Happy New Year, friends! I hope there have been some days of rest and rejuvenation for you as we turn the calendar over and start anew. Considering the tardiness of this post, it might be obvious that I was successful in unplugging and getting away from the tyranny of my computer for a bit. What have I been doing with that blissful time of solitude? Thinking about the Utah Jazz, mostly. 

2022 has been a weird one for Utah. During this time, an era of sustained success ended. Quin Synder got the boot, stars were shopped and shipped, Danny Ainge came home. Following these significant steps of a teardown, a bonafide firesale wasn’t just expected, it seemed imminent. The 2022-23 season of Jazz basketball, conventional thinking went, wouldn’t amount to much more than a long, slow, painful march toward ping pong balls the promise of Victor Wembanyama. 

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Tuesday night’s five-game slate presents me with my first opportunity to bring you a game recap!  Normally, I’m the guy who writes up borderline players and streamers on Thursday afternoon, so it’s a nice change to profile some of the league’s studs.  It’s kind of like hate watching Hallmark Christmas movies (Mingle All the Way, among others) for the first few weeks of December before switching gears and watching It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story.

Disclaimers: Because I was too busy watching Santa Switch last night, and the fact that I’m on Greenwich Mean Time, I haven’t had a chance to watch the games.  As a result, all of my observations are through a strictly fantasy lens and don’t necessarily account for every nuance.  Additionally, all of my ranking references are based on category-league values as a default.

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Welcome to your midweek guidance for Week Eight!  In this post, I identify widely-available players who can help you win your head-to-head matchups.  As the title suggests, I couldn’t help but come up with a bunch of forwards and centers this week, as there are a lot of intriguing options at the moment.  So if you like ’em big, er, this is the post for you…

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You can’t win a championship at the beginning of a season, but you can lose one. Much as it pains me to say, I think I’ve already lost.

After a successful Writer’s League last year that ended against Kostas in the semifinal and a pretty intensive offseason of thinking about hoops, I came into this year’s draft feeling like I was in decent shape to post a good showing again. But this year ain’t last year. Stats and success don’t carry over, and if you’re resting on laurels rather than applying lessons learned, there’s no way to bank Ws on account of “experience.” If you’ve been following Kelder’s weekly recaps, you might have noticed that my team isn’t anywhere in the mix. Indeed, you’ve got to scroll almost the way to the bottom of the table to see my name. A record of 19-34-1 is good enough for 11th and I feel all but certain the hole that I’ve put myself in is going to be too deep to recover from. I’m not quite ready to quit on some other struggling squads, but I think it’s safe to let go of preseason expectations at this point and set a different goal for the remaining three-quarters of the season here in the Writer’s League.

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The big Fin Lauri Markkanen put up a big stat line, hit a big shot and led the Jazz to a big win Friday night over the Suns. He scored a career-high 38 points on a silly 15-of-18 from the floor, 2-of-3 from deep and 6-of-8 at the line, and added 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a giveaway to the line. 

So far this season Markkanen has delivered late 2nd / early third-round value, which isn’t too  surprising. The skills were evident, it was just a matter of the fit and program in what was supposed to be a tanking Jazz team. And so far he’s fit like a glove worn by a big white dude in Utah. 

His counting stats aren’t too far from this 2019-20 breakout sophomore season, before things got stormy in the Windy City. The major difference is his ability to get shots inside, and being surrounded by willing and able passers helps, too. Markkanen is shooting 65.6% on 2-point shots with nearly 10 attempts a game, numbers comparable only to Nikola Jokic. The other improvement in the stat line is nearly 2.5 assists per game – again a result of playing in an offense that complements his skill set. 

Most of his career high points were actually easy buckets while taking advantage of a string of blown defensive plays. However, the difficulty level was high on this Kobe/Dirk vintage turnaround jumper:

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The Utah Jazz are the most interesting team for fantasy heading into the 2022-23 NBA season. It is a team on the downswing with plenty of veteran players to trade and young players to develop. Not to mention a talented few players who are gonna get a huge usage rate boost. The tricky part is determining which players are which, who’s gonna thrive, and who’s not gonna get any playing time at all.

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Same format as last week, with one readily available player per game and some additional insight into the game. I’d imagine that most fantasy leagues have either wrapped up or are in the finals, so take my picks this week as desperation moves. Not a single pick this week is meant for a dynasty league, as this week is all about making that final pickup to win this season. Let’s get right into it. 

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The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 119-110 to remain ahead of the Nets in the Eastern Conference standings. The two teams have identical 39-36 records, but with this win, the Hornets move to 2-1 against the Nets and secure the tiebreaker. Led by LaMelo Ball’s hot shooting, the Hornets spoiled Kyrie Irving’s home debut. Ball finished the game with 33 points (10-21 FG, 7-12 3PT), seven rebounds, nine assists, and three steals. Miles Bridges added 24 points (9-24 FG, 3-6 3PT), eight rebounds, two assists, and one steal. P.J. Washington tallied 18 points (8-12 FG, 2-3 3PT), 11 rebounds, and five assists. Terry Rozier notched 14 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, four assists, and one steal. If the Hornets are making their threes they can be tough to beat and that was the case in this game. They shot 42% from the field as a team, but they shot 53% from three (17-32). As things currently stand, the Hornets would match up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in tournament, rather than the Nets. That’s unfortunate for us, the fans, as the pace of play and lack of defense on both sides would make a Nets vs. Hornets matchup must-see TV. Then again, there likely won’t be much defense in a Nets vs. Hawks series either.

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Regarding last week’s suggestions, Isaiah Roby completely flopped and has turned from must-add to must-drop, Marvin Bagley is still holding value but Isaiah Stewart is back with the team and Immanuel Quickley had an OK, if mediocre week. All in all, I can do a lot better apparently, as even the “Sell” suggestions of Devonte’ Graham and Evan Fournier performed good last week.

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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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The Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 105-95, behind Jayson Tatum’s strong performance and an explosive third quarter. With the win, the Celtics extend their winning streak to eight games. Tatum had 13 points going into halftime, but he was just 5 of 13 from the field and 1 of 6 from three. He, and the rest of the boys from Beantown, overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and soared past the Hawks with a 42-point third quarter. Tatum finished the game with 38 points (13-27 FG, 4-10 3PT), 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and two blocks. Jaylen Brown added 17 points, nine rebounds, and three assists. The recently acquired Derrick White tallied 14 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals, and one block. Marcus Smart compiled 13 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and one steal. Robert Williams III also had a strong game, finishing the contest with 10 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, and two blocks. Al Horford was 2-2 from three and finished the game with eight points, six rebounds, and one block.

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There are two obvious downsides to living in Milwaukee — winter (duh) and NBA League Pass blacking out the hometown team as they take up their championship defense. Considering the grinding nature of an 82-game regular season, it’s not the worst thing to have an excuse that allows you to check-out on February basketball, but it’s still nice to occasionally see the boys without using a VPN. Last night, the Bucks were fully visible the national stage against the Wizards and the game flow reads like regular season game where the better team wasn’t fully engaged all night.

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