CENTERS OF ATTENTION
The Mavs can become an interesting team when they get decent play out of the center position and last night they went into Memphis and ripped off a big win, securing the season-series advantage in any tiebreaker between the playoff bubble teams. Samuel Dalembert had his second straight solid game with 14 points and 10 rebounds in his 23 minutes, though he didn’t have any blocks. As our blurb said, we’ve seen this act out of him only to watch him fall off, and he’s only worth a look for owners that are desperate for a big man in 12-14 team leagues.
Brandan Wright also continued to trend upward with his third straight interesting game, scoring 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting (5-of-7 FTs) with four rebounds though like Dally he did not have a steal or block. I wondered aloud yesterday if Wright might be getting over his shoulder injury and last night’s result would certainly support that, but he has not had a block in any of those three games and that’s a key to his fantasy value. The good news is that the blocks are likely to come, but whether or not he captures the increased role folks envisioned over the summer is what will really drive his value. Wright still operates in a three-way timeshare for the center and backup PF minutes, and he played just 18 minutes last night, but one more good game could make him worth an add in 12-14 team formats.
Dirk Nowitzki was his normal terrific self with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, three triples, six boards, three assists and two steals for good measure, and Shawn Marion (shoulder) returned to action and put up eight points, two threes and three steals in a low-key but effective return game. Marion is a must-own player and should be in most lineups. Jose Calderon (five points, 2-of-9 FGs, four assists) struggled but there is no reason to panic, and Devin Harris finally turned into a pumpkin with three points and three assists in 17 minutes. Vince Carter chipped in 13 points and seven assists and Monta Ellis hit just 5-of-16 shots for 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in the win. I still like Ellis as a buy low candidate after a down month or so due mostly to correctable free throw issues.
OUT OF GASOL-INE
The guys over at 3 Shades of Blue thought that Marc Gasol didn’t look 100 percent last night in their loss to the Mavs, a loss that gave the Mavs the season-series and could be a critical tiebreaker come playoff time. I had expected some declines in his game this year due to questions about athleticism and also because he has a viable backup in Kosta Koufos (eight minutes), but this is all about his knee which had a brace on it again last night. He hit just 3-of-6 shots (6-of-8 FTs) for 12 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals, zero blocks and six turnovers and the Grizzlies aren’t going anywhere if he’s not right. The All Star break couldn’t come at a better time and he’s a sneaky buy low guy with a spoonful of risk that he can’t get back to top 30-40 levels, let alone be the top-20 play he has been in the past.
Zach Randolph did what he needs to do to be a positive contributor to fantasy squads by scoring 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting with nine rebounds, four assists and a block. It’s when he’s going for 18 and seven and a steal with poor shooting numbers that he struggles to tread water in standard leagues. Courtney Lee flashed the upside many (including myself) think he has in Memphis with 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting, two 3-pointers, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block in a whopping 40 minutes. As we’ve talked about, the Grizzlies really like Lee and he’s a must-start player right now. Dave Joerger will probably find a way to keep him in a big enough role to also keep him on fantasy rosters.
Nick Calathes was an unpolished product, as expected, with six turnovers last night but he still had 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, two threes, five boards, five assists and three steals in 41 minutes. He’s a must-start player until Mike Conley (ankle) gets back, and I’d be targeting after the All Star break if I’m guessing when he’s going to return.
I’ve been imploring folks to hang onto James Johnson and he showed why last night, with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, two threes and four blocks in his 25 minutes. Eventually, when Johnson proves he can be trusted with his decision-making, he’ll be looking at this type of workload every night and he’ll likely be a must-start player. The Grizzlies need to figure out that Tayshaun Prince isn’t winning them any titles, and Johnson will also need to survive the return of Tony Allen and whatever Mike Miller can give. There are a few ifs in there but I like his chances of being worth owning in standard formats with some nice mid-round upside.
WINTER IN ATLANTA
The Hawks lost a pretty tight game to the Pellies last night after going cold in the fourth quarter and beyond that there wasn’t much to glean. Jeff Teague will get kudos for his 11 points and 13 assists, but he’s not challenging teams deep and he’s not creating turnovers and last night was no exception with goose eggs in those departments. It’s a chicken and egg thing with him – defenses can bear down on him due to the lack of other playmakers on the perimeter and at the same time Teague needs to help loosen up the defense with his outside shot. He’s a top-60 value on the year in 8-cat leagues and in 9-cat leagues he is a top-115 value because his production doesn’t justify the huge hit his 3.2 turnovers per game provides. He has slowly upped his field goal shooting to 41 percent but he needs to improve the 0.7 threes and 1.3 steals per game to live up to the preseason hype.
Paul Millsap turned it up for 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting with three treys, 10 boards, three assists, a steal and two blocks, and DeMarre Carroll scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting with four threes, seven boards, four assists and three steals in his 41 minutes. Carroll needs to be owned in all standard formats.
Mike Scott chipped in with 16 points, four treys and five boards, and as we talked about yesterday he was a strong add before the game and now he should be owned in all standard formats after a top 60-90 stretch (9/8 cat) over 13 games in the last month. Elton Brand was quiet compared to Tuesday’s outing, but he still notched four points, six boards and three blocks in his 20 minutes. With Pero Antic eventually returning and also because of Brand’s general risk, I’d only consider the former Dukie as a spot play if Antic is out and you’re desperate.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
It’s pretty amazing that I had to think about whether or not Anthony Davis did anything out of the ordinary in his 27-point, 10-rebound effort that included one steal and (gasp) just one block. I decided it was at least a little bit special because he hit 9-of-14 shots and 9-of-10 free throws. Steve Nebraska folks, Steve Nebraska.
The Pelicans got just enough from everybody else to get a much-needed home win, as Eric Gordon scored 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting with one triple and three boards. The fact that he’s still upright this season is pretty darn amazing. Brian Roberts has been up and down in his time as temporary starter, and last night he was up with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, one three, three boards, six assists and two steals. Of course, not having Tyreke Evans (ribs) around actually helps guys like Gordon and Roberts get into their flow, and in particular for Roberts it makes him a much safer start. In 9-cat leagues Roberts has been a deep league guy at best, and in 8-cat leagues he’s been just a low-end plug-in value in 12-14 team leagues since taking over.
Anthony Morrow backed up his 20-point outing from Monday with 16 points, two threes and five boards in his 27 minutes off the bench. Like Roberts, he is helped by Evans’ absence and he’ll be worth a spot-look if that continues. As for Evans, Monty Williams said about his rib injury “Somehow it may have a split in (the cartilage). It happens to players. It’s an injury that hurts really badly for a week, and then it goes away and heals.” The Pelicans have games on Friday, Sunday and Monday, the latter of which will be exactly a week from when the injury occurred. Owners should plan for guys like Roberts and Morrow accordingly.
Greg Stiemsma got all of the center minutes last night and finished with six points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks in 32 minutes off the bench. Alexis Ajinca had four points, four boards and one block in 15 minutes, and don’t look now but the center battle has swung the Stiemer's way. He has averaged 7.2 boards, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.3 blocks and hit 80 percent from the field over 26.7 minutes in his last six games. That’s good enough for top 60-100 value (9/8 cat) over that span and there’s no telling how long it can continue, but he’s worth a hard look especially if you need a center after that type of stretch. Ajinca’s barely interesting eight-point, 10-rebound outing from Monday falls by the wayside after his dud last night.
For all the talk by Kevin Love and others that he was fine after Tuesday’s fall he ended up being a late scratch last night, and against a surging Thunder team that was enough to doom the Wolves from the start. There were bright spots, however, including Dante Cunningham’s career-night of 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks. If Love cannot go in Friday’s game against the Pelicans then Cunningham will be worth a look as a spot-play, but this gem of a line isn’t enough to lift him out of deep league territory at best when measuring his last two weeks. There’s just not enough to hang onto at this point.
Ricky Rubio felt a bit more confident shooting the ball with Love, Nikola Pekovic and also Corey Brewer (personal) out, hitting 6-of-12 shots for 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and a three but no steals. I talked about Rubio yesterday and I’m simply not worried about the early round value nor am I trying to pass him off, and if anything I’m trying to buy low on a guy that’s basically at his statistical floor – barring an unlikely clash with Rick Adelman or an equally unlikely face-plant. I have noticed that his steals have fallen from record levels early on the season to just above 2.0 per game over the last month or so. Maybe Adelman is on his case to stop gambling or maybe it’s just a valley on the graph, but a continued dip there could sour me a little bit if it continues after the All Star break.
Kevin Martin (eight points, 4-of-10 FGs, zero threes, two steals) got blanketed by Thabo Sefolosha in his 23 minutes, and though there was no mention of injury during the postgame it’s something I’ll wonder about but not worry about for 48 hours until Friday’s game. I’d bet heavily that Martin’s name was all over the white board in the home team's locker room last night, so the result isn’t all that surprising and separately Martin is coming off a big 32-point night. Moving along.
Ronny Turiaf has at least a half-week of games to play while Nikola Pekovic (bursitis) is out if not more on an educated guess, and last night he did what he was picked up to do with four blocks, four points and four boards in his 28 minutes. If you added him in that capacity just keep riding him until the wheels fall off.
The Thunder got their 40th win last night against the depleted Wolves, and I couldn’t help but think about some comments I made earlier in the year about them really gunning for seeding in the playoffs. The narrative is about to tip out of favor for Scott Brooks and Sam Presti if they don’t show extremely well in May and June and that marks the beginning of the end for them – and this version of the Thunder is making sure they don’t let up on anybody. Kudos to Brooks, Presti and Co. for doing what they need to do to put themselves in position to take care of business, but regular readers will know where I stand on their ability to be the last team standing.
Kevin Durant (26 points, nine boards, seven assists, one steal, three treys, 11-of-20 FGs) strengthened his stranglehold on fantasy’s top spot, but hit just 1-of-1 free throws and also got looked off at the end of the game by Reggie Jackson. Jackson hit 9-of-14 shots (including two threes) for 20 points with three rebounds, a career-high nine assists and two steals in his 36 minutes, and the look-off of Durant has actually happened a few times this season.
The Thunder were up by seven points when it happened and Durant was pissed all the way through Jackson’s game-sealing pass to Thabo Sefolosha for a three and onto the bench where the talk continued. Beat writer Darnell Mayberry didn’t see any problem with Jackson doing it and I’ll take it one step further by saying I like it, because the Thunder need Jackson to play with ultimate confidence when the games count. Additionally, the Thunder are already way too reliant on Durant and their offensive strategy has always been a trouble-spot. Winging it on way too many trips down the floor, they can mitigate some of the issues with that by having additional playmakers on the court. I don’t want to see Jackson go too far with it – after all, the Russell Westbrook hate machine hasn’t even warmed up – but if he can find the right balance it could move him into the idealized Sixth Man role that was projected for him during the preseason.
Jeremy Lamb was on the other side of the spectrum with just seven points on 3-of-10 shooting, one three, three boards and three steals in his 17 minutes. He has scraped together very low-end value in 12-14 teams over his last eight games, with solid shooting percentages (49.3/80%) and modest averages of 10.6 points, 1.1 treys and 1.0 steals in 21.9 mpg.
Part of his low workload last night was the Thabo Sefolosha hit the Thunder put out on OKC measuring stick Kevin Martin, and Sefolosha responded with some great defense to go with 12 points (3-of-12 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), one three, six boards, one steal and one block in 32 minutes. He has been just a borderline value in 12-team leagues over the last month, but over the last two weeks or so he’s been worth starting with averages of 9.9 points, 1.3 triples, 3.8 boards, 2.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 47.4 percent shooting over 32 mpg in his last eight contests. Just keep in mind that the eventual return of Westbrook will likely knock him below 12-team value in standard formats.
Serge Ibaka had a quiet night by recent standards with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds and three blocks, and he has quietly climbed into the No. 11 rank for both 8- and 9-cat leagues on the year. He keeps it up and he may just have a shot at my preseason No. 6 rating.
Last night’s most recent loss by the Bucks to the Nuggets fit their standard of odd injuries and random rotations, but at least there was some good news to be had for owners of Larry Sanders. The maligned big man has been improving as of late and he might have put the exclamation point back by his name in a career-high 25-point night including 15 rebounds, one steal and one block. He saw some minutes at power forward and 34 of them total, with the PF minutes coming because in Larry Drew’s words John Henson (two points, five rebounds, one block, 17 minutes) was struggling in his return. It’s fair that Drew didn’t ride Henson hard in that circumstance, but it’s hard to trust the coach after a year of chaotic rotations.
Khris Middleton is a guy that I’ve implored owners to hold if possible and he’s starting to get separation from some of the other more inconsistent Bucks assets (hello Giannis). He poured in 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting with five threes, six boards, three assists and two steals and he’s a must-own player after his recent push. Drew could turn around and knock him off that perch, but with Caron Butler’s high ankle sprain and O.J. Mayo’s long-term flu he’s positioned well both now and later when the Bucks are really tanking. It doesn’t hurt that everybody on the Bucks is dealing with a back injury, including Ersan Ilyasova (eight points, 4-of-16 FGs, 11 rebounds, one block, 21 minutes), Luke Ridnour (four minutes) and Nate Wolters (four points, four assists, one steal, one block, 28 minutes).
Ridnour has fallen out of the rotation and Wolters hasn’t done anything to deserve fantasy consideration in most formats despite starting, but Ilyasova had started to pick things up to the extent that owners signed up for the ride again (we all bemoaned this fact together I’m sure). I don’t know if this back injury is serious or not but it’s enough to knock him off the must-own status he started to secure in standard formats. The only good news for him is that Drew referred to him as his starting four in the postgame, so at least he still has his job in that respect. Zaza Pachulia got 22 minutes last night and put up 15 points, four boards and two steals, aided heavily by an 11-of-12 mark from the line. Pachulia will do this every once in a while, but he’s to be left alone unless he goes on an extended run.
Giannis Antetokounmpo logged 33 minutes last night and that fact alone keeps him in the stash discussion, but watching lines like the five points, four rebounds, one steal, one block and four turnovers last night are deflating. I’m downgrading him to a stash in 14-16 team, 8-cat formats only.
The Nuggets’ big men gave up a grip of numbers to Larry Sanders last night but they were able to get enough on the offensive side to get a win against the lowly Bucks. Kenneth Faried (10 points, nine boards, two steals, one block) and J.J. Hickson (19 points, 10 boards, two steals, two blocks) looked like guys one would want to own based on last night’s play, but games against the Bucks aren’t going to suddenly reverse their well-chronicled issues in standard fantasy leagues.
I mentioned last week that I’d much rather own Timofey Mozgov (12 minutes, two boards, one block) than either Faried or Hickson, and then the latter two picked up the pace and especially Faried who has been playing at an unsustainable early round level. Because Mozgov is a low-level asset and his minutes are down I’m fine with taking Hickson over him for now and Faried’s recent push can’t be ignored, but owners should realize that both Faried and Hickson can go in the tank quickly because of their fantasy deficiencies.
Wilson Chandler (24 points) and Randy Foye (20 points, five threes, six assists, one steal, four blocks) took advantage of a bad opponent, and Foye is absolutely on fire with solid early round value lately. Chandler isn’t anywhere near that category but he should be in many standard lineups. Ty Lawson appears to be settling in after his time off as he posted 18 points, seven rebounds and 13 assists, and Evan Fournier predictably disappointed with just six points, four rebounds and two threes in 15 minutes. Like some of his teammates he has holes in his fantasy game, so he needed to come out with big minutes and big scoring numbers to be a standard league asset. That’s just not happening right now.
It was a big game for the Raptors’ second unit in Sacramento last night, a unit that is comprised of four Kings from the Rudy Gay trade that have all been playing better since being cast away. Unfortunately they ran into an improving Kings team that was playing with Adam Silver and owner Vivek Ranadive in the crowd and they know when it’s time to turn it on for big nights like that. Toronto was behind for much of the night but their higher-end fantasy assets survived, with Kyle Lowry leading the way with 21 points, seven boards, eight assists, one steal, two blocks and two threes. It would have been three treys if not for a really bad call that effectively ended the game for the Raptors, but in fairness one bad call in a poorly refereed game wasn’t the tipping point here.
DeMar DeRozan scored 18 points on 5-of-17 shooting with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, one three and 7-of-7 makes from the stripe, and Jonas Valanciunas went for 12 and 11 with three blocks in 21 foul-plagued minutes. In the case of JV it was to be expected that he’d struggle to stay on the floor against DeMarcus Cousins, and it also wasn’t surprising that he got his block total up against a Sacramento team that gets blocked a lot. In other words, the issue with JV’s blocks isn’t necessarily solved after last night.
Amir Johnson had just three points, three rebounds and one steal in his 18 minutes, and while he’s been droppable over the last few weeks this might not be the game to measure him with given the revenge factor for his teammates. Patrick Patterson logged 23 minutes and put up 14 points, two treys, four rebounds, three assists and a steal, and Greivis Vasquez (five points, four assists, 26 minutes) got worked over by Isaiah Thomas just like he was back at the Kings' practice facility. Terrence Ross (seven points, 3-of-9 FGs, 21 minutes) has also been slumping lately but like Amir I might not use this game as the one to cut him with. He still has mid-round value over the last two weeks, including the big 51-point game, and though it’s an outlier you have to count it to some degree in your evaluation.
There wasn’t much to say about the Kings other than that they played a generally great game in front of a sellout crowd and had the normal caveats and complaints one might have about a losing team’s imperfections. DeMarcus Cousins went for 25 and 10 with four assists, one steal and two blocks, Rudy Gay got a little overaggressive against his old buddies and that temptation won’t be there on most nights. He hit 7-of-17 shots (10-of-11 FTs) for 24 points, 10 boards, three assists, four steals and one block as one of my favorite buy low snags from a month ago.
Isaiah Thomas returned to his mostly efficient ways with 23 points on 12 shots (15-of-16 FTs), three rebounds, five assists, and two steals. His recent shooting slump doesn’t worry me in the slightest and he’s still an easy early round fantasy play. Marcus Thornton took a nasty spill and got knocked out of the game last night, but we still need to see more out of Ben McLemore (six points, 24 minutes) to get excited there. Jason Thompson went for nine and 10 with a block but he’s unlikely to show the consistency owners need in 12-team formats.