• This is it, folks. We’ve come to the final edition of The Week Ahead. While NBA basketball may continue a little longer, the regular season has come to an end and so too has the fantasy season. There’s just this one week left, so keep your eye on the prize if your team is still active and use every tool at your disposal.

    In the real world and fantasy world, most teams have already sealed their fate. We know all 10 teams that have qualified for the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference now that the Hawks and Bulls have locked up a Play-In Tournament matchup. The West will soon follow, as the Rockets are quickly losing the ground they gained on the Warriors in tenth. While there is some incentive to win or lose strategically from here on out, the plain fact is that no pro team is really playing for anything in the last week of the regular season.

    Unexpected things are going to happen this week. People respond to incentives and right now there are none, so be sure to check your lineups an hour or two before they lock just in case. I can’t guarantee it but I can tell you that this time of year is associated with surprise starts and sits for a reason. Try to take advantage where possible.

    With two-thirds of the league locked into playoff mode, I’m choosing to focus more attention on the other third. I can’t pretend I know the thoughts and plans of these competitive franchises but I can generally assume that they have them. I’m not sure if the losing teams do. It doesn’t sound like I’m enthusiastic about them, I know. However, these teams are as likely to value a win as they are a loss, so I’m imagining what that does for me as an enterprising fantasy manager. Your best players don’t get extra run in losing efforts and neither do your veterans. Who benefits? The prospects and other guys at the end of the bench that are playing for a job next year. This is the only time of year when I’d be prepared to argue that it’s rational to expect top-100 production from a selection of players available almost anywhere.

    Don’t believe me? You must have missed Malachi Flynn’s 50-point night. Guys like Sandro Mamukelashvili must have always been high on your board. I’ll confess, I didn’t even know Maozinha Pereira existed and here he is pushing towards top-50 value on averages since my last article. Get the drift? I’ll throw some more names out there later but the point is that these players are taking advantage of the vacuum that’s created when handfuls of players are rested, injury managed or held out of games for various other reasons. Bookmark the injury report and find the position of weakness on your team of choice this week. Check in on the beat writers from that team and see if they’re dropping hints about lineup changes. As with the first week of the season, this is one of the best times to find a diamond in the rough.

    I don’t want to mislead you: if the stars play they will shine. I’m just not into predicting which of them will play and when. It suffices to say that I don’t expect full availability but they should be started for all the reasons they have been all season. In the interest of directing some attention back towards the most deserving, I’ll give my picks for awards and hope that these players cap off their season in a good way.

    As a proud Canadian and genuine fan, I’d be thrilled if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got a well-earned MVP nod. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think it will happen. It’s him or Nikola Jokic in my books. While SGA was the superior fantasy player this year, I think Jokic did more with less at a tougher position. Apologies to Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard. Please leave me in peace while I endlessly debate who deserves what would be my final All-NBA First Team nomination.

    Let’s not kid ourselves about the Rookie of the Year race. Victor Wembanyama is a generational talent and that feels like an understatement. With all due love to Chet Holmgren, this was never a race but you’ve got to give him kudos for doing everything humanly possible to make it so. It’s not hyperbolic to say that Holmgren’s top-25 fantasy numbers are part of a rookie campaign that would earn the hardware in most other seasons. However, Wembanyama is in the top-10. There’s just nothing like him. In the interest of making an All-Rookie First Team, I’ll throw Brandin Podziemski, Brandon Miller and Jaime Jaquez Jr. in the mix as your runners-up. In case you’re wondering: they’re all in my starting lineup this week.

    You thought I was dismissive about the rookie race? Just wait until you get my take on the Defensive Player of the Year race. It’s this: give it to the same guy. The honest truth is that I expect Rudy Gobert to win this award but I don’t think he’s even the best defensive player at his position from his country. I admit that it’s pretty hyperbolic to make it seem like there’s that big of a gap between one and two, but what can I say? I’m a Wemby truther and this is the truth: the rookie is going to win the blocks crown by a mile. He’s also tied with Nikola Jokic to lead all centers with a respectable 1.3 steals per game and within the top-10 overall for defensive rebounds per game. Those are the numbers that fantasy managers care about and they legitimize Wembanyama’s case. As basketball fans, the eye test makes it clear: Wembanyama’s presence is a defense into itself. The mere thought of him visibly shakes opposing offenses on a nightly basis and you can see it in the highlights. Again, this might be hyperbolic but I don’t see people behaving like that when Gobert is around. Despite countless Defensive Player of the Year awards, opposing guards don’t call an audible when Gobert switches onto them. Some even target him, so it’s like this: Wembanyama is king and he has a solid lead on Gobert in my eyes. A gap at least as big exists between Gobert and the next best candidates, who I judge to be Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo and Kawhi Leonard. Apologies to Derrick White enthusiasts.

    Most Improved Player is undoubtedly going to be Tyrese Maxey’s award to claim. He checks all the boxes and adds a little extra. The basics are all covered: major increases across the board, his first career All-Star nod and a key role on a competitive team. Maxey’s a top-25 fantasy player and that’s why I’m not hearing any debate on this issue. His competition are excellent players in their own right but Coby White, Jalen Williams and Jonathan Kuminga weren’t close on this one. Want a second place nod? I’ll take Williams, who is currently ranked within the top-50 as a fantasy producer this season and is growing into his role as a key member of one of the league’s best teams.

    There are two award races that I believe could come down to the final game: Clutch Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. It’s a two man race for most clutch. Both DeMar DeRozan and Steph Curry are in nearly identical positions with regards to their team’s precarious playoff seeding and their individual clutch scoring. You’ll never catch me doubting Curry but he’s currently on the injured list for the Warriors, so I’m paying extra attention to DeRozan this week and expecting him to seal the deal on this award. A similar situation exists with the Sixth Man of the Year race: it’s down to Malik Monk and Naz Reid in my eyes, and Monk is on the shelf. Will Reid be able to have a few statement games to close out the regular season? I’m expecting him to try. The Wolves have already clinched a good playoff spot and it makes sense that they would give the man that is traditionally considered their third-string center some extra usage at this inconsequential stage of the season. Reid’s fantasy owners are going to want to start him everywhere but I don’t think he does enough to catch Monk for this honor.  

    That’s enough awards talk. There’s only one more thing to cross off the list before getting into the last schedule breakdown of the year and that’s a review of last week’s Quick Adds. The spotlight was on Aaron Nesmith, Keon Ellis, Russell Westbrook and Trayce Jackson-Davis last week. I’m happy to report a passing grade for all four men but none were particularly noteworthy. We’re skipping the individual breakdowns because they all basically go the same way: one or two good games and one or two bad ones. The net result was just enough production to help your fantasy team, so long as you rostered them at the right time. I hope you did. I trust each player and will return to each one at draft time next season.

    Week 24 is the final week of the regular season and it’s a whopper. There aren’t any games scheduled for Monday or Thursday, so basically every team is scheduled for Tuesday, Friday and Sunday as a result. The only reason any manager will make an add on those three days is if opportunity knocks and they sense that someone on their waiver wire will be productive enough to bounce another player from what is mathematically guaranteed to be a full starting lineup. All the streaming value of the week is rolled up into two days: Wednesday and Thursday. There’s no back-to-backs connecting those days, so managers should prepare to use at least a couple of moves to fill some extra spots. Frankly, I’d be on board with doubling up and doing a pair of adds on Wednesday followed by a pair of moves on Thursday. There’s no need to save anything for the weekend with this level of concentration on the schedule. Be aggressive and use up every move because games played are the ultimate tiebreaker in fantasy. Those that play more produce more. Make sure it’s you.

    Schedule Breakdown

    Three Games: Nets, Cavs, Pacers, Lakers, Sixers, Wizards

    Four Games: Hawks, Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, Wolves, Pelicans, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Suns, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz

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