RETURN OF THE KING
The Heat and Clippers brought the thump in the night’s final matchup and the game was close late until the Heat pulled away at the end. As usual LeBron James did the heavy lifting with 31 points, three treys, eight boards, 12 assists, three steals, one block and an unsightly seven turnovers. He has been flirting with triple-doubles this week and has gone back to playing at a No. 2 overall level, and his splits over the last two weeks to the last month have been in the top 4-8 range. This profiles as the time during the season where he makes his big push before he eases off the accelerator closer to April.
Dwyane Wade (14 points, three boards, eight assists) played and that’s good enough for owners as he’ll be day-to-day seemingly all year, and Chris Bosh was active with 15 points, two threes, eight boards, four assists and two steals. Mario Chalmers was quiet with 10 points, two threes, three assists and two steals in 26 foul-plagued minutes, and both Shane Battier (14 points, four threes) and Ray Allen (15 points, two threes) were clutch from deep. As usual, there wasn’t much going on with Heat fantasy values last night.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION PART DEUX
The Clippers got late word last night that they would be without J.J. Redick (hip), and along with the absence of Chris Paul that really opens things up for Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, especially in the case of Griffin vs. the Heat’s poor interior defense. Griffin tore them up for 43 points on a ridiculous 16-of-34 shooting with 15 rebounds, six assists and he even hit a three. The only blemish was a 10-of-17 mark from the line, but with all that usage and production it’s explainable and condonable during a year that Griffin has improved from the stripe.
Crawford hit just 9-of-21 shots but five of them were 3-pointers and add an 8-of-8 mark from the line and owners got 31 points, three rebounds, six assists and three steals over 47 minutes. This is an obvious sell-high moment with Redick expected back soon and Chris Paul (shoulder) targeting Sunday by the most recent report. Of course, that means Darren Collison’s (five points, 1-of-6 FGs, five boards, nine assists, one steal, one block) run is coming to an end. Matt Barnes even got in on the act with 12 points, seven boards, four assists, two steals and a three in his 40 minutes last night, but he needs to show he can give even a poor man’s version of this in the Clippers’ regular lineup. Until then, he’s waiver wire fodder in 12-14 team formats. DeAndre Jordan went for 16 and 16 with a steal and block in the loss.
GENE HACKMAN DOES NOT APPROVE
The only thing more absurd than the ending of last night’s Lakers game was the situation in Cleveland, and though the Lakers are their own fantasy call-in show at least the news is positive for early adopters of guys like Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar. The news is also fairly good for those that held Kendall Marshall, though things will continue to be tenuous as the Lakers climb back up to full strength.
In short, the Lakers started slapping the Cavs around and then let their second unit crawl back into the game, and because they had just eight active players their foul trouble turned into a fairly historic event. Because teams are not allowed to dip below five players on the court, Robert Sacre’s sixth foul did not knock him off the court when Farmar left with a calf injury, Chris Kaman fouled out and Nick Young left the game with a knee injury. To say a lot happened here would be something like calling the Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves a small fracas. The Lakers were assessed a technical foul and Sacre would get a technical foul for any future foul he committed, but of course the Cavs didn’t care about the added incentive and they shot a bunch of bad jumpers nowhere near Sacre and lost.
There were some really big lines in this game, starting with one of my recommended adds for a while now Ryan Kelly, who scored a career-high 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting (7-of-9 FTs) with three treys, six boards and a steal in 42 minutes. I liked him before last night and needless to say I think he’s a must-own player after posting late-round value over the last month while hitting just 39.8 percent of his shots over that span. Yes, he’s just a shooting guard masquerading as a power forward so it’s fair to wonder if the shooting percentage has any chance of a major increase.
I covered his and others’ situations in depth yesterday, including discussion on Kelly’s limitations defensively, but it’s fair to say his month-long valuation is a floor in what was a 26.6 minute per game sample over 15 contests. If we want to nitpick his free throw percentage is also 10 percent too high on a decent volume (3.4 FTAs/gm), but it’s also possible that he could improve an 80-plus percent mark over his final three seasons at Duke. As discussed yesterday, he is exactly what Mike D’Antoni wants offensively at power forward, and as long as he’s not totally ice-cold or getting eviscerated on defense (note: destroyed is probably okay) – he’s going to be in the lineup for Mike D.
The news on Pau Gasol’s hamstring and a potential trade only help his case, as does the general brittleness of Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman isn’t exactly an angel in that department, either. Add in more playmakers to help get Kelly the ball in good spots and I’d consider him a must-add player unless you’re absolutely stacked in a 10-team format.
The one thing we don’t want to do after this game is give the Lakers too much credit, because the Cavs are terrible and on the verge of imploding, but the news was exceedingly good for Blake enthusiasts like yours truly as he’s clearly one D’Antoni’s favorite players. As mentioned yesterday he has batted away any and all challenges from teammates and last night he triple-doubled with 11 points on 2-of-7 shooting (all threes), 10 rebounds, 15 assists, three steals and an ugly seven turnovers in 40 minutes.
Before I get too deeply into the guard rotation, it may be helpful to simply read Dave McMenamin’s highly specific piece on the guard rotation in L.A. I’ll summarize it for you but it’s one of those perfect fantasy articles that you never see. Blake is obviously the top dog and he’s going to get first crack at starter’s minutes, and I’ve seen enough to call him a must-own and likely must-start player for the rest of the year. Congratulations if you took the plunge.
In D’Antoni’s eyes Steve Nash has earned the right to start and play as many minutes as he can handle, but functionally he likes that Nash can warm up and have a set schedule of minutes. Again, none of this will impact Blake unless he gets hurt. Farmar is next in line after Blake and he’ll be the first guy to get a windfall of minutes whenever Nash can’t play or he gets hurt, and after that Kendall Marshall will be the next to eat.
Farmar, of course, hurt his calf and had to tap out of the game, but he was on fire prior to that with 21 points, five treys, eight assists and two steals in his 33 minutes. Again, the Cavs suck, but this is D’Antoni’s system that we’re dealing with and Farmar has shown this type of explosiveness at times this season. The biggest concern with Farmar is that he doesn’t get owners defensive stats and his shooting percentage is bad, but he does everything else well and has been 14-18 team value on the season (8/9 cat) in his 21.3 minutes per game.
He is expected to play Friday in a jackpot game against the Sixers, and at the same time Nick Young (knee) is doubtful for that game in a speculative report by intrepid reporter Mike Trudell. Young is getting an MRI and though he didn’t need crutches to walk out of the arena he seemed sort of pissed. The bottom line is that an MRI suggests the possibility of a longer absence but just a minor absence shouldn’t be ruled out.
Either way, Farmar needs about 25 minute per game to level out as a late-round guy and in a best-case scenario he plays alongside Blake while Marshall backs both of them up and Nash inevitably gets hurt. He’d be looking at up to 30 minutes and he’d have some more solid late-round value until Kobe Bryant returns, if he returns. In a four-man rotation he’s probably going to be hit or miss and have just borderline upside in 12-team formats with his 20-25 minute role, making him a guy to add in deep leagues while Kobe is out and that’s about it. If you want to bump him up for the likelihood that Nash gets hurt, the fact that Jodie Meeks and Young’s injuries have created at least a short-term window to test drive him, and then measure that against Kobe’s potential return around the end of February (or not at all) -- you’re doing it all right.
As for Young, I wish I could be as optimistic as some but I just don’t see the upside of calling him a must-own player when he has just top-125 value on the season over an average of 28.8 minutes per game. He has fit in the category of ‘necessary evil’ and he has improved in several areas this season -- mostly intangibles -- but as the team gets all these guys back they simply won’t need to rely on him for his main trait, which is offense. I’d call him a guy to consider adding/holding in 14-team leagues based on an assumption that this injury is minor.
I mentioned yesterday that I was trying to hold onto Kendall Marshall and he bought time with owners by scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting (all threes) with four rebounds, seven assists and one steal in 25 minutes off the bench. Yes, the numerous absences helped clear the path for him last night, but the overwhelming commentary from those around the team after a solid outing is that he is handling his demotion perfectly. If there was ever a coach to field an all point guard lineup it would be D’Antoni, and all kidding aside I’d guess he has earned a 15-20 minute role off the bench at worst when everybody is at full strength, at least until Kobe returns.
Again, this result against the Cavs needs to be discounted, but the Lakers are going to run with this group and something in the ballpark of 23-27 minutes per game seems like a decent floor if we’re looking at the next month. He has a decent shot at holding late-round value in that scenario, with enough upside as a top 60-90 value over the last month (8/9 cat) to give owners some hope should he end up leading the charge.
Wesley Johnson could have led this recap after his 20 points, four threes, nine rebounds and two blocks in 41 minutes, especially with all the injuries surrounding him. Point blank he’s a must-own player right now with so many players hurt. He has solid late-round value on the season in a 27.4 minute per game sample, so needless to say if everything breaks the right way he’ll exceed that total and have some mid-round upside. His window could be very short, however if Meeks, Young and eventually Kobe return and the backcourt has otherwise held up. Make no mistake, there’s a decent amount of risk with this pickup. But mid-round upside for a healthy guy on an aging, tanking team makes him better than your typical low-end pickup in 12-team formats.
What can we say about Jordan Hill other than that it’s anybody’s guess if he can hold it together for fantasy owners. Getting dinged by Chris Kaman and missing games due to a cervical strain is the type of thing that happens as a freak occurrence or to players with multiple other problems, and Hill profiles as the latter, but he’ll return on Friday in the aforementioned jackpot game. With Gasol and Kaman also big question marks there’s still enough upside to make an add. Like Johnson, he’s something better than your typical low-end waiver add, but the question marks keep him from broaching that next level of adds that can replace a relatively stable late-round producer in a standard format.
Robert Sacre showed why he is only a deep league guy at best right now with just 10 points, three rebounds and a block in this free for all, and Kaman scored 13 points in 14 minutes on 6-of-7 shooting to go with three rebounds but fouled out. Kaman is a big old mess this year and has just late-round upside in a best-case scenario. I sense the current arrangement with Sacre starting will continue and Hill will be the first big off the bench with Kaman getting the mop-up duties, but you never know.
I’m still selling on Nash as a pickup even though he’s likely to put a hurting on the Sixers on Friday. Just too much injury risk and hassle with the DNPs and such.
CRUMBLING IN CLEVELAND
At this point I don’t even know how you put Kyrie Irving in an All Star game let alone name him the starter, other than that the fans were responsible for it and that’s usually going to have some interesting results. Teams with problem players do what the Cavs did as they rolled over early, often and late against the Lakers, a team that would have been down to four eligible players without the NBA rule prohibiting that.
Irving is square in the middle of that storm and it’s his defense, shot selection and general attitude that are prohibiting the team from moving forward, as he’s the guy that needs to lead by example and isn’t. A guy like Dion Waiters (six points, 24 minutes) can do that stuff and it isn’t going to cripple you -- and he’s certainly doing his fair share of crippling -- but when your No. 1 overall pick and franchise player does it the best coach in the world is going to have a hard time fixing it. Add a dash of Mike Brown on a five-year deal into that equation and it’s a spectacular disaster.
It’s telling that a guy like Jarrett Jack (seven points, four rebounds, one assist, one block, 17 minutes) has been lauded for his leadership and is just one year removed from ‘Jarrett Jack God Mode’ nights at Oracle – and he can barely play these days. Anthony Bennett’s confidence issues have taken a backseat this year as the team has too much on its plate, though last night the rookie was part of the second unit that brought the Cavs back. He finished with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting, eight rebounds, two steals and a 6-of-6 mark.
Am I adding the rookie in a fantasy league? I’d consider him a low-level flier based only on the criteria that last night’s loss may have been a turning point for the franchise and they might choose to throw caution to the wind. Bennett’s conditioning is a mess and so is he in pure basketball terms, but there’s something to be said for his offensive potential if he can work through the early issues. Again, he’s a low-level flier in 12-14 team formats.
Irving (11 points, six boards, four assists, four steals) and the whole starting unit other than Anderson Varejao (15 and 13 with two steals) were benched for much of the third and most of the fourth quarters. Luol Deng hit just 1-of-10 shots for three points, three boards and two assists, and if you want to get a clear answer on what is wrong with the defense he and the author of this piece lay things out pretty well here (among other issues). Deng could be the only thing that saves Cleveland even if he doesn’t last there beyond this season, as his word arguably weighs more than anybody else’s in that organization and he can pretty much call things like they are. If the Cavs can get rid of Waiters and force Irving to buy in, I can see the dysfunction easing up and Deng getting back to some semblance of his past value. I don’t know if there’s enough hope there, however, to call him a buy low candidate. Just hold onto him for now if you own him.
As alluded to, Jack failed his fantasy test and he can be dropped until he proves himself, and Tristan Thompson (13 points, eight rebounds) is also in the group of players that mailed it in last night. He’s not a good enough basketball player to do things like that and his mediocre fantasy value can’t sustain anything but best-case scenarios out of the guy because all he does is rebound and inefficiently score.