I KEEPZ IT REALZ
Rick Carlisle is one of the better quotes in the NBA. He keeps it reals. After last night’s loss to a reeling Nuggets squad he said he should have benched his starting unit 3.5 minutes into the game because of their effort, and that’s just not something you hear all that often no matter how badly coaches want to say it. But that’s what you get when you’ve won a chip and have a solid working relationship with upper management. For the Mavs, who are still 1.5 games ahead of Memphis after the Grizzlies lost last night too, the defensive situation with Jose Calderon (five points, six assists), Monta Ellis (16 points, four assists, one steal, one block, one three) and Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 13-of-20 FGs, seven boards) was always going to be a problem. It was one of the reasons that a rim protector like Brandan Wright seemed more like a necessity than a luxury, and Samuel Dalembert also figured to help in that department.
I mentioned in yesterday’s Dose that the needle wouldn’t move on Wright unless he had a breakout game last night, and he hit the lower-end of that boundary with 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting, three boards, one steal and two blocks in 25 minutes off the bench. The sweetener here is that Dalembert (one rebound, one assist, 10 minutes) was benched for laziness and Bernard James (10 minutes, four boards) started the second half in his place. With Dally, you just never know when he’ll finally tip his coach over, and once again we simply don’t know if this marks a shift of Wright into a more prominent role. But in terms of making an add he becomes a low-level speculative add and if you are center-desperate he can be called a mid-level add for his ability to rise the fantasy ranks relatively quick.
Shawn Marion showed small signs of life with 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting with seven boards but he didn’t have any steals or blocks. I was fairly surprised to see that Marion has mid-round value over a seven-game sample now, with averages of 11.0 points, 0.4 threes, 6.3 boards, 1.6 steals and 56.9 percent shooting. As I guessed when heading over to the game log, an early-February stretch in which double-digits only occurred twice in the box score fell out of the back of the sample. So while Marion hasn’t been breaking down any doors, he is doing just enough to be worth owning in 12-teamers again, though he’s not quite a must-own player. The next game to fall out of that same sample is a 22-point, seven-rebound, two-steal effort against the Sixers. He falls into the late rounds without that game included. Math!
SIGNS OF LIFE
Ty Lawson has always showed signs of being an injury prone player and the trend has worsened this season. So while it’s been great for both owners and teammates that he’s back his heel injury last night felt like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown's swinging foot. He has missed 13 games already this season and he’ll head into Friday’s game questionable after taking today off, as he comes off another electric game of 20 points, six boards, seven assists, two steals, two threes and 8-of-9 freebies. His play has clearly energized his teammates, probably because they feel like they have an actual shot at winning now, and they got a much needed win for their locker room last night against the Mavs.
Wilson Chandler has been an understated and somewhat steady fantasy asset this year, though the past few weeks haven’t been kind. He’s now back on the abundant side of the box after another solid 21-point effort including three treys, five boards and two steals, but he has to get the free throw issues worked out to capitalize on these big numbers. Getting to the line 5.7 times per contest over his last three games, he has hit just 64.7 percent of his looks. He has had problems in that department all season, hitting six points worse than his 77.7 career mark, but the good news here is that he’ll regress upward and getting to the line a lot will necessarily mean he’s active once again.
Randy Foye (16 points, three boards, four assists, four threes, two steals, 38 minutes) hurt his left quad during the game but it didn’t hit the postgame reports at all. He hasn’t really been slowed by Lawson’s return and owners can be cautiously optimistic that he continues to put up solid numbers.
Kenneth Faried is hot again and last night he had 16 points, eight boards, four assists, a perfect six foul shots and just zeroes in the defensive stat categories as a blemish. He’s slowly crept into safe mid-to-late round value over the last month or so. Timofey Mozgov keeps getting shoehorned into the lineup, perhaps because of pressure over his contract and Brian Shaw’s desire to play big, but he isn’t doing anything to inspire confidence in either fantasy leagues or in reality. He missed all five of his looks last night but did nab 10 rebounds with a block in 21 minutes, which fits the shape of his production to date if he makes 2-3 of those shots. He has some appeal as a desperation option at center, but feel free to look elsewhere after he has done nothing with his move into the starting lineup.
J.J. Hickson decided to play some defense last night with a career-high tying five blocks to go with his 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, five boards and three assists in 26 minutes. Am I interested? Call me when he nears the top-200. Hickson is hitting just 45 percent of his free throws in February and March. He’s a points and rebounds specialist at best.
IT’S OVER FOR KORVER
All good things must come to an end and a blowout loss to the Blazers was the end of Kyle Korver’s 3-point shooting streak, which concluded at 127 consecutive games. Mike Budenholzer gave him ample opportunity to extend the streak in 28 minutes of action, and Korver said after the game that he didn’t want to extend the streak during garbage time. Korver hit 1-of-9 shots on the night for five points, two rebounds, three assists and a block, and this may actually be a good thing for him to get off of his mind as he preps for the stretch run.
The box was a disaster and this sort of thing is going to happen to the Hawks until they get Paul Millsap back, who is taking his time returning from his knee injury. Jeff Teague scored 10 points with three assists and I’ll wait a game before weighing in on the aggression issue, as I did see him attack the hoop a few times in a worst-case scenario performance by the team. Mike Scott (four points, three boards) has squandered most of this recent opportunity and he’s not a must-own guy with Millsap theoretically returning at any time, and Elton Brand squashed whatever value he had in a six-point, three-board effort with Pero Antic back in the fold.
Antic scored 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting (including two threes) with four rebounds and no steals or blocks in his 16 minutes. Owners can expect this type of a line as he ramps up and he’s worth a look for the center-desperate, and he should also be watched in general for the late-mid round upside he brings to the table for a team with no depth. Still, his health and ability to produce are both question marks with limited history to rely on. Lou Williams played just five minutes last night, which is a pretty big red flag for a guy with knee issues. In terms of fantasy value it’s a killer right when he was starting to pick up some late-round steam, and he’s most certainly droppable.
For all of these guys consider that the Hawks have a 4-4-4-4 finish during the fantasy playoffs, bumping up their value by a round or two.
TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT
The Blazers had a field day and the story in Portland right now is LaMarcus Aldridge’s minute limit and the potential that his groin injury is the beginning of durability issues down the stretch. Aldridge hit just 1-of-13 shots (8-of-8 FTs) for 10 points and swore after the game that it was just timing issues, but with just six rebounds to go with two blocks the activity numbers since returning don't back his theory up. Nicolas Batum has picked up the slack on the glass and had another big number with 18 boards to go with his 14 points, three treys and one assist. Everybody else coasted with low-end lines in the blowout win, and Mo Williams got some extra love with 15 points, four rebounds, five assists and three treys.
IT’S A TRAP
Last night’s game on the road against the Magic looked like a trap game for the Rockets following their win over the Heat on Tuesday, and Houston did their part early to make that a reality. But they eventually got their act together and a total team effort kicked in to shoo away an Orlando team playing without Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo.
James Harden scored 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting (2-of-7 3PTs, 7-of-7 FTs) with three rebounds and six assists, and his slow rolling boil has moved him into a top 5-9 value over the last month or two. The surge moves him to a top 7-10 value on a per-game basis this season (8/9 cat), and with a healthy handful of missed games he’s just the No. 9 and 17 fantasy play on the year. That’s not disastrous for a top 3-5 fantasy pick, but it’s pretty damned close. The value leakage between the top and bottom of the first round in fantasy is nearly a factor of two, meaning that the top-end guys are worth nearly twice as much as the low-end guys. Yes, that’s crazy but that’s how it goes and something for owners to chew on every year.
Terrence Jones turned in another gem with 17 points, 11 rebounds, one steal, two blocks and a three while hitting 8-of-10 shots. He put Tobias Harris on a blow-by poster and his last three games have produced top-20 value, with all questions about his motor seemingly put to rest. Chandler Parsons has been a mess lately with the flu and migraines and his value has been in the tank, so last night’s 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting with two threes, six boards, seven assists and a steal were just what the doctor ordered (right after the doctor ordered a game against the Magic).
I got into an interesting exchange with Amin Elhassan of ESPN in the wee hours of yesterday morning about Dwight Howard (19 points, 13 boards, two steals, six turnovers), who returned to Orlando for the second time and got himself a tiny little video tribute. He saw my comments about liking Patrick Beverley for Defensive Player of the Year and mentioned that it would be hard for Beverley to win because he’s not the best defensive player on his own team.
That’s not a blasphemous position or anything, but it speaks to the level of reputation that Howard brings to the table in league circles.
His blocks are down by 25 percent (1.8) over last year’s disaster season in L.A. (2.4), one in which Howard apologists have claimed his back issue was the thing holding him back. Regular readers will know I’ve been praising Howard for his play on offense for a few weeks now and he does indeed look like he’s moving better on the floor, but I’d say it’s something like 50/50 health and happiness that’s triggering any added activity over last season.
Still, Howard isn’t rebounding in lieu of challenging shots, and his reduction in steals and blocks is either one of two things – he’s either less productive because he’s no longer challenging as many plays, or he’s getting less opportunities to do such things. If it’s the former it simply shows a player with plenty of mileage taking the long-view with how much energy he expends on that side of the floor, if it’s the latter then the perimeter defense around him has tightened up. It’s the latter.
The improvement in perimeter defense isn’t because Harden and Parsons are doing a great job, but Beverley is and he’s both choking off point guard penetration and causing general havoc. Folks have even gone so far as to say that Beverley is taking chances on defense because he knows Howard is behind him to clean up mistakes, but that’s simply not true. He plays defense on the hip of the offensive player and recovers in most cases, and the best of his opponents usually need a screen to get free.
Beverley got popped in the nose last night, breaking it, and he struggled hitting just 1-of-8 shots for four points, one assist and two steals in his 32 minutes. He’ll get fitted for a mask and looks good to go for Friday’s big game against the Pacers. Diminutive point guards are never going to get the respect a defensive big man will get when assessing that side of the court, but when figuring out which player is having the bigger impact on the other – the numbers for Howard are striking. And with more elite point guards than elite centers running around the NBA, it begs the question of where a defensive stopper is more valuable.
Either way it’s a fascinating conversation for defense nerds to ponder and a good controversy for my dark horse pick in the West to have.
THE MIGHTY QUINN
Jameer Nelson missed last night’s game due to an illness and that wasn’t too surprising, but when Victor Oladipo landed on the injury report with a sore left ankle it definitely came out of nowhere. Jacque Vaughn attributed the absence to general wear and tear, so hopefully this truly is a maintenance situation and not something that will linger. Arron Afflalo (ankle) returned to action and looked pretty good, scoring 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting (no threes) with two rebounds, four assists and a steal. He’s poised for a big finish as long as the ankle doesn’t act up.
Tobias Harris hit just 3-of-12 shots for 10 points and five boards but he’s still showing off the improvement in his fantasy game by turning in a steal and two blocks on an otherwise down night. He has been a top 40-60 player over the last month and a top 20-30 player over the last two weeks, based largely on the fact that he stopped being a non-factor in the peripheral stats I’ve been hammering him over all year. He’s also poised for a big finish and that also goes without saying for Nikola Vucevic, who put up 15 and 10 with four assists and a steal while hitting 7-of-9 shots. He has hovered at a top-40 level seemingly all season.
Kyle O’Quinn had yet another serviceable night with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds, one steal and three blocks in just 16 minutes. Don’t let the low minute totals and lack of name recognition fool you, he has been a mid-round play for a month with averages of 7.0 points, 6.8 boards, 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks with percentages that are a mild net-positive.
Ronnie Price (eight points, five assists, six turnovers) got the start for Nelson and there’s not enough meat to that bone to consider anything but a very-deep league spot-play if Nelson stays out. Maurice Harkless, on the other hand, is worth being in lineups until everybody is back and healthy, and he turned in another good one with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, two threes, five steals and one block. Consider stashing him for the stretch run if the good times come to an end, too, since Nelson profiles as a shutdown candidate for a team chasing ping pong balls.