January 1, 2023, 11:23 pm
Happy New Years everybody! It’s Week Twelve and we’re looking back on 2022 and an intriguing young season. What does what we’ve seen so far mean for the New Year? Hopefully more of the same but with less injuries.
In today’s sports culture, it seems like there’s a new first-time achievement every week. Forgive me if I’m not impressed every time someone comes up with a historic achievement like “first game with one block, two steals, three assists, four rebounds and five points in six minutes,” but first 60-point, 20-rebound triple-double? Yeah, that’s noteworthy. Luka Doncic has had three 50-point outings in his last five appearances, including that gem of a performance. That’s a grand total of 146 points on 50-of-81 shooting with 12 treys, 39 rebounds, 32 assists, seven steals and only six turnovers. Doncic was the undisputed king of the fantasy basketball world in the final weeks of 2022 and certainly has the ability to make his ascent permanent as the year progresses.
The undisputed kings of the Eastern Conference aren’t so clear anymore. Is it the former champs, the Bucks? What about the season-long leaders and last year’s runners-up, the Celtics? Would it be burying the lede to say that it’s seeming increasingly likely that it’s the Nets with their eleven-game winning streak and two All-NBA talents? Without meaning any disrespect to the unquestionably elite Celtics and Bucks, the Nets have been showing an impressive blend of offense, defense and depth. Fantasy-relevant players like Joe Harris, Seth Curry and TJ Warren have been relegated to supporting roles to varying degrees of success, while others like Royce O’Neale and Yuta Watanabe have thrived in this setting. They all form a strong core of support for the Nets’ Big Four. Oh, you’ve never heard that one before? Well, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons are in that group by default, but let’s not undersell what Nicolas Claxton is doing in Brooklyn as the league leader in field goal percentage and runner-up in blocks per-game. This team has been looking for a steadying influence in the post for several seasons and it appears that they have finally plugged one of their most enduring holes.
What’s going on in Indiana? They’re winners in three of four contests since Christmas with impressive victories over the contending Hawks, Cavs and Clippers. While the Pacers have traditionally been discussed as a developing team in the midst of a transitional period, recent results have given us cause to question if that label still fits. Myles Turner looks like the sort of center that teams build around; not trade. The Pacers pivot is often joined in trade rumors by Buddy Hield, who lead the league in 3-pointers made has connected on 40 more long bombs than the tenth name on the list, Luka Doncic. Those two join the elite Tyrese Haliburton in forming a fantasy Big Three that can all regularly churn out top-50 value or better. If the continued development of Aaron Nesmith and Andrew Nembhard sees them stay on the standard league fantasy radar, then the Pacers will have assembled quite the competitive roster. For now, the Pacers appear to have as many as five players that can be comfortably deployed in standard leagues.
Fans of certain NBA teams seem to be increasingly focused on highlight videos of a particular international draft prospect, and I can’t help but notice that they often support teams that are trending down. The Wizards are starting to roll in the East, but the Raptors, Hornets and Pistons fans haven’t had much to cheer about over their last 10 games. Out West, fans of the Wolves have to be asking themselves if they really want to add another top pick to a roster that already features two and still hasn’t accomplished much of anything. After losing their last six games and continuing to struggle through the Rudy Gobert experiment, it’s possible that things go sour in Minnesota sooner than later. The Rockets aren’t firing on all engines and it’s entirely possible that they prefer it that way. Aside from blowing out the Bulls on Boxing Day, the Rockets have done nothing of note but lose, and only two players registered standard league value over the period from then until now. Tari Eason appears to be the most likely player to crack that standard league nut next, but it’s hard to know what to expect from non-elite rookies.
Let’s take some time to send condolences to the managers of some key players that recently went down with injuries or other. We can start with the elephant in the room: Moritz Wagner, who certainly “went down” on Saturday. The German big’s per-game value was clearly worthy of any league format before he took a blow to the back of the head from Killian Hayes. Both men were suspended for their parts in the altercation and managers will have to make a tough decision whether or not to retain the two mid-to-low level standard league fantasy producers. RJ Barrett exited Tuesday’s game and appears to be on the shelf for a week-plus, while Devin Booker aggravated his groin injury and is likely in street clothes for about a month. Both players are the sort of shot-creators that are hard for any team to replace, but there are some nice in-house replacements to consider in most leagues: Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes from the Knicks along with Torrey Craig and Damion Lee from the Suns. They can be prioritized in the order listed.
Lastly, the up-and-down Aleksej Pokusevski probably had his last fantasy-relevant game of the year after suffering an injury that will see him sidelined for around two months. Nearly all Thunder players could be described as prospects, so there shouldn’t be any shortage of in-house contenders for Poku’s development minutes. More on that below.
Last week, we broke even with the Quick Adds. Mason Plumlee put up early round value while Trey Murphy III was well within the top-100. This was a nice counterbalance to my strikeout on the Lonnie Walker IV recommendation and near-misses with Delon Wright and Jalen Smith. There’s not much insight to give with the fails of the week: they stunk and I’m not likely to go back to them for a while. I stand by what I said about their upside -especially with Smith- but they can be someone else’s headache. On the other hand, managers should be bullish on Murphy and Plumlee ahead of their respective four-game weeks. Managers in all sorts of leagues should ensure these guys aren’t sitting on the waiver wire.
Looking forward to the first fantasy week of the New Year, we’re dealing with a fairly plain schedule with the peaks and valleys that seem so typical of this NBA season. There are three days with little-to-no streaming value and another that’s on the cusp. Managers will have to focus all of their attention on the Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday games to get an edge this week, and there’s only so many good players to go around. The schedule could deceive some managers this week, as more than two-thirds of the league will play four games, but the majority of them will all compete on the same four days. A long-stream will be hard to accomplish without certain players from key teams, so it’s best for managers to focus on one or two-game chunks of the schedule and flip players more often. There are three rookies on this week’s Quick Adds, so rest assured that I plan on taking several big swings in my leagues.
Two Games: Wizards
Three Games: Celtics, Nuggets, Warriors, Grizzlies, Bucks, Knicks, Magic, Kings
Four Games: Hawks, Nets, Hornets, Bulls, Cavs, Mavs, Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Lakers, Heat, Wolves, Pelicans, Thunder, Sixers, Suns, Blazers, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz
Tuesday-Wednesday: Bucks, Thunder, Kings
Wednesday-Thursday: Rockets, Grizzlies, Magic
Thursday-Friday: Nuggets, Clippers
Friday-Saturday: Bulls, Lakers, Pelicans, Spurs
Saturday-Sunday: Mavs, Jazz
Sunday-Monday (Week Thirteen): Grizzlies
The Monday schedule is busy enough that it can generally be disregarded unless filling injury gaps. Most teams should be focusing on getting players from the Celtics, Bucks, Thunder, Kings or Jazz for their Tuesday games. The Bucks and Thunder are the prizes of the lot with three games in the next four days, whereas the Kings may be the fool’s gold of the group with three days between relevant streaming opportunities. Wednesday’s busy slate shouldn’t see much change in the free agency pool as there will be limited opportunities to start those players, so opportunistic managers should already be looking to the Thursday teams: the Celtics, Mavs, Nuggets, Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Magic and Jazz. Managers that find that the best available player from that group is a member of the Rockets or Grizzlies should be warned that they’ll only get a single game of use out of that player before needing to drop them once again. It’s better to get three games from Thursday to Sunday and use players from the Mavs, Clippers or Jazz. Two-thirds of the league will play twice over the Friday-Sunday stretch, so managers will be free to take who they like by that point. Despite a lackluster weekend schedule, the Celtics and Magic will be the best options to carry into Week Thirteen for teams that can afford to do so.
Best Schedule: Jazz (vs. Kings, @ Rockets, @ Bulls, @ Grizzlies)
Four winnable games on weak schedule days and a weekend back-to-back. It’s a pretty cut-and-dried method of selecting a winner for Best Schedule, but it works. They’re one of only two teams that play on all the slow days this schedule, so it had to be the Jazz or the Celtics, and the extra game won the day for Utah. There’s lots to like with this team that has a full rotation of fantasy-relevant players. Their entire starting lineup should be rostered and started in most fantasy formats, while other key players like Collin Sexton and Malik Beasley are certainly worth a look as well. Deeper league managers will be looking at the likes of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Rudy Gay and Talen Horton-Tucker, and it’s easy to recommend any of these players as adds if they’re among the best available in different leagues.
Worst Schedule: Wizards (@ Bucks, @ Thunder)
The only two game team in a very inconsistent schedule week was an easy pick. The Wizards are rolling right now, so it may be tough, but managers may need to make tough choices with the likes of Daniel Gafford, Deni Avdija, Monte Morris and Rui Hachimura. Most of the league will be able to double-up their production this week, so it’s going to be really tough to rationalize holding on to non-essential Wizards players at that expense.
Game of the Week: Pelicans @ Mavs on January 7, 2023
Luka Doncic takes on Zion Williamson in a matchup that the league office and advertisers everywhere must be thrilled for. Young stars from the social media era were raised for moments like this and it’s a safe bet that both All-World players have had this matchup circled on their calendars. It’s time for them to put on a show. Doncic could have three running mates that are probable for standard league value, while Williamson is likely to have as many or more. From the Mavs side, it’s likely that Christian Wood and Spencer Dinwiddie are rostered in most places, so Tim Hardaway Jr. seems like the best bet for waiver wire options from his side, while the Pelicans could have any number of players in contention. In order of preference, I’d be looking at Trey Murphy III, Larry Nance Jr., Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado. Jones and Murphy would lose ground if Brandon Ingram is able to return for this contest, which could soften up the Pelicans’ defense to the benefit of their offensive firepower.
Jalen Williams, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
He has already been within the top-75 over the past week with primary value in defensive production and shooting percentages, but the Thunder rookie is capable of producing near-average value in points, treys and boards as well. Williams is entering a four-game week with starter’s minutes and is already on the standard league radar, so it’s smart to pick him up right now. A Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back kicks off a streak of games that won’t see the Thunder have more than a night off until Week Fourteen.
Jevon Carter, PG/SG, Milwaukee Bucks
Jrue Holiday has been sidelined recently and Khris Middleton’s return from offseason surgery has been anything but smooth. The plucky Carter has already demonstrated an aptitude for stepping up his production to standard league levels this season and will likely get some substantial opportunity to do so in a relatively noncompetitive week for the Bucks. The team has three games in four days for the week, including a home-away back-to-back. None of their opponents are in playoff contention and these are the sort of games that Coach Budenholzer allows his second-stringers to shine in. Carter may already be getting extra run with the starters due to others’ health concerns, but I’m betting on him being a major garbage time beneficiary in Week Twelve. I’ll pick him up if I need treys, assists or steals.
Jeremy Sochan, PF, San Antonio Spurs
Starter’s minutes for a streaking player on an noncompetitive squad with a maximized schedule makes for an easy streaming decision. Sochan is producing a solid mix of points, boards, assists, steals, blocks and shooting percentages lately. Given that he’s a rookie on a team that surely expects a rocky road ahead, it’s unclear how long this can last for. However, the fact remains that he’s rolling now and there’s more than enough value to capitalize on in the upcoming schedule. The rookie is going to have his hands full trying to contain the likes of Kevin Durant, Julius Randle and Jayson Tatum this week, but his defensive utility means he’s likely to spend lots of time on-court. Managers should take a flier and hope the Spurs can keep him rolling.
Malcolm Brogdon, PG/SG, Boston Celtics
It feels weird putting Brogdon here. In an ideal world, he’d be in a role on par with his Pacers days, where the 6’5” combo guard was unquestionably a top-75 asset. Brogdon is on the tail-end of his prime and could reasonably be considered just as capable of producing another middle-round season as he was as recently as last year. He’s even contending for Sixth Man of the Year for his new team, the Celtics. However, Brogdon has been struggling lately to the extent that his recent weeks aren’t on par with standard league levels and his overall ranking has slipped outside the top-125. That means he could be available in a growing number of leagues and I’m here to advise you to buy low on the Celtics playmaker. This is what I would consider a floor for a player who is typically only getting dropped because of availability concerns. Brogdon’s health hasn’t come into play much this season, so if he’s available, managers should take a chance that a former Rookie of the Year and mid-round talent can repeat several years of recent history and be a solid contributor. The Celtics only play on weak schedule days, so there’s a lot to like here.
Walker Kessler, PF/C, Utah Jazz
Kessler can be an x-factor in multiple categories and yet is still low profile enough to be available in a considerable number of leagues. Whether it’s rebounds, blocks or field goal percentage, Kessler is capable of producing top-tier value in several spots. A multi-category specialist from the team with the best schedule should be an obvious choice. Kessler is one of many options from the Jazz to consider this week and I chose him for his ability to create value in a high-impact category like blocks. Unlike counting stats, it doesn’t take much to make a difference with defensive production, and that’s Kessler’s calling card. The Jazz are facing some impressive offensive centers this week, so his services will be needed when Domantas Sabonis, Nikola Vucevic and Jaren Jackson Jr. are on the court.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Nesmith (SG/SF, Pacers), Alex Caruso (PG/SG, Bulls), Ayo Dosunmu (PG/SG, Bulls), Collin Sexton (PG/SG, Jazz), Grant Williams (SF/PF, Celtics), Herb Jones (SG/SF/PF, Pelicans), Jaden McDaniels (SF/PF, Wolves), Josh Richardson (SG/SF, Spurs), Kevon Looney (PF/C, Warriors), Malik Beasley (PG/SG, Jazz), Marcus Morris Sr. (PF/C, Clippers), Mo Bamba (C, Magic), Naz Reid (C, Wolves), Norman Powell (SG/SF, Clippers), Onyeka Okongwu (C, Hawks), Patrick Beverley (PG/SG, Lakers), Tari Eason (PF, Rockets)
Clint Capela (right calf) – Injured on December 25, 2022. Day-to-day.
De’Andre Hunter (left ankle) – Injured on December 25, 2022. Day-to-day.
Joe Harris (left knee) – Injured on December 19, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Darius Garland (right hand) – Injured on December 30, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Evan Mobley (right ankle) – Injured on December 30, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Dorian Finney-Smith (groin) – Injured on December 19, 2022. To be re-evaluated in mid-January.
Maxi Kleber (right foot) – Injured on December 9, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Killian Hayes (suspension) – Reported on December 29, 2022. Eligible to return on January 4, 2023.
Andrew Wiggins (groin) – Injured on December 2, 2022. DNP on Friday.
Steph Curry (left shoulder) – Injured on December 14, 2022. Week-to-week.
Alperen Sengun (back) – Injured on December 31, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Jae’Sean Tate (right ankle) – Injured on October 29, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Nicolas Batum (left ankle) – Injured on December 29, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Anthony Davis (right foot) – Injured on December 15, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Desmond Bane (toe) – Injured on November 12, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Caleb Martin (left ankle) – Injured on December 28, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Jimmy Butler (right ankle) – Injured on December 22, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Khris Middleton (right knee) – Injured on December 16, 2022. Out for Sunday.
Jrue Holiday (illness) — Injured on December 26, 2022. DNP on Sunday.
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 Monday.
Larry Nance Jr. (neck) – Injured on December 28, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
Jalen Brunson (hip) – Injured on December 26, 2022. DNP on Saturday.
RJ Barrett (finger) – Injured on December 27, 2022. Week-to-week.
Obi Toppin (left knee) – Injured on December 7, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Aleksej Pokusevski (leg) – Injured on December 25, 2022. Out 6-to-8 weeks.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (right ankle) – Injured on December 12, 2022. Week-to-week.
Jalen Suggs (right ankle) – Injured on November 24, 2022. Out indefinitely.
Moritz Wagner (suspension) – Injured on December 29, 2022. Eligible to return on January 5, 2023.
Cameron Johnson (right knee) – Injured on November 4, 2022. Week-to-week.
Devin Booker (groin) – Injured on December 25, 2022. To be re-evaluated in late January.
Devin Vassell (left knee) – Injured on December 28, 2022. DNP on Saturday.