DEATH FROM ABOVE
The Bulls are dealing with their own internal drama as owner Jerry Reinsdorf calls his own team out for being “mediocre,” and the air of friction between Tom Thibodeau and the team appears on the outside to be getting a wee bit musty. I’ve always maintained that Thibs needs more imagination on offense and to stop running his players into the ground, with the latter point also being one of the reasons his teams generally run tough. But make no mistake, he’s a top-10 coach in the association and the Bulls look like they’re flirting with a total rebuild – not to mention the alienation of many folks that think Thibodeau walks on water.
But that’s getting a bit ahead of itself, and the Bulls have found a new identity and that’s something between the Indians from Major League and a poor man’s version of the Spurs, who they just happened to topple last night. The win came against San Antonio’s JV squad, but up and down the box score everybody got a chance to get off with Jimmy Butler’s 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, four rebounds, three steals, two blocks and one three leading the way. D.J. Augustin brushed off the return of Kirk Hinrich (11 points, two assists, one steal, one three, 22 minutes) and put up 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting with five assists, two triples and a steal in 38 minutes.
Joakim Noah nearly triple-doubled on a monster night with 10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks, Mike Dunleavy scored 10 points with six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block, Carlos Boozer went for 16 and 12, and Taj Gibson was able to score 15 points with a steal and block despite everybody else doing their thing.
I worry about Noah getting fed up with any number of things, but he’s going to be a gamer as long as he can walk and hasn’t gone crazy. Augustin owners are holding onto a second round value over the past two weeks, and at a minimum that’s about three rounds too rich for his blood. Owners that can get a well-positioned top-50 guy in a sell-high deal are doing it right.
Consider this about Butler – he’s a top-65 value over the past 15 games despite a higher-volume 34.4 percent mark from the field. His other numbers, in particular his 2.7 steals per game over that span, seem a bit high but nothing is outlandish. In other words, this value is bound to go up as his shooting numbers regress so pick a bad outing and see if you can pry him out of his owners’ hands. There is absolutely nothing in his way for the rest of the year.
SAN ANTONIO SHUFFLE
There isn’t much to say about the Spurs other than that they’re more-than-hurt after the Manu Ginobili (hamstring, 3-4 weeks) news and apparently Boris Diaw (four points, 1-of-4 FGs, three rebounds, two assists, 29 minutes) isn’t the third member of the Spurs’ consistent fantasy guy club.
As mentioned he has been a borderline 12-14 team guy all season and this type of disappearing act isn’t new, but with Tiago Splitter returning as soon as the end of the week the safety net for Diaw is going to go away. He has been a top 60-100 play (8/9 cat) over the past seven games, averaging 13.4 points, 1.4 treys, 4.0 boards, 2.7 assists, 1.1 combined steals and blocks and a solid 57.8 percent mark from the field (83.3 percent from the line). He’s earned a stay of execution probably through Saturday and Monday in sweet matchups against the Kings and Pelicans – but owners will want to get their watch lists warmed up.
Marco Belinelli scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one three, which is paying the bills for owners that grabbed him at least for one night. His safety net is tied to the returns of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, and normally I’d just look at after the All Star break as a best-case scenario for either guy but the Spurs need one of them back pretty bad. We'll see. Outside of Tony Parker’s 20 and six and Tim Duncan’s 17 and 12 the only Spur to make some noise was Patty Mills with 12 points and a pair of triples.
SILENT BUT DEADLY
The Grizzlies took a while to shake the Kings in Sacto but they eventually outclassed them, and it’s long past time for me to give one of my favorite players Mike Conley the appropriate dap. Not only is he as good as they come on the defensive end – a side of the floor I favor – he’s among the league’s most consistent offensive point guards, too. A quiet guy that plays in a small market, Conley is making Team USA look downright incompetent by not having him on the pool squad, and last night he racked up 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting with three rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, two threes and a perfect nine free throws.
I saw about half of this game live and there were at least three possessions where pesky Isaiah Thomas chased him around for 20 seconds only to see Conley get around a corner and drill an extremely tough look. He has been the No. 9 and 13 play on a per-game basis over the past month in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively. He can’t keep shooting at a 48.8 percent clip, but I fully expect him to settle somewhere in the top-15 range.
Marc Gasol (12 points, five boards, five assists, two blocks) slowed down in a game he theoretically should have dominated, but playing in the SEGABABA and coming off a knee injury I’m not going to put a ton of stock in the muted effort. Zach Randolph added four steals to his typical 18 and seven and he also hit 50 percent of his shots. Now he just needs to do something like this every night for the rest of the year to be an asset in standard leagues without punting in his deficient areas.
Courtney Lee also had his first rough night in a while with four points on 2-of-4 shooting, two rebounds and one steal in 25 minutes. The pace of this game was very slow and the Grizzlies’ Big Three combined to take 39 shots, and those are the breaks for a fourth or fifth option on offense. As mentioned yesterday the team is really high on him, the trio of Conley, Lee and Tony Allen, and then Gasol as the anchor on defense. And I'm on board too and the Lee addition is just squirrely enough for me to put the Grizz in the hunt in the West. Heck, I probably like them better than the Thunder, who probably jumped up a few notches on the Vegas futures list after taking out the Heat. As for Lee he’s much too hot since arriving in Memphis to give up after one bad game.
James Johnson has hit a rough patch and he’s probably pissed after getting just 15 minutes last night in his return to Sacramento, and there has been some commentary out of Memphis that Dave Joerger is reining him in. It sounds about right given Johnson’s tendency to try and expand his role as he starts to do well, even if that’s clearly not in the game plan. The good news for Johnson’s owners is that he can play defense and add to an already gnarly looking unit on that end, and Tayshaun Prince (30 minutes) is basically a placeholder for anybody that can be average or better. Mike Miller’s sprained right thumb injury could open things up, too, and while Allen’s return will complicate matters Johnson hasn’t needed huge minutes to put up must-start value until this recent slowdown. I’m just benching him for now.
ON THE JOB TRAINING
Isaiah Thomas played after taking an IV for the flu and scored 24 points on 10-of-21 shooting with four treys, five assists and two turnovers last night. I was surprised to read as I was catching up on the game that he was getting torched by Mike Conley, which was the story in some parts last night, but a tape review showed 1-2 flaws in his coverage of Conley. It was actually a performance that will stand up under scrutiny yet there he was accepting the misplaced blame in the postgame. It’s a shame since he deserves all the kudos right now and it’s no small wonder that he or any other Kings player from the last two years isn’t damaged goods after the Keith Smart/Maloof experience.
Thomas is getting his first real on-the-job training and entering a real learning curve for the first time in his career, figuring out all the little things that he could have been learning two years ago such as picking and choosing his spots, off-ball defense and even something as stupid as not standing upright on defense when the action is on the other side of the court (you’re supposed to dart back and forth into the key like Shane Battier for extra style points). I’m taking all the house money I’m sitting on regarding this topic and betting we’ll see him in the All Star game within 2-3 years.
The Kings actually hung with the Grizzlies for most of the game despite being without DeMarcus Cousins, who will probably be a game-time decision for Friday’s game and Saturday seemed to be where Mike Malone was heading in his comments yesterday. It’s going to be interesting to see how he handles a potential snub from the All Star team, and it hasn’t helped that he hasn’t been able to put an exclamation point on a tremendous first half in this past week. As I said on the Sac Sports Annex podcast, if he doesn’t make the team it will be because voters are punishing him for his bad behavior. The interesting question is if we assume that just one of he and Dwight Howard can go, will the coaches also punish Howard for his offseason antics and give the nod to Cousins – who has outplayed Howard both head-to-head and on the year.
Owners may want Boogie to get burned here, since it’ll keep that rather large chip on his shoulder nice and sharp.
Rudy Gay (23 points, 10-of-16 FGs, five assists, five turnovers, one steal) returned to action and looked great early on in the game, but by the end of the game he appeared to be gimpy and he said after the game that he tweaked his foot. He also offered that he wouldn’t miss any games but Malone has made a ton of comments about protecting players from themselves so I’d say there’s a sliver of a chance he doesn’t play on Friday.
Otherwise, he’s been nothing short of exemplary on the offensive end since arriving in Sacramento, and while I agree with our blurb that he can’t keep up with the 52.8 percent shooting mark since the trade it should be noted that he is getting choice looks. Thomas handles the ball and keeps him from doing too much, and when Boogie is around the team is extremely deliberate with how Gay gets the ball. Some regression is coming and that along with the potential for days off on a bad team are sell-high signals, but I wouldn’t summarily assume he’s returning to the sub-42 percent days. Something in the ballpark of 46-49 percent sounds about right.
Jason Thompson (six points, seven boards) owners will want to get other options fired up since he’s already inconsistent with Boogie out, and overweight Carl Landry (eight points, nine boards, 23 minutes) might already be a better fantasy option. I’d still roll with J.T. over Landry as long as Cousins is out for now.
Marcus Thornton was straight-up benched for his pouting act after getting just two shot attempts in 17 minutes. It’s understandable that a scorer like Thornton is frustrated by not having any plays called for him, but he’s gotta understand where he’s at with the team and earn his touches on the defensive end – which was Malone’s stated reason for benching him. It stands to reason that he can be dropped with the team nearing full strength. As for Ben McLemore, it’s possible he gets moved back into the starting lineup but I think the team will still keep him on a tight leash wherever he plays, mostly for his own good so he doesn’t get down on himself. Derrick Williams (eight points, 19 minutes) is back to being waiver wire fodder but owners can file away a moderately positive report about his play in Gay’s absence.
PUSH IT TO THE (MINUTE) LIMIT
The Wizards rolled into L.A. and played the Clippers tough but still lost in the SEGABABA. John Wall hit 7-of-12 shots for 19 points, 11 rebounds, four boards and two steals, and Bradley Beal’s minute limit continued to keep him hot and focused as he put up 20 points with three assists and two steals but missed his three 3-point attempts.
Marcin Gortat put up a serviceable eight and five with one steal and three blocks, Trevor Ariza missed all six of his 3-point attempts but managed to go for 13 points and six assists, and Nene was his normal wonderful self with 14 points, eight boards, six assists and two steals in just 26 minutes. There was a Kevin Seraphin sighting as the long lost big man scored 10 points with seven boards and a block, but he needs to show us he can do it twice before anybody should even flinch. Martell Webster did his low-end, deep league thing with nine points and three treys, and all-in-all it was a fairly normal night for the Wiz.
DEANDRE THE GIANT
Just like the Wizards, the Clippers operated under the status quo and with solid contributions across the board they were able to dig out the win. J.J. Redick (20 points, three treys) and Jamal Crawford (21 points, five boards, three assists, two threes, 11-of-12 FTs) continued to operate just fine in tandem, while Matt Barnes wiped away any intrigue he may have had in standard leagues with just four points and four boards in 27 minutes.
Darren Collison put up 16 and nine, Blake Griffin had a monster night with 29 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block, and DeAndre Jordan went for 14 and 17 with a steal and two blocks and some key free throws down the stretch. Our blurb said that he deserves to be on the All Star team and he’s in the discussion without a doubt, but I’m still having a tough time wrapping my head around that but let’s just say I’m open-minded. He’s having a great season in the areas that he’s strong, which is all you can ask for if you’re the Clippers.