Some nights are bigger than others in the NBA, and when you have LeBron vs. Durant as the appetizer it goes without saying that the energy is going to be off the charts. There were 10 games after the Pistons/Hawks game got cancelled, and there were massive lines across the whole slate. It makes sense with the All Star reserves being voted on at this time and being announced today – everybody is making their last push and everybody belongs on the team. The hard part is figuring out who you’re going to kick off, and if there’s any time left in the day I’ll try to go on record with my reserve choices before they’re announced.
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SCOTTY DOESN’T CARE
I feel like I could do this recap by telling you that Scott Brooks benched Kendrick Perkins and the Thunder walloped the Heat and call it a wrap. There wasn't much fantasy stuff to talk about in this game, anyway.
I’ve never seen anything like this in sport, where there is a fairly uniform belief among those that cover the game that a player needs to be benched and for years that's an option that hasn't been on the table. The Heat have always represented the apex of the Thunder's decision to unconditionally love their heart-and-soul center, as Perkins simply doesn't fit on the basketball floor against them, and when you mix in championship stakes it has been a big story in my opinion. The Brooks-Perkins-OKC-Durant-Presti brain trust decided to ride or die with Perkins, and later with Derek Fisher, and it has wasted a three-year championship window for a potential top 5-10 player of all time in Durant.
But as the saying goes, ‘better late than never.’
Brooks was careful to say that this was a one-game thing but at least we know he’s capable of making the move now, and I can officially put them on my list of teams that has a chance at the title in June. Derek Fisher has actually found a way to make some of the positives outweigh the negatives lately, but if the Thunder can find a way to lay off their veteran crutch and get real threats in Reggie Jackson (nine points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals, one three) and Jeremy Lamb (18 points, 7-of-10 FGs, four treys, three boards, four assists, 35 minutes) comfortable before the playoffs then I could start to get behind them in the West.
That’s a lot of ifs though, and with Fisher banking in threes (making five total for 15 points) and giving ornery minutes in January it still seems like he’s giving Brooks the narrative to ride him hard. At this rate he’ll be out there in May and June giving up blow-bys and offsetting his contributions by general inefficiency, and it’s anybody’s guess if Brooks will continue to trot Perkins out there against the vast majority of teams that play larger than Miami. As usual this will come down to Brooks, who has unwavering support for his plan, and don’t think for a second that this big win and subsequent appearance coaching the West All Stars won’t help that along. The Thunder will continue mowing down the competition during the regular season and they’ll push to get Russell Westbrook back sooner rather than later so they can secure home court advantage and get acclimated for the stretch run.
But if they don’t give the lion’s share of minutes to Westy, Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha (nine points, five rebounds, four assists, six steals, one three), Durant (33-7-5 with four treys, two steals), Serge Ibaka (22 points, eight boards, one steal, one block) and Lamb – they’re not going to have the horses to keep up, even with the MVP in tow.
Fantasy-wise, Lamb has been a deep league guy but an outing like that would theoretically serve as a launching pad for the future. I don’t think owners can get too high here knowing Brooks isn’t likely to make a big change so he’s just a low-level add in standards at this time. Ibaka has been a top 8-9 play over the last eight games. Sefolosha is heating up but he’s still only worth a look in 14-team leagues at best.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $40,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Thursday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $6,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Thursday. Here's the FanDuel link.
HEY WHO’S THE JACKASS THAT TOLD THEM ABOUT OUR TRICK?
I’ve always maintained that Miami has been one of the weaker champions we’ve seen in the NBA by virtue of the flawed teams they beat to win and especially if we’re measuring teams with two titles in a row. Of course, it’s just a January game and I doubt the Heat are stressing over individual performances, though you have to know they’re pissed that they may have lost their automatic 15-point per game advantage in the playoffs due to the Perkins revelation. It was, however, a bit sobering to see the Thunder cut through the Heat so easily with their small lineup matching up perfectly with the Heat.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant were truly a basketball treat last night and given the state of each player’s game, it’s something that you’ll only get to see a handful of times throughout the next year, two or three. Enjoy it. James finished with 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting, one three, three rebounds, three assists and a perfect nine free throws on a statistically down night.
Chris Bosh went for 18 and nine and that’s where the good news ends for Heat fans. Mario Chalmers was active with six rebounds, eight assists and a steal, but five turnovers and just four points on 2-of-4 shooting underscored the lack of help for Bosh and James.
Dwyane Wade returned to the starting lineup and hit 7-of-12 shots for 15 points, but with just one rebound, two assists and two blocks to go with four turnovers he clearly wasn’t at 100 percent. At one point he was forced to run back and defend the fast break and he looked like me getting up out of my chair after an eight-hour session. He’s the X-factor for the Heat in the playoffs and it is what it is – we’ll see how he does then and until he proves otherwise he’s a day-to-day fantasy player. Owners in weekly leagues need to subtract at least a game per week off his slate and at this time probably 1.5-2.0 games.
The big news for Magic fans and fantasy owners was the return of Nikola Vucevic from a nasty concussion and the big man wasted no time putting up 16 and 10 with two steals in just 20 minutes. There’s nothing like a statement return game to help chase the injury blues.
The move sent Tobias Harris down to the bench but he managed a familiar looking nine points on 2-of-8 shooting, 11 rebounds and three assists, and while he didn’t hit a three he did put up a steal and a block. Those latter three areas are the key to his mediocre fantasy value in standard formats, despite the big scoring and rebounding numbers, and it was good to see him get on the board in 2-of-3 critical categories. It also didn’t hurt that Glen Davis continued to play himself into a hole, scoring just five points on 1-of-4 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 minutes. How long the Magic can continue to justify his minutes is unclear, and he has never really profiled like a guy they’d look to develop down the stretch. Harris is exactly that and he should be owned in all formats.
None of the Magic’s main guys played particularly well, with Jameer Nelson showing the best with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting, three triples, four assists and a steal. Victor Oladipo returned to the starting lineup and hit just 3-of-14 shots for 12 points and some spare change across the board.
Arron Afflalo is officially slumping hard, with borderline 12-team value over his last 14 games. In that span the key culprits have been regressed shooting from the field (42.9%) and from the line (78.5%), along with big drops in scoring and nearly a 50 percent reduction in 3-point buckets (1.1) over his season-long average (1.9). The regression was discussed in this space many times while he was a top 20-30 value and now he’s sitting in the top-50 range. In his current role and home it’s fair to assume he can hold steady from here.
Leave it to Greivis Vasquez to actually move into the starting shooting guard spot last night – a position change I want to see over the long-term – and have his first stinky line in a while. He went for six and six but did manage two threes on 2-of-7 shooting overall, and with DeMar DeRozan (ankle) traveling with the Raps on their upcoming five-game road trip it could be a short stay in that role. If he returns back to his limited 20-25 minute role off the bench, owners can look toward the borderline 12-team value he has returned over the last two weeks as a guide and speculators can hope that Kyle Lowry gets traded.
Of course, that’s going to be hard to do when Lowry continues to price himself out of the market with gems like the 33 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists and six treys he put up last night. It’s one thing to show that you can play and give a new team’s fan base something to get excited about, and it’s a whole other thing to command a mid-first round pick that teams don’t want to give up for a guy that has been relatively inconsistent, often hard-to-work with and most-certainly injury prone for much of his career. He has been a raging top-10 fantasy play over his last 17 games, averaging 18.3 points with 3.1 treys, 4.8 boards, 8.2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.4 blocks. Get some.
Jonas Valanciunas went for 14 and 15 and he had a block, and with non-existent defensive numbers holding his value below playable levels in standard 12-team formats -- this most recent points and boards explosion is enough to get him back in lineups. Terrence Ross hit just 4-of-13 shots (including two threes) for 12 points, but adding eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks is the sign of a maturing fantasy asset. He’s a must-own guy until he proves that he’s not, even with DeRozan returning.
Amir Johnson finally got back on the board with 22 and 11 with two steals and a three. The big game comes with Patrick Patterson (nose) taking another night off, so naturally there should be skepticism about his ability to get back on track. He’s not a must-own player in 12-team leagues at least until he can do this with Patterson back in the lineup, though it should be noted that Tyler Hansbrough was only able to log six minutes tonight. At least in the short-term, Psycho T doesn’t project to make this a three-way timeshare.
The Pistons and Hawks’ game was rescheduled yesterday due to all the icy conditions shutting down the roads. For owners speculating on Shelvin Mack or Jeff Teague it’s annoying to say the least, and all of the Pistons were slimmed down to a two-game week.
If you closed your eyes during the preseason after it became clear that Philly was gonna run like crazy, their box score in last night’s last-second win over the Celtics was probably what you were imagining. Evan Turner hit the game-winning shot and finished with 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting, six rebounds, eight assists and two steals, Thaddeus Young scored 16 points with two threes, four rebounds, five assists and a steal, and Spencer Hawes scored 20 points with eight rebounds, a steal and four threes.
Michael Carter Williams had a nice night with 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting, five boards, seven assists, one steal and two blocks, but it’s not nice enough to make owners feel better about a top-80 month in 8-cat leagues. In 9-cat leagues he has been virtually unplayable over that span in 12-14 team formats unless you’re punting. It sure feels like late 2013 was a perfect storm for his fantasy value.
James Anderson is back in the starting lineup and he posted 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting with six rebounds, four assists and a trey in his 29 minutes. He has been running well enough to justify being on rosters in 12-team leagues for the past two weeks, but he needs a couple more weeks under his belt before anybody feels comfortable about his longer-term value. Tony Wroten played just 14 minutes last night and it’s unclear if he’s being eased into things or if Brett Brown is simply letting Anderson play out his productive stretch.
THREE IS NOT A CROWD
Rajon Rondo ended up taking the night off and there was a 24-point, 17-rebound explosion by Jared Sullinger, but the biggest news for owners of Celtics players may have been the post-game note that Avery Bradley (ankle) is “very close” to returning. This will clean up a lot of the iffy fantasy plays like Gerald Wallace (one point, eight boards, two blocks, 34 minutes), Phil Pressey (two points, two assists, five turnovers, 21 minutes) and Chris Johnson (six points, five boards, five assists, two threes, one steal, 21 minutes), though C.J. still deserves fantasy consideration after yet another solid line. His margin for error is just going to become razor thin.
Sullinger’s big night was tempered by his 9-of-25 shooting line and lack of a block, but with a steal and a perfect six free throws it can still be classified as a life preserver for a late-round guy that had been middling. Make no mistake, with a 37.1 percent field goal percentage over the last eight games he has been just a 12-14 team value and this line actually does nothing to move the value in his favor because of the bad shooting. But having had a talk with Brad Stevens about becoming a more vocal leader, and with Rondo upping the quality of the offense and defense once he’s healthy, a turn toward efficiency could send a guy like Sullinger toward a mid-round valuation with that type of volume. That makes him worth owning in most if not all formats.
Brandon Bass (11 points, five boards, one steal, two blocks, 21 minutes) and Kris Humphries (13 points, nine boards, one block, 22 minutes) put forth another argument that these three guys can co-exist. Humphries’ stat set actually supports the best fantasy value of the three right now, with top 90-120 value over the past two weeks that edges out Bass by a round or two (and Sully a round or two below Bass).
SUNS ON FIRE
Goran Dragic put a charge into his All Star campaign with 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting (4-of-5 3PTs, 8-of-8 FTs), four rebounds, six assists and one steal in just 24 minutes, but the story after last night’s win over the Bucks was his elbow injury and whether or not it would cost him time. He left about a minute before the game ended to get into the locker room (X-rays negative) and not only did the elbow continue to swell up after the game, he has hurt this elbow both in the preseason and as a teenager. Dragic said he was “a little bit concerned” but that it was too soon to know how things would go. “We will see how I am feeling in the morning. I am a quick healer.”
Ish Smith (six points, six assists, two steals, 21 minutes) is a guy that everybody should be ready to add on a moment’s notice if news turns out bad for Dragic, though at this time it at least sounds like any potential absence would be a minor one. Leandro Barbosa (seven points, four assists, 21 minutes) could also be a primary beneficiary, though Smith has the young legs to absorb bigger minutes and has played pretty well at times this year.
Elsewhere Gerald Green continued to make the most of his newfound opportunity with 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, four threes, three assists, two steals and a perfect five free throws. He’s rocking top 30-40 value over the last 15 games and the only area that stands out as a guaranteed regression is his 90 percent foul shooting over that span. In other words, he may alternate good and bad nights or even slow down over the long-term, but he’s not wandering too far away from this lofty valuation.
Perhaps the most interesting news to come out of this game was Alex Len’s sudden burst of production off the bench, as the rookie put up seven points, 10 rebounds and a block in just 22 minutes. Miles Plumlee decided to make it even more interesting by having a slow night, scoring eight points with just three rebounds, two assists and a block in one less minute of action.
Plumlee has been sort of an open book this season. Long and lithe he’s looked as good as any young, non-elite big man in the game, basically playing hard-nosed and energetic basketball while cleaning up plenty of garbage. Len, on the other hand, has looked frail and slow when on the floor and at times not knowing where his ankle was at he had the look of guy mistakenly drafted for his height. After a review of Len’s minutes it’s a lot easier to see why he was taken with a high selection as he was able to exploit a Bucks team that matches up well for his body type, with nobody to punish him for his lack of strength and high center of gravity. He looked a lot like Plumlee out there, and though we should all be careful not to forget that the Bucks can make anybody look great, a timeshare at the position makes a lot of sense if you’re the Suns – as long as Len can swing it.
Judging by his play last night the answer would be ‘yes he can.’
HOW MUCH DO YOU *REALLY* LOVE BACON?
It’s pretty crazy that I’m about to give credit to Larry Drew’s team for only losing by nine points at home to a Suns team that everybody thought was tanking to start the year, but that’s what I’m going to do after two blowout losses entering last night.
Aside from not getting blown out, there were some much-needed outbursts from guys like Brandon Knight (24 points, 11-of-11 FTs, eight assists, two steals) and fantasy weirdo Ersan Ilyasova (27 points, 7-of-15 FGs, three treys, 10-of-10 FTs, four rebounds, no steals or blocks). Knight owners don’t have a whole lot to worry about these days as he’s playing at a must-start level for the most part, but Ilyasova has been a bacon-wrapped turd all season long and there’s simply no telling if this explosion will help the owners that hop on or hurt them by wasting their time. Winning fantasy players are usually upside hunters when it comes to the wire, so unfortunately you probably have your answer if you’re staring at him on your watch list. My condolences go out to all of us in advance.
Larry Sanders threw everybody for a loop by returning from his flu to post 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds and two blocks over 33 minutes off the bench in easily his best game of the year. John Henson was limited to nine points, six rebounds and one block in 22 foul-plagued minutes, but Drew was going to go to Sanders seemingly regardless of what was happening with Henson.
Despite the fact that Drew has been riding a suddenly serviceable Miroslav Raduljica (DNP) during fourth quarters and talking about getting Zaza Pachulia (foot) minutes when he returns, the Keith Smart impersonator essentially rolled with an eight-man rotation last night. O.J. Mayo missed another game with the flu, but maybe just maybe Drew is tired of being called out on Rotoworld and he’s going to tighten things up (/ducks).
Khris Middleton started and though he wasn’t as good as the numbers suggested, he still put up 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting with two threes, four boards and two assists in 34 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo flashed on my screen as I hopped around games last night and I immediately remembered what it felt like calling Paul George a poor man’s Kevin Durant as he toiled on Indy’s bench. The problem right now for his fantasy value is that his natural tendency is to pass and he’s in full-on deferral mode on offense. He can also get lost in games for any number of reasons, and as it stands right now his stat set isn’t conducive to fantasy value.
When he becomes a trigger man for the offense down the road, all of that changes. Whether that is this year or next year is a fair question, and having so much chaos around him it’s hard to project that he can handle being a trigger man under that circumstance. So while Alphabet is a better prospect than Middleton, I’d rather own the latter in a fantasy league as of today. Middleton has been all over the board with Drew’s rotations, but he’s starting these days and when you average out his production over the last two weeks he has been a top-85 play. He profiles well as a guy to get minutes on a tanking team and along with the production that’s good enough to be owned in most formats.