• Readers, it’s my pleasure to bring you another edition of The Week Ahead. This time, we’re looking at Week 16. The cement is starting to dry on the haves and the have-nots of the season. Look no further than the articles already starting to pop up in every corner of digital and print media. Has anyone checked the pulse on media personnel from wannabe playoff contenders like the Hawks, Nets or Warriors? Others like the Grizzlies or Raptors have already given up the fight. The playoff field narrows and that sets the stage for another trade deadline that is fast approaching. 

    That list of teams above seems most likely to determine the direction of the trade deadline. In particular, I’m paying extra close attention to developments around Dejounte Murray and the Hawks. They’re the kingmakers at this trade deadline with such a big trading chip at their disposal. Despite his recent brilliance, it looks like the Hawks may be prepared to entertain offers for their second star. Murray is a natural point guard playing out of position at the moment, so I’ll be very bullish on his fantasy potential in any scenario that makes him the chief playmaker once again. Need I remind you that he was a top-10 fantasy player last time that happened? Try to follow the lead of those contending teams that think they could get better by adding Murray. A do-it-all guard like him could help move any team to the next level and it’s likely that he won’t cost an arm and a leg; that is unless trade rumors really start to heat up. I’d be putting in offers before that happens. Most similarly-ranked players don’t have the ability to put up first round value like Murray, so I’d be happy to trade almost any of his current fantasy peers for the possibility that he could get back to the highest levels in a new environment. Any two players outside the top-50 are probably worth swapping for him as well.  At worst you get the version of Murray that we’ve seen with the Hawks, which is still liable to produce 20-plus points, a pair of treys, five-plus assists and rebounds and one or more stocks on any given night. It’s All-Star production without any hope of an All-Star nod.

    The league is in such great shape that it’s tough for even the very best players to get the recognition they deserve. There’s no better example than former fantasy kingpin, multiple MVP and former champion Stephen Curry. Of course, that’s assuming you value resume over production. Though Curry remains undeniably excellent and is still an early round producer, he isn’t quite at Donovan Mitchell’s level in fantasy this season. What they do have in common is a shared status as two of the most certain reserves for the February festivities. I’m expecting this to be bulletin board material for both players, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they really turn it up in Week 15. Curry’s Warriors have some serious late week streaming value but Mitchell’s Cavs are more appealing with four games in the upcoming slate.

    One player and team have a lot to prove this week. That player is Damian Lillard and that team is the Bucks. They unceremoniously fired their coach Adrian Griffin despite holding one of the league’s best records and almost immediately replaced him with Doc Rivers. The optics around that move are questionable and the results will be under a microscope. At the head of this team is a veteran star point guard that hasn’t been as consistently excellent as we were once used to. That’s not to say he fell off; Lillard is still an early round fantasy producer and an immensely valuable basketball player. However, it’s arguable that he’s in Mitchell’s spot as an All-Star starter right now. Anyone who looks at their numbers would think so, since Mitchell clears his rival in every area but assists and free throw percentage. Is it their value to the team or the team’s record that separates them? It’s impossible to say that Mitchell is less valuable to the injury-plagued Cavs than Lillard is to a squad that has never cast him as the central figure. They’re pretty close in the standings too. It falls to Lillard to prove his worth for the millionth time in his career this week but even moreso because everyone will need to see this sudden coaching change pay dividends immediately. The Bucks play four games this week and have a weekend back-to-back. With a new coach in tow, there may be some fluctuations in the production of players up and down this roster that hasn’t typically featured much consistent value beyond the top four. Standard league managers certainly need to be checking if Bobby Portis and Malik Beasley are available this coming weekend, if not sooner. Deep league managers should do the same with vets like Cam Payne and Jae Crowder; both of whom will surely draw Rivers attention as he tries to stabilize a team in flux that needs to improve on its already impressive results.

    Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference is a Miami Heat team that has been falling in the standings. They certainly tried their best to turn things around with their acquisition of Terry Rozier in exchange for Kyle Lowry but that kicked off their current three-game losing streak. On an individual basis, this has probably been the lowest point of Rozier’s season and certainly a buy-low opportunity for any managers that can sell the idea that this is his new normal to Rozier’s current manager. The Heat need offensive creators and players that can match Jimmy Butler’s win-at-all-costs mentality. Rozier checks both boxes and will surely turn things around sooner than later. However, his arrival and Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s return from injury are probably going to tank the current fringe standard league values of rotation players like Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith. Despite the Heat’s four-game week, I wouldn’t find it hard to stream either player out in anticipation of that decline. They don’t have a 3-in-4 or any back-to-backs to give me pause either. With such a strong top five, I might hesitate to come back to the Heat for 12-team streamers outside of injury-related circumstances. To be fair, Jimmy Butler is responsible for lots of those.

    Who is responsible for the uptick in scoring lately? This week gave us some great individual examples but its fair to say that everyone is responsible. In general, teams around the league are averaging more points than ever in the modern era and reaching marks not seen since the 1960s. At the forefront of that are four superstars that each produced gaudy points totals this past week. Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic both reached the 70 point plateau while Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns both cleared 60. It’s got to be harder than ever to win the points category when there are so many viable options. Though Towns is one of 45 players currently averaging more than 20 points, he is still half as valuable in that category as Booker when comparing their Z-scores. Don’t believe me? Get out your calculator and multiply Towns’ 22 points per game by four because he won’t play more games than that in any week between now and the end of the season. Then do the same with Booker’s 28 points per game. The difference between them is greater than Towns’ current scoring average, so be sure to keep this sort of disparity in mind when evaluating your strength in points versus your opponent every week. There are orders of magnitude between a great scorer like Towns and transcendent points producers like Booker, Doncic or Embiid so you may have an uphill battle for this category unless you’ve got one or two of the truly elite scorers on your roster. Streamers can only help so much in this area and that’s why I tend to focus my efforts on other categories wherever possible.

    Notwithstanding my reservations with regards to streaming points, some of my favorite streamers from last week were still relatively helpful there. If you followed my Quick Adds in Week 14 then you may have picked up one or both of Aaron Nesmith and Marvin Bagley III. Nesmith was certainly the better of the two with better peak production and better overall value over the week. The Pacers wing is at 51 points for the week at present and will have added to that total by the time you’re reading this. In adding seven treys, 24 rebounds and making an impressive 19-of-34 shots, Nesmith cemented his place as the best of last week’s bunch and I’m glad I put him on the cover. With four games and a mid-week back-to-back that’s part of a 3-in-4 on either side, he’s probably worth holding in most formats. That can’t be said of Bagley, who continues to produce solid value with points and rebounds but nothing else. Despite a four game week, I’m fading Bagley in most standard leagues now that Daniel Gafford has re-asserted himself as the best big on the team. We also looked at Dario Saric and Jabari Walker last week; neither of whom disappointed or impressed enough to be worth much mention. Saric remains solid and productive in most categories but plays limited minutes and won’t be worthwhile again until Friday. Walker is still a fixture in the starting lineup but his offense is waning and rebounds specialists are pretty replaceable. He is another case of a four-game player that I’m not so sure about in Week 15. After all, prospects aren’t likely to hang so well in games against the Sixers, Bucks and then the Nuggets twice. 

    This upcoming slate of games offers tons of flexibility for managers that are able to hit certain marks and stream every day of the week. However, with three days that feature 10 or more games, it’s possible that some won’t have space in their lineups on multiple nights. That’s most likely to happen on a busy Monday that features 24-of-30 teams. The slow days are all spaced one day apart, with Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday offering the best potential for value-added streaming. Managers that have the space and motivation to do so will certainly be able to stream seven days efficiently with three or four moves, since critical days like Monday and Friday offer several viable back-to-back options. There are more back-to-backs on either Monday or Friday than Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday combined, so it’s extremely important to win the race for those prime mid-week streaming targets and none will be more important to a seven day stream than the Cavs on Wednesday. The same is true of a weekend that will only see the Bucks providing extra value to those managers that aren’t able to pick up good Cavs streamers and have to find a different path to covering seven days.

    Schedule Breakdown

    Two Games: None

    Three Games: Hawks, Nets, Bulls, Mavs, Pistons, Warriors, Pelicans, Raptors

    Four Games: Celtics, Hornets, Cavs, Nuggets, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, Wolves, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Jazz, Wizards

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