MORE IN SPUR OF THE MOMENT DNP DECISIONS
The Spurs are going to raise owners’ blood pressure as they do every season down the stretch, and after 32 minutes for Tim Duncan (12 points, 16 boards, six assists, three steals) and 33 minutes for Tony Parker (25 points, five assists) they should probably top an inestimable list of Gregg Popovich DNP candidates for Friday in Sacramento. The Spurs then turn around and play the Warriors on Saturday and the only good news is that they get two full days off before that back-to-back. Owners already know to beware.
Manu Ginobili (13 points, six assists, three treys, 22 minutes) continues to roll along in limited minutes and he’s right up there with the other graybeards on the DNP watch list. Danny Green has played better since injuring his shooting wrist and had another dandy last night with 6-of-8 makes for 16 points, three triples, two steals and one block in just 24 minutes. Green should be owned in all formats for his extremely high ceiling when hot, though time off would make sense for him if the injury continues to linger.
Owners looking for sneaky pickups should look (in order) at Patty Mills (seven points, 15 minutes), Marco Belinelli (10 points, two threes, 26 minutes), Tiago Splitter (10 points, eight boards, one steal, three blocks, and Boris Diaw (eight points, six boards, six assists, one block, two threes, 24 minutes). After Mills the other three guys are tightly bunched. The Spurs are looking at two straight four-game weeks following this one, and with each missed game by a key cog they’re going to see their floor improve. And since they’re all borderline late-round values in 12-14 team leagues on the season, the extra game advantage and the chance for enhanced roles is a nice mix of safety and upside. In deeper formats Cory Joseph (two minutes) is also worth a look if it starts raining DNPs.
Kawhi Leonard has been one of my tougher picks of the year and though I warned folks to take him closer to his ADP in the second or even third rounds of drafts it sure feels like many of you took him closer to my late-first round, early-second round evaluation. The hand injury was a freak thing and I won’t obsess over that, but Leonard didn’t take the early leap many expected him to take. Fast forward to his return from injury and he has been the No. 5 and 8 fantasy play over the past month in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively, averaging a ridiculous 14.5 points, 1.4 threes, 6.9 boards, 2.1 steals, and 1.5 blocks while hitting 55.8 percent from the field and 90.3 percent from the line. The shooting is unsustainable and to a lesser degree so are the blocks, but the overall shape of his fantasy production is something to behold.
It’s not going to change the fact that he’s one of my bust picks this year, but turning it on at the right time for owners will hopefully mitigate some of the pain for those in playoff formats.
While the Knicks are basking in the afterglow of all Phil Jackson everything all the time, the Lakers are left with an almost cartoonish Mike D’Antoni losing his way under immense scrutiny and condemnation by most. I don’t say ‘cartoonish’ to be mean and I don’t even really mean anything literal by that word, but figuratively the circus around his job status and the Lakers’ future is going to be a wild card down the stretch. It’s anybody’s guess where the Lakers go from here in the offseason, but Jim Buss will have the bulls-eye drawn squarely on his back as the NBA’s first family looks to make a cannonball-level splash.
The good news is that I think D’Antoni puts his head down in the meantime and rolls with the guys that fit his roles, and with everybody rooting for ping pong balls anyway he won’t get much pushback unless the Lakers start losing by 40 again. Pau Gasol (22 points, 10 boards, six assists, one steal, four blocks) is a prime shutdown candidate and though he's productive and relatively healthy it’s anybody’s guess what he’ll do as we get closer to the end.
Robert Sacre (seven points, 11 boards, one steal, one block) profiles like a guy that the Lakers can throw out there for 30-plus minutes in the last two weeks of the season, and with Jordan Hill (knee) and Chris Kaman (foot) being total question marks Ryan Kelly (34 minutes, 14 points, six boards, two steals, one block, one three) could end up being locked into a huge role. With two four-game weeks after this one on the slate I hope you guys have been on that bandwagon with me because otherwise it’s probably too late to grab him.
Kent Bazemore (13 points, 5-of-11 FGs, three treys, three assists, six steals, 29 minutes) has the capacity to play himself out of a game, though it’s not likely, and more importantly he is both healthy and versatile enough to log big minutes in D’Antoni’s system. Xavier Henry (32 minutes, 24 points, four boards, one three, 9-of-22 FGs) has been featured even more than Bazemore lately, but there’s no comparison between their respective fantasy value. Bazemore is operating at a late-round level despite falling off the map two weeks ago and has tremendous upside in Mike D’s system, while Henry can only be truly relied upon for points and he carries deficiencies nearly everywhere else to go with plenty of injury risk. I think the Lakers enjoy Henry’s playmaking ability when he’s rolling but they could turn off the spigot if and when he goes truly cold.
Kendall Marshall saw just 23 minutes last night and that’s a bit disappointing considering that Henry played most of his backup point guard minutes and had zero assists while jacking up 22 shots. Marshall scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with three rebounds and three assists, and I’m going to give it at least one more game before writing a full-time role off. Henry’s surge also has a bit of a random quality to it in that the team certainly wants to see what he has after a similar burst of productivity earlier in the year, and within that context is the fact that he has worked his butt off to get back on the floor to showcase himself for whatever his next contract may be. The Lakers may go away from Henry once he has had his fill, and there is always the ever-present risk of aggravation to his bad knee. Playing their only true point guard less than 30 minutes per game seems a bit weird even by Mike D standards.
Wesley Johnson logged just 16 minutes last night on his way to eight points, five rebounds and two threes without any defensive stats. Given his relative utility to the team it will take more bad outings combined with some other red flag to move me off of the upcoming pair of four-game weeks. Yes, Nick Young could come back and complicate everybody’s lives and so could Steve Nash, but there’s no way I’m planning around Nash and Young’s situation reeks of a guy rushing back too early to try and audition for his next deal. Assuming the Lakers want to play ball like that (Young isn’t teetering on the edge of the NBA landscape like Henry is), it’s anybody’s guess if he can move other guys off of their minutes and touches.
In the end, if Gasol gets shutdown there could be a dynamic similar to Philly earlier in the year in which the pace of playground play is the rising tide to lift all boats, more so than is already happening.
THEREIN LIES THE RUB
Regular readers know that I’ve been stuck on the Pacers as my title pick all season long and that the last 3-4 weeks went from mild concern to real problems with the way Indy has conducted its business. I noted yesterday that it was a terrible spot for them to play in New York on the night of Phil Jackson’s introduction to the crowd and subsequent standing ovation. Indy had trouble dispatching the worst team in NBA history on Monday, so a suddenly surging Knicks squad was certainly going to be a problem.
So they lost and snapped a four-game winning streak and they still hold the top spot in the East over the Heat, but this has remained one of the more perplexing situations because aside from Roy Hibbert’s cliff dive there hasn’t been an easy explanation for the struggles. Trusty Dean Oliver of ESPN said the same thing I had been thinking for weeks last night when he noted how the team just looked a half-step off up and down the lineup. But something else I’ve seen hints of may have finally revealed itself definitively when Hibbert called out anybody not named Paul or David for shot selection and trying to do too much.
"We've fallen in love with the jump shot for a while," Hibbert said. "People feel like they have it going and they want to do it themselves sometimes. That's just how it works. I feel like two guys that I have 100 percent trust in doing that is Paul [George] and David [West]. I feel like they should have carte blanche on whatever they want to do in terms of attacking the paint and (put) the ball's in their hands because they've earned my respect."
Hibbert went on from there, adding "They're able to do it at a high level, even if they start off a little slow but I know they're going to bring it. Those guys have the green light whenever they have it, but other than that I think we should move the ball and get people involved."
It’s a bit much to say ‘shots fired’ because nobody has insinuated that there is animosity in the locker room, but that’s a not-so-veiled message to George Hill (seven points, 3-of-7 FGs, one three, six boards, four assists, one block) and more likely to Lance Stephenson, who has also been on the other end of a now suddenly more meaningful comment made by Hibbert about stolen rebounds. Stephenson scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting with two threes, nine boards, two steals and another dud handing out the ball with just two assists.
The Pacers’ offense has never been setup to be an elite force, but it certainly has the potential to be one of the better units in the league. It has also bogged down not just recently but historically whenever Hibbert struggles, and it was only when George developed a mid-range game and refined the overall product that the Pacers became truly special. Stephenson was always a bit player until last year’s playoffs, and then this season he has enjoyed a coming out party all while he is gunning for a new contract.
That’s the salient point here and though there are times or even long stretches when Stephenson is a dynamic playmaker, he is still a young, often reckless player that is still finding his way in the NBA. There hasn't been much talk about Stephenson's potential financial motivations in the press, but the big man’s comments effectively put that issue in the spotlight for those that are paying attention, whether it’s about money, The Quan, or whatever it is that is causing Stephenson to assume the role of a No. 1B guy rather than a No. 2 or 3 or even 4.
The end result is a team that has allowed this metamorphosis to slowly erode their trust on offense because the pecking order isn’t intact. And if more Stephenson is part of the problem for the offense, it certainly doesn’t help that he’s the only one besides George that can get his own shot in a pinch. George hit just 4-of-17 shots (2-of-9 3PTs, 7-of-8 FTs) for 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one steal, and he is clearly pressing to live up to his now defunct MVP candidacy -- while Stephenson continues to run nearly as much of the show. David West (eight points, six rebounds, two blocks) and Hibbert are both reliant upon these guys to get their touches, and surely Hill (seven points, six boards, four assists, one block) has had to adjust with less ballhandling opportunities on his end.
Perhaps Hibbert waited until he had a big night offensively (20 points, 8-of-10 FGs, three boards, zero blocks) to speak up about the offense, or maybe the pressure of continued poor performance was too much with time running out. The Pacers wouldn’t be the first team in history to lose focus on the defensive end when issues on the offensive end start to mount. This certainly fits the profile of a basketball death spiral, but then again it would also fit the profile that none of this matters past March. I would be more worried had Hibbert not said anything and the Pacers continued to show half-step deficiencies without any explanation that made sense besides simple fatigue.
The Pacers are having a crisis of character. New characters such as Evan Turner (three points, 17 minutes) and Andrew Bynum (knee, out for rest of week) represent more questions than answers with the way things have gone down since their arrival. They have four weeks to work out their pecking order and now that grievances have been aired the next step is usually to hash it out. Whether or not they do that effectively will effectively determine who advances in the East, so I’m going to stay on the Pacers train knowing that buy-in there has typically been strong. Stephenson isn’t off-his-rails killing this team – it’s quite the opposite – but his ascension and contract issues show how thin the line between winning and losing can be at the NBA level.
TAKE A BOW
Phil Jackson took his bow for the skeptical yet giddy Madison Square Garden crowd last night and it’s been covered in every way possible, but it’s pretty amazing what hope can do to float an otherwise bad situation. The Knicks have now won seven straight games and what appeared to be a disaster-level situation is now a four-game deficit behind the sinking Hawks. The mediocre Bobcats sit just a half-game ahead of Atlanta in the seven slot. Whereas questions surrounding Carmelo Anthony dominated the landscape over the last few months, now it seems crazy that he wouldn’t want to re-up with Jackson leading the charge given the numerous financial and competitive advantages staying would bring to the table.
I thought Melo might go out and try to make a point last night and he was solid with 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting (10-of-12 FTs), three rebounds, five assists and three steals in the win over Indy. Tyson Chandler returned from his personal absence and posted a spry seven points with 14 rebounds, one steal and one block in 39 minutes, and Amare Stoudemire got a start and scored 21 points with four rebounds in 29 minutes. Stoudemire will get pushed more than the Knicks would like while they’re in a hurry to make up ground, but days off are probably inevitable. He profiles like a late-round value when he’s on the floor but with a pair of four-game weeks coming up he’s worth a look in 12-team formats.
Raymond Felton scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting with one three, six boards, six assists and two steals in 28 minutes. If he’s still floating around your wire it’s time to pick him up with top-100 value over his last six games. All the positive vibes in New York can certainly help with the in-between-the-ears issues he’s facing, but if that sounds too much like the Zen talking owners can go back to the schedule for comfort. Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of the more one-dimensional players I’ve seen lately, as he completely disappears when his shot doesn’t fall. After getting red hot over the past week he missed all seven of his shots and finished with just two points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. I can only see using him in a 12-14 team league if I’m in need of a Hail Mary in the points and 3-point shooting departments.