Miami Heat vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks played one of the most exciting games of the season on Tuesday, October 10. The Heat eventually came out victorious in overtime 135-121, but only after Trae Young pronounced the game “over,” right before the Heat scored six straight points to tie the score in the final 59 seconds of regulation. The Heat then scored 16 straight points in overtime, making the final outcome a formality. The fireworks didn’t start or stop there, however. Trae Young had a relatively quiet first half (8 points and 6 assists), but he came out aggressive in the second half and scored 10 quick points and finished with 11 points in the quarter, and then the fourth quarter happened. Young was in rhythm and headed for another gaudy stat-line before Erik Spoelstra made the astute decision to put Derrick Jones Jr. on him. Jones Jr. is length personified, or as Scott Van Pelt used to say, “He’s all arms and legs, he can’t buy pants at the mall.” Jones’ length and quick feet turned a potentially explosive night into a sour one for Trae Young and the Hawks—Young finished the fourth quarter with only two points. He was unable to draw fouls to counter Jones’ length and physicality, though it was not for a lack of trying. There might be some brewing animus between Jones and Young. Fortunately for us, the Hawks and Heat matchup one more time this season. Get the popcorn ready.
Tuesday’s Hawks vs Heat matchup had a little bit of everything. From a strict statistical standpoint, three Heat players notched 30 points—Duncan Robinson had 34, Bam Adebayo had 30, and Kendrick Nunn completed the 30-point triumvirate with 36. Robinson and Nunn made a bit of Heat history. Robinson tied the Miami Heat franchise-record for most three-pointers in a single game with 10 and Nunn moved into second for most points scored by a Heat rookie. Both Bam and Jimmy Butler recorded triple-doubles, Butler’s third in five games and the first of Bam’s career.
Fantasy Impact: Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young is in the midst of a two-game slump, but there’s no need to be alarmed. The Hawks had a tough back-to-back, losing in overtime to the Heat on December 10 and then getting smacked by the Chicago Bulls on December 11. Young is understandably frustrated with how the season has gone so far. I’m sure he and other Hawks’ players came into the season with high hopes. There’s been no indication that Young will begin any load management, but it might be wise, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it. After dragging this putrid Hawks offense through the first quarter of the season Young deserves a night or two off to rest and refocus. Even if he doesn’t take any nights off, the Hawks are trying to lesson his burden. Kevin Kuerter has been playing some backup point guard and is averaging 4.7 assists in his last four games. If Huerter can average four or five assists with his three-point production he becomes a significantly improved fantasy asset. Last season, Huerter averaged 2.9 assists a game. His development as a secondary-playmaker would be a boon for the Hawks offense and your fantasy team.
Cam Reddish is trending up. I’ve talked about Reddish a lot, maybe too much for a player whose having such a rough rookie year. Nonetheless, I’ll repeat that Reddish is in the Hawks long-term plans and he appears to be making small positive strides. He’s scored in double digits three out of the last five games and he’s averaged 28.4 minutes a game the last five contests. He should have a little bit of an easier time coming off the bench with a lighter load now that Huerter is back healthy. John Collins will be back in action on December 23, so Reddish still has some runway to build positive momentum. Even though Collins’ return will reduce Reddish’s role further, it should allow him to focus on spot-up shooting, attacking closeouts, and being a pesky defender. Limiting the scope of his offensive responsibilities should only help his efficiency.
Damian Jones continues to defy all logic and reason by being more effective than Alex Len with Collins sidelined due to suspension. Yahoo ranks Jones at 146 and Basketball Monster ranks him at 183. Where as Len is ranked at 168 by Yahoo and 209 by Basketball Monster. It will be interesting to see how the rotation shakes out once Collins returns. One would think Jones and Len would get the majority of the minutes with Bruno Fernando remaining glued to the bench or getting valuable minutes in the G League. Len and Collins were forming quite the powerful rim protecting duo before Collins’ suspension. I’m curious to see if they can find that form again. Len has put together a nice stretch of games of late. He’s scored in double figures in six of the last seven games. He’s averaging 13.6 points, 5.4 boards, and 1.1 steals on 68 percent shooting in those last seven games. It’s no secret that I have as little faith in Jones as you can have in a basketball player, therefore I’d bet on Len being the more productive player alongside Collins, especially since his three-point shooting could provide valuable spacing around the Young/Collins pick-and-roll. (But I also just might be a biased salty Warriors fan?)
As I mentioned in last week’s article, Duncan Robinson is on a bit of heater right now. He’s being buoyed by extra playing time due to injuries to Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow and, both players should return sooner rather than later, but there is plenty that is sustainable about Robinson’s production. This isn’t a guy making a ton of tough shots. He isn’t running a bunch of pick and rolls. His skillset doesn’t overlap with anyone else on the team, so he won’t be hijacking possessions from better players (see Dion Waiters). Robinson is a great shooter. And after spending a summer in the Miami Heat handoff lab he’s become a potent weapon in the mold of Wayne Ellington from years past. Robinson’s substantial size advantage (6’8’’) on Ellington (6’5’’) allows him to fit into a variety of Heat lineups with ease. Robinson is here to stay. He’s the best pure shooter on the roster and his size allows him to get his shot off even if the defender makes a solid contest. He shoots a true jump shot and he’s capable from a few feet beyond the three-point line. If Robinson can shore up his defensive issues (Deandre Hunter abused him a bit in the Hawks game), he’ll get even more playing time.
All season, pundits and prognosticators have been downplaying and doubting Kendrick Nunn’s success. They’ve found every reason to invalidate it—he’s a rookie, he’s 24, he was in the G League last year, blah blah blah. Yes, Nunn has flaws. He gets tunnel vision sometimes, he can rely too heavily on floaters, and he still has some ways to go in developing his feel for when to cut and when to spot-up off the ball. But he has obvious, undeniable gifts as well. He’s been a good shooter (38.6 percent from three for his college career) and scorer at every level leading up to the NBA. He’s got great balance and touch on his in-between shots (42.4 percent on midrange pullups) and he’s a solid athlete. I see no reason why he can’t improve his feel as a passer and off-ball player. If we’re turning this into a buy-low vs sell-high conversation, I’m buying-low on Nunn. I don’t know anything about his work habits, but if he’s able to build on the skills he’s already put on display this season, he should be a productive player for years to come.
If you were waiting for Jimmy Butler’s playmaking to fall-off, I think you should move on to more pressing matters. Earlier this season, I talked about Kawhi Leonard’s improvement as a playmaker. Well, I should have been talking about Jimmy Butler as well. Leonard is still averaging about two more assists than he ever has in his career at 5.3 assists a game, but so is Butler at a whopping 7 assists, up from his previous career best of 5.8 he averaged in Chicago during the 2014-2015 season. Given that Butler had shown real playmaking chops in previous seasons, it shouldn’t be as surprising that he’s been able to evolve into this player. Surrounded by plenty of well-rounded complementary talent, Butler is having the best passing season of his career. Butler is also averaging the most free-throw attempts in his career, which I mentioned in my Heat Team Preview as an indicator of Butler’s health and general verve. What’s interesting is that based strictly on field goal percentage, Butler is in the midst of one of his worst shooting season. His true shooting percentage is right in line with recent seasons however, because he’s getting to the free-throw line so often. His poor three-point shooting (30.4 percent) is dragging down his field goal percentage (43.3 percent). If Butler gets hot from three, we might see some explosive scoring nights.
I don’t think Derrick Jones Jr.’s impressive work on Trae Young will lead to more playing time or fantasy relevance, but remember fantasy is all about doing your due diligence. It’s at least a data point to file away for the future.
New Orleans Pelicans
Kenrich Williams has started over Lonzo Ball the last two games. Williams’ played well while Ball was injured and the on/off numbers plainly illustrate his impact. In 77 minutes over nine games, JJ Redick, Justin Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Kenrich Williams, and Jaxson Hayes have a plus 11.5 net-rating (118.5 offensive rating and 107 defensive rating). In 53 minutes over four games, the exact same lineup with a simple Lonzo Ball for Kenrich Williams swap has a minus 9.4 net rating (98.3 offensive rating and 107.8 defensive rating). As you can see the major drop-off is on the offensive end.
If I’m aware of these numbers you can bet Alvin Gentry is as well, and more. The Pelicans season is teetering on complete disaster and every NBA viewer can sense the burner being turned up beneath Gentry’s cushioned coaching chair. Is it heresy to say I could see Ball coming off the bench by the end of this season. Is it heresy to think that back-up point guard is exactly the position this version of Ball is best suited to man? Lonzo isn’t so young or so highly valued a prospect that he must be catered to. Although he has an improved catch-and-shoot three-pointer (37.1 percent), he hasn’t taken many strides anywhere else. Hell, if we want to be cynical about it, if the Pelicans depressed his stats by decreasing his playing time, it might make him less expensive and easier to re-sign as a restricted free-agent next summer. Of course, all of this may be thrown in flux once Zion Williamson returns, but there isn’t much to suggest that Lonzo will ever again be the priority he was when he was first drafted.
De’Anthony Melton might be worth picking up or holding onto even though Ja Morant has returned in deep enough leagues (probably 14 teams or larger). Melton is a great rebounding guard and his athleticism shows up all over the box score. In his first game after Morant’s back injury, Melton nearly got a triple-double, finishing the Dec 1 matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. For the last two weeks he’s averaging 9.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.5 steals. Melton also received some playing time at backup point-guard in the Grizzlies Dec 11 game against the Phoenix Suns. Taylor Jenkins appears to appreciate Melton’s talents and, if he gets playing time, I’m confident he’ll produce.
I’ve talked about both these players before so I’ll be brief. The Denver Nuggets offense is struggling and Michael Porter Jr. is expected to be a positive part of that struggling offense for years to come. Michael Malone appears to be re-committed to facilitating Porter Jr.’s development. It’s probably still too early for him to be on your roster unless you’re punting this season, but you should be on high alert for any breakout single-game performances. His size and athleticism are already a factor on the offensive glass and the more comfortable he gets they’ll become a factor in other areas as well.
Kevin Porter Jr. might be the most talented guard on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster. His play of late is giving extra credence to that position. He’s scored in double digits three out of the last five games and he just scored a career-high 24 points on Dec 11, against the Houston Rockets. Over the last month he’s averaged 8.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals, while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. Porter’s steal numbers are particularly encouraging because the quickest way for him to become fantasy relevant is to become an impactful defender. Porter Jr. could be a 10/4/4/1.3 guy by the end of the season. That player might be useful in 14-team leagues as is, but that stat line certainly spells major upside in capital letters.