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Ethan Norof

The Specialists

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Specialists: Round 1 Begins

Monday, April 16, 2018


Welcome to the NBA playoffs!


In the postseason edition of The Specialists, we’re weighing positive round-by-round matchups while also accounting for the projected longevity of each respective team.


Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers: 3-pointers, Steals, Blocks


Covington might as well be nicknamed Mr. Money Stats for what he brings to the table. It’s easy to forget about RoCo’s fantasy allure on a team that features Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid—not to mention the value guys like J.J. Redick and Dario Saric are currently bringing to the table—but he can’t be overlooked given his ability to single-handedly swing a key category in your favor.


Although Covington is unlikely to erupt for a huge scoring night given the other available options the Sixers have on the roster, he should have ample opportunity to contribute on the defensive end as well as from behind the 3-point line. Despite some inconsistency in Covington’s performance, a game-changing eruption is always potentially right around the corner.


It may surprise you to learn that Covington finished the regular season with more triples than Bradley Beal and C.J. McCollum—in fewer games, no less—more steals than Khris Middleton and Josh Richardson, and more blocks than LeBron James as well as DeAndre Jordan. In other words, Covington is one of those players who seems perennially undervalued because a lot of people still aren’t looking in the right places for what matters most.


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Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: Points, 3-pointers


After just a single game, it already looks like the Warriors are in firm control of their first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs. Thompson had a sizzling Game 1 performance with 27 points and five triples on a blistering 11-of-13 shooting, and there’s no reason to think the Spurs are going to slow him down moving forward. Thompson is at his best when he can simply catch and shoot, and even without Stephen Curry (knee) currently available, the Warriors have enough playmaking on the floor for Thompson to flourish accordingly.


The Warriors’ paper-thin bench means Thompson is going to have to log big minutes, and the good news about that is that each projected opponent in Golden State’s postseason path is going to be 3-point-centric. That means Thompson should be able to walk to 20-plus points per night—especially until Curry is back in the picture—with multiple treys on consistently efficient efforts from the field.


Marco Belinelli, Philadelphia 76ers: 3-pointers


It’s been a tale of two seasons for Belinelli.


After beginning the campaign in a listless situation with the Hawks, Belinelli has found more life in Philadelphia through embracing the process. In 28 regular season games, the veteran guard averaged career-high marks—at age 32—in points (13.6), 3-pointers made (2.0), and field goal percentage (49.5%). And after Belinelli burst onto the postseason scene with 25 points, three steals, and four triples without a single turnover in 33.5 minutes in Philadelphia’s Game 1 blowout win, it’s undeniable that he’s a legitimate asset for as long as the 76ers remain alive.


J.J. Redick’s reputation in this sphere has already been well established, and Belinelli can be considered the ‘discount’ version. In other words, the price point on Redick higher than it is on Belinelli, but each may wind up with very comparable statistics on a game-by-game basis. One thing is for certain: If Miami continues to allow the combination of Redick and Belinelli to combine for 50-plus points on better than 50% shooting, it’s going to be awfully difficult to take down the Sixers, especially once Joel Embiid (orbital fracture) returns to action.


Nikola Mirotic, New Orleans Pelicans: Points, 3-pointers


It might have cost the Pelicans another costly first-round pick, but the importance of Mirotic’s acquisition can’t be overstated. After it looked like New Orleans was toast once DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles, Mirotic’s arrival aided in saving the season, and to be able to rid of Omer Asik’s burdensome contract in the process was an indisputable added bonus.


New Orleans has real momentum vs. the Blazers, and as transcendent as Anthony Davis is, the Pelicans’ success isn’t fueled by AD alone. Jrue Holiday is enjoying—albeit too quietly—a career season, Rajon Rondo’s elevated playoff play is already noticeable, and Mirotic is in an excellent spot to produce in this particular matchup. Because the Blazers don’t have Moe Harkless available, it’s Al-Farouq Aminu or bust to defend Mirotic. New Orleans is going to need Mirotic’s offense for however long the club hangs around in the playoff picture, and I’m in the camp that the Pelicans are brewing the right combination of ingredients for a first-round upset.


Rajon Rondo, New Orleans Pelicans: Assists


As mentioned above, Rondo’s role in what the Pelicans are doing can’t just be overlooked.


Although some were surprised with his 17-assist Game 1 performance, Rondo averaged 10.0 dimes after the All-Star Break. Including Saturday’s Game 1 triumph in Portland, Rondo has now averaged 10.7 assists over his last ten games, and it’s clear that the days of the veteran point guard playing inconsistent minutes are firmly in the rearview mirror.


Rondo is a bit of a one-trick pony when it comes to fantasy, but his ability to rebound the basketball from the point guard position does help his case. If you’re drafting late and find yourself missing out on the top-tier names at point guard, in real need of assists, and a believer in the Pelicans ability to play past Portland, Rondo makes sense as a target.



Follow Ethan Norof on Twitter @Ethan_Norof for more fantasy basketball analysis, advice and all things Los Angeles Lakers.
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