The offensive output during the NBA's restart in Orlando has been incredible, and Monday provided day-long entertainment. Every game was decided by 11 or fewer points, and five were within eight points. T.J Warren was ridiculous yet again, scoring 32 points, which leads off the 'Bubble Bulletin' this week.
Is T.J. Warren Unstoppable? The man also known as 'Tony Buckets' has been ridiculously good since play resumed in Orlando. Teammates raved about him as "a walking bucket" as soon as they spoke to the media in July, and the trade sending him from Phoenix to Indiana had already been widely pilloried. Phoenix actually attached their second-round pick to the deal just to clear cap space. In return, they received an undisclosed amount of "cash considerations," which has become a byword for the short-sightedness of this trade.
As if the point were clear enough, Warren came out swinging in Orlando with three-game averages of 39.7 points, 4.7 threes, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.0 steals. He's a combined 47-of-72 from the field (65.2%) and has committed exactly one turnover in 119 minutes of play. There was one very easy matchup in there vs. the Wizards, but he's also completely decimated the defenses of Philadelphia (7th overall in Defensive Rating) and Orlando (12th in Defensive Rating). To state it simply, T.J. Warren is going bonkers.
Can he continue to produce at this rate? I wouldn't have expected him to score 30+ in three straight games or be anywhere near this efficient, so I'm on my heels as an analyst. I'd expect Warren to remain on a tear vs. the Suns' defense on Thursday, but to cool off vs. the Lakers (Saturday), Heat (Monday and Friday, Aug. 14) and Rockets (Wednesday, Aug. 12). Defenses will be daring anyone else on the Pacers' roster to beat them, so Warren can expect constant attention from opposing teams' best wing defenders. As a DFS owner, I remain wary of his price increasing to unrealistic levels.
The Race For West's No. 8. San Antonio came into the Bubble as the No. 12 seed in the West. They lost LaMarcus Aldridge for the duration of the re-start due to shoulder surgery, and lost fellow PF/C Trey Lyles due to appendicitis. They sat Patty Mills for a game due to a variety of minor ailments, Bryn Forbes is out with a quad injury, and Marco Belinelli has been dealing with a left ankle injury. Before play resumed in Orlando, the stat website FiveThirtyEight gave San Antonio a less than 2% chance of making the playoffs. And yet, here we are with the Spurs just half a game behind the Blazers for No. 9 in the West, 2.5 games behind the No. 8 seed Grizzlies. As a reminder, whichever team claims the No. 9 seed only needs to be within four games of No. 8 to force a play-in for the postseason. The Spurs streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances under Gregg Popovich might not end this year, after all.
For fantasy purposes, the Spurs' small-ball approach has paid dividends. DeMar DeRozan is averaging 23.7 points, supported by 6.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.7 steals. He's been incredibly efficient at 60.5% FGs and 81.8% FTs. You read that correctly -- 60.5% from the field (granted, he's made one 3-pointer in three games). Pop has been quite conservative with playing time, as usual, with DeRozan as the only player averaging more than Derrick White's 32.1 minutes per game. DeRozan is playing power forward in a small-ball lineup for the Spurs, and the winning results suggests they'll stick with it despite a visible learning-curve defensively.
Derrick White's solid playing time was referenced but he's also pouring in 3-pointers at 3.7 per game on 47.8% shooting (11-of-23), with over 20 points per game and solid rebounds and assists. San Antonio plays Utah twice during the remainder of their 'seeding game' schedule, which isn't ideal, though even the Jazz (a team with the sixth-slowest pace this season) has been embracing a faster style of play in the bubble. The Spurs have the third-fastest pace due to their guard-heavy lineups, which simply creates more possessions and opportunities for fantasy stats. Faster pace isn't always beneficial for teams in reality, but it's a clear-cut positive for fantasy.
The Grizzlies still sit 1.5 games up on their nearest competitor, but they're winless in Orlando and just lost Jaren Jackson Jr. for the season due to a torn left meniscus. It's a brutal blow for JJJ and this young Memphis team, and significantly hurts their odds of clinging to the No. 8 seed -- JJJ led the team in net rating through the re-start (+4.4) and Grayson Allen is the only other guy with a positive net rating for Memphis. Brandon Clarke and Anthony Tolliver will likely pick up more minutes without JJJ in the equation, but Memphis could also pivot to even smaller lineups with more De'Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson. They also face a threat from the Blazers (who are 2-1 in the bubble with Jusuf Nurkic playing like an All-Star), the Suns (3-1 in the bubble, including wins vs. the Mavs and Clippers), and the Pelicans (despite Zion Williamson's conditioning-related limitations). Sorry, Kings. Having failed to win a game yet in Orlando, their marginal odds of making the cut are now basically non-existent.
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Luka is Ludicrous. Luka Doncic powered the Mavs to a comeback win vs. the Kings in overtime on Tuesday, in the process recording 30 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and 12 assists. It's hard to contextualize what he's done thus far in Orlando, but here's an attempt. At 21 years old he's by far the youngest player in history to post at least 30/20/10 in a game, nearly two years younger than Oscar Robertson. He's also just the fourth player to record those numbers since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976. Moreover, he's actually averaging 34.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, 11.0 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 threes since play resumed.
That's simply incredible from anyone, let alone a guy with a decade of his prime ahead of him. For DFS purposes he's been a wrecking ball, and if he's not priced in the range of Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden, I'll be rostering him every single game. Rick Carlisle doesn't seem concerned about playing time, giving Luka 41.3 minutes per game, and he's averaging 64.2 DFS points per game (based on NBA.com and FanDuel). That's 5.4x value even if his DFS salary is $12k. He's essentially tied with T.J. Warren for fantasy production, with Joel Embiid (62.3 DFS points) and James Harden (62.1) the only other guys in the neighborhood.
The Mavs are 1-2 in the bubble and although their position as a playoff team is secure, they'd assuredly like to get some momentum before their first-round series (likely vs. the Clippers or Nuggets). That's one reason for Doncic's lofty playing time, and he's not alone -- Tim Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis and Dorian Finney Smith are all averaging at least 33.7 minutes per game. The importance of playing time can hardly be overstated for fantasy purposes, which gives a big boost to high-minute players like Damian Lillard (42.9), C.J. McCollum (42.2), Fred VanVleet (41.4) and others. The Rockets are unafraid to feed their key players huge minutes, and it's been interesting to see the Celtics (typically very cautious about key guys' workloads) playing Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward all at 35+ minutes. Compare that to a team like the Clippers (nobody logging more than 32.3 minutes) or the Heat (nobody above Jimmy Butler's 31.6 minutes), and the fantasy impact of coaching/rotations/minutes becomes even more obvious.
Injury News and Notes. Jonathan Isaac's torn left ACL is a devastating blow for the Magic, which will carry into 2020-21 (it's unclear how long he'll be out, but 8-12 months is a typical recovery time). There's really no positive spin to put on this situation, especially since his absence doesn't correlate to clear-cut fantasy value boosts for teammates. Wesley Iwundu is the closest thing to a beneficiary, but he's too low-usage to be relied upon in most DFS scenarios...Contrast that with Jeff Green, who blew up for a season-high 22 points on Tuesday and clearly gains from the absence of Eric Gordon (ankle sprain). Danuel House was already slotted for 30+ minutes but his role is even more secure with EG on the sidelines, and Houston's offense generates enough wide-open shots for role players that everyone can feast...It's unclear what's keeping Garrison Mathews (personal) away from the Wizards, but at this point it'd be shocking if he played at all in the bubble...Goran Dragic is probably going to miss time after appearing to sprain his ankle on Tuesday...Goga Bitadze (knee) was available to play Tuesday but wasn't in the rotation, so Indiana looks comfortable going small and using JaKarr Sampson as a backup center...Kemba Walker won't play Wednesday but it's just a precautionary measure as Boston takes the safe route with his chronically sore knee...Lou Williams is back after quarantining and his minutes should ramp up quickly...Seth Curry (sore leg) continues to miss time, and without Courtney Lee (calf) or Jalen Brunson (shoulder) for the re-start, that means more minutes for Trey Burke, Delon Wright and J.J. Barea. The Mavs' usage is so top-heavy with Doncic and Porzingis, though, that it's hard to rely on anyone else -- nobody else on the team has higher than 18.0% usage, which is wild...and let's not even talk about the Nets.