January 7, 2024, 7:46 pm
Hello and welcome to the latest edition of The Week Ahead. We just went through a crazy week filled with noteworthy moments like Nikola Jokic’s buzzer-beater, the Giannis-Wemby showdown and countless triple-doubles. Domantas Sabonis gave us two in a row and it’s unlikely that anyone was surprised to see Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetkounmpo pull it off, but what about the others? It was the first time in their respective careers that Jordan Clarkson and Paolo Banchero achieved that mark, so congratulations to the managers that had them rostered while they over-delivered on fantasy value.
Jokic and the Nuggets continue to roll through most of the league with ease thanks to their larger-than-life superstar. The two-time MVP and league champion had hardly missed a shot since Christmas before finally going for a paltry 13-of-19 from the field in a close loss to the Magic on Friday. Needless to say, he’s one of the best fantasy players in the game but his teammates are doing pretty well lately too. Jamal Murray has been on a roll this week with top-25 value carried by above-average points, assists and steals while Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. have been around the top-50. Unfortunately, that Magic game really underscored the fact that the team can’t regularly rely on anyone else for a bucket. Reggie Jackson is the closest to that mark but his inefficiency keeps him on the bench and only infrequently on the fantasy radar. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has traditionally been the best of the role players but he has been nearly invisible on the stat sheet since the New Year and managers should probably be streaming him out of their lineup rather than waiting for a turnaround. We’re all anxious to anoint Christian Braun and Peyton Watson as the next great Nuggets but they’re simply not consistent enough to be worth attention outside of deeper formats, and the same could be said of their veteran teammate, Justin Holiday.
All this is meant to underscore the notion that the Nuggets are thinner than you might think but still very much in title contention. They have some notably injury-prone featured players in Murray and Porter, so it seems reasonable that some rest games may be on the horizon as the playoffs come into focus. There’s also the fact that no other team plays fewer games than the Nuggets between now and the end of the season. Overall, I’m left with the impression that what we’re seeing from Murray and Porter in particular represents a sell-high moment for both. Gordon’s rare appearance in top-50 range also seems like a good moment to sell. Those three will definitely have every chance in the world to provide some serious fantasy value in every game they play between now and the rest of the season, but all of their peers should outproduce them by volume. It might be time to make that switch. The others behind them in the rotation? I’m moving on.
Let’s shift to another European superstar: Victor Wembanyama. Listen, it’s his world and we’re all just living in it. From a fantasy basketball perspective, he is going to perpetually be a buy-low target until his inevitable ascent to the top spot. How could you not think that after seeing how he continues to rise to the challenge of some of the NBA’s brightest talents? Wemby met the nearly unstoppable Giannis at the rim for a block, lost Damian Lillard with a move in transition and then crammed it on one of the league’s all-time best shot blockers in Brook Lopez. He’s splitting double teams at the top of the key and throwing alley-oops to himself off the backboard! There’s almost nothing Wembanyama can’t do and everyone should be trying to add him to their fantasy team.
Wemby is due to be crowned as the new king of the league in short order and it’s likely that Devin Vassell will be right beside him when that day comes. After all, the 6’5” wing has been shooting the lights out all week and is matching Wembanyama’s scoring while besting him in treys, steals, both shooting percentages and turnovers. It remains to be seen who else among the current Spurs will have the privilege of suiting up next to Wembanyama in the not-too-distant future when he takes over the league. From a fantasy perspective, no other player ranked within the top-125 over the past week. As optimistic as pockets of the basketball universe are about players like Jeremy Sochan and Tre Jones, the reality is that they just don’t seem like the right pieces for this puzzle. The tug of war between them for the point guard position has brought considerable inconsistency out of both this season and Malaki Branham looms as a third entrant in the race. However, there’s still some short-term appeal here despite their up-and-down nature. With Zach Collins out for the next month, there’s probably going to be enough minutes and touches in the rotation for both to prove useful. I’m expecting Jones and Sochan to be two of the trending streamers of the week due to their 3-in-4 that starts on Wednesday. If Branham clears the injury report then he will get in the mix too. They can’t all have good weeks if they’re sharing the ball but there’s enough of a schedule-based incentive to at least try with one of them. I remain a card-carrying member of the Tre Jones Fan Club but I have to admit that he has only recently earned that praise again. Typically it has been more bad than good with Jones and so many other Spurs. It’s feast or famine with the Spurs, so tread carefully when dealing with anyone not named Vassell or Wembanyama.
Speaking of dealing: what’s going on with Pascal Siakam and the Raptors? This is a question worth following closely over the coming weeks. It’s starting to seem more and more likely that another blockbuster deal may be in Toronto’s near future. Teams rumored to be interested include the Grizzlies, Kings, Mavs, Pistons and Warriors, although that’s likely not a concrete or exclusive list. The point is that you should be following where he goes closely and getting in your trade offers for Siakam in advance of any potential deal. Managers would do well to remember that he is a multi-time All-NBA player on the verge of free agency. Whether he finishes the season as a Raptor or not, Siakam is going to feel the pressure to turn up his production down the stretch so that he can validate the king’s ransom that will be his next deal. History indicates he is capable of reaching those levels. On the flip side, managers will have to be more reactionary with the Raptors side of the trade. Who is coming back? Siakam would leave a major gap in the team’s already limited rotation, so it’s likely that the returning players will factor heavily into the newest version of the team. Names like Jonathan Kuminga, Josh Green and Keegan Murray have popped up in rumors and it suffices to say that their respective values would improve in a new environment that would get them more involved on offense. I’d go after whoever anchors any potential deal and at least take a flyer on them in standard leagues. However, only Murray seems to be worth preemptively rostering among the rumored players and he is definitely already rostered in your league.
The Kings sophomore won’t come cheap after two consecutive double-doubles with multiple treys and a steal. It might still be cheaper in comparison to what he might cost after getting unleashed on a team without such a clearly-established pecking order. I’m obliged to tell you that Kings fans find it unconscionable to lose their prized prospect but I’m also obliged to tell you that it’s the Kings. Subverting expectations is part of their brand. It would truly subvert expectations if the Warriors made any mid-season moves, so it’s harder to say you should strike early with Kuminga, who is ranked lower overall and generally more available despite being at a comparable level as a pro prospect.
On expectations: they were high in New York after OG Anunoby came to town and so far it looks like the experiment is off to a good start. Knicks fans haven’t taken issue with Anunoby’s reduced points, treys and assists output but fantasy managers probably have. Last week, I told you he was a buy low with top-25 potential. This week, I’m telling you the same thing but acknowledging that his current pace makes him more of a top-75 guy. The buy-low window remains open and anyone who doesn’t follow Knicks media or fans online might think that Anunoby has been kind of disappointing. Those that do will realize that the NBA has finally woken up to the fact that Raptors fans weren’t exaggerating his defensive impact. Anunoby’s plus-minus is through the roof since joining the Knicks and it feels like the Knicks want to sneak him into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion already. Despite some decreases in certain categories, Anunoby is still playing well and has clearly mastered the one side of the ball. The offensive stats should follow shortly as he becomes more accustomed to the team’s offensive sets. Anunoby is definitely doing much better than the teammates that crossed over with him. Yours truly has never been and will never be optimistic about Malachi Flynn as an NBA player but it’s time to offer a retraction on Precious Achiuwa from last week’s piece. He skipped the honeymoon phase with the Knicks and went right back to seeming like a fish out of water as he so often did with the Raptors. Isaiah Hartenstein is playing some of the best basketball of his career and it’s clearly better for Tom Thibodeau to keep increasing his workload rather than trusting in Achiuwa. I said he was worth taking a chance on and I regret it.
There are some other names that I was boosting last week, so let’s look at the Quick Adds and try to find some redemption. It’s not hard to find. If you took any of the four guys I named last week then you got good value while it lasted. I say that last part because Tari Eason was the best of the bunch on averages but that’s because he only played one game and it was great. He’s at the level that I might consider stashing him through his current injury. I love the Rockets’ end-of-season schedule. I also love what Andre Drummond has been doing for the Bulls. He’s the lowest of the four in the rankings but the highest in my heart. If you take free throws out of the equation, he’s one of the very best center options in fantasy basketball. A nightly double-double threat that is producing better than one block and steal each is worth rostering in any format. Now that Nikola Vucevic is back, Drummond is on the fence between streamer and hold. I’d hold him ahead of a four game week with a 3-in-4 from Wednesday. At this point and time, it doesn’t seem like Immanuel Quickley will be going back to the waiver wire ever again. He is truly thriving with the Raptors and he shouldn’t be available anywhere. I’ve reached the point that I would say the same of Aaron Nesmith as well. The Pacers wing is starting to climb the ranks of the most impactful and productive defenders of the league, while he offers all the same 3-point shooting appeal that allowed him to crack the lineup in the first place. As a rule, I will always recommend that you add and hold any player that can give you at least one 3-pointer, one steal and one block per game. Nesmith has done that in 4-of-7 appearances since joining the starting lineup. Don’t leave him on your wire.
This week is just plain weird. There are two squads that will play only once and another that will play twice in a week that will see nearly half the league double that total. That’s why it’s time to abandon ship if you have any expendable Nets, Cavs or Sixers. In leagues that limit managers to weekly changes, all but Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey should probably be sidelined. I don’t even trust All-Star caliber players like Donovan Mitchell and Mikal Bridges when their one game could be easily outpaced by streamer-level players. These teams won’t be active until Wednesday at the earliest, so you can’t even get some early value out of them. At least the Sixers get you 2-in-3 from Wednesday to Friday and there is some limited streaming value there. The best options in the early part of the schedule will definitely come from the limited selection of back-to-back teams. There are only six back-to-backs by Thursday night and none on Monday. The Celtics and Thunder are the most active through the first half of the week and will surely trend up thanks to their Monday game and Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back. They’ll be closely followed by players from the Pistons, Wolves, Kings and Raptors on the Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-backs. From that point on, the Bucks and Blazers are your best value-added streams but generally speaking, there are more good options in the latter half of the week thanks to more condensed games for most teams.
The busiest days will be Wednesday, Friday and Saturday but no day features any more than 10 games, so it’s likely that fantasy managers will have flexibility to stream for a full seven days in most circumstances. Within the context that any stream has value if it adds two games over a three day period at minimum, managers that plan to stream should expect to make at least two but probably three moves this week. It will be impossible to stream for a full seven days on only four moves, so managers are likely making inefficient streaming plays on Monday and Saturday if at all. We’ll go into more detail about all of the intricacies of the schedule and how to navigate it further below.
One Game: Nets, Cavs
Two Games: Sixers
Three Games: Hawks, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Lakers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Knicks, Magic, Suns, Spurs, Raptors, Wizards
Four Games: Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Heat, Bucks, Wolves, Thunder, Blazers, Kings, Jazz
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