Last night was one of those nights where reality basketball trumped fantasy basketball, with the much-anticipated revenge match between Oklahoma City and the Houston Beverleys easily taking over the Twittersphere. Elsewhere, the Pacers needed to stop their freefall, LaMarcus Aldridge’s struggles continued, the Bucks’ five-game week rolled on and otherwise the action lumbered toward an anticlimactic return of Monta Ellis to Oracle.
You know what that means, of course … Big Wednesday is about to slap us upside the head. Let’s get to work and I’ll see you guys next week as the Doc has the Dose covered for tomorrow.
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THE FOUR LEAF FRONTCOURT
The Celtics had a forgettable night in both reality and fantasy as they struggled against a struggling Pacers team and came away with a loss. The big man rotation continued to perplex as Kris Humphries started again and went for 15 and nine with a steal, and Brandon Bass was mediocre with 11 points and three rebounds in 23 minutes. Jared Sullinger was productive off the bench with 17 and nine including a three but nothing else in his 26 minutes, and Kelly Olynyk couldn’t find the range with three points on 1-of-9 shooting, seven boards, one steal and one block in 21 minutes.
Humphries is the only guy with usable value in standard leagues over the past two weeks and it’s actually been in the top-100 range, while everybody else is playing at a 14-team level when you smooth out all of the bumps. Unfortunately, past results are not necessarily an indicator of future gains and they’re going to be a crapshoot going forward.
Jerryd Bayless finally turned into a pumpkin with three points, two boards and three assists in his 21 minutes. With Avery Bradley returning at some point that ship has sailed. Jeff Green was typically bad with 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting, four boards and two assists as he continues to profile as a low-end, late-round player in standard formats. Rajon Rondo had a quiet eight and eight on 4-of-15 shooting to go with three boards and two steals before he takes tonight off.
PICKING UP THE PACE
The Pacers have certainly tested my unwavering confidence in them as my pick to win it all over the past few weeks, but last night’s matchup against the lowly Celtics was just what the doctor ordered to stop the bleeding. Make no mistake, this was not a convincing win and a banged up team suffered more dings when George Hill appeared to hurt his right hand and Roy Hibbert took a hard fall. Everybody stayed in the game and it took a team effort including the debut of Andrew Bynum to get a much-needed win.
I’ve said it a few times but the Pacers have been a half-step off up and down the lineup whether it has been injuries or even off-the-court stuff if we’re talking about Paul George. George, if you don’t recall, has been in the papers for potentially being the father to a child with a gal and he said he’d take responsibility if it was his and that’s pretty much all we’ve heard about that. If that distraction didn’t totally line up with the Pacers’ slide I’d have a hard time even bringing it up and I’m still not sure what, if anything, that would be causing. The bigger culprit is again, the small issues the team is facing up and down the lineup.
Hill’s shoulder, Lance Stephenson’s groin, Roy Hibbert’s decreased physicality and lateral movement, George’s pressing and even the dismissal of Danny Granger in lieu of untested youngster Evan Turner are all at play here. David West (24 points, five boards, one steal, one block, 11-of-13 FGs) has carried the load lately while others have struggled, but this story is about a team whose calling-card defense isn’t in tow and it’s showing up in their struggles.
George hit 5-of-10 shots for 12 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals but had five turnovers, Hill was mostly solid with 12 points, two threes, three boards, four assists, one steal and one block, and Hibbert was offensively invisible with six points but did snag nine boards with two blocks. I’m not buying any talk of Evan Turner (23 minutes, nine points, three assists) cutting into Stephenson’s (36 minutes) playing time, but he will be a bellwether for the team as the sense I get from reports and talking to people is that the team wasn’t exactly thrilled with seeing their longtime teammate go. Granger wasn’t giving the Pacers much and as long as Turner doesn’t face-plant defensively he’ll be a net-positive for the team, though his lack of range will be an issue that could bog down the second unit.
Stephenson had just nine points, five boards and a three and it’s possible his groin injury is lingering and it’s also possible that some of his inclination to focus on stats is seeping into the team’s psyche. George’s situation is unique in that for the first time he’s now the focus of national expectations while things are going bad.
As I mentioned last week and the week before this is the time of the year in which teams that have not won a championship forge their identity – and the good news for Pacers fans and this prognosticator is that they already know what that is. My guess is that along with improving health they will get acclimated with their new pieces while experiencing the uptick that all good teams experience after a prolonged stretch of struggling. All of the half-steps on an individual level will add back up to the team that pushed the Heat all the way to the edge last year and I still like them to go all the way.
And no, I’m not buying Bynum’s eight points and 10 boards in 16 minutes last night. Even if he does unseat Ian Mahinmi (hip) for the backup job, there’s no telling if he can stay on the court or provide meaningful numbers on any given night.
THE REDSHIRT ROOKIE
The Kings are pretty hard to watch right now as teams are doubling Isaiah Thomas (19 points, 6-of-15 FGs, 7-of-9 FTs, four rebounds, eight assists, one steal) relentlessly and with glaring holes at shooting guard and power forward the paint is jam-packed for all of the Big Three. Rudy Gay hit just 8-of-21 shots for 20 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block, and DeMarcus Cousins hit just 5-of-15 shots for 13 points, 14 boards, one steal and six blocks against a Pistons team that was struggling entering last night.
Compounding the problems that are created when net-negative players like Reggie Evans, Derrick Williams and Jason Thompson are on the floor is the fact that Thomas is the only ball-mover on the team besides nice-but-still-overhyped Ray McCallum. Gay and Cousins are catch-and-hold guys so when teams blitz the Thomas pick-and-roll, or the ball otherwise sticks, there is nowhere near enough ball movement to shake open a lane that is already crowded due to the lack of outside shooting threats on the floor. In other words, teams have figured out that if you chop the head off with Thomas then you’ve pretty much beaten the Kings.
Of course, despite leading the team in win shares by a solid margin and nearly doubling the offensive win shares of his closest teammate, there is a media undercurrent that doesn’t like Thomas as the team’s point guard and I don’t really know what to make of it. He does look run down after carrying a ridiculous amount of load and the entire team is scraping barnacles off the hull from the Maloof-Smart era – and yes he’s making plenty of mistakes while trying too hard. But writers appear to be genuinely shocked that Thomas is pushing the issue when playing next in lineups including Travis Outlaw, Williams, Evans and Ben McLemore or some other equivalent. And while sources close to the team insist the criticisms aren’t impacting Thomas’ play, my opinion is that the losing and criticism is impacting him as he continues to accept the blame like a pro after every loss.
It may not have seemed like it at the time, but the departure of Jimmer and Marcus Thornton might have been the last straw as they could at least dribble the ball and stretch the floor. The Kings were always playing for the future but for fantasy owners I wouldn’t be surprised if efficiency continues to dwindle as a team and Thomas gets the hatchet treatment because folks can't connect the dots on why the redshirt rookie is having trouble navigating all of that.
With the Kings’ big man rotation issues back to code red levels, the Pistons had a field day outside of Brandon Jennings, who hit just 1-of-10 shots for five points, six assists and a steal. Josh Smith hit 10-of-17 shots for 24 points, eight boards and two threes but did not have a steal or block, and Andre Drummond shook off a finger issue on his shooting hand to finish with 15 and eight with five blocks. Greg Monroe went for six and 12 with three assists and a block, and Kyle Singler scored 11 points with seven rebounds, three assists, five steals, one block and two threes.
Rodney Stuckey always does well against the Kings and he put up 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting with three rebounds, four assists, two steals and one three in his 32 minutes off the bench, while Will Bynum also chipped in with eight and seven in his 22 minutes. Owners shouldn’t move the needle on either backup given the matchup here, but it could get either of them going and that’ll be something to watch for the next time out.
EASY DOES IT
The Spurs trucked the Bulls last night and owners were lucky to get what they got out of guys like Tony Parker (20 points, nine assists, 25 minutes), Tim Duncan (four points, nine boards, five assists, one steal, 27 minutes), Kawhi Leonard (16 points, nine rebounds, two threes), and Manu Ginobili (22 points, four threes, 21 minutes). Danny Green’s shooting wrist injury limited him to just 10 minutes and he’s day-to-day going forward. Given his low margin for error it’s hard to call him a must-own player with that sort of thing going on.
Boris Diaw had a good night with eight points, seven boards, three steals and two threes in 28 minutes, but like the rest of the guys that aren’t a part of the core four it’s going to be a crap shoot from night to night. Be on the lookout for surprise DNPs on the SEGABABA tonight, which should go without saying at this time of the year.
WHAT A LETDOWN
The Bulls suffered a letdown after beating the Heat and the box was pretty ugly for fringe guys like Carlos Boozer (eight points, five boards, one steal) and Mike Dunleavy (seven points, three rebounds, three assists, no threes or steals, 21 minutes). Dunleavy has gone from blazing hot to ice cold in a matter of a week, but with little depth behind him I’d advocate hanging on for at least another game or two to see where this goes. The same can’t be said for low-upside play Kirk Hinrich (three points, 1-of-9 FGs, three assists).
Jimmy Butler kept up his top 35-50 pace over the last month with 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, three treys and a perfect six foul shots. Taj Gibson disappeared with one point, five boards and two blocks but owners should be holding tight. D.J. Augustin has moved into that upside territory we were talking about during the dark days of a few weeks back, and last night he turned in 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting with two threes, three boards, four assists and an 8-of-9 mark from the line. He should be owned in all standard formats.
ALL OR NOTHING FOR ALDRIDGE AND THE BLAZERS
LaMarcus Aldridge has thumbed his nose at the natural tendencies for efficiency to go down as volume goes up, carrying the Blazers into Western Conference title talk in the process. But things haven’t gone so great since a groin injury sidelined him and his field goal percentage has plummeted in the process, with last night’s 8-of-23 shooting night squarely in the local media focus. He still finished with 19 points, 10 boards and two blocks, but the struggles exemplify the Achilles’ heel for the Blazers – that a jumpshooting power forward not hitting his shots fundamentally makes them a much easier cover. It’s why I’d have liked to have seen them add a backup big man with some interior thump at the deadline, so the team has somebody they can turn to in a pinch to get an inside-outside game going.
Hitting just 38.2 percent of his shots on a whopping 20.6 attempts per game in the eight contests since returning, Aldridge has returned just top 85-115 value over that span. Durability has always been the question mark for him even though he insists he’s simply missing good looks right now. He’s not going to shoot this badly for much longer, but whether or not he can carry teammates and fantasy owners in crunch time is no longer a comfortable topic.
Nicolas Batum did not register a steal or block in last night’s loss to the Grizzlies, but did well to post 15 points, eight boards and three treys, while Damian Lillard made a living at the line (12-of-13 FTs) to make up for an inefficient 8-of-21 mark from the field on a 32-point, seven-assist night including four triples. Wesley Matthews had an off-night with five points on 1-of-7 shooting and a sprinkling of other stats but he’s been an early-to-mid round value lately so there’s nothing to worry about there. Mo Williams left with a hip injury and is day-to-day but there isn’t any fantasy beneficiary at this time, even in 14-16 team formats. That said, forward-looking owners will want to circle the week after next when the Blazers enjoy the season’s last five-game slate.
The Grizzlies looked like the team that folks are pegging as dragon slayers of the first round, with Marc Gasol leading the way with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, nine rebounds, seven assists and a block. He has been playing at a top-25 level for the past two weeks and if he can keep that up it will go a long way toward mitigating the bust label he’ll have with owners after this season. Injuries happen, but even when he wasn’t hurt the numbers just weren’t where owners wanted them to be.
Zach Randolph added 18 and 12 with four assists and a steal, Mike Conley appears to be getting on track again with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and two threes last night, and Courtney Lee picked up the pace with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, one three and one steal. Lee needs to produce in the ballpark of a steal, block and three per game if he’s struggling to hit double-figure scoring on most nights, so the improved output there can be seen as him holding onto his recent late-round value. He and Tony Allen (seven points, three boards, two assists, one three) are locked in a timeshare and Lee is the guy to own but he’s not a must-own player in 12-team formats anymore.
Nick Calathes did Nick Calathes things with seven points, nine assists and a three in just 19 minutes off the bench. In reality basketball he’s a nice backup and has low-end upside as a starter down the road, but he’s hands off in fantasy leagues unless something happens to Mike Conley, obviously.