In an NBA landscape characterized by Steph Curry’s wizardry and Golden State’s record-breaking start, casual fans have missed one of the most interesting subplots from the first quarter of season: the East’s ascension to respectability. With a winning record against the Western Conference (60-58) and ten teams over .500, 2015 has marked a rebirth for the historically lesser conference, now sporting more top-to-bottom depth than in recent memory.
While it’s easy to say, “welcome to the party, we’ve been waiting for you for at least the past decade,” restoration of competitive balance in the East finally appears to be a tangible goal. With two of this season’s biggest surprises in the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets squaring off to open yesterday’s nine-game slate, last night’s contest may have actually been the first iteration of competitive basketball for this particular matchup since the mid-2000s.
With the Hornets emerging as the victors, it begs the question: are they actually good?? For a team with disillusioned hopes of postseason basketball heading into the season, their early successes may still spark skepticism after each passing victory. But with a +3.6 point differential and the fifth placed ranking in the standings this year, the Hornets actually appear to be a legitimately solid basketball team.
One of the main catalysts behind the turnaround, Nic Batum has played excellently on the wing as a secondary ball handler and defensive stopper. For fantasy owners who did not abandon the Batum bandwagon after a disappointing 2014-2015, the Frenchman has more than delivered this season, elevating his status to one of the primer fantasy wing options. Batum continued to produce last night with a near triple double of 13 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds in addition to a steal and a block. Vive la France!
Marvin Williams – Despite a drop in ownership of the past few weeks, Williams has been one of most popular waiver wire acquisitions for the second time this year, jumping in ownership to upwards of 60% of leagues in the past week. As a reliable source of 3s and rebounds from the forward spot, Williams contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds while going 2-4 from deep. With Al Jefferson sidelined for the upcoming weeks, Williams should see an uptick in production from the void of big man stats left by Big Al’s absence.
Cody Zeller – However, Williams is not the sole beneficiary from the injury as Zeller responded to increased playing time with 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 assist while filling in once again as the starting center. I think Zeller is a must-add right now and should be the most popular streamer for the next two weeks if he continues playing at this level.
Frank Kaminsky – Played 31 minutes last night (more than Zeller and Williams) but lacked the production fantasy owners need to justify a roster spot with 7 points and 4 rebounds. Worth watching over the next two weeks due to a potential uptick in minutes from Big Al’s injury.
Andre Drummond – 9 points and 9 rebounds while in foul trouble for most of the game and somehow recorded 3 steals. Hopefully Drummond can rebound in the next game to restore order in the world by cracked double-digit rebounds.
LaMarcus Aldridge – In a game in which the Spurs focused on resting their stars, LMA made the most of his 22 minutes by scoring 26 points and recording 9 boards. Starting alongside Kyle Anderson and Matt Bonner, Aldridge recorded a season-high in points as the focal point of the offense. It’s clear the Spurs didn’t take this game too seriously (sorry Philly faithful), so Aldridge owners should not look to this performance as the beginning of a high-scoring streak for the star forward.
Danny Green – 3 points, 2 assists, and 1 rebound. Very real concern over his eight-game streak of scoring under 10 points. If there are still any owners who can be fooled into trading a valuable asset for Green, I would contact them immediately.
Nerlens Noel – Back in the lineup as the starting center, the third-year man responded with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, and 1 block. While Philly sorts out the rotation after Jahil Okafor returns from suspension, I’m thinking Noel will receive extended looks in lineups as the only big man as well as a small uptick in minutes overall. I think the Okafor show is going to be on hiatus until the All-Star break, while Philly looks to make Noel the beneficiary as the only lottery pick to stay healthy and avoid punching Bostonians.
Robert Covington – Is he officially the biggest success of the “Trust the Process” era? 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2-5 from deep as he tied Noel for the team-lead in scoring last night. While Philly desperately needs more scoring from the wings, RoCo is going to have opportunities to produce all year.
John Wall – 26 points, 7 assists, 1 rebound, and 1 steal while playing 38 minutes to secure the victory over Miami.
Bradley Beal – Starting to feel like Beal is finding his stride after returning from injury. With at least 38 minutes in his last 5 games, Beal has responded with double-digit scoring performances, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds in every contest. While his shooting splits are not idea for fantasy, I think Beal is no longer a buy low candidate.
Otto Porter – With Jared Dudley starting at power forward, it appears Porter’s emergence has heralded the end of the Kris Humphries stretch 4 era in Washington. Porter has been on a recent hot streak with double-doubles in his last two games, including last night’s 13 points and 14 board performance. Porter has yet to reach his stat-stuffing ceiling, so see if he’s available in return for a more established piece.
Goran Dragic – Nice outing for Dragic as he finished with 20 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, and a steal last night. More importantly, Dragic has apparently recovered his missing three point shot after shooting 7-14 from deep over the past 3 games. If this is more than a flash in the pan, Dragic’s fantasy ceiling suddenly elevates after a slow start to the year.
Hassan Whiteside – 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 23 minutes. After going 0-3 from the free throw line, I think Mr. Whiteside should stay off Twitter and lock himself in the nearest gym.
Dwyane Wade – For all the talk about Wade’s deteriorating health and value, dude can still ball. After 26 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, we’re going to have to time travel into the future to legitimately hate on the man’s game.
Deron Williams – VINTAGE D-WILL SIGHTING LAST NIGHT! 20 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds while shooting 3-6 from deep. As the primary ball handler (let’s be honest, no one trusts Raymond Felton), the former Net should continue to put up valuable numbers throughout the year.
Raymond Felton – Speak of the devil… With Chandler Parsons coming off the bench for the immediate future (or until his medical restrictions are lifted), Felton appears to be the primary beneficiary by moving into the starting lineup. With 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4% ownership in Yahoo leagues, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Felton is worth an add for the immediate future.
Kristaps Porzingis – Extended his streak of double-digit scoring games to nine after dropping 28 points on the player most often compared to the Latvian gangster. Semi-serious question: Are the Knicks officially Porzingis’s team right now?
Carmelo Anthony – Set a season-high with 8 assists last night. Does this mean Carmelo ball hog jokes are no longer funny?
D’Angelo Russell – Came off the bench for the first time this year to play 21 minutes resulting in 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. Russell’s move to the bench is a result of lineup shuffling designed for the rookie to play more without Kobe Bryant as well as inheriting the lead ball handling responsibilities for the second unit. In theory, this could increase Russell’s production as in addition to playing regularly against the opposing team’s substitutes. These next few games will be particularly crucial in evaluating Russell’s new standing in the Laker rotation. I recommend holding the second overall pick for now until we have a better understanding of his prospects.
Lou Williams – Former 6ix man started in place of Russell last night and responded with 15 points and 3 rebounds. While his game isn’t the most fantasy friendly, a potential increase in minutes should entrench Williams on the fantasy radar for the immediate future.
Julius Randle – Also came off the bench last night, but the change in roles did not stop Randle from recording his fifth double-double in six games. Randle doesn’t add a lot else aside from board and score, but as long as he’s doing it well, Randle should be owned in standard leagues.
Kyle Lowry – Followed up a career-high 41 points against the Warriors with a well-rounded effort of 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists while shooting 5-11 from deep.
Bismack Biyombo – Dominated the paint last night to a tune of 15 points, 13 boards, and 2 blocks. More attractive in daily fantasy lineups with a low salary, but don’t jump ship quite yet on Biyombo since he should continue to produce over the next few weeks.
Terrence Ross – After scoring 16 points in the past 4 games, Ross exploded for 22 points while playing 39 points last night. Here’s to hoping he thanked the Lakers as he exited the arena for this opportunity to make everyone forget he still sucks.
Eric Bledsoe – 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals, marking the fifth consecutive game Bledsoe has recorded a steal.
Mirza Teletovic – 20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks while shooting 4-6 from behind the arc. While his minutes have been sporadic recently, Teletovic showed fantasy owners the ability to produce in multiple categories when given the opportunity to play 30+ minutes.
Jon Leuer – Thanks to Markieff Morris temper tantrums, Leuer has found himself thrust into the starting lineup and has made the most of the opportunity. With 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block, Leuer will see upwards of 30 minutes per game while the Suns await the return of Tyson Chandler.
Jimmy Butler – If anything, Butler’s consistency makes me forget how last year’s Most Improved Player can be on the basketball court. 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in 36 minutes of action are a friendly reminder he is still one of the primer scoring guards in the game.
Nikola Mirotic – Fluctuates between hot and cold more than broken plumbing or a Katy Perry CD. 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists last night after three straight games scoring below 10 points and under 2 assists. Excuse me while I pull out all my hair in frustration.
Damian Lillard – 23 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds. Lillard has 34 assists over the past four games after going assist-less last week against the Clippers
C.J. McCollum – While his 5-21 shooting from the field and 2-11 from deep may have wrecked fantasy owners box scores, 17 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals are a nice way for the two-guard to make up for his inefficiencies.
Allen Crabbe – Logging his fourth straight game with over 20 minutes played, Crabbe is becoming a scoring option off the bench for the Blazers, and a popular waiver wire addition in deeper leagues. 12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 steals certainly keep him on the radar in standard leagues, but as Meyers Leonard (6 points, 5 boards, 0-6 from deep) rounds into form, owners will need to monitor Crabbe’s production and role.
Jabari Parker – Over 30 minutes in consecutive games and finally appears to be gaining trust from the coaching staff for a permanently expanded role. 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists last night.
O.J. Mayo – Playing de-facto point guard as a result of Milwaukee’s injury-ridden backcourt. Despite the inheriting the ball handling duties initiating the offense, Mayo is still primarily a score-first player with a reliable outside shot. With 15 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, and 3 steals, Mayo is excellent value on the waiver wire in deeper leagues.
DeAndre Jordan – 20 points, 12 boards, 2 steals, and 4 blocks while making more than 50% of his foul shots (4-6). Someone clearly ate his Wheaties before the game.
Jamal Crawford – J-Crossover is my favorite player on the Clippers, so I’m beyond excited that he’s been playing like a fantasy asset over the past week. With over 25 minutes in each of the last 3 games, Crawford has responded by shooting 11-23 from behind the arc. Continued his mini-hot streak last night with 18 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds. Still available in 40% of Yahoo leagues, Crawford finally appears to be poised for success as a key bench cog.
Karl-Anthony Towns – 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in only 29 minutes of action. The coaching staff is monitoring Towns’ minutes to preserve him for the remainder of the year, ideally holding KAT to about 30 minutes each game. Don’t be surprised if his production never reaches his early-season heights since it is simply a result of the minutes restriction.
Ricky Rubio – 16 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals for the Spaniard in 29 minutes.
Isaiah Thomas – 22 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal for the fun sized point guard as Thomas continues to make the most of his time in the starting lineup.
Jared Sullinger – 11 points and 20 rebounds to accompany 3 assists and a steal while going +32 for the night. Despite his recent shooting struggles, owners should feel confident in Sullinger’s ability to attack the glass and impact the game when his shots aren’t falling.
Anthony Davis – 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 3 steals as the Pelicans move another step closer toward becoming the new ’97 San Antonio Spurs.
Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans – 16 minutes and 18 minutes respectively but a combined 0 points for the duo last night. Alvin Gentry sent a message last night with Gordon and Evans hardly played in the second half. Fantasy owners concerned about their output will need to monitor the rotation moving forward.