December 3, 2023, 6:45 pm
Viva Las Vegas! That’s what this week is all about for eight teams, their fans and, of course, the fantasy managers that have those strategically valuable players rostered. Qualifying teams will play on Monday and Tuesday with the winners moving on to Vegas and one step closer to the NBA Cup. Those teams are going to be very important for fantasy purposes this week, so expect a heavy dose of In-Season Tournament content for this edition of The Week Ahead.
Everyone will be focused on the Bucks, Celtics, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Pacers, Pelicans and Suns in Week 7. Early on, that list will be halved and so will the market for quality streamers. Picking the player on the winning team could yield extra dividends, so managers would be wise to factor that into their strategy. After all, the winner moves on. That winner plays on days dedicated to the NBA Cup. Unlike most of their pro peers, these players will carry additional value this week for their schedule alone. The semifinal games in Las Vegas are the only two scheduled for that day and sandwiched between two heavy game days.
All NBA teams play twice this week, regardless of the In-Season Tournament. However, only the winning teams will play quality games. From the start, that’s the eight remaining teams after the qualifying rounds. The losers of those quarterfinal games will face off on a 13-game Friday and reduce the value of any streamers from those teams as a result. That’s why fantasy squads would be well-advised to follow the Monday and Tuesday games closely. They’re already valuable streaming days but their outcomes will determine lots of head-to-head matchups this week by padding the late week schedules of the winning managers.
Can we predict who wins these games? Not in my experience, but we can look at who’s hot and extrapolate from there. That list simply has to start with Tyrese Haliburton but not just because he is playing like an MVP candidate with regular 30-and-10 efforts over the past few weeks. The Pacers superstar is dealing with multiple ailments coming into Monday’s faceoff with the Celtics juggernaut and his team’s hopes may rest on his recovery from both a right knee issue and a upper respiratory infection that already sidelined him on Saturday. Though that adds streaming value for the Pacers guards, it’s unlikely that they could keep pace with Al Horford, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday on their recent hot streaks while also keeping tabs on the true Big Three of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis. 3-point specialists Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser are feasting on open looks every night thanks to the gravity of the starters.
Your other Eastern Conference matchup is between the Bucks and Knicks in Milwaukee. Recent history doesn’t favor the Knicks in this matchup and neither does the fact that the entire Bucks rotation is putting up standard league value right now. Part of that is because they’re not using much of their bench but they’re rolling anyway. So are the Knicks and Jalen Brunson is leading the charge with first round value over the past seven days and a three game winning streak. The Bucks’ perimeter defense has been shaky this season and this Knicks squad features a strong cast of players that can score from distance. Julius Randle is doing damage from all over the floor lately while scorers like Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett are always ready to attack. If Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo don’t play at an All-NBA level, this Bucks team may be in for a long night. Thankfully they have been on fire. Who would ever want to bet against those two anyway?
In the West, the Lakers are in perpetual pursuit of glory and LeBron James has been clear that he wants to put this feather in his cap. His Lakers enter the playoff rounds with a perfect record and co-stars Anthony Davis and D’Angelo Russell are putting up early round value over the past week. The team has also just welcomed Cam Reddish and Jarred Vanderbilt back from injury with Gabe Vincent seeming to be near a return as well. It suffices to say that the Lakers are ready for anyone but the Suns should test them. Even though they lost more than they won in Week 6, any team that features Devin Booker and Kevin Durant is always dangerous. Booker’s availability has been inconsistent but he has been excellent when available and just had a great tune-up game against the Grizzlies on Saturday. Durant remains flawless and it seems that the stars are primed to go shot-for-shot with each other. However, the Suns role players are outpacing the Lakers by a wide margin recently. If Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen and Jusuf Nurkic can keep pressuring defenses as effectively as they have been lately, then the likes of Reddish, Austin Reaves and Taurean Prince will be hard-pressed to keep up.
The last matchup to review is between a couple of NBA League Pass darlings. The Kings and Pelicans are some of the most entertaining teams in the league thanks to their electric offensive talents. Despite Domantas Sabonis’ recent struggles the Kings have been able to lean heavily on De’Aaron Fox as their star guard continues to bolster his 30 points per game average. Malik Monk is on a hot streak and other supporters like Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray and Kevin Huerter are liable to pop off in any given game, although the recently-returned Murray is probably going to be a bit rusty. Speaking of recently returned: the Pelicans just welcomed back about 35-to-40 points per game to their starting lineup in the forms of CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III. Both men have fit back into the Pelicans’ scheme seamlessly and will supercharge an already strong offense. While this makes for an intriguing head-to-head matchup and arguably the hardest one of the four to predict, the Pelicans’ supporting cast will likely suffer a fall from grace as the team starts to rely more heavily on their central figures. Between McCollum, Murphy, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, there won’t be many shots to go around. At least impactful defensive players like Dyson Daniels, Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado can still create value in other ways.
We’re always looking for value in The Week Ahead. Last week, I suggested five options for potential value-added moves in Week 6. My Quick Adds can be hit-or-miss and that was certainly the case this time. I stand by everything I said about Craig Poter Jr. but it is admittedly very early in his career and the rookie completely disappeared last week, so he was as big a miss as I’ll ever have. I’ll own that one. I won’t own the Jaden Ivey miss. It seems like Monty Williams is running some sort of psy-op to demoralize the former prized pick and future of the team with shockingly inconsistent rotations and usage. It looked like all that was over when we were starting Week 6 but apparently not. Don’t ask me about the Pistons guards for a while because I’m forwarding all that mail to Coach Williams. Kelly Olynyk’s shoulder injury seems to be limiting him still and he wasn’t very effective in Week 6 before missing the team’s most recent game. At least Eric Gordon and Keyonte George were there for me last week. Gordon seems renewed on this Suns squad and it no longer feels realistic to talk about him like a streamer with how consistently he has provided points, treys and steals value this season. If you streamed George because of anything I said last week then you know that I’m already judging this move with the assumption that you’re punting one or both of field goal percentage and turnovers. That’s why it’s easy for me to call it a win when the rookie guard posted 60 points, seven treys, 18 boards and 15 assists since we last checked in. Keep rolling with the Baylor product as long as he’s with the starters.
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