This is one of the worst seasons in recent memory when it comes to injuries, but we finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel for a couple players on Thursday. Rudy Gobert (knee) was upgraded to probable against the Knicks on Friday after missing just over a month of action, while D’Angelo Russell (knee) “looked good” at his first full practice and was also upgraded to probable for Friday’s game vs. the Heat after 10 weeks on the shelf.
Gobert’s return dampens the fantasy appeal of Derrick Favors significantly, while Ekpe Udoh might fall out of the rotation if coach Quin Snyder wants to give Favors the backup center minutes -- Snyder was experimenting with this before Gobert went down. I’m expecting Gobert to play minutes in the lower 20s on Friday based on the previous time he returned from an injury, and if he’s cleared to play I won’t hesitate to put him back into lineups. With the Jazz sitting five losses behind the 8th-place Clippers, Gobert's return could give them the ammunition they need to be relevant again in the West and his fantasy value will get a boost because of that.
As for Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie has been rolling as the starting point guard and coach Kenny Atkinson has hinted that he could start them alongside each other, but both of them should be more than fine in terms of fantasy value. Russell is a better player off the ball anyways, so I think he’ll mesh really well with Dinwiddie. "Any team who misses a guy of his talent is going to have an adjustment period," Dinwiddie said. "If they choose to play us together, I’m happy with it. If they don’t, they don’t. Coach Kenny Atkinson sounded excited when talking about Russell and he said it's a great problem to have with three players capable of running the offense in Russell, Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Atkinson even talked about staggering them as much as possible. Russell will have heavy restrictions early on, but expect big things down the stretch for a 21-year-old rising star who was putting up 20.9 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.5 treys before the injury.
Before we get to the news from Thursday’s four-game slate, be sure to follow me on Twitter here!
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Joel Embiid was looking at his troublesome right hand a few times on Thursday vs. the Celtics, but he still put up a monster line of 26 points, six rebounds, one assist, two blocks and four turnovers in 35 minutes. The 76ers play every other day until their back-to-back starts on Jan. 28, and if he can make it to that point without picking up any additional bumps and bruises, he could have his back-to-back restrictions lifted based on his comments on Thursday. The 76ers are sitting in 8th place in the East with playoffs on their minds, so the first-time All-Star’s rest-of-season outlook appears to be very promising.
Isaiah Thomas played 30 minutes on Thursday after playing 32 earlier in the week, so his restrictions are being reduced even quicker than expected. He’s still expected to sit out one game of back-to-back sets, but their next one isn’t until Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. He had his best game of the season vs. the Magic with 21 points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals and three 3-pointers on 6-of-15 shooting, and he also knocked down a pair of free throws for the final two points of the 104-103 win.
Lance Stephenson was battling an illness tonight, and while he did make a trip to the locker room, he was able to return. He didn’t look right though, finishing scoreless with six missed shots in 10 minutes. Unless he makes some progress overnight, I could easily see him resting vs. the Lakers on Friday which would lead to a larger workload for Cory Joseph.
Kyrie Irving missed Thursday’s game with a “sore left shoulder,” and coach Brad Stevens said he "does not believe [Kyrie's shoulder] will be a long-term issue.” According to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, Irving "has battled increasing soreness in his shoulder in recent weeks,” but sat out on Thursday as a “precaution.” An MRI revealed no structural damage, and Irving said he could be back for Sunday's game against the Magic after a couple days off. "I did it for precautionary reasons and everything was fine," Irving said. "So, structurally, everything is good in my shoulder, and I'm [going to] do what's best, take a few days to strengthen it up even more and then try to give it a go Sunday.”
He did play 42 minutes on Wednesday, so it made sense for Boston to err on the side of caution. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier both benefit every time Irving sits, but neither player took advantage of their opportunity on Thursday. With that said, I’d be comfortable streaming them if Irving sits again.
James Harden (hamstring) returned from a seven-game absence and was admittedly rusty, saying after the game, “I look like I missed seven games.” He had a 24-25 minute restriction and played 26, hitting 3-of-15 shots for 10 points, seven assists, two rebounds, two blocks, two steals and one triple. Coach Mike D’Antoni was joking after the game that Harden was giving him a look every time he pulled him, so that’s an indication that Harden was feeling good and wanted to play more than he did. Expect him to be closer to 30 minutes on Saturday vs. Golden State, if not more.
Damian Lillard admitted this week that his calf still isn’t 100 percent, but he added that he’s starting to feel “almost normal” again and it shows. He played 40 minutes and led the Blazers to a 100-86 win over the Pacers on Thursday, scoring 26 points with eight assists, five rebounds, one block and two triples. He was averaging 26.0 points per game in his previous four outings, so yeah I’d say the concerns about his injury are behind him.
Fantasy Pickups from Thursday:
Shabazz Napier- He’s my favorite pickup of the day and it’s not close. The Blazers have talked about using more 3-PG lineups with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Napier all on the floor and we saw it yet again on Thursday. "Coach talked to us a little bit about doing some different things with the rotation," C.J. McCollum said. "Trying to figure out different ways to get us on the court together and have [Shabazz] out there." Coach Stotts delivered on his promise and Napier responded with a solid line, scoring 13 points with four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks and two 3-pointers in 29 minutes. He’s one of the most improved players in the NBA and he’s been turning heads for weeks. Pick him up to see if he can keep it going.
T.J. McConnell- J.J. Redick (leg) is expected to be out for at least 10 days to two weeks before he’s reevaluated again, so even though Jerryd Bayless is starting in his place, McConnell is the guy you want to pick up. He had another strong game on Thursday vs. Boston, racking up 15 points, two rebounds, two assists, three steals and two 3-pointers in 26 minutes. The 76ers play every other day until their back-to-back starts on Jan. 28, so McConnell is an intriguing streaming option and has stepped it up lately, averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 0.8 triples in his last four games, playing 26+ minutes in each.
Jonathon Simmons- He’s been very frustrating to own and was in a really bad slump for a couple weeks, but it may have been related to his back issues. He’s trending up again and his playing time is on the rise, as he’s played 32+ minutes in three straight games. Simmons scored 16 points vs. the Cavaliers on Thursday with three rebounds, four assists and two steals in 35 minutes, and he also had an emphatic chase-down block on Isaiah Thomas. He certainly looks healthy again and he will be a nice source of hustle stats if you don’t mind some inconsistent shooting lines.
Mario Hezonja- He’s not getting big minutes yet, but he’s been a regular in the rotation lately and is slowly shedding those draft bust labels. He scored 12 points in 24 minutes vs. the Cavaliers with two rebounds and two steals, and prior to Thursday he had January averages of 11.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.4 triples. I’ve made it well known that I love Jonathan Isaac (ankle) as a stash with the Magic expected to be sellers at the trade deadline (Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic seem to be in the rumor mill the most), but Hezonja is another interesting player to keep in mind.
Derrick Rose- Just kidding.
P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute- I don’t recommend picking these guys up for the long run, but they will be relevant for one more game with Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green suspended. Keep in mind that James Harden may have minute restrictions again on Saturday vs. the Warriors. We’re going to see a ton of small ball in this matchup and that favors Tucker and LMAM, as both can play 2-3 positions for a shorthanded Houston team. LMAM had one of his best games of the season vs. the Wolves, scoring 14 points with five rebounds, two assists, one steal and four 3-pointers in 32 minutes, while Tucker had five points, nine rebounds, one steal and one triple in 34 minutes.
Al-Farouq Aminu- He has stepped up his play in recent weeks, and while he’s not a player loaded with upside, he gets the job done for owners targeting rebounds, steals, triples and a handful of blocks. Moe Harkless was a DNP-CD on Thursday which confirms that Aminu has run away with the starting PF job, and he put up 12 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block and two triples in 32 minutes vs. the Pacers.