This was a very big week for the Thunder. They got both of their superstars back in a matter of days.
Russell Westbrook returned on Friday night, putting up 32 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists in only 24 minutes of clock. Now owners may be concerned with the lack of minutes, but know that Westbrook wasn’t on a minutes’ restriction. Instead, Westbrook, along with the rest of the starters, were pulled early since the Thunder were up 32 late in the game. They were playing the New York Knicks after all.
A few days later, Kevin Durant returned to score 27 points on Tuesday night. He showed little rust on the court, shooting 9-18 from twos, 3-8 from downtown, and 6-7 from the line. Durant didn’t do much else outside of the scoring, but those numbers will happen in due time. The important thing is that Westbrook and Durant are both back and healthy.
Westbrook and Durant immediately regain their statuses as two of the top ten fantasy producers. At the same time, their return also hurts the guys filling in for them. Reggie Jackson’s statistics will take a hit, as he won’t be needed as much as an offensive producer. In the two games since Westbrook returned, Jackson had his two lowest usage rates of the season and saw his field goal attempts decrease to 11 FGA per game (down from 17.9 without Durant and Westbrook). Now there is still value to be had with Jackson, since he’ll be getting around 30 minutes a night, but don’t expect the same numbers he was providing early in the season.
Serge Ibaka will also see his offensive numbers dip a little, but this doesn’t affect his overall fantasy value as much, like it does Jackson. His shot attempts will go down, but having Durant and Westbrook back will provide Ibaka with better looks at the basket. His career low 44.5 field goal percentage will surely rise, while the blocks, rebounds, and threes should remain close to their current season averages.
The other Thunder players, Jeremy Lamb and Anthony Morrow, will also see their numbers and minutes decrease. Lamb and Morrow have the ability to provide the occasional good game, but only remain rosterable in deeper leagues, due to their inconsistent play.
While the Thunder got their starters back, the Rockets are missing a bunch of players from their starting lineup. Dwight Howard has been nursing a knee injury. He strained his knee in mid-November and now has missed 7 straight games. The bad news is that Howard will likely be held out through the weekend, with hopes of returning next Wednesday.
Averaging 2.3 blocks a game this season, Howard is a tough guy to replace on the waiver wire. Tarik Black replaces Howard in the Rockets lineup, but shouldn’t be the replacement in yours. Black won’t block shots and doesn’t offer much upside. He’ll give you 7-10 points and rebounds a game, but little else.
Fellow teammate, Donatas Motiejunas is a better option. DoMo won’t give you blocks, but he’s scored in double figures in five of the last six games, while averaging 14.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 2.3 apg. With Terrence Jones still out indefinitely, Motiejunas should remain a fixture in the starting lineup even when Howard returns.
In addition to Jones and Howard, point guard Patrick Beverly has missed five straight games with a hamstring injury. He was “very limted” in Tuesday’s practice and sat out Wednesday’s game. Beverly’s backup, Isaiah Canaan, is also hurt, dealing with an ankle injury. With both of those guys hurting, 37-year-old Jason Terry has started the last two games at point. Some how he’s turned back the hands of time and produced 17 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 5 apg in those two games. Nearly available in all leagues (6% ownership in Yahoo), Terry should remain a solid play for points, threes, and assists, as long as he’s starting.
Point guard Isaiah Thomas has missed the Suns’ last four games with an ankle bruise. He had a MRI on Tuesday, but it came back negative. Thomas should be considered day-to-day with the hope that he’s back in the lineup within a game or two. In the meantime, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and even Gerald Green should see more offensive opportunities. Too bad Green can’t get an assist for this off the backboard alley oop.
Usually when guys miss games, it’s due to a rather significant physical injury (unless you play for the Spurs, then you get rested for being old). Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins has been ruled out for the weekend due to a viral infection. After missing his third game in a row, Cousins was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday for further evaluation. The earliest we will see Cousins is next Monday night, but even that’s not a guarantee.
Cousins has been an absolute beast this year so it’s a big blow to fantasy lineups. Backup Reggie Evans is the biggest beneficiary of the minutes, as he has put up 27 points and 27 rebounds in 30+ minutes in the last two games Cousins sat. Evans is a great rebounder, but doesn’t offer owners much else. Rudy Gay sees a slight bump in his usage rate and offensive numbers, but pending a setback, I expect to see Cousins back on the court sometime next week.
Breakout fantasy star Nikola Vucevic sat out two games this week due to back spasms. Kyle O’Quinn replaced him in the lineup, but the team is hopeful that Vucci Mane will return on Friday. O’Quinn followed up a poor performance against the Clippers, with a 21/11 double double and could be a decent streamer, if Vucevic continues to sit.
Carmelo Anthony is also suffering from back spasms, but only missed two games around Thanksgiving. He played in games this week, but it’s something to monitor.
Another week of disappointing news for David Lee. He suffered a setback in his return to the court and is expected to need another week or two to rest his hamstring. Meanwhile, Draymond Green had a precautionary MRI and x-rays on his thumb Tuesday, but the results came back negative and he was able to play Thursday night.
Dirk Nowitzki missed Wednesday’s game against the Bucks. He suffered a minor back injury on Tuesday, but the more likely reason for his absence in the lineup is that the Mavs wanted to give him some rest on the second night of a back-to-back. Look for him to return to the lineup on Friday.
Just when Ersan Ilyasova was starting to heat things up with 8 straight double-digit scoring games, he suffered a minor concussion and nasal fracture on Tuesday. He sat out on Wednesday and will miss the next three games at the very least. The earliest that Ilyaosva can return is the Bucks’ game with the Clippers on December 13th.