This is the time of year when I’m curled up in a dark cave, with a sliver of light protruding from a tiny hole in the wall that illuminates the ground like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, marking the wall with chalk one day at a time. Water is dripping down….plop…..plop…..plop. I count them like a shepherd counts his sheep, writhing in anticipation for the start of this new hoops season. Each iteration of the Top X brings us one week closer to glory. Last week, I wrote up the Top 10. This week, I’m going into players 11 to 25. 

THIS IS NOT A RANKINGS PIECE. The order I have players is based on my projections and overall value for category leagues. Where I’d draft a player depends on ADP, categorical need, and roster construction. Keep that in mind when going through all my Top X pieces and when choosing who to draft in your leagues. The FG and FT numbers are weighted for volume.

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When we moved from California to Wisconsin last October, we knew it would be hard. Catching the tail end of fall was the final gasp of good air before the dual jaws of winter and the pandemic clamped down on us. From there, we just had to ride it out. Hiding indoors, online, and in the NBA calendar was all there was to do. As the days got darker — in every sense — we were subjected, over and over again, to the Milwaukee mantra: Summers make winters worth it. Having no experience to draw on, we had to take these hearty midwesterners at their word. 

They were right. 

Ice thawed and snow melted. Patches of terra firma sprouted and then turned green. The Bucks exercised Miami demons in Game 1 of the Playoffs and squeaked past the Nets by the margin of a single shoe size. The Hawks were feisty but underseasoned, and then there was the block and the steal and the alley-oop over Phoenix. “Bucks in six” was the song of the summer. Flowers for The Good Land. 

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I’m the big, fat loser this year in our 9-cat league’s championship game. Am I happy I made it this far in a totally insane season? Yep. Am I upset I lost? It always stings, but one week can make or break you and I don’t feel bad losing to a team I lost to the only time I faced them in the regular season. It feels like the right team won.

All that said, this season was completely wackadoodle and probably the most benefit you’ll get from reading these words is this introduction where I’m going to attempt to break down my thinking on the season and how we all got here.

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Bledsoe has scored in single digits 25 times this season. He’s outside the top 200 on a per-game basis. There was a time when he was a perennial top 40 player. Life comes at us fast. On what was championship Sunday for many, Eric Bledsoe turned back the clock and produced his best performance of the season.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
24 4 11 2 0 1 3/9 8/17 5/10

Now, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram did not play in this one but whatever. A chip is a chip. If Bledsoe led any of you to a chip, you are obligated to buy a jersey of his. And you better wear that bad boy proudly. If anyone starts clowning you, just punch them in the face and say that your face Bledsoe that I could wear this jersey proudly around town.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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I feel like our children’s generation and their children’s generation are going to look back upon our generation and have a gross underappreciation of Kevin Durant. Maybe it’s because of all the narratives floating around but I rarely hear him mentioned as one of the greats. Because in my mind, granted my mind is small and has been heavily influenced by trees and mushrooms, he is one of the greatest to ever play the game. He’s a seven-footer who has handles like a guard, is a career 1/1/1 player, a career 27-point scorer, and a career 49/38/88 shooter. He’s got the hardware and is one of the most unstoppable offensive forces in the game. Because he’s missed so much time this year due to injury, he’s been out of the consciousness of many but Dudeisamazingant reminded us of his ability yesterday.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
42 10 2 1 0 5 7/13 16/33 3/4

In 40 minutes. The 58th time Dudeisamazingant has scored at least 40 points in a game. Durant has played 28 games this season and he’s the number six player on a per-game basis. Over the last seven seasons, he’s finished as the numero uno player for fantasy three times and been top five in six seasons. I hope he stays healthy so I can continue to watch his greatness.

Here’s what else I saw yesterday:

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During draft season, I joked with the other Razz writers that, according to my extremely unscientific research, 100% of LA guys were in on LaMelo Ball. The echo chamber and hype bubble were too well-constructed for this not to be the case (also I didn’t really do much research and threw out evidence that didn’t support my theory. I’m Mister Hooper, not Doctor.) LaVar’s greatest creation was not the trio of ballers he sired (or those ugly shoes), but the machine he constructed to discuss them ad infinitum. Put off the Ball family brashness, I was lukewarm on LaMelo when drafting and missed out on an extremely fun and productive rookie year. The hype will be hot again next season, I assume, especially if the Hornets show some fight against one of the beasts of the East, so I’ll probably miss him next year too. But perhaps there’s a backdoor to one of these Balls. While little bro is taking up all the shine, Lonzo Ball has taken another step forward, especially as a shot maker. The vision and passing has always been legit (even my hater-ass was quick to concede that after watching him at Summer League) but the stroke has been sanded down and his 3-point percentage now creeps towards 40%. Still shy of 24-years-old, he’s putting it together.

Last night, playing in the aptly named Ball Arena in Denver, Lonzo consistently got where he wanted to go on the floor and then dimed up his teammates once he cracked the Denver defense open. The highlight package below isn’t spectacular, but if you want to watch a dude move to the exact spots  where he’s most dangerous, then I have the clip for you.

Lonzo Ball

PTS REB AST STL BLK 3PM FG FT TO
16 12 12 4 2 4 6/14 0/0 4

It was another busy Wednesday in professional hoops. Here’s what else stood out:

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The New York Knickerbockers are absolutely streaking! They now have nine consecutive wins following the rout against the Raptors yesterday at MSG. 

First for the Raps yesterday, Fred VanVleet had an exceptional night, scoring 27 points and dishing out 11 assists while OG Anunoby also contributed with 27 points while grabbing five boards and also stealing the ball twice. Pascal Siakam also had a pretty good game in which he put up 26 points, seven rebounds, and five assists with a steal. Kyle Lowry, however, had an underwhelming game shooting 10% from the field and going 0-8 from beyond the arc. An obvious anomaly for a player of his caliber. 

Julius Randle continued his Most Improved Player as well his All-NBA case dare I say yesterday. He scored 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while shooting 5-7 from beyond the arc! RJ Barrett also had a great game posting a 25/12 double-double while also dishing out four assists. Reggie Bullock continued his three-point party knocking down three more. Nerlens Noel only had one point but showed his worth on defense by swatting four shots and getting two steals while also hauling in five rebounds. 

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An extremely encouraging pattern is beginning to emerge with my every-other-week recapping of the Wednesday night games: Happy returns that are highlighted in the lede. You see, it was my distinct pleasure to highlight KAT’s return from his early season wrist + Covid absence, and I was the one who placed Kevin Durant in this place of prominence when he came back from the extended hammy vacation. Now, I’m due up for the recap on the night Jaren Jackson Jr. returned and you know damn well that I’m going to make him the lede. Welcome back, Jar—

Ah. Actually not. Sorry JJJ, I’m breaking up the welcome party and going with the 40 piece instead. We’ll see you later in the recap, because this lede (and maybe all of the Western world) belongs to…

Julius Randle

PTS REB AST STL BLK 3PM FG FT TO
40 11 6 1 0 6 11/21 12/13 4

This is second time in the last week that Julius has gone 40+/10+/6+ with 6 made threes. Wut. That’s just unspeakable heat from New York’s Caesar, who led the Knicks to an OT win against the Hawks last night. Woe to those of you having wrestle this monster in head-to-head playoffs. It might be better just to simply bend the knee when Randle is going like this.

Here’s what else stood out on another busy Wednesday in the Association…

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Beef Stew is running away with the starting 5 job in Detroit as the season winds down. Casey has been resting his vets in Plumlee and Ellington and as a result, Stewart has been feasting. 8 blocks in his last four games alone, to go with an average of 14.25 boards in those four outings. He’s going to make a huge difference in fantasy playoffs for those who foresaw the downfall of Plumlee.

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