December 31, 2023, 9:21 pm
Hello and welcome to another edition of The Week Ahead! New year; new me, am I right? Well, it’s the same old NBA. Sort of. In the grand scheme of things, only a handful of players changed places in a league with several hundred others that stayed in place. The Knicks and Raptors took a break from their legal battle to do some business on the side and blessed us with the first major deal of the season. You know what that means? Trade season started a little early this year and that gives us fantasy analysts a little more to dissect.
Of course, you have probably heard by now that the OG Anunoby sweepstakes are over. He was the big prize for the Knicks, who also acquired Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa in exchange for some draft capital, Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett. Listen, it’s no secret that I’m a Raptors lifer, so I accept that some may think I’m seeing this deal with rose-colored glasses on. All the red flags are much harder to spot, right? Not in this case, if you ask me. This swap isn’t without some concerns for both sides but I believe both the Knicks and the Raptors made significant progress towards their respective short-term goals in this deal. As we progress through this piece, I’ll touch on a few different dynamics from this deal that inform my optimism.
It is hardly worth mentioning that Anunoby should be expected to get a bump after being the prized piece in the deal. He is one of the preeminent 3-and-D players in the league with legitimate 20 point potential on any given night. The Knicks wouldn’t pay this price for a player on an expiring deal if they didn’t believe Anunoby couldn’t immediately slot in and raise their potential on both ends of the ball. In particular, I’m really focusing on that expiring deal. Anunoby is playing for generational wealth right now so he has every possible incentive to bring his best on a nightly basis, and trust me: he’s been one of the most consistent and professional Raptors in memory. That won’t stop in his new home. It’s going to be hard to reach a deal with managers that have him rostered since he’s a trending name but any teams that can acquire Anunoby at a reasonable price should certainly consider it. He could produce early round value.
From a fantasy perspective, Flynn is the only player I expect to stay steady or decline in production for the rest of the season. A team with a star guard and still decent guard depth doesn’t need to integrate a mostly unproven player like him. However, the Knicks desperately need center depth after the Mitchell Robinson injury and it’s unlikely that the Knicks or their fans realize that Achiuwa isn’t actually a center for at least another month or two. Who cares though? He gets the designation on fantasy platforms and that perception of him as a center will earn some extra playing time. That’s the first step towards fantasy value; especially in deep re-draft and dynasty leagues.
The Raptors did some fan service by acquiring one of Canada’s most notable NBA players. Barrett is a local talent and there will be lots of local pressure to give him a chance to shine. It shouldn’t be a hard sell. The young wing has registered averages of nearly 20 points, five boards and three assists per game for multiple seasons now. Expect him to slide into the tertiary scoring role currently held by a combination of Gary Trent Jr. and Dennis Schroder. The latter offers enough leadership and playmaking to retain some fantasy value through this deal but I am fading Trent hard since I genuinely believe both of his new teammates are better scorers with more dimensions to their game. Even sans Anunoby, the Raptors are still more than capable of covering for any defensive lapses and they desperately need the offensive boost that Barrett can give them, so I’m recommending him as a buy low for anyone that can take a hit to field goal percentage. Ditto for Quickley but I’m playing that card later in this piece. After all, there are still 28 other teams and a bunch of players that need attention.
It’s only fair to transition to the Pistons after they finally ended their months-long losing streak against my Raptors on Saturday. They already set a bunch of bad records but avoided the worst of all-time in the major five American professional sports leagues. Give credit to Jalen Duren for their one-game winning streak since he’s the only one putting up early round value for this team lately. Despite the fact that budding superstar Cade Cunningham is actually producing better than ever and top-10 value over the past week, I am joining the tradition from fans and media lately by ignoring his excellence. Am I concealing my true feelings? You tell me. These Pistons have two legitimate building blocks at least. If Ivey continues to hold his place with the starters while stuffing the stat sheet, there may be a fair argument that he is the third. I’ve made it before and got burned though, so he gets a very cautious buy recommendation from me. There’s another name that I really want to include on this list but I’m having some doubts lately. Remember earlier this season when Ausar Thompson was posting prime Andrei Kirilenko numbers? Recent trends indicate that this is becoming a distant memory for an increasing number of managers. It’s not without justification; there really has been a precipitous dropoff in Thompson’s production lately. That’s what they call the rookie wall. It’s there until it isn’t and then the best players of the class overcome it and go back to what made them stand out in the first place. Any facsimile of what Thompson started the season with is worth rostering. It would be wrong to advise anyone to stream him right now but Thompson is probably my favorite luxury stash at the moment. The Pistons play four games this week so I’ll be looking at a bunch of different options from this team.
On the other end of the success spectrum, there’s the Celtics: a team built on defense and carried by one of the league’s best offensive talents. That’s right: Derrick White leads this team on both ends of the ball. Sure, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis all average more points per game but White is truly shining as the fulcrum of this offense. Heck, even his backup, Payton Pritchard, is doing some noteworthy stuff despite being eighth in usage rate on the team. Unlike Luke Kornet — whose 15 minutes of fame came in a spot start versus the Raptors on Friday — there seems to be some sustainability to Pritchard’s production and I’m going to start giving him more regular attention as a possible streamer in standard leagues. Of course, the biggest factor in that decision will be the health of the Celtics’ core of four former All-Stars and one incredibly deserving future All-Star in White. Honestly, I’m just so in on this team’s chances to win a chip and you can probably just take this as my recommendation to roster and start in standard leagues whoever is in their starting lineup on a nightly basis. It just seems like they’re destined to produce value in this incredibly dynamic offense. The Celtics have a terrible start to Week 11 but there’s a Friday-Saturday back-to-back that’s got my attention for streaming purposes.
Despite his continued excellence, White really isn’t one of the best point guards in the league. There’s a handful of players you would take before him. Any casual fan should be able to name at least six others that have a more rightful claim to that title. If recency bias matters, then Tyrese Haliburton should be on top of everyone’s list. With respect to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in particular, it’s possible that Haliburton may simply be the best no matter how you slice it. Who else can produce 20 points and 20 assists in back-to-back games? Historically speaking, Haliburton’s recent production puts him in league with only John Stockton and Magic Johnson. The pick-and-roll with Myles Turner continues to work like a charm and it’s keeping Turner on the fringes of top-25 value. It’s creating so much space for Haliburton to exploit and at present I am struggling to think of a better roster for 3-point production. Eight players are registering at least one trey per game lately. Double that production and five Pacers are still clearing the bar; Haliburton and Turner included. We’ll circle back to a few others later.
There are at least a half-dozen teams in the Western Conference that are more deserving of attention right now but I’m focused on the Rockets in Week 11. Dillon Brooks and Jabari Smith Jr. are probably going to be on the shelf all week and the team is currently on a three-game losing streak. However, a little more digging makes this team worth your attention. First and foremost: we all know that the Rockets are loaded with young talent looking for an opportunity to step up. Secondly, even though they’re currently outside of the playoff picture, this squad retains one of the best home records in the league and they’re about to play four consecutive games in front of a friendly crowd this week. Three players in particular — Alperen Sengun, Fred VanVleet and Jalen Green — should probably be expected to have big weeks but there are a few others that will have a chance to crack the standard league radar as well. Tari Eason will be the big prize and I’ll tell you why if you scroll down a bit more. If you’ve paid attention to his short career then it won’t take much convincing. Rookie Cam Whitmore has also been very impressive in limited minutes so far and seems more ready than fellow rookie Amen Thompson to step up in Week 11 if only some Rockets beat writers could confirm for us in advance that either might get meaningful minutes all week. It’s more likely that role players like Aaron Holiday and Jae’Sean Tate will take most of the playing time and while I wouldn’t recommend them in 12-team leagues, I do believe they could still be very useful in deeper formats. I’m predicting at least a few wins for the Rockets in their four-game week with at least a few surprise players making an impact.
Before diving into the minutiae of the schedule and a Quick Adds recap, I’m going to give a final shoutout to the Wolves. Though I don’t particularly love the days their games fall on this week, they are still the best in the west and loaded with options for fantasy production. You don’t need me to tell you that Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert are must start players at all times. If you haven’t noticed and appreciated steady Mike Conley Jr. over his 17-year career then you never will. I will start him with confidence in almost any format but honestly, he’s just the tip of the iceberg for potentially available players from this squad. It’s a monthly tradition for me to sing the praises of Naz Reid as a regular standard league option and it seems like I might need to do so with Jaden McDaniels more often since his defensive excellence hasn’t been enough to get him rostered in more than a third of all leagues. Kyle Anderson has fallen off a bit but he remains a regular in the rotation and I remain bullish on his potential to rejoin the standard league ranks as soon as his next hot streak. If only I could predict for you that it was this week and be right. Regardless, I like every member of this rotation relative to their similarly-ranked fantasy peers. Only two teams around the league play more games to close the season, so I’d be interested in acquiring anyone named above if the price is right.
Speaking of right: how about last week’s Quick Adds? If you streamed any of the five players I named then congratulations! You nailed it. I’ve been bullish on Day’Ron Sharpe all season and it felt like I was on a pretty small island until this week. Coach Vaughn still can’t find 20 minutes or more for him in the rotation but it simply doesn’t matter. Sharpe is a per-minute monster giving you a smaller dose of everything that Bam Adebayo became famous for. That worked out to a top-75 valuation in Week 10 and I’ll continue to be more optimistic than most with Sharpe in the future. He was the best of the three bigs I pushed but Nick Richards still gave you back-to-back double-doubles and Isaiah Hartenstein was stealing everything in sight and collecting a bunch of boards this past week. I’m going to come back to both men as streamers in future weeks. Finally, we got a pair of solid if unspectacular standard 3-and-D weeks from both Lu Dort and Taurean Prince. With the latter, I promise you multiple treys and probably a steal. Prince delivered on the first promise and doubled the second, so this is a clear win. Dort’s value was heavily concentrated in his Boxing Day performance versus the Wolves but the overall impact of his three games still have him in the top-100 range. By Sunday night he will have hopefully padded those stats for any that held on to him all week. It wasn’t his best effort but Dort continues to hold a solid baseline of value and should get the benefit of the doubt again in the future.
Our short-term future as fantasy managers is going to be really easy to predict in Week 11. Wednesday and Friday are probably write-offs for streaming purposes because nearly every team is active on those days. More than half the league also plays on Monday and Sunday, so it’s possible that some fantasy teams don’t have space on those days either. While there should be tons of options for those that do, it’s likely that most managers are going to focus on the as-yet unnamed days: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. That’s where your bread will be buttered in Week 11 as these days represent the clearest way to outpace your opponent in head-to-head formats by padding your games played totals. No teams play all three days but there’s a handful that can get you 2-of-3 days and those will feature the players most likely to trend up on waiver wires this week.
We’ll touch more on that in the schedule breakdown but for now it suffices to say that there really aren’t any teams that I see as great long-streams in this upcoming schedule. The games are clustered in such a way that making making at least a pair of moves within two three day windows makes as much or more sense. It’s likely that players from the Hawks, Lakers and Wizards get cast off by managers who don’t want to wait until their first game on Wednesday, so keep an eye on who gets cut loose and be sure to get your waiver bids in if you can. It’s likely that they’re being swapped out for Hornets players on their Monday-Tuesday back-to-back or one of the seven teams playing back-to-backs starting Tuesday. From the mid-week point onwards, it will be impossible to predict your wire as this upcoming schedule indicates there could be a lot of churn. My risk-averse readers may be best advised to take the best available four game player and ride it out, but be warned that fortune favors the bold in Week 11.
Two Games: None
Three Games: Hawks, Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Lakers, Heat, Thunder, Sixers, Spurs, Wizards
Four Games: Nets, Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Pelicans, Knicks, Magic, Suns, Blazers, Kings, Raptors, Jazz
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