PROBLEMS IN PORTLAND
The injury to LaMarcus Aldridge (back, hip, groin) couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Blazers, as his absence has wrecked their rhythm and offensive chemistry has slowly eroded over the last few weeks. Aldridge is doubtful for Thursday’s game against the Wizards and then the Blazers are staring down matchups against fellow Bruski 150 fade Al Jefferson and the Bobcats on Saturday, followed by back-to-backs against the Heat and Magic on Monday and Tuesday.
The Blazers then turn around and play another back-to-back with just one night off in-between on Wednesday. Once a team with home court seeding for the first round of the playoffs, they’ve fallen to the No. 5 seed with 1.5 games in-between them and both the Rockets (No. 4) and Warriors (No. 6). Aldridge hasn’t worked out yet and the Blazers face an interesting question of whether or not to protect against a further fall by getting the big man back as soon as possible. Conversely, they could look at the teams above them and decide the situation is too fluid to get concerned with risking further injury, knowing that they still have a 5.5 game cushion over the Suns (No. 9).
Aldridge got out of the wheelchair and it’s unclear how precautionary that situation was. He’s reportedly off crutches too but until he’s doing something basketball-related it’s fair to be concerned. Durability has always been the issue with him as his effectiveness can dip quickly when he’s not at 100 percent and in the seven games since returning from his groin injury he struggled to stay in the top-100, which was mostly the result of an extremely high-volume 39.7 percent mark from the field. Of course owners have to be holding here, but field goal percentage could be a continued issue whenever he returns and contingency plans should be on the radar.
As they did in last night’s overtime win against the lowly Bucks, the team will continue to play small-ball with Dorell Wright (one point, 0-for-8 FGs, 0-for-7 3PTs, five boards, one steal, one block, 19 minutes) starting and he won’t be this bad on most nights. And when he’s hitting the shots he missed last night, he’ll get at least 25 minutes when that is the case. With a five-game week on the slate I can’t imagine dropping him now.
Mo Williams has leapfrogged Wright as the guy to own between the two, however, and last night he put up 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting with three treys, two boards, three assists and a perfect six foul shots in 34 minutes off the bench. He’s going to give up points on the defensive end and his style of offense is actually contributing to the lack of ball movement so it’s possible that Terry Stotts pulls back on these minutes, but he doesn’t have much option when Thomas Robinson (nine points, nine boards, one steal, one block, 16 minutes) has both residual knee issues and is a total crapshoot from night to night. Williams has been on fire for the last two games and in the six games that he has played without Aldridge he has averaged 15.5 points per game and put up late-round numbers. With five games next week he should at least be ‘useful’ and could easily put up difference-making numbers at the end of your roster.
Nicolas Batum continues to carry more load than ever and he just missed a triple-double last night with 21 points, three triples, nine boards, nine assists and a perfect four foul shots. He has been a top-5 play over the last week and a top-20 play over the last two weeks, which won’t make up for a down season but it’s coming at precisely right time. Damian Lillard scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting (1-of-11 3PTs) with four assists and five turnovers, and Wesley Matthews got hot with 26 points, five threes, a pair of steals and like Lillard he hit all five of his freebies in the unnecessarily close loss to the Bucks.
IT’S BETTER THAN GOOD IT’S GREAT
I don’t feel like I’ve done a good enough job of talking about Drew Gooden lately, or at least I can’t remember as weeks start to blur together at this time of year. When he was signed there were stories about how he had trained at the Verizon Center and it sure seemed like he was on call for the right scenario and the Wizards were at the top of that list. When Nene went down Gooden seemed like a poor man’s facsimile of the facilitating big man and I jokingly thought to myself in his first game he’d be capable of a patented out-of-nowhere triple-double. I added him virtually everywhere I needed a big man with confidence and after a string of promising low-minute outings he is finally getting his legs underneath him.
Gooden followed up his 21-point, nine-rebound effort from Saturday with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, two threes, six boards and two steals in 28 minutes off the bench in last night’s overtime loss to the Kings. He’s going to get all the run that his body can handle and after this week the Wiz have a middle-of-the-road 3-4-3 schedule. Even if you factor in his first few uneventful games, he has been a late-round value since joining the Wizards and when you look at the last two weeks he has been a top 50-80 value (9/8 cat) in just 18.8 minutes per game. His 63.2 percent shooting over that span is way too high but on the other end of that lever is the chance he can get his workload up to 21-25 mpg and maintain mid-to-late round value. He’s a must-add guy if you need a big man, and owners hunting upside in general may want to take a flier.
The rest of the Wizards’ box was mostly standard fare with John Wall putting up 14 points, two threes, three boards, eight assists, three steals, one block and two nasty missed free throws that let the Kings back into the game late. Trevor Ariza scored 12 points with two threes, three boards, four assists and three steals as his monster season continues, Bradley Beal couldn’t find the range with just 7-of-23 makes to finish with 19 points, two threes, six assists and a steal in 42 minutes, and Marcin Gortat went for 19 points, 14 boards and zeroes in the defensive categories. Trevor Booker made an appearance with 10 points, eight boards, two steals and one block, but one good game against the Kings isn’t moving the needle.
YOU’RE FIVE FEET NOTHIN
Rudy Gay had a great night last night in the Kings’ stirring overtime win against the Wizards, and even had the crowd chanting ‘Rudy! Rudy!’, but I couldn’t help but laugh to see the local headlines ignoring Isaiah Thomas’ dominant triple-double. Nationally, the AP and everybody else heaped praise on Thomas for sparking the Kings’ comeback and outplaying John Wall, but you’re more likely to get a five-page spread in the local papers on Ray McCallum’s upcoming spot-starts if or whenever the team decides to rest Thomas. Indeed, both Thomas and Gay could see some rest down the stretch and both guys could certainly use it after carrying so much load, with the nice side benefit of adding ping pong balls in the process.
Gay finished with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting with six rebounds and three steals and Thomas racked up 24 points on 6-of-16 shooting with two threes, a career-high 11 boards, 10 assists, one block and hit all 10 of his free throws. The Pizza Guy is putting the finishing touches on a top 10-15 fantasy season, and all the while I continue to hear rumblings that the Kings aren’t going to match an expected $6-8 million offer. I’m going to pretend I’m not hearing that sort of thing because that’s a bargain to get a solid NBA level starter that’s only going to get better after one full season of scraping off the Keith Smart. He leads the Kings in win shares and has nearly double the offensive win shares of his next closest teammate DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins returned from his night off to put up 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting with 14 rebounds, three assists and one steal in 30 minutes. He could also see some rest or a one-game suspension for technical fouls down the stretch but as long as he’s on the floor he’s going to be a beast, obviously. Ben McLemore hit just 5-of-17 shots for 11 points, five boards and one three in a whopping 50 minutes. The Kings are going to let him gather up enough bricks to build the brand new arena, and he has to get his dribbling under control next season so he can get better balance on his jumper. There’s more than that, but I don’t want to pile on the rookie since he has the physical tools and work ethic to bounce back next year.
Derrick Williams’ one-game explosion was an easy mark to forget and he scored just eight points with one rebound and two steals in 32 minutes. He basically needs at least one of the Big Three to be out and a bad defense to play against for his flailing dribble-drives and wayward turnaround jumpers to produce any value. If he could just focus on one area of his game to get really good at there is some hope for him, but right now he’s average at best at any one facet of the game and the intangibles are nowhere near starter quality.
McCallum hasn’t exactly been a stat accumulator when on the floor and as mentioned a bunch he’s a nice player with a chance to be a good backup down the road. If Thomas sits then he’ll be worth a spot-start and if he does anything even remotely worthwhile get ready for big talk out of Sacramento, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you start to read reports that go something like ‘Can Ray McCallum be a better fit at point guard than Isaiah Thomas?’ or some other drivel as the season ends or during the summer.
THE MIGHTY QUINN
The Magic have been an open book in fantasy leagues for the most part and it came as no surprise that they lost to the Warriors, but like many of you I’m on the lookout for a Jameer Nelson (four points, four boards, seven assists, 2-of-7 FGs, 23 minutes) shutdown and Arron Afflalo (four points, 22 minutes, 2-of-7 FGs) hasn’t been right since returning from an ankle injury. With just a trio of three-game weeks left beyond the one we’re in, owners are correct to watch both players’ situations closely and in Afflalo’s case he has hit just 40.4 percent of his shots for 15.5 points, 1.2 treys and little else over his last six games. Until he shows a sign of life, he should be on benches wherever possible.
Nikola Vucevic returned from an ankle injury of his own and scored 15 points with five rebounds in his 23 minutes but did not have any steals or blocks. The good news is that he got on the floor and barring a report of aggravation to the injury he should stay in lineups. Moe Harkless kept being useful with 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting (2-of-3 3PTs, 4-of-4 FTs) with four rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes. Playing at a top 40-60 level over the last two weeks he should be owned in all standard formats.
Kyle O’Quinn stayed on his game with 10 points, five boards, three assists and two blocks in his standard 21 minutes. It has taken forever for folks to get on this train. You can pretty much ink his numbers in every night. Tobias Harris scored 14 points with six rebounds and a three and based on the measure of whether he can get at least a total of ‘two’ in the peripheral steals/blocks/threes categories last night was a loss. It’s doubtful that owners care after he has racked up second-to-third round value over the last month.
Victor Oladipo ran into foul trouble but he still logged 27 minutes with 10 points, five boards, five assists, one steal and one block. He’s going to finish the season with mid-round value at a minimum, and a big finish could move him into an early-round finish in his rookie season.