Friday marked the first day of NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, with the biggest news being made away from the court. New Orleans fired GM Dell Demps, with this being the latest twist in what has been a tumultuous season for the Pelicans franchise. On the court, the Mountain Dew Ice Rising Stars game was the highlight Friday. As one would expect in these exhibitions the defense was nowhere to be found, with players on both the World and USA teams not meeting much resistance on their way to the basket. Team USA won by a 161-144 final score, with Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers taking home MVP honors. The second-year forward led all scorers with 35 points to go along with six rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers.
It doesn’t make much sense to break down this game from a fantasy standpoint, so we’ll instead take a look at a few of the standouts and how they’ve been playing for their actual teams.
Kyle Kuzma continues to score in bunches
As noted above the Lakers forward had a good night, winning MVP honors and the $25,000 bonus that goes to each member of the winning team. It goes without saying that he’ll be a key player when the Lakers resume their pursuit of a playoff spot next week, and he played well in the team’s final games before the break. After missing two games due to a hip injury Kuzma averaged 19.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.7 three-pointers per game with shooting splits of 47.4% from the field, 44.4% from three and 80.0% from the foul line. Included in that six-game stretch was a 39-point effort in the Lakers’ February 10 loss to Philadelphia, but while the scoring numbers have been solid the production has not been as good in other areas.
On the season as a whole he’s contributing 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, with the non-scoring numbers being the biggest reason why he isn’t a top-100 player in nine-category leagues according to Basketball Monster. Not only would more production on the boards — and in the assists department — add value from a fantasy standpoint, but it could be the difference between the Lakers comfortably getting into the postseason and having to fight it out until the very end of the regular season.
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De’Aaron Fox dishes out 16 assists
Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox didn’t focus too much on putting up shots Friday night, as he attempted just three for Team USA. He instead focused on distributing, as he racked up 16 assists to go along with two points, two rebounds and five steals. The second-year point guard is averaging just over seven assists per game on the season, and over his last ten games he’s accounting for 6.3 assists per. During that stretch he’s also averaging 15.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game with shooting percentages of 43.8% (FG%), 36.0% (3-pointers) and 71.1% (FT%). Outside of the top-100 in nine-category leagues over the last two weeks, for the season as a whole Fox has been a top-70 player. Sacramento entered the break one game out of the final playoff spot in the West, and Fox’s continued growth as a point guard will undoubtedly have an impact on the team’s chances of reaching the postseason.
Ben Simmons leads World team with 28 points
Philadelphia point guard Ben Simmons led the way for the World team, as he scored 28 points (14-of-17 FGs) with six assists, five rebounds and three steals. In the ten games he played before the All-Star break, Simmons averaged 18.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 54.6% from the field and 63.9% from the foul line. This issue during this stretch has been his turnover count, as Simmons is averaging 4.0 turnovers per game over the last ten (four games with at least four turnovers). And in the four games the 76ers have played since the trade deadline, when the team added another starter in Tobias Harris and multiple quality reserves, he’s turned the ball over nearly five times per contest. The turnovers are why Simmons, who’s ranked 76th in nine-category leagues this season, hasn’t been a top-100 player in nine-category leagues in recent weeks.
Lauri Markkanen looks to continue hot streak in second half
Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen finished the first “half” of the season on a solid streak, as he scored at least 20 points in each of Chicago’s last six games. During this stretch the second-year forward averaged 25.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 49.0% from the field, 36.6% from three and 94.9% from the foul line. Over the last two weeks Markkanen has been a top-10 player in nine-category leagues, and during the month of February (six games) his usage percentage is up to 26.2%. That figure was 23.2% in January, and for the season he has a usage of 24.6%.
Given the moves Chicago made at the trade deadline Markkanen should stay close to that 26% mark, even with the addition of Otto Porter (he’s been allowed to create a bit more than he was in Washington). The 7-foot forward from Finland is a key building block for the Bulls as the team continues its rebuild, meaning that he won’t lack for scoring opportunities when the team resumes play late next week. Markkanen finished the Rising Stars Challenge with 21 points, six rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers.
Trae Young just misses out on a triple-double
Atlanta point guard Trae Young fell three rebounds short of a triple-double Friday, as he accounted for 25 points, ten assists, seven rebounds, one blocked shot and six 3-pointers. The rookie out of Oklahoma has played better in recent weeks, as he entered the break averaging 21.3 points, 9.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 three-pointers in his last 11 games. During that stretch he shot 44.6% from the field, 40.0% from three and 78.7% from the foul line, with the field goal and three-point percentages being noticeably better than his numbers for the season as a whole (40.6% field goals, 31.2% three-pointers). Young has been a top-100 player over the last month, but that number would be much better if not for his averaging 3.6 turnovers per game during this stretch. Young is still a valuable fantasy option, but he can be of even greater value to rosters if the turnover count decreases.
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Suns center Deandre Ayton are in much different places when it comes to their respective teams. While Mitchell and the Jazz are in the middle of a playoff race, Ayton’s Suns are headed back to the draft lottery. Both put up solid numbers Friday, with Mitchell accounting for 20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers for Team USA and Ayton going for 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the World Team. Mitchell, who got off to a slow start this season, has scored 20 points or more in 17 of Utah’s 20 games in 2019. And over his last ten games the second-year guard is averaging 25.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.1 three-pointers per. Mitchell didn’t shoot the ball particularly well during this stretch, making 39.3% of his field goals and 31.8% of his three-point attempts, and he’s been well outside of the top-100 in nine-category leagues as a result. He’s certainly going to get his numbers, so that isn’t a concern. But if Mitchell can get the shooting percentages up he becomes a fantasy player of even greater value.
As for Ayton, he won’t lack for opportunities to produce given the position that the Suns are in record-wise. In the six games he’s played since returning to the lineup the rookie center out of Arizona is averaging 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per while shooting 54.4% from the field and 81.8% from the foul line. Ayton’s been a top-80 player in nine-category leagues over the last two weeks, which is a small surprise given the fact that he isn’t much of a shot-blocker and he’s also averaged more turnovers (2.2 tpg) than assists (1.5 apg). Shot blocking wasn’t Ayton’s forte at Arizona, due in part to the fact that he spent a lot of time playing at the four, but that’s carried over into the NBA despite playing exclusively at center. Whether or not he can be more of a factor in that area remains to be seen. But at the very least if Ayton can become a player whose assist total is higher than the turnover number on most night he’ll be an even more valuable fantasy option.