Bol Bol has the coolest name in the NBA.  He is 7-foot-2 and having a breakout season in year four of his career.  He can also do this:
 
He’s an actual unicorn, but that’s not my main point.  I had forgotten Bol Bol was even playing Bol in the league until this season!  I’d given up on him, and clearly was wrong to do so.

With the NBA for some reason deciding they want to draft teenagers and make them a part of the league, development has to be viewed differently.  Obviously, some kids like Ja Morant come in and are obvious supernovas of basketball talent, but others take years, and even multiple teams to make their mark.  Just this year, Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are infuriating Bulls fans with their breakouts in their mid 20s.  I went back to the drafts since 2018 and picked one late developer to keep an eye on, similar to Bol Bol.  Who will be the next guys to surprisingly break out?

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After finishing 4th in the 2020-21 season, the Knicks came into this past season with legitimate expectations. Unfortunately, those expectations did not come close to being met. RJ Barrett didn’t take quite leap people expected, Julius Randle’s 3-point shooting fell back to earth, and Kemba Walker’s knees turned out to be dust in the wind.

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One team in this matchup projects to be a difficult and gritty playoff opponent and a sneaky conference finals contender; the other team in this matchup is the Brooklyn Nets. The Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets 126-120, behind a historic 54-point performance from Jayson Tatum. It was Tatum’s fourth 5o-point game, tying him with Larry Bird for the most 50-point games in Celtics history. Tatum finished the night with 54 points (16-30 FG, 8-15 3PT), five rebounds, three assists, and it was his hockey assist that led to a dagger Jaylen Brown three to stamp out all hope for the Nets. Jaylen Brown added 21 points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Marcus Smart finished the game with 14 points, three rebounds, nine assists, and one steal. Al Horford finished the game with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Robert Williams III tallied 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and five blocks.

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Why isn’t Montrezl Harrell starting for the Hornets? Just because he won 6th Man of the Year doesn’t mean he’s permanently a sixth man. Especially when you play Mason Plumlee over him. In every single game, Harrell has outplayed Plumlee, so why is he still starting? Only other thing to comment on is Isaiah Thomas receiving another 10 day contract, putting up 10 points, five rebounds, and three assists. We’ll see how he fits, and if his contract is guaranteed for the rest of the year, but personally I doubt it. As for the Cavaliers, Daruis Garland was the only one to show up offensively, putting up 33 points on 60% shooting.

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So we’ve arrived at the final nightly recap before the All-Star break. A time when team rosters are locked in, new trade pieces are already paying dividends, and teams generally know what they are. So let’s look at the 22 teams that played last night and evaluate where there at, where they could improve, and who stood out from a fantasy perspective. 

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Late February, everyone’s favorite little month, often feels like a desperate time in the NBA. The Trade Deadline, with all its promise, hope, and frequent disappointments, has come and gone, and with no cavalry coming to save you, you’re forced to come to grips with reality. Most of the time that reality isn’t pretty. Looking around the league, it seems like everyone is exhausted in ways that have become obvious. The NBA season is a long one, and the All-Star break is closer to the three-quarter pole than the halfway point, so if you haven’t figured out how to win by now, it’s getting awfully late to get it solved. Some teams have already begun to slowly pack it in and wind things down. “Better luck next year,” isn’t being said yet, but the phrase looms in the back of mouths in Indiana, Washington, and Texas. Outside, at least where I live, it’s gray, brown, and soggy, and it can be hard to remember that life and color exist in a universe that looks exactly the same way that a 19-40 season feels. It’s grim. Cold. Still. The NBA landscape can be equally sparse — I’m looking at you, Philadelphia, and your 40-point home loss — so when you see something beautiful and vibrant, you’ve got to celebrate it. So, with apologies to Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 50-point night (my god, he’s good), I’m renting out this Tuesday lede to Trae Young, who was a vibrant, flamboyant shot in the arm at home against a thoroughly game Cleveland group.

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At this point I’m just going to stop fighting it. Fate, it seems, is throwing an endless stream of Knick games onto Tuesday nights and there’s nothing I can do but sit back and let it wash over me. Considering that I’ve spent most of my NBA fandom in the West and the Knicks have been the Knicks for the last 30 years, there’s never been a season where I’ve watched more New York regular season basketball than this one. After being hit with wave after wave of it, I just feel…bad. Is that normal? Last year I heard all about Julius Randle in breathlessly excited tones. The assists! The triples! The triple-doubles! King of New York! But now that I have to watch him and his teammates week after week, I’m struck but what a bad time it looks like he’s having out there.

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For the first time this year, the fantasy star of the night comes from a losing team. It is well deserved as Dejounte Murray has gone from zero games with 30 or more points, to two of those games in just a week. Murray followed up his 32 point triple-double from Wednesday with a 30-point near triple-double on Friday. He finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. Murray sits inside the top-20 players and has been on an absolute tear of late, but this upside may not last long as Derrick White is very close to returning from the league’s health and safety protocols. 

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The Brooklyn Nets took home the 121-119 victory in this Sunday matinee against the rebuilding, but still pesky San Antonio Spurs. In classic 2021-22 Nets fashion, they gave up a 14-point lead and allowed the Spurs to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and push the game into overtime, where Nets’ rookie Cam Thomas stole the show. Both teams struggled to score in the waning minutes of regulation and overtime, most notably Kevin Durant. As a result, when Durant was doubled on the Nets’ final possession at the elbow, with about six seconds left in the game, he rose up and fired a pass to Cam Thomas sliding up from the corner. Thomas pump-faked, took two hard dribbles and rose up for a one-legged runner fading to his left at the free-throw line. Nothing but net. Thomas’ made floater in overtime turned out to be the game-winner as Lonnie Walker was blocked on the Spurs ensuing inbound play. Even if he hadn’t been blocked, however, the shot wouldn’t have counted. Walker released the shot after the buzzer, as the Spurs had just one-point-four seconds to shoot. The narrow escape victory snapped a five-game losing streak for the Nets.

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I’ve called players like Royce O’Neal and Marcus Smart some of the league’s best defenders, but one player may have them all beat. This monster has on a nightly basis shut down some of the league’s best offensive weapons. His name is COVID-19, and over 25% of the league has been stripped by him at some point this season. So as we watch the league’s backup squads and aging vets inflate their stats, let’s dissect who is actually worth picking up.

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