In this life, do-overs are rare. The opportunity to go back and change the mistakes of the past is reserved for science fiction plots or melancholy discussions over a pint in dimly-lit watering holes. But over this last week, I was presented with an opportunity to do just that – to go back with the knowledge of hindsight and fix where I failed, to atone, to set things right. I had screwed up once and now I was gifted a second chance. Please, I told myself, don’t blow it again. 

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Darius Garland returned to the Cavaliers, putting up 29 points and 12 assists in a close victory over the Boston Celtics. In both games where Garland and Donovan Mitchell have played the Cavs bigs have struggled to score. Jarrett Allen had 15 points last night while Evan Mobley had 14, both were below regular season averages. As for the Celtics, it’s hard to win games when Jayson Tatum shoots 8-21 from the field. On a positive note his defensive numbers were quite solid last night: nine defensive rebounds and four blocks. 

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My longtime fantasy flame Maxi Kleber chipped in 15 points on just five shots, knocking down three triples and going 4-of-6 from the line. The additions of Christian Wood and JaVale McGee were thought to be death knells for Kleber’s fantasy value, but the German’s defensive versatility and floor spacing are too much of a cozy fit for Dallas to sideline him permanently. Kleber is averaging a healthy 27 MPG on the young season, enough floor time to maintain his career rates and provide a decent blocks/treys combo for the end of your fantasy roster (seven percent rostered in Yahoo! leagues).

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Welcome to your midweek guidance for Week Two!  In this post, I identify widely-available players who can help you win your head-to-head matchup.  If this is your first brush with midweek guidance, check out the intro to last week’s post to get some insight on my groundbreaking methodology (it’s not groundbreaking).  The dust is settling on the initial rush to grab surprise successes like Santi Aldama, but there is still a lot of rotation churn in the NBA as teams try to find the best way to win (or lose).  Unsurprisingly, we’ve already seen multi-game injuries and/or load management issues with big names on the Pelicans, Cavaliers, Clippers, Thunder, and Hornets, so there are potential opportunities on those teams as we look for streaming candidates to cycle through with that final roster spot.

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Welcome back indeed! Draft season is okay, but it feels so good to have basketball back. Roster speculation and divination is no substitute for actual games and real rotations. Considering all my fretting about what to do with Centers, it should come as no surprise that I’ve still got my eye on how some of these uncertain situations are coming together in this first column of the season. Granted, it has only been a week, but some telling decisions have been made now that we’re off and running. Eventually I’ll give some love to guards and forwards, but for now I’m hung up on the big guys. Here’s what’s caught my eye thus far. 

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The Suns’ off-season produced enough fireworks to sustain Kenny Powers on the Fourth of July.  Unfortunately, if you’re a Suns fan, the drama was less of the blockbuster trade or free agent acquisition variety, and more front-page-of-the-tabloid variety.  For starters, majority owner Robert Sarver is putting the team up for sale after being suspended for the entire season.   The news unleashed a circus of speculation surrounding the identity of the next owner, with Bob Iger, Shaq, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. being mentioned as candidates with varying levels of seriousness.  The Suns are also trying to deal a frustrated Jae Crowder, who capped off his summer of discontent by sitting out training camp and pre-season while the franchise works out a trade.  Speaking of pre-season, the Suns got off to an inauspicious start when the Adelaide 36ers came from Down Under and handed Phoenix a loss on their home court.  We all know not to read into pre-season too much, but between distractions at the top, the cloud hanging over Crowder’s exit, and simmering tensions between coach Monty Williams and Deandre Ayton, one gets the feeling that the turmoil from their disastrous second round ouster may extend into this season.

Whatever happens, there is still fantasy goodness to be mined from this fast-paced squad.  Here are my assessments as we near the start of the action:

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On a recent podcast with Son, I let slip, “If you’re a center that doesn’t get blocks, I don’t think I have any use for you.” It was a knee-jerk line, one that I hadn’t much considered before it fell out of my mouth, and I’ve been wrestling with how true that might actually be ever since. For most of the summer, I’ve been vexed by the center position because, outside of the elite guys, the shortcomings of the position are obvious and numerous. For many, their usefulness in category leagues extends only to rebounds, blocks and FG%, and oftentimes those few spoils are sacrificed at the altar of points, dimes, triples, and free-throw percentage. Drafting a center that doesn’t, it’s a steep tradeoff in the best of circumstances, so when looking at someone like Deandre Ayton – a top-50ish, center-eligible player who produced exactly enough swats last year to break even in the category by z-score – I began to wonder what exactly the point was. 

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A massive leap forward in regular and post season performance has the Dallas faithful hoping for another deep playoff run.  Whether or not they can pull it off depends largely upon their ability to address the backcourt gap left in the wake of Jalen Brunson’s offseason departure.  If Spencer Dinwiddie and the rest of the starters can’t backfill the offensive responsibilities shouldered by Brunson, we could see even more usage for Luka Doncic, who sits at the helm of perhaps the most top-heavy offensive lineup in the NBA (1- Luka………………………. 2- Spencer Dinwiddie/Christian Wood?).  Needless to say, standby for another plodding campaign from last year’s slowest team.

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The Indiana Pacers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 129-98. In a rarity for this version of the Pacers, they were the more veteran team. Oshae Brissett spearheaded the Pacers’ attack, as he tallied 24 points (8-10 FG, 2-3 3PT), nine rebounds, one assist, and one steal. His day also included a highlight reveal reverse dunk in transition which came off a behind-the-back pass from Lance Stephenson. Have I mentioned that the Pacers are fun now!? Justin Anderson added 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Jalen Smith notched 17 points, five rebounds, and one block in just 17 minutes of play. I’m not sure if Smith will ever become the player the Suns hoped they were getting when he was drafted with the 10th pick in 2020, but he has at least grown into an intriguing prospect. He was 2-of-3 from behind the arc and also whipped out a Dirk-esque step-back off the dribble in the midrange. Terry Taylor (17) and Duane Washington Jr. (13) both had solid games as well. The Pacers led wire to wire and the lack of competitiveness of the game is reflected in the lower minute totals for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. Haliburton finished the game with 10 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. Hield tallied nine points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Finally, Lance Stephenson scored just two points, but grabbed six rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and swiped three steals.

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My man had 41 in the first half en route to a career-best 60. Kyrie is a wizard with the rock and when he gets going it’s hard to take your eyes off him. The extra rest he’s enjoyed this season practically jumps off the screen (not that he or Brooklyn necessarily needed it to get by a pretty bad and pretty checked-out Magic team), especially here in the doldrums of the season.  He’s a first-round talent when he’s out there, but of course we know that he’s not always out there.

This begs the question: Wouldn’t you rather only have 50 games played by the best players in the world who aren’t visibly fatigued instead of the 82-game marathon that routinely eats some of its young by the time the season’s over? I may not agree with everything Kyrie says or does, but the point he’s making by showcasing the value of fresh legs could be a silver lining if the league ever moves away from an oversaturated product and finally pares back their slaughterhouse of a season. Irving looks unbelievable out there. Imagine if everyone was this fresh.

Here’s what else I saw on a quiet Tuesday night in the NBA…

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The Nets defeated their in-state rival Knicks 110-107, behind a statement performance from Kevin Durant, who finished the game with 53 points (19-37 FG, 4-13 3PT), six rebounds, nine assists, and two steals. The 53 points were a season-high and just a point shy of his career-high. Andre Drummond added 18 points, 10 rebounds, and one block on a perfect eight for eight from the field. Bruce Brown, whose value and strong play has grown consistent of late, finished the game with 15 points (7-14 FG, 0-1 3PT), seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Nic Claxton contributed off the bench, compiling 10 points, five rebounds, one assist, two steals, and one block. Seth Curry was a late scratch due to an ankle injury. The Nets have now won three in a row after losing four in a row.  During this winning streak, Durant has reminded everyone in the league and everyone watching at home just how dominant he can be. The spiciest and most hilarious result of a late-season Nets winning streak would be a 76ers vs. Nets first-round matchup—one can only hope!

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