• Season’s greetings and happy New Year, SportsEthos readers! In this edition of The Week Ahead, we’re coming out of a juicy Christmas day slate and moving towards the final games of 2022. Next time I check in with you, the NBA season will be approaching it’s midway point and everyone will have made their New Year’s resolutions. One of the most common resolutions is to slim down for spring, so allow me to suggest a fantasy-relevant interpretation for you: trim the fat from your rosters. Players outside the top-100 aren’t going to make a major difference in standard leagues, so readers should resolve to move on from them when it’s expedient to do so. There’s no sense white-knuckling it through the ups-and-downs of rookies like Andrew Nembhard or Bennedict Mathurin every week, and it’s just as unwise to hold on to fan-favorites like Kemba Walker or Lu Dort unless they’re rolling with a strong schedule. Let’s agree to leave the hype in 2022 and start the New Year with only one thing in mind: the numbers.

    With that in mind, it’s about time someone tipped their cap to Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Grizzlies. It’s truly astounding what the second-generation forward-center is accomplishing on the defensive end with four-plus combined blocks and steals per night. He’s only the fourth-best scorer in the Grizzlies’ top-ten offense, but he sure makes things easier on both ends for standard league streamers like Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, Santi Aldama, Steven Adams and Tyus Jones. It’s easy to trust the Grizzlies right now and moving forward: this team is vibing and looks primed to compete in the Western Conference once again. Any combination of players named above should appear on standard league teams in the upcoming four-game week, but only Jackson, Ja Morant and the recently-returned Desmond Bane are worth retaining past that point, barring injuries.

    The Blazers, on the other hand, have not been vibing this week. For what feels like the millionth time, Damian Lillard is once again fielding questions from reporters about his commitment to the franchise. Despite the disappointing losses to the Mavs and Thunder in recent appearances, yours truly isn’t really concerned with anything to do with Lillard. The Weber State alum is an elite fantasy producer no matter who he suits up for, so I’m more focused on the declining fantasy relevance of his supporting cast. Josh Hart was the only rotation player to truly return standard league value over the past week, while Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant had some questionable outcomes in recent games. The players named above can be held throughout the Blazers’ upcoming two-game slate, but there’s not much to be gained in using anyone outside of that group in Week Eleven.

    Nikola Jokic is dressing like a Bond villain and playing like he’s ready to take over the world, so it’s fitting that the Nuggets get their flowers this week. There isn’t much to say about the valuable fantasy production of the two-time reigning MVP, so it suffices to say that managers should buy in on anyone who plays next to him with any consistency. Denver has four games in the upcoming schedule and five players that put up standard league value last week. Unfortunately for Jamal Murray managers, he didn’t make the cut, but there’s ample opportunity for him to make up for it this week. Right now, Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. are the four primary beneficiaries of Jokic’s gravity, but if anything should take these players out of the rotation, there will be a buy-low opportunity for Bones Hyland and Jeff Green, who would be the most likely beneficiaries of any vacated playing time. The minutes have been there for rookie Christian Braun, but he didn’t do much with nearly 50 minutes of playing time in two appearances last week and is probably will remain a deep league or dynasty player.

    Some of the other streaking players around the league will be highlighted later on in this article, so let’s circle back around to last week’s Quick Adds before getting into the nitty-gritty of the Week Eleven schedule. Quentin Grimes didn’t quite hit the mark for standard league value but he was dealing with some discomfort after spraining his ankle on Tuesday and playing through the pain on Friday after skipping Wednesday against the Raptors. The Knicks sophomore is still averaging 30-plus minutes, so keep him on the radar for the future.

    Tim Hardaway Jr. missed the first game of Week Ten before putting up a high-scoring dud and then a low-scoring dud against the Wolves and Rockets, respectively. It looks like his hot streak is over and I’ll probably only recommend him once it sparks again — of course, THJ delivered a big game on Christmas to make you second-guess it all.

    If Patrick Williams’ shot was falling, we’d be having a much different conversation about his recent results. The Bulls forward gave a trey, some above-average boards and solid defensive production that would have him ranked higher if only he could get a few more open looks to drop. If he did, we’d be talking about a player more akin to Torrey Craig, who was exactly as solid as advertised with passable across-the-board production that didn’t really hurt anywhere. I’ll use both utility forwards again in the future, but probably only when they have a maximized schedule.

    This Week Eleven slate is exactly the sort of schedule I love to see: balanced from beginning to end, with the exception of a three-game Sunday. There are five back-to-backs to start off the week and another eight will have happened by Wednesday night. The six-game Thursday is a bit of a downer, but only marginally so, and it leads into a pair of nine-game days. The truly prized players will be the ones that allow teams to get in some extra production on a slow Sunday when weekly matchups will be settled. Scroll down further for how to get ahead of the curve there.

    Schedule Breakdown

    Two Games: Blazers

    Three Games: Hawks, Celtics, Nets, Cavs, Mavs, Warriors, Lakers, Bucks, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Raptors

    Four Games: Hornets, Bulls, Nuggets, Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Heat, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Jazz, Wizards

    Back-to-Backs

    Monday-Tuesday: Hornets, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Spurs

    Tuesday-Wednesday: Hawks, Nuggets, Warriors, Lakers, Magic, Suns, Kings, Wizards

    Wednesday-Thursday: None

    Thursday-Friday: Raptors

    Friday-Saturday: Bulls, Pistons, Heat, Wolves, Pelicans, Sixers, Jazz

    Saturday-Sunday: Grizzlies

    Sunday-Monday (Week Twelve): Nuggets

    Schedule Maximizers

    Managers have more freedom to take a “best player available” approach with a well-distributed Week Eleven schedule. The obvious prizes will always be with the four-game teams and the back-to-backs, but there are 13 potential options to get two games in three days from a free agent by Wednesday night. In a sense, you could say that there aren’t really any important moves to be made until Thursday morning. While the Raptors do have a back-to-back that kicks off on Thursday, that’s a franchise in flux with a limited amount of fantasy contributors. Unless injuries or sickness come into play, it may be preferable to target the Grizzlies or one of the other nine teams that play twice in the Thursday-Saturday stretch. Grizzlies players can and should be retained through Sunday, while those that have a final move after Saturday closes can look at players from the Celtics, Nuggets, Bucks, Kings or Wizards, with preference to the Nuggets for a bonus play on Monday.

    Best Schedule: Memphis Grizzlies (vs. Suns, @ Raptors, vs. Pelicans, vs. Kings)

    Outside of the obvious fantasy appeal of four games with a back-to-back and a weak schedule matchup, the Grizzlies are set for a collection of enticing on-court tilts this week. Western Conference rivals in the Suns and Pelicans loom, while the Raptors will love a defense-focused affair and the upstart Kings can stake their developing reputation on a win over the proven Grizzlies. That’s four seemingly-competitive matchups for a team with an abundance of standard league options already discussed further above. Rocking with Grizzlies players in Week Eleven will allow managers to exploit the two slowest days on the schedule while getting three games in four days on the back-end. This was an easy pick.

    Worst Schedule: Miami Heat (vs. Hornets, @ Warriors)

    Anyone with a regular full-time job knows how long the stretch between Monday and Friday can feel. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Heat get picked as the least-appealing team for Week Eleven. They might be the only bad option in a dispersed schedule week, so it’s time to say goodbye to the likes of Caleb Martin, Max Strus, Victor Oladipo and any other non-Big Three options from the Heat. At least they get two relatively-easy matchups, with all due respect to the struggling reigning champions, the Warriors.

    Game of the Week: Celtics @ Nuggets on January 1, 2023

    There are defensible fantasy basketball reasons to make this choice, but I’ll freely admit that this matchup was chosen for one reason: it’s going to be the first game I watch in the New Year. It feels like a good omen that I get to see the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic, take on one of the prime candidates for the 2022-2023 Michael Jordan Trophy in Jayson Tatum. It’s the championship-hopeful Nuggets against the championship runner-up Celtics in a matchup that could feature as many as 14 standard league producers. Elsewhere, Jaylen Brown and Michael Porter Jr. will likely contend for the title of Most Valuable Player That Isn’t Fully Trusted With The Ball In Their Hands (MVPTIFTWTBITH for short), while do-it-all role players like Bruce Brown and Grant Williams should have their chance to shine as both sides lock-in on the featured players. The two x-factors on Sunday night should be a pair of once-great combo guards that are still in the midst of their primes: Jamal Murray and Malcolm Brogdon. Both players have top-50 potential when they hit their stride, and could be major difference-makers in both fantasy and on-court matchups if they step up their production beyond their current pace outside the top-100.

    Quick Adds

    Delon Wright, PG/SG, Washington Wizards

    At the start of the season, Wright was such an obvious free agency add that he was hardly worth mentioning. The veteran guard impressed early on with elite steals production coupled with passable contributions in assists and blocks. He returns to a Wizards lineup that did a whole lot of nothing without him and, while Jordan Goodwin and Monte Morris may seem to be the higher-value options, Wright did produce superior fantasy value in his limited appearances with the Wizards so far this year. Further, Wright’s career stands as testament to his ability to function in dual-point guard lineups due to his solid off-ball movement, size and spot-up shooting. If Deni Avdija continues to miss time, Wright’s importance as a perimeter defensive stopper will be amplified. Managers can kick the tires on Wright ahead of the Wizards’ Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back and move on if things don’t seem to be working out. In fact, there are enough potential standard league players in the Wizards’ guard rotation that whoever seems to supplant Wright could be a wortwhile swap for the Friday and Sunday games.

    Jalen Smith, PF/C, Indiana Pacers

    I can’t help myself. Smith was a trendy preseason name and was drafted in most standard leagues. Despite some impressive stints, he has largely been a disappointment on the season. However, his minutes have been trending up again and there have been several consecutive games of above-average shooting. The scouting report on Smith hasn’t changed: he’s a multi-tool big with considerable potential. This past week showed that Smith can contribute some value in blocks, boards and shooting percentages. With consistently low turnovers and potential to produce one or more treys on any given night, there’s a lot to like with Smith. It’s just a question of how long we’ll get the good before things likely go south again. Still, the Pacers have four games and three of those teams -the Hawks, Cavs and Raptors- have several imposing players in their frontcourt. There will be a need for what Smith brings to the table, so long as he is able to bring it.

    Lonnie Walker IV, SG/SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    With both Anthony Davis and Thomas Bryant on the sidelines, it’s fair to say that the Lakers aren’t pinning their hopes on their frontcourt rotation right now. Davis’ absence made way for Bryant to see a boost in value and Bryant’s absence should do the same for the next member of the team to step up. The safest bet seems to be Walker, who has already proven able to function as a second-fiddle to LeBron James for stretches in the past. Walker is a dynamic offensive player that can produce enough value with steals to fit the 3-and-D label, even if that’s not as clear with the eye test. Managers can already rely on him for passable points, treys and free throw production, but increased responsibility could see him improve his valuation in those areas while also getting an extra opportunity to collect additional counting stats. The Lakers play four games in Week Eleven and Walker is available in a wide range of leagues, so he’s worth a flier in a shortened Lakers rotation.

    Mason Plumlee, C, Charlotte Hornets

    Anyone that plans to compete in free throws should stop right here and move on; this isn’t the player for you. Plumlee is a veteran center on a young team with depth at center, so naturally he is regularly clocking 30-plus minutes as one of Steve Clifford’s preferred players. Plumlee shouldn’t be getting this kind of burn on this kind of team, but he is, so managers that are still able to find him on their waiver wires should capitalize on his availability ahead of a four-game week. Plumlee is primarily productive in boards and field goal percentage, but he can also give a bit of a boost in points, assists, steals and blocks. Again, managers that want to keep a solid free throw average should probably look elsewhere, even if the other categories can be tempting.

    Trey Murphy III, SF/PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Zion Williamson are all on the mend. Murphy is one of the healthiest and most-eligible members of the Pelicans frontcourt to take advantage of whatever usage is made available by the combined absences of those three players. The second-year swingman is already among the most productive players from a season-long perspective, so it’s surprising that he is available in so many leagues. However, the fact remains that Murphy is a consistent producer in low-usage categories like treys and steals, so his floor is relatively solid. Murphy already takes efficient shots and doesn’t turn the ball over often, so there shouldn’t be much concern with a potential usage boost. Some extra counting stats should go his way if multiple frontcourt rotation players are out, so the 3-and-D forward is definitely a good add if available in any format.

    Honorable Mention: Aleksej Pokusevski (SF/PF/C, Thunder), Austin Reaves (SG/SF, Lakers), Ayo Dosunmu (PG/SG, Bulls), Brandon Clarke (SF/PF, Grizzlies), Herb Jones (SG/SF/PF, Pelicans), Immanuel Quickley (PG/SG, Knicks), Jaden McDaniels (SF/PF, Wolves), Jalen McDaniels (SF/PF, Hornets), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG/SF, Nuggets), Kenyon Martin Jr. (SF/PF, Rockets), Luke Kennard (SG/SF, Clippers), Monte Morris (PG, Wizards), Norman Powell (SG/SF, Clippers), Onyeka Okongwu (C, Hawks), Quentin Grimes (SG/SF, Knicks), Patrick Williams (PF, Bulls), TJ Warren (SF/PF, Nets)

    Injury Report

    Joe Harris (left knee) – Injured on December 21, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Dennis Smith Jr. (left ankle) – Injured on November 11, 2022. Day-to-day.

    Nick Richards (right ankle) – Injured on December 23, 2022. Day-to-day.

    Alex Caruso (shoulder) – Injured on December 21, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Javonte Green (right knee) – Injured on December 18, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Dorian Finney-Smith (groin) – Injured on December 19, 2022. DNP on Sunday.

    Steph Curry (left shoulder) – Injured on December 14, 2022. To be re-evaluated in late December.

    Eric Gordon (left hand) – Injured on December 22, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Jae’Sean Tate (right ankle) – Injured on October 29, 2022. Out indefinitely.

    Aaron Nesmith (right ankle) – Injured on December 22, 2022.

    John Wall (right ankle) – Injured on December 22, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Anthony Davis (right foot) – Injured on December 15, 2022. Out indefinitely.

    Khris Middleton (right knee) – Injured on December 16, 2022. DNP on Sunday.

    Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf) – Injured on November 28, 2022. Out 4-to-6 weeks.

    Kyle Anderson (back) – Injured on December 18, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Brandon Ingram (toe) – Injured on November 23, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Larry Nance Jr. (right Achilles) – injured on December 16, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Obi Toppin (left knee) – Injured on December 7, 2022. To be re-evaluated in late December.

    Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (right ankle) – Injured on December 12, 2022. Week-to-week.

    Jalen Suggs (right ankle) – Injured on November 24, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    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.

    Cameron Payne (right foot) – Injured on December 12, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Devin Booker (groin) – Injured on December 16, 2022. DNP on Friday, left Sunday’s game early.

    Gary Payton II (abdomen) – Injured on July 14, 2022. Day-to-day.

    Jerami Grant (back) – Injured on December 15, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Domantas Sabonis (hand) – Injued on December 23, 2022. Day-to-day.

    Kelly Olynyk (left ankle) – Injuerd on December 18, 2022. DNP on Thursday.

    Deni Avdija (back) – Injured on December 21, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Will Barton (back) – Injured on December 23, 2022. DNP on Friday.

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