December 4, 2022, 11:30 pm
Let’s kick off this edition of The Week Ahead with a lesson in old-timey idioms. To say that someone has won “eight ways to Sunday” is to imply that their victory was or will be so absolute that it is incontestable. In combat sports, it’s the knockout or submission. In basketball, it’s what the Cavs did to the Sixers on Wednesday night. The up-and-down Sixers are going to get a much-needed boost from the returning James Harden this week, so this may be the turning point in the season for the City of Brotherly Love. Early reports indicate we’re in for a “revenge game” against the Rockets on Monday, but could the Rockets really stop Embiid and Harden if they wanted to? That hardly qualifies as revenge. It’s feast or famine with minutes and usage in Philadelphia, so another top-50 week is out of the cards for Shake Milton. In fact, we can probably knock him back about 100 spots in the rankings with this news.
Elsewhere in the league, we saw the Nets and Knicks separate themselves from the pack for entirely different reasons. Ever in the spotlight, the Nets have been quietly asserting themselves as contenders in the Eastern Conference. League superstar Kevin Durant was correcting social media followers on Tuesday that the Nets were not, in fact, title contenders. This was, of course, days after beating the Magic and Blazers, and leading into decisive victories over the Wizards and Raptors to round out the week. Over that period, the Nets had five players in the top-125 without factoring in the injured Ben Simmons or the rusty-but-returned TJ Warren. There’s a lid for every fantasy pot and the Nets have a wide selection this year.
It’s certainly better than what the Knicks have had to choose from lately, as they’ve been losers in six of their last eight contests, punctuated by victories over the lowly Thunder and Pistons. Floor general Jalen Brunson almost fell out of the top-125 this week and, while it inspired optimism to see fellow guards RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes directly ahead of him in the rankings, it’s unlikely that either Barrett or Grimes stays this high with any consistency. With former fantasy darling Isaiah Hartenstein continuing to give analysts everywhere a bad case of sour grapes and the predictably-frustrating rotations of coach Tom Thibodeau, it’s hard to trust in Knicks players right now.
Out west, we saw the Mavs and Blazers fall from grace with losing records over their last 10 games. Luka Doncic spearheaded a statement victory over the Knicks that spared the Mavs from the shame of going to overtime with the Pistons and then coughing up a solid lead in extra time. Blazers fans will hope that Damian Lillard’s return can do the same but non-Lillard fantasy managers may prefer it this way. Anfernee Simons has been a top-12 player over the past week, while Jerami Grant is at the tail-end of the top-20 over the same period. It’s one thing if they can do it without Lillard, but what happens to these numbers when the Blazers’ alpha is back in play? Simons’ usage hasn’t changed much, but Grant’s 30-plus usage rate got a major boost when Lillard started wearing street clothes. The Mavs have a solid collection of 3-point streamers for managers in leagues of all sizes to take a flier on in the week ahead, but a two-game week that doesn’t start until Thursday should see a lot of Blazers kicked to the curb on Monday morning.
Circling back around to last week’s Quick Adds: it wasn’t a great result. Chris Boucher, Dorian Finney-Smith and Tari Eason whiffed on their chances this week, but at least Jalen Smith nearly cracked the top-75. This week, let’s not take any chances and just aim for a solid floor of production to stay ahead of the curve in our leagues. We can start by setting some benchmarks for week-long streamers: four games, at least one weak schedule game, 24-plus minutes and no in-house concerns. So, with apologies to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jaylen Nowell, who were both within the top-50 over the past week, they aren’t making the cut. Games cap managers might be in a different situation, in which case they can also cash in on the Walker Kessler block party or get percentages and treys from Joe Harris. There have been a lot of unexpected players making their way to the upper echelons of fantasy production recently, but it’s important to be proactive instead of reactive here by trying to catch the next trend before it happens. To be blunt: there is literally no room to grow or even sustain the values of any of the players above, so they’re going to trend down sooner than later.
The league’s scheduling has a familiar pattern again this week: busy on Mondays and the weekend with slow Tuesdays and Thursdays and most of the league playing on Wednesdays and Fridays. Managers have got to get in where they fit in and stream accordingly, so once again there will be a major asterisk applied to any players that play on December 7th or 9th. There’s no point in rostering someone that you can’t fit into your lineup, so check your lineups before making moves this week. Keep that in mind before rushing to get those Pistons and Lakers back-to-backs in the middle of the schedule. It’s probably better to rock with players from the Nuggets or Heat for the Tuesday-Thursday stretch and try to convert them into a player that can get two games in the final three days of the schedule. Every team plays over the Friday-Sunday stretch but seven of them only have one game over that period and there will be declining rewards for keeping their players at the ends of rosters.
I promise to forget my charitable holiday spirit if there are any highlight performances from streamer-level players from the Rockets or Sixers on Monday night. My preemptive answer to any questions about whether to add players from these teams is a resounding, “No.” Even if the Sixers do have two games in three days to finish out the week, they have a massive gap in the middle of the schedule and only two games ahead for Week Nine. There’s no defending three games with two-day spacing between them for a mostly-unproven squad, so there’s not much incentive to take a chance on the Rockets players simply because they have that weak Thursday game.
Here’s some advice for us to circle back on in Week Nine: take a chance on Pistons, Pacers, Clippers and Lakers players for long-streams this week. None of these teams are winning Best Schedule but they were all contenders, so don’t hesitate to let the schedule be your tiebreaker for any tough decisions when those players are involved. As previously noted, not all four-game teams are made equal this week, and these are my picks for the best of the bunch for teams looking to stream for success. They’ll be well-represented in the Quick Adds section.
Two Games: Blazers, Spurs
Three Games: Celtics, Nets, Bulls, Cavs, Nuggets, Warriors, Rockets, Grizzlies, Wolves, Pelicans, Knicks, Thunder, Sixers, Kings, Jazz, Wizards
Four Games: Hawks, Hornets, Mavs, Pistons, Pacers, Clippers, Lakers, Heat, Bucks, Magic, Suns, Raptors
Monday-Tuesday: Mavs, Heat
Tuesday-Wednesday: Pistons, Lakers
Friday-Saturday: Nets, Cavs, Mavs, Pacers, Wolves, Jazz, Wizards
Sunday-Monday (Week Nine): Hawks
There’s no doubt that the Mavs and Heat are the best options to kick off the week, for no other reason than their respective back-to-backs to kick off the week. Ideally, managers can hold on to last week’s streamer if they have a Monday game and save their first move for Tuesday. Those looking to make a splash right away should try to get one of the better Clippers or Pacers if their favorite Mavs or Heat player is snagged by another squad. Anyone kicking off their moves with the Tuesday schedule will have to check their lineups before determining if the Pistons and Lakers back-to-backs are more valuable than the Nuggets’ weak game double-header, but these three teams should offer the best return on investment. By the weekend, it’s a free-for-all that should favor whoever the Flavor of the Week in fantasy is. Ideally, they will have a two-game closer for the week, because adding the trending player with one game in the Friday-Sunday is a bet that your top two-game option won’t outproduce them with potentially twice the playing time. The one exception to this rule could be the Celtics, who only play on Saturday but could give managers with a comfortable Week Eight lead the chance to start padding their totals for Week Nine. The Celtics kick off the following schedule with a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back and four games overall.
Best Schedule: Miami Heat (@ Grizzlies, vs. Pistons, vs. Clippers, vs. Spurs)
Readers were already treated to a list of the runners-up for this category, so I’ll say this as to what separated the Heat: four games in six days that avoids the two heaviest days on the schedule. The Monday-Tuesday back-to-back is a nice bonus. A road game against the rowdy Grizzlies and their highly-engaged fans is sure to light a fire under the always-intense Heat. Hopefully they carry that chip on their shoulder into their three home games against very beatable teams. Any number of players on this team could step up and produce standard league value in a given week, so expect to see a surge in rostership for Heat players this week. My advice is to hold on tight to anyone who gets hot this week because the Heat are also looking solid in a Week Nine slate that will likely see them contend for Best Schedule once again.
Worst Schedule: Philadelphia 76ers (@ Rockets, vs. Lakers, vs. Hornets)
James Harden is back and there are three days between Sixers games on Monday and Friday. I’d need a crystal ball to tell you who’s going to play well when the team chemistry is altered by Harden’s re-insertion into this lineup. There were some justifiable questions about how well he was meshing with Joel Embiid before the injury this year and there is a well-documented history of De’Anthony Melton struggling to adjust to lineup changes. My skepticism on the Shake Milton front is well-documented and I don’t think anyone’s convincing themselves that any of the Sixers’ defense-focused bench core will see a boost in value once their minutes disappear. If anyone stands out in a single game that’s not a starter, I’ll still need to see it again before I buy in. That would leave me with one game before the Sixers move into an equally-ugly Week Nine schedule.
Game of the Week: Wolves @ Jazz on December 9, 2022
Rudy Gobert returns to Utah for the first time since being traded in the offseason. With the continued absence of Karl-Anthony Towns from the frontcourt rotation, it’s likely that Gobert will be willing and able to command a few extra looks against his old squad. On the other side, a dynamic Jazz frontcourt should keep Gobert on his toes all night. Longtime fantasy sleeper Kelly Olynyk continues to impress alongside leading Most Improved Fantasy Player candidate Lauri Markkanen. Technically, this is also a revenge game for Jarred Vanderbilt, another top-100 level player that was swapped in the Gobert trade, and it’s likely that Walker Kessler will be asked to match up with the three-time Defensive Player of the Year for some significant stretches. The perimeter players from both sides aren’t likely to concern themselves with defense, but there should be tons of offensive production from the usual suspects: Anthony Edwards, Collin Sexton, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. If Jaylen Nowell keeps his scoring streak rolling into Week Eight, he could be an X-factor in this matchup. On the Wolves side, it’s likely that one of Jaden McDaniels or Kyle Anderson qualifies as the unheralded difference-maker at the end of the game.
Andrew Nembhard, PG/SG, Indiana Pacers
Disclaimer: I am Canadian and love to boost Canadian basketball players. Setting that aside, it looks like Nembhard is set for a big week. Franchise player Tyrese Haliburton has been battling groin issues all week which may continue to impact him in Week Eight. If that’s the case, the Pacers have no incentive to push him through any sort of pain or discomfort. This leaves a hole for Nembhard and TJ McConnell to fill. Anyone who has engaged me on Nembard since the season kicked off will know where I stand on that positional battle. The job is Nembhard’s to lose, and I can’t think of many ways that the steady rookie could give up the lead after averaging 30-plus minutes last week. Over that period, he provided excellent value primarily with treys, assists and steals that has seen him ranked within the top-100.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks
In most seasons, Bogdanovic is rostered in way more than about half of all leagues. Typically, the Hawks swingman is deployed in a wide variety of lineups for his effectiveness in points, treys, assists, steals, free throw percentage and turnovers. However, the Serbian sniper has only recently been able to make his first NBA appearance of the year and certainly didn’t impress in that debut. It’s likely that Bogdanovic will be hanging around on the waiver wire in many leagues and he is worth picking up to see if he can return to his usual top-100 form. The Hawks have a four-game week, so Bogdanovic will have plenty of opportunities to produce in the week ahead.
Markelle Fultz, PG/SG, Orlando Magic
Everyone loves the NBA Draft, which is why I’m amazed that a former top pick is flying under the radar. Fultz hasn’t played this season or been reliably healthy in seasons past, but we’re not doctors here at SportsEthos and all we can do is trust what the team doctors are saying. The Magic have been limiting him three appearances thus far and Fultz has only cleared 20 minutes in one contest. However, the 6’3” guard immediately returned to a starting role in what is typically discussed as a crowded point guard rotation that also includes Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs. That bodes well for Fultz’s future with the team and should inspire confidence for standard league managers looking to get a boost in assists and steals. Aside from blocks and treys, Fultz isn’t likely to cause managers to lose ground in head-to-head matchups.
Max Strus, SG/SF, Miami Heat
This is one of those “best available player on best schedule team” picks. I’m not traditionally a big advocate for Strus, but the DePaul alum is capable of being a difference-maker when given the opportunity. Since missing a couple of games for the Heat in Week Seven, Strus has bounced back with nearly-average production in points, bolstered by three-plus treys and a steal per night. At around 30 minutes per-game, it’s hard to argue against a decision to roster Strus with a strong schedule.
TJ Warren, SF/PF, Brooklyn Nets
Warren’s rostership is still perilously low for a player with such upside. He’s either healthy or he’s not, and the Nets say he’s good to go after missing more than two years of action. That’s all I need to know. Before missing so much time, Warren could crack the top-50 on any given night with points, treys, steals, shooting percentages and turnovers. If managers were lucky, he could even carry some weight in the rebounds category from time to time. Now, he’s a few years older and surely a bit rusty, but 10 points, four boards and a steal in a 16-minute debut against a tough Raptors defense is pretty solid. I’m taking a chance on Warren wherever I find him and waiting to be proven wrong. Fans should know by now that things could go haywire with the Nets’ Big Three at any point in any season and Warren is as well-positioned as any other player on the team to fill any potential voids. If this pick hits, he’ll never be on the wire again this season.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Nesmith (SG/SF, Pacers), Austin Reaves (SG/SF, Lakers), Killian Hayes (PG/SG, Pistons), Gabe Vincent (PG/SG, Heat), Jaylen Nowell (PG/SG, Wolves), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (PF/C, Thunder), Joe Harris (SG/SF, Nets), Jose Alvarado (PG, Pelicans), Kyle Anderson (SF/PF, Wolves), Lonnie Walker IV (SG/SF, Lakers), Marcus Morris (PF/C, Clippers), Maxi Kleber (PF/C, Mavs), Quentin Grimes (SG/SF, Knicks), Robert Covington (SF/PF, Clippers), Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG/SF, Mavs), Walker Kessler (PF/C, Jazz)
De’Andre Hunter (right hip) – Injured on November 30, 2022. Week-to-week.
John Collins (left ankle) – Injured on November 30, 2022. To be re-evaluated in mid-December.
Trae Young (right shoulder) – Injured on December 1, 2022. DNP on Friday.
Ben Simmons (left knee) – Injured on November 28, 2022. To be re-evaluated on December 7, 2022.
Yuta Watanabe (right hamstring) – Injured on November 21, 2022. To be re-evaluated on December 7, 2022.
Dennis Smith Jr. (left ankle) – Injured on November 11, 2022. Out for Monday.
Gordon Hayward (left shoulder) – Injured on November 2, 2022. Week-to-week.
LaMelo Ball (left ankle) – Injured on November 16, 2022. Out for Monday.
Jarrett Allen (back) – Injured on November 23, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Michael Porter Jr. (left foot) – Injured on November 19, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Cade Cunningham (left shin) – Injured on November 10, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Jae’Sean Tate (right ankle) – Injured on October 29, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Chris Duarte (left ankle) – Injured on November 4, 2022. Out Indefinitely.
Luke Kennard (right calf) – Injured on November 14, 2022. Questionable for Monday.
Kawhi Leonard (right ankle) – Injured November 17, 2022. DNP on Saturday, Questionable for Monday.
Paul George (right knee) – Injured on November 19, 2022. DNP on Saturday, Questionable for Monday.
Desmond Bane (toe) – Injured on November 12, 2022. Week-to-week.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (left knee) – Injured on December 2, 2022. DNP on Saturday, cleared for Monday.
Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf) – Injured on November 28, 2022. Out 4-to-6 weeks.
Brandon Ingram (toe) – Injured on November 23, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Herbert Jones (left ankle) – Injured on November 30, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Gary Harris (right hamstring) – Injured on November 30, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Jalen Suggs (right ankle) – Injured on November 24, 2022. DNP on Saturday, Out for Monday.
Mo Bamba (back) – Injured on November 25, 2022. DNP on Saturday, Questionable for Monday.
Wendell Carter Jr. (right plantar fascia strain) – Already out for Monday; could return in 1-to-2 weeks.
Tyrese Maxey (left knee) – Injured on November 18, 2022. Week-to-week.
Cameron Johnson (right knee) – Injured on November 4, 2022. Out for 1-to-2 months.
Chris Paul (right foot) – Injured on November 7, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Torrey Craig (groin) – Injured on December 3, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Jakob Poeltl (right quadriceps) – Injured on November 26, 2022. Day-to-day.
Jeremy Sochan (right quadriceps) – Injured on November 26, 2022. Week-to-week.
Josh Richardson (right ankle) – Injured on November 21, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Precious Achiuwa (right ankle) – Injured on November 9, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Mike Conley (left knee) – Injured on November 19, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Delon Wright (right hamstring) – Injured on October 25, 2022. To be re-evaluated in mid-December.
Rui Hachimura (right ankle) – Injured on November 16, 2022. Week-to-week.