LIKE KOOL-AID WITH NO SUGAR
The Grizzlies get a ton of playoff hype for a team not yet qualifying for the playoffs, with one reporter even going so far as to report a conversation with a scout calling them the favorite in the West. That’s sort of comical but they do have a nice defensive framework, yet none of it works without Zach Randolph on the block to attract double-teams for an offense that can get bogged down. Randolph missed last night’s blowout loss against the Nets due to the flu, and the Grizzlies’ box got pretty ugly for everybody but Marc Gasol (18 points, seven boards, two steals, one block).
Mike Conley got skunked on eight shot attempts and finished with just two points, three boards and three assists. He just hasn’t gotten back on track since returning from his ankle injury, and with the Grizzlies fighting for their playoff lives it’s possible he’s playing on a bad wheel right now. He has eight games under his belt now, so pretty soon it would be nice to see improvement out of one of the league’s most consistent fantasy plays.
James Johnson managed to score 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting with one rebound, one assist and two threes in just 14 minutes, but blew a wide open layup early in the game and still can’t get consistent minutes for Dave Joerger. The only silver lining here is that he’s coming off an ankle injury of his own and it’s possible that Johnson gets a bit more run as that improves. He’s a low-to-mid level stash in standard formats for the hopes he can do whatever needs to be done to unseat Tayshaun Prince (one rebound, one assist, 17 minutes), who predictably bombed after a rare productive outing in his last game.
Courtney Lee scored just four points on 2-of-7 shooting with two rebounds, two assists and a line-saving three steals in his 26 minutes. He’s still a mid-to-late round value over the last week or two as guys have returned and his numbers have slowed. In other words, there’s enough current value for owners to see this out. Nick Calathes won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award and put up 10 points, five boards, five assists and four steals, but unless something happens to Conley he has no real fantasy value. The same goes for Jon Leuer, who added 19 points, five boards and three treys in garbage time last night.
BREAKING EVEN IN BROOKLYN
Don’t look now but the Nets are above .500 for the first time this season and all it took was $180 million to get there. They dispatched the Grizzlies in easy order behind 21 points from Joe Johnson including five treys, two boards, four assists and a steal in the win. Despite averaging 14.3 points with 2.8 threes and a steal over his last four games, he still profiles as a deep league play unless the Nets get hit by injuries again. He’s not going to be quite so proficient from deep on a go-forward basis.
Deron Williams hit 7-of-13 shots for 16 points, three rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two threes, which looks great as he continues to deal with a right (shooting) wrist injury. Williams has a history with that wrist and it bit owners badly a few years back, but for now it seems like this is on the less serious side of an issue that often sneaks up on folks.
Marcus Thornton scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with four treys and a pair of steals in 26 minutes off the bench, which comes on the heels of a three-point effort and similar oscillations since joining the Nets. As mentioned yesterday, Brooklyn needs scoring but Thornton isn’t all that high in the pecking order with guys like Williams, Paul Pierce (14 points, eight boards, two threes, one steal, 6-of-6 FTs), Johnson and even Andray Blatche (12 points, four rebounds, one steal, three blocks, 16 minutes) all commanding touches.
A four-game sample for Thornton shows averages of 22.0 minutes, 14.5 points, 2.0 threes and 0.8 steals on 50 percent shooting, which is good for low-end value in 12-14 team leagues. Shaun Livingston (two points, five boards, three assists, one steal, one block, 23 minutes) isn’t going away and it’s going to take Thornton improving his workload to the type of run he got last night in order to be a safe low-end play. It’s plausible, but it’s not probable without an injury somewhere in the guts of the rotation. Livingston is actually more valuable right now and has been on a bit of a steals binge with 2.5 per game over his last four contests to go with 60 percent field goal shooting and normal low-end popcorn stats.
Speaking of stealing, Andray Blatche is also averaging a big number with 2.8 thefts per game over his last four contests, and I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that he had first round value in 9-cat formats over that span. His numbers were mostly in a believable range with averages of 12.8 points, 7.8 boards, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 48.6 percent shooting, but then you get over to the 94.1 percent foul shooting on 4.3 attempts per game and it starts to make sense. Obviously he’s nowhere near that valuable in fantasy leagues, but he has a month of top 75-100 value under his belt and I’ve been seeing way too many drop questions for a guy with that type of return.
The Bulls have morphed from the midseason depression to emerge as one of the league’s more enjoyable teams to watch. Joakim Noah is arguably the best big man in the game right now and he put up his third triple-double of the season with 10 points, 11 boards, 11 assists and two blocks. He also had a splint on his thumb after the game that nobody around the team is overly concerned about.
Chicago simply outclassed the Pistons on their home floor last night, and they got a big-time contribution out of D.J. Augustin (26 points, 7-of-14 FGs, 10-of-10 FTs, two threes, six assists), who has been due for a breakout and should be owned in all formats after this. As we’ve discussed in this space he has a mid-round upside and a late-round floor unless he falls off a cliff shooting the ball. It’s worth noting that Kirk Hinrich (10 points, two assists, 22 minutes) and Mike Dunleavy (seven points, two assists, two blocks, one three, 43 minutes) were both quiet last night and there will be some give-and-take there as the players trade off bigger games. Mike D is still a strong hold and Hinrich has a late-round ceiling with plenty of risk.
Jimmy Butler posted 18 points, 12 boards, four assists and three steals as he continues to roll, and Taj Gibson followed right behind him with 22 and five with a steal in 31 minutes off the bench. Carlos Boozer got clipped down to 24 minutes and notched just 10 points and five boards as a late-round value heading down the stretch, at best.
Josh Smith put up a patented Smoove line with 15 points on 6-of-21 shooting, one three, nine boards, five assists, two steals and a whopping six blocks. Greg Monroe got loose for 27 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals, but there’s enough data on this group to now not to move the needle there unless Brandon Jennings’ toe situation worsens. Even then, a guy like Monroe would only see a small bump.
Kyle Singler went for 16 and six with not much else but he did hit 6-of-7 freebies to sweeten the pot, Andre Drummond scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds and no steals or blocks, and Jennings posted nine points on 4-of-7 shooting with nine assists, one steal and one block while aggravating his toe injury. There’s not much owners can do but hope for the best while riding the situation out. Rodney Stuckey (eight points) and Will Bynum (four points, 1-of-11 FGs) fell further into deep league purgatory. The loss to Chicago put the Pistons three games behind the torpedoing Hawks for the last playoff spot in the Leastern Conference.
The Kings haven’t played a good team for four games and last night they got the worst one of the bunch in the Bucks, who provided practically no resistance in a lopsided win for Sacto. The Kings are a very stable fantasy squad with their Big Three taking care of business nearly every night and last night was no different.
DeMarcus Cousins (21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one steal) went for the putter throw in a game officiated by Joey Crawford and must have seen Virginia Venit because his only flirtation with a 16th technical was limited to just a few stomps and one apocalyptic stare into the skies. His teammates oughta nickname him Happy Cousins to lighten the mood over his anger management issues and also force him to listen to Pharrell’s Happy on loop during pregame warm-ups. The idea is insanely stupid and it just may be stupid enough to work.
Rudy Gay scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a perfect six foul shots, and that sound you cannot hear is the stat community explaining how a player so maligned now regularly hits more than half of his shots (it’s the economy, stupid). Isaiah Thomas got thrown out in the waning minutes of garbage time for two hilariously touchy technicals, and finished with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, three treys, three boards, six assists, four steals and four perfect freebies of his own. The Pizza Guy is a top 12-20 value on the season (8/9 cat).
The only real roster movement to speak of is happening with Ray McCallum, who has a little bit of a cult following in Sacto. I’ll leave that for another day because it’s rife with all sorts of internal politicking and strange anti-Thomas sentiment among some media, but for the most part he’s simply a good kid that plays the game the right way and that’s easy on the eyes after years of Tyreke Evans ball. Assuming he can hold steady as competition improves, and there are some issues there on both sides of the ball, I actually like him to hold onto a significant role down the stretch. And I'm surprised to find that I like him better at shooting guard than I do at the point.
Unlike at the point where he doesn’t have the size/speed/strength combo to stay in front of his man or beat his man, at the two that combo starts to work more to his favor. He can get an edge off the dribble, create a more flexible offense by adding a second ballhandler, and defensively he can play cat and mouse a bit while daring guys to shoot. He’s going to get beat by all but the worst offensive point guards in the league, but he can be competitive against the non-elite shooting guards of the NBA.
It’s already working, as the Kings desperately need a ballhandler and aren’t getting anything out of Ben McLemore (four points, 26 minutes). McLemore needs to polish his game over the summer and work on his instincts defensively, because Ray Mac is better than him on that end and it’s not really close right now. We’ll have to see what McCallum can do with the minutes he gets because he’s not going to get a lot of touches, but 25-plus minutes per game to finish the year seems doable and 30 mpg wouldn’t surprise me in the month of April.
It’s strange to say but the Bucks have actually chilled out a bit from a fantasy perspective, but let’s be real they’re still a massive mess. Ersan Ilyasova (nine points, five boards, 30 minutes) will likely get a suspension after some sort of violent shove on Reggie Evans, which is just par for the course, right? Just keep mumbling to yourself about the upcoming five-game week and together we’ll make it.
Brandon Knight scored 25 points with five rebounds, six assists, two threes and a 9-of-10 mark from the field, and he’s still the only sure bet out of the bunch. Khris Middleton scored 11 points with two threes, four boards and two steals and that should be enough goodwill to keep owners happy for now. Jeff Adrien is Larry Drew’s new mancrush and he scored 15 points with five boards and a steal in 22 minutes off the bench. There’s still nowhere near enough to hang onto for 12-14 team leagues, but if he can shore up the versatility issues then he may be onto something. Ramon Sessions (nine points, three boards, three assists, one three, 17 minutes) eased back into a more likely baseline and that keeps him firmly in deep league territory. Fat O.J. Mayo scored eight points and he’s basically done for the year in fantasy leagues.
John Henson is the biggest mystery as he had another defensive stat outage and posted just six points and seven boards in 24 minutes. In fairness, he spent all night getting snapped in half by DeMarcus Cousins, but this isn’t a new development and I found it odd that he was copping to hitting the wall in reports from before the game. If he hit a wall and it’s not injury related that’s one helluva wall because defensive stat producers don’t typically disappear like this. Our blurb basically gave you guys the green light to cut him, and I won’t be doing that just yet, but it’s certainly an option on the table.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored just five points with one rebound, three assists, one block and one three in 18 minutes, highlighting why he’s not yet ready for prime time in fantasy leagues. He’s a 14-16 team guy until further notice.
EVEN THE SUN SHINES
The Knicks finally got a win in Minny after sitting in the No. 5 slot for ping pong balls entering last night’s game, which of course is a first round pick that they have to convey to Denver. Carmelo Anthony (33 points, five boards, five assists, three steals, three treys) is on autopilot and if/until the Knicks fall out of playoff contention that’s not changing. Tyson Chandler also continued his solid play in fantasy leagues with 15 and 14 but did not have a steal or block. It was funny hearing him call out Kevin Love’s defense when his has been gathering plenty of attention lately, though they’re operating in different realms on that front.
Raymond Felton finally had a good night with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting, two threes, three boards, eight assists, four steals and a block. I’d love to say that he’s back but the Wolves’ defense is pretty bad and so is Felton these days. I will say this, though, it’s not like the Knicks have a lot of talent on offense. If he’s been distracted by his off-the-court stuff and for whatever reason that has let up, there is a late-round ceiling he could tap into in standard leagues. I’d call him a low-level stash after one good night.
Amare Stoudemire has shown flashes of utility a number of times this year and last night he took advantage of the weaker interior defense of the Wolves, scoring 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting with eight rebounds, one steal and two blocks in 31 minutes. He has moved into some low-end value in 12-team leagues over the last four games and has been a 14-game value over a two-week span, and I’d consider the former his ceiling in games when he’s actually on the floor.
J.R. Smith scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting (including two threes) with five rebounds, five assists and no steals or blocks. His 13.4 points, 1.8 treys, 3.4 boards and 3.5 assists over the last eight games appear respectable on the surface, but just 0.5 combined steals and blocks, 38.7 percent shooting and a low-volume 58.3 percent mark from the line have torpedoed his value in that span. Look for his steals as an indicator of whether or not he’ll move back into a startable status, because the other numbers are mostly there and the shooting should correct itself a little bit.
Kurt Rambis had to have enjoyed a good laugh hearing Tyson Chandler rip Kevin Love’s defense last night, as Love’s former coach was notorious for benching Love because he would position himself for rebounds rather than challenge shots or be active in the paint on defense. That’s a classic argument of which approach is better, and the answer to that can only be answered in the tape on a case-by-case basis. But ballooning rebounding numbers and offensive stats have pushed Love into elite territory for those ranking the best power forwards in the game, and Chandler’s statement is the first I’ve heard in a while that will shed light on the fact that Love and his teammates aren’t winning many games. Defense is at the top of the list of reasons why as Love, Ricky Rubio and Co. just don’t put a lot of fear in the opposition on the front.
We’ll see if Love’s deficiencies on that end start to gather more attention in the Twittersphere, but it’s something for GMs and fans of teams chasing him in free agency should certainly think about. Love hit just 6-of-17 shots for 19 points, three treys, eight boards, two assists and no steals or blocks, and the fact that qualifies as a down night is a testament to his first round value. Kevin Martin’s shot isn’t yet in place since his return and he hit just 3-of-10 shots for 12 points, two threes, three boards and zero steals in his 28 minutes. Corey Brewer scored 16 points with six rebounds, one block, zero threes and a perfect six foul shots, and though he’s hot right now hitting 51.6 percent of his shots over the last three games that will subside and he profiles as a deep league play these days.
Rubio hit just 4-of-6 shots for 11 points, six rebounds, eight assists, two steals and six turnovers in his 32 minutes. He has been slumping pretty hard lately and it’s not even the shooting that’s doing him in, it’s the decreasing number of steals he’s bringing in (1.3 SPG over the last six games). It’s possible he’s hitting a wall after a knee injury complicated the start of his NBA career, but on the bright side he has hit 51.5 percent of his looks over the last six games. Owners should watch for any news on the injury front or anything to suggest he’s got dead legs when assessing his future value. Otherwise a bounce back seems likely in the theft department.
Nikola Pekovic played 26 minutes under his playing time restriction and turned in 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and that’s it, which qualifies as a good game in the grand scheme of things.