We’ve made it through a quarter of the NBA season. Some players signed this summer will be eligible to be traded on December 15, others will be trade eligible on January 15. Fantasy trade deadlines aren’t far off. It’s a good time to check-in on a few teams and see what’s shaking. The Miami Heat currently sit third in the Eastern Conference. They’re obviously firmly in the playoff race, but any Pat Riley-run organization is playing for much more than a simple playoff birth. The Heat are relying on two promising rookie guards and a third second-year player. How those players develop will not only help determine their fate this season, but it might also influence trade decisions around the deadline and in the summer. The Atlanta Hawks are at a bit of a hinge point in their rebuild. They came into the season with a lot of media buzz and some vague playoff talk. Trae Young went all scorched earth and they started the season 2-0. All hell broke loose after that. They’ve got to figure out what they have in their young players. Is this the beginning of the end of their rebuild or are they smack dab in the middle of it? The Minnesota Timberwolves are firmly in rebuilding mode, but for the first time they’re making decisions that prioritize Karl-Anthony Towns as the rightful centerpiece and key to their future. How do Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, and Jarrett Culver fit into their future plans? What do Ryan Saunders lineup decisions portend for later this season? And most relevant to all of you beautiful readers, what does this mean for you and your fantasy team? Keep reading to find out.
Justise Winslow has returned to action after his concussion. He’s coming off the bench and averaging 31.2 minutes a game. He even closed the game ahead of Kendrick Nunn on December 3, against the Toronto Raptors. Winslow hasn’t fully gotten on track this season. He’s shooting just 39.4 percent from the field and an abysmal 23.1 percent from three. However, Kendrick Nunn is in the midst of a five-game slump and Goran Dragic has missed the last two games with a groin injury.
Kendrick Nunn is making me nervous. Nunn’s playing time hasn’t dropped off massively (though he is occasionally getting benched in crunch time), but he’s in a serious shooting slump. Here are Nunn’s last five shooting lines: 3/11, 3/16, 5/15, 6/16, 3/11. Nunn’s a points, threes, and steals player so missing shots craters his value. Keep an eye on his playing time as Winslow finds his footing and Dragic returns from injury.
Duncan Robinson looks like a natural fit in the starting lineup bordering the Jimmy Butler/Bam Adebayo pick and roll. Robinson is a specialist, which limits his utility and playing time for the Heat and limits his complementary stats for your fantasy team, but he’s been hot of late. He’s scored in double figures the last five games and his shooting numbers look nothing like Nunn’s—4/8, 8/11, 3/6, 5/7, 4/8. He dropped 22 points on six made threes in the Heat’s overtime win over the Raptors earlier this week. Robinson gives you points, threes, and a very small helping of rebounds.
Tyler Herro hasn’t shot the ball well or played many minutes the last three games. He’s averaged only 19.6 minutes over the last three games, compared to 31 minutes the three previous games. With Winslow back, Nunn’s minutes holding and Robinson’s minutes increasing, Herro is getting elbowed out of playing time. It’s an ominous trend, especially since Dragic is currently injured. Herro has lottery cachet, a smooth stroke, and the confidence to take at least one quick-trigger heat check a game, but he’s also a (first year) rookie, whereas Robinson and Nunn both played significant minutes in the G League last season.
At this stage of their careers, Robinson is the best three point-shooter of the bunch, in my opinion. Herro is shooting the highest percentage on catch-and-shoots at 46.3 percent, but Robinson has taken more catch-and-shoot threes and isn’t far behind at 45.2 percent. Robinson has attempted 124 catch-and-shoot threes to Herro’s 67. I attribute Robinsons’ higher number of attempts to his familiarity playing off the ball. Robinson is experienced and knows his role. He’s almost exclusively an off-ball shooter coming off screens and spotting up around whoever’s in the pick-and-roll, but being an effective off-ball player is a skill. Both Herro and Nunn are used to playing with the ball in their hands and they each need to improve their off-ball play in different ways.
Both Nunn and Herro have taken more pull-up threes than Robinson. Robinson has taken 13 pull-up threes, Nunn has taken 29, and Herro has taken 35. Herro is shooting 25.7 percent on those shots, Robinson is at 23.1 percent, and Nunn is at an impressive 37.9 percent. Last season, Damian Lillard shot 36.4 percent on pull-up threes. In fact, Nunn is shooting better on pull-up threes (37.9 percent) than spot up opportunities (34.7 percent). Nunn should be able to improve his off-ball shooting, but I do think his size factors in to some degree. It’s much easier to shoot something approaching a set shot when you are 6’5’’ than when you are 6’2’’. Being shot ready (feet set, hands out) with a fluid quick release is key to being a good off-ball shooter. It’s clear both Herro and Robinson have that, something’s missing for Nunn, whether it’s reps or mechanics remains to be seen. For Herro, he should focus on getting more catch-and-shoot opportunities. Herro should master the dark arts of off-ball scoring first, hone his one and two dribble step-back and side step moves next and then build out his pick-and-roll and driving game last. I think Herro will be a good pull-up shooter in the long run, but playing more like Duncan Robinson would be much more beneficial in the short term. The Heat have too many players who are better with the ball in their hands for that part of Herro’s game to be a priority right now.
Bam and Jimmy are monsters. If they’re not on your team, I’m sorry, we can weep together.
Kevin Huerter is back from his shoulder injury, albeit on a 15-20-minute limit and is still dealing with lingering soreness in his left knee. Hearing that Huerter is still dealing with lingering knee soreness is unsettling. I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into a lost season for Huerter and the Hawks. Trae Young has been so good this year it would be sad to see a potent Young season made completely irrelevant by injuries and suspension. In a recent interview with The Athletic, Travis Schlenk said he expects Trae Young’s usage to “taper off.” This makes sense. Young is carrying a massive offensive burden and he’s already tweaked his ankle twice this season. Shifting some of that burden to Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, and De’Andre Hunter allows the Hawks to evaluate the full potential of those players, preserves Young’s body, and facilitates Young developing his off-ball skills as well. Young needs to improve his off-ball play in order to be effective on a team with more duplicative guard talent. As we’ve seen so many times when NBA superstars join forces, shooting ability, specifically off-ball shooting is a key factor in a smooth transition.
*** There’s no need to panic about Trae Young’s usage decreasing. Young is currently fifth in the league in usage rate at 33.9 percent. The only players above him are Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and James Harden. A slight drop in usage might make Young more efficient or at least lower his ridiculously high turnover numbers. ***
Expect Huerter’s minutes and usage to increase once he gets fully healthy. Expect Reddish to keep playing. Crabbe and Hunter are currently injured and Huerter is working his way into form—there are plenty of minutes for Reddish at the moment. Expect him to keep playing (in a slightly more limited capacity), even once those guys return. The Hawks have one responsibility this season—develop and evaluate their young talent. Cam Reddish is a huge part of that. If you gave Travis Schlenk truth serum, I bet he’d admit he believes Reddish has a lower floor and a higher ceiling than De’Andre Hunter. Hunter is older, more physically developed, and already a reliable spot-up shooter. Watching him play, however, makes it tough to envision him ever becoming a potent isolation player or primary playmaker. He’s stiff and lacks any semblance of shake in his game. He’ll surprise you with a powerful dunk on occasion, but that’s about it.
Hunter is shooting an impressive 41.6 percent on spot-up threes on 3.7 attempts a game. He’s shooting a paltry 18.2 percent on pull-up threes on 1.1 attempts a game. I can’t say I’m confident Hunter will ever develop his pull-up three pointer, but I don’t think it really matters. Hunter is already approaching his floor as an NBA player—killer spot-up shooter and good defender. I’m sure the Hawks would like to see him be a more impactful defender, as his steal (0.6 a game) and block numbers (0.2 a game) are pretty unimpressive, but I find it hard to believe that this wasn’t all part of the calculus. Travis Schlenk knew, at worst, he’d be getting a solid fit next to the young talent already on the roster. If Hunter develops into more than that, it’s a bonus.
Cam Reddish on the other hand is a double-spin chaos machine. For much of the season, no one has understood what he was doing, including him. And yet, he makes more splash plays on the defensive end than Hunter. Reddish is averaging 1 steal and 0.4 blocks a game. Reddish is also averaging about the same number of assists (1.6 to Hunter’s 1.7) in more limited playing time (24.6 minutes to Hunter’s 31.6). Reddish just had his best game as a pro on December 4, against the Brooklyn Nets. He scored 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, nabbed 3 steals, and blocked 1 shot. I wouldn’t rush to put him on your roster, as he’s been one of the worst players in the NBA this season, but he’s in the Hawks plans for the foreseeable future so I wouldn’t expect a massive string of DNPs either.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying. Trying to get out of the dark ages of NBA offensives and analytic integration. Trying to escape the haunted house history of their previous seasons. Trying to get Tom Thibodeau’s hoarse screams of “ice” and “get back” out of their collective heads. To their credit, they’re mostly succeeding at those things, but they could certainly use a few more wins. The Wolves are currently the 7 seed in the Western Conference with a 10-10 record. Unfortunately for them, the Trailblazers, Kings, Thunder, and Spurs are hot on their heels.
Kat is breaking the center position with his three-point shooting, but you don’t need me to tell you about him, you have a pulse and are playing fantasy basketball. I’m more interested in the Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Culver, Jeff Teague ménage a trois of playing time and production. Jarrett Culver has been in the starting lineup for four games starting on November 25. During that span he’s averaged 26 minutes a game (never cracking 30 minutes), which is only slightly above his season average of 23.9 minutes a game. His averages across the board are up in those four games. For the season, Culver is averaging 9.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, but in the last four games he’s averaged, 12.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. Culver’s still not shooting great, as he went 4/10, 4/13 and 4/11 in three of those four games, but it seems clear that his newly redefined role is leading to better production. Culver’s shooting will likely remain an open question the entire season, but his size and playmaking help him provide fantasy players with a well-rounded stat line.
Andrew Wiggins has had some slight shooting struggles of late, but has offset those issues by getting to the free throw line. I’m ready to say the Wiggins reformation is real. He’s taking the right shots and being more active on the defensive end—averaging 1.3 blocks a game this season. For the season, Wiggins is averaging 24.9 points (career best), 5.4 rebounds (career best), 3.4 assists (career best), 0.6 steals, and 1.3 blocks (career best), while shooting 45 percent from the field, 34.5 percent from three and 71 percent from the free-throw line. Sadly (Wiggins is on my roster), he hasn’t racked up assists in the four games since he’s been the de facto starting point guard. Teague is still piling up assists, averaging 7.4 on the year and dishing out 6.5 per game the last four contests. However, Teague’s shooting struggles have continued during his time on the bench—he’s scored in single digits four out of the last five games. If Wiggins finds his dime game again, watch out.