The Grizzlies had two of the best rookies to start the season in Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke, but now both of them are week-to-week as Morant deals with a back injury and Clarke has a core-muscle issue. Considering the Grizzlies previously rested these two guys on a back-to-back Nov. 9 when they were healthy and how core-muscle and back injuries can linger, they could be out for a while as they’re looking at lottery balls this summer. That’s going to create a lot of value for their frontcourt, and especially their backcourt.
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Morant has a 29.8 usage rate at 28.7 minutes per game, he’s played at a 104.1 pace, he’s sixth in drives, and he’s 13th in the NBA in touch time per game, so it’s just a massive hole to fill. It looked like it was going to be Tyus Jones basically slotting right in there for Morant’s minutes while the rest of the rotation would absorb Jones’ backup role. That’s changed a lot with De’Anthony Melton suddenly rising to what could be the starting role after he supplanted Tyus as the starting point guard for the third quarter against the Bulls on Wednesday.
Melton finished Wednesday’s game with eight points, five rebounds, seven assists, three steals and four turnovers in 30 minutes on a team-high +15 in +/- as the Grizzlies almost pulled off a comeback. Meanwhile, Tyus scored six points with one rebound, three assists and one turnover in 23 minutes. We’ll get to Tyus in a sec, but let’s take a look at how Melton has carved out his role.
Going back to the summer, the Grizzlies traded for Melton and Josh Jackson, and they’ve sent Jackson to the G League. Basically, it’s fair to say they had to absorb Jackson’s contract as a top-four pick to get a look at Melton as what was expected to be a combo guard, and coach Taylor Jenkins recently talked up Melton’s growth. “He’s putting all the work in day in and day out,” Jenkins said (via The Athletic).” Offensively I think his opportunity will come whether it’s at the point or at the two. Continue to learn our offense. It’s just another case of once that opportunity presents itself, you gotta be ready to go.”
Prior to the Morant injury and even the Sunday game without Morant, Melton was barely getting run as anything but the PG3 on the depth chart. He played just eight minutes combined next to either Morant or Tyus until this week, but on Monday Melton played eight minutes next to Jones and on Wednesday he played four minutes next to Jones on top of taking over to start the third. Plus, don’t forget before the season the Grizzlies had talked about trying to get more two-PG lineups. Even putting aside the position battle with Tyus Jones for the PG2 job, getting additional run as a secondary ball-handler could help his long-term value when Ja gets back.
In the short term, Melton has really shown some promise as a point guard as someone who can help your fantasy team. We’re going off a 114-minute sample of Melton at point guard, and he’s posted a per-26 line of 13.6 points, 8.2 boards, 8.5 dimes, 2.8 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.6 treys on a 40/33/83 shooting line, and perhaps more importantly he’s had a +2.4 net rating in that time. Tyus is at just -13.7 net rating without Ja and Melton, and Ja is at -3.4 without Melton and Tyus.
Going back to last year, Melton also showed some stat-stuffing upside without Devin Booker on the floor, posting per-36 stats of 10.7 points, 5.0 boards, 6.6 dimes, 2.3 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.2 treys on a 38/30/80 shooting line over a 540-minute sample. That’s some well-rounded stuff to his stat output.
Of course, the inefficiency from the field probably isn’t going away, but he is trending in the right direction. From a shot distribution standpoint, Melton has seen a 6.6% increase to his shots at the rim while also see a 10.9% increase on his FG% at the rim. He’s still horrendous on non-restricted twos at just 2-of-16 from the field this year, so that’s a clear area he can step up to maybe get him to the mid-40% range on FG%.
The short-term output without Morant looks like it’s going to be there with what at worst looks like a 50/50 split at the point with Jones, and he should continue to see minutes next to Tyus to get him close to 30 minutes. He’s somehow owned in just 8% of Yahoo! leagues.
Just to touch on Tyus, he’s still worth a hold in most situations. He’s playing at a 105.6 pace, he’s been outstanding on a per-minute basis over his career, and again he should play next to Melton to keep his minutes high. I’ll get to some of the other Grizzlies impact in the adds section, too.
Before we go over the injuries around the league, let’s highlight one of the more perplexing players when it comes to fantasy adds in competitive leagues: Lonnie Walker IV (IV% owned in Yahoo!.. and it's so awesome he's actually 4% owned... I'm so lame, but anyway). What a game on Tuesday night with a career-high 28 points, four boards, three steals, one block and four 3-pointers in a career-high 35 minutes, including 19 points over his 12-minute fourth quarter. He was also outstanding on the defensive end as the main defender on James Harden. LW4 held Harden to 2-of-11 from the field, which is tied for the highest FGA per game for Harden on one particular defender (Dorian Finney-Smith, Dillon Brooks). As great as that game was, he was basically off the radar entirely coming into last weekend, so we have to ask whether or not he’s going to keep getting minutes.
After the game, coach Gregg Popovich Walker is "getting smarter all the time on the court" as he keeps playing. “He understands what it takes a whole lot more now, as far as what it takes to win an NBA game,” Pop said. He’s come a long way from when Pop called Lonnie “non-competitive” and the second-year wing played “horribly” back in October. “I expect better effort, better awareness and a better attempt to take advantage of the minutes he gets,” Pop said back on Halloween.
So if Walker gets minutes, that means it has to come from someone else or multiple rotation players. On Tuesday, he cut into Derrick White and Dejounte Murray the most with those two PGs playing just 6.8 minutes combined in the fourth, and also Rudy Gay losing run as a four. Pop also went with Walker, Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl for 9.2 minutes of overtime frames (Dejounte for Forbes backcourt for the remaining 0.8). Those combos against the Rockets also means that the matchup was a big part of why the Spurs could play so many four-perimeter lineups.
As fantasy owners, we’re likely rooting against Bryn Forbes because he’s not exactly a per-minute stud, but Pop loves Forbes and has used him in the clutch the second most among all of his players (DeRozan). The Spurs have been bad overall with Forbes being so tied to the rotation, so maybe Pop goes into uncharted waters to see what Lonnie can do in the first unit -- there was some buzz he could start back in the preseason about him being a “stopper,” anyway. Interestingly, Jakob Poeltl didn’t play in the clutch at all this season until last night, so Walker is likely going to have to fight with Poeltl for minutes if Pop does want to roll out some Poeltl-LMA lineups. The Poeltl-LMA combo has seen just 70 minutes together all season and it’s at a -11.4 net rating, so that’s not the biggest roadblock once Aldridge is back.
So if he does have five-plus guys to take minutes from, is there even enough upside to give him at least a little leash? It looks like it and not just because of Tuesday. He ripped up summer league with a 32-point game and another 28-point game in 23 minutes before the Spurs realized they didn't need to see much more. Walker’s per-36 stats aren’t even great either, so it’s really just about the new opportunity. The Spurs are basically the worst they’ve ever been under Pop, so from a strategy standpoint it makes sense to see what he can do. One other quick negative is the current schedule and in the short term. After Friday’s game, the Spurs are off until Thursday to start a two-game week, and they don’t get a four-game week until the first full week of January. In the long term, the Spurs have one of the best playoff schedules for most H2H formats, so that’ll add even more late-season upside.
The bottom line is he’s basically a stash right now, but there is some short-term mystery to see if he can get it going after the breakthrough performance. We always talk about how we want young players on bad teams for later in the year, so that and the strong late-season schedule make Lonnie an even better sell. I like the idea of adding him for Friday, and then going from there. If he really flops, he’d be a drop candidate in daily-move leagues because it’s going to be rough to hold with no games until Thursday.
Injuries from around the league since Monday
Thomas Bryant is going to miss at least three weeks with a stress reaction in his foot. No bueno. Moe Wagner is also banged up with an ankle sprain, but he should be added everywhere. Ian Mahinmi is questionable to return tonight and could be in the rotation. If all of those guys are out, expect a ton of minutes for Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura while Isaac Bonga, Jordan McRae and Troy Brown get some extra burn. C.J. Miles is also out indefinitely with a wrist issue, so that’s another reason to like McRae.
As mentioned above, Brandon Clarke (oblique/core muscle) is week-to-week while Kyle Anderson (heel) is still banged up. Core muscle issues can linger, so it’s possible Clarke is out longer than Morant. Bruno Caboclo should be in the rotation, Solomon Hill will slide to the four to open up more SF minutes, and there have been more three-guard lineups with Dillon Brooks, Marko Guduric and Grayson Allen.
We’re still waiting on Kyrie Irving’s shoulder and there’s been no announcement of an MRI yet. There’s been some major concern that Irving could miss several weeks going forward, so check out this article from the New York Post that goes over some talk from shoulder experts.
Mike Conley (hamstring) missed Wednesday, but he doesn’t think his injury is serious. On Wednesday, it was Joe Ingles starting while Georges Niang, Emmanuel Mudiay and Dante Exum picked up some small scraps.
De’Andre Hunter (dislocated index finger) did not play on Wednesday and looks to be day-to-day. Allen Crabbe is also out indefinitely with a non-surgical knee procedure. Cam Reddish went off for a career-high 25 points and could have some new life while Hunter is out. Although, Kevin Huerter returning presents another roadblock.
Luke Kennard (knee) did not play on Wednesday in a back-to-back game. He’s had knee problems since the summer time, so this could be something to watch. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk figures to get some starts while this could help Langston Galloway.
LaMarcus Aldridge has soreness in his right thigh and missed the last two. As mentioned above, the Spurs are off for almost a week after Friday, so worst case would likely be he misses just one more game. Jakob Poeltl would be a great start for that one.
Goran Dragic has a strained groin and could miss more than two games. The Heat have a lot of perimeter depth, so there’s no need to rush Dragic back. It’s been Duncan Robinson stepping up the most while Tyler Herro has really lost his momentum.
Aron Baynes got hurt again with a calf issue to cost him at least two games. Frank Kaminsky scored 21 points in the first half against the Magic and could have some added short-term value. Cheick Diallo has also played himself out of the doghouse.
Bogdan Bogdanovic has a knee contusion, which isn’t the same as his hammy strain from last month. Trevor Ariza came out of nowhere on Wednesday to be the main guy stepping up while Cory Joseph and Yogi Ferrell have seen more opportunity. It doesn’t sound like Bogdan will miss much time.
Dwight Powell hurt his arm on Wednesday, but he looks like he’s avoided injury with X-rays negative. He’s been great and looks to be locked in going forward.
Michael Carter-Williams missed Wednesday due to a nose injury to allow the Magic to run more two-PG lineups. Al-Farouq Aminu is also going to miss several weeks with a meniscus tear to keep Wesley Iwundu in the rotation.
Marcus Smart missed a game on Wednesday due to an illness, but he should be OK.
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Other possible adds from the week
Dwight Powell (37%) - He’s just above the 35% threshold, but 37% is just way too low, especially after Wednesday. In 25 minutes before his arm injury, Powell went 9-of-9 from the field for 24 points with five rebounds, four assists, one steal, two blocks and two 3-pointers. After the game on the Mavs broadcast, Powell made it sound like the Mavs have found a starting lineup they like, and Powell has seen 25.7 minutes per game over the last three. He needs to be owned basically everywhere in category-style leagues.
Moritz Wagner (29%) - Once Wagner is over his ankle issue, he has a clear path to all the minutes he can handle. While Wagner has zero minutes next to Thomas Bryant, now that Bryant is out for at least three weeks he could be looking at 30-plus minutes. Wagner leads qualifiers in TS% at 70.8% and he also plays at one of the fastest paces in the league at 109.5 -- the Wizards play fast overall. If he does get 30 minutes, his extrapolated stats over 30 minutes would be 18.5 points, 8.7 boards, 2.2 dimes and 0.8 treys on his stellar 61/43/84 shooting line. He’s an easy add everywhere, and maybe if he really shines he can earn some PF minutes -- he saw some spot time there in the preseason.
Kevin Huerter (35%) - I can’t imagine him being on the wire in any decent 12-team league, but he’s still right at the 35% mark. Prior to getting hurt on Nov. 12, Huerter was starting to get it going over his previous three, averaging 14.7 points, 3.0 dimes, 3.3 dimes, 2.6 treys and 0.7 treys over 28.3 minutes per game. He was getting minutes as the backup PG and should start to trend up in a fantasy-friendly offense. Plus, coach Lloyd Pierce mentioned Trae Young could be dialed back slightly to open up chances for Huerter.
Kevon Looney (26%) - It might take some time for Looney to be valuable here, but there’s upside. Coach Steve Kerr called Looney’s issue more of a health thing than an injury, so he’s never going to get big minutes. Despite how Kerr said he wanted to play Looney around 30 minutes, that was likely never going to happen because of his asthma. Prior to the injury run to start his season, Kerr also said he had big plans for Looney. The good news for Looney is that the Warriors are open to using both Eric Paschall and Draymond Green as a three. Alec Burks actually subbed in for Dray on Wednesday while Looney came in for Paschall. Plus, Looney did start next to Willie Cauley-Stein to start in his season debut, so there are a lot of paths for him to see minutes in one of the funkiest rotations in the league. Looney will probably need Dray to miss time to unlock his upside, but at this point it seems likely with the Warriors eyeing the lottery. He might be more of a stash, but the mysterious upside on a bad team makes him an attractive add.
Jakob Poeltl (16%) - As mentioned above, he’s played just 70 minutes next to LMA and saw his first clutch action on Tuesday. Still, Poeltl did start in five of the six games prior to the LMA thigh injury, so it’s possible he continues to start. However, he would still likely see minutes in the 18-24 range when LMA is healthy -- 21.8 minutes per game over that six-game stretch. The last game prior to the LMA injury was also when Pop finally went with Rudy Gay as a starter, too. He’s still a really solid add for his blocks and maybe the Spurs dial back LMA, too.
Kris Dunn (15%) - The Bulls actually have a winning streak now with Dunn starting both of those games and playing a close game vs. Portland in his first start of the year. In those three, he averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 boards, 3.3 dimes, 1.7 steals and 1.0 treys. That is somewhat sustainable because he’s routinely been great in steals, so he’s a really solid add at least until Otto Porter Jr. (foot) gets back. It might be a while there.
Cam Reddish (9%) - Maybe Lonnie Walker IV didn’t have the most out-of-the-blue game of the week with Reddish going for a career-high 25 points with six rebounds, one block, three steals and four 3-pointers in a career-high 37 minutes. Prior to Wednesday, Reddish was shooting just 28.8% from the field, averaging 7.2 points, 3.6 boards, 1.7 dimes, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks and 0.8 treys. I’m not really buying it and Huerter coming back hurts, but crazier things have happened and the Hawks did say they want to play him 30 minutes. Plus, they’re horrible right now with the league-worst -14.2 net rating in the last 12 games, so what do they have to lose? It's fairly clear the Hawks want to play Trae Young, Hunter, Huerter, Reddish and John Collins a whole lot.
Damian Jones (5%) - A bit of a double (and quadruple) dip here on a guy constantly in this article, but Jones has been too good to leave out, posting career-high scoring games in back-to-back games with 20 on Wednesday and 16 on Monday. He’d be even higher on this list, but don’t forget John Collins is coming back later this month to cut into the center minutes. Still, Jones has clearly beat out Bruno Fernando and the Hawks likely won’t be starting Alex Len unless they need to. If you need a big with blocks and great FG%, add him and just cross that Collins bridge when we get to it.
Ty Jerome (1%) - He made his NBA debut this week and he’s been productive so far, averaging 4.5 points, 2.0 boards, 5.5 dimes, 2.5 steals and 0.5 treys in just 15.2 minutes per game. Jerome has been the straight backup to Ricky Rubio, but already ascending to that status with so many other options speaks volumes. Back in camp, Devin Booker called him the most impressive player at camp. "I kind of knew what to expect from watching him at the NCAA Tournament," Booker said. "It was the first time I had ever seen him play. He can do a little bit of everything; pass, dribble shoot. A high-IQ guy. He knows how to play the game. He knows how to make reads." It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him find a path to two-PG lineups, especially with Jevon Carter being the sub for Devin Booker in the first quarter these days. Coach Monty Williams also said he wants to develop Jerome.
Jordan McRae (5%) - Another multiple-dip guy in this column, McRae has locked up a bigger role with C.J. Miles out indefinitely. He looks to be ahead of Troy Brown on the scoring totem pole while the Wizards continue to play in high-scoring games. He’s seen more late minutes, too.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (0%) and Langston Galloway (16%) - Betting against Kennard’s knee here with Svi. Back in September, coach Dwane Casey said Kennard had some knee tendinitis over the summer, and again Kennard had left knee soreness in the preseason. Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that I would definitely be trying to trade Kennard, but take a look at Svi in deeper leagues. Galloway has also seen more minutes and has a lot of paths to more playing time with so many injury-prone players on the Pistons.
John Henson (0%) - He was back on Tuesday with 14 minutes and he should stay in the rotation. When Tristan Thompson or Kevin Love sit out, Henson could have some value as per-minute guy with his blocks.
Solomon Hill (1%), Grayson Allen (0%) and Marko Guduric (0%) - These guys are going to be the main SG/SF/PF options for the Grizzlies bench. Allen did see some closing minutes over Dillon Brooks on Wednesday, so that could be something to watch.