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The Breakdown

Khris Middleton: Fantasy Royal

by Aaron Bruski
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

With just 10 games last night I decided to go in a bit more depth than usual, and in the process I found that last night wasn’t nearly as uneventful as I made it out to be in the Dose.  There are also five games tonight, so it’s going to be a much busier Thursday than we’re accustomed to.  Let’s get right to it as you don’t need me to tell you that it’s winning time in fantasy leagues.

 

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LOOKING AHEAD

 

The Hawks might not have had the time to keep up on the days of the Denver Nuggets’ lives, but they found out what the new Nuggets are all about when they traveled to Denver and got trounced.  If anything the loss will serve to fire them up for Friday’s game in Phoenix, or who knows, maybe they’ve got their eyes set on next week’s continuation of their road trip at Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.   

 

From a practical standpoint the only concern owners should have is rest since the Warriors are the only team that can threaten their home court advantage throughout the playoffs.  If that balance shifts in a big way then Mike Budenholzer hasn’t been afraid to rest guys this season and everybody will be on notice. 

 

Everybody not named Kyle Korver performed below expectations in the box score, and as mentioned here throughout the last two weeks he is getting ready to correct a shooting slump at precisely the right time for owners.  He hit 6-of-8 shots (5-of-7 3PTs) for 18 points, three rebounds, one steal and one block, and sitting on a 10-game stretch of 40.7 percent field goal shooting he’s bound to shoot 50-60 percent throughout the next 3-4 weeks.  Ride the snake. 

 

THAT DOG CAN HUNT

 

The Melvin Hunt bump may be the least surprising thing we’ve seen this season.  Like with most things in life, the blame lies somewhere in the middle between Brian Shaw and his players, but Hunt’s positivity around the team and more importantly his decision to run have been boons to fantasy values. 

 

Kenneth Faried is the poster boy for that and he posted 14 points, five boards, two assists, one steal and four blocks in just 21 minutes due to their blowout win over the Hawks. He has been a top 30-40 play over the last two weeks and finally looks like the guy I projected near those levels in October.  Danilo Gallinari has continued to surge and he went nuts last night with 23 points, four treys, five rebounds, five assists and one steal on 8-of-12 shooting.  I flirted with that bandwagon all year but never went all the way, so hopefully you guys fared better on that front. 

 

Ty Lawson continues to struggle and he hit just 1-of-6 shots for five points, but added four points, nine assists and one steal to soften the blow.  His off-the-court stuff and injury concerns are certainly in the back of my mind, but he’ll eventually join the party as long as he’s healthy. 

 

From there, the next most intriguing player for me has been Will Barton, who I covered both in the Dose and also in the sleepers section of my Fantasy Extra podcast.  To sum it up, he’s sitting on top-90 value over the last month and playing behind a bunch of injury risks throughout the entire lineup. 

 

Wilson Chandler dealt with knee soreness last night but still managed eight points on 3-of-7 shooting (including two threes) with five rebounds, one steal and one block, and Randy Foye played just 19 minutes in the blowout with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, three treys, three boards and a block.  Both Chandler and Foye fit the profile of late-round guys as long as they stay upright,, but back to Barton if he’s fully unleashed he’ll have some top-50 upside.  I think he’s a must-own player with all that going for him. 

 

Jusuf Nurkic (ankle) almost got the green light to play last night and while the running style doesn’t seem like it will suit him, he has way too much upside to be concerned with all that.  Pick him up if he was dropped.

 

PERCEPTION AND REALITY

 

The Clippers marched into Oklahoma City and like a lot of playoff teams they’re not going to waste any chance to put the Thunder out of the playoffs.  They won behind a magnificent effort from Chris Paul, who scored 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting with five threes, 6-of-7 FTs, four rebounds, nine assists and two steals despite minor knee and ankle issues.  Until the logjam in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture sorts itself out, a night off doesn’t really seem like it’s in the cards for Paul. 

 

Blake Griffin (elbow) could come back as soon as Friday against the Mavs, but Doc Rivers contradicted himself a handful of times so owners will have to wait for more clarity before making any moves around that news.  DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 17 rebounds) was actually the worst fantasy producer in the entire league last night because he hit just 12-of-22 free throws and did not have a steal or block. 

 

The blind spot for that fact around fantasy nation is pretty glaring.  Remember the days when Jordan was a top-20ish play and taking just 3-4 FTs per game?  The concern then was that teams would start putting him on the foul line when the games started to matter more, and that mark has shot all the way up to 8.3 attempts per contest over the past two months and 12.1 attempts over the last 12 games.  Like Andre Drummond, he has moved away from last year’s early round numbers and back into a punter’s play. 

 

J.J. Redick’s dream stretch continues as he scored 25 points with five rebounds, seven assists, three steals, three treys and a perfect 10 foul shots.  Matt Barnes bested that with 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting (6-of-7 from deep), three rebounds, three steals and two blocks in his 40 minutes.  Both guys are probably running in the red from a minutes standpoint, but with Jamal Crawford still nursing that calf injury and Griffin a question mark look for more big lines going forward. 

 

BEST BUBBLE TEAM EVER?

 

The Thunder actually dropped out of the eight seed last night (behind the Pelicans) and like beat writer Royce Young said this isn’t the game to be worried about their status.  Heck, I still might pick them to win it all which regular readers know is crazy.  As mentioned, playoff teams in the West are going to do everything they can to keep these guys out so they’re going to have their work cut out for them, and if Russell Westbrook (24 points, 5-of-14 FGs, 11-of-13 FTs, three treys, nine boards, seven assists, two steals, 10 turnovers) slips at all right now these guys don’t have a backup plan. 

 

As for Westbrook, his historic stretch has moved him into the top slot in 8-cat leagues over the last month and it’s not close.  He has about 25 percent more value than the next closest player (Stephen Curry), and in 9-cat leagues his 5.5 turnovers per contest drops him down to third overall in that span.  His facial injury, hand injury, and propensity to take a beating every night are riveting from a fantasy perspective with so much value on the line.  I own him everywhere, so I’m riding that ride every night. 

 

I thought it was extremely revealing that Scott Brooks said DeAndre Jordan was the Defensive Player of the Year considering he coaches Serge Ibaka (15 points, three rebounds, two assists, zero defensive stats).  I don’t disagree with the statement and can’t really fault Brooks for his assessment, but usually coaches don’t do that to their own guys.  When you look back and wonder why Ibaka lost minutes to Kendrick Perkins all those years, this lack of excitement pretty much underlines the situation. 

 

Enes Kanter scored 18 points with five rebounds and no other stats, and he’s basically a late-round guy that’s going to probably be a deep league guy whenever Kevin Durant (foot) returns.  Speaking of last year’s MVP, Brooks said that he was re-evaluated yesterday and that he could return within 1-2 weeks.  The playoff positioning is going to be key here, as they’re playing it safe and any breathing room could help extend his absence, and given their ninth place seeding right now it’s possible they step that timetable up.   

 

Anthony Morrow got loose for 26 points, six threes, three rebounds and three steals, but unless you want to gamble in a DFS format there’s nothing to see here going forward.  If anything, he made D.J. Augustin a spectator on a two-point, three-assist night.  After getting hot last week Augustin has been non-existent this week, and with Durant’s return looming there isn’t a huge window for owners to justify a hold. 

 

HE WHO SNELT IT

 

The Bulls are 5-5 in their last 10 games and in a tight race for the Nos. 2-4 seeds in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.  They rested Joakim Noah (knee) in a smart spot against the Sixers and almost paid the price for it, needing overtime to dispatch Brett Brown’s feisty squad.  The big news out of Chicago last night though was the reports that Jimmy Butler (elbow) could unsurprisingly beat his timetable. 

 

Longtime beat writer Sam Smith said that both he and Taj Gibson (ankle) could return with the next week or two, and other reports identified Butler as being ahead of Gibson.  I never really bought into the longer-term timetables being floated around the Internet, and if Butler was dropped he’s a must-add player in the truest sense.  Gibson hasn’t been any good in fantasy leagues this year so I’m not even sure he should be added when he gets back on the floor, and his ankle issues are going to require some attention this summer.  I think the Bulls are going to push back on his desire to return as soon as possible. 

 

Aaron Brooks finally paid owners off with a season-high 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting with four rebounds, five assists and three treys.  He was a must-own player coming into last night and he’ll probably hold 12-team value for the rest of the season as long as his field goal percentage cooperates.  Tony Snell didn’t really deserve an add even with all these injuries because his field goal percentage was begging to hit the skids after a month-long hot streak.  He hit just 2-of-9 shots last night for 10 points, 10 boards, two assists, one steal and a whopping seven turnovers.  If Tom Thibodeau doesn’t drop his minutes he’ll still have trouble being worth owning in 12-team leagues, so go ahead and make the drop. 

 

Down low Pau Gasol (27 points, 16 rebounds, one block) and Nikola Mirotic (16 points, 12 boards, five assists, one block, two threes) did what good bigs will do against a team like Philly, and Mirotic should be locked into lineups until Gibson returns and possibly through the rest of the year.  Mike Dunleavy (six points, seven boards, four assists, one steal, two threes) kept pace on his late-round value from the last two weeks and that should probably hold steady until the cavalry returns. 

 

THE FIRST NOEL

 

The Sixers are one of my favorite underdog teams in the league because they play hard and, of course, because they have such great fantasy potential.  The biggest case in point is Nerlens Noel, who thrives in the wide open games the Sixers play, and last night he turned in another gem with eight points, 15 rebounds, four steals and two blocks.  He has two months of top 20-25 value and he’s been a first round value this month.  He’s averaging a double-double with a combined 5.6 steals and blocks over his last 11 games, which makes Anthony Davis look like he’s actually from planet earth as far as defensive numbers go. 

 

The point guards were the next storyline in Philly last night, with Ish Smith (23 points, 9-of-21 FGs, three treys, two boards, six assists) taking the starting reins because Isaiah Canaan (20 points, 7-of-15 FGs, four treys, three boards) missed the last two practices with an upper respiratory infection.  The question I asked in the Dose wasn’t so much about whether Canaan’s value is threatened, and I think it will sit in its current top-80 range whether he starts or comes off the bench. The bigger question is whether or not Smith can continue being the late-round value he has been this past week, and as one of the Sixers’ better players I think he can survive the random big Jason Richardson nights and the like.  Add in some risk-reward since we know Smith can both disappear and also fill it up at times, and make your add/drop decisions from there. 

 

Richardson played 19 minutes with four points on 2-of-9 shooting, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.  He should be considered a 14-team guy with plenty of risk for DNPs.  Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made some noise earlier in the week but I’ve been fading all of it due to his terrible shooting percentages, and that paid off when he hit 1-of-10 shots for three points, eight boards, two assists and one steal.  Stay the course on that front. 

 

I’m getting some Robert Covington (12 points, 5-of-13 FGs, two rebounds, one steal, one three, 21 minutes) drop questions and though his elbow issues and recent slide are worrisome, unless he’s truly hurt I can’t see the bottom falling out.  He’s been one of their best players this season. Thomas Robinson scored seven points with 15 rebounds, one steal and one block, and as I said a few weeks ago he’ll need big points and boards numbers to float late-round value.  He’s knocking on that door and worth a look but keep those expectations in check in standard formats. 

 

BULLETS: DODGED

 

The Grizzlies looked like the clear No. 2 team in the West throughout February but recent struggles have put some of that into question, and their playoff chances looked like they could be shattered when Mike Conley went down in a heap last night.  Some folks thought he seriously hurt his knee as he was carried off the court, but it turned out to be his ongoing struggle with a right ankle injury that was the culprit.  He actually returned to the game and finished with 20 points (eight in the fourth quarter), one rebound, three assists, two steals and five turnovers. 

 

The Grizzlies turn around and play the Wizards on TNT tonight and Conley will be a game-time call, but owners need to be on red alert for missed games regardless of whether or not they pull away as the clear No. 2 seed.  Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes would be the speculative, short-term adds if he misses games, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves at this time. 

 

The other issue that Memphis is dealing with is their Jeff Green (11 points, four rebounds, one steal, one three) problem, as they score less than their opponents do when he is in the starting lineup.  They’re much better with Tony Allen starting and he had another solid night, scoring 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 27 minutes off the bench.  He’s been a mid-round play for a full month and that means he should be owned in most standard leagues, though his 61.5 percent shooting in that span screams regression.  The Grizz have resisted putting him in the starting lineup because in the playoffs teams pack it in against Allen, and the hope has been that Green would be a good alternative to that. 

 

In other words, they need Green to step it up or they’re going to have a hard time adding value over previous playoff iterations. 

 

LIMPING TO THE FINISH

 

The Wolves are in full-on development mode and from a fantasy perspective they’re very easy to read, at least with regard to roles.  From there, the real measurement of player values will be the war of attrition.  Ricky Rubio (eight points, 4-of-11 FGs, five boards, six assists, zero steals) logged just 28 minutes due to ankle soreness, and if he were to falter down the stretch then Zach LaVine (eight points, three assists, one steal, 2-of-8 FGs, 21 minutes) would get another crack at some fantasy value.  LaVine isn’t worth a roster spot in most leagues, but it’s worth noting that he has looked a bit more poised and that makes sense after a year with decent playing time. 

 

Nikola Pekovic (eight minutes) left early because of his ankles and I don’t think it really matters if the Wolves try to use him down the stretch or not.  His ankles aren’t going to cooperate and Gorgui Dieng (10 points, seven boards, four assists, one steal, 31 minutes) is going to pretty much get all he can eat.  Dieng hasn’t been great this month but he has been a must-own player all year producing top 40-50 value on the season in 29.1 mpg.  There is theoretically some upside beyond that if he gets heavy minutes, but he has also seen his steals and blocks cut by a third during this past month – and heavy legs might be getting the best of him.  I’ll be evaluating him at that top 40-50 level going forward unless that trend continues. 

 

I’ve been all over Andrew Wiggins as a buy low guy and I know there are some leagues out there with trade deadlines still lingering, so make the deal while you can.  He managed just 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, one assist and one steal, which usually is explained by teammates taking large volumes of shots but last night the Suns’ length and athleticism had more to do with it. 

 

Kevin Martin started really slow but finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 6-of-7 FTs, no threes, two boards and one assist in 26 minutes.  After a blistering return from injury, he has been hovering at the bottom of the top-150 and I wonder how much gas he has left in the tank.  Aside from his injury risk, the chance the Wolves make it a point to get Wiggins going is also a direct risk to his value. 

 

Adreian Payne is interesting because the Wolves are getting extremely thin down low, and he got the start with Kevin Garnett (rest) out last night.  Payne scored 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and one steal in 29 minutes, but was benched for a mental mistake and also for rolling his eyes at Flip Saunders.  For what it’s worth Flip didn’t sound to irked about it after the game, but it’s not what you want out of a risky fantasy asset and owners can watch this action from the wire.  Just be ready to move if it becomes clear that they’re going to unleash him in the next few weeks. 

 

THE OTHER MORRIS

 

There aren’t many folks that believe the Suns are playing for the playoffs after their trade deadline moves, and though Brandon Knight’s ankle injury is a built-in excuse some of the shine has come off the franchise this month.  Whether it’s bickering at the fans, he-said/she-said stuff in the front office, or even players like Gerald Green (DNP-Ineffectiveness) going down the tubes, they went from preseason sleepers to the walking dead pretty fast.  

 

Now this doesn’t mean they can’t get red hot and make things interesting in the next few weeks, but they’ll need to take winnable games as they did at home against the Wolves last night.  Key guys like Eric Bledsoe (18 points, 7-of-14 FGs, two threes, two boards, nine assists, one steal, five turnovers), Markieff Morris (24 points, 10-of-15 FGs, three rebounds, one steal, one block) and P.J. Tucker (11 points, six boards, three assists, one steal, one three) all got the job done in both fantasy and reality.  Tucker’s recent slide has moved him into late-round production, but expanding the sample to the past month and he’s still a mid-round guy – reflecting how hot he was about 10 games ago. 

 

Alex Len has disappointed owners hoping they landed one of the league’s next best young centers.  He struggled with foul trouble yet again, managing just two points on 1-of-2 shooting with five rebounds and no defensive stats in 19 minutes.  The upside is too great to aggressively look at a drop, but if your back is up against the wall I don’t think he’s untouchable.  He can single-handedly carry you in blocks if he gets going again. 

 

Marcus Morris started last night and while that may or may not be permanent, the injury to Knight sounds like it’s week-to-week and especially with Green out of the rotation – there is room for Morris to be productive.  He hit just 3-of-12 shots for eight points, nine rebounds, five assists, two threes and a block in his 30 minutes, and outside of the poor shooting this type of line shows promise at a minimum.  Getting 30 mpg in the last four games, he has managed top 150-175 value despite hitting just 31 percent of his field goals.  Chances are he can flirt with top-100 value if he simply makes his season-long mark of 44 percent, and he’s primed for a positive regression so I like him as an add in 12-team formats. 

 

T.J. Warren will need some injury assistance to matter in standard leagues this season, and if the Suns fall out of contention I could see him posting a nice two-week run at the end of the year.  But watching him score 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five rebounds and one steal in his 19 minutes, it was clear that he knows what he’s doing on the offensive end.  He’ll need big scoring numbers to offset his lack of statistical versatility, but in a DFS league I’d probably ride him from here on out.


DOING IT RIGHT

 

Brad Stevens is starting to get league-wide praise for his offensive system and watching a lot of it lately I can tell you that it has all sorts of action.  Isaiah Thomas (back, elbow) missed last night’s game and they didn’t falter, getting a big win against Memphis to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.  Thomas is basically ruled out for Friday and Saturday’s games and owners simply have to hope he can get a full week under his belt next week.  In the meantime the fantasy picture remains the same for everybody else except Evan Turner, who will get a lot more touches this week. 

 

Turner didn’t exactly exhibit that last night in a very bad matchup for him, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting with zero rebounds, seven assists and one steal in 25 minutes.  I don’t trust him but he profiles as a late-round guy for the next two games.  Marcus Smart’s value does not hinge on Thomas’ presence and he did what he normally does with five points on 2-of-8 shooting, three rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block, and Avery Bradley returned to action with 17 points, 8-of-17 FGs, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one three.  He benefits from Thomas’ ability to drive-and-kick and he might not have some of the bigger lines he has been showing lately, but he should be in most lineups regardless. 

 

Kelly Olynyk showed why he should have been picked up weeks ago with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two threes in just 20 minutes.  He and Tyler Zeller (12 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks, 23 minutes) had two months of ownable value playing next to each other before the All Star break and that was with Jared Sullinger around.  I don’t see why that can’t continue. 

 

Jae Crowder has fantasy stat-set issues but he has been a late-round value for the last few weeks and last night he showed why with 16 points, 6-of-12 FGs, three treys, three boards, three assists and two steals in 28 minutes.  He’s a key part of Stevens’ system, he plays extremely well with Thomas, and at the same time his low field goal percentage and sometimes deficient lines cap his upside.  I can’t give him anything higher than a late-round grade going forward. 

 

GONE FISHING

 

The Nets look like a team that’s ready to make vacation plans.  It’s really that simple and that’s before you get to the talent issues.  It also doesn’t help that Lionel Hollins hasn’t been able to coax improvement out of guys like Mason Plumlee, who actually had a decent per-minute outing with eight points, six rebounds, one steal and one block in 15 minutes.  The changing rotations and allegiance to declining Deron Williams (18 points, 6-of-10 FGs, three treys, four rebounds, four assists, two steals, six turnovers, 32 minutes) has made consistency tough to come by. 

 

So it’s a mess but there were good fantasy numbers in last night’s loss to the depleted Heat, including Brook Lopez’s 15 and 14 with one block and Thaddeus Young’s 15 and seven with two steals and one triple.  Lopez has hovered around the top-100 for a while now and that’s decidedly not must-start territory, and Young has not gotten a full endorsement from Hollins with similar output as Lopez while in Brooklyn. 

 

Both guys have the ability to be mid-round plays but between Lopez’s health and Young’s sporadic minutes and production there are issues for owners to overcome.  If there’s any silver lining it’s that the Nets don’t have much in the way of depth after Sergey Karasev (knee) got knocked out for the year and the duo of Alan Anderson (back) and Markel Brown (ankle) struggle with health. 

 

Williams did enough to remain a must-own player, and I was sweating a bit on my ‘hold’ recommendation for Jarrett Jack (18 points, four rebounds, four assists, one three, 7-of-8 FTs) throughout this week.  He had maybe a quarter of those stats as the fourth quarter started and turned it on late to save himself.  In the here and now Jack is clearly the better player between he and Williams, but the Williams contract demands he gets every opportunity to salvage some respectability this year. 

 

Jack needs to hit the gas pedal soon to make that hold recommendation a win, but looking back at his top 70-120 numbers over the last 24 games at least owners have a blueprint for what could be if Williams and his bad ankles tap out. 

 

ALL HANDS ON DECK

 

I am pretty hard on the Heat around here, but they are a well-coached and mostly well-run organization outside of some stinginess here and there.  Mostly, my concerns lie in the fact that Dwyane Wade (28 points, 10-of-25 FGs, three rebounds, nine assists, two steals, 34 minutes) and Luol Deng (10 points, three assists, one steal, one three, 37 minutes) are Grade A injury risks and getting a ton of minutes.

 

Chris Andersen (18 points, 14 boards, one steal, one block, 8-of-9 FGs, 30 minutes) fits the same profile and he was called into action in a big way last night despite being extremely beat up.  Of course, that’s because Hassan Whiteside flashed the same immaturity that got him run out of Sacramento (and the league) with a one-game suspension he served last night. 

 

Goran Dragic (17 points, 5-of-9 FGs, 6-of-9 FTs, one three, three assists, two steals) is getting closer to 100 percent as he recovers from a back injury, but with his physical style it’s not like he’s a ringing endorsement of durability right now, either.  Heck, even Whiteside with his young legs has dealt with a major knee injury in his career and also has an ankle injury that hasn’t disappeared in the rear view mirror. 

 

Any one multi-week injury probably knocks them out of playoff contention, and any quick slippage could have them treating everybody with kid gloves.  And for all of their commendable talk within the walls about not tanking, the fact they didn’t use their injury exception for Josh McRoberts is telling. 

 

So that’s all the bad news, but their win over the Nets secured a season-sweep and might have been the nail in the coffin for Brooklyn’s playoff chances.  Charlotte may have lost Al Jefferson (calf) last night and that leaves the surging Pacers and Celtics as the only real contention for two playoff spots, assuming Jefferson’s injury is serious. 

 

For their part, the Heat are playing good basketball and they might have found another diamond in Tyler Johnson, who managed just four points on 2-of-5 shooting with two rebounds, one assist and one steal in his 16 minutes but almost had the Heat’s best dunk of the year.  Johnson’s athleticism is noteworthy and he should be watched closely by owners, because he’ll hold mid-round upside with a late-round floor if any real minutes are opened up. 

 

Henry Walker made his presence known in fantasy leagues with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting (all threes), six rebounds, two assists and four steals in 31 minutes.  He’s sitting on top-100 value over the last four games on averages of 7.5 points, 1.5 treys, 4.3 boards and 2.7 combined steals and blocks while shooting just 35.7 percent from the field.  The defensive numbers are extreme outliers, but in 10 games with Miami he’s averaging 1.3 combined steals and blocks so perhaps some systemic issues are propping him up.  Until injuries become a major issue in Miami, I think owners have to view him as a 14-16 team guy or 3-point specialist at best. 

 

Deng probably deserves some attention as a drop candidate, playing below the cut line in 12-14 team leagues over the past two weeks.  His top 80-90 returns on the season when on the floor paint an accurate picture of his upside, but his injury risk suggests that owners might find better targets to gamble on. 

 

BEN MAC ATTACK

 

The Kings have one of the league’s worst active rosters after DeMarcus Cousins (20 points, 14 rebounds, two steals), Rudy Gay (26 points, 9-of-17 FGs, three rebounds, one block, two threes) and Ben McLemore (27 points, 10-of-16 FGs, three treys), but when those guys have it going and everybody else chips in they can compete.  They went into a nicely raucous hive in Charlotte and hung tight for a win late, and I think this might be the game the Kings decided as a team to finally get McLemore involved as a goal. 

 

McLemore has improved as much as anybody in the NBA this season and the only reason he won’t produce at a late-round level or better is if his teammates don’t get him involved.  I think George Karl knows that this needs to happen and the sophomore will ride the Kings’ solid schedule to some top 80-120 value the rest of the way.  He has actually been right there for the last month, and that’s before we talk about any tanking absences for Gay or Cousins down the stretch. 

 

Ray McCallum’s shooting issues turned up again last night as he hit just 1-of-7 shots with no money counting stats (3PMs/STLs/BLKs), but six points with four rebounds and nine assists helped keep the night from being a total fantasy disaster.  His late-round valuation probably doesn’t budge the rest of the way. 

 

WAITING ON THE UPDATE

 

The Hornets may have suffered a critical blow to their playoff hopes when Al Jefferson heard a pop in his calf and had to end his night early.  There are no reports as of the release of this report, and if he misses time it puts a slew of guys into a late-round position.  With Cody Zeller still out due to a shoulder injury some of them have mid-round upside in the short term. 

 

That latter category includes both Marvin Williams (13 points, seven boards, three blocks, three treys, 32 minutes) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (23 points, 9-of-12 FGs, nine boards, two assists, one steal, two blocks, 32 minutes).  Both have their various statistical sensitivities and when Kemba Walker (six points, two assists, one block, 2-of-9 FGs, two threes, 16 minutes) takes the keys back it will probably shift that upside back into the later rounds. 

 

Next to Walker, both Mo Williams (20 points, 8-of-20 FGs, one three, two rebounds, eight assists, one block, 38 minutes) and Gerald Henderson (17 points, 7-of-16 FGs, six rebounds, 11 assists) have been on fire.  I’m on record for saying that Williams likely loses 2-4 rounds of value when Walker is at full speed, and most certainly he should remain on rosters, but if Jefferson misses time then I’d probably cut those downgrades in half. 

 

Henderson is the guy I’m worried about but owners definitely have to walk him all the way to the edge of the cliff.  He has slowed up this week with just low-end value for 12-team formats, but sits on a top-75 mark for the last two weeks and a big game last night.  Jefferson’s theoretic absence would help him significantly, as well.  Bismack Biyombo (seven points, six boards, two steals, three blocks) has some flier appeal in deeper leagues, as does Lance Stephenson (11 points, three boards, three assist, one steal). 

 

HARD DAY'S NIGHT

 

The Rockets ran into a team they’d probably like to avoid in the playoffs in the Blazers, falling as James Harden (18 points, 7-of-19 FGs) was defended well by Arron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum.  Both aren’t nearly as explosive as they were a season or two ago, but they’re both savvy and that counts for double against Harden’s array of foul-inducing moves. 

 

The rest of the box was pretty normal with Terrence Jones continuing his top 20-30 pace on a 18-points, 12-rebound night with one steal and one block.  Donatas Motiejunas scored 10 points with four rebounds, two threes and two blocks and he should be owned until Dwight Howard returns.  Though Josh Smith struggled with just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three the same applies to him.  With reports on Howard improving, if these two struggle through next week we might have to revise those statements. 

 

Trevor Ariza is so consistent we barely bring him up in the fantasy community, and he turned in a solid 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting with three treys, six boards, six assists, two steals and a block.  Patrick Beverley struggled with his shot, hitting just 2-of-12 from the field (1-of-8 3PTs) for five points, eight boards, four assists and one block.  Beverley’s size might end up being a factor in his career as he just hasn’t been able to dominate the defensive end of the court this season, with nagging injuries that have sapped some of his explosion.  Still, he shows his potential with the hustle stats and deserves to be owned, but relying on him these days is as risky as it gets. 

 

Leaving Corey Brewer for last, which is how he approached last night’s game, almost single-handedly bringing the Rockets back with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter and a bunch of big defensive plays.  He finished with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, three treys, two boards, two assists and two steals in 25 minutes.  If there was a picture of a top-150 player in the dictionary it would show Brewer, who isn’t going to vary much off that path. 

 

BATUM-SHAK-A-LAKA

 

I’m not going to count the Blazers out in the West, even if the loss of Wesley Matthews was a big blow.  Arron Afflalo is a poor man’s Matthews and the overall concept of their team doesn’t really change.  They lose depth and that’s less of an issue in the playoffs, but more than that the Blazers have plenty of talent, a great home court advantage and chemistry for days. 

 

LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points, 12-of-20 FGs, 14 rebounds, one block, one three) may struggle with efficiency due to his thumb injuries and the extra load he’ll have without Matthews around, but the only real concern here for owners is if seeding gets wrapped up early somehow.  Nicolas Batum’s sudden bounce-back is rewarding for all of those buy low recommendations I suffered through early in the year, and he’s the biggest winner with Matthews going down. 

 

Batum’s newfound aggression led him to 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, three treys, nine boards, six assists and one steal in 40 minutes of action.  He’s sitting on top-20 value over his last 10 games, averaging 12.8 points with 2.1 threes, 7.0 boards, 5.4 assists, 1.6 combined steals and blocks, and marks of 50.5 percent and 92.9 percent from the field and line, respectively. 

 

Robin Lopez made some noise with 16 points, 10 boards and one block and he should be in all lineups.  Damian Lillard (14 points, 5-of-16 FGs, five boards, eight assists, one three) that might struggle with his shooting a little bit now that defenses can key in on him a little bit more. 

 

SCHEDULING CONFLICT

 

The Magic and Bucks squared off in a game between teams that switched spots in many preseason rankings, including mine, and they couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch in a close loss.  The only real fantasy news to report was that Elfrid Payton (14 points, 6-of-12 FGs, two rebounds, five assists, two steals) continued to hold up his end of the bargain with owners by hitting half his shots, and Channing Frye rose from the dead to score 13 points with three triples, four rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes. 

 

As mentioned last week Payton is basically somebody owners are gambling with on the shooting front, hoping he can keep it copacetic with the shooting in a small sample size.  Still, for all of the Magic fantasy assets they’re battling a bad finishing schedule and that makes late-round hopefuls like Payton and Frye hard to trust.  Unless you’re punting in the deficient areas, the only real hope here is that Payton goes on a tear. 

 

MILWAUKEE

 

Khris Middleton showed flashes of what he’s doing this season last year, only to have Larry Drew rip the carpet out from underneath him regularly.  He scored 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting last night with four treys, three boards, five assists and two steals as a leading candidate for waiver wire pickup of the year, sitting on a cool top 10-20 value over the last two months.  This week, he is fantasy's No. 4 overall play.  

 

Ersan Ilyasova held onto his late-round credentials with an increasingly normal 12 points, six rebounds, one block and one three in 26 minutes, though he has been a bit shaky this week.  The Bucks play four games next week so some patience may be in order in 12-team leagues.  Zaza Pachulia got loose for a patented popcorn line of 10 points, 12 boards and five assists in 24 minutes, but he isn’t cracking 12-team leagues at his current top-160 pace. 

 

Michael Carter-Williams had the efficiency issues creep back into play with just 4-of-13 makes and five turnovers, but 11 points with nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.  It seemed like a stretch to some that he would retain his value in Milwaukee, but as theorized here his overall efficiency has improved and the usage has held up.  He’s a top 50-90 guy and especially in 9-cat leagues, that is a steep improvement over his Philly days.  Congrats if you bought low. 

 

ANDRE THE GIANT

 

The Pistons hung around at Oracle last night but eventually lost their eighth straight game, with pretty normal results to show for it in the box.  Andre Drummond had one of his patented eye-popping double-doubles with 22 points, a career-high 27 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. 

 

We’ve discussed this here countless times, which is to say that Drummond’s field goal percentage (11-of-25 FGs) is still holding him back.  During the last two weeks when it has felt like he has been ‘back,’ he’s still hitting just 50 percent of his shots and it has limited him to top-65 value despite averaging 15.3 points, 16.6 boards, 0.6 steals and 2.7 blocks during a seven-game span.  Last season his ultra-efficiency from the field made him a fantasy stud, and he needs to get back to that to make sense as a punting play. 

 

Greg Monroe scored 20 points with eight rebounds, one steal and two blocks as he rolls along at a top 12-20 pace over the past two weeks, and Reggie Jackson also kept pace with expectations on a 14-point, nine-assist night.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s value is going to be tied to his 3-point shooting as Ryan Knaus deftly illustrated yesterday, and he rode the cut line with 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting, two boards, three assists, two steals and just one 3-pointer. 

 

It would be great if Stan Van Gundy at least tried to play KCP with Jodie Meeks (seven points, 3-of-4 FGs, one three, three rebounds, 24 minutes), but I’m not holding my breath in hopes it will happen.  SVG probably views that as a last resort, but I’d argue that route Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince combining for 44 minutes is throwing the towel in already. 

 

TAKE A LOAD OFF

 

The Warriors won their 51st game last night against the Pistons, and Steve Kerr is already talking about resting some of his guys, though he didn’t say who beyond obvious candidates in Andrew Bogut (12 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks, 30 minutes) and Andre Iguodala (13 points, 6-of-7 FGs, one three, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block, 28 minutes.  He did indicate that other guys could be rested, and with a stretch of five games in seven nights and the next three opponents being the Nuggets, Knicks and Lakers – I’d say the Knicks and Lakers games are ripe for that sort of thing. 

 

After that they get the Hawks, who are currently 1.5 games ahead of them for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.  It will be a playoff atmosphere and how much either team wants to press forward for that advantage could very well be decided by the time that game ends (ATL holds the 1-0 edge in the two-game season series).  We’ve gotten a taste of how Mike Budenholzer approaches the rest, but not so much with Steve Kerr and it’s impossible to say how it will go down.  Stephen Curry (4-of-15 FGs, nine points, five boards, 11 assists, one three, one steal) would be a logical candidate for 2-3 games off, but he’s gunning for the MVP award. 

 

Beyond that, Klay Thompson (27 points, 11-of-19 FGs, three treys) and Draymond Green (13 points, seven boards, three assists) have the young legs and only Green (ankle) has dealt with any real injuries to date.  Green is also trying to take down a Most Improved Player award, if he cares.  Thompson busted out of a 40-percent shooting slump with last night’s effort, and he probably has a few more explosive games coming his way before he levels out. 

 

I called Shaun Livingston a sleeper this week on the Fantasy Extra portion of my podcast because the Warriors had four games in a light week across the NBA.  He had been producing at a late-round level with an expanded role lately, but turned in just four points on 2-of-7 shooting with four rebounds and five assists in 22 minutes.  That keeps him on pace, barely, but both he and Marreese Speights (12 points, five boards, two blocks, 18 minutes) and maybe even David Lee (DNP) could find themselves with bigger roles in the aforementioned three-game stretch. 

Aaron Bruski
Aaron Bruski has covered hoops for Rotoworld since 2008 and has competed in national fantasy sports competitions for nearly two decades. In 2015 he was named FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year. You can also find his work over at ProBasketballTalk, where he received critical acclaim for his in-depth reporting of the Kings' relocation saga. Hit him on Twitter at Aaronbruski.