RUNNING INTO A WALL
At times the Wizards look like they could be some trouble in the playoffs, with rangy athletes everywhere and a guy in John Wall that should theoretically draw a double-team on every play. At others they look like a disjointed unit with no feel for where to deliver the ball, and that’s when they actually have key offensive cog Nene in the lineup. Still, their strength on defense was able to expose a Warriors squad for needing more playmakers to handle the ball, holding the usually high-flying squad to 37.5 percent shooting at Oracle.
Bradley Beal carried the weight on the offensive end after a slow first half, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half on a 8-of-19 shooting night including four treys, seven boards, four assists and a steal. On the other end, John Wall blanketed Stephen Curry and though he struggled to hit 6-of-19 shots, he made the most of his night with three 3-pointers, eight boards, five assists, three steals and one block. Wall looked like the best player on the floor (including Steph) and still isn’t near his ceiling, and after being snubbed on the Team USA player pool there’s gonna be a boulder on that shoulder for the rest of the season.
Beal stuck to his 30-minute limit again last night and so far the returns on that program have been better than the season-long results. On the season he has been just a top-90 standard league value in the games he has played, whereas over the last two weeks he has been a top 40-50 play. The key difference for Beal has been his high-volume 43.2 percent shooting (41% career) and 1.5 steals over the last eight games, and decent-sized bumps in rebounding, assists and free throw percentage to boot. Sometimes players with expanded roles can suffer from efficiency drops or ‘value leakage,’ usually derived from trying to do too much, and the hope for suffering Beal owners is that easing off the gas pedal can help him curtail some of the trappings that featured players fall into.
Marcin Gortat hit just 2-of-8 shots but finished with eight and 12 to go with a steal and block. He is good for one cringe-worthy play per night, but playing next to Nene he looks more like a luxury than he would next to most power forwards and he’s cruising along at a top 60-70 value over the last two weeks. Nene put up a typical 16 points, seven boards, two assists, two steals and one block, and he should be in most if not all lineups whenever he’s relatively healthy.
Trevor Ariza scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting with one triple, 11 boards and three steals in his 38 minutes, and his defense on Stephen Curry on the game’s deciding play was nothing short of spectacular. He has put concerns from a few weeks back to rest with top 15-25 value over the last eight games. And while it hasn’t been pretty, Martell Webster has eked out borderline 12-team value over the past two weeks, though this past week he’s been much worse than that. He chipped in with 10 points, two threes and a block in his 28 minutes. Give him a look in 14-16 team formats, but keep in mind that those who cover the team aren’t exactly thrilled with his defense lately.
WHEN STRENGTH BECOMES WEAKNESS
Everything is larger than it really is for my Golden State Warriors. Mark Jackson and Co. generally put too much positive spin on things, and weaknesses tend to get overlooked and strengths are overplayed. But you can’t argue that Jackson hasn’t made this a brash team. You can see it in the way that pint-sized Stephen Curry talks Reggie Milleresque trash after a big make, and certainly Andrew Bogut (four points, 14 rebounds, three blocks) has made trade naysayers like me pay by both staying healthy and also by instilling a little junkyard dog into the fight.
So it wasn’t surprising to hear Jackson call the Wizards a “bad to average” team (with ‘average’ being his correction), even after the Wizards should have beaten them by 10 last night. He truly believes that the Warriors are among the elite teams, and while the truth is that they’re just a cut below that until they shore up some things, even a critic-turned-skeptic-turned-open mind like me has to approve of the killer instinct.
The only question is whether or not they can keep the bravado from obscuring the facts. The fact is that Curry (23 points, 8-of-23 FGs, four assists, four steals, six turnovers) still has to do too much, and until Andre Iguodala (five points, 2-of-7 FGs, eight boards, three assists, three steals) can take pressure off of him the Warriors will be subject to the chance Curry can’t outmaneuver his opponent with winning efficiency. This happens against quick guards and teams with long, rangy players like the Wizards. Even when David Lee (11 points, 2-of-10 FGs, five boards) isn't dealing with a bad shoulder he can get slowed down by competent defensive players, and Klay Thompson (13 points, 5-of-17 FGs, six boards, four assists, two steals, one block) can’t be counted on to break down a defense.
Because of the team’s commitment to Thompson and Lee as full-time players, players like Jordan Crawford (15 minutes, nine points, one assist) and Draymond Green (17 minutes, eight points, three boards, one steal) won't get the minutes to help handle the ball and in Green's case to plug the holes created by Curry and Lee on defense. And even if Harrison Barnes (five points, three assists, two steals, 23 minutes) had any confidence right now, he’d have to take a now-imaginary leap to be able to help on either end of that equation.
The easy answer to this situation is to take from Lee to give to Green and Barnes, knowing that Barnes is a great fit at the power forward position against many teams and Thompson’s shooting is too valuable to take off the floor. But until the Warriors can get penetration from the perimeter by somebody other than Curry (15 mpg out of Crawford isn’t moving the needle), the team is going to be easy to defend when a John Wall-type is across the floor. With Lee in the lineup instead of Barnes, the only other player that can be counted on to work the perimeter is Iguodala, and right now he’s not answering the call. Whether it’s the slow road back from injury, his natural deference, or that he simply can’t draw double-teams the way he has in the past – if he’s the bellwether then the Warriors simply lose in the playoffs if Curry gets a bad matchup.
It’s going to take an honest assessment out of Jackson in order to get a handle on that. He's going to have to take from Lee and maybe even Klay a little bit to get Crawford, Barnes and Green into the right spots. Egos are going to have to be checked, and bravado is going to be the last thing that helps.
NITPICKING FOR $500, ALEX
The Pacers strike me as your everyday championship-caliber team going through the dog days of January. Their record isn’t bad and their league-leading point differential hasn’t changed at all, but they just don’t seem to have the same pop as they did earlier in the year. The stats show that over the last month for guys like Paul George and Roy Hibbert (11 and 10 with one steal), who have both performed about three rounds lower than their top-8 and top-75 season-long values, respectively. George hit just 4-of-21 shots for 14 points and an otherwise normal stat line in last night’s road win against the Lakers, and he’ll be ridden just a tiny bit for going on a L.A. marketing blitz – fair or not. Slides aside, both of these guys will hang around their season-long values, and while owners probably shouldn’t plan on it after a half-year it’s still possible that Hibbert takes the leap forward that we have yet to see.
Conversely, the All Star push has been on for Lance Stephenson (15 points, 14 boards, six assists, two steals), whose value has gone about three rounds in the right direction over the last two weeks at a top 50-65 clip. George Hill (13 points, seven boards, three assists, one steal, one three) has come out of nowhere in that same span with early round value, averaging 10.4 points with 1.1 threes, 4.9 boards, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals and outright shocking averages of 58.1 percent from the field and 93.8 percent from the line.
He’s not going to keep shooting like that, and he’s certainly being choosey with his shot selection after losing a lot of confidence throughout the year, but maybe he’s ready to break out of that funk. Owners aren’t asking for early round value, but a consistent mid round value after posting just top 80-100 value on the year would be a pretty big win. David West went right at Ryan Kelly and finished with 19 and eight, and Danny Granger chipped in with 10 points, two threes and six boards, but he’s only a guy to watch from afar in standard leagues.
TODAY IN KOBE
For the Lakers, last night wasn’t so much about their 17th loss in 20 games, but instead about the Kobe Bryant news (which wasn’t really all that surprising). An evaluation on a player of his age and mileage on a team in the Lakers’ position didn’t really profile as a triumphant return in time for the All Star game. Still, the details of Bryant’s injury situation aren’t flattering. He’s experiencing what he is coining ‘internal swelling’ and he’s still going to be limited to low-or-no weight activities along with plenty of the stationary bike. Another issue is that the injury is to the same leg as the Achilles’ injury, so it’s hard to say if he’ll be strengthening it to the degree it needs to be strengthened after so much time off.
Again, as intrepid team reporter Mike Trudell put it on the air, this “isn’t a setback,” but instead it’s not the good news that folks were hoping for. I think a lot will be dictated by the trade deadline, and with the Lakers playing their way out of the playoff picture it gets a lot easier to justify keeping Kobe out the full year. On the other hand, Kobe is going to play when Kobe wants to play. He doesn’t want to lose valuable time on the floor at the end of his career. Practices and open gym don’t cut it. He knows that and he won’t throw in the towel – at least it doesn’t look like that right now – but the timetable could get mighty conservative. I’ll probably wait at least until the All Star break in the one spot I own him in, and by then we should know where he stands.
In the game itself Kendall Marshall had another solid showing with 11 points and 13 assists. As I said on Twitter we can pick out flaws in his game, but I think he has earned minutes going forward and also a shot at the starting job when the cavalry returns, too. I’m guessing he’ll have a 2-4 game leash to continue making his mark when the first guy gets back. That looks like it could be Steve Nash on Tuesday, and if I had to guess the order from there it would be Jordan Farmar and then Steve Blake. Nash represents a red flag injury risk that will get any and all veteran consideration, while Farmar is an explosive guy that would probably take a back seat to a healthy and productive Blake. I don’t like Marshall’s chances of running that gauntlet, but he has the durability edge and owners will simply want to ride him until the wheels fall off.
On the other hand, Pau Gasol (21 points, 13 boards, zero steals or blocks) owners have hopefully been working the phones trying to see what they can get. It’s correct to point out that his value will probably remain fairly consistent wherever he may get traded, but the concern for current owners is that his groin injury and value as a trade chip lend itself to missed games and general disarray. With three weeks to go until the trade deadline, his value could plummet pretty quick here. On a side note, Jordan Hill (10 points, 12 boards) is probably on a ton of wires during a two-game week and lackluster January, but I’ve upgraded him to being a mid-level stash for the chance that Gasol slows down, misses time with the groin, or gets traded in a tanking scenario.
Everybody else got great news with the Kobe report, so owners can hold Jodie Meeks (21 points, two threes, two steals) despite the foot injury, which is a mild concern at this point. The All Star break is in a great spot for him. Wesley Johnson produced so poorly over the past two weeks and was yanked around enough by Mike D’Antoni that he was dropped in many 14-team formats despite his late-round 12-team value on the year. He started and put up seven points, 10 boards, one three and a block and if he can secure that elusive 30-minute role he’ll be on most rosters once again. Ryan Kelly (10 points, three boards, two blocks, 6-of-7 FTs) got exposed on defense in his 19 minutes but he did enough good fantasy things on a bad night to hang onto some of his intrigue. Against teams not playing bruisers like David West he profiles like a D’Antoni favorite. The Manny Harris experiment might be ending after an 0-for-6 night, and that’ll help ease the minute issue all around. Nick Young had a down night with just 5-of-16 makes for 12 points and not much else, but like Meeks, Johnson and Kelly the Kobe news adds piece of mind to an already must-own equation.