I’ve been covering fantasy basketball throughout this season and well… I haven’t been able to write many nice things about the Charlotte Hornets to date. So when I saw they picked up a rare road victory on Wednesday night – 122-117 over the young, rebuilding Houston Rockets – I thought this is finally the Hornets’ time to shine! But alas, one step forward and one step back for this stumbling squad – despite the victory, the real loss was the apparent ankle injury to franchise superstar LaMelo Ball. Let’s dive a little bit deeper into this game and fantasy-relevant injury.
Prepare for takeoff: The Hornets outfly the Rockets
After about 20 minutes of on-court action, LaMelo Ball went down with the ankle injury. At that point, he had already amassed 13 points and four assists on his way to another solid fantasy performance. After that, things got frightening: “Scary” Terry Rozier took over to the tune of 26 points, six rebounds and a couple steals. If LaMelo’s injury is long-term, of course Rozier is a major benefactor along with P.J. Washington (16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks), Jalen McDaniels (12 points, five steals, four rebounds and three assists) and veteran center Mason Plumlee (17 points, nine rebounds and three steals).
Now wait a minute, before we move on… are those steal numbers even real? Three steals for Washington, five for McDaniels, three for Plumlee and two for Rozier, all within the same starting lineup on the same night? That’s very rare in today’s offensive-minded NBA, but you have to consider the context here: The Rockets are young, inexperienced and currently dead-last in the Western Conference with an ugly 10-34 record. The Rockets – generally led by Jalen Green, Eric Gordon and Alperen Sengun in terms of playmaking and production – turned the ball over a whopping 19 times in comparison to Charlotte’s nine. So yes, if LaMelo is out you can expect all-around stat improvements from his teammates, but this type of steal production is unrealistic and unsustainable.
Speaking of Houston… Green went ham tonight! 41 points from the 20-year old high-jumper, including seven assists and five rebounds. This was quite possibly the best game of the youngster’s NBA career, and there is plenty more of that to come in the future as well. One of the most exciting young players in the game right now.
You can’t push the Pace when there’s Thunder and Lightning
This young OKC team is turning into one helluva story, huh? When Chet Holmgren went down before the season even started, I think most of us immediately thought tank city. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was hurt heading into the season, and the Thunder – particularly veteran GM Sam Presti – have been known to “position themselves” nicely when it comes to their future and draft spots. So I dunno about you, but I figured: We’re not gonna see “SGA” for quite some time. Thunder will just keep stretching his timeline to return.
But that hasn’t happened in the slightest. SGA has been one of the best and most consistent players in the NBA this season, and Wednesday night brought another solid performance with 23 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals vs. the equally young-and-hungry Indiana Pacers. The Thunder are actually in the West’s playoff picture right now – 10th in the conference in the final ladder rung at 21-23 – and Wednesday night SGA was supported by Lu Dort (22 points and 11 rebounds), Josh Giddey (16 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) and Isaiah Joe off the pine (23 points, four rebounds and two steals). I mean just look around – it doesn’t take a basketball genius to see that this young Thunder team is gonna be scary in 2-to-3 years max. SGA and Giddey have been leading the way all along and Holmgren will return to become a major player in the landscape of the league.
And oh by the way… they beat the Pacers handily, 126-106.
“He’s Heating up!” – Marv Albert NBA Jam voice
Maybe you were, but I wasn’t the least bit worried about these Miami Heat when they were struggling early this season. This team has guts. It has heart. They play mean and nasty when they have to and that comes from Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo in terms of leadership. It’s not always the prettiest when you watch a Miami Heat win, but dammit these guys find a way to get stuff done.
Now 25-21 after a pretty brutal start to the year, Wednesday night the Heat were led by Bam (26 points, eight rebounds and two steals), Max Strus (16 and 10) and five others in double-digits: Butler (18 points), Caleb Martin (10), Tyler Herro (14), Gabe Vincent (16) and Orlando Robinson (10). And this is exactly what Miami needs, really – spread this production around over time instead of having absolutely everything come from the Butler-Bam-Herro trio. Vincent has been hot of late, not to mention crafty veteran Victor Oladipo who will be especially important for them in the postseason. Lowry does his steady veteran thing, while Martin, Strus and Robinson have their respective nights. Things are shaping up quite nicely for Spoelstra as his team improves over the long haul of the season.
Wednesday they cruised to an easy 124-98 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans sans Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Herbert Jones. Not surprisingly, that team isn’t very good without those three guys (simultaneously).
Rapid-fire roundup: Three strong fantasy performances around the league
Dejounte Murray: Thirty points, seven rebounds and four assists in a hard-fought 130-122 win over Luka and his Mavs. Murray’s original background was as a floor general point guard, but he really did begin to look like a two-guard on Wednesday night. Team leader Trae Young was in full point guard mode – 12 assists while taking a backseat in the scoring department – while Murray aggressively attacked as a scorer in license-to-kill mode. There’s no question Atlanta needs more of the same going forward.
Kyle Kuzma: 27 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a 116-105 victory over Jalen Brunson‘s feisty Knicks. And well, damn! Kuzma’s been one of the absolute best fantasy assets in the game this year. I’m seeing similar development to Lauri Markkanen – both players are getting more aggressive and expanding their all-around arsenals – and Kuzma is a joy to watch with his infectious energy and get-after-it attitude. Love this kid. Keep firing him up big time in fantasy.
Lauri Markkanen: Well ya had to see this one comin’, right? Lauri has been a legitimate backend MVP candidate in my mind, and Wednesday night was no different when he dropped 34 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks on the enigmatic Clippers in a 126-103 win for the Jazz. It was all Lauri, all the time – including this monster dunk. I saw him coming along nicely in Cleveland last season, but this year represents a whole new level for him with the Jazz. Markkanen legit looks like a top-20 player in the NBA right now, and I simply didn’t see that coming when I had him in the 50-60 range before the season.
I’ll see ya right back here next week for more fast-and-furious NBA action!
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, football and baseball.