Welcome to your midweek guidance for Week 12!  In this post, I identify widely-available players who can help your head-to-head matchup.  I’m writing this from Barcelona, Spain, where from 1936-1939, General Francisco Franco received material support from Germany’s government to aid his side of the Spanish Civil War.  The conflict served as a precursor to World War Two, in which much of Germany was razed, setting the stage for the comprehensive infrastructure restoration effort known as the Marshall Plan.  Does this way-too-broad history lesson have a point?  Well, I could try to tie it in to the Pelicans’ injury woes and the need to introduce a Marshall Plan of their own, but that would be a stretch!

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Christmas Day is among the most hyped lineup of games during the NBA season. But Friday, Dec. 23, was a Festivus celebration for the rest of us. After all, the Association exemplifies feats of strength and airing of grievances this time of year, as the slow-starting teams begin to gripe in the locker room, trade chatter reaches new highs, and the established powers of the season start showing more muscle in impressive wins. 

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Does anyone remember Zion Williamson? Strange as it sounds, he still exists most clearly in my mind as a cannonball at Cameron Indoor. Basketball Reference tells us that there have indeed been three professional seasons for Zion, but none of them have been able to dislodge the image of him in the clean white and blue from my mind, youthful explosiveness so undeniable that the shoes on his feet crumble when he steps. Teenage Zion made quite an impression.

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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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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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Regarding last week’s suggestions, the inclusion of Tyus Jones stands out as he had a tremendous week and tilted many fantasy matchups with his assists alone, so hopefully you capitalized. The same can be said for Kris Dunn and his steals, as he had 7 in four games, rewarding fantasy owners who trusted him. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jaxson Hayes, who was underwhelming and has an awful schedule, so he is a clear drop. Bones Hyland was mediocre at best. What can I say, you win some, you lose some, but Jones and Dunn were big wins indeed.

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In this fantasy corner, besides the usual fantasy recommendations, we are all about weird and interesting stats. Some of them mean a lot for team and player performances and some of them mean absolutely nothing (remember the infamous number 2 Bane game). The stat that caught my eye this week has to do with the stumbling Lakers and the effect LeBron has on this team. Since the All-Star Break the Lakers are 0-9 when LeBron does not score 50 points or more, which you can certainly say is a bad look for his supporting cast. Of course it is common knowledge that he had a huge say on how this team is constructed and that stat alone does not describe how many points he gives up on the other end, which are truthfully a lot. Just take a lot at the following clip that summarizes the Lakers season and to an extent their superstars both on the offensive and the defensive side.

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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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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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With fantasy playoffs right around the corner, I thought it would be a fun exercise to go team by team and point out one player that should be available on waiver wire in most fantasy leagues. With most fantasy trade deadlines passing, I thought it would be informative that you know who’s available on waivers. A quick note before we get into the article, the percentages are based off of ESPN leagues, the numbers may vary on other platforms, however they shouldn’t change to a significant degree.

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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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It was a true team effort for the Wiz, with four guys off the bench scoring in double figures. One of those four was Deni Avdija, who has really been playing well since the trade deadline. He finished up with 13 points, eight rebounds, a triple, two steals and a block. It was his fifth straight game scoring double-digit points. Over that stretch he’s been playing 30 minutes a night despite coming off the bench, with averages of 12.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.4 3PTM, 1.0 SPG, and 0.8 BPG. He should be entrenched in this role the rest of the season, meaning he’ll have plenty of opportunity to produce (17 percent rostered in Yahoo! leagues).

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