• Another week brings another edition of The Week Ahead! After reflecting on the past week of NBA basketball, it’s clear that we need to be asking ourselves if the New Orleans Pelicans are serious contenders. Those of us who had been asking the question for some time now are increasingly bullish on the Pelicans account, while the results are speaking for themselves and limiting the ammo available to doubters. It’s no secret that the business operations side of the NBA would love to see Zion Williamson at the front of a championship contender, and he might be able to do just that with a strong supporting cast that includes fellow up-and-comer Brandon Ingram, crafty veteran CJ McCollum, the slumping-but-solid Jonas Valanciunas, a resurgent Larry Nance Jr. and a strong bench corps that includes fantasy-friendly players like Dyson Daniels, Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and Naji Marshall. This team is too fun and productive to ignore, so I’m buying stock in all players listed above if they’re among the best available in leagues of all depths. Oh, and for the record: that late-game dunk from Zion was awesome. The emergent Pelicans-Suns rivalry is really starting to heat up and the post-game scuffle after the dunk was proof. All eyes will be on their next matchup and we fans can only hope for another heated contest out west.

     

    It’s a small wonder that the NBA manages to put out such a consistently entertaining product despite the litany of ailments, discomforts, injuries and personal matters that seem to consistently keep key players from suiting up for their teams. Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers were the three-time reigning injury management champions of the NBA, but after Saturday’s offering, it seems like the Nets aim to steal the crown this year. Brooklyn had nearly every player of consequence on the sidelines when they faced the Pacers on Saturday. After all appearing in the first leg of the Nets’ Friday-Saturday back-to-back, Ben Simmons, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Royce O’Neale, Seth Curry and TJ Warren all sat out on Saturday with the “injury management” tag applied to their respective cases. Before the night was over, multiple members of this group had already been preemptively confirmed for the next game. This is, of course, after the Nets had a two-week homestand that hadn’t seen them play a road game since November 25th, which was also against the Pacers. Managers that drafted Durant and Irving are surely going to ride it out, but there’s going to be some justifiable trust issues for those with Nets players rostered for the foreseeable future. Let’s not let Leonard and the Clippers off the hook either, though: they’re still missing several key swingmen due to injury on any given night and haven’t been able to show fantasy managers what a consistent rotation looks like all season. So, there’s a pair of heliocentric teams that don’t seem to offer the consistency that managers with limited weekly moves may want right now. 

     

    There’s probably a few pity parties being held among the respective fanbases of the Hornets and Wizards as they fight through the doldrums of a weeks-long losing streak amidst injuries and, in Kyle Kuzma’s case: trade rumors. Bradley Beal and LaMelo Ball are hanging out in street clothes while their teams rotate an ensemble cast through their vacant spots with varying success rates. This week, Deni Avdija and Jordan Goodwin have stepped up and made the Wizards worth following in fantasy circles, but it would be too aspirational to say that Bryce McGowens and Theo Maledon did the same for the Hornets with their minutes boost this week. The Hornets need to trade for a time machine in order to see meaningful growth from some of the players they have waiting in the wings, but if there is any substance to the Kuzma trade speculation, managers are going to have a hard time separating from Avdija in any league format.

     

    Find me anyone on the planet that earnestly believed that the Sacramento Kings would be the best California-based team in the NBA at this point in the season, and I’ll shine a bright purple beam (if you know, you know) on a liar of the highest order. I daresay that someone born and raised and running for political office in Sacramento wouldn’t be so bold as to say that the team that has missed the playoffs for the last 16 seasons would be out-performing the reigning champion Warriors or the two LA-based teams that feature five past or present All-NBA talents combined. However, that’s the case, and here we are celebrating the leaps in production from Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk that have seen the Kings round out their rotation behind stars De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis; the latter of whom has been putting up top-10 value over the past two weeks. Most of the other Kings are deep league options right now, but they’re well-stocked with exciting prospects that have long-term potential, such as Chimezie Metu and Davion Mitchell.

     

    Before moving forward, we’re going to have to re-evaluate our relationships with some of last week’s Quick Adds. Max Strus and TJ Warren didn’t do much worth noting over the past week and, while I am still enthusiastic about Warren’s long-term potential, I can’t in good conscience advocate for his continued rostership. However, I am prepared to take a victory lap on all the other names from last week’s list. Bogdan Bogdanovic started out slow but turned into a flamethrower by the end of the week and is definitely going to be a standard league asset for the foreseeable future. Similarly, we got another top-100 week from Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard, who has officially settled into what seems to be a full-time starting role alongside Tyrese Haliburton. Nembhard is likely to be a hold for as long as he’s starting; as will be Markelle Fultz, who bookended an absolute dud against the Clippers with standout lines against the Bucks and Raptors, respectively, over the course of the week. However, I’ll issue a word of caution to those investing in Fultz: the Magic aren’t scheduled for four games in a single week until the week of January 9, 2023. They hardly have any weak schedule games over that period, so now is the time to start shopping Fultz or other Magic players that may be near the end of your bench.

     

    This edition of The Week Ahead was titled “Nine Lives” not only because it is Week Nine, but also because the schedule will allow managers struggling through injuries to effectively stream in replacement production over the course of the week. In a pleasant reversal of the new scheduling trend, the NBA has blessed us with a balanced schedule that is more amenable to short-term streaming. With a whopping five effective streaming days, managers should have no shortage of options to cycle through all week in order to get an edge over the competition. The Monday-Tuesday back-to-back from the Celtics offers the most immediate reward for managers that are able to capitalize, while attention is likely to shift towards the Wizards for their back-to-back to close out the week. Managers that make moves for Suns and Jazz players might want to pull off a long-stream and carry those athletes into Week Ten for bonus games on Monday and Tuesday, but there’s still good value in their three weak schedule games for the current week. There’s good value in players from all these teams for the upcoming slate of games, but none of them will be winning Best Schedule this time around. In fact, I called my shot for both Best and Worst Schedule in the last article, and I haven’t changed my mind since. Expect to see more on that below.

     

    Schedule Breakdown

    Two Games: Sixers

    Three Games: Hawks, Nets, Hornets, Bulls, Nuggets, Pistons, Rockets, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Pelicans, Knicks, Magic, Suns, Kings, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz

    Four Games: Celtics, Cavs, Mavs, Warriors, Pacers, Clippers, Heat, Wolves, Thunder, Blazers, Wizards

     

    Back-to-Backs

    Monday-Tuesday: Celtics

    Tuesday-Wednesday: Warriors, Kings

    Wednesday-Thursday: Clippers, Heat

    Thursday-Friday: None

    Friday-Saturday: Cavs, Mavs, Thunder, Blazers

    Saturday-Sunday: Wizards

    Sunday-Monday (Week Ten): Hornets, Lakers, Wolves, Magic, Raptors

     

    Schedule Maximizers

    I played this tune in the Week Eight and repeated it in the intro: the Celtics are the early week targets. For streaming purposes, managers could hardly do better than a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back that leads into a multi-day rest period. The obvious move is to take that Celtics player and turn them into someone from the Clippers or Heat for a Wednesday-Thursday play. Again, this plays perfectly into a transition to athletes belonging to the Cavs, Mavs, Thunder or Blazers for the Friday-Saturday window, which should bring managers with a four move limit to Sunday with one last transaction to make. There are five teams that play on Sunday and Monday of the following week, so it’s advisable for managers to take a chance on someone from the Hornets, Lakers, Wolves, Magic or Raptors in order to get some extra juice for Week Ten. For anyone that misses any of these windows: it’s most important to fill holes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of this week, which should still follow the general principle of hitting the weakest schedule days, using three moves going into the weekend and setting up a Saturday-Sunday streamer swap for the final play of the week.

     

    Best Schedule: Miami Heat (@ Pacers, @ Thunder, @ Rockets, @ Spurs)

     

    Full disclosure: this schedule is identical to that of the Clippers. However, the Clippers are significantly harder to predict than the Heat, who already served managers well as the incumbent Best Schedule team from Week Eight. Five players returned standard league value over the Heat’s recent stretch, while past contributors like Max Strus and Victor Oladipo are still lurking. A similar number of players are available from Los Angeles’ second franchise, but every one of them could be properly identified as a small forward, so it still feels safer to roll with one of the Heat. With three weak schedule games and a schedule that wraps on Saturday, the Heat offer the perfect long-stream with a bonus opportunity for managers that want to flip that Heat player for a Sunday streamer. Looking at who they play on this upcoming four-game slate, it’s likely that the Heat will have a very productive week. Chances are good that the Pacers, Thunder, Rockets and Spurs will not be favored in their respective matchups with Miami, so expect to see some positive outcomes for a range of Heat players in the upcoming schedule.

     

    Worst Schedule: Philadelphia 76ers (vs. Kings, vs. Warriors)

     

    I said it last week: they’re the only two-game team this time around, so the Sixers are your two-time reigning Worst Schedule champions. On any given week, there are usually about four or five Sixers that are unquestionably roster-worthy and the remainder are usually on the outside looking in. Well, this time around, that group is going to have to put on a real show in consecutive home games in order to be competitive with their peers. There are ten teams with twice as many games, so the odds aren’t good that the Sixers player on top of your waiver wire is going to pay dividends this week. Even the Sixers’ core four of James Harden, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey perform better on the road, so there’s not a lot of room for optimism here.

     

    Game of the Week: Pelicans @ Suns on December 17, 2022

     

    Could it be anything else? Two of the top dogs in the Western Conference will duke it out on the court and perhaps other ways, if their last encounter is any indication of what the future holds. Most fans are excited for the headliners -Devin Booker and Zion Williamson- but yours truly can’t wait to see Jose Alvarado and Chris Paul pushing each other to their limits once again. There’s no confusing who’s the better player, but both point guards are notorious defensive pests and they’ve become so contentious with each other that Alvarado will now only refer to Paul as, “that person.” There are tons of top-100 producers that should be active in this matchup, as Deandre Ayton and Jonas Valanciunas will face off in the post while CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III try to outmatch Mikal Bridges and Torrey Craig. The Pelicans missed Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones last time they took on the Suns, but both players could be x-factors in a re-match if they are able to play. Add in Larry Nance Jr. and you’ve got 13 players with standard league value in a rivalry game with playoff implications.

     

    Quick Adds

     

    Aleksej Pokusevski, SF/PF/C, Oklahoma City Thunder

     

    It looked dry for a while, but let’s go back to this well and see if there’s water once more. Pokusevski’s output has been all over the place in recent weeks and that feels as true-to-form as anything else I could say about his still-young career. The third-year prospect is capable of producing impressive numbers all over the stat sheet, but he carries considerable risk as a mostly-unproven player with questionable efficiency on a team with inconsistent minutes distribution. The recent trend seems to indicate that he’s on the way back up again, so let’s take a shot on Pokusevski ahead of the Thunder’s four-game Week Nine slate. This pick could really help managers if it works out, as the Thunder have a loaded schedule and won’t rest for more than a day until Saturday of Week Ten. 

     

    Caleb Martin, SF/PF, Miami Heat

     

    Let me just throw some stats out there before we tackle the obvious question: 26 games played, 26 games started, 32.7 minutes per-game, 11% rostered on ESPN, 42% rostered on Yahoo, 68% rostered on Fantrax and top-75 totals value for the season. What, exactly, are we waiting to see from Martin that we haven’t already seen? Everything about him is solid, if not spectacular, but he’s particularly reliable for above-average value in treys as steals with passable efficiency. The Heat have a generous schedule and an egalitarian offense, so there should be enough counting stat production to warrant a spot for Martin in leagues of all sizes and formats. I’ll take Martin’s consistency over an upside play for a streaking player any week.

     

    Kyle Anderson, SF/PF, Memphis Grizzlies

     

    I’m going to keep beating this drum until it sinks in, although I fear that it would take about the entirety of Karl-Anthony Towns’ injury-induced absence from the team for the message to resonate. Anderson is the fantasy basketball equivalent of cruise control while Towns is out and there is no reason to doubt his value over that length of time. Slo-Mo has appeared in this article and many of my other musings many times before, so I’m running out of creative ways to say that he can provide managers with meager-but-meaningful doses of points, treys, boards, assists, steals, blocks and shooting percentages. A veteran player with a starting role that can help out everywhere shouldn’t be a hard sell, and yet he’s rostered in less than half of all leagues. Managers are looking at a four-game schedule with no more than a day between games going into Saturday of Week Ten, so he’s worth consideration if available in most formats.

     

    Marcus Morris Sr., PF/C, Los Angeles Clippers

     

    There’s a lot of change in the Clippers rotation, but Morris has been a beacon of consistency for the team all season. Managers were treated to top-50 output for the first month of the season before Morris predictably regressed to more of a fringe standard league producer. However, he is still firmly-entrenched on the standard league radar and in the starting lineup for the Clippers, regardless of the statuses of Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. This should be an easy pickup for teams looking for out-of-position production of points, treys, steals and free throw percentage from a center-eligible player, as the Clippers are looking at a four-game schedule with a mid-week back-to-back that will finish in time to flip Morris for an extra streamer on Sunday.

     

    Walker Kessler, PF/C, Utah Jazz

     

    I’m convinced that the majority of fantasy basketball managers watch games with their eyes closed. How else could Kessler be available in more than half of all leagues? Whether on a per-game or totals basis, the rookie pivot is putting up top-50 value over the past two weeks. There’s no debating that Kessler is a non-factor in points, treys, assists and steals, but he passes the test in all the other areas, with free throw percentage getting a passing grade due to low volume. In fact, Kessler is in some pretty rare company as a blocks and field goal percentage producer. Over the last 14 days, only Anthony Davis has put up more combined value in blocks and field goal percentage. With an admittedly-smaller sample size, Kessler doubled the output of notable elites in these categories, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert. The Jazz only have three games this week, but that still accounts for nearly eight blocks and 23 boards while making three of every four attempts from the field, on average. The Jazz will need every bit of Kessler’s rim protection against the Pelicans’ downhill attack for two consecutive games before he’s tasked with containing the towering Bucks frontcourt, so it’s likely that the rookie big keeps rolling.

     

    Honorable Mention: Ayo Dosunmu (PG/SG, Bulls), Caris LeVert (SG/SF, Cavs), Charles Bassey (PF/C, Spurs), Deni Avdija (SF/PF, Wizards), Derrick White (PG/SG, Celtics), Donte DiVincenzo (PG/SG, Warriors), Grant Williams (SF/PF, Celtics), Jalen Duren (PF/C, Pistons), Jalen Williams (SG/SF, Thunder), Jordan Goodwin (PG, Wizards), Jose Alvarado (PG, Pelicans), Luke Kennard (SG/SF, Clippers), Malik Beasley (PG/SG, Jazz), Patrick Williams (PF, Bulls), Romeo Langford (SG/SF, Spurs), Santi Aldama (PF/C, Grizzlies), Tari Eason (PF, Rockets)

     

    Injury Report

     

    Dejounte Murray (left ankle) – Injured on December 8, 2022. To be re-evaluated in mid-December.

    John Collins (left ankle) – Injured on November 30, 2022. To be re-evaluated in mid-December.

    Ben Simmons (left knee) – Injured on November 28, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Dennis Smith Jr. (left ankle) – Injured on November 11, 2022. Out for Sunday.

    Gordon Hayward (left shoulder) – Injured on November 2, 2022. Week-to-week.

    LaMelo Ball (left ankle) – Injured on November 16, 2022. Out for Sunday.

    Alex Caruso (posterior) – Injured on December 9, 2022. Out for Sunday.

    Donovan Mitchell (right leg) – Injured on December 9, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Kevin Love (back) – Injured on December 8, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Maxi Kleber (right foot) – Injured on December 9, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Michael Porter Jr. (left foot) – Injured on November 19, 2022. Out for Sunday.

    Cade Cunningham (left shin) – Injured on November 10, 2022. Out indefinitely.

    Andrew Wiggins (groin) – Injured on December 2, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

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

    Andrew Nembhard (left knee) – Injured on November 18, 2022. DNP on Friday.

    Kawhi Leonard (right ankle) – Injured November 17, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Norman Powell (groin) – Injured on November 27, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Desmond Bane (toe) – Injured on November 12, 2022. Week-to-week.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo (left knee) – Injured on December 2, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    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.

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

    Gary Harris (right hamstring) – Injured on November 30, 2022. Out for Sunday.

    Jalen Suggs (right ankle) – Injured on November 24, 2022. Out for Sunday.

    Wendell Carter Jr. (right plantar fascia strain) – Injured on November 28, 2022. Week-to-week.

    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.

    Devin Booker (left hamstring) – Injured on December 10, 2022. Out for Sunday.

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

    Jakob Poeltl (right quadriceps) – Injured on November 26, 2022. Week-to-week.

    Jeremy Sochan (right quadriceps) – Injured on November 26, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Precious Achiuwa (right ankle) – Injured on November 9, 2022. Out indefinitely.

    Collin Sexton (right hamstring) – Injured on December 7, 2022. Week-to-week.

    Jordan Clarkson (hip) – Injured on December 10, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Bradley Beal (right hamstring) – Injured on December 4, 2022. Week-to-week.

    Delon Wright (right hamstring) – Injured on October 25, 2022. To be re-evaluated in mid-December.

    Monte Morris (groin) – Injured on December 9, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

    Rui Hachimura (right ankle) – Injured on November 16, 2022. Week-to-week.

    Will Barton (left foot) – Injured on December 3, 2022. DNP on Saturday.

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