• Folks, we’re back at it with another edition of The Week Ahead. After a one-week hiatus due to the protracted All-Star weekend scheduling, we’re here to have a look at Week 18. If your league is anything like several of the ones I’m playing in, then this will be the last week of your regular season. If not, you’re really not that far behind. It’s time to cut out all the noise and focus on what’s going to help you win right now. 

    This week features only one double-digit game day, so there’s probably going to be space in your starting lineup every day with one possible exception. Either way, these are the conditions that make it harder to stash an injured or underperforming player. Given how I closed the first paragraph, it should be pretty clear to you that I’m planning to spend some time calling them out. Some players have well-earned reputations as standard league producers but fantasy playoffs is all about what they’ve done for you lately. Even if their name doesn’t appear below, you should be quick to cut ties with anyone on your roster that you might have expected to appear here. There’s just no time to wait anymore.

    A pair of future defensive aces just got some bad news and despite the differing timelines for return, I’m going to treat both the same. Patrick Williams is shut down for the season and it’s not clear if he did enough to earn that big contract he was angling for at the start of the year. Make sure he’s not on your roster but keep an eye on him for next season because there’s still lots of potential in a player that averaged one or more treys with nearly a block and steal per game. His teammate Alex Caruso is clearing those marks right now so be sure he’s not available in your league.

    This week, it was also revealed that Onyeka Okongwu is in a walking boot. He’s getting re-evaluated in two weeks. It’s a shame really. The Hawks big was going through one of his best stretches of the season. Now he should be on waiver wires as your team approaches the most crucial stretch of the fantasy season. There’s no telling if Okongwu will be cleared to play in two weeks but you shouldn’t take the chance that he will be. Cut him loose and try to stream him in if he returns to action. The Hawks aren’t in a great position to earn a playoff berth, so I suspect they won’t be too keen on bringing him back quickly. You may have heard that Trae Young just had hand surgery and is almost certainly done for the season. At least these two injuries help some others in the Hawks rotation. More on that later.

    The Nets aren’t in great shape either. They just fired their coach and the notorious Ben Simmons left his most recent game with leg soreness. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. He’s doubtful moving forward and who knows what happens next. Don’t look up his recent history and reputation if you want a good answer here. It may be a bit controversial to say this about a player with clear standard league appeal as a multi-category specialist, but I’m out on Simmons for the rest of the year. I’ll concede that he has played in eight of the last 11 games for the Nets but what about the 40 or so before them? Repeat that question with previous seasons. A Simmons injury has proven to be a smoke and mirrors act in the past and I’m just not willing to play those games right now. Besides, the Nets are clearly a lottery team this season and they don’t need the veteran Simmons out there. I understand keeping him out of some sort of positional necessity but managers can definitely move on where possible.

    They’re no longer an up-and-coming team but the Thunder do need veterans out there to provide a steadying influence. That’s why the acquisition of Gordon Hayward was so important for them. He’s now suiting up for the team and still providing value in those limited minutes but the time has passed for him to be considered a standard league hold. Given his extended injury absence preceding this week’s action, Hayward’s high rostership rate is a sign that there are still lots of managers stashing him. Whether you’ve kept him on the shelf this whole time or picked him up recently in hopes of a return to his early season excellence, it seems clear that Hayward will not have the playing time or usage to retain his spot as more than a streamer outside of deep leagues.

    Generally speaking, the youth movement is on in the NBA. We’re past the last major milestone before the playoffs and teams are going to increasingly shift to a development-focused or rest-focused approach that naturally causes fresher legs to rise in the rotation. Losing teams will aim to continue losing and winning teams will want to rest their vets where possible to preserve them for the playoffs. In either circumstance, it seems more likely that younger players will exceed expectations versus veterans if both are otherwise comparable. That’s not a rule though. We’re going to really see it tested when Chris Paul makes his anticipated return to the Warriors this week. Typically, he’s in an even minutes split with Brandin Podziemski and both are featured members of the rotation. However, the rookie Podziemski has become an increasingly important member of the team during Paul’s absence and the veteran will not need to take on more than he can handle. Start Paul everywhere once he’s active but prepare for the possibility that his value will finally fade. The veteran is rostered in significantly more leagues but I suspect the next few weeks will rebalance those scales as the rookie is thriving with the starters.

    Enough about drops. Let’s shift to the adds. We looked at five players in Week 17 and I’ve already touched on one of them. Podziemski was a stud over the past 14 days. He should continue to be rostered on a part-time basis at least in any format despite the pending return of CP3. We also looked at another standout rookie: GG Jackson. I continue to be very bullish on Jackson and think he’s going to prove to be a late season standout. We’ve definitely seen the scoring and he’s quite productive on defense as well. Hold him if you’ve got him and consider adding where you can. Former Jazz center Kelly Olynyk has settled in well with his hometown Raptors and remains a streamer-level player whenever the schedule allows. However, Olynyk’s role is probably going to be too limited for a full-time hold. The opposite is true for former teammate Keyonte George, who had a signature performance against the Warriors before the All-Star break and seems primed to remain with the starters moving forward. Finally, we looked at Jaden McDaniels. The best thing I can say about him right now is that I admire how quickly he stepped up to defend Mike Conley Jr. when pushed by Dennis Schroder. Note that I’m not talking about his basketball performance. Lofty 3-and-D upside aside, McDaniels simply isn’t producing the volume of stats necessary to regularly crack standard league rosters. Despite being a season-long starter, I’m just not in on him anymore this year.

    What about the schedule? Well, I already alluded to the best and worst part about it earlier; namely the schedule with 6-of-7 days featuring less than 10 games. That makes streaming practically mandatory. There’s a nice assortment of back-to-backs spread throughout the week, so it shouldn’t be particularly hard for each manager to meet their particular needs in an efficient way. For me, this week probably starts and ends with the Grizzlies but there are some other really strong long-streaming options in the Nets, Pacers, Heat, Knicks and Raptors. However, lots of managers can and probably should plan to use their standard four weekly moves to cover all seven days by streaming a single position on their roster. There are four back-to-back options to start on Monday, two for the second move on Wednesday and two for the third move on Friday before a freebie to close the week on Sunday. If your playoff spot isn’t yet secured then plan to take that aggressive streaming path. There’s probably space on your roster every day, so there’s no excuse to not go for it if you can. 

    Schedule Breakdown

    Two Games: None

    Three Games: Hawks, Celtics, Bulls, Nuggets, Rockets, Clippers, Lakers, Bucks, Pelicans, Thunder, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Jazz, Wizards

    Four Games: Nets, Hornets, Cavs, Mavs, Pistons, Warriors, Pacers, Grizzlies, Heat, Wolves, Knicks, Raptors

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