The Utah Jazz were really a feel-good story early this season, right? With alpha Donovan Mitchell out of the way – absolutely dominating in Cleveland – the young, hungry Jazz stormed out of the gate to a strong start to their season. Lauri Markkanen continues to be one of the best players in the NBA this season, but things have sort of fallen back to earth for the rest of Will Hardy’s inexperienced squad. And well, Wednesday night was no different in that descent – superstar vet Damian Lillard tore them to pieces in another tough loss in this tumble for the Jazz. Let’s jump in and take a closer look.
Playin’ the Blues – Lillard compounds Utah’s slide
In the Blazers’ 134-124 victory Wednesday night, Lillard exploded for SIXTY points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals. In a normal season, I’d just write “in the best fantasy performance of the year” – but then we had Luka Doncic with the first 60/20/10 triple-double in the history of the game and 71 points from “Spida” Mitchell on another historic night. So I guess this makes Lillard’s performance – somehow – the third-best of the season?
Any way we slice it, he was getting whatever he wanted against the disjointed Jazz D. Obviously, in terms of fantasy, no other Blazer had a truly great game because Lillard had most of the usage and production. On the other side of the ball, it was an evenly-distributed night for the Jazz: Markannen had 24 points, 19 for Collin Sexton, 18 for Jordan Clarkson, 12 for Jarred Vanderbilt and so on and so forth down the line. When Hardy’s team is going well, this is a nice distribution for them – the problem is Utah’s young defense. They are also small and feature a number of different guard-heavy lineups. So while the Jazz occupy the final spot in the West’s playoff ladder at the moment, unless their defense improves I don’t see them remaining there long-term.
How do you make a pun out of the name Alperen Sengun?
We’ve seen this name in fantasy circles for a couple years now, and Sengun is finally starting to deliver in a major way. Last night he went HAM on the Washington Wizards to the tune of 21 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and two blocks. Obviously Sengun booked a triple-double, but the defensive stats caught my eye as well; if Sengun is going to be the Rockets’ franchise centerpiece going forward – alongside explosive guard Jalen Green, of course – he’ll need to set the tone on the defensive side of the ball going forward. The Rockets are probably the worst all-around defensive team in the game right now and long-term improvement might stem from Sengun’s defensive dominance of the paint. Fantasy wise, Sengun and Green continue to pace the Rockets.
Unfortunately for Houston’s fans – despite the strong performance from Sengun – they took yet another “L” last night. In the 108-103 victory for the Washington Wizards, Kyle Kuzma again shined to the tune of 33 points and nine rebounds. He’s been one of my favorite players in fantasy this season because of his consistently-high effort level. Kuzma is improving the technical aspects of his game, but he also just brings it every freakin’ night. Bradley Beal was his Robin on Wednesday, taking a backseat performance with 17 points, four assists and three rebounds in Washington’s win.
It’s good to be “Young” – Trae outduels SGA… or does he?
In a heated battle between two of the best young guards in the world, the Atlanta Hawks squeaked out a 137-132 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game in which little-to-no defense was played. Trae Young came away with the narrow victory on his way to 33 points and 11 assists, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was equally good – or better – racking up 36 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks for OKC.
And really, this is just a beautiful thing for the NBA. OKC is going to continue to be a team on the rise with SGA, Josh Giddey and eventually Chet Holmgren, while the Hawks need to try to remain relevant behind Young, Dejounte Murray (21 points) and John Collins (19 points and 10 rebounds) until he gets traded. We love the wide-open action for fantasy basketball, so all things considered, this game was right up our alley. Both teams prefer to play this style, one which was also beneficial to young Jalen Williams (24 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists).
Three strong fantasy performances around the league
Pascal Siakam: 26 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks in an easy 113-95 road victory over the Sacramento Kings. Plain and simple: Mike Brown’s squad simply didn’t show up on Wednesday night. Toronto’s best player carved them to pieces on both sides of the ball, with help from Fred VanVleet (17 points, five assists, four steals, four rebounds and two blocks) and a surprising showing from Precious Achiuwa (19 and five). Just sweep this one under the rug, Kings fans.
Anthony Edwards: One of my favorite young players in the NBA continues to be one of the hottest players in the game right now. In a 111-102 win over the Pelicans, Edwards shined on his way to 37 points, six rebounds and five assists. He’s rangy, he’s super athletic and explosive. As far as technical skills go, you can just see him working on his game in major ways on a daily basis. Sky is the limit for this kid with seemingly-unlimited talent. So I guess then, the sky isn’t really the limit.
Kyrie Irving: In a brutal 137-133 loss to the conference-rival 76ers, the new Kevin Durant – Kyrie – had 30 points, 10 assists and two steals in KD’s absence. It’s hard not to say this, right? If we had Durant in this game, I really think we would have won.
I’ll see ya right back here next week!
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NBA for 19 years. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy basketball and football.