunch of addicts.
Now there have been muffled reports of hope that he won’t need surgery, but surgery or not it seems highly likely that we’re measuring with weeks and not days.
This stretches the Spurs extremely thin on the wing with Danny Green early in his month-long recovery from his own broken hand. Tiago Splitter’s (shoulder) absence will also come into play here, and the two won’t likely return before the All Star game according to Pop’s pregame interview yesterday.
Boris Diaw (14 points, 5-of-8 FGs, two threes, three boards, three assists, one steal, 32 minutes) is the biggest winner here, though the standard Gregg Popovich disclaimer applies and overall I think there’s enough to hold onto to make the add in standard leagues in which you need a big man. Marco Belinelli (13 points, 6-of-10 FGs, one three, two boards, three assists, four steals, 37 minutes) was already slated to start and be worth owning while Green was out, and this news only strengthens his position on that front.
Look for the Spurs’ Big Three to pick up the slack as they did in last night’s loss to the Thunder. Tony Parker scored 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting with two rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block, Tim Duncan went for 14 and 13 with two steals and a block, and Manu Ginobili put up 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting with two treys, four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
CHICKENS AND EGGS
Like all title contenders, the Pacers are going to see the A game from opposing teams on most nights and that was the case last night in Phoenix as they got run. The box score will show that George Hill scored 16 points and folks might think it was a pretty good night, but he’s starting to garner a lot of attention for being the weak link of this squad. He had one good quarter scoring the ball last night but everything else was pretty awful, including his once-solid defense. Hill hit 4-of-4 shots (including a three) and 7-of-8 free throws to get his 16 points, chipping in with four rebounds, two steals and just one assist, and the highly leveraged scoring line illustrates one potential issue for Hill and that’s his lack of touches.
Starting about a month ago we saw signs that Hill was losing his confidence, and his role has clearly taken a bit of a backseat to Paul George and Lance Stephenson, who both bring the ball up and initiate most of the Pacers’ offense. Hill’s confidence hit a low when he airballed a free throw about 3-4 weeks ago and all-but stopped shooting for the next few games.
The sixth year combo guard out of IUPUI has never been a guy with high usage, ranking No. 228 in 2012-13 in usage rate (18.8), but this year he has plummeted all the way down to No. 300 (15.7). This looks like a classic chicken and egg situation on defense in which the player not getting touches isn’t engaged on the other end. I also wonder if a similar cycle is at play where he’s not feeling the ball in his hands, he’s missing shots and then taking fewer shots because he’s not hitting.
His fantasy value will be of the late-round variety at best unless he reboots his approach to the game, and it’s Frank Vogel’s job to call his number and keep him engaged at least a little bit. After Hill didn’t pick up an obvious transition situation leading to a Gerald Green dunk the body language toward Hill by Roy Hibbert and vice-versa showed a strained situation. No talking, no dap, no acknowledgement of yet another Ole’ on defense. Beat writers are starting to question Hill. Something is up there and the Pacers have three months to figure it out, and if they do then Hill will be more of a mid-to-late round guy than a guy hanging desperately to late round value in standard formats.
George scored 26 points with seven boards, one steal and one three, Lance Stephenson was slowed to the tune of six points, five boards, four assists and a steal, Roy Hibbert was outplayed by Miles Plumlee and finished with six and four with two blocks, and David West put up 13 points with five boards, three assists and a steal in the loss. West is also dealing with a right (shooting) hand injury that beat writers seem to be uneasy about, but he’s a gamer and as of right now this is only something for owners to watch.
GREENERY PART DEUX
The Suns are getting the most out of their guys and they also have some under-the-radar guys doing big things, leading to the confusion one might feel when trying to figure out how they keep winning. Gerald Green isn’t the most consequential of those under-the-radar guys, but he was the most visible of them as he poured in 23 points against his old Pacer teammates. Hitting 6-of-13 shots (3-of-5 3PTs, 8-of-10 FTs) with six rebounds and a steal in just 30 minutes, we saw good Green last night and he’ll continue to oscillate good and bad outings but be worth starting in most standard formats. He has top-80 value over the last month in 8-cat leagues and in 9-cat formats he climbs all the way up to top-40 status with just 0.9 giveaways in that span.
Most importantly for this team, their players are very complementary and in the case of P.J. Tucker (13 points, 5-of-6 FGs, one three, five boards) and Miles Plumlee (11 points, seven boards, one steal) they have two plus defenders with Tucker deserving awards consideration on that end. In fantasy leagues Tucker is a mid-to-late round play with the same advantage as Green in 9-cat formats, and the Plumdog Millionaire is a must-start guy these days.
Channing Frye (13 points, five boards) provides the air support, Markieff Morris (20 points, 8-of-14 FGs, two threes, three boards, two steals) and Marcus Morris (five points, three boards, two steals) are a pair of athletic utility knives, Leandro Barbosa is a legit scorer to make up for the loss of Eric Bledsoe, and Goran Dragic (21 points, three assists, 8-of-10 FGs) gives them an above-average starting point guard to orchestrate it all. Dragic dealt with a little foul trouble but also got some rest in his 22 minutes, as Jeff Hornacek knows he’s carrying a lot of the load. Frye is a must-own player and Markieff is worth owning in standards, while Marcus is more of a deep league play. Barbosa’s stock has fallen since a fast start, and he’s also only worth a look in deep leagues.