• Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by the injury bug recently. Some readers may have benefitted from this in their recent head-to-head matchup(s), but we all understand the feeling of losing a key player right when it feels like you need them most. This week, we’ll be kicking things off with a look at the impact of injuries and how to minimize them down the stretch on the latest edition of The Week Ahead. 

    Kevin Durant’s ankle sprain looms over the entire NBA season but it is one of many that could change things -for better or worse- as the fantasy season comes to a close. Fantasy squads have justifiably come to rely on James Harden and Kawhi Leonard for their elite production after another solid season from both men, but will now have to confront the dreaded “load management” tag as both the Clippers and Sixers prepare for a playoff push. Hip ailments have sidelined both Deandre Ayton and Marcus Smart recently, while a wide assortment of issues have kept a wide assortment of Spurs out of games. Some managers may have even been forced to make a tough cut of Kevin Huerter as he sits with a right hamstring injury. Of course, I would be remiss if I overlooked Anthony Edwards’ ankle injury just as it seems like Karl-Anthony Towns might be returning and with the Wolves still fighting for playoff position. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Andrew Wiggins, Ja Morant or Tyrese Haliburton in action, but at least their backups are primed and ready to step up.

    Knowing which understudy is ready to step into the main role and add value to your fantasy team is going to be a matchup-saver when push comes to shove. If your perfect roster is suddenly altered by an unexpected absence, be sure to check the schedule first. For example, if your favorite Nuggets, Pistons or Heat player gets shelved, there’s no sense in replacing them in the midst of their two-game schedule. It’s equally important to be sure that your streamer has a large enough role with the team. We’ve all learned what De’Anthony Melton can do when Harden is sidelined, but is the same true for Edwards’ backups on the perimeter – Jordan McLaughlin and Nickeil Alexander-Walker? It’s fair to say that a larger role awaits all three men but you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect equal results. When confronted with this scenario, it’s better to shift your attention to another team altogether rather than look for a like-for-like replacement. More often than not, resourceful managers are able to rotate the vacant roster spot created by an injury in order to fill a full seven day slate. 

    Half the league plays four games this week, which represents a great long-streaming opportunity for managers that are inclined to do so. Those that are able to snag a super-sub injury replacement like Donte DiVincenzo, TJ McConnell or Xavier Tillman should consider a long-stream as the best path forward. We’ll circle back around to DiVincenzo for the Quick Adds review, but McConnell and Tillman have been cruising in their expanded roles and putting up mid-round value over the past week. All three men play four times this week, which gives them a leg up on other hot names like Austin Reaves or Derrick White that are playing only three times and with less volume in the early schedule. However, they offer value in smaller chunks of the Week 22 slate and that window is where their value as injury replacements lies. 

    Joel Embiid was the most effective fantasy player over the past week and that coincides with the growing support for his MVP campaign. While the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic, wasn’t far behind, the Nuggets superstar will have half as many chances to impress awards voters this week and the narrative may continue to shift in Embiid’s direction. It remains to be seen if Giannis Antetokounmpo’s continued two-way dominance -within 15 feet of the rim- will earn him more well-deserved consideration in what already feels like a two-man race, but he will have a chance to take it up directly with Jokic on Saturday. 

    Past the best of the best, there were a few unexpected names near the top of the overall rankings in Week 21. Caris LeVert has surged in value for the Cavs over the past five games and is filling up the stat sheet in ways that are likely to prove unsustainable but are roster-worthy until that point. A handful of star role players also rose to the top this week, with Jaden McDaniels, Kevon Looney, Mike Conley and Trey Murphy III all putting up major numbers. Looney is the only one with a truly advantageous schedule but there’s no reason for these players to be available in any format with the way they’re performing lately.

    What about last week’s Quick Adds? Well, Kyle Anderson narrowly missed the cut for the top-12 producers by totals, so he gets an automatic A-plus and should be retained for Week 22. Jalen Duren has been solid and is well within the top-100 after a week that saw him being as impactful as expected around the rim while also experimenting with alley-oop passes and attempting a 3-pointer. However, he may be on the chopping block for some teams that need to maximize value this week, as the Pistons only play twice. A quick glance at the rankings might suggest that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a better week than Donte DiVincenzo, but a deeper dive makes it clear that DiVincenzo produced more for teams that didn’t specifically need steals. Given that DiVincenzo plays twice as many games as Caldwell-Pope in Week 22, he definitely wins the tiebreaker and can be held for the upcoming week, while Caldwell-Pope doesn’t offer enough to be worth holding for only two games. Unfortunately, Jalen Suggs went down with a concussion after only one full game this week. He was relatively productive in that matchup and may be an asset once again when he returns, but Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz have made the most of his absence. Mark Suggs down as a schedule play until further notice, which likely means he won’t be on the radar again until Week 23.

    The upcoming schedule has more peaks and valleys than we’ve become used to recently. With two 10-game days -Wednesday and Friday- along with nine games on Sunday, the majority of the league will be active for a significant portion of the schedule. That limits the value of or space for streamers or, alternately, increases the value of streaming on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Using those days as a guideline will help managers to prioritize their potential waiver wire adds this week. The real prize is Thursday’s four-game slate, which should increase the value of some teams with three games; namely the Cavs, Clippers, Pelicans, Knicks and Magic. So long as squads are cutting ties with players from the Nuggets, Pistons and Heat, there should be several different avenues to maximizing games played and, as a result, the team’s overall competitiveness. They are three of 16 teams that only play once by Wednesday night, which still leaves an abundance of options for an early week short-stream. 

    Schedule Breakdown

    Two Games: Nuggets, Pistons, Heat

    Three Games: Celtics, Cavs, Clippers, Lakers, Bucks, Wolves, Pelicans, Knicks, Magic, Suns, Blazers, Raptors

    Four Games: Hawks, Nets, Hornets, Bulls, Mavs, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Sixers, Kings, Spurs, Jazz, Wizards


    Monday-Tuesday: Kings

    Tuesday-Wednesday: Hawks, Spurs,Wizards

    Wednesday-Thursday: Knicks

    Thursday-Friday: Hornets, Thunder

    Friday-Saturday: Bucks, Suns, Pacers, Sixers, Kings, Jazz

    Saturday-Sunday: Hawks, Nets

    Sunday-Monday (Week 23): Wolves, Blazers, Bulls, Mavs, Rockets

    Schedule Maximizers

    11-of-12 teams that start on Monday will have played twice by Wednesday night, so there’s lots of streaming options to start the week. The Kings offer a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back, while the Knicks play three games in the first four days, which makes these two squads the best early options. Managers that make a move on Tuesday will want to focus on the Spurs and Wizards for their back-to-back which is part of a 3-in-4 stretch for both teams, but the Hawks are a nice consolation prize for their back-to-back as well. There isn’t much streaming value on a 10-game Wednesday but for the teams looking to plug some gaps in their starting lineups, there are five options for three games in a four-day window, including the Pacers, Bucks, Sixers, Suns and Jazz.

    The real priority to get an edge in streaming is the Thursday slate of games, which features only four games and is headlined by a trio of teams that play three times between Thursday and Sunday. Managers will want to focus their attention on the Nets, Hornets and Thunder to close the week, with particular preference to the Thunder for teams looking to get a bonus Week 23 move. All of the Friday-Saturday back-to-backs will likely have been picked up for their games on Wednesday, but any remaining Pacers, Bucks, Sixers, Suns, Kings or Jazz players can be added. The weekend features only two back-to-backs, making the four-game Hawks and Nets good targets to close out a matchup. However, every team active on Saturday but the Nuggets and Heat have already been named in this paragraph as ideal targets to hold until Saturday, so it’s just as viable to use whoever is added from that group and flip them for someone new on Sunday. The Bulls, Mavs, Rockets, Wolves and Blazers all play a Sunday-Monday double-header, so teams that feel confident they will be playing again in Week 23 should probably focus on players from those teams as potential adds. 

    Best Schedule: New York Knicks (vs. Wolves, @ Heat, @ Magic)

    I bet you didn’t expect a team with three games to make the cut. However, that actually works in their favor this week. The Knicks are the only team that plays three times between Monday and Thursday. After that, they’re done for the week, which allows managers to quickly boost their games played totals and move on to several other options to close the week. While the Nets and Thunder do have an extra game on the Knicks and their own window of three games in four days to close out the week, the reality is that their early week is dry and the trio of Dorian Finney-Smith, Lu Dort and Royce O’Neale don’t inspire confidence as long-streaming plays. 

    On the other hand, the Knicks have three regular rotation players that are readily available and could have some cumulative short-term fantasy value. Immanuel Quickley is the star of a group that also includes Isaiah Hartenstein and Quentin Grimes. There’s no doubt that Quickley has the most standard league appeal, but Grimes is a starter that can handle high minutes in a low-volume 3-and-D role, while Hartenstein has been a per-minute fantasy stud for years and is producing tons of blocks, boards and steals value lately. They should be some of the most popular pickups ahead of a front-loaded Week 22 schedule for the Knicks. Needless to say, this week also represents a nice opportunity for Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson to recoup some of their lost fantasy value in Week 21.

    Worst Schedule: Miami Heat (vs. Knicks, vs. Nets)

    They play the same days as fellow two-game team, the Nuggets, but the Heat simply have less clarity in terms of potential fantasy production. Neither team should really be in the picture as potential value-added options, but it feels safer to pick up Bruce Brown or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope instead of Caleb Martin or Gabe Vincent. Adding to the case, the Heat aren’t a particularly dynamic offensive team and they will be facing two stingy defenses with solid rim protection in the Nets and Knicks. Games on Wednesday and Saturday should be enough for the trio of Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro to be fantasy assets, but your guess is as good as mine as to which one of the countless perimeter players in that rotation could stand out in the upcoming week. If the past is any indication, it’s likely that a different Heat player will grab the spotlight from week-to-week. They only play three times in Week 23, so there isn’t a lot of room for optimism for those holding on to potentially expendable players like Kyle Lowry.

    Game of the Week: Bucks at Nuggets on March 25, 2023

    There have only been two names on the MVP trophy since 2018: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. They’re playing each other for the first time on Saturday, since Jokic was forced to miss the first Bucks-Nuggets contest back in January. With the MVP debate still raging and both men continuing to rise to the occasion, it’s fitting that a direct matchup between the two of them is chosen as Game of the Week. It’s just a bonus that they’re the best teams in their respective conferences.

    While the Embiid-Jokic rivalry rightfully draws attention as one of the all-time great big man tilts, it seems that this is the one instance when nobody wants to talk about Antetokounmpo’s 7’0”, 240-pound frame and sheer post dominance. Yours truly would submit that it’s more of a three-way rivalry, and it’s going to be worth every penny to watch it play out on Saturday as the immovable object, Nikola Jokic, matches up with the unstoppable force, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Fantasy managers and basketball fans in general don’t need to be reminded of what either man is capable of, or of how the league’s alphas tend to respond to challenges. 

    Of course, it’s not just the two MVP candidates. Top-75 mainstays like Brook Lopez, Jamal Murray, Jrue Holiday and Michael Porter Jr. should also be factors in this game. Aaron Gordon, Bobby Portis and Khris Middleton might feel they belong in that discussion, and they can certainly get there, but they’ve been outside that range for the season and may be better options if some of their higher-ranked peers miss the game. 

    None of the above are likely to be available for streaming purposes, so managers looking to get an edge on this matchup might justifiably switch their attention to some of the other rotation players. As previously discussed, the Nuggets are automatically out of the running, so any squads looking to make an add should focus on Joe Ingles and Pat Connaughton in particular. However, there could also be some appeal to adding Grayson Allen or Jevon Carter in deeper formats or in cases of backcourt injuries for the Bucks,

    Quick Adds

    Aaron Nesmith, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers

    Disclaimer: TJ McConnell is the best possible streamer from the Pacers but he’s probably not available in any competitive leagues right now. Don’t add Nesmith if McConnell is still available in your league, but he’s a pretty decent consolation prize otherwise. Like McConnell, Nesmith has also thrived in Haliburton’s absence and is putting up impressive points, treys, boards and shooting percentages to go with solid defensive production as well. The 6’5” swingman has been vocal about his desire for a larger role and isn’t likely to shrink from the opportunity now that it’s here. Nesmith has a solid floor of steals and treys that should survive any decrease in overall production, so managers need not worry too much about risk here. With four games in Week 22, Nesmith is the second of two Pacers worth consideration in the upcoming week.

    Daniel Gafford, C, Washington Wizards

    I’m a fan of simple scouting reports. I don’t need to know every little detail about how a player impacts a game; just give me the pared-down version. For example, Gafford is a rim-runner that rebounds well and protects the rim. Okay, maybe that’s not a great example. That’s also the long version of Gafford’s scouting report, but who cares? The Wizards big plays four games this week and, at the time of writing, Kristaps Porzingis is sidelined with an illness. There could be extra playing time for the 6’9” pivot, which hasn’t proven necessary thus far in creating a top-125 fantasy profile but is helpful nonetheless. In fact, Gafford has hardly played 80 minutes combined in his last four games and still ranked within the top-60 on totals over that period anyway. All you need to know is that he has four more chances to replicate that performance with his simple-but-effective fantasy game and that Gafford is locked into a role that will either be sustained or see some growth in Week 22.

    Dennis Smith Jr., PG/SG, Charlotte Hornets

    You may have heard that LaMelo Ball is done for the season. Remember the start of the year when Ball was also sidelined and DSJ first forced his way into the fantasy discussion? The former lottery pick has reinvented himself as a defensive menace this year and that has helped to give his career new life. With the franchise point guard once again sidelined, Smith now has the keys to the offense and can add playmaking to his fantasy profile. With extra assists production added onto existing value in blocks and steals, Smith has created enough of a lane for himself to be considered once again in standard leagues. Further, the 6’2” lead guard has an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio that is sure to satisfy risk-averse managers. Smith should have lots of opportunity to create havoc for the developing Pacers and Pelicans, while two matchups against the high-octane Mavs offense is sure to demand high minutes for a perimeter stopper like Smith. Teams looking to add a point guard should have DSJ high on their list now that he’s collecting 30-plus minutes a night.

    Kelly Olynyk, PF/C, Utah Jazz

    Olynyk is a veteran with a well-established play style, so there shouldn’t be any confusion over what you’re getting when picking him up. The Canadian pivot is a floor-spacer and connector on offense, who functions as more of a disruptor than a stopper on defense. In essence, Olynyk is a generalist at heart, and his fantasy output reflects that. You get a little bit of points, treys, assists, steals and blocks with him, but his best categories are probably rebounds and shooting percentages. As one of the better-shooting bigs, Olynyk is a unique asset for guard-focused teams but not incompatible with the more traditional big man stats. It’s easy to trust starters with high playing time that don’t really do anything poorly, so why not take a chance on four games of Olynyk in Week 22?

    Onyeka Okongwu, C, Atlanta Hawks

    See: Gafford, Daniel. Of course, Okongwu isn’t quite the same player as his Wizards counterpart, but they’re not far off. The mobile Hawks center is actually out-producing his peer lately with much better points and rebounds volume along with comparable defensive output. As with Gafford, Okongwu is also playing four times this week and is locked into a role that can see him provide 12-team value even in limited minutes. It just so happens that Okongwu is also getting a bit more playing time lately. There isn’t a particularly high ceiling for players with low minutes, but Okongwu has proven to be a limited fantasy asset for some time now and is a solid add for teams looking to shore up their production in the less-glamorous categories.

    Honorable Mention: Austin Reaves (SG/SF, Lakers), Caris LeVert (SG/SF, Cavs), Cole Anthony (PG/SG, Magic), De’Anthony Melton (PG/SG, Sixers), Delon Wright (PG/SG, Wizards), Derrick White (PG/SG, Celtics), Donte DiVincenzo (PG/SG, Warriors), Eric Gordon (SG/SF, Clippers), Immanuel Quickley (PG/SG, Knicks), Isaiah Hartenstein (C, Knicks), Jaden McDaniels (SF/PF, Wolves), Jarred Vanderbilt (PF/C, Lakers), Jaylin Williams (PF/C, Thunder), Josh Okogie (SG/SF, Suns), Keegan Murray (SF/PF, Kings), Kenyon Martin Jr. (SF/PF, Rockets), Kevon Looney (C, Warriors), Kris Dunn (PG/SG, Jazz), Kyle Anderson, (SF/PF, Wolves), Lu Dort (SG/SF, Thunder), Malik Monk (SG, Kings), Mason Plumlee (C, Clippers), Matisse Thybulle (SG/SF, Blazers), Mike Conley (PG, Wolves), Patrick Williams (PF, Bulls), TJ McConnell (PG, Pacers), Tre Jones (PG, Spurs), Trendon Watford (PF/C, Blazers), Trey Murphy III (SF/PF, Pelicans), Xavier Tillman (C, Grizzlies)

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