Last night wasn’t so much a Big Wednesday as it was a Weird Wednesday, as owners of Paul George and Mike Conley can attest. Throw in a bunch of blowouts and it felt more like April than early March, but nonetheless there were plenty of storylines on a busy night so let’s jump right in.
For real-time NBA news and information as we head into the fantasy playoffs, you can click here to follow me on Twitter.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $50,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Thursday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $7,500. Starts at 8pm ET on Thursday. Here's the FanDuel link.
ADVERSITY IN INDY
I wrote yesterday that this was the time of the year that ringless teams start to forge their championship identity. I also wrote that the Pacers would likely come out angry against the Bobcats following their last-second loss to the Warriors, and through a combination of injuries and lack of mojo the exact opposite happened in last night’s blowout loss.
A few different things are catching up with Indiana right now and the shoulder injury to George Hill (17 points, 6-of-10 FGs, three treys, three boards, one assist, zero steals, 31 minutes) and back injury to Paul George (0-for-9 FGs, two points, seven boards, one block, 34 minutes) shouldn’t be overlooked. It wouldn’t have been surprising if Hill didn't play last night had C.J. Watson (arm) not been ruled out, but he was productive in the box and by virtue of that owners can be cautiously optimistic that he’ll stay off the sidelines.
Defense has been the problem for Indy for a few weeks and Hill hasn’t been consistent in that department this year, nor has popular DPOY candidate Roy Hibbert. George talked after the game about how his back injury limited him. The Pacers just aren't the Pacers when they're not locking down the important side of the court.
Hibbert got rolled by Al Jefferson and that’s the type of matchup he should excel in with his mastery of (and rep) for verticality. But Hibbert hasn’t had the mobility he showed in last year’s playoffs, leading to drops in rebounding and defensive stats despite a small minute increase over last season. On a night in which George is struggling mightily, he needs to be a legitimate initiator of offense and he just hasn’t been able to do that this season, both taking and making less shots than he did last year.
Part of this can be attributed to the increased role for Lance Stephenson (12 points, eight boards, three assists, two threes), but nevertheless part of the Pacers’ appeal has been their across-the-board strength at all five positions and lately they have been slipping in that department.
Owners will want to keep an eye on Hill and George for their respective injuries, and Stephenson appeared to tweak his groin and wasn’t moving well throughout the game. The team heads out for a Texas two-step starting with the Rockets on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday, with the former being as big of a game for the Pacers’ psyche as it is in terms of cachet for fans.
David West (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists) spoke in frustrated tones after the game, signaling that everything that could be said has been said in the locker room. As I said yesterday, the Pacers are just a half-step off everywhere. Add it all together and the Pacers have been winning ugly for a while now, which incidentally has been good enough to hang onto the best record in the NBA.
The time for talk is over. They know that and these are the moments that championship teams are made of. Like many teams, they need to find a way to get their star easier looks off the ball. The wear and tear of carrying the load has certainly knocked George back. Stephenson and the whole group need to move the ball a little bit better. Struggles on offense are carrying over into their defense, which has lost nearly 10 points per game off of its points allowed average over the last month or so. Evan Turner scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting with five assists and two threes all while holding a mop, and that was probably the lone, yet important silver lining to come out of last night. He needs to be ready to provide quality execution of ballhandling duties in the event the big guns don’t show up.
Most importantly, they need to get that angry chip back onto their shoulder and press their advantage defensively. Defense leads to offense as it’s all so simple, yet if it were that easy everybody would be doing it. I’ll have to check their championship odds before I go do my spot on ESPN Vegas this Friday morning, because I’m sure they’ve improved their value and I’m still betting on them to get things figured out.
BIG AL BONANZA
Big Al Jefferson took my fade recommendation to heart, clearly. It’s noted that the Pacers are a mess right now, but anytime you go for 34 points on 16-of-25 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and a rare prayer of a three it’s worth a tip of the cap. He and I are running neck-and-neck on my preseason prediction but he’ll get me if something doesn’t change with his health here pretty soon. And I’d be happy to be wrong because I don’t and never will root for injuries, but the Cats are going to ride him as hard as they can until the playoff scenario clears itself up.
They’re three games behind an all-important No. 6 seed (to avoid IND/MIA) and four games ahead of No. 9 Detroit. That gives Charlotte a pretty good chance of being headed toward a No. 7/8 seed and that might be when the Bobcats decide it’s more important to give Jefferson some time off his feet rather than fight over those last two seeds. It’s all just food for thought as you plan for final playoff weeks and the like.
If I got the fade recommendation on Jefferson wrong I was able to get the ride recommendation on Kemba Walker (19 points, 7-of-14 FGs, nine assists, one three, one block) correct, as Walker busted out of a week-long slump. Chris Douglas-Roberts started for injured Gerald Henderson (calf), who sounds like he’s more week-to-week than day-to-day right now, and CDR posted a healthy 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with three treys, two boards, three assists and three steals in 29 minutes.
Gary Neal hangs out on the other side of that equation and logged 25 minutes off the bench with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, two threes, four rebounds and one assist. Douglas-Roberts can be considered a low-level speculative add for 12-14 team formats (9/8 cat) with the hope owners can squeeze 1-2 weeks of action out of him, and Neal needs to be more productive before owners in most normal leagues should be making an add.
The Jazz are a bad basketball team, but they weren’t supposed to be this bad and last night was more of the same as they lost in Washington. The most interesting thing from Utah’s perspective last night was a pair of tweets from beat writer Steve Luhm after Gordon Hayward was benched early in the second half.
“Not sure that’s the problem,” said Luhm, adding “Interesting stuff going on with (Ty) Corbin and Hayward. Neither being signed for next year adds to the dynamic.”
Luhm has been around a while and whether he's reading between the lines or knows more that he can't say, it's an interesting comment and perhaps the first cracks to show in the locker room. And if there is any truth or substance to this comment it will be the most recent quiet indictment of the job Corbin is doing.
Neither of his big men are playing well, with Derrick Favors (five points, five boards, four blocks, 26 foul-plagued minutes) showing little progress and Enes Kanter (11 points, eight boards) regressing this season. Trey Burke (14 points, 5-of-14 FGs, two threes, four rebounds, three assists, zero steals) is barely treading water.
Hayward hit 5-of-12 shots for 12 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 37 minutes so it’s not like he struggled or saw his minutes clipped at all in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been predicting a nice bounce-back shooting the ball and though some purported tension might complicate things I’m still bullish that the shots will start falling at about a 43-45 percent clip for the rest of the year, which would return easy early round value.
With all the losing and bad play it's fair to wonder if or when the team will start making vacation plans and what type of impact that will have on fantasy values. Favors was a buy low guy I’ve wavered on throughout the past few weeks and he could really use a strong kick to pay back owners staring down a loss this season. Though Burke has posted late-round value over the last two weeks, he’s proven to be plenty capable of dipping south of the 12-team mark as he did the previous week. If Favors’ hip is acting up, it would be great if the team simply reported it and gave folks a narrative to explain the struggles.
Marvin Williams scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting (including a three) with nine rebounds and three assists in his 21 minutes. The locals are calling for Kanter to return to the starting lineup, and that would of course put him in the running for some late-round value to end the year if it comes with expanded minutes. The math has finally turned its back on Williams, whose value has tanked over the past two weeks and he just doesn’t look like the same guy since the trade deadline by most reports. A pre-emptive stash of Kanter makes sense if you need a big man, but everybody else in 12-team leagues can be choosy with how they approach the chance that Kanter gets developed down the stretch.
Alec Burks scored 19 points with four assists, two threes and a steal in 37 minutes, but still can’t crack the top-200 with major fantasy deficiencies everywhere but the popcorn stats (points, rebounds, assists).
I jokingly wondered if we would see a Drew Gooden triple-double before it was all said and done, and that didn’t happen but the old war horse did put up 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and a steal over 19 minutes in last night’s win over the Jazz. Let’s wait until it’s confirmed that he’ll finish out the year in Washington (likely) and then let's see if he can do something like this again before considering him for fantasy leagues. I do like that he can play the distributing forward role that Nene so critically brought to the table, but there are simply more questions than answers right now when it comes to Gooden's productivity and durability.
The rest of the box was pretty much old hat with John Wall going for 14 and 10 with one steal and two blocks, and Trevor Ariza is still blasting away expectations after scoring 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, five rebounds, four threes and a steal. Marcin Gortat kept things rolling with 16 and nine, four rebounds and no steals or blocks. Bradley Beal has slowed down with the 3-point shooting lately but hit two bombs last night, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting, five rebounds and a steal in the win. Hitting just 0.9 triples per game over his last seven contests has kept his value in the late rounds, and Beal needs to be north of 20 points per game to cross over into top-half of the draft value. He just doesn't have the defensive numbers to do it, otherwise. I’d be pretty surprised if he doesn’t double the 3-point output from that sample.
I covered the Warriors in depth yesterday after their win in Indy, citing the paradox of their hot streak and big win against the backdrop of their many problems. Last night’s blowout win in Boston, in that respect, doesn’t really change much but it’s commendable nonetheless as they move to 7-2 after the All Star break. If they can put some distance between themselves and the No. 7 and 8 seeds in the West playoff chase it would be a big boost, too, as most of the team could definitely use a breather.
Stephen Curry (14 points, 6-of-10 FGs, three rebounds, four assists, one steal, one three) was the most recent addition to the injury list with a “sore right leg” that caused him to leave the game with the outcome nowhere near in doubt. Nobody is overly concerned about it and beat writer Rusty Simmons noticed that he left the locker room with a sleeve over his knee, so we’ll simply watch and see if anything comes of it. One thing is certain, though, the Dubs definitely need to find a way to reduce his workload before the nicks and dings add up.
Klay Thompson’s game-winner from Tuesday carried over inside the arc as he hit 7-of-15 shots on the night and just 1-of-8 from downtown. It looks like Thompson (18 points, three assists, three steals) is making a concerted effort to operate in different areas on the floor, but whether or not he can initiate enough offense to move the needle on the Curry situation is debatable. He’s been producing at a mid-to-late round value (9/8 cat) over the last two weeks.
David Lee went for 18 and 10, Andrew Bogut played through his various maladies and put up a solid four points, eight boards, four assists, one steal and three blocks in his 24 minutes, and Andre Iguodala floated his value with a three, steal and block to go with 11 points, four rebounds and one assist. Jordan Crawford scored 15 points during garbage time and there wasn't much to say other than that the Celtics were really bad.
The Celtics don’t have enough talent to sustain injuries or inconsistency from the guys that they do have, and it’s against that backdrop in which the Warriors showed up and knocked the Celtics out early. Rajon Rondo was productive with 14 points, five boards, seven assists, one steal, one block and one three, but his seven turnovers were indicative of a team that had a hard time running to the right spots. For his part, Rondo has played at a top 40-60 level over the last month, and though his steals (1.2 SPG) are down his 3-point shooting (1.4 3PG) is up and that’s an interesting wrinkle for next year.
Jeff Green scored just four points on 2-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and two blocks, and I’d go easy on him for the blowout nature of the game but he’s just a top 100-120 value over the last 12 games and things haven’t gone any better on the season. Rajon Rondo’s return has given him a small bump but not enough to crow about. He’ll fall in the group of case studies in which career-norms clash against new environments and added responsibilities. Green’s body of work before this season suggested that he was going to struggle in fantasy leagues (something I chose to ignore with trepidation). That's where the money gets made in the offseason -- figuring out who is going to make a jump and who isn't.
I won’t be breaking any news by sharing this Brad Stevens quote about his four-headed timeshare at two frontcourt positions. Stevens actually did break some news by saying that Jared Sullinger slightly twisted his ankle this past Saturday against the Pacers, and added that because Sully hasn’t “practiced hardly at all” that his minutes were being monitored from the bench.
Stevens then added “I just think these guys are playing well right now, Bass and Hump, and I think you could go any of four ways really. At the end of the day, [all four of Boston's bigs] are all going to play a lot of minutes for us." Again, this isn’t new, but confirmation of what you already know.
Sullinger hit just 1-of-7 shots (9-of-10 FTs) for 11 points, four rebounds and a steal in his 26 minutes, and he’s got both the biggest name value and is probably the safest player among the big man group. Brandon Bass (11 points, eight boards, no steals/blocks, 24 minutes) has been the most productive lately with some late-round value over the past two weeks, Kris Humphries (two points, three boards, one block) has been a ghost, and Kelly Olynyk (toe) returned to action in a big way last night to throw his hat in the ring.
Olynyk scored 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting (including three treys) with five rebounds, three assists, one block and a perfect four free throws in 27 minutes off the bench in the blowout loss. While it would be easy to dismiss this production as a function of the score, Olynyk has put up sneaky late-round value over the last 10 games with averages of 23.0 minutes, 10.2 points, 0.8 threes, 6.8 boards, 2.5 assists and 0.8 combined steals and blocks. Though it seems like Stevens will ride a meritocracy to the finish, the rookie big man should be higher on the list of priorities as a guy to develop. He’s a low-to-mid level add right now in 12-team formats depending on one’s needs.
Jerryd Bayless got hit hard in the blowout loss, scoring just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting (no threes) with three boards and that’s it in his 22 minutes. Yesterday all we knew was that Avery Bradley was getting an MRI and that a timetable wasn’t yet known, and today we know that the MRI is actually designed to be the last check before he gets back to basketball activities.
Bayless had a nice window to be productive and has averaged 27.9 mpg over his last six games, but 64.3 percent foul shooting and just 2.0 combined steals, blocks and threes per contest over that span kept him from helping owners in 12-14 team standard formats. Owners that rode that ride out of necessity may want to wait and see if Bradley’s update is leaked early in the day today, but for the most part it’s fine to move along even if we know the free throw shooting will correct itself.