For a five-game night there was certainly plenty of action, with monster lines and overtime finishes to spare – all right in the middle of the first week of fantasy playoff action in many formats. We’re going to touch them all and then get into some Big Wednesday talk so let’s get right to it.
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RETURN OF THE KING
LeBron James returned to Cleveland and that’s always a recipe for a big line, particularly when Dwyane Wade is on the sidelines resting. He put up a candidate for fantasy line of the year with 43 points on 14-of-19 shooting, six rebounds, six threes, four assists, two steals, three blocks and zero turnovers in a close win. While it feels like he has been constantly surging high turnovers and lower than average free throw shooting have drained his value over the last two weeks, but he’s the No. 1 and 3 fantasy play in 8-cat and 9-cat leagues over the last month, respectively. With four games per week to finish out the fantasy playoffs there is plenty of wiggle room for him to be the top fantasy play when it matters most, but games off are certainly a small threat.
While Ray Allen is also a candidate for rest I’ve been moving to add him for the favorable schedule and the chance the Heat keep his minutes relatively steady while resting Wade. He scored 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting (including two threes) with three rebounds and two assists. The low-end play in 12-14 team leagues has some mid-round upside if he can miss just 1-2 games for rest throughout the next 3-4 weeks. Chris Bosh (21 points, six rebounds, two threes, one block, 39 minutes) should also be on the radar for rest, while a guy like Mario Chalmers (three points, 1-of-7 FGs, one three, nine assists, two steals) might see a bump in production if he’s allowed to play out the slate.
Greg Oden was moved into the starting lineup indefinitely but beat writer Ira Winderman called the development overstated and correctly pointed out that his minutes are simply coming at the beginning of each half now. Oden logged 14 minutes but was impressive with six points, three boards, two steals and two blocks, but he’s still showing timing issues and whether we’re talking fantasy or reality there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about both durability and performance.
It’s always interesting to see a high profile player like Kyrie Irving go out and see a team play better because of newfound ball movement, but in the end last night’s game went down as a controversial loss as Dion Waiters couldn’t get a call on the game’s deciding play. Irving’s status for the rest of the season is in doubt and by now both Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters have been added, or at least they should have been.
Waiters sat out the game’s final few seconds after injuring his hip on the aforementioned play but none of the beat writers mentioned any time off so owners can feel pretty good about that. He’s still banged up with a sore knee among other maladies, but you can bet he’s loving every second of his new role and he showed why with 17 points, four rebounds, 11 assists, one three and one steal. That was the good news, and the bad news was that he hit just 6-of-19 shots and had six turnovers. He’s almost certain to have just a late-round ceiling in standard leagues because of his various fantasy deficiencies, but the volume should be there and playing next to Jarrett Jack and Matthew Dellavedova (five points, six assists) the quality of his looks should increase compared to the ones he gets next to Irving.
Jack’s knee issues magically disappear when he gets to play on the ball and last night he scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting (including four treys) with four rebounds, four assists and one block in 42 minutes. He’s a must-own guy most likely for the rest of the way and especially as the Cavs creep closer to playoff elimination. Irving will be less likely to return in that scenario, though it could also be lightly argued that Jack is a shutdown risk if things get really bad. They’re six games out with 14 to play.
Elsewhere in the box, Anderson Varejao got back on the board with 16 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and one block in 26 minutes against Miami’s notoriously weak interior. Tristan Thompson has been a mess for most of the year and scored just 10 points with four boards and one steal in 21 minutes, and at least while the Cavs are in playoff contention we could see a lot of Varejao with Spencer Hawes (11 points, nine boards, three assists, one block), who as we’ve talked about a lot are complementary players.
Luol Deng (ankle) did not play last night and that’s a kick to the groin to his value without a doubt, but with no Irving around his future might not be as bad as the pain would suggest. He comes with no guarantees but he’s worth a look as a stash.
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH
The Raptors and Hawks got together and played in one of the three of five overtime games last night, with the Hawks managing to hold on for the win. The Raptors got massive performances out of their key guys with DeMar DeRozan leading the way with 29 points on 8-of-18 shooting, 13-of-14 free throws, 10 rebounds, six assists and a steal. Kyle Lowry wasn’t much further behind with 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, seven rebounds, nine assists and one steal, and Amir Johnson rolled his bad ankle for the hundredth time but stayed in the game and finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
Be on the lookout for further issues on Johnson’s front, but with Jonas Valanciunas (16 points, five rebounds, zero steals or blocks, 20 minutes) leaving with a back injury and Patrick Patterson still out there’s no reason to panic with a drop. It’s just the most recent setback for JV, who had finally started to put some numbers up but barring an extremely positive report it’s hard to call him a must-hold player if you’re staring at a hot free agent. That said, after a solid two weeks of mid-round value I’m going to try to see what he can do if any time off is in the 1-2 game range.
AGRO IN THE ATL
The big question in fantasy circles for the Hawks has been whether or not Jeff Teague would carry over the aggression he showed with Paul Millsap out once the Sapper returned. Lately the answer has been a resounding yes and last night he fired off 34 points on 11-of-18 shooting with one three, three boards, five assists, four steals and an 11-of-11 mark from the line. Better late than never for the top 8-24 play (8/9 cat) over the last four games.
Millsap triple-doubled with 19 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, one steal, one three and a 6-of-7 mark from the foul line, and the fact that this isn’t all that surprising is a testament to his top-15 play when he’s on the court and top-25 season on the whole. DeMarre Carroll (eight points, four rebounds) was quiet with all that going on along with a shot to the face that caused four stitches, and Kyle Korver was able to bring back a customary 16 points and three triples in the overtime win against Toronto.
As the Bucks’ season comes to a merciful close they will have more important things to worry about in Milwaukee as Seattle’s prospective ownership group has proven that they will do anything to rip away a team facing unstable ownership and arena issues. To that end, there are rumors that a sale of the team could happen sooner or later and for Bucks fans they can only hope that it comes with a guarantee that the team will stay.
The team actually competed in Portland last night and pushed the Blazers to overtime before giving way, with Zaza Pachulia making some real noise at the center position with 17 points, 13 boards, three assists and four steals. I chickened out on his three-game week after gambling on his five-gamer last week, and that sort of sums up his risky value proposition. He’s worth a look if you need a big man but a season of inconsistency can’t be ignored playing for Larry Drew and his random rotations. Pachulia, like some of his fellow big men, does get a small boost with news that Ersan Ilyasova (12 points, 6-of-10 FGs, nine boards, two steals, 23 minutes) is probably going to miss three games out of the remaining 12 contests in the fantasy playoffs (14 including the final week). The exact game plan is for Ilyasova (ankle) to sit out a game on back-to-backs and that makes his remaining schedule after this week 2-3-2 or 3-3-2 at best. That’s drop territory for a guy with question marks from night to night.
Khris Middleton has a streaky quality to him, but he’s rolling right along and had 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting with four treys, six boards and five assists in 40 minutes. Nate Wolters got big minutes but was mediocre in the box with four points on 1-of-5 shooting, four boards, six assists and five turnovers, and Brandon Knight plugged away with 24 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three treys, two steals and a block.
Jeff Adrien got the 20 minutes that proved to be elusive at times last week and put up a low-end line of seven points, five boards, one steal and one block. He’s worth a look in 12-14 team leagues if you’re desperate for a big in 9-cat formats. Drop that to 14-16 teams in 8-cat formats where he’s not benefiting from just 0.6 turnovers per game in his last nine contests.
John Henson has actually used all of his rope with me whether it’s due to injuries, lack of confidence, being messed up by Drew’s rotations or being deployed at center where he has struggled. He logged just 16 minutes last night in another light outing with six points, one rebound and one block. The same slight bump due to Ilyasova’s rest is real and could very well make him worth owning, but he is well short of must-hold territory after falling off the cliff. Giannis Antetokounmpo (four points, two boards, 20 minutes) is in the same boat after generating more articles than stats over the last few weeks, as writers everywhere crane their necks to get into the picture with the Alphabet (and for good reason).
Ramon Sessions could have led this column off with his 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting, five rebounds, five assists, one trey and one steal over 35 minutes off the bench. I can’t rule out that O.J. Mayo is actually a crash test dummy being rolled onto the court in full disguise, but I’ve all but ruled out seeing him on the floor again this season. Sessions on the other hand has stepped into a leadership role with the club and is one of their better players. The problem, however, is the same as normal with Sessions in terms of fantasy value. With deficiencies in peripheral stat categories he’s still just a deep league value over the last week despite averaging 15.5 points with 4.8 assists over the last four games. I do think we’ll continue to see Sessions produce and play well, but I can’t get behind anything but a late-round ceiling for 12-team formats and he’ll need to get 30 minutes per game to get there.