Variety, they say, is the spice of life. So while there were monster games on Tuesday night from all the usual suspects — Joker, Joel, LeBron, Harden, Anthony Edwards, the Boston Boys — I’m bowing out on trying to split those hairs and passing on the opportunity to bestow the lede player honor on one of these repeat customers. Instead, we’ll spice things up by going off the beaten path and checking in on a number one pick who feels like he’s flying a bit under the radar.

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At this point I’m just going to stop fighting it. Fate, it seems, is throwing an endless stream of Knick games onto Tuesday nights and there’s nothing I can do but sit back and let it wash over me. Considering that I’ve spent most of my NBA fandom in the West and the Knicks have been the Knicks for the last 30 years, there’s never been a season where I’ve watched more New York regular season basketball than this one. After being hit with wave after wave of it, I just feel…bad. Is that normal? Last year I heard all about Julius Randle in breathlessly excited tones. The assists! The triples! The triple-doubles! King of New York! But now that I have to watch him and his teammates week after week, I’m struck but what a bad time it looks like he’s having out there.

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In the past I’ve mentioned that I don’t feel like I’ve got a great handle on who BI is as a player. There are flashy, stat-stuffing games like this one where it looks like he’s got it all figured out. A three-level scorer with more than a little playmaking ability offensively, and a long, rangy defender who alters shots and flits into passing lanes — there’s a lot to like about the slim 24-year-old with a massive wingspan. Then there are nights when the efficiency plummets and the turnovers, as seen here, balloon on him while the dimes dry up. For fantasy purposes, he’s got enough offensive punch to hang around the top-50 without much trouble, but the lack of defensive contributions and turnovers work like an engine regulator on his overall value. He’s been the 16th best player in the Association over the last week, so if you were wondering what the ceiling looks like, now’s your chance to catch a glimpse.

Speaking of catching glimpses, here’s what else I saw on a mostly-competitive night in the NBA…

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Evidently, TNT is taking the week off from their NBA Tuesdays to start the new year, a development that suits me just fine. Don’t get me wrong, I like their broadcasts as much as any other, but because they’re always looking to showcase teams with national appeal, I end up seeing a lot of the same teams and players for these Tuesday night recaps. The network extending their vacation time means that instead of talking about the Nets or the Warriors, I got a chance to take in some smaller market teams (and also, once again, the Knicks). Diversifying the diet is good — variety is the spice of life — and I’m especially excited because this batch of games had a heavy dose of My Guys that I haven’t been able to talk about much this year. And as much as I would love to kick this off by highlighting a huge night from one of my most drafted players, the first lede player honors of 2022 instead go to someone I have exactly zero shares of.

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On Monday, Mr. and Mrs. Hooper packed up the car, coaxed our puppy Buckets into the backseat, and left the Mecca of American basketball (Milwaukee) in our rearview mirror to pay a post-holiday visit to Mama and Papa Hooper in Ohio. Though it runs counter to who I eventually ended up becoming, there actually isn’t any basketball in this particular household, so this Tuesday night recap is coming to you more or less blind. I’ve scoured Twitter and box scores as best I can, and we’re on track to be back home for next Tuesday’s action, but because I didn’t watch any hoops last night, I’m foregoing nominating a lede player here and just getting straight into it.

It was a busy night Tuesday night across the league. Here’s what jumped out to me here in the hinterlands of hoops…

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And I’m not talking about Christmas.

Despite vaccination numbers north of 95%, a new variant of the Coronavirus has breached the walls of the NBA and is wreaking havoc on a league that is already being thinned out by non-virus injuries that stem from playing three seasons in two years. The sick are just getting sicker (Tuesday night’s Brooklyn/Washington matchup was postponed) and as a result, the NBA has thrown off some of their normal roster restrictions to ensure that teams can field full squads. Names that are normally reserved for the silly season of March and early April are now turning up before the unofficial start of the season on Christmas Day. Consider Marquese Chriss, one of the newest Dallas Mavericks, as an example. A lottery pick in 2016 who has never found his footing in the Association, Chriss was added as a reinforcement to the Mavs roster amid a Covid outbreak in Dallas. To his credit, Chriss looked springy, played well, and actually closed the game for Dallas against Minnesota before the ink dried on his contract. Chriss was joined out there by luminaries like Theo Pinson and Sterling Brown, and all across the league there were was a mix of old names and new showing up in NBA box scores. Guys like Wayne Seldon in New York and Tony Snell in Portland resurfaced after time spent in the NBA hinterland, while Marcus Garrett saw some burn in Miami, and Leandro Bolmaro and Nathan Knight popped up for the Timberwolves.

Amid these strange times in the NBA, it was good to see that Damian Lillard is still good for a bucket or two.

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Last night at Madison Square Garden, Steph Curry — the greatest shooter ever, a player who irrevocably changed basketball simply by playing it in the way that best suits him and his unfathomable gifts — did a little legacy cementing. In front of previous record holders Ray Allen and Reggie Miller, his family and teammates, a packed house, God, and basketball fans the world over, Curry moved into first place in all-time three-pointers made.

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After Jayson Tatum slammed home the first points of the game off a Laker turnover in last night’s renewal of acquaintances in the storied Lakers/Celtics rivalry, the possibility of a big night for number 0 cracked open ever so slightly. When he scored every one of Boston’s next 12 — including a banked tripled — and registered a swat and a steal by the end of the first quarter, a huge performance was all but locked in for the Celtic star. With a silky-smooth jumper and a 6’8″ frame, there wasn’t a whole lot that LA could do to put the shackles on the 23-year-old, three-level scorer.

In the past, Tatum has been chided for being a bit too Kobe-brained when it comes to shot selection — Stan Van Gundy bemoaned his year-over-year decrease in attempts at the rim on the broadcast — but it’s nights like these where you can get inside the young scorer’s head a little bit. If I can hit it from here, the thinking goes, how can it be a bad shot? Last night, while getting buckets from every corner of his idol’s backyard, Tatum was in full Mamba Mode.

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Finally, some Tuesday night sparkle! As long as the game with oblong pigskin is being played, Tuesday nights are one of the few days on the calendar that belong solely to the NBA. Unfortunately for those of us who do our recapping of these showcase nights, the product has been a bit underwhelming to start the season. Things started picking up with last week’s Lakers/Knicks matchup, but we jumped several levels last night with an extremely competitive Battle for New York and then a clash of Western Conference contenders as the Suns played host to the Warriors.

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For about two and half quarters in last night’s TNT showcase of the Lakeshow in MSG, it looked like we were in store for yet another Tuesday night disappointment (seriously, how bad have these national games been lately?). No LeBron, an under-the-weather Anthony Davis, and some ghastly shooting from the rest of the roster (LA shot 37.4% as a team) allowed the Knicks to amass a huge lead in front of the home crowd. How ugly was it? The Lakers never led, only drew even twice, and the Garden was rocking and bing-bonging through for most of the evening. Despite the dire straights, this is a Laker group with championship aspirations, so they got off the mat and competed in the second half. Though it was in a losing effort, Russell Westbook tried his best to make a game of it.

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Much was made of the Chicago Bulls’ offseason, and rightly so. Following his promotion to president of basketball ops in 2020, Arturas Karisovas attempted to put the GarPax era firmly in the rear-view this summer by flipping the roster over pretty dramatically and moving the center of gravity away from a Zach LaVine-shaped black hole to a more egalitarian committee featuring new-comer Lonzo Ball, a full-season of Nikola Vucevic, and the $85M man himself: DeMar DeRozan. Ink was spilled and hands were wrung about the money spent on the 32-year-0ld DD and how all these new pieces would fit together, but considering Chicago’s position atop the Eastern Conference as we approach the quarter post of the season, it’s hard to feel anything but positive about the early returns on the new-look Bulls. DeRozan in particular has been balling of late, and following Sunday’s performance against the Knicks, DD is now on the cusp of the top-10 in fantasy hoops. Like Sinatra before him, DeMar is doing it his way.

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So, the Warriors might be good again, yeah? Coming into Tuesday’s showcase against Brooklyn with the best record in the Association, Golden State has spent the early-season feasting on one of the softest schedules in the league, and generally looking really good doing it. Steph Curry is in MVP-form, Draymond Green is locked-in and energized, and Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole have been steady, positive contributors. The bench is already deep and there’s help on the way as James Wiseman and Klay Thompson inch their way back to the rotation. Going into Brooklyn and getting the Nets at home, even sans Kyrie, figured to be a good, real test for the Warriors (if there is such a thing in November) as their schedule firms up ever so slightly. The Nets are a quality opponent. Despite the sluggish start from James Harden and getting nothing at all from Irving, Kevin Durant has been fabulous even by his own standards, and that’s been good enough to power Brooklyn to a totally-respectable 11-4 start. It was supposed to be a competitive, compelling game.

It wasn’t.

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