It felt good to sleep after last week’s trade deadline, but there is no rest for the weary. The last two months of the season are usually good for about 10 surprise fantasy difference-makers, and your league’s trade deadline is probably close to passing or has already passed. Owners tend to let up after the All Star break, and at the same time teams that are on the bubble of making the playoffs are ready to wheel and deal.
In other words, it's go time.
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With LaMarcus Aldridge (groin) out, more often than not it has been Damian Lillard (31 points, four treys, 11-of-13 FTs, seven rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block) picking up the slack and the same was obviously true last night in the Blazers’ win in Denver. Short of Steph Curry, I don’t know whose late-game 3-point attempts look more menacing at the peak of their arc. He’s enjoying a five-game stretch with top 10-15 value while Aldridge remains out, and for now that seems to be somewhere between day-to-day and week-to-week. After tonight’s game the Blazers have two days off and then they play every other day from March 1-11, so there is no obvious break in the schedule to target besides the March 1 game. Durability has always been the concern for Aldridge so owners should hope he takes the time to get things right.
Robin Lopez got loose for a career-high seven blocks to go with his 12 points, 10 boards and one steal. He has quietly been one of the better signings of the offseason and he’s enjoying a two-month stretch with top 40-60 value. Can’t beat that with a bat. Thomas Robinson (two points, five rebounds, one block, 14 minutes) followed up his big game by hurting his left knee and there is some concern that he could miss time. Dorell Wright scored 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block over 27 minutes in another start at power forward.
Wright has produced sneaky low-end value in 12-14 team leagues over his last four games with 7.5 points, 1.5 treys, 4.3 boards, 1.3 combined steals and blocks, and 52.6 percent shooting from the field in just 18.7 mpg. He has the look of a mini version of past models and with Robinson and Aldridge potentially missing games here in the next week he’s worth a look as a short-term play. Mo Williams (14 points, two threes, one steal, 26 minutes) probably fits the same description if it becomes an all-hands-on-deck moment.
THE DENVER OMELETTE
The Nuggets are a mess but at least they competed in last night’s home loss to the Blazers, but in the end they didn’t have enough firepower with Ty Lawson (ribs) out and Wilson Chandler M.I.A. Chandler hit just 3-of-12 shots for seven points, eight boards, one three and no steals or blocks in his 26 minutes, and the only good news is that he cracked double-digit shot attempts after a three-game slump in that department. He hasn’t been worth owning production-wise over the last month or so, though owners may have seen fit to hang on given his role for the Nugs.
Chandler is hitting 2.2 threes per game over that span but everything else is down, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to learn he’s gutting out one of his trademark mid-body injuries while the team is banged up. As a top 90-110 player when on the floor this year owners may want to cut him some slack in 12-team formats, in particular because a bounce-back could have a mid-round effect, but in a what-have-you-done-lately world I don’t blame anybody for making a drop – especially in crunch time.
Timofey Mozgov (14 points, six boards, two blocks, 25 minutes) moved into the starting lineup and I’ve definitely felt like I’ve been on an island talking about his potential for fantasy value. A really lame island.
The move to the starting lineup isn’t likely to change his minutes much, and I’m not even convinced that it sticks, but it does have the potential to both improve and stabilize his workload. From there, the type of line we saw last night is totally in his grasp. The organization has been high on him and it does make sense to pivot the minutes for Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson around him and not whatever the alternative is. He’s been an on-again, off-again low-end value in 14-team leagues over the last two months, so he’s worth a look for owners that need a big man with the hopes he can take a step or two forward. Expecting more is asking for a late-season breakout and that’s asking for more than the odds are telling us.
Hickson went off for a career-high 25 rebounds, 16 points, one steal and one block in 30 minutes off the bench, which is somewhat downgraded against a depleted Portland frontcourt, but it’s worth a tip of the cap nonetheless. It should be instructive that Hickson still isn’t rated in the top-200 in standard leagues over the last five games including this monster. If you’re punting in all of his deficient categories you could squeeze out some value but then again you’re probably doing it wrong. Faried scored 11 points with six rebounds and three assists and that’s it in his 22 minutes from last night, and he has held a late-round value for some time but owners have to hope that the new lineup doesn’t send him back to his early season woes.
Aaron Brooks did his normal fill-in routine with 14 points, five rebounds and six assists, Randy Foye scored 17 points with three treys, five boards, three assists and a steal, and Evan Fournier fizzled with nine points on 2-of-13 shooting, two boards, three assists and two steals in 31 minutes. Fournier has some holes in his fantasy game, including field goal percentage and defensive stats, so he needs to keep cooking in order to be worth owning. Ty Lawson’s looming return is probably enough to thwart that, but I get the sense that Fournier will outlast some of his teammates in a lost season and make some noise one more time. As of now there’s not enough meat on that bone for standard formats.
I don’t know why but it seems like Kevin Love’s monster nights don’t get as much run as they should. 33 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, two blocks, three treys and 10-of-14 freebies is absurd and when you pair it with his solid durability this season he is the No. 4 and 2 fantasy play on the year (8/9 cat). Dante Cunningham kept his solid run going with 12 points, five boards, three steals and three blocks, Corey Brewer (18 points, 7-of-9 FGs, one three, two steals) was useful and Chase Budinger (10 points, one three) was not in the Wolves’ road win over the Suns last night.
Budinger has been a bust in 12-14 team leagues and Brewer has had some low-end value in standards, and both are droppable knowing that Kevin Martin (thumb) is returning at any time now. Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is coming back soon too, as plugged-in writer Darren Wolfson said he would be shocked if Pekovic doesn't return in the next game on Saturday in Sacramento, provided he isn’t off somewhere being a badass doing badass things per every single Pekovic joke ever. Cunningham owners can make the drop in advance knowing it’s not the end of the world.
It wasn’t apparent during the game but Goran Dragic did indeed sprain his ankle in the third quarter of last night’s game, which explains the lackluster 16 points with three rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one three in 25 minutes before fouling out. He’s questionable for tonight’s game in Utah and the short flight will pose additional risk of swelling, but the bigger issue facing owners is what to do with Eric Bledsoe coming back soon.
Assuming the ankle isn’t a big deal, because if it has any long-term component to it then the Suns could easily justify leaning on Bledsoe if the tables turn injury-wise, but assuming it’s not a big deal then Dragic has earned at minimum a No. 1B role. He’s also the favorite for the No. 1A role at this time. I’d discount him by about a round and that’s it if you’re looking to sell high. All things equal that means you’re looking for a well-situated second to third round player in 8- and 9-cat leagues, respectively. Ish Smith (seven points, seven assists, four steals, 29 minutes) is the spot-play in the event that Dragic misses time.
Markieff Morris (24 points, 9-of-20 FGs, three rebounds, one steal) is the other story out of Phoenix these days, and after yet another solid night he’s starting to resemble a consistent fantasy play. His last five games have brought back averages of 19.4 points, 0.2 threes, 6.2 boards, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 54.7 percent shooting from the field. That’s good for early round value and the next stage of his evolution is probably going to settle in the middle rounds, assuming he doesn’t fall back into his old on-again, off-again pattern. The overall package is well worth owning in all formats and has been for much of the year, but if you’re looking at where to peg his value that’s your likely answer.
Miles Plumlee’s minutes (17) and production (six points, seven boards, one steal, two blocks) have steadily waned, and Morris has been behind that and benefiting from the stability of the extra minutes. Plumlee hasn’t even been the best Plumlee in the family lately (that would be Mason) and he can be dropped in 12-team formats if he hasn’t been already.
P.J. Tucker (six points, 16 boards, one steal, two blocks) continued to do at least one thing exceedingly well per night and the defensive stats put a bow on this effort. He has been a solid late-round value this season and should be owned in most formats even though he is far from a must-start player. Channing Frye’s (four points, three boards, one block, 25 minutes) slumps aren’t even that bad as he’s still posting top-80 value over the past four games. He may end up getting hurt by the return of Bledsoe and the rise of Markieff, but I’m not dying to drop him as a result of what we’re seeing right now. Gerald Green (19 points, 7-of-15 FGs, one three, six rebounds, one block) is a sell-high candidate but that’s pretty obvious at this point.
JAMES AND THE GIANT BASKETBALL HOOP
James Harden just absolutely mauled the Kings last night in the Rockets’ blowout win. Ben McLemore has plenty of athleticism but still struggles with staying in front of average offensive players, and watching Harden toy with Ben and otherwise run downhill was plain old fun. He finished three points short of a career-mark with 43 points on 11-of-20 shooting, 6-of-9 3PTs, 15-of-16 FTs, two rebounds, eight assists and three steals before mercifully calling it an early night.
The whole box was skewed because of the big score, but Dwight Howard (20 points, 11 boards, two blocks) continued to look more polished in the post while surviving a knee-knock with DeMarcus Cousins that had him leave the game for a stretch. We have him on the injury report for tonight’s game against the Clippers and there wasn’t any talk about missed time after the game, so he’ll probably go in the marquee matchup.
Terrence Jones hit 5-of-5 shots for 11 points but had just two rebounds to go with his one block and his energy has come into question too many times lately. He has been terrible for the last week or two and he needs to have a make-good game before drop questions start to creep in. He’s still a top 65-85 value over the last two months and there is some goodwill that comes with that, and last night’s game is certainly not one to obsess over. One just has to wonder if the trade deadline and All Star break sort of scrambled his circuits. The Rockets need to get him going for the playoffs and I’d still bet on that over a trip to the waiver wire.
Likewise, this isn’t the time to panic on an improving Patrick Beverley (five points, one steal, one three, 26 minutes). He has been a solid mid-round value over the last two months while hitting just 36.3 percent of his shots, speaking to the sneaky value that averages of 9.4 points, 1.8 threes, 4.0 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.4 blocks per game can bring. Now if he actually did anything with the ball on offense we’d be on to something.
Defensively, if he doesn’t make the first team voters should lose their ballots. He has my vote for Defensive Player of the Year with what he does on nearly every play to impact the possession. He’s the Deion Sanders of the NBA, but unlike Deion he’s willing to tackle. Beverley will never have the sheer size/strength/athleticism combo that a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan brought to the men’s side of the court, but his brilliance lies in the fact that without a hand-check he can ride any player in this league at the hip and also get enough elevation to challenge a shot. That he can’t cover a LeBron or Kevin Durant can’t be held against him, as even LeBron is ill-equipped to cover a Tony Parker, Chris Paul or Stephen Curry. Beverley not only chops the head off the snake, but he also does about a million other things that two-way players don’t have the energy to do. The Rockets will pay him under $1 million next season on his current contract. Filthy.
Jordan Hamilton got an extended look in 24 minutes and posted 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting (including two threes) with five rebounds, one steal and one block. There isn’t a lot of space for him to work within and this game should be ignored given the score and opponent, but it was definitely in the game plan to get him some early minutes. If the Rockets want to upgrade their athleticism on the wings he’s a logical place to look. Just watch this from afar and from the wire in most formats.
STOMPED IN SACTO
Nothing was terribly surprising in the Kings’ box score last night even with the score being out of hand early in the first quarter. The big story, though, was DeMarcus Cousins going ballistic and needing to be restrained from a referee for a total of two technical fouls (Nos. 14 and 15). More on that in a bit.
Isaiah Thomas hit just 4-of-14 shots for 12 points, three rebounds, five assists, three steals and two treys while dealing with the Patrick Beverley treatment, and for the first time in a while I was not nodding in agreement with Mike Malone on his game plan last night. The Rockets not only had Beverley to stunt the Pizza Guy, but they trapped, hedged and overplayed everything. Too often the Kings were left without enough ballhandlers to beat the pressure and like that the game was over.
Ben McLemore’s shot is broken. He hits just 4-of-16 looks last night for 15 points, four steals, one three and six perfect foul shots, but most of the shots he missed weren’t close and the ones he made came in garbage time. If he had the dribbles to buy some time it would help him immensely, and he also lacks the finishing touch to make defenders fear the blow-by the way they should for a guy with McLemore’s athleticism. It all adds up to underconfident, awkward and rushed looks, and even when he’s wide open he’s not a good enough shooter to make the defense pay with consistency. He’d do well to go on a diet of cuts and dives to the hoop and work outward from there, taking just the wide open threes he needs to take to keep the defense honest.
Rudy Gay’s efficiency is back now that the Big Three are intact, as expected, and he hit 10-of-16 shots for 25 points, three rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block and two threes. I hope you didn’t sell high. In a past life he’d have taken the challenge of defending James Harden, and that’s something for teams to note when considering his athleticism. He’s still an above average NBA athlete, but he relies more on his craftiness than the average NBA fan would think.