Aaron Bruski

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Steve Nebraska Strikes Again

Wednesday, January 29, 2014



Reading the quotes from Berman of the Post’s gamer last night I don’t think the Knicks are throwing any tantrums over Andrea Bargnani’s elbow injury.  “We’re definitely stepping up to the challenge and it makes the offense flow,’’ said Carmelo Anthony about the small ball. “Everyone’s feeling like themselves once again.’’  BOTP also writes:


Without referring to the 7-foot Bargnani, Woodson said “guys are more committed’’ and added, “We’re back to playing small ball again. The ball’s moving, guys are shooting threes and feeling good about themselves. It’s kind of nice to see.’’


I’d have loved to seen the tape and/or body language on that, and surely we’ll get round-the-clock coverage on that, but one has to wonder if an order was made to play Bargnani from above.  After all, they did trade a 2016 first round pick that could be a doozy with the way things are going in New York, and the Knicks aren’t beneath that sort of thing.  All of this is a big deal because Anthony is custom-built for the power forward position in today’s NBA, with an easy adjustment that can be made against teams with burly power forwards. If I’m Woodson and I wasn’t 100 percent blind to that, I’d hope that somebody leaks that under the guise of plausible deniability on his part. 


And wouldn’t you know it the Knicks have won their last four games, and last night’s slaughter of the Celtics brought about some abbreviated stat lines.  Perhaps the biggest news was Iman Shumpert’s shoulder injury, an issue he has dealt with since the preseason, and any time off that he faces will help usher in the upgraded version of the Knicks fantasy squad. 


Leading the way will be J.R. Smith, with all circus-level caveats set aside, and last night he put down another deposit on his fantasy value with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting, three treys, five assists and two blocks.  He has been running at a late-round level over his last seven games since being benched, with solid numbers everywhere except the foul line (59.1% on 3.1 FTAs/gm) over that span.   That’s exactly what he has shot on the season and if you haven’t noticed he stands 6-12 inches from the foul line when he shoots – a sign of the little man in one’s head – but the 73.8 percent career shooter should get that cleaned up.  If the Knicks start running and gunning again he could threaten a consistent mid-round value in a best-case scenario and he’s a must-own player in my book, even with all the risks. 


Raymond Felton struggled in his 27 minutes with just seven points on 3-of-6 shooting (including a three) with two assists and two steals, but this isn’t the game to measure him with.  An increased pacing and spacing can help the overweight point guard get loose more than he has been all season, and I’d consider him a mid-level add given his solid floor and potential for growth. 


If the news on Shumpert seems at all iffy, owners may want to give Tim Hardaway Jr. a look after another solid 16-point, two-triple night.  He’s averaging 12.5 points, 2.3 treys, 1.0 steals and 54.1 percent shooting from the field over 26.4 mpg in his last four contests, which is good for late-round value with an advantage in 9-cat leagues (0.8 TO/gm) over that span.  He fits the profile of a guy to ride into a lost season if you’re the Knicks. 


Tyson Chandler put up 12 and 13 without any steals or blocks in his 23 minutes, and he’s back into the mid-to-late round range over the last 1-2 weeks.  Owners will take that after re-evaluating Chandler’s prospects as the season has gone on.  Jeremy Tyler might have staked out a role as backup center with a career-best night of 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks. 


Any center desperate owner should be watching this situation closely and if you’re in that category give him a hard look.  He’s an injury or two away from having the full-time role to himself, as scary as that sounds.  However, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to avoid free throw issues (56.9% career) and block enough shots (1.5 per-36 career with likely efficiency drop) to give him mid-round upside in a best-case scenario, which is just food for thought. 




The Spurs got more bad news on the injury front when Manu Ginobili (nine points, 14 minutes) went down to a hamstring injury. There was at least one report that Spurs Spanish play-by-play guy Paul Castro said the injury wasn’t serious but instead ‘merely tightness,’ but we’ve been around the block long enough to know that any injury in January is going to be treated with kid gloves.  For what it’s worth, beat writer Jeff McDonald was of the impression that the injury shouldn’t be dismissed as minor, and team blog Pounding the Rock referred to his time off as “a few games.”  We’ll know soon enough. 


All of the injury news has thrust Boris Diaw (season-high 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two threes, two blocks) into the third consistent fantasy slot next to Tony Parker (17 points, four assists) and Tim Duncan (12 points, 14 boards, one steal, four blocks).  Capturing fantasy value after one of the Spurs’ main cogs goes down has always been difficult, but it makes sense that Diaw would take the step up after being a borderline 12-14 team value all year. 


Marco Belinelli (11 points, 5-of-12 FGs, 1-of-7 3PTs, one steal, 38 minutes) has not been able to take the leap and the 3-point shooting regression was bound to hit him sooner rather than later.  He’s now 2-of-14 from deep over his last four games and still shooting a pristine 46.7 percent on the year, and there is a pretty good chance he’ll bounce back the other direction so consider him for pickup for both that reason and also his safe workload until the All Star break. 


Beyond this group if you’re looking at the trio of Patty Mills (seven points, two assists, one steal, two blocks, 28 minutes), Cory Joseph (eight points, five assists, 23 minutes) and Nando De Colo (seven minutes, two steals) – I like them in that order for those in deeper leagues and the random aspect here is that De Colo is the only height the Spurs can put on the floor at the shooting guard position with Manu out.  Fishing in this group is exactly that, a fishing expedition. 




The Rockets took advantage of a weary Spurs team and did so without James Harden, whose thumb injury crept up and knocked him out of last night’s game.  He sounds like he’s day-to-day and there was some speculation about whether or not he would play yesterday, so hopefully his late evaluation on Tuesday isn’t about to drop a more significant morning report early on today.  Stay glued to the player news page for more.


There weren’t a whole lot of surprises outside of individual swings in performance.  Jeremy Lin took over playmaking duties on the perimeter with 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting, three rebounds, eight assists, one block, one three and a perfect seven free throws.  It was a perfect time for Lin to earn some trust with owners that were getting a bit gassy over his recent performance. 


Patrick Beverley still isn’t looking for his shot, and that’s just a fact of life in the slower Dwight Howard-friendly scheme, but he has shown a bit more spunk lately and he put up 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a three.  Even with the 30 percent shooting in the five games since his return from a hand injury, Beverley has been a late-round value with a nice bump in 9-cat leagues with 0.6 turnovers per game in that span.  He still needs an epiphany on offense to have any impactful fantasy value. 


Dwight Howard was hacked all night to the tune of 25 foul attempts, and he made 13 of them on his way to a 23-point, 16-rebound night with six turnovers and a block.  He’s so bad in Roto leagues that he’s just a top-100 guy in 8-cat leagues and outside of the top-200 in 9-cat leagues.  The same valuation applies to head-to-head leagues, but obviously you can punt the free throws and turnovers and make it work.  It is what it is. 


Terrence Jones got back on track with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds, one steal, one block and a 3-of-8 mark from the line.  Jones is just that rare cat that can hit more than 50 percent of his field goals and drill the occasional three, but stand him at the free throw line and he’s struggling to hit 6-of-10.  If he can figure out the charity stripe the top 40-60 play over the last month will vault into early round status. 


If you’re digging deep for value in the event Harden misses more time than expected, Omri Casspi (five points, eight boards, one steal, 15 minutes) doesn’t appear to be sharing minutes with Francisco Garcia.  Garcia is out with a knee injury but is also in the trade rumor mill, but like Harden that’ll be a day-to-day thing going forward. 




I’ve been on Marc Gasol’s case pretty much from start to finish – at least as much as one can get on Marc Gasol’s case.  He wasn’t exactly living up to his ADP to start the season and his return from the knee injury hasn’t been great, but the Grizzlies have enjoyed having their defensive anchor back, going 6-1 with him in the lineup with the league’s best defense during that time. 


Gasol’s explosion hasn’t been there, but the intuitiveness alone has been a major upgrade.  The good news is that he finally busted out with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block in last night’s win in Portland.  A top-60 play on the year in the games that he has played, he’s been sunk by 44.8 percent shooting and 0.6 less blocks (1.1) than last season.  He has also been hit by a not-so-surprising three-minute drop in playing time, as Kosta Koufos is a fine backup, but an outing like this is just good enough to fade concerns over his knee, and not too good to get owners drunk.  They’re probably hurting from a year of missed expectations, and he’s practically guaranteed to bring that shooting number up, while the blocks should regress in the right direction, too. 


I think he probably hovers in the top 20-40 range for the rest of the year, so tune your buy low offers accordingly. 


Mike Conley can hang out with John Wall in the spurned Team USA point guards club, and after voicing some annoyance with not being named to the player pool he outplayed Damian Lillard, who was named to the squad in his second season.  Conley posted 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting with three rebounds, seven assists and a steal across from his counterpart, while limiting Lillard to 16 points on 16 shots with just three assists and zero trips to the foul line.  Lillard’s potential ceiling may be higher than Conley’s, but this is a clear case of the shiny new toy being more desirable than old reliable. 


Zach Randolph loves playing in his old Portland digs and he put up 23 points with 10 boards, three assists and a steal, but in standard leagues he’s a losing fantasy player if you’re banking on those contributions.  With a high-volume 42.6 percent field goal percentage and a high-volume 74.5 percent free throw percentage over the last month, not to mention just 0.6 combined steals and blocks, he’s a late-round fantasy play.  The return of Marc Gasol isn’t great news but it hasn’t really moved the needle here.  Anybody not understanding the valuation of fantasy assets probably thinks his value is much higher, so see what you can get for him after any big night.


James Johnson (four points, six rebounds, one assist, 17 minutes) had a slow night and started to drift out of his lane, so coach Dave Joerger tightened the leash a little bit, but as a top-75 value over the last month he’s a must-start player in most formats right now.  The key here?  Dude has gotta be at least 30 pounds lighter than in Sacramento and maybe even 45 pounds lighter.  I can’t recognize him. 


Courtney Lee scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting with just three steals and a triple to his stat line in 31 minutes, but this interview with Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien should shed some light on something I sort of assumed when the team added Lee.  They love the guy.  They also really like Johnson and Allen, too.  The only guy they don’t seem to love is Randolph and it’s not hard to see why with the aforementioned statistics.  I’m not saying I don’t like the Grizzlies better with Randolph next to Gasol because I do, but this is a team that wants to start firing up threes for the next five years – not 44.4 percent from the field on 15.3 attempts with 0.0 threes per game. 




LaMarcus Aldridge was the only Blazer to truly show up in last night’s home loss to the Grizz, scoring 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting with 16 rebounds and two blocks.  He has either held his ground or improved significantly in every single stat category this season, but most importantly he looks like he’s in the best shape of his career and that bodes well for him holding up. 


I worry about his ability to keep this up because the Blazers are riding him ridiculously hard, but that said the leap into superstardom has had its benefits – he’s getting called for nearly a full foul less per game than two seasons ago and he’s going to the line 0.6 times more (5.3 FTA) than last season.  Everything is geared up for him in the Blazers’ scheme, he’s protected by Robin Lopez in the five-slot, and he’s going to be protected just a little bit more by the refs.  I’m probably still fading his late first round value somewhere into the second or high third round, as the shooting percentage in particular just seems too good to be true, but I’m not arguing with anybody that takes the opposing position. 


The rest of the squad has struggled a bit lately, and it’s hard to get on any of them after the Blazers jumped out to such a fast start, but Damian Lillard (16 points, three assists) and Wesley Matthews (eight points, 2-of-9 FGs, two threes, five assists) have backed off their gaudy early starts.  Matthews’ regression shooting the ball was to be expected, and owners will notice that Lillard’s value can shoot down quickly if he’s not putting up big popcorn numbers.  That's because he’s only good for about 1.0 combined steals and blocks per game and he shoots a high-volume 42 percent from the field.  The guy whose value is still subject to downward trend is Matthews, as his 47.4 field goal percentage on the season is still a bit too high for his 44.7 career mark.  Regardless, these are still two guys with stable roles that owners want. 


Nicolas Batum (10 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal) played through his right ankle injury as well as his ongoing shooting finger issue, and it’s not hard to envision him and/or the team targeting the All Star break for some rest.  Owners probably aren’t thrilled with his top-40 value after spending a second round pick, and lately he has been a top 80-90 value, so a risky but calculated play would be to make an offer right now with a top 30-40 guy like trade deadline candidate Thaddeus Young or somebody of similar ilk.  Who knows, you may be able to go for a deeper profit with the way things have gone.  One key indicator will be Batum's blocks, which are nearly half (0.6) of last year’s total (1.1), and a point in his favor is his current 80.7 percent foul shooting, which should move closer to his consistent, career-long 83.4 percent. 


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Aaron Bruski has covered hoops for Rotoworld since 2008 and has competed in national fantasy sports competitions for nearly two decades. In 2015 he was named FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year. You can also find his work over at ProBasketballTalk, where he received critical acclaim for his in-depth reporting of the Kings' relocation saga. Hit him on Twitter at Aaronbruski.
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