NBA Basketball Column: The Daily Dose
Transfer of Power in New York
I hope all of you had a safe and fun New Year’s Eve, and have made plenty of resolutions that you’re going to give up in five days. Last night was a fun one in the association, with monster efforts from Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Josh Smith, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Ryan Anderson, Greivis Vasquez, and most of the Blazers’ offense.
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Diggle It, Just a Little Bit
The Mavs started out slow last night but eventually beat the Wizards on the road last night, keeping the suddenly excitable Rick Carlisle from going insane in the process. I’ve mentioned a few times that there would be a feeling out period for Dirk Nowitzki’s return, and in particular for O.J. Mayo (15 points, 6-of-10 FGs, three treys, five assists, two steals), who got back on track tonight. Nowitzki scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting (including a three) with two rebounds and one assist in 17 minutes, and while Mayo is likely to take some sort of hit it’s not going to be the death knell that many owners probably thought it would be a few games ago.
Shawn Marion scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting (including a three) just like Dirk did, but he also had a season-high 14 rebounds with four assists and a steal. He’s a top 70-85 value on the year in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively. Vince Carter has been moved into the starting lineup and it looked great last night, as he scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting with two threes, four rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Dirk is going to ding guys like Carter, Chris Kaman (12 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) and Darren Collison (15 points, 4-of-13 FGs, eight assists) more than Mayo.
The Beal Deal
The Wizards are no less confusing after last night’s loss than they were before the game, as Emeka Okafor (14 points, 11 rebounds, no steals or blocks) and Martell Webster (14 points, 4-of-11 FGs, two threes, six rebounds) are both logging significant minutes for a team that theoretically needs to go young. That doesn’t mean that all losing teams can and should go young at all costs, since sometimes player development can be stunted when you roll the ball out there and let them do whatever they want (Tyreke Evans). For better or worse, there just doesn’t seem to be a real rhyme or reason for Randy Wittman's rotations, and that’s going to mean inconsistency for just about everybody on the roster.
Bradley Beal scored 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting (including four threes) with four rebounds, two assists, and one block, and should be owned in all formats for both his current production and upside, though Jordan Crawford’s ankle injury and Trevor Ariza’s (calf) potential return this week are reasons to be concerned. Crawford played just 24 minutes last night, scoring nine points on 4-of-9 shooting with two rebounds and four assists, and it’s fair to wonder how Beal will look when JC is at full strength. Garrett Temple scored six points on 1-of-6 shooting (including a three) with three rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block in 23 minutes, while Shelvin Mack scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting with three rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes. These two are going to split the point guard minutes it seems, with Wittman riding the hot hand every night.
The Blazers went into New York and took a win in Amare Stoudemire’s return game, which is a whole other story but their key guys went to work early and often. Damian Lillard shook off a slower stretch last week with 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting with a sold line, and Wes Matthews (hip) returned to action and scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting (no threes) with three rebounds, two assists, and a steal in just under 30 minutes. There haven’t been any reports of aggravation to the injury so far and if that holds true then Matthews will be back to being productive sooner rather than later.
J.J. Hickson has been great lately and had another solid night with 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds, and two assists in 24 foul-plagued minutes. Nicolas Batum hit six 3-pointers for 26 points with four rebounds, six assists, and a steal, and he is the No. 9 play in 8- and 9-cat formats this season. LaMarcus Aldridge went for 19 and 14 with no steals or blocks, but those are small issues when the whole squad’s fantasy arrow pointed up last night.
So it begins. Amare Stoudemire (knee) returned to action and received a big ovation, which turned to boos when the Knicks lost and one can feel the narrative taking over in New York. Of course, Carmelo Anthony (knee) returned to action himself and went off for a season-high 45 points on 14-of-24 shooting (5-of-11 3PTs, 12-of-14 FTs) with seven rebounds, four assists, and a steal, leaving no doubt about what the pecking order should be in New York (if there was one).
To be clear, judging Stoudemire in his first game back is rookie behavior, but his deficiencies were on display as he grabbed just one rebound with one block in his 17 minutes to go with six points on 3-of-8 shooting. As beat writer Tommy Beer put it, scoring isn’t going to be the main issue with Amare but instead his defense and rebounding, which are approaching a bottom barrel level these days. And there is going to be the question of the chemistry, and I really can’t see the Knicks acquiescing to some need for Stoudemire to prove his worth, but stranger things have happened with James Dolan’s ballclub. I foresee a 20-26 minute role for Amare, which he probably won't be happy with initially but one way or another he will have to come to grips with his waning effectiveness. For what it’s worth, though, Beer seems to be on board with Stoudemire’s physical condition within that context, and he’s still worth owning to see if he can put up some solid late-round value with late-mid round upside.
Jason Kidd disappeared to some degree, going scoreless on five missed shot attempts, but he still put up three rebounds, three assists, and three steals, which is what you’re signing up for in addition to the threes he didn’t make tonight. Dust yourself off and move along. J.R. Smith went berserk with 28 points on 10-of-22 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists, four 3-pointers, and three steals in 40 minutes off the bench. We blurbed that his hot streak is going to end, and of course he could lose some value when Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert get going, but I wouldn’t bet my house that it’s going to happen. He’s the clear No. 2 on this team and he’s playing very well this season.
Birds of War
The Hawks took care of business in their win over the Hornets last night, but Jeff Teague’s mini-slump continued as he hit just 2-of-8 shots for four points, three rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and two blocks in 40 minutes. If he could ever get his confidence and mental game in tip-top shape, he has the athleticism and skill to be a top shelf point guard in the association. Until then, just live with the ups and downs as he’s a must-start player. Lou Williams caught whatever Teague has right now, hitting 4-of-13 shots for nine points with seven assists, but he’s been great lately and owners should just keep rolling him out there even when Devin Harris (foot) returns eventually.
Kyle Korver added 14 points and four treys as his solid year continues, while Al Horford went light on the rebounding (three) and blocks (zero) but scored 20 points. Josh Smith put up a massive 23 points on 11-of-20 shooting with 13 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and four blocks, and maybe he’s going to have that season everybody hoped for after all. He has climbed back up into the top-30 and top-50 in 8- and 9-cat leagues, respectively. Zaza Pachulia double-doubled with 12 points and 10 boards to go with one block in 20 minutes off the bench, and has put up some low-end numbers lately best suited for 14-16 team formats.
The Eric Gordon show debuted at the home he wanted nothing to do with this summer and he shot a miserable 5-of-17 from the field for 11 points with two rebounds, three assists, one steal, and four turnovers in 24 minutes. The quickness and explosion appear to be there, but as we’ve seen last year owners will want to watch and see if he’s saving all of his burst for 1-2 game stretches in order to maximize his market value. He’s eligible to be traded on January 15, but for now owners should assume that he’s staying in New Orleans because it’s going to take a force of nature to get another team to buy into his max extension deal from over the summer.
Ryan Anderson scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting with five treys and six boards, and any small shred of doubt I had about Gordon’s impact on his timing routes are going by the wayside. Anthony Davis had nine points, 13 boards, and four blocks, and is comfortably returning early round value when he’s on the floor. Greivis Vasquez neared a triple-double again, scoring 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting with nine rebounds, 10 assists, and a block, but the most impressive thing to me was the two turnovers. If he can ever get those under control he’s going to become a nice asset in 9-cat leagues, where he currently loses about six rounds of value.
All Good Things Must Come To An End
The Clippers finally saw their 17-game winning streak come to an end last night, as the Nuggets found some stability under Andre Miller that they hadn’t been getting under Ty Lawson (Achilles). It was bound to happen sometime, so we’re not going to read too much into the somewhat slower lines you’ll see on the Clips’ side. Jamal Crawford scored nine points on 2-of-11 shooting, Blake Griffin put up 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting with nine boards, two assists, and a steal, Matt Barnes had nine points on 4-of-10 shooting with five rebounds, three assists, one steal, two blocks, and a three, and Chris Paul scored 10 points with four rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a three.
DeAndre Jordan double-doubled with 11 points, 11 boards, three steals, and three blocks, but hit just 3-of-10 foul shots to put a small damper on the night. Lamar Odom was a popular pickup for the team’s four-game week, but he was also mostly quiet with four points on 2-of-6 shooting, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. It does look like he’ll have a low-end role with the team, so keep an eye on him to see how it translates value-wise. Right now he’s clinging to 14-16 team value for dear life.
Ty Lawson finally succumbed to his left Achilles’ injury and he will get an MRI today to see what the situation is. Maybe this explains some of what has been ailing him in fantasy leagues, though I’m not going to jump to that conclusion just yet. Andre Miller stepped in and wasted no time scoring 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting with three rebounds, 12 assists, and one steal, and will be a solid fantasy asset for however long Lawson is out. Andre Iguodala will also get a bump, as evidenced by his 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and one 3-point bucket.
JaVale McGee made the highlight reels with a very long-distance 3-pointer, finishing with 11 points, seven boards, three assists, and one block in 17 minutes. Kosta Koufos had just four points and five boards, and as usual we’ll be watching to see if McGee can tap into that ever-so-elusive upside that makes him worth owning in most formats. Danilo Gallinari (17 points, 6-of-15 FGs) and Corey Brewer (10 points, 5-of-14 FGs, four rebounds, four assists, four steals) will both benefit if Lawson is out, so in the case of Brewer give him a look as a speculative add/short-term pickup.
Youth in Revolt
The Sixers were the most recent team to put a Lakers notch on their belt last night, led by some young legs and Jrue Holiday’s 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting with 10 assists, two steals, and two 3-point shots. Evan Turner also got into the act, scoring 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting with 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and one block. I mentioned that his first off-night last week had me concerned that Turner might lose some of his mojo, and that happened for two more nights, but every time he bounces back (and especially like this) it’s a strong sign that he might justify some of that No. 2 pick pedigree. I’ve been as down on Turner in fantasy leagues as anybody, and not necessarily for his overall play, but because of his poor shot and peripheral stats. He’s still on the outside of the top-75 and looking in at 8- and 9-cat leagues, but he has doubled his 3-point shooting percentage from this year (44%) to last (22%) and he’s getting 50 percent more steals (0.9). It’s progress.
Jason Richardson is slowly getting back in shape after a back issue, and had another slow night with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting with two rebounds, three assists, and no steals or blocks in 27 minutes. Owners should probably see this out for another game or two, as he was a mid-round producer before taking time off. Dorell Wright scored 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting (all threes) with seven rebounds in 23 minutes, and owners can safely move on. Spencer Hawes might have sent owners reaching for the wire after Friday’s clunker, but he has been back in their good graces since then and had another nice night with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, five rebounds, six assists, and four blocks in the win. Give him a hard look if he’s floating around your wire.
You Know What Karl Malone Calls Rap?
The Lakers are really starting to look like the Karl Malone and Gary Payton squad, but we’ll continue to table that discussion as Steve Nash (12 points, 10 assists, 35 minutes) and Co. get fully assimilated. Part of the problem is that Dwight Howard (seven points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, 1-of-7 FGs, 5-of-10 FTs) is clogging up the middle on offense but doesn’t really add a ton of value down there. This moves Pau Gasol (2-of-12 FGs, 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one block) to the perimeter, where he’s serviceable, but for a team with two of the league’s best 7-footers they have no inside punch. This makes everything exponentially harder and the Kobe Bryant crutch gets used early and often. Bryant scored 36 points on 14-of-29 shooting with six rebounds and zero assists, and in crutch mode the Mamba did his thing by trying a fallaway 30-footer against two defenders in the game’s critical moment (he missed).
As usual, Kobe’s aversion to trusting his teammates has the potential to rear its ugly face again this season, and Mike D’Antoni’s perimeter-based approach lends itself to that sort of thing. In the meantime, the defensive issues are glaring as Gasol and Howard both stood flat-footed and watched as Jrue Holiday dunked home the dagger deuce.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does For Smart
I was talking with a Kings beat writer last night and he relayed a few stories of how Keith Smart has responded during gaggles when asked about his rotation. Smart has gone with the ‘next question’ routine, short answers like ‘we won didn’t we’ and he is visibly frustrated by the questions. And based on what we’ve heard over the past week from reliable sources about Geoff Petrie being a lame duck, and what we know about the Maloofs’ lack of money, it sure seems like Smart is not only going to go down with the ship on this issue -- but he also has plenty of leash to do what he wants. He knows he’s not going to get fired unless things get Defcon-5 bad, and he has drawn a line in the sand on the issue of his point guard rotation and he’s not budging.
You know where this is heading, as Isaiah Thomas had put the team on his back the last time out and the Kings got a win. I’ve stashed him where I could and started him this week, but I’m about as pessimistic about his chances of getting freed as I have been about any player we’ve seen held back in recent memory. Last night was just the most recent entry into evidence, as Thomas (12 points, 4-of-10 FGs, two threes, two rebounds, two assists, one steal, 26 minutes) was benched for all but a few seconds of the fourth quarter for Aaron Brooks (seven points, 2-of-8 FGs, three rebounds, three assists, 22 minutes). Brooks was atrocious all night, but along with his reserve teammates they started getting lucky about halfway through the fourth quarter on ill-conceived shot attempts while the Pistons tried to give the game away. So Smart rode the luke-cold second unit for most of the fourth, despite the fact they also got rolled in the second and third quarters, and the whole debacle was summed up when Brooks intentionally fouled while his whole team was screaming not to foul and the Kings’ luck ran out late.
After the game Smart made overtures about riding the hot hand, and there is no end in sight for his quest to prove whatever it is he is trying to prove. He killed any chance of keeping the Golden State job by benching Stephen Curry relentlessly, and fantasy owners just have to hope that Thomas can do what he did last year – which was put up big numbers despite being put in the corner (literally and figuratively) during the minutes he was on the court.
Marcus Thornton (ankle) will not play for the rest of the week, and while I’ve been the staunchest supporter of his fantasy value and I will continue to hold him in most situations – the sheer ridiculousness of Smart’s rotations might finally be getting to me. If/when Tyreke Evans (knee) returns, all of the problems inherent within the Kings’ take turns offense are going to get worse for anybody not named Tyreke. In the meantime, John Salmons (10 points, 4-of-9 FGs, six assists) will continue to act as the team’s point guard for half of its possessions despite the fact that he’s ruining any idea of effective offense, and Jimmer Fredette (14 points, 4-of-10 FGs, three treys) will continue to be held back, as well.
I issued my mea culpa on Fredette after the game, as I’ve now seen him perform against a big enough sample of defenders to confirm that his skills are not matchup-driven. Early in the year, he was enjoying extremely favorable matchups in a garbage-time environment while being given the ultimate green light to shoot. My skepticism is all but gone for a guy that had trouble getting the ball up the court during Summer League, and his shooting efficiency and 3-point shooting are going to offset his lack of peripheral stats if he can ever get the minutes. Think Ray Allen over the two prior seasons to get an idea of his upside. Francisco Garcia will continue to start at shooting guard while Evans and Thornton are out and he is underrated in his ability to take bad shots. He might be the worst offender of the bunch. He’ll need to do better than 1-of-6 makes to make the combination of threes, steals, and blocks a threat in most fantasy leagues.
DeMarcus Cousins was the other unexplainable benching in a game in which he put up 21 points on 10-of-21 shooting with 14 rebounds and three steals. I loved what I saw when he came to Thomas’ aide after Charlie Villanueva issued a cheap shot during the game. To that end, Thomas had folks talking suspension with his reaction, but a closer look showed that he didn’t appear to throw punches and his rap sheet is clean – I’d be surprised if he got hit with a game off.
Keep Bangin the Drummond
Rodney Stuckey (ankle) did not play last night and that gave the keys to Brandon Knight, who scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with two threes and four assists despite hurting his foot during the game. We’ll keep an eye to see if it swells overnight, making him questionable for Friday’s matchup. Will Bynum stayed on the right side of the ledger with 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting with four assists, a steal, and a three, and could remain there for a few more games with the potential missed time for Knight and Stuckey. Greg Monroe went for 18 and 11 with a solid line, while Austin Daye had another nice night with 13 points and two threes, the last of which pretty much sealed the game on a missed assignment by reserves James Johnson and Travis Outlaw. I’m still pretty bearish on Daye in anything but 16-20 team formats.
Andre Drummond fell to me in a 12-team league the other day and I picked him up and plugged him right into my lineup this week with Anderson Varejao out, and he rewarded me with seven points, 11 rebounds, one steal, and three blocks in 21 minutes. At one point I thought he was going to dunk a Kings player through the hoop. Dude is a beast and I think he’s a must-own player at this point with all that upside. Charlie Villanueva will be on suspension alert but he looked decent during his time on the floor, scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting (all threes).
Mo Better Blues
Mo Williams is heading to New York to get a second opinion on his sprained thumb, and that might be real bad news considering he had a 2008 surgery on it due to a torn ligament. It’s possible he’s trying to avoid surgery again here and that is the impetus for the visit. So far Williams’ absence has brought Jamaal Tinsley (eight points, 11 assists on Sunday) into the fantasy fold, but the real issue is whether or not it can move the ball into Gordon Hayward and/or Randy Foye’s hands more, and if the injury and losses can spark an overhaul of the Jazz system.
Right now Ty Corbin is riding veteran Al Jefferson to a fault. The whole team has been slumping in the box score and in general, except for Jefferson, who I’ve chronicled quite a bit for his bottom barrel defense but more importantly the team’s overreliance upon him from a system perspective. While Hayward and Foye have been a bit more productive as of late, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors are being held back while Corbin cuts his positions (PG/SG/etc) into halves and goes with the hot hand.
Unfortunately, nobody can really generate a hot hand when the ball goes in to Jefferson and rarely comes out, with only the undisciplined teams attempting to double Jefferson at the expense of choking off the rest of the lineup. Maybe it will take a trade to force the issue, but it would be preferable for Jazz fans that they cut Big Al’s minutes down and use him in a high-usage role during those minutes. If that starts to happen, then that could be the rising tide to lift all boats in Utah, and this developing situation with Williams could be the critical juncture that causes the Jazz to re-evaluate.
News and Notes
Deron Williams said that he might be worn down after playing so much offseason basketball over the past two years. The hits just keep coming. Ricky Rubio (back) isn’t traveling with the Wolves for their two-game road trip, and if you held this long you should probably wait until he has been given ample time to work the kinks out. Gerald Wallace (knee) is probable for tonight’s game against the Thunder, as is C.J. Watson (knee).
We had a news item on Roy Hibbert’s general underachievement, but this item from Pacers blog 8.9 seconds is worth a read if you’re evaluating him. George Hill (groin/thigh) is questionable for tonight’s game, and didn’t exactly look close to playing on Monday. D.J. Augustin is the plug-and-play if Hill can’t go, but beyond that owners shouldn’t expect anything else. Avery Bradley (shoulders) said that he will make his season debut tonight, and owners should simply wait-and-see what happens to Jason Terry.
Rajon Rondo (hip) is questionable but Leandro Barbosa hasn’t exactly been a must-grab spot-starter. There was another report that Derrick Rose (knee surgery) would be returning around the All Star game, and there is enough stability with the reporting now for Rose to be a must-own player in any weekly league or daily league with games played limits. It would be shocking if he wasn’t a top-50 guy for March and April if he can return near February 17.
Joakim Noah (illness) did not practice yesterday and I’m thinking a Joakim Noah New Year’s Eve party would be worth its own blog post. Kirk Hinrich (knee) did not practice, either, and Nate Robinson needs to do more for owners when given the opportunities playing behind a guy that is approaching Mike Miller territory for injuries. Daniel Gibson is still in the NBA concussion protocols, freeing up about 15-20 minutes in the rotation.
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