Dose: Anthony Davis Down Again

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For the final Dose of the year Bruski has all 14 games covered, including your must-start guys, players …

Anthony Davis got struck by the injury bug, so did Jamal Crawford and Brandon Jennings, Kawhi Leonard returned with a bang and Gordon Hayward is about to heat up like Hansel.  Big Wednesday has a ton of ground to cover and so we’re jumping right in.

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HOW COULD YOU BE SO HARKLESS

The Magic and Sixers game was hard to watch last night but you had to know the Magic were fired up to get a rare win, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they were favored by more than six points yesterday on the road (promise I didn’t look).  Orlando is without Arron Afflalo (ankle) and they’ll bring him along slowly as he’s in a day-to-day status.  Moe Harkless (13 points, 5-of-14 FGs, three treys, three boards, two blocks, 31 minutes) is the direct beneficiary of Afflalo’s absence, but with the Heat on the docket on Saturday the two days’ worth of rest and marquee matchup don’t profile well for Harkless’ chances of a repeat performance.  With late-round value over his last four games, Harkless has a deep league ceiling when Afflalo returns but it wouldn’t be surprising if that slowly rose as the year went on. 

Tobias Harris didn’t get in on the action on Tuesday but he at least held his own last night with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds and a steal.  He was doing fairly well in the peripheral department last week and he needs to keep that up if he wants to stay in the top 30-60 range.  Nikola Vucevic put up 21 and 13 with one steal and three blocks as his top-40 value is about as consistent as it comes when he’s on the floor, and Victor Oladipo kept pouring it on everywhere with 17 points, 7-of-16 FGs, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block, two threes and seven turnovers. 

Jameer Nelson played through the flu again and he torched Michael Carter-Williams for 16 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, two threes and a steal, highlighting why he shouldn’t have been dropped.  Ride him until the wheels fall off.  Kyle O’Quinn logged just 14 minutes, which isn’t too far off his 20 mpg workload, but still managed four rebounds, four blocks and a steal to go with his four points.  Like I said yesterday, he’s a consistent late-round value that would have probably gotten the full 20 minutes against a team less weird than Philly. 

SO BAD IT’S GOOD IN A MODERN DAY CHARLIE’S ANGELS SORT OF WAY

Oh, Philly.  I just can’t look away.  You are easily the worst team of the last 10 years or so with a roster full of NBA bottom feeders, and that much is obvious but the takeaway is that it’s possible that even the vaunted Philly fantasy system can’t support this dumpster fire.  Thaddeus Young (19 points, three boards, two steals, one block) has the potential to go ballistic on any given night as he and Michael Carter-Williams (eight points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals) are the only starting-caliber players on the team. 

Tony Wroten is the closest thing they have to a third option and he put up 15 points with five rebounds and two blocks, but most amazingly he hit 7-of-9 freebies.  As long as he is getting north of the 26 minutes he got last night he should be owned in all 12-team formats and probably the 10-teamers, too.  If he ever clicks shooting the ball he has mid-round upside, but I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.  

James Anderson is the next closest thing to a safe play and I like his chances at late-round value to finish the year.  He had a quiet night with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, five rebounds and three assists but the two 3-pointers keep things pointed in the right direction.  Hollis Thompson moved into the starting lineup and hit two 3-pointers of his own for six points, while also chipping in with seven boards and a block over 25 minutes.  You want to see more minutes to get the sense that he is creating separation from the pretenders, but he’s still worth a look in standards knowing that he’s returning 14-team numbers in just 21.8 minutes per game over his last three contests.  It’s a small sample size but highlights what he is capable of if he can get that separation. 

Byron Mullens might be the most entertaining speculative add of the Philly bunch, knowing that the organization is as high on him as one can possibly be on Byron Mullens.  He got in the game last night and let it rip right away and ended up with seven points on 3-of-11 shots, many of the questionable variety.  If the Sixers continue to embrace that mentality it stands to reason that he could be Spencer Hawes-lite, but chances are he’ll take a Family Circus route to get there.  This will be maddening but if you’re hunting late-mid round upside he’s your first look in Philly among the scrap heap. 

Arnett Moultrie has been the other hot name in the frontcourt and he put up zeroes across the board except for one lonely block in his 16 minutes.  He was always going to be a project so one game like this shouldn’t change your entire outlook on him, but this is undeniably a blow to his standing with owners that speculated in deeper formats.  I am one of those guys and I’m forced by league rules to wait another game and if he doesn’t turn it around in a big way I’ll be moving on in that 14-team format. 

JOURNEY TO THE MIDDLE OF THE EAST

The Hawks are a mess and we all know that as last night’s loss to the Celtics made 10-of-11 games on the wrong side of the scoreboard.  Paul Millsap (bruised knee) may be the most valuable player to a playoff contender right now because without him Atlanta has practically no room for error.  On the fantasy side it has opened big doors for DeMarre Carroll, who had another scorcher with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting (including three treys) with seven rebounds, one steal and one block.  One of the most underrated acquisitions of the summer is as consistent as they come in fantasy leagues, regardless of whether he’s in a high or low-volume situation. 

Jeff Teague has moved over to shooting guard now that Shelvin Mack (six points, 1-of-5 FGs, three rebounds, eight assists, 31 minutes) has been forced into a heavy-minute role.  Teague scored 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting with three rebounds, two steals and just two assists, but anything that keeps him being aggressive on offense is okay in my book.  Kyle Korver hit four triples and finished with 17 points, one steal and not much else.  Mike Scott probably killed a lot of folks last night with his zero-point, 0-for-6 effort over 17 minutes.  He still hasn’t earned Mike Budenholzer’s trust and that is what keeps his ceiling at a late-round level until further notice. 

Lou Williams scored 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting with three rebounds, four assists and one trey, and all of a sudden he’s playing at top-100 level over the last week or so.  He dunked a few games back and cited it as a step forward in his rehabilitation and this development makes him worth a long look as a late-round play.  The narrative makes sense and makes his past inconsistency somewhat explainable.  Elton Brand turned in another solid effort in 34 minutes, scoring 10 points with seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and five blocks.  As I mentioned yesterday the Hawks can give their injured group of Millsap, Pero Antic (ankle) and Gustavo Ayon (shoulder) nine days off with only three missed games as a consequence including last night’s contest. 

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY AND I’LL DO WHAT I WANT TO

For all the birthday talk surrounding Rajon Rondo he did his talking on the court in the Celtics’ win over the Hawks, scoring 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting with one three, 5-of-6 FTs, three steals and 11 assists.  Oddly enough, he didn’t grab a single rebound.  Jerryd Bayless may have snagged himself a short-term starting job at shooting guard after a season-high 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting, five threes and one steal over 36 minutes. 

Bayless moved into Gerald Wallace’s slot, and Wallace did well into his move to the bench with 12 points, 10 boards and four assists without any other peripheral stats.  Avery Bradley talked about both his and the team’s intention to play things safe with his ankle, and he hasn’t gotten back on the court yet so there is a window for Bayless to run with.  It doesn’t hurt that Kelly Olynyk is about to miss some time with his toe injury, and Jared Sullinger will return as soon as Saturday from a concussion but will likely have some rust. 

Kris Humphries saw just 17 minutes in a missed opportunity to produce, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and one steal.  While he was a dud last night and Sullinger could be back the next time out, the Olynyk injury matters as much if not more than his slow night.  Humph, Brandon Bass (14 points, eight boards, one steal, one block) and Sullinger each get a tiny bump from their 2-3 week valuations. Humphries has been off the grid during that span and he can be watched from the wire in 12-14 team formats, Bass becomes a safer late-round value, and Sullinger is a guy you want in most lineups even coming off the concussion. 

CHOP THE HEAD OFF THE SNAKE

The Warriors are toast against any team that has an effective game plan against Stephen Curry, which can happen fairly easy with one good defender at the point and a team that is capable of switching and playing good help defense.  Kirk Hinrich and the Bulls are exactly that team.  Curry hit just 2-of-10 shots for five points, three rebounds and five assists as Hinrich negotiated screens, Jimmy Butler locked down Klay Thompson and the rest of the Warriors had nowhere to go. 

Steve Blake (four points, two assists) logged 27 minutes in the blowout loss and while he is an excellent signing to help ease the pressure, the Warriors still need somebody that can penetrate and make plays.  Andre Iguodala (five points, 1-of-8 FGs, seven boards, four assists, one steal) just isn’t that guy, making his contract look pretty suspect even if he is still a great defender and competent ball-mover. 

Thompson (eight points, 3-of-8 FGs, two threes) is reliant upon teammates to deliver the ball for the most part, or at least that should be the case if things are working right, so it’s not surprising that he struggled against Butler when all the chips were down.  Andrew Bogut logged 23 minutes with eight points, six boards and a block as he gets back up to speed following his shoulder injury, and Jermaine O’Neal logged 16 token minutes as the starting center because David Lee (11 points, six boards, two steals, two blocks) was flown in from his death bed and came off the bench for 21 minutes. 

Owners will want to simply forget this game and Warriors fans should hope that something gets Iguodala going because he’s the only guy that can keep the doubles off Steph when the games count. 

BRAVO CHICAGO

The Bulls are quite the story with their inspired play as of late and they’re an example of what a team with solid roles and chemistry can do.  Everybody is needed from top to bottom, as they don’t work without that happening, but it’s happening as guys like D.J. Augustin, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer continue to fill the gaps left by Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury.  Dunleavy scored 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting with three treys, four boards, three assists, one steal and two blocks, holding onto the mid-round value he has been over the last week or so.  He should shade more toward a late-round grade with Butler back but you wouldn’t know it by the way he has been playing. 

Augustin (five points, three boards, four assists, 23 minutes) was quiet but his scoring wasn’t needed in the blowout win so the result is somewhat excusable.  In the midst of a terrible shooting slump, when he eventually regresses he will have mid-round upside and a late-round likelihood.  Hinrich was the man of the match with his defense on Stephen Curry, and he also chipped in with nine points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks.  He’s a late-round value until further notice. 

Butler hit 5-of-10 shots for 16 points, two steals, three blocks and a trey in his 37 minutes, which is great coming off of a rib injury and the efficiency (including 5-of-6 FTs) is going to get better with teammates producing on the offensive end.  Joakim Noah certainly helps in that department as he continues to throw his hat in the ring for league’s best big man.  He scored eight points with 17 rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block.  Carlos Boozer (15 points, 13 boards) is giving the team exactly what it needs, while Taj Gibson (21 points, five boards, three assists, one steal, one block) has become a primary weapon.  It’s all clicking but the Bulls will need to stay healthy to keep it rolling. 

BROWBEATEN BY LITTLE RED CROSSES

Anthony Davis left last night’s game with a left shoulder sprain and that’s the only thing that truly matters in New Orleans right now.  Davis returned to the bench after it happened but did not play, sporting some sort of getup designed to keep his shoulder immobilized.  He missed two games in the past due to a left shoulder contusion but this looks to be a different ballpark than that, and for all of the armchair doctoring one can do the best I can say for sure is that he’ll be evaluated today.  It’s anybody’s guess if Monty Williams will go out of his way to get to the bottom of it, and I’m mostly not kidding about that since that’s the way he has approached injuries in the past.  None of the media in New Orleans seems to have a pipeline into the team’s injury situation, and hopefully one of the national guys will get in there and get any news out quickly. 

Of course, Davis is the No. 5 and No. 2 player in 8- and 9-cat leagues when he is on the floor, and the asterisk associated with that statement is going to be the thing that keeps him on the outside looking in at the elite tier of fantasy players next season.  Whether it’s the dumb luck of an aggressive defensive player or he needs to pack on some pounds, he is quickly racking up the injury miles in his brief career.  There is also the question of whether or not he’ll truly be unleashed by Williams or whoever may be coaching next season. 

That said, if he can shake this injury off and finish the season strong he might assuage those injury fears and join KD and LeBron at the top.  He'll be among the most intriguing decisions owners face on draft day with his unknown ceiling. 

Alexis Ajinca (14 points, eight boards, three assists, one block, 26 minutes) is the closest thing to a fantasy beneficiary if Davis misses time and after a solid stretch he’s worth a look for owners that are desperate for a big man, independent of Davis’ injury situation.  For those that might want to speculate that Davis misses time, Ajinca does fit the profile of a guy that can produce in fantasy leagues but he has major defensive limitations and hasn’t been able to separate from Greg Stiemsma and Jeff Withey.  I think Monty will have to live with Ajinca’s issues if Davis is out and a late-round grade seems fair. 

Al-Farouq Aminu (18 minutes, four points, two rebounds) is another guy that should theoretically step into a big workload if Davis is sidelined, but he didn’t do it last night and his confidence is shot.  I’d rather take Luke Babbitt (10 points, three boards, two treys, 26 minutes) and hope he can hit two triples per night while slowly increasing his volume.  And while we’re at it everybody take two shots and take a look around the bar for somebody to take home. 

Eric Gordon scored 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting (including three treys) with his typical absence of other stats.  Still, as long as he’s playing games he’s beating expectations, even if he looks more and more like an average NBA player by the day.  Following the Kings gave me an up-close view of Tyreke Evans (four points, 2-of-9 FGs, six rebounds, seven assists, two steals) and it was sort of bewildering how he managed to convince folks that he was an upper-tier player. 

There’s something to be said for knowing how to play the game, and that’s playing out in a big way as Monty just isn’t going to give in to the bull-in-a-china shop routine for big minutes.  Getting through to Evans should have been a prerequisite for any team choosing to sign him at all, let alone a team that was going to pay big money like the Pellies did.  Theoretically Evans, Gordon and Brian Roberts (17 points, 6-of-9 FGs, three triples, three assists) should go big if Davis misses games, but it’s just not clicking and things would look a lot better if a plan was in place to rehabilitate Evans’ understanding of the game. 

YOU KNOW WHAT KARL MALONE CALLS RAP?

On the other side the Mavs were able to easily dispatch the Pelicans and their power forward survived his shoulder injury last night.  Dirk Nowitzki (18 points, five boards, three assists, two steals, one three) joked about Karl Malone hacking him in the 90s and it still being sore.  Shawn Marion got back on track with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, which means it’s time to pick him back up in most formats.  When he’s going he’s a mid-round player and unless you’re stacked you can find room for that sort of thing. 

The Monta Ellis resurgence is in full swing as he hit 8-of-18 shots for 23 points, four rebounds, seven assists, four steals, one three and a perfect six freebies.  Brandon Wright got on the board with eight points, eight boards, three steals and three blocks in 24 minutes off the bench, and against a team like the Pellies owners should take this result with appropriate amounts of salt.  The Mavs and fantasy owners both expected more than Wright has given, and his shoulder injury certainly was serious enough to create a scenario in which his return would be a slow one.  This could be a set wave to warn us what is coming, or it could be a lone good game against a bad team that lost its one and only plus player in Anthony Davis.  Wright is still a desperate pickup in deeper formats until he does it again. 

Vince Carter got his first official Sixth Man of the Year buzz from the locals, and last night he turned in another serviceable game with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, one three and one steal to go with a 4-of-4 mark from the foul line.  He has been a top 60-80 play over the last month and is a must-own player until he cools off. 

WAR OF THE ROSES

Pau Gasol barked at his coach about playing small on Tuesday night and rather than giving in Mike D’Antoni stuck to his guns, and despite the loss to the Grizzlies the coach probably won that round against Gasol.  He used Wesley Johnson to cover Marc Gasol and the plan ended up working for the most part, though the Lakers had to come back from 22 points down to make it just a five-point loss. And they came back playing through Gasol by way of Jordan Farmar’s insistence that they go away from D’Antoni’s system and play inside-out through Gasol at a deliberate pace. 

So box score watchers will see D’Antoni go really small last night, see the score and see that Johnson did well and assume D’Antoni pulled the right strings.  In reality the team is infighting for its identity as opposing forces push and pull on the levers all the way to an uneventful end.  The good news is that while the pecking orders and stylistic issues get sorted out, the playing time and fantasy picture got clearer last night. 

First and foremost it looks like Kent Bazemore is a full-time starter on this squad.  He logged 39 minutes last night and returned 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting (2-of-4 3PTs, 4-of-8 FTs) with two rebounds, four assists and one steal.  The versatility issues were on display more so than the previous night, but it’s going to take a distinct change in direction from D’Antoni to take this guy off the court it seems.  It makes sense, though, since the Lakers lack athleticism and Bazemore brings that to the table.  He should be owned in all formats and in most lineups until he gives us a reason to change that up. 

Jordan Farmar and Kendall Marshall are officially in an even timeshare.  Both logged 24 minutes and while it was working for Farmar (16 points, four treys, three assists, two steals, one block), the arrangement isn’t working for Marshall (zero points, 0-for-6 FGs, five boards, eight assists).  Marshall also griped about the Lakers’ new direction after Tuesday night, so clearly there are stylistic issues playing next to Bazemore and Jodie Meeks (19 points, 7-of-10 FGs, two threes, four rebounds, one steal, 37 minutes).  Marshall has always needed high minute totals to sustain his mid-to-late round value and he’s not going to get that in this arrangement so owners in 12-14 team leagues can make the drop, though as I mentioned yesterday there is a small amount of stash appeal because Farmar is a health risk. 

Farmar has been red hot lately and as we discussed yesterday he profiles as a guy that can carry heavy workload for the Lakers, but the team seems committed to the Bazemore project and he also isn’t going to get the minutes to sustain serious late-round value over the long haul.  And though Farmar has been hot lately with 2.2 triples per contest in his last five games, the rest of the numbers aren’t there with averages of 8.2 points, 2.0 boards, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steals while hitting 37.5 percent of his shots.  He has also hit 11-of-22 of his 3-pointers in that span, a rate that the 37 percent career shooter simply isn’t going to keep up.  His season-long value sits at the low-end of 12-team leagues in 8-cat formats and in 9-cat formats he’s a top-200 player in his 21.6 mpg this season.  Owners can do the math on what a 24-minute role will look like and plan accordingly. 

Johnson scored 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting with five rebounds, four threes and four blocks in big minutes.  He's still a must-own player in 12-team leagues and he improved on the top 85-115 value he had before last night.  As long as Ryan Kelly (three points, three blocks, 10 minutes) is effectively out of the rotation and the Lakers are playing small, Johnson is the guy that D’Antoni needs to guard multiple positions, and in particular in the frontcourt. 

Jordan Hill (six minutes), Robert Sacre (seven minutes) and Chris Kaman (DNP-back) are all officially on my dead to me list, especially now that we’ve seen D’Antoni get a little protective of his small ball.  It’s going to take three good performances in a row for any of these guys to get my attention from here on out.  Gasol scored 17 points with 10 rebounds, three assists and a block in 35 minutes, and this is going to be a stressful finish for owners that will be dodging a shutdown while listening to the big man and his coach bicker down the stretch. 

MarShon Brooks scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting (including two threes) with two rebounds, three assists and one steal in 20 minutes off the bench.  As long as Nick Young’s knee situation is red flagged, owners in 16-team leagues should be ready to consider an add if he can be productive one more time. 

LIKE A WRECKING BALL

The Grizzlies’ starters didn’t play as much as they normally do with last night’s win over the Lakers looking like a blowout before a late L.A. charge brought the starters back on the floor.  That’s why you’ll see that only one starter, Marc Gasol, played more than 28 minutes last night.  The scoring and production was evenly distributed throughout the roster, but some post-game comments about Tony Allen and James Johnson will help spice up the recap. 

“The energy that that group provides is tremendous,” said Dave Joerger about the second unit.  “I mean the two of them out there (Johnson and Allen) just wreck stuff. And it’s awesome.”  That’s better than the imaginary quotes running through my head on nights in which Johnson has played just single-digit minutes. 

Johnson scored 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting (6-of-8 FTs) with four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block, and I’ll go to another quote from beat writer Michael Cohen that shares my perspective on Johnson. “But there to resurrect the Grizzlies was Johnson,” wrote Cohen.  “The free-agent phenom whose presence by now feels integral.” 

Yes, he is integral and anybody watching this team knows that, and his lack of playing time has had the unsavory feel of not knowing whose dog Johnson had kicked to be left on the bench like that.  Johnson has some knucklehead tendencies on the floor but now that he’s in shape he also has difference-making qualities, and for a team on the outside looking in at the playoff picture they needed to be harnessed a long time ago. 

Perhaps the team is enamored with or obliged in some way to Tayshaun Prince, but this seems like a no-brainer that the Grizzlies are just being slow with.  Regular readers know that I’ve advocated a hold wherever possible while he has struggled mightily in fantasy leagues over the past 2-3 weeks.  Taking a look at his last 27 games, Johnson has top-100 value in just 20.9 mpg.  That’s not the hugest sample size but it’s pretty damn big.  It all adds up to mid-round upside if he can get the 25 minutes that he should be playing at a minimum for the Grizz, who just need to live up to their end of the bargain to make it work.   

Allen has also started off fast since returning from his wrist injury, and last night he put up 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting (including a three) with six rebounds in 25 minutes.  He didn’t have any steals or blocks and the three is a bit out of character, so those things will even out but the takeaway is that he is posting late-round value since returning.  His 64.1 percent shooting over that span is highly leveraged and that alone keeps him at a deep league grade while he sifts through the questions about his role and ability to keep up his solid play.  Meanwhile, Courtney Lee (18 points, two threes, five assists) continues to cruise along and owners can ride that until the wheels fall off, if they fall off. 

Gasol took advantage of the Lakers’ small lineup with 14 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, one steal and two blocks.  Owners wanting to get out from under the questions about his athleticism and injury risk may not get a better chance to sell.   

A PERFECT STORM

The Cavs went into Oklahoma City on the SEGABABA and took advantage of a Thunder team struggling to integrate Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams into their lineup.  Sure, this Cavs win seemed shocking on the surface with the team riding a three-game losing streak – and their previous six-game victorious streak merely an island in an ocean of bad play.  But when you look at how the Cavs are just now beginning to coalesce while fighting for their playoff lives, and you contrast that with a Thunder team that is in relative disarray the result makes sense.  Hopefully one of you guys thought of all that and converted on a large amusement only wager going against the public team. 

The biggest example of the new cohesion was Jarrett Jack, who put up 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting (3-of-7 3PTs, 6-of-6 FTs) with three rebounds, four assists and one steal over 39 minutes.  Jack has said that he expected to play with the ball in his hands more than he has this season but that hasn’t happened.  That was to be expected playing next to Kyrie Irving, but perhaps Jack figured that Mike Brown would be able to implement more plays working Irving off the ball.  It wouldn’t be shocking to learn that defensively-minded Brown hasn’t gotten to that chapter of the book this season. 

Nevertheless, a perfect storm has been brewing to get everybody on track.  The firing of Chris Grant led to a mental makeover to some degree and put a big-time microscope on Kyrie Irving and Co. Simultaneously, the passing of the trade deadline was able to release the pent-up anxieties about where guys would be playing and the like.  The win-soon realities of the playoff chase have put an urgent task on everybody’s plates.  Veterans like Luol Deng (13 points, 5-of-16 FGs, three boards, two assists, one steal) and Spencer Hawes (19 points, seven rebounds, three treys, zero steals/blocks) now have multiple games together. 

Now a guy like Tristan Thompson can focus on rebounding and moving the ball.  Everything is a little crisper and Irving can get the ball in better spots, which in turn gets the ball to a guy like Jack in better places, and overall there has been more action in every set (especially off the ball).  It’s the cumulative impact that occurs when better players make other players’ lives easier. 

This is the Cavs we’re talking about here and they’re on the verge of missing the Leastern Conference playoffs.  But for now it seems like they have enough vets and enough talent to not roll over. 

I’m not sold that Jack is going to see an appreciable difference in fantasy production, especially with Dion Waiters’ eventual return being a real foil for a guy in Jack that has no room for error.  But an uptick in production could be on the way as the quality of his touches improves, and he has a puncher’s chance at late-round value while Waiters is out. 

I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again, Hawes is a must-own player and he’s a must-start player.  Anderson Varejao’s (back) eventual return may move him to a late mid-round or late-round value, but it looks like he’ll be worth owning the rest of the way.  Hawes and Varejao are complementary players and the Cavs need Hawes’ outside shooting range badly.  For what it’s worth beat writer Bob Finnan wrote that he had a feeling that Varejao was returning sooner than Waiters or C.J. Miles (ankle), and today will be a big evaluation day in Cleveland.  Jimmer Fredette is on the market and he’s been linked to Cleveland and if they go cold on that trail it’ll likely mean they’re optimistic about everybody’s timetables. 

Varejao apparently looked healthy before the game and fantasy owners will want to consider picking him up if he has been dropped.  Give it a week and see how it goes, but given Hawes’ presence and his own injury issues keep in mind that he isn’t a must-own player. 

As for Irving, he needs to continue with the efficiency he showed last night to come anywhere near his draft day ADP.  He hit 10-of-19 shots for 31 points, five boards, nine assists, four steals, four threes and 7-of-7 makes from the charity stripe.  Owners can only hope the return of Dion Waiters (knee) doesn’t disrupt the veteran flow.  Tristan Thompson (11 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, one steal, one block) had one of those nights that gets everybody fired up but I’m not changing his late-round at best grade because of one good night against a team just now throwing their rookie center into the fire. 

HORSE WATER

The news of Kendrick Perkins’ groin injury could be the thing that saves the Thunder’s season.  For one, it forces them to develop rookie Steven Adams (four points, four rebounds, one steal, one block, 25 minutes) with the first unit.  Perkins has no business being on the floor except when an opposing team plays a large center, and even then you would prefer a seasoned Adams over Perkins for his potential to add other elements to the equation.  I’ve had to rethink the Thunder’s chances of competing in the playoffs because once Adams is seasoned throughout this next month it will give OKC the narrative to get off the Perkins Plan.  Will they do it?  Probably not.  But Adams will have more experience if and when Scott Brooks and Co. reach for the panic button. 

I don’t think the Thunder have what it takes to get off the Derek Fisher drug, but that would be the last piece to making them the favorite in the West, let alone being able to challenge the Pacers and Heat.  For that to happen they will need the opposite of what they got from their young guys last night, as Reggie Jackson (eight points, 3-of-10 FGs, two threes, three assists) and Jeremy Lamb (four points, 11 minutes) looked lost and set aside when the going got tough. 

Fisher is enjoying a red-hot February shooting from deep, hitting 47.6 percent of his threes, but Brooks’ crutch will be exploited on both sides of the floor in a seven-game series and he’s stealing valuable experience away from these two.  Both Jackson and Lamb have not been able to establish their roles, with Jackson needed to provide heavy artillery from a Sixth Man position and Lamb needed as an X-factor capable of taking over a game when defenses collapse around Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.   Instead, Jackson was already pressing to establish his identity on the team in a 32-minute role, let alone a 24-minute role, and Lamb has been reduced to a confused and withdrawn offensive player. 

So no, it doesn’t surprise me that the Thunder lose to the Cavs at home when Russell Westbrook’s (24 points, 8-of-17 FGs, three treys, three boards, nine assists, 30 minutes) return has scrambled things up.  They’re a brand new team with him at the helm.  Sportscenter all but ran a sign that said Westbrook was the devil in their coverage of his 0-4 return last night, but Westy played great and he’s not the problem here.  The problem is that young players being thrown into limited roles don’t tend to pick and choose their spots well.  These players usually go one of two ways – overaggressive and reckless (Jackson) or underaggressive (Lamb).  In the case of Adams, he’s still trying to figure out the first unit while also learning the basics of defense.  Put a guy like Hawes across from him at the 3-point line and he’s a mess, though it’s hard to complain when Perkins is an adventure anywhere he plays but on the block. 

The decision to roll with Fisher in the playoffs has been made.  A competent Adams can go a long way toward reducing the 15-point advantage that Perkins seemingly gave away every night last season.  With Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka (16 points, 13 boards, four blocks) all likely to play at the top of their games, that just might be enough to win a chip but these youngsters will all need to bring it.  The question is whether or not they can figure out the Tao of the Thunder in limited bursts of action. 

I’m holding Jackson to see how the next week or so goes, Adams is only a spec add for the center desperate, and Ibaka is sitting on top 10-15 value (9/8 cat) on the season after his slow start. 

TOE JAM AND WILL

The Pistons lost Brandon Jennings to a toe injury last night as the starting point guard was knocked out of the game, leaving Will Bynum (31 minutes, 18 points, nine assists) to do the heavy lifting in Detroit’s loss to the Spurs.  Bynum is a mini-microwave when he gets opportunities like this, but right now it’s unclear how serious the injury is for Jennings.  If it’s serious then both Bynum and Rodney Stuckey (31 minutes, 17 points, four assists) will likely attain late-round value.  Given problems with both players’ peripherals I’m not optimistic that they can go any higher than that, so keep that in mind as you consider speculative adds. 

Good Josh Smith showed up with 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting, two threes, six boards, five assists, two steals and one block.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  Kyle Singler (15 points, 7-of-8 FGs, one three, four rebounds, five assists, one steal) has been a mid-round value for the past month and any time off by Jennings would only help. 

WELCOME BACK

My guy (or albatross depending on one’s point of view) Kawhi Leonard returned to action after missing 14 games due to his broken hand, and the biggest bummer about the whole thing is that he could have been racking up numbers with so many other guys out.  At least he got right into the action as the Spurs dispatched the Pistons, with his 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks and one three over 29 minutes a much-needed boost.  If there was ever a time for Pop to push the play button on those big preseason plans it is now, so I’m buckling up with the greatest of hopes and expectations in check within the top 30-50 range (9/8 cat). 

Tiago Splitter has played well since his return from a calf injury and he put up 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one block in 30 minutes.  He’s worth a look if you’re desperate for a big man, and theoretically he could be relied upon as Tim Duncan gets rested down the stretch.  Be sure to take a look at his game log before you get too wily, though. 

Marco Belinelli moved back to the bench but still scored 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting (including four treys) with one rebound, four assists and one block in 27 minutes.  He was cold a while back and now he’s hot again, which means he’s getting ready to go cold and with Leonard back he’ll be a deep league guy pretty soon.  If you can catch him while he’s hot right now more power to you. 

Manu Ginobili is a hard guy to trust but he had another gem last night with 16 points, nine assists, three steals, one block and one three in 28 minutes off the bench.  His minutes are still on the wrong side of 20 mpg, making him a leap of faith to plug into lineups, but he’s producing at a late-round level in 8-cat leagues over his last five games.  Owners can use his top 85-90 per-game value in 23.3 mpg as a guide for his value, and one would be wise to commit to his use over a longer period in order to avoid the roller coaster effect.  In that respect, one has to consider DNP risk and it all points to him being a deep league guy until his minutes get closer to 25 mpg. 

THERE GO THE SUNS

When you look at the Western Conference standings there are nine teams that look like they’re competing for eight spots.  If you asked the average basketball fan to pick a team that they think would be left out it would be the Suns.  And they’re probably on the right track after Phoenix played over their heads for the first half of the season.  And for a team lacking in overall talent and now also lacking in depth with Goran Dragic (ankle) and Eric Bledsoe (knee) out, they can’t afford to slip much and that’s exactly what they’re doing on the defensive end these days.  

The fantasy story was pretty simple, though, with Ish Smith stepping into Dragic’s role and putting up 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting (no threes), eight rebounds, five assists and two steals over 36 minutes in last night’s blowout loss to the Jazz.  Over the past couple of years, Smith has done just fine when thrust into a heavy workload.  Dragic dressed but did not play and after a short flight back to Phoenix he will get a day off before Friday’s game against the Pelicans.  The Dragon will start today in a questionable status so owners will probably want to hold onto Ish until that situation is cleared up. 

P.J. Tucker disappeared with just three points on 1-of-4 shooting (including a three) with two rebounds, one assist and no steals or blocks in just 21 minutes.  The game got away from the Suns late and that likely explains the minutes, but this has been the book on Tucker all year – every now and then he hands owners one of these.  As usual it’s best to consider him a low-end option in 12-14 team leagues at all times. 

Channing Frye’s slump continued as he hit just 3-of-8 shots for seven points, three boards, two assists, two blocks and a three, yet he’s still returning top-100 value in standard formats over the last four contests despite averaging just 8.5 points per game.  Of course, that comes with 1.3 treys, 4.8 boards and 2.6 combined steals and blocks to go with an unsightly 37.8 percent mark from the field.  Some guys are just built for fantasy and Frye has done what good fantasy players do when their shot doesn’t fall – which is find somewhere else to produce.  The downtick in production is certainly a concern, but Markieff Morris (11 points, four rebounds, 23 minutes) isn’t as much of a lock as many folks think and above all Frye is still plenty valuable.  Hang on for now while he rolls along the bottom of his productivity curve. 

Morris was discussed yesterday in an either-or scenario with the first scenario being that he is turning the page on consistency issues at a mid-round value, or he is merely teasing everybody and holding down his late round value on the year.  The needle is probably halfway between both extremes and ready to swing back toward the latter with a tepid outing on Friday.  There’s something to idea that everybody struggled without Dragic and Bledsoe on the floor, but it’s not like these issues are new.  Archie Goodwin took advantage of the absences and garbage time, scoring 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting with one trey, seven rebounds, two steals and one block, but he was a big problem on defense and he’ll be back to irrelevance as guys get back. 

BIG GAMBLES

Derrick Favors isn’t putting up Andre Drummond-like rebounding numbers but he is enjoying a solid return from the mysterious hip ailment from the past few weeks.  He scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting with seven rebounds, one steal and two blocks, and going back to the conversation we had from weeks ago the buy low play appears to be on track – that is if you had the confidence to pull the trigger.  I know my confidence to pull the trigger was waning with each additional day he was out.  

Gordon Hayward’s bounceback may be in full effect and that was a by-the-book buy low situation if I’ve ever seen one.  He scored 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 10 rebounds, nine assists and one trey.  His 32.6 percent shooting over the last 12 games is going to bounce back in a big way and he’ll be making some headlines along the way. 

Jeremy Evans enhanced some of his deep league cred with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting with eight rebounds, one steal and one block.  Give him a look in 14-16 team formats.  Marvin Williams disappeared after Tuesday’s solid outing, scoring just two points on 1-of-5 shooting with six rebounds and no steals or blocks over 22 minutes.  He’s still a solid late-round value on the year with a decided advantage in 9-cat formats, so make sure you’re doing better than that if you’re entertaining a drop. 

Richard Jefferson scored 17 points with two threes and a steal but that can be ignored in reasonably sized leagues.  In the same respect, Diante Garrett’s 15 points, three treys and two steals can be ignored as a byproduct of the garbage time win.  We’ve already opened and shut the book on Trey Burke (10 points, two assists, two threes, 28 minutes) in this space, but he has actually scraped together some mid-round value over the last five games.  It’s been a rough stretch when you look at the last month, so see if he has been dropped and slot him into a late-round grade in standard leagues with some upside if things start to click. 

Enes Kanter crawled back into the hole that he’s been in for most of the year.  He scored two points with one rebound and three assists in his 16 minutes off the bench.  I still don’t understand how this isn’t bigger news in Utah, but nobody seems to care that Kanter has regressed since his rookie season.  No. 3 overall picks, let alone big men with his talent level don’t grow on trees.  There’s probably a story there with conditioning, diet or coaching but we just won’t know until it’s printed. 

YOU SPENT $200 MILLION ON WHAT?!?

The Nets didn’t show up for last night’s bloodbath loss against the Blazers, with Deron Williams’ 12 points, three assists, three steals and one block leading the way.  Everybody was terrible and it’s pretty amazing how the Knicks have managed to look so bad that the Nets’ pile of burning cash goes relatively unnoticed.  Marcus Thornton made his debut coming off food poisoning and scored nine points in 27 minutes.  BROOOOOKLLYYYYYNNNNNNNN. 

THRILL I AM

Likewise, the Blazers did great and that led to modest productivity from the starters as a group, who weren’t terribly needed last night and led by Nicolas Batum’s 19 points with six rebounds, six assists, two steals, one three and perfect six free throws.  Wesley Matthews survived a leg injury and stayed in the game, which would be news only if he didn’t do that.  We’ll keep an eye on things but owners shouldn’t move the needle unless we get a secondary report.   Dorell Wright kept things mildly productive for owners with four points, six boards, five assists, one block and one three as he keeps LaMarcus Aldridge’s (groin) seat warm. 

Mo Williams took advantage of garbage time with 21 points, six boards, seven assists, one steal and three treys, and Will Barton scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 11 rebounds, four assists and a block.  Barton has definitely earned minutes going forward, but he needs an injury in front of him to matter in fantasy leagues.  Just remember this type of potential if a big minute role ever clears for him.  Williams is a deep league guy or spot play for however long Aldridge is out.  Thomas Robinson did not play due to his knee injury and chances are Aldridge will beat him back. 

JORDAN RULES AND THE CLEARANCE ON TERRENCE

Even if Dwight Howard (23 points, 11 boards, one block) has improved in the post this season, it’s always wise to single him up rather than doubling and getting rained on from every other angle.  So needless to say when you can stick a guy like DeAndre Jordan on him, it’s going to be that much easier to shade coverage toward James Harden (18 points, 6-of-16 FGs, six rebounds, three assists, six turnovers) everywhere else.  Howard will still get his numbers, but it’s not going to sacrifice the integrity of the defense and that’s a win. 

Patrick Beverley (five points, five boards, one three, one block) didn’t do much to calm owner fears after a slow night on Tuesday, but oh boy was it fun watching him and Chris Paul go at it.  Paul hit just 5-of-13 shots for 14 points and nine assists and that’s a win for Houston every time.  Both he and Jeremy Lin (six points, three boards, three assists, two steals, one three, 19 minutes) were dubious fantasy plays last night, but Beverley has been a mid-round guy for the last month or so and Lin has been off the radar production-wise for a week or two.  With late-round value on the year and a decided advantage in 8-cat leagues, one can build a case for holding him but with the recent plunge and the hot start by Jordan Hamilton I’m okay with a drop in 12-team formats.  It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Lin is still dealing with his back, knee or some other issue with averages of just 7.4 points and 30 percent shooting in 23 mpg over his last five games. 

Hamilton may go down as the Nuggets’ most recent head-scratching decision as he looks great so far in Houston and he put up another zinger with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, four threes, three boards, two assists and two steals in 24 minutes off the bench.  He has clearly leapfrogged Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia, neither of which played last night, and it looks like he has earned the nightly chance to keep 20-28 minutes per game going forward.  Hamilton has been a top 40-60 play in his three games with the Rockets, which is boosted significantly by a higher than normal 50 percent mark from the field. 

The sample size and rankings shouldn’t be weighted too heavily here, especially when owners can simply hang their hat on the fact that he’s going to shoot a lot of threes when he's in the game and also has the potential for 1.5 combined steals and blocks per contest in his current 24-minute role.  Assuming he hits 40 percent of his shots he’ll probably hang around the bottom of the top-100 at that rate.  He’s in the driver’s seat.  If he keeps his nose clean on the court it will likely happen for him, but that was part of his undoing in Denver.  The Rockets aren’t going to be the currently dysfunctional environment that Denver is.  I like his chances and of course there will be risk, but I’d consider Hamilton to be a low-to-mid level free agent in 12-team formats.   

Chandler Parsons played through a very bad flu bug and hit just 3-of-13 shots for seven points and chump change compared to his normal production.  Add that all up and the Rockets lost in a matchup they probably want to avoid if at all possible early in the playoffs (they’re No. 4 and 5 in the West). 

Terrence Jones’ owners are officially allowed to panic after another bad box, as he logged just 19 minutes with four points, four rebounds and one steal.  As mentioned yesterday I’ve seen or heard the word energy used too much with him by the locals lately, and the fear is that he has cracked the door open enough for Donatas Motiejunas (eight points, four rebounds, two assists, 22 minutes) to earn a chance at a timeshare every night.  It’s a matchup that Jones will definitely win most nights when things are going good, but things aren’t going good and it reeks of a player reading their own press clippings after an appearance in the Rookie-Sophomore game.  I’m going to hold for 1-2 more games before  considering a drop based on the year that he has had, but it’s not helping that the local papers are running stories on the great job that Motie is doing. 

BROKEN WINGS

Jamal Crawford left last night’s win with a non-contact calf injury and he’ll get an MRI today.  Doc Rivers both downplayed the injury in the postgame and then said he was concerned about the non-contact aspect of it, so it’s really anybody’s guess how long he’ll be out.  Matt Barnes (11 points, two rebounds, one three, one steal, one block) has been a serviceable late-round play for a week or so and the development solidifies his value at least a little bit, and for now Darren Collison (19 points, 8-of-14 FGs, three treys, five assists, two steals, 30 minutes) is the pickup as the team’s shooting guard if Crawford misses time.  Danny Granger is favored to land with the Clippers now that he has been bought out, but he needs to both get acclimated and prove that he can be an upgrade over Collison and even lead-footed Jared Dudley.  Any talk of Granger’s value was necessarily tied to Philly’s system so he’s not in the discussion for an add here, but he could make Collison a fringe play in that same scenario where Crawford misses time. 

Blake Griffin scored 23 points with 16 boards and a full line and DeAndre Jordan went for 13 and 10 with three steals and four blocks in their win over the Rockets. 

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