NBA Basketball Column: The Daily Dose
Dose: Kawhi Leonard Lives
Unlike the last two nights, Wednesday night had plenty of big lines and fantasy developments. Without further ado, let’s get right to the action.
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The Meat Grinder
The Bulls battled their way to an overtime win last night over the Raptors, with Luol Deng’s game-winning jumper providing the difference late. Deng tweaked his right hamstring during the game, which naturally meant he played 48 minutes on his way to 19 points, six rebounds, seven assists, one steal, and one block in the win. He has been playing through injuries throughout the balance of Tom Thibodeau’s tenure as coach, and owners have to simply cross their fingers and hope that this approach doesn’t lead to the ‘big one.’ Carlos Boozer scored a season-high 36 points to go with 12 rebounds, and has been able to stay on the court despite his bottom-barrel defense. With plenty of holes in his fantasy game in standard formats, I’d be all about trying to sell him while the going is good.
The Estranging of the Guard
The Raptors have become an interesting fantasy squad and have been playing better than most expected over the past few weeks. Jose Calderon (hip) epitomized that great play by being a ball-mover, and Kyle Lowry (ankle) looked to be on the brink when he suffered yet another injury on Tuesday. Ruled out for that game, he returned and went nuts in the fourth quarter and gave owners an interesting evaluation to make. I told folks to treat him like a late-early round, early-middle round play depending on how they felt, and I’m glad I wasn’t in the camp throwing in the towel after Lowry posted 26 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in 34 minutes off the bench. Both he and Calderon (nine points, six assists, 21 minutes) were questionable coming in, and it’s probably a bit early to predict a changing of the guard, but it’s possible that the message to Lowry has been sent and received.
Alan Anderson was the other story of the night as he returned from a short outing on Tuesday due to getting hit in the mouth, scoring a career-high 27 points with five rebounds and four triples in 35 minutes. Landry Fields, conversely, played 18 minutes on his way to one point, five rebounds, and a block in a fantasy crushing night. I have to admit I got a bit caught up in Fields’ big minutes, but to be clear I don’t trust him as a player so it’ll take a few weeks of big-time production before I fully buy in. With Anderson showing staying power in his role off the bench, I’d definitely rather own Anderson and think he should be owned in all 12-team standard formats. He has been a solid late round value for a full month now.
The Pacers hit just 2-of-17 threes last night and that was the difference in their loss to the Magic last night. The box score looked just like one might think, with George Hill scoring 15 points on 7-of-16 shooting with four rebounds, six assists, and two steals, Roy Hibbert scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting with seven rebounds and two blocks, Paul George scoring 20 points on 6-of-14 shooting with 10 rebounds, four assists and a block, and David West scoring 14 points with seven boards, a steal, and two blocks of his own. Danny Granger (knee) is targeting a late-January, early-February return, but until he’s practicing owners should treat that as a loose guideline.
The Magic are integrating Glen Davis (11 points, 5-of-14 FGs, four rebounds, 25 minutes) back into the starting lineup, and this isn’t going to hit any one guy too badly. Yes, Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 15 rebounds) owners have a right to be worried that Davis is going to plant his derrière in the paint and steal his stats, or get minutes at the center position, but Jacque Vaughn has impressed me so far as a coach and I can’t see the latter issue coming into play.
What I’d be more concerned about is the automatic fantasy starting status of guys like Arron Afflalo (15 points, five rebounds, five assists), Jameer Nelson (14 points, six assists, four steals, four threes), and J.J. Redick (14 points, four rebounds, six assists, four threes). Each of them played well tonight (against a good defensive squad in Indy no less), but Baby is a bit of a black hole with the ball and that has the potential to disrupt the good vibes.
The Vacation is Over
Joe Johnson returned to Atlanta for the first time since Danny Ferry made his run at Executive of the Year by unloading his terrible contract on the Nets, who have been spanking an easy schedule since Avery Johnson was fired. Iso Joe fell on hard times in his return, scoring 15 points on 4-of-15 shooting with no threes, two rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Hopefully you sold high while the going was good, as the Nets’ schedule stiffens up a bit over the next two weeks.
Deron Williams hit just 5-of-18 shots for 12 points with five rebounds and nine assists, and his evaluation remains similar in that the honeymoon period is over as it relates to the schedule and coaching change. The power forward situation remained murky last night, but one slot over Brook Lopez was a beast with 22 and nine in the loss. Gerald Wallace (ribs) played 15 minutes off the bench last night, and I’d have him on the bench until he proves himself if I owned him.
Josh Smith was suspended for last night’s game for the proverbial ‘detrimental’ reasons, and if I were running an NBA team (ha) I’d work endlessly to find players that ‘get it’ even if it meant I missed out on some really talented players. Smith has all the talent in the world, but when you wrap your entire team concept around a guy that doesn’t ‘get it’ you’re swimming upstream the entire time. Considering the long-term impact of contracts for players of Smith’s potential, I’d rather just pass and take a lesser, cheaper player that understands how to play the game.
And wouldn’t you know last night that without Smith the Hawks came to life, with Jeff Teague leading the way on a career-high scoring night including 28 points, four rebounds, 11 assists, and three treys. Teague is as frustrating as Smith for his inability to bring focus and basketball smarts to the table every night, but he has been conditioned to stand and watch because of guys like Smith and previously, Joe Johnson. For at least one night, Atlanta ran the ball and nobody held it for too long, as Teague was let loose to do what he can do.
Devin Harris (18 points, four rebounds, five assists, four steals) joined the party but I’m skeptical about both his ability to keep it up and stay healthy, while Zaza Pachulia’s near triple double of 13 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists most certainly falls under the fluke category – but remember this blueprint if anything were to ever happen to Smith. The big man is a willing passer and if pressed into a large role he could become something of a poor man’s Joakim Noah. Al Horford went big with 17 and 13 in the win.
Eric Gordon (knee) was held out of the second game in a back-to-back, and owners should be watching the schedule closely until he proves he can handle them. That he’s still reporting pain in his knee is an unsettling thought. His absence opened the door for guys like Al-Farouq Aminu (18 points, nine rebounds, 12-of-13 FTs, two steals) and Robin Lopez (17 points, six rebounds) to get involved in the offense again. They both have standalone value but owners should plan accordingly.
Anthony Davis quietly double-doubled with 10 points, 10 boards, one steal, and two blocks in just 27 minutes, and is still cruising in buy low territory as he lacks a true breakout moment. Austin Rivers (eight points, 23 minutes) played against his father for the first time, which had more real-life implications than it did in fantasy leagues. Speaking of real-life implications, the Hornets are winning lately and I wouldn’t bend over backwards to pin it on Eric Gordon’s return – they’re simply doing a good job with a collection of players that move the ball and play hard. I’ve been hard on Monty Williams in the past, but I’m pretty impressed with his team this season.
A Little Help?
The Celtics went cold and showed what happens if they don’t get monster performances out of at least one of their Big Three, losing to a surging, but mostly outclassed Hornets squad last night. Paul Pierce (12 points, 10 boards, four assists) was the culprit offensively on a 5-of-16 shooting night, while Kevin Garnett (15 points, four boards) struggled to rebound and nobody else was able to give the Celtics much unless you count Jason Terry’s 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting as a thing. I’m letting others deal with Terry and the shooting guard situation in Boston, and the Jared Sullinger (four points, two boards, one steal, one block) hype came a bit early it appears.
Addition By Subtraction
The Nuggets aren’t the first team to get run by the Thunder, but I can’t help but thinking they could benefit from some addition by subtraction. With no clear go-to guy they have too many players bouncing in and out of good and bad outings, which is a sign that they’re not comfortable within the flow of the offense. Ty Lawson (two points, one assist, 20 minutes) was hit especially hard last night, while Andre Iguodala (12 points, five assists) looked good by comparison but was pretty bad, too.
Andre Miller (six points, 10 assists) is the elephant in the room here, as he is good enough to deserve playing time but deficient in his ability to play heavy minutes or defend quicker point guards. That makes three ball-handlers trying to find a rhythm and that doesn’t count guys like Danilo Gallinari (11 points, one rebound) taking a number of touches on the perimeter. I understand that teams like to stockpile talent, but balance as usual is the key to success.
Kosta Koufos rehabilitated his waning fantasy value with 16 points and nine rebounds, but Kenneth Faried (five points, two rebounds) was a no show and Wilson Chandler (hip) did not play, halting any fantasy momentum from Tuesday’s decent outing.
Under the Radar
The Thunder are the best team that nobody is talking about, and Russell Westbrook is leading the charge recently as he has regained his jumper. He scored 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting with two rebounds and four assists in just 28 minutes before the game was more or less over, and has shot 47.6 percent from the field over his last nine games. Kevin Durant had a slow night with 20 points, two rebounds, four assists, and five steals, and Serge Ibaka (26 minutes, five points, six rebounds, five blocks) got some extra rest for his chest bruise. Kevin Martin scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and two threes but not much else. Nick Collison sprained his ankle and did not return, which won’t have a drastic impact on anybody’s fantasy value in OKC if he cannot go on Friday.
Hard Day’s Night
The Rockets have been playing well lately but when James Harden (20 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals) hits just 5-of-23 shots they’re probably not going to win. Omer Asik (12 points, 15 rebounds, one steal, two blocks) turned things around and we’ve talked about punting in his deficient areas all season, and Carlos Delfino cooled off with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting and we’ve also talked about riding the waves toward his low-end value with consistency, too.
Go Ahead and Drop Your Bags
The Mavs are starting to settle into their new roles with Dirk Nowitzki (19 points, eight rebounds) back, which means that O.J. Mayo (18 points, six rebounds, eight assists, two steals, one block, 3-of-14 FGs, 12-of-13 FTs) is No. 1A, Darren Collison (10 points, three assists) and Vince Carter (four points, 19 minutes) have been pushed into secondary roles, and the big man revolve around Dirk. Chris Kaman (six points, six rebounds) will be inconsistent going forward, and Elton Brand (11 points, 10 rebounds) might be a better fit as more of a muscle guy down low, though his consistency will also be an issue. Shawn Marion (18 points, nine rebounds) will continue to be the glue that makes it go in Dallas.
Upsetting the Herd
Nobody on the outside can say for sure, but one has to believe the trade rumors in Memphis are starting to get to their team. Everybody but Rudy Gay (17 points, 7-of-13 FGs, eight rebounds, one steal, one block) had a bad night and even he turned the ball over six times and had just two assists. Zach Randolph (11 points, five rebounds) left the blowout loss to the Spurs in the fourth quarter due to a strained back and did not return, so Marreese Speights (five points, three rebounds, two blocks, 13 minutes) and Darrell Arthur (two points, three rebounds, 23 minutes) will be worth keeping an eye on and in that order. I wouldn’t panic with regards to anybody’s overall fantasy value, so consider buy low offers on guys like Mike Conley (10 points, three assists) and the entire group.
Joe Versus The Volcano
I’ve sort of felt like Tom Hanks in whatever lost on a raft movie you want to talk about when it comes to Kawhi Leonard, fending off drop complaints and internal struggles over whether or not he totally sucks or just sort-of sucks. I’m not saying he’s out of the woods yet following a performance of 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting (including three treys) with four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks, but this is why analysts like myself were drafting him in the early middle rounds this season. He did his damage in just 23 minutes and yes, Manu Ginobili was out, but the overall point is that he needs just a slight tweak to the way he is deployed to become a solid, if not elite fantasy asset.
Tony Parker (17 points, 11 assists) and Tim Duncan (19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, five blocks) did their thing with relative ease, while Tiago Splitter (10 points, nine rebounds, two steals, one block) kept flying under the radar in his newly consistent role as a low-end fantasy center in their blowout win over the Grizz.
You’re the Best Around (No One’s Going to Keep You Down)
Kyrie Irving won the battle of future elite point guards last night, scoring 31 points with three rebounds, five assists, four steals and a win against Damian Lillard’s Blazers last night. C.J. Miles (3-of-11 FGs, eight points, 32 minutes) was his normal inconsistent self and I’m staying clear away, while Dion Waiters hit just 1-of-9 shots for five points showing that he’s still the inconsistent stash owners are mostly frustrated with. As usual, Waiters has the roster situation to be a great fantasy asset, but he’s going to have to put his head down and start getting to the foul line if he’s going to have any sort of impact in fantasy leagues this year. Tyler Zeller played 40 minutes and scored 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting with nine rebounds and two blocks, and along with Tristan Thompson (19 points, 14 rebounds, two steals) they are both must-own players in 12-team formats.
The Blazers lost at home to a bad Cavs team, highlighting why they’re probably not going to make the playoffs this season. Wesley Matthews (17 points, six rebounds, three assists, four treys) won a favorable matchup against C.J. Miles, while Damian Lillard (13 points, seven assists) couldn’t match Kyrie Irving. J.J. Hickson logged another double-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds, one steal, and one block, while Nicolas Batum (23 points, 12 rebounds, three treys, one steal) and LaMarcus Aldridge (15 points, 10 boards, four blocks) were their normal productive selves, though Batum’s nine turnovers got a bit out of hand.
Jordan Crawford (ankle) did not play and neither did Cartier Martin (knee), leaving the door wide open for Bradley Beal to put 26 points and a full stat line down on the Kings’ regrettable defense. John Wall looked like his normal self in 26 minutes off the bench, scoring 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting with 10 assists, three steals, and a block, and overall owners should just consider an opponent fielding 30 minutes of Jimmer Fredette and Aaron Brooks and 43 minutes of John Salmons is going to give up this type of night.
The same thing goes for the interior guys, as Nene (15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block) and Kevin Seraphin (16 points, three rebounds, 8-of-18 FGs) found little resistance scoring-wise. Beal has been great over the past few weeks and while this is a buy-the-book sell-high moment for him with Wall getting back on track and Crawford eventually returning, but I’m not breaking my back to do it. He could just as easily benefit from playing next to Wall and mitigate the impact of the crowd in Washington. Trevor Booker (ankle) was set to return but did not play, so we have yet to see his impact on the frontcourt rotation. Trevor Ariza (21 minutes) did not score and hasn’t made an impact, so feel free to watch that action from the wire.
Fighting for the Future
I’m knee deep in Sacramento Kings coverage for ProBasketballTalk and I’ll just say that it’s really strange to break a story that flies in the face of everything that Adrian Wojnarowski and David Aldridge are reporting. In fact, it’s a gut-wrenching, throw up in the trash can moment to see their reports of a ‘Kings to Seattle’ move being a done deal when you’re first-in reporting the exact opposite. So far my report has held up, and I have some incredible sources that have yet to miss, and right now I have Sacramento as the favorites to keep the team and that lead over Seattle is growing slowly by the day. Locally, the vibe in the town is something else, as everybody from little kids to grandma and grandpa are showing their support for the team in a coalescing moment for a city needing something good to happen. Longtime NBA reporters that you follow closely have said it is the greatest story of their careers, with so much hanging in the balance for so many people as Sacramento fights to keep their team.
This leaves the team in the position to have to play through the mess, and Keith Smart is doing the best he can to get out of his own way lately with smaller rotations but he’s still all over the board. Isaiah Thomas (two points, four assists, one steal, 20 minutes) was yanked for no apparent reason last night and it was no coincidence that the Wizards’ guards went off offensively. Jimmer Fredette (21 minutes, 12 points, 5-of-11 FGs, two assists) played ‘alright’ but the reality is that Tyreke Evans (40 minutes, 21 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals) is going to be given the keys to this team as long as his knee can hold up.
This leaves the guard slots for Thomas, Fredette, and Marcus Thornton (eight minutes) in a bad place with John Salmons (21 points, 9-of-15 FGs, 43 minutes) getting heavy minutes. Of course, the production and play out of Evans and Salmons looks good against bad teams, and they can certainly ‘get theirs,’ but it’s not winning basketball and the team will continue to be inconsistent as long as those guys aren’t corralled into a team concept based on ball movement and point guard facilitation. All of this happens with Aaron Brooks playing just eight minutes, himself, so things can only get worse for the fringe guys. As for Thornton, I love him as a player and think he’s getting royally screwed here, but he can’t be a must-own guy with what is going on in Sacto.
DeMarcus Cousins scored 21 points with 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and six turnovers, and he is the next great force in the NBA that analysts haven’t caught onto yet. Men of his size shouldn’t do the things that he can do.
Circle the Calendar
When the Warriors brought their enthusiastic confidence into Miami following wins over some really bad teams, it was obvious that they caught a Heat squad that made like their crowd and barely showed up to the game. I would have bet the house last night that the champs did what they did last night, going into Oracle and putting a beatdown on the Warriors, which would have happened with or without Stephen Curry (ankle) in the lineup. LeBron James became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 points, finishing with 25 points, seven rebounds, and 10 assists, Dwyane Wade put silly talk about Tuesday’s fourth-quarter benching to rest with 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals, and a block, and Chris Bosh grabbed six rebounds to go with 11 points, one steal, and one block as the Heat torched the Warriors in an easy win.
Should Have Seen It Coming
Stephen Curry did not play last night after hurting his famous right ankle in shootaround, which needless to say was a kick to the mid-section for owners that were just starting to get over their fears. X-rays taken were negative, and it seems like this most recent tweak isn’t going to be too bad, but it’s an official reminder that he’s more susceptible to injury than your average NBA player with a bad ankle. Jarrett Jack (16 points, two assists, five turnovers) was probably a must-own player before the injury but he’s certainly a must-own player now, with standalone value and upside in the event that Curry can’t stay on the floor. David Lee hit just 4-of-13 shots for 12 points and 11 boards, as the schedule-based slide is fully intact, and Klay Thompson (two points, 1-of-8 FGs) was a reflection of his environment in the blowout loss. Carl Landry (10 points, 11 rebounds, 23 minutes) is somebody to watch and/or pickup during the Warriors’ upcoming stretch, as the team will need his toughness down low.
THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
NY @ DET (LONDON): Iman Shumpert (knee) will start tonight and owners need to watch him real closely for his health. If he looks good, then he could see some productive minutes in order to rest Jason Kidd and ease Raymond Felton back into action. Tyson Chandler (illness) is expected to play. Amare Stoudemire has been cleared to play 30 minutes, and I need to see something pretty quick before I bail out on talk of his being ‘back.’ In other Knicks news, Raymond Felton (pinkie) was a limited participant in practice and is targeting January 26 for a return, and Rasheed Wallace (foot) might be out for a while if not the year. Rodney Stuckey (teeth) and Charlie Villanueva (ankle) are questionable but sound likely to go.
LAC @ MIN: Chris Paul (kneecap) is not expected to play tonight and the lack of clarity lends itself to my remarks from yesterday, which were something along the lines of that Eric Bledsoe’s value may extend beyond day-to-day starter and into something more (whatever that may be). Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko did not practice yesterday due to an illness, so they’ll be questionable until we get an update. Ricky Rubio asked for more minutes despite saying he’s still feeling some pain just 24-48 hours ago, so it would be surprising if he gets much more rope. Either way, the fact that he’s asking is a good sign and owners need to stay patient.
MIL @ PHO: We’ll be watching the evolution of the Bucks under Jim Boylan, but they come into tonight’s game relatively healthy. Goran Dragic (ankle), on the other hand, has been struggling and he’s a guy to watch closely to see if he can pull out of it. Jared Dudley (shooting wrist) is expected to play and we’ll be watching to see if he has any funky shooting issues.
MIA @ LAL: Pau Gasol (concussion) went through a heavy workout on Wednesday and will be evaluated by neurologists today to determine his status tonight. It’s unclear if he will start or come off the bench if he plays, and could do some damage against a Heat team lacking an inside presence, but rust and the general struggles of the Lakers should be the yin to the aforementioned yang. Earl Clark showed up on the injury report with an illness but is expected to play tonight, and his value will be tethered to Gasol’s status if he can go.
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