• One of the more frustrating players of the fantasy season looks to be turning things around. Originally billed as an awesome value pick, Will Barton struggled out of the gates this year and took a long, long time to get going. That’s evidenced by his top-130/150 standing (8/9-cat).

    Lately, however, Barton has been on fire. A fixture in the starting lineup, Barton has been top-100/120 in the last month and top-30/40 in the last two weeks. It hasn’t necessarily been a matter of role either, as Barton failed to take off during Gary Harris’ first groin-related absence of the season. Right now Will the Thrill is averaging 18.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks and 3.8 triples per game in the last two weeks (five games), shooting a blistering-but-not-crazy .522 from the field. That’s up from a .445 season average and won’t last, but even the middle ground there is enough to make Barton a must-roster player once again. He kept the momentum with 20 points (6-for-16 FG), six rebounds, five assists, a steal, two blocks and five 3-poitners in 39 minutes on Monday against the Pacers.

    It’s been a bumpy ride in general for Barton, and not just this year — he fought his way into the starting lineup and earned a big contract only to suffer a brutal injury early in his next campaign — so it’s nice to see him look like his old, productive self. The Nuggets are in danger of wasting an elite season from Nikola Jokic and badly need someone else to step up. Jamal Murray’s right there but is prone to long hot and cold streaks, and Michael Porter Jr. is up-and-down as a guy still learning the NBA ropes. Perhaps Barton’s renaissance can cure some of the issues as the Nuggets gear up for what they hope is a long playoff run.

    Add(s) of the Night

    Immanuel Quickley, G, New York Knicks

    The Knicks finally did it, giving Quickley his first career start with Derrick Rose (health and safety) and Elfrid Payton (hamstring) out. After flirting with Frank Ntilikina as a low-minute starter in similar circumstances earlier this season, Tom Thibodeau finally gave Quickley the nod in an impressive rookie season. It wasn’t the best showing as he shot 6-of-19 from the field, but with 21 points, two assists and four threes in 34 minutes, you know he’ll get his chances. The flighty efficiency will be Quickley’s downfall in fantasy but this is a big sign for those hoping that he’s earned the starting role going forward. He’s worth a scoop while we see how the Knicks’ PG rotation plays out as Rose and Payton return to action.

    Drop Zone

    Bruce Brown, G/F, Brooklyn Nets

    Brown was thriving as a starter for the Nets heading into the All-Star break, posting games of 13, 29, 14, 12, 23 and 17 points in the last six before the break, collecting 36 rebounds, 18 assists and eight steals and shooting 44-for-65 from the field (677). While most players use the ASB to recoup and recover, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Brown. In Brooklyn’s first three games of the second half, Brown has scored four, three and six points on 6-for-19 shooting in under 20 minutes each game. Tonight he finished with six points in just seven minutes of play, moving not only out of the starting lineup but to the end of the bench as well.

    Injury Report

    In the best news of the night, C.J. McCollum (left foot stress fracture) has been removed from the injury report and will play tomorrow night. Jusuf Nurkic (wrist fracture) is hoping to return in two weeks.

    In the worst news of the night, Marvin Bagley suffered a fractured finger, sidelining him just after he had gotten things going in the right direction. Look for Nemanja Bjelica to get in the mix more before he gets traded at the deadline.

    Serge Ibaka sat out with back soreness after leaving the Clippers’ last game early, opening the door for Ivica Zubac to start. He put up 15 & 11 on 7-of-8 shooting and you can look his way for as long as Ibaka is out. Still no timeline on that but there doesn’t seem to be a ton of urgency out of LA, so hopefully it’s not long.

    DeMar DeRozan (personal) missed Monday’s game but is expected back before San Antonio’s road trip ends next Monday. He’s got three more games to make that true.

    The Hawks announced that Cam Reddish (right Achilles soreness) will miss the next 4-to-6 weeks, not that he was helping fantasy players in 12-team leagues before that.

    Christian Wood (ankle) said there was a chance he could play on Tuesday but the Rockets have listed him as doubtful. Teammate Sterling Brown said that Wood looked great in practice so mercifully this appears to be the team playing it slowly rather than Wood just not being close to a return. Danuel House (knee) and Ben McLemore (ankle) are both questionable, which usually wouldn’t matter, but the Rockets are missing tons of guys.

    John Wall (left knee contusion) will sit out tomorrow and Chris Haynes reported that he’ll need a left knee scope at some point in the season. Wall’s going to try and kick that can down the road but it wouldn’t be surprising for him to call it if the Rockets continue to pile up losses.

    Kevin Love (calf) is doubtful for Tuesday after playing under two minutes on Sunday.

    The Heat could be getting healthy in a hurry. Bam Adebayo (left knee tendinitis) and Tyler Herro (shoulder) are both probable for Tuesday while Avery Bradley (calf) is questionable.

    Al Horford (rest) will sit out again on Tuesday after sitting out half of OKC’s back-to-back set on the weekend. This could be a regular thing until the trade deadline passes, so Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby and Moses Brown could have their hands full.

    Star Gazing

    There were another couple of injury updates that we didn’t mention in the section above.

    Anthony Davis (right calf) is said to be ready for reevaluation in two weeks, but Chris Haynes reports that he’ll miss at least three weeks and maybe more beyond that.

    Kevin Durant (hamstring) might be out another one-to-two weeks, per Shams Charania.

    Not drafting an injured player is a popular strategy in fantasy, but during the season there’s a large chunk of GMs who love to try and thread the needle, trading for injured stars in an effort to acquire them cheaply and reap the rewards later. It’s certainly viable, if risky, but this was definitely not the season to try and swing for the fences that way.

    The condensed schedule is going to make returns a dicey subject for teams, with practice days more scarce than ever. Those easing in max-level players are going to protect their investment above all else. Teams like the Nets and Lakers, who are comfortably in playoff position, can take even longer, and the fact that this weird season has left the league’s middle class so tightly bunched together only makes matters worse. There are only a few teams who know they’re lottery bound, so teams angling for one of the play-in spots may also be willing to take the longer view.

    At this point it’s safest to just steer clear, unless you can swing a no-risk deal. There’s always a market value to be found but odds are the frustrated GM holding onto AD or KD won’t accept that sort of deal. This won’t hold true every year but there’s some extra comfort in any reliability you can find this season. Trading for an injured stud isn’t off the board in every situation, but GMs who tried to play that card very early might have been left holding the bag a bit.

    Rumor Central

    We got a big batch of trade rumors today from the dynamic duo of Shams Charania at The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Let’s run through it all quickly, with any fantasy spin attached.

    The Cavs aren’t going to buy out JaVale McGee and the Nets have some interest in a trade. No surprises there as center depth is a weak spot on Brooklyn’s roster, but given the buyout dance they’re trying to do with Andre Drummond they might miss the boat.

    Speaking of, the Lakers and Nets are expected to be the frontrunners for Drummond if he gets bought out, while the Cavs are trying to get something back in a trade. Good luck with that one. Any transaction will be good news for Drummond even if his ceiling is probably shy of early-round territory in either of those spots. The Lakers’ commitment to defense would be tested, as Drummond is clearly an inferior defender to Marc Gasol, and he can’t play with the same tempo as Montrezl Harrell. You have to think that Drummond would start but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll get an overwhelming majority of the playing time. Brooklyn’s a bit better though his scoring will suffer next to all those high-usage stars.

    The Lakers are also interested in Hassan Whiteside, apparently. Have fun with that.

    It was also floated out there that the Knicks would offer Drummond a multi-year deal if he gets bought out. That would be a huge mess and wipe at least one of Mitchell Robinson or Nerlens Noel off the fantasy map.

    The Pistons are looking for a second-rounder for Wayne Ellington, which seems fair. Some contender should cave on that. It’d clear more minutes for Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo, whenever he returns from his groin injury.

    The Grizzlies are getting some interest in Gorgui Dieng and his expiring deal. There’s a middle-round player there waiting to be unleashed so fantasy folks should be pulling for a trade.

    The Celtics are open to trading Tristan Thompson and the Raptors are a potential landing spot. Toronto badly needs a center since Aron Baynes looks totally cooked, and TT would be a late-round guy if he can get up to speed. The most important part of that story lies back in Boston, however, as any center trade clears the runway for a big finish from Robert Williams.

    The Clippers are one of several contenders checking in on George Hill. He’s got a stat set that can sustain late-round value even in a bench role, but the Clippers would give him plenty of minutes given their glaring need for a guy with typical PG skills.

    Aaron Gordon is reportedly open to a change of scenery and the Wolves, Blazers, Nuggets, Pistons and Rockets have all checked in to some degree. You can’t pinpoint Gordon’s value but he should be able to improve on the fantasy production he’s posted in Orlando. He’s a nice fit for the modern game but his next team has to lock down what he’s going to focus on. Is he a 3-and-D threat? Is he an athletic, switchable forward who is a low priority on offense? Is he an athletic slasher or a playmaker from down low? Gordon’s shown a little bit of everything but never a lot of any one thing for a long stretch of time.

    The Heat, Blazers (!) and Celtics are all considering LaMarcus Aldridge on the buyout market. Much like Drummond, any move here is good news for LMA, though his ceiling obviously isn’t what it once was. Boston might be the best bet for fantasy appeal there since Aldridge is a full-time center these days, and the other two teams mentioned obviously have that position on lock.

    The Celtics are also targeting John Collins, who looks increasingly likely to be traded. That’s a massive, massive story for fantasy. Collins is an early-middle round guy who came with a top-25 price tag, and moving to a team that’ll truly feature him could lead to a monster finish to the campaign. It’d also alleviate a lot in Atlanta, with Danilo Gallinari the likely big winner. The Wolves have also been mentioned, and while neither of those teams would offer up a player commensurate with Collins’ talent, the Hawks may be dealing from a position of weakness with all signs pointing to Collins leaving in restricted free agency this offseason anyway.

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