January 14, 2024, 4:28 pm
Folks, we’re back again with The Week Ahead. This time it’s Week 13. Let’s hope that it’s not an unlucky number for our fantasy squads. Time is running out before fantasy playoffs start and every setback is going to feel just a little bit worse as we get closer to that moment.
NBA teams are looking towards the finish line now too. The lowest tier of the pyramid has been crystal clear for a while now and I’ll spare those teams the embarrassment of being identified as the losingest losers once again. What I won’t do is spare the Grizzlies from being securely added to their ranks in the wake of Ja Morant’s season-ending injury. All that losing they did while Morant was suspended was supposed to be fuel for the fire once he returned. It turns out this was all for naught and they’re just too far back for the playoffs to matter anymore. Marcus Smart is down for the foreseeable future too, so there’s a major gap in their backcourt rotation. It’s time to kick the tires on Jacob Gilyard, Luke Kennard and Vince Williams Jr. for short-term streaming or more in a bunch of leagues. From this point on, the Grizzlies are among my favorite teams for streaming purposes due to the impact of injuries and the need for lower-ranked players to step up.
The Grizzlies have a nearly identical record to two Eastern Conference teams that have yet to be buried by fans and media. Are the Hawks and Raptors running out of time to make their push? You bet. Both are on losing streaks right now and missing key players whose injuries are leaving holes in their rotations right now. De’Andre Hunter’s absence continues to create extra chances for Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey to shine in the frontcourt but Hunter is likely to return soon. One or both are likely to lose fantasy value as a result but the drop-off from low-end hold to streamer isn’t too steep. On the flip side, Jakob Poeltl has left a 7-foot hole in the Raptors lineup and they’re very poorly equipped to replace him. Veteran Thaddeus Young simultaneously proved to be the best and worst for the job in short order. With Chris Boucher continuing to look like a deer in headlights all season and failing to rise to a custom-made opportunity for him to shine, Darko Rajakovic is now being forced to look to recently-signed two-way player Jontay Porter. Believe it or not, Michael Porter Jr.’s little brother is actually pretty good at basketball and is probably your best risk-reward play this week. There isn’t enough WD-40 in the world to keep Young’s joints from rusting and the ship seems to have sailed on Boucher as a fantasy-relevant player. Both the Raptors and Hawks play four times this week so their rotation players should yield positive returns.
Injuries aren’t always an excuse. The Cavs have been banged-up all season and you’d never notice. They’re on a four-game winning streak that’s hiding the fact that faces of the franchise Darius Garland and Evan Mobley are missing. One of those two were expected to pair with Donovan Mitchell as the team’s second All-Star this season. Instead, Jarrett Allen is getting tons of grassroots support for that nod and despite the fact that he doesn’t seem that interested in it, Allen has more than earned that consideration. He’s putting up first round value over his past five games. The fact that Caris LeVert has proven so able to step up to the plate as a featured scorer has certainly made things easier. It’s not the first time in his career that LeVert has produced 20-plus point per game with consistency but it feels like there aren’t enough eyes on this. He’s still available in lots of leagues and that just doesn’t make sense when LeVert is producing such great results in points, treys, assists and steals without any of the typical efficiency concerns. Does that change with Garland’s anticipated return as soon as this week? Maybe, but I’d rather get burned by rostering him than by missing out on what LeVert is currently doing. It’s worth noting that Garland has been underperforming expectations as a fantasy producer this season and has missed a large chunk of time due to injury. Check in with his manager in your league to see if they might want to cut ties. I’d trade most of the fringe top-50 guys and anyone below that mark for Garland if possible. The Cavs have one of the best end-of-season schedules in the league and I expect big things from their key players as the team jockeys for position in the East.
It’s a tougher fight in the Western Conference and there’s no better example of that than the Jazz. Just like Rodney Dangerfield, they just can’t get any respect. It’s like nobody’s watching during their five-game winning streak. Maybe they’re not? Those lime yellow jerseys are pretty hard to look at. It’s easy to look at who they’re beating and understand that those are tough opponents though. Recent victories over the Nuggets, Bucks, Sixers and Mavs proved that this team is no pushover. Over the two-week period since the New Year, there have been as many as nine players that have been hovering around standard league value on averages. Lauri Markkanen is the obvious and unequivocal leader of the group and there are some familiar names behind him. However, surprises like Kris Dunn and Simone Fontecchio have stood out among the role players and are now staples in Will Hardy’s starting lineup. Kelly Olynyk and Keyonte George continue to provide value off the bench too. From top to bottom, this team is loaded with quality fantasy players. However, they’re tied for the fewest games between now and the end of the season. Where possible, I like the idea of selling high on the big names from this squad. Markkanen, Collin Sexton, John Collins and Jordan Clarkson are all playing well right now. Walker Kessler retains his blocks and boards aura through the highs and lows. I’d be happy to cash in on equal value trades for any of these guys. There’s still plenty of fantasy value to be drawn from the lower half of the rotation, which is admittedly kind of crowded. That’s why I like opting in when appropriate and having the freedom to bail when necessary.
Marvin Bagley III is probably going to have more freedom as he joins the Wizards after a Sunday morning trade. The former second overall pick anchored a 2-for-2 swap between two lottery teams, as the Pistons also sent out Isaiah Livers in exchange for Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala. Earth-shaking news, I know. Honestly, I’m not really into this move from a fantasy perspective but I’ve got to admit that there is some appeal to rostering a still young-ish former lottery pick that’s being traded to a situation that is more personally advantageous to him. It’s basically just Daniel Gafford in the post; forgive me if I don’t consider Deni Avdija a post player but he’s not. Frankly, I’m not sure how badly Bagley wants to be one either, so beware of your efficiency categories if rostering him as Bagley isn’t averse to taking heat check shots like your average guard. Hopefully he’s cleared for Thursday and managers can justify taking a short-term flier on Bagley as the Wizards start the first of three games to close the week. I’m expecting him to shoot lots and hopefully score along with those shots. The boards should be there too. Anything else would be a bonus but if he were to consistently bring it on defense (blocks) I would be singing a much different song about Bagley. Right now it’s a cautiously optimistic song at best and one I don’t plan to sing for very long.
We closed last week’s piece as we always do: with the Quick Adds. Let’s reflect on how they did for a moment. I’d rather not but we should because accountability matters. Holy cow did they stink. Norman Powell was the best of a bunch that I felt pretty good about and frankly, what he did wasn’t particularly good. Four games of passable scoring with a few treys isn’t bad but Powell still fell short of what I even admitted last week to be lowered expectations. Jaden McDaniels had a single good game before joining Brandon Miller and Harrison Barnes in being unmitigated disasters for fantasy managers that rostered them last week. At least Miller has the excuse of a back injury that limited his last game. I’m still not giving him credit for doing in one game with points and treys what Powell did in four games last week. You may recall that I didn’t think Powell’s efforts were enough either. I’m in desperate need of redemption with this week’s picks and I hope they come through. More on that later.
This upcoming slate of games features the two heaviest days of the week in the earliest part of the schedule. Monday and Wednesday are both double-digit game days that should see most lineups mostly or completely filled. Those days sandwich your weakest day on the schedule, Tuesday. Unfortunately, that Tuesday is going to create some streaming complications for managers as there are no back-to-backs, only a pair of opportunities for a 2-in-3 stream and no 3-in-4 plays from that point. Teams basically have to make their first stream on Monday or Wednesday because there’s hardly any efficient way to work around what would otherwise be the best streaming day.
Thankfully it gets easier from there but it wouldn’t be surprising to see some managers enter the latter half of the week with only one move used simply due to the limited utility of early streaming plays. Of the 13 back-to-backs that will happen throughout Week 13, more than half of them will come from the middle of the schedule and onwards, when almost every fantasy team should have space in their lineup daily. That leads to my last note: it’s time to drop Clippers, Bucks and Kings players where possible and appropriate. Their two-game weeks are going to drag you down in most cases because you’re likely to have vacant spots in your lineup every day. Where possible, these players should be swapped out for players with four-game weeks or streamed every 48 hours. Just because there aren’t many great moves on Monday doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make them. It’s possible to cover all seven days with four moves and it gets easier if you can hit your marks on Monday. There’s more on that below but only if you’re a subscriber!
Two Games: Clippers, Bucks, Kings
Three Games: Hornets, Bulls, Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Grizzlies, Wolves, Pelicans, Suns, Blazers
Four Games: Hawks, Celtics, Nets, Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Sixers, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz, Wizards
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