January 15, 2021, 3:02 am
Thursday brought us a rarity in today’s NBA: a full slate, played as planned! Sure, it was only five games, but you’ve got to take what you can get at this point. It was the first day since last Saturday where every NBA tilt went on as planned, and it may very well be the only day that happens this week. All our hopes and dreams ride on you, Sunday.
With the league’s COVID situation starting to get off the rails a bit, you simply have to take games whenever you can. In H2H leagues with weekly lineup or transaction locks, it’s common practice to take a look at a team’s schedule for the week and try and maximize your output. With teams getting wiped off the schedule more or less at random, it’s taken that aggressive pre-planning out of the equation, or at the very least, reduced its impact. A five-gamer on a Thursday doesn’t feel like a big deal but it’s been the first night in the last handful where fantasy GMs were able to trot out a lineup without any switches or surprising empty slots.
Add(s) of the Night
Enes Kanter, C, Portland Trail Blazers
This one’s an automatic after Jusuf Nurkic’s innocuous departure from Thursday’s game turned out to be a broken right wrist. That’s likely going to cost him multiple weeks, if not a month at least, which means Kanter should be looking at a starting role. Now, the limitations in his game will probably keep him from playing true starter’s minutes regardless of his spot in the lineup, but Kanter only needs about 22 mpg to shine in standard leagues. Heck, he’s already a top-120 option in 18.7 mpg. Kanter posted four points and nine rebounds tonight but you’re scooping him up for the long-ish haul here, not tonight’s work. Make sure that he isn’t available in any of your leagues.
Rudy Gay, F, San Antonio Spurs
Just seven days ago, Gay was a top-120 fantasy player. Now, Gay is a top-150/135 option (8/9-cat) whose four games in the last week feature nine, four, 12 and five points with three 3-pointers, three steals and one block — and those steals all came in one game. It was a fun throwback ride while it lasted but Gay’s run as a standard-league guy appears to be over. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last, either; as the sample size increases we’re going to see some names fall off the radar and the upside guys start to click.
Tonight’s big injury is obviously the fractured right wrist for Jusuf Nurkic, which we largely covered in our Kanter discussion.
On the COVID front, we got more good news than bad in pure volume terms, but who knows what tomorrow holds.
The Wizards and Pistons game has been postponed, as has the matchup between the Warriors and Suns. Phoenix vs. Atlanta from Saturday’s dance card has also been postponed. Sorry to anyone leaning on Bradley Beal or Devin Booker. The Wizards reportedly had a third player test positive today, though we don’t know exactly who that is. Rui Hachimura and Mo Wagner were the first two on the health and safety list but the Wiz haven’t said anything about their COVID cases officially.
The Heat were still missing Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn and Avery Bradley (among others) for health and safety protocols while Meyers Leonard missed the game with a shoulder strain. At least Kelly Olynyk’s groin issue proved to be minor.
Philly got a huge lift with Joel Embiid playing through more minor back soreness and Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton all back and available from the health and safety protocols.
In Minnesota, Ricky Rubio and Juan Hernangomez have both entered the health and safety protocols, so keep an eye out for a thin rotation in Minnesota — assuming they’ll still have enough guys unaffected to play by tomorrow night.
Boston will get Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams back for Friday while Jaylen Brown, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye and Javonte Green are all questionable. Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams and Carsen Edwards will remain out. This game’s still not a lock to be played but things do appear to be trending in the right direction. It’ll ride on whether some of those questionables can get the green light.
On the other side of that matchup, Evan Fournier (back spasms) was able to go through some pregame work last week but is back to being ruled out a full day ahead of time, so that’s not great.
Alec Burks (left ankle sprain) is doubtful to play on Friday, which isn’t immediate-term news, but it is technically an upgrade. We’ll see if he can recapture his early season form when he’s back in the lineup.
For Cleveland, Collin Sexton (left ankle sprain) and Darius Garland (right shoulder sprain) are still out. At least fantasy GMs won’t get hit with the Sexton bait-and-switch after lineup lock for a third straight game? Andre Drummond (right Achilles contusion) is probable but we’re going to watch the workload closely now that the Cavs have Jarrett Allen in the mix.
Karl-Anthony Towns (wrist) is also probable, as is Kristaps Porzingis (knee), who looked very good in his season debut on Wednesday. Hopefully that trio of elite fantasy bigs can keep it rolling.
Joe Ingles (Achilles) will miss his third out of the last four games tomorrow. After playing in 384 straight, it looks like he’s making up for lost time.
Ja Morant (ankle) is questionable for Friday in the most pleasant surprise we’ve seen in a while. The Grizzlies should be thrilled to have weathered the storm in their Morant-less stretch, sitting at 5-6 and just a single game out of the playoffs. It’s early, but with the way important players are being yanked from lineups and games are being taken off the slate, it’s going to get late early this season. Teams can’t afford to lose touch from the pack.
As for Thursday’s action, what’s left of the Rockets was forced to go out and ball without John Wall (left knee soreness) and Eric Gordon (left leg tightness). Expect them back in the next one, though they’ll likely be sharing the load with Victor Oladipo by then. Still, the James Harden departure simply has to raise everyone else’s floor.
Gordon Hayward (left hip) left Wednesday’s game early, was probable all afternoon and then downgraded to doubtful shortly before tip. His injury history is concerning but keep your fingers crossed that this is minor.
DeMar DeRozan returned from a two-game personal absence. Hopefully that means his father is okay; DeRozan used to fly from Toronto to LA on off-days to spend time with his dad back in the day. It’s clearly a strong bond and hopefully his quick return is a positive sign for the family.
Lonnie Walker put up 16 points while playing with a wrap on his left thumb, though he said it won’t impact his availability going forward.
Shoutout to the Indiana Pacers. Last season they made the bold move of firing a solid coach in Nate McMillan in an effort to get better. It took the league by surprise, as did their decision to go away from the retread candidates to hire Nate Bjorkgren. They also played their Victor Oladipo hand very well, turning an offseason trade demand into a deal that netted them a younger, cheaper player with three years left on his deal — and a player that’s comparable to Oladipo to boot. And still, on top of all that, the Pacers are absolutely killing it for fantasy GMs.
Myles Turner has been a revelation and will find himself in the running for DPOY. Even as his 3-point shooting has dipped to begin the year, Turner has managed to put together a sturdy offensive season that’s more than acceptable given his elite defense. The big man, whose name was floated in trade rumors, looks faster and stronger, with lateral quickness that just wasn’t there in the past. He’s averaging an absurd 4.2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game so far, which has him posting top-20/10 value (8/9-cat).
Malcolm Brogdon is off to a similarly excellent start, posting top-15 value. He’s delivering across the board with 22.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 3.1 triples a night on .484 from the field and .882 from the line. None of those numbers looks wildly out of whack considering Brogdon’s game and role.
Domantas Sabonis, the most hyped of the Pacers’ fantasy options entering the season, is cruising at top-25/45 value. He’s improved his efficiency and has taken another step as a playmaker as well. Sabonis is currently on track to establish new personal bests in points, rebounds, assists and threes. Things can change, but it’s wild that a breakout star from last season can get even better and still be the third-best fantasy option on his own team — one that people seem to gloss over regularly.
Even Oladipo, who is leaving this unexpected fantasy utopia, is right around the top-50 spot.
The Pacers never seem to get their due but they’ve assembled a roster of players that simply fit well together (credit to the players for making the sacrifices and adjustments to make it happen, especially Turner again), and it’s paying dividends in fantasy and reality. Last Friday our Giacomo Beltrami talked about the Suns’ team success and its apparent drag on players’ fantasy values, but in Indiana we might be seeing the opposite.
This year, more than most, will allow studious fantasy GMs to reap copious rewards. How many of your leaguemates knew who Jae’Sean Tate was this time 48 hours ago? How many know which team Harry Giles is on? What about Jerome Robinson? If it’s less than 100%, you’ve got the edge on somebody.
With players added to the injury report at the drop of a hat, it’s extremely important to have a loose idea of every team’s depth chart if you’re serious about taking home the fantasy gold. Usually this kind of speculation only reveals its benefits around the trade deadline, or in case of major injury, but it has a shot at paying off literally any day with the pandemic still raging on. While some guys, like Zion Williamson or Eric Paschall this week, for example, miss just a single game in the health and safety protocols, others are looking at 10-14 days on the shelf. Michael Porter Jr. has basically vanished entirely.
A fantasy GM that’s on top of the depth charts can easily ride the wave of pickups, getting a must-start player every 7-10 days with the way things are going. In the past week, the following players have posted top-100 value in 9-cat leagues: Jerome Robinson, Xavier Tillman, Isaiah Joe, Ed Davis, James Johnson, Payton Pritchard, Trey Burke, Grayson Allen, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, T.J. McConnell, Tyus Jones, Solomon Hill, Garrett Temple. That’s nearly 15% of the top-100 that’s more than likely sitting there, free for the taking on the vast majority of waiver wires.
These players won’t sustain that pace, obviously, and some are working on an extremely small sample — Robinson and McConnell have only played one game in the last week. But it goes to show that you can pretty easily put distance between yourself and the competition by doing your homework and getting a little bit aggressive. Pritchard was an obvious call once the Celtics dealt with their COVID issues, but guys like Joe, Johnson and Burke didn’t take a ton of critical thinking to identify as choice adds. At the worst, you can treat players on COVID-stricken teams as rolls of the dice. The upside is way higher than keeping that underachieving top-180 guy at the end of your bench, and eliminating that emotional attachment by cutting a disappointing draft pick will allow you to keep rolling through short-term values. It compounds.
Knowing who’s next in line is absolutely critical, and could’ve been the difference between losing your week and blowing your opponent away.