April 3, 2023, 12:37 am
It’s time for the final edition of The Week Ahead! Week 24 will be the final week of regular season games and, consequently, the end of all fantasy seasons. Congratulations to our readers that have survived their playoffs up to this point and good luck to those closing out season-long formats. This is the last time we’ll have a chance to review the upcoming slate of games together before next season, so thanks for taking the time to check in with me every Monday morning for the last six months.
There’s not much left to preview for the final six-day stretch from Tuesday to Sunday of Week 24, so let’s let the award races be our guide. If I had a vote for MVP, I would give the slightest edge to Nikola Jokic over Joel Embiid. Aside from personal preference, I’m also a fantasy analyst and there’s nobody producing better per-game value this year than the Serbian pivot. Jokic is a fraction of an assist away from averaging a triple double on the season while making nearly two-thirds of his shots from the field, four-in-five free throw attempts and averaging almost two combined steals and blocks per game. He has four games this week and perennial rival Embiid will also keep pace at four, so it’s possible that Embiid overtakes his peer. However, there are whispers that the Sixers would prefer to rest Embiid and James Harden a few times before the playoff run. The Sixers star is in a close battle with Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic for the league scoring title and managers will have to hope Embiid’s competitive drive wins out. Unfortunately, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s perpetual greatness will likely see him finish third in the MVP race. Fantasy managers will blame that on his poor shooting and high turnovers, since everything else is top-tier with the Greek Freak.
The Most Improved Player race should probably be a close finish with three well-deserving players in contention. I don’t envy the voters that have to choose between Jalen Brunson, Lauri Markkanen and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Knicks and Thunder point guards only play three times this week but that’s better than what could amount to zero games played for Markkanen if the Jazz decide to shut down their newly-minted star due to a left hand injury. It’s a shame too, because he’s my pick for Most Improved and I wish he had another chance to show it with top-tier contributions in points, treys, boards and free throw percentage. While his sky-high overall ranking is eclipsed by Gilgeous-Alexander’s top-5 per-game output, the reality is that this is a player that got a max contract two years ago. Gilgeous-Alexander will get one last chance to put his stamp on the award this week as he helps the Thunder fight for their spot in the Play-In Tournament against tough competition from the Mavs. The jump from great to elite is notable for SGA but he didn’t double his per-game ranking like Markkanen and Brunson did. That’s why Brunson is my runner-up for the award, as the new franchise point guard continues to help steer his once–floundering Knicks to a top-5 finish in the Eastern Conference. The second-generation player added nearly eight points and two assists to his average since coming over from the Mavs while also doubling his free throw volume this year. All three men deserve their spot but someone has to win and that’s no slight to the other two.
The Grizzlies and Bucks play identical schedules in their four-game weeks and that’s fitting for what has become a two-man race coming down to the wire between Brook Lopez and Jaren Jackson Jr. Starting with a Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back, the shot-blocking and floor-spacing bigs will have every opportunity to prove why they deserve the Defensive Player of the Year award over three-game competitor Evan Mobley with the Cavs or an injured Bam Adebayo for the Heat. While Lopez deserves every bit of praise coming his way for continuing to put up points, treys, boards and blocks into the twilight of his career, his case for the award may be hindered by internal competition from fellow All-Defense studs in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday. That’s why I’m betting on Jackson to bounce back from a relatively disappointing Week 23 and close out what I believe was a Defensive Player of the Year campaign in the final week of the season.
Longtime readers may remember my fondness for Norman Powell and I have been the first to go to bat for him throughout a very up-and-down season. While that has still been enough to qualify him as a top contender for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, I’ll be passing on Powell. He and the Clippers only play three games this week, which gives Powell something in common with front-runner Immanuel Quickley from the Knicks. Alongside fellow award contender and positional rival Brunson, there will be a lot of eyes on the Knicks guards for the final stretch and before a likely first round matchup with the Cavs and their star perimeter duo. However, my pick for the award plays for a team higher up in the standings and this particular player is on a hot streak lately. Malcolm Brogdon has been putting up mid-round value over the past two weeks with solid points, treys and field goal percentage output. However, his value is really carried by above-average contributions in assists, steals and free throw percentage while keeping turnovers uncharacteristically low for his position. While his talent was never in question, Brogdon’s health has been under the microscope for years, but his debut season with the Celtics has been an unquestioned success and the former Rookie of the Year should pick up some extra hardware if you ask me.
Listen, I’m as impressed with Bennedict Mathurin, Jalen Duren, Jalen Williams, Keegan Murray and Walker Kessler as the next guy. Each rookie has been phenomenal for stretches of the season and generally good for the rest. However, they’re not the top option for their teams and top target of opposing defenses on a nightly basis. That’s Paolo Banchero, whose overall ranking does no justice to his on-court value. Despite ranking within the top-50 over the past two weeks with great output in points, boards, assists and blocks, the Magic forward is outside the top-150 on a season-long basis due to high shooting volume with low accuracy and a poor assist-to-turnover ratio. That shouldn’t hold him back from a well-earned trophy and a bright future as a fantasy producer. Banchero’s across-the-board production was on full display in Thursday’s win over the Wizards with 30 points, 12 boards, six assists and three blocks. The rookie plays four times before the Magic close their season and pray for the best at the NBA Draft Lottery, but team success has never influenced this award in the past and it shouldn’t start now.
Mike Brown is your Coach of the Year. The Kings are the only team in the league that can legitimately plan to win by out-scoring the opposition. It’s what they’ve done all season long and that’s reflected in their per-game stats. Fantasy managers know that De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis are the core of this, but Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes and Malik Monk are all a big part of the picture in Sacramento. Each man is worth rostering ahead of a four-game week, with an extra boost going to the secondary players as coach Brown may justifiably choose to give his stars a rest game ahead of the Kings’ first playoff appearance in 16 years.
We touched on all the key awards, but what about last week’s Quick Adds? Well, Grayson Allen stunk it up last week. Still, the Bucks play four times this week and Allen is still starting for the playoff-bound squad that may choose to lean more heavily on its secondary players down the stretch. We got better results from Luke Kennard and Kenyon Martin Jr., who both registered standard league value over the past seven days. Kennard gets the edge over Martin on a per-game value basis and because the Grizzlies get an extra game over the Rockets in Week 24, but both are worth a second look. Unfortunately, Trendon Watford was sidelined due to injury but remains one of the most intriguing late season fantasy options. Go ahead and pick him up if he’s confirmed for Sunday or beyond, but beware that anything can happen with teams that are out of contention like the Blazers.
This week, there’s nothing going on for Monday and we kick the final slate of games off with a 13-game Tuesday. That is the first of three double-digit game days in Week 24, which minimizes the value of streaming due to the unavailability of roster space. Fill your roster spots when the injury bug strikes but at this point in the season, picking the best available player with the clearest path to minutes seems like a safer strategy than switching from night-to-night. We’ll get into that a bit more in Schedule Maximizers, but the key thing to remember is that you’re planning to stream on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday in Week 24.
Two Games: None
Three Games: Hornets, Cavs, Mavs, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Wolves, Knicks, Thunder
Four Games: Hawks, Celtics, Nets, Bulls, Nuggets, Pistons, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, Pelicans, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz, Wizards
Tuesday-Wednesday: Hawks, Celtics, Nets, Bulls, Pistons, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Pelicans, Kings, Raptors, Wizards
Thursday-Friday: Heat, Magic, Sixers, Suns
Saturday-Sunday: Nuggets, Clippers, Wolves, Blazers, Spurs, Jazz
Pick your favorite player if you need to make a move for Tuesday. With such heavy game volume, any pickups had better be worth the starting spot they’ll take up. However, the best options are the Hawks, Celtics, Nets, Bulls, Pistons, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Pelicans, Kings, Raptors and Wizards, who play three times between Tuesday and Friday. With no Wednesday-Thursday back-to-backs or 3-in-4 window starting Wednesday, managers might as well act early and make their first move for Tuesday night. There’s nothing to be gained until Thursday, when the Nuggets, Heat, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Blazers, Spurs and Jazz all kick off a stretch of three games in four nights to close out their respective seasons. That’s a major score for fantasy managers and one of the last value-added opportunities of the entire season. Friday is both busy and lacking back-to-backs, so the final play for opportunistic managers is to pick up remaining Nuggets, Blazers, Spurs or Jazz players on the wire or to shift to the Clippers and Wolves for their Saturday-Sunday back-to-backs. Regardless, there’s no reason to save moves going into the last day of the year. Every team in the league plays on Sunday, so a mostly-healthy roster probably won’t need its streamer-level players anyway.
Best Schedule: Utah Jazz (vs. Lakers, vs. Thunder, vs. Nuggets, @ Lakers)
From a competitive standpoint, it’s not the prettiest schedule. The playoff-hopeful Lakers will gladly take two games against the Jazz as they jockey for position in the Western Conference, while the Thunder refuse to play noncompetitive basketball and -needless to say- the Nuggets are never an easy matchup. That’s before we factor in the fact that the Jazz are missing several key players at the moment: Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson and Walker Kessler. The subtext to all of this news is that managers can and should be checking on quality 12-team streamers like Kelly Olynyk, Kris Dunn and Ochai Agbaji, who should be churning out value all week in increased roles. Readers may have correctly noted that there’s at least one other deserving name withheld from that list, but they should rest assured that he gets some attention later. If Kessler is able to return from a concussion before the end of the season, he will have every opportunity to establish himself as a surefire top-50 pick in many fantasy leagues next season. Even if they might lose a bunch of games in Week 24, there’s a lot to like in Utah from a fantasy perspective.
Worst Schedule: Charlotte Hornets (vs. Raptors, vs. Rockets, @ Cavs)
As the worst of the three-game teams that play exclusively on double-digit game days, it came down to a heads-up battle between the Hornets and Rockets. Both lowly teams are shifting their attention to the 2023 NBA Draft and the results of the season -losing, to be particular- will determine how likely they are to be happy with the results of the lottery. While the development-focused Rockets have a relatively clean injury report, the Hornets are participating in the late-season charade of “Will they or won’t they?” with several key players not yet ruled out for the season but seeming like they might be on a game-to-game basis. The availabilities of Dennis Smith Jr., Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr. and PJ Washington aren’t likely to sway the fortunes of the Hornets, but managers with those players rostered sure would like to know what’s going on so they can plan accordingly.
Game of the Week: Lakers at Clippers on April 5, 2023
It’s the rare home-home game, but for the likes of Ivica Zubac and Russell Westbrook, there is a bit of extra incentive when facing the Lakers. Both teams are in the thick of the playoff hunt and they’re only two wins apart. Every win counts down the stretch and there should be little doubt that both sides will need full engagement from their key players to feel comfortable in this one. The Lakers may or may not have D’Angelo Russell, but everybody knows that they lean on their Big Three of Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and LeBron James for wins. On the Clippers side, Eric Gordon may be hampered by a hip injury and Marcus Morris Sr. remains sidelined due to Health and Safety Protocols, but the most notable absence has to be Paul George. Without him in the lineup, managers should look to Bones Hyland and Norman Powell to pick up the extra offensive responsibilities, while Nicolas Batum gains some steam as a utility player. Aside from Zubac, the Clippers aren’t a particularly big team, so the Lakers could force the advantage by going big or lean on Jarred Vanderbilt as a small-ball five when the Clippers do the same. Regardless, Vanderbilt is generally worth adding in most weeks for fantasy hoops. So long as we get Kawhi versus LeBron and Westbrook versus the world, there will be no shortage of storylines to follow. The spotlight will be on for this one and I’m expecting fireworks.
Bruce Brown, SG/SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
I’m always going to bat for Bruce Brown. He earned it this week after putting up top-100 numbers for the Nuggets and producing a little bit of everything for managers that had him rostered. That number should rise for Week 24, as the first place Nuggets play four games and Brown is primed to see a bump in usage if there’s any rest games for the core Nuggets playmakers. Go ahead and pick him up if available, since Brown is the sort of low-risk option that teams need in the final days of fantasy basketball.
Malik Monk, SG, Sacramento Kings
Monk is a scorer on the best scoring team in the league. In fact, he’s not even one of the top-3 scorers on the Kings. That means Monk gets more easy looks than a player of his capabilities should. Further, he’s well-positioned to see a boost in value if any of the better offensive creators are sidelined for any period of time. Given that the Kings have already clinched a playoff spot and are about to play three road games in a four-game week, it seems likely that Monk will have at least one or two games to really prove his worth as a microwave scorer. Based on recent results, he shouldn’t find it too hard. In less than 25 minutes on Thursday, the 6’3” guard registered 20 points with four treys, five assists, one steal, one block and no turnovers. That’s the sort of player that needs to be picked up in Week 24.
Shaedon Sharpe, SG/SF/PF, Portland Trail Blazers
It may be too late to pick up Sharpe. The rookie has really kicked his development into another gear for the past two weeks and is scoring at a rate that makes him hard to ignore in any format, so managers that are able to snag the high-flying Canadian should count themselves lucky. Sharpe is scoring at an All-Star level since joining the starting lineup and providing a nice mix of counting stats to go along with it. He’s always splashing treys, but sometimes Sharpe adds rebounds and other times he’s more of a facilitator. What would really put the rookie over the edge is if he could show more consistency with defensive production. Regardless, the Blazers prospect has been unleashed and is worth adding in any league ahead of a four-game week for the lottery-bound Western Conference squad.
Talen Horton-Tucker, SG/SF, Utah Jazz
THT’s name recognition far outweighed his production early in his career and that has tainted his reputation for some fantasy managers that were burned in past drafts or dynasty formats. However, the 6’4” swingman has found new life with the Jazz and is within the top-100 on a per-game basis over the past seven days. While primarily functioning as a scorer, Horton-Tucker has also been an above-average producer of treys, rebounds and assists. The fourth-year player is locked-in as a starter for the Jazz and should have every opportunity to keep rolling with high usage as Utah likely starts to shut things down for the season. With four games ahead, there’s no reason to hesitate with regards to picking up THT.
Xavier Tillman, PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies
We’ve been here before and the story hasn’t changed. Tillman is a rock-solid backup to Steven Adams for the Grizzlies. Adams is on the sidelines due to injury and Tillman has been a reliable fill-in as a starter ever since. Like Adams, Tillman is more of a role player that doesn’t always shine on the stat sheet, but he is still a star in his role. Generally speaking, the 6’8” pivot can be counted on for points, boards and a bit of defensive output on a night-to-night basis. As a low-usage player, he doesn’t sway shooting percentages in the wrong direction and turnovers are always minimal. That’s the sort of low-risk player that managers need for the final week of competition. Tillman is getting 30-plus minutes a night as a starter for a team with positional need and four games scheduled. Pick him up before someone else does.
Honorable Mention: Alex Caruso (PG/SG, Bulls), Bismack Biyombo (C, Suns), Bones Hyland (PG/SG, Clippers), Caris LeVert (SG/SF, Cavs), Chris Boucher (PF/C, Raptors), Cole Anthony (PG/SG, Magic), Corey Kispert (SG/SF, Wizards), Daniel Gafford (C, Wizards), De’Anthony Melton (PG/SG, Sixers), Delon Wright (PG/SG, Wizards), Deni Avdija (SG/SF, Wizards), Derrick White (PG/SG, Celtics), Eric Gordon (SG/SF, Clippers), Gary Harris (SG/SF, Magic), Goga Bitadze (C, Magic), Grayson Allen (SG/SF, Bucks), Herb Jones (SG/SF/PF, Pelicans), Isaiah Hartenstein (C, Knicks), Isaiah Jackson (PF/C, Pacers), Immanuel Quickley (PG/SG, Knicks), Jaden McDaniels (SF/PF, Wolves), Jalen Duren (PF/C, Pistons), Jevon Carter (PG/SG, Bucks), Jonathan Kuminga (PF/C, Warriors), Kelly Olynyk (PF/C, Jazz), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG/SF, Nuggets), Kevon Looney (C, Warriors), Kris Dunn (PG/SG, Jazz), Kyle Anderson (SF/PF, Wolves), Luguentz Dort (SG/SF, Thunder), Malcolm Brogdon (PG/SG, Celtics), Mark Williams (C, Hornets), Max Strus (SG/SF, Heat), Nicolas Batum (SF/PF, Clippers), Ochai Agbaji (SG/SF, Jazz), Onyeka Okongwu (C, Hawks), Pat Connaughton (SG/SF, Bucks), Patrick Williams (PF, Bulls), Quentin Grimes (SG/SF, Knicks), Royce O’Neale (SG/SF, Nets), Saddiq Bey (SF/PF, Hawks), Tari Eason (SF/PF, Rockets), Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG/SF, Mavs), Trey Murphy III (SF/PF, Pelicans), Tyus Jones (PG, Grizzlies)
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