I was watching Dahmer the other day on Netflix, and there’s a scene toward the end of the series where Jeffrey Dahmer (infamous serial killer) seeks wisdom and guidance from a priest in prison. Dahmer says, “Even in Star Wars, I always liked the bad guys more,” to which the priest replies, “So did I… those characters are written better.”
With that in mind, is there a villain in the NBA whose storyline is written any wilder than Kyrie Irving‘s? Back in his Cleveland Cav days, Kyrie was my favorite player in the NBA, and now he even plays for my favorite team – the Brooklyn Nets. And yet, for a plethora of obvious reasons, Kyrie has gone from my favorite to most hated player in basketball. For lovers of The Villain – like Dahmer, who was one himself – has an NBA storyline ever been written like this before?
(1) It all started when Kyrie dropped a bomb on us… apparently the world is flat. That’s when we knew things were starting to change in the young man’s mind. (2) Then he wore out his welcome in Boston, and capped that off by enraging Celtics fans when he stomped on their logo, Lucky the Leprechaun. (3) Then he became THE anti-vaxxer in the NBA – the poster boy for dissent – and cost the Nets their season in the process. (4) Then came Alex Jones, I don’t think I need to say more on that, followed by (5) The Grand Finale, going down as arguably the worst anti-Semite in the history of the NBA.
And yet, after all that disgusting content and embarrassment, Kyrie refused to vanish into Cancellation. In fact, he seemed to return to the court as strong as ever. Is he simply embracing his newfound role as basketball’s Supervillain? Let’s jump into Wednesday night’s NBA slate to get a deeper understanding of Kyrie’s fantasy basketball adjustments.
Kyrie and KD sting the buzzing Hornets
After opening the season with an alarming 1-5 record, Wednesday’s 122-116 victory over the Hornets moves the Nets to 14-12 and the No. 6 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. The usual suspects led the way for Brooklyn – Kyrie and Kevin Durant – but the fantasy basketball storyline comes in the improved facilitation by both veteran ballers. The knock on the Nets in the postseason last year was obvious: Kyrie and Durant play one-on-one ball and refuse to involve their teammates. That criticism was warranted, but Kyrie and KD truly seem to have taken it to heart.
Kyrie picked up nine assists on Wednesday – his season high – after three consecutive games of five dimes. This compared to earlier in the season: Over a four-game stretch in November, Kyrie had zero, two, three and four assists consecutively. His teammate Durant dropped eight dimes on the Hornets, during a season in which he’s dropped 12, 11 and eight in multiple other games. Sure, the unselfishness is good for the Nets in general, but the fantasy significance comes here: Durant is currently the No. 1 overall player in most fantasy formats right now. Kyrie is also in the top 25 in per-game production, ahead of superstars like Damian Lillard, Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. The assists are turning these guys into entirely different players. They aren’t resting nearly as much as assumed, either.
Randle too hot for the Hawks to handle
I have “beat reporters” on the ground, all over the country. They aren’t classically-trained, Columbia-style journalists, but they know their respective NBA teams like the back of their hand. My Knicks guy – Bryan, you know who you are – was clear and concise this past Saturday: “Randle is returning to form,” he texted. And boy, he was spot-on per usual, as Julius Randle absolutely demolished the Hawks Wednesday to the tune of 34 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. As RJ Barrett continues to be just blah for the Knicks, I actually think this fantasy trend can continue from Randle. Big-money signing Jalen Brunson cuts into some usage, but Randle can manage if Barrett consistently fades into the No. 3 or 4 role for New York.
The eye-popper on Wednesday? Streaky sophomore Quentin Grimes popped off for 23 points, four rebounds and two blocks. In the first section, Kyrie and KD appeared to be old dogs learning new tricks, and the same could be said for Knicks’ hot-seat head coach Tom Thibodeau. Fans and media have been clamoring for a youth movement in New York, and “Thibs” has obliged of late – Grimes, Miles McBride and Immanuel Quickley seem to be picking up more and more minutes, even in critical spots. Of the three, Grimes is the one for me in fantasy circles.
It wasn’t exactly Jordan, Pippen and Rodman… but who is?
The contemporary version of the Chicago Bulls’ three-headed monster – DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine – made the Wizards disappear on Wednesday, as all three posted at least 25 points. DeRozan went for 27, along with seven rebounds and four assists; Lavine went for 25/7/5 and “Vuc” filled up the box score with 25 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
And frankly, this has to be the model for these Bulls. That’s something we really have to take note of as fantasy managers – on a “normal” night, the vast majority of this team’s fantasy production is coming from just three players. Pat Williams and Alex Caruso hold a bit of deep league value, but I’m not playing anyone else at this point. Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White simply aren’t in the mix for me right now.
The “Middle” man – what impact does Khris have on Giannis and Jrue?
Second Scottie Pippen mention coming!
This era’s Scottie Pippen – Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (the right-hand man of the best player in the league), finally returned from a lengthy injury hiatus recently. Wednesday’s output was particularly telling, though – Middleton cruised and coasted his way to 14 points, six rebounds and six assists, while his veteran teammate Jrue Holiday exploded for 31 points, six assists and five rebounds. The way this dynamic plays out is particularly important in fantasy basketball. The assumption was always this: Giannis Antetokounmpo is “The Guy,” Middleton is his No. 2 and Holiday was added as a tertiary option to bolster the Bucks’ offensive production. But given Middleton’s left wrist surgery, that dynamic may be changing for the time being. I think we’ll be seeing more of the same from Middleton – a lot of cruising and coasting – while Holiday puts in the extra effort to play Kyrie to Giannis’ Durant.
My point here is this: Don’t overvalue Middleton in redraft leagues where trade offers are being thrown around. I expect rest and continued “easing back in” when it comes to Middleton’s re-acclimation to the Milwaukee Bucks. Don’t be afraid to buy Holiday because of Middleton’s return.
When the KAT’s away, the mice will play
Karl-Anthony Towns’ right calf injury scared the crap out of the Timberwolves’ front office and faithful, but there was a collective sigh of relief when he was declared “out several weeks” as opposed to done for the year. In the meantime, savvy fantasy managers are getting what they expected: An uptick in Rudy Gobert‘s “big” stats, more offensive aggression from Anthony Edwards and you shouldn’t have forgotten about me from D’Angelo Russell.
Wednesday night was no different, as Gobert snatched 21 rebounds, Edwards exploded for 26 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and SIX steals and “D-Lo” led all scorers with 28. Without “KAT” this becomes a Bulls-like situation. When rest and “load management” are out of the picture, expect Gobert, Edwards and Russell to account for basically all of Minnesota’s fantasy stats. You can make little arguments for Kyle “Slow-Mo” Anderson and youngster Jaylen Nowell, but I’d rather just fire them up in DFS when Gobert, Edwards and/or Russell are out of the lineup on a given night. This week’s column represents a “take note” kind of situation – if you are looking for “Util”-type players in season-long, don’t go shopping in Chicago or Minnesota.
I’ll see ya right back here next week.