Sometimes you need to stand back and take a good, hard look at your personal biases as a writer.
When I do that while wearing my NBA hat, I can clearly see that I don’t give the Philadelphia 76ers a lot of love. What can I say? I just can’t stand James Harden. A couple years back he came to my Nets amidst hope and big dreams – a “Superteam” with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – and left the way he always does: As a loser. Harden is one of the greatest regular season players of all time – a true fantasy basketball god over the course of his career – but he crumbles like no other in the playoffs. And can we really say much better for the veteran combination of Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris? Despite big names and strong stat sheet production, this Philly team hasn’t gotten anywhere with this core over time.
Maybe this season will be different? I doubt it. Yet and still, Harden and Embiid had their patented pick-and-roll rollin’ Wednesday night, on their way to a solid 105-94 victory over the pesky, young Orlando Magic. Let’s dive in and take a closer look from a fantasy perspective.
The Beard and The Beast
It’s been an enigmatic season for the young Orlando Magic on the defensive side of the ball – some nights they’ve had it all together (Franz Wagner is in the top 40 in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares, and we know about defense when it comes to Bol Bol’s family), while other times they’ve looked exactly as young as they are. Wednesday night brought a mixed bag: Orlando kept everybody on Philly in check, except the two guys they should have prepared most for – Embiid and Harden.
Embiid led all scorers with 28 points, while adding 11 rebounds in a solid overall performance. Harden was slippery around Embiid’s patented high screens; the snake with a beard slithered his way to 26 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds – just about as close as a man can get to a triple-double without actually accomplishing one. (Maybe that’s a fitting microcosm of Harden’s career? Always coming up short). Ultimately, we can expect more of the same from both Embiid and Harden as we move forward through our fantasy season, especially with Tyrese Maxey (just 10 points and one rebound) coming off the bench and taking a clear step back in overall usage. Not surprisingly, Tobias was Philly’s No. 3 man on Wednesday, picking up 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and two blocks – a very Tobias-like all-around game.
On the other side of the coin, not a single Orlando player cracked 20 points. It was a dominant defensive night for Embiid, Tobias and D-specialist De’Anthony Melton.
Tatum Tears My Nets to Bits
Prior to Wednesday’s game, I was compelled to ask the simple question on the minds of NBA fans: Can Kyrie Irving get it done without Kevin Durant tonight? And the very simple and obvious answer ended up being… no. After getting absolutely embarrassed by the Boston Celtics in the playoffs last year – a completely one-sided 4-0 sweep – my Nets didn’t respond with any kind of fire this time around, either.
In Boston’s dominant 139-96 win, Jayson Tatum led all comers with 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Unfortunately, it was one of our least favorite kinds of nights in fantasy: The Celtics were TOO good, causing Tatum to get limited to just 29 minutes of action. Veterans Al Horford and Malcolm Brogdon only ended up getting 24 and 21 minutes of run, respectively. The Celtics were so dominant that some potential DFS winners were thwarted by Tatum’s logical benching down the stretch.
As for Brooklyn, it was Kyrie Irving, Cam Thomas and a bunch of nobodies. Nobody was really very good, including those two “leaders” at times as well. Bring back Durant, please!
Players I Seem to Talk About Every Week
You know, when you get the same reporting beat every week, you tend to run into the same schedules, teams and players. That means one of my personal favorites Anthony Edwards: 27 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals in a hard-fought 119-114 win over the defending-champion Warriors; 34 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks from Domantas Sabonis in a solid 119-109 victory over the stumbling Spurs; 31 and 10 from De’Aaron Fox in the same game and 42 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds from Damian Lillard, whom I featured very prominently last week.
So what does this all mean for us in fantasy? While repetitive, well… isn’t that exactly what we want from our fantasy basketball options? Edwards, Sabonis and Fox have been bringing stability and consistency throughout the entire season, and we absolutely f’n love it. It won’t stop, either – especially with the Timberwolves warming up and the Kings being far more competitive than most initially anticipated. Lillard has been great too, but this is not the young buck who was invincible in the past: 82 games played in three consecutive seasons from 2012-13 through 2014-15. No, this is a rather different Lillard – one who picks up occasional injuries and is wisely rested by the franchise that drafted and developed him. But it seems like the end of a long journey, no? If Lillard is ever going to get over the hump and win the big one, it’ll have to be somewhere other than middling Portland. Will he push his weight around and push himself out? We’ll see. Time will tell, but it won’t surprise me when the time comes.
Some more regulars crushed it Wednesday: 32 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds for the explosively electrifying Ja Morant, while Jaren Jackson (got inflated?) blocked SIX shots to go along with 18 points and seven rebounds in Memphis’ 122-112 loss to Lillard’s bouncing-back Blazers. The same duos just keep doing it for the teams in this section: Morant and Jackson for the Grizzlies, Fox and Sabonis for the Kings and Lillard and Anfernee Simons (26 points and four assists) for the Blazers.
Three Pleasant Surprises Around the League
Kenyon Martin Jr: We might talk a lot about Alperen Sengun, Jalen Green and Jabari Smith in fantasy circles, but Kenyon’s son was the surprise on Wednesday night, dropping 18/7/4 in a gritty 112-106 win for the Rockets over the inconsistent OKC Thunder. It’s not particularly sustainable for KJ, as Green and Kevin Porter Jr. were both out of the lineup for this one.
Tre Mann: 18 points and five rebounds in the same game… in just sixteen minutes of action. Mann was one of the per-minute heroes of the night, taking full advantage of his opportunities on the way to an impressive-and-efficient stat line.
Malaki Branham: Despite his Spurs’ loss to Sacramento, young Malaki had one of the best games of his NBA career, posting 22 points and five assists in 32 minutes of high-energy run off the pine. Expect more such opportunities for Branham as the Spurs fade into oblivion this 2022-23 NBA season.
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.