Surprise, I’ve taken over the Wednesday recap this week, let’s get jiggy with it!
Nets vs Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks’ undefeated 2020-21 season came to an end at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, December, 30th, but not without some positive signs of progress for this new-look roster. At the moment, the Hawks have the second-best Offensive Rating in the league at 119.9 and their opponent, the Nets, has the best Defensive Rating at 98.3. I’m not sure if these numbers include the data from Wednesday’s competition, but either way, the Hawks were the team that lived up to their statical billing in this one. The teams went shot for shot through most of the game until Kyrie Irving took over in the fourth quarter and the Hawks suffered enough empty possessions on offense to walk away with their first L. Both teams broke a hundred by the third quarter and the final score of 141-145 tells you everything you need to know. Neither team played much defense in this game and that end of the floor will remain the biggest question for both teams going forward.
As for the Brooklyn Nets, the equation is pretty simple—Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are two of the best basketball players on the planet, and despite a lost season for both of them last year, they’ve shown no signs of rust or obvious decline. They continue to produce like two of the best players in the world and that gives the Nets a chance to win any game those two share the floor. De’Andre Hunter did his best to slow Kyrie down and, you could argue, even had some success as Irving struggled through the first three quarters. Irving was 3-of-16 from the field and 0-of-7 from three for a pedestrian 8 points through the first three quarters before exploding for 17 loud, momentum-swinging points in the fourth quarter. Kyrie was 7-of-11 from the field, 3-of-4 from three, and he dished out three assists and only turned the ball over once in his impressive 8-minute stint in closing time.
The Hawks are legit. I expected the Hawks to find themselves in the play-in game and ultimately wind up in the Eastern Conference playoffs before the season began and none of the events in the early part of the season have disabused me of that notion. The Hawks are deep and versatile. Rajon Rondo has managed to siphon some of his #PlayoffRondo magic and use it in the regular season. His experienced floor-generalship keeps their second unit humming while Trae Young rests and Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic are benefitting from his guiding hand. Even with Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari missing multiple games already, the Hawks have looked capable of scoring (and playing) with anyone. It should be a fun ride for fans this season.
The Nets are a problem and they’re going to remain a problem as long as KD and Kyrie are healthy. Their defense is a legitimate issue as the final score would indicate, but they have all year to find the best scheme to fit their personnel and make upgrades around the margins.
Hawks Quick Hitters
Trae Young or mini-Harden, I should say, once again chose chaos and villainy, failing to make a three but scoring 30 points by getting to the free-throw line whenever he wanted (14-of-16 on free-throws). His final line: 30 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists, and 5 turnovers.
De’Andre Hunter didn’t shoot the ball well in this one (4-of-13 from the field, 3-of-9 from three) for 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal, but his defensive work on Kyrie was encouraging as is the fact that he continues to start and grab rebounds at a higher rate than he did last year. Cam Reddish still has way more juice—most evident when he puts the ball on the floor or swipes the ball away from Kevin Durant before he can go up for a certain dunk—but Hunter has been and projects to be solid all season. Reddish had 20 points (5-of-11 from the field, 2-of-7 from three), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block.
Please protect Danilo Gallinari! He left this game after only 3 minutes because a Nets player ran into him, causing him to twist his ankle (5 points and 1 rebound).
Clint Capela did some good work on the boards: 7 points, 12 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 turnover.
John Collins snapped out of his early-season malaise to the tune of 30 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal.
Nets Quick Hitters
The Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving stagger has begun. With Spencer Dinwiddie going down with a partially torn ACL, it makes sense that both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving might have to exert even more influence over the Nets’ offense and, that’s how things played out against the Hawks. En route to a near triple-double (33 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists), Durant recorded a season-high for assists and his usage rate of 33 percent was also the highest of the season. It seems to me that if you have either of these players on your roster you’re in line for…improbably, even more production!?
I think this is of particular significance for Durant. Uncle Drew is always going to be Uncle Drew. Durant dishing out more assists and generally operating as more of a facilitator makes sense given his skillset and general basketball ethos. Durant is the elder statesman of the two, the two-time champion, and a more egalitarian, free-flowing style of offense—which drew him to Golden State in the first place—fits his skill set better than it does Irving’s. That said, we’re talking about degrees here, Kyrie is skilled enough to excel within any scheme, but the fact that he was lobbying Durant for more post-ups on Instagram live should tell you something.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot got the start in Dinwiddie’s absence and had a better night than the box score would indicate (3 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound). Cabbarot had a few solid possessions guarding Trae Young.
It looks like Caris LeVert will continue to come off the bench and run the second unit, though the staggering of Durant and Irving means he’ll now be sharing the floor with one of these players more often than he did in the season’s first few games. LeVert was off all game in this one, finishing the night with 10 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 turnover; but shooting only 4-of-13 from the field and 2-of-6 from three.
Joe Harris was busy all game! Trae Young spent most of the game guarding Harris and the Nets responded by going at Young every chance they could. Harris’s final line for the night was an ultra-efficient 23 points (8-of-11 from the field, 6-of-8 from three), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block.
Jarrett Allen‘s impressive season continues as he finished the game with 15 points (6-of-7 from the field, 3-of-5 from the free-throw line), 13 rebounds, and 1 assist. Allen was also a +8 on the night.
Taurean Prince played with some serious revenge game energy and confidence and finished the night perfect from the field—12 points (5-of-5 from the field, 2-of-2 from three), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal.
Landry Shamet also had a productive evening and didn’t miss a shot—did I mention there wasn’t much defense being played in this game? Shamet’s line: 14 points (5-of-5 from the field, 2-of-2 from three, and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line), 1 rebound, and 1 steal.
Grizzlies vs Celtics
How would I describe this game in one sentence?
Popular NBA Finals pick beats up on a woefully undermanned small market team.
This game was all about Jaylen Brown, who broke out for a career-high 42 points. Brown’s line: 42 points (15-of-21 from the field, 7-of-10 from three), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal. During a recent Shot Tower podcast episode, I questioned what the Celtics would look like at the start of the season after losing Gordon Hayward and while they wait for Kemba Walker’s return. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag so far as the Celtics record sits at 3-2, but it appears that Jaylen Brown will be the answer to all of the Celtics’ early-season questions. Brown is playing well and maybe even be taking a leap from last season. One would expect his shooting percentages to regress, as he’s currently averaging 28 points and shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. I’m not sure if the 28 points are here to stay either, but even a smaller uptick from last season would put him in the 22-25 point range. For those with Jaylen Brown on your roster, just enjoy the ride.
After the Celtics beat the Pacers 116-111 on Tuesday, December 29th, Jaylen Brown called Payton Pritchard the GOAT and praised his two-way play. While I’m mortified by how those words will embolden the rabid pink people in Boston, I can’t argue with his overall message. Pritchard got more minutes than Jeff Teague in the Celtics’ previous two games before this one, and deservedly so. Pritchard is making plays and Jeff Teague isn’t very good anymore. Teague may have a random night of turn-back-the-clock brilliance, but the consistent shooting and good decision making are not going to be there for him all that often, I’d stay away—there are more exciting ways to punish yourself.
Jayson Tatum‘s statistics through five games look almost identical to last season, he’s taking two more shots a game (20 FGA, compared to 18 FGA last season), and shooting slightly worse from two-point range (46.9 percent compared to 48 percent last season). Everything else is pretty similar. All of that is just a way of saying Jayson Tatum is really good and he’s going to be fine whether Kemba is on the floor or not, but one does wonder if his inability to get to the free-throw line might eventually drag his percentages down slightly while Kemba remains out. Tatum didn’t get to the free-throw line at all in the Celtics’ first two games and he had only one free-throw attempt against the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
I had hoped that Daniel Theis would step into an even larger role this season and provide more production, but with Tristan Thompson’s arrival and the continued growth of Robert Williams, it doesn’t look like that will be happening. Nonetheless, Theis provides solid field goal percentage and above-average free-throw shooting for a big man, plus blocks.
As for the Grizzlies, they’ll simply be looking to tread water until more of their roster returns to action. Ja Morant is out for 3 to 5 weeks. De’Anthony Melton is still out due to Covid protocol and is now INJ eligible in Yahoo leagues and Grayson Allen sprained his ankle in this game. Desmond Bane started in place of Allen in the second half. Bane is a polished rookie, a rare four-year college player and he’s a #drafttwitter darling. If you’ve got room on your roster, he’s a responsible add.
All the injuries in Grind City should lead to increased usage and production for the guys left standing, primarily Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks, and Kyle Anderson. Brooks was already going to kill you in field goal percentage and that’s only going to get worse now (as will the turnovers), but minutes are king in fantasy. Tyus Jones should see more minutes and maybe extra burn gives Brandon Clarke a chance to get on track, although the deterioration of his outside shot is certainly a cause for concern.
Celtics Quick Hitters:
Robert Williams played 22 minutes to Daniel Theis’ 19. Williams’ line: 6 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 4 blocks. For Theis: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. Tristan Thompson missed this game (rest), which was good news for both active Celtics’ bigs.
Payton Pritchard: 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 turnover. Both Teague and Pritchard played 21 minutes.
Grizzlies Quick Hitters
Tyus Jones does his usual low-volume all-around ‘ting: 6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block.
Kyle Anderson (aka SlowMo) is probably going to play point guard in some units going forward. His line: 9 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 block, and 8 turnovers.
Desmond Bane has a strong showing: 16 points (6-of-11 from the field, 3-of-6 from three), 4 rebounds, and 2 steals.
Brandon Clarke‘s shooting struggles continue: 10 points (4-of-13 from the field, 0-of-2 from three), 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block. Here are Clarke’s ugly shooting numbers on the season 41.5 percent from the field (10-of-41), 16.7 percent from three (1-of-6), and 35.7 percent from the free-throw line (5 of 14). Yikes!
Bucks vs Heat
The Miami Heat save face and get a victory after giving up the most threes in NBA history to the Milwaukee Bucks a night ago.
Tyler Herro moved into the starting lineup this season, but I’m not sure that position is etched in stone. The Heat have been getting off to slow starts and have played much better with Goran Dragic on the floor. It’s unlikely that they’ll move Dragic into the starting lineup, but Avery Bradley might eventually replace Herro with the starting group because of his point-of-attack defense. In fact, Bradley started this game with Herro and Duncan Robinson, Bam Adebayo, and Andre Iguodala.
I assume you were not relying on Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard in anything but the DEEPEST of leagues, but this is another example of why you can’t rely on them. Leonard’s lack of defense and rebounding make him a liability and Harkless’s unwillingness to launch from beyond the arc weakens the Heat’s offensive attack. Harkless was -16 in 3 minutes and Leonard was -10 in 2 minutes of play in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Bucks on Tuesday, therefore they got the boot.
As for the Bucks, they came back to earth after their scorching hot shooting the night before. Donte DiVincenzo was 5-of-14 from the field, Jrue Holiday was 4-of-15 from the field, and Khris Middleton was 3-of-15 from the field. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the offensive bright spot, putting up 26 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block.
Heat Quick Hitters
Herro continues to put up good numbers. He’s averaging 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 3 turnovers a game this season. His increased production—scoring, rebounding, assists, (and turnovers)—is reflective of his increased playing time. Final line: 21 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers.
Goran Dragic continues to play extremely well, 25 points (9-of-17 from the field, 4-of-7 from three), 5 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Avery Bradley likely isn’t a priority add in 10 or 12-team leagues, but I expect him to be at least relevant in 14-team leagues. As I mentioned above his defense at the point-of-attack was a weakness for the Heat last season and Bradley is a good cutter, which fits in nicely with what the Heat like to do on offense. If he can maintain league-average three-point shooting he’ll get minutes.
Bam Adebayo bounces back with a near mess around: 22 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks.
Relatively quiet night for Duncan Robinson, but you know what you’re getting from him—treys! (9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals.)
Precious Achiuwa is unlikely to be fantasy relevant barring injury this season, but he might already be better than Meyers Leonard and he fits the Heat’s switching defensive scheme much better. The best way for rookies to get playing time is to play hard and play well on defense. That’s exactly what Achiuwa is doing so far this season.
Trail Blazers vs Clippers
Though they lost to the Mavericks by 51 points without Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers still appear to be a good basketball team. And they got some of their “get back” against Portland, drubbing the Blazers 105-128. If you’re looking to hop on the Clippers bandwagon, here’s a bit of advice: ignore everything Paul George says in interviews and enjoy his hot shooting to start the season.
Clippers Quick Hitters
Kawhi Leonard returned to action in an unaesthetic protective mouth-mask and enjoyed his usual ruthless efficiency, 28 points (9-of-17 from the field, 3-of-5 from three), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1 block.
Paul George continued his impressive three-point shooting to start the season—47.4 percent. His 4-of-9 from three performance against the Blazers actually LOWERED his three-point percentage. Final line: 23 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals.
Ivica Zubac‘s Bubble performance filled me with optimism that he might be in for a breakout season and might even start, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Serge Ibaka is the clear starter and it’s hard to argue with the spacing his shooting provides their two stars. Ibaka’s final line: 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
Although Zubac’s lack of robust production is a bit of a wet blanket for fantasy managers, the Zu-man does have his upsides. Namely, Zubac gives you really good field goal and free-throw percentages, right now he’s shooting 80 percent from the field and the charity stripe. He’s unlikely to keep that pace up, but last year he finished the year shooting 61 percent from the field and 74 percent from the line so there’s only so far for him to regress. Final line: 7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.
Luke Kennard‘s slow start continues. Fantasy players rostering Kennard should be patient in my opinion. We’ve already seen Kawhi Leonard go down once and the inevitable load management is coming. Kennard should be able to thrive when one or both of the stars miss games. And keep in mind he’s trying to settle into a new role in a new city.
These Portland Trail Blazers are confusing. They managed a comeback victory against the Lakers on Monday, were blown out by the Jazz in their opener, eked out a win against the undermanned Rockets, and were again blown out on Wednesday, this time by the Clippers. Early season blowouts are a big trend this season so maybe there’s little knowledge to be gained. I think the Blazers are better this season, but without consistent nuclear performances from Damian Lillard, I don’t think they’re as good as their pre-season hype might suggest. It’s early but their defense is still bad (117.9, 29th in the league after last night’s big loss).
Blazers Quick Hitters
Like Trae Young, Damian Lillard did his best work at the free-throw line in this game, scoring 20 points (14-of-15 from the line, 3-of-14 from the field), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal.
CJ McCollum continues to light it up this year. McCollum is taking 11.5 threes a game so far this season, up from 7.3 last season and he’s shooting 47.8 percent on those threes, which is doing wonders for his efficiency. McCollum is also averaging 22 shots a game right now, which would be a career-high over a full season. Even though Lillard has had some big nights, specifically, the Blazers’ two previous games, he’s looked a little less dynamic to me (40 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from three). Maybe he’s still working his way into the season, I’m not sure, but McCollum’s increased shot attempts seem to fall in line with the eye test. McCollum is averaging 28 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.3 steals a game this year. Let’s hope he can keep it up!
Carmelo Anthony was hot early and rode that strong start to a solid night: 15 points (3-of-5 from the field, 9-of-10 from the line), 5 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Gary Trent Jr. missed this game with a calf injury, but I’m going to pull my hair out if Terry Stotts plays him for only five minutes in another game this season. Trent is just better than Anfernee Simons and he’s more versatile and a better defender than Carmelo. He’s a better shooter than both Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington, but Covington’s help defense is integral to the Blazers’ identity on defense. The Blazers obviously love Derrick Jones, but they’ve got to figure out how to get Trent on the floor, he’s simply too good not to.
Lakers vs Spurs
The Lakers got back in the win column and just about everyone had a solid night.
LeBron James: 26 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
Anthony Davis: 20 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks.
Dennis Schroder: 21 points, 4 rebounds 4 assists, 1 steal, but 5 turnovers.
Wesley Matthews: 18 points (6-of-6 from the field, 6-of-6 from three) and 2 rebounds.
This would have been a good win for the Spurs and it would have been nice to see 2020-21 breakout player Keldon Johnson have a good game against such stiff competition, but it turns out playing against LeBron James and Anthony Davis is pretty difficult—who knew!?
Keldon Johnson: 7 points (3-of-9 from the field, 1-of-2 from three), 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Johnson looks solidified in his starting role and his all-around game is perfect for fantasy. He’s not shooting the ball nearly as well as he did last season, but he’s getting minutes (29 minutes per game) and putting up numbers (12.3 points, 7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks). If he’s on the wire in your league everyone should be ashamed of themselves, but if that is the case, pick him up already!!
DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray continued their strong starts to the season. DeRozan’s line: 23 points, (7-of-12 from the field, 1-of-1 from three—look at that!), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block.
Dejounte Murray: 29 points (12-of-19 from the field, 2-of-3 from three, 3-of-3 from the line), 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers. I don’t know what the dynamic will be like once Derrick White returns to action, but right now Murray is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1.3 steals a game on serious efficiency (55.2 percent from the field and he’s 6-for-6 from the free-throw line).
I haven’t gotten a chance to watch a lot of Lonnie Walker this year, but he looks spry and is getting plenty of minutes (31.5 mpg). He’s certainly a worthy prospect in dynasty formats and a decent end of the roster option in 14-team leagues and larger, maybe even 12-team leagues. I suspect Walker’s minutes will take the biggest hit when White returns, but you can ride his scoring wave for as long as it lasts (14.3 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists).
Hornets vs Mavericks
The Hornets are feisty and fun! LaMelo Ball=Fun. Diminutive guards bombing away from three=fun. And one of the league’s best broadcast crews=fun. You should be watching the Hornets more than you normally do this year.
If Gordon Hayward can stay healthy, he’s going to put up numbers and so far this season he’s doing exactly that—19.8 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.3 steals. Unfortunately for him and fantasy players, he was just okay in this game, scoring 11 points (4-of-16 from the field), grabbing 7 rebounds, dishing out 3 assists, and nabbing 1 steal.
Devonte’ Graham hasn’t gotten off to a raucous start this season, but his backcourt mate in Terry Rozier has. Scary Terry is doing the most 2020 thing by defying all logic and pouring in points efficiently. Rozier is averaging 24.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 0.8 blocks a game. But check out these percentages—50.7 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three, 62.5 percent on twos, and 72 percent from the line.
Selling high on Rozier seems like a solid idea, but I do hesitate a little bit. Hear me out! Rozier did shoot 40 percent from three last season, including a ridiculous 45.7 percent on catch and shoot threes. He’s playing with an all-world passer in LaMelo Ball and a pretty good passer in Gordon Hayward. I guess what I’m saying is, I’d expect his free-throw percentage to increase to where it’s been in previous seasons 77-78 percent, and I don’t think it’s actually responsible to doubt his three-point shooting anymore. He’s shot league average or above in four out of his six seasons and the shot looks good. Expect the threes to continue to fall! The regression is going to come in his two-point percentage, there’s no way he’s going to shoot 62.5 percent from two all year. How far that number drops will go a long way to determining his field goal percentage. If he can manage to shoot 44 percent from the field, then all of a sudden he’s a player that can fit in just about any build. Final line: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block.
LaMelo Ball has already had and will continue to have his ups and downs this year, but the fact that he’s coming off the bench and has fewer responsibilities and dare I say is more conscientious than someone like Anthony Edwards bodes well for his fantasy outlook. He’s obviously going to hurt you in field goal percentage and turnovers, but unlike his brother, he can shoot free throws, and the rebounds, assists, and steal production is always going to be there. In 20 minutes a game, LaMelo is averaging 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.5 turnovers. And on Wednesday, he was even more impressive than those averages, he finished the game with 22 points (7-of-10 from the field 4-of-5 from three, and 4-of-4 from the line), 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. LaMelo might not be a great defender in real life, but his height, length, and tendency to gamble means he should continue to get steals.
Mavericks Quick Hitters
Luka Doncic‘s slow start continues. The Mavericks go as Luka goes and he simply hasn’t been good enough to start the season, but he’ll be fine long-term and Kristaps Porzingis is expected back in a week or two. Doncic is shooting only 43.8 percent from the field and he’s 2-of-21 from three for a barftastic 9.5 percent from three. Final line: 12 points (4-of-10 from the field, 0-of-5 from three), 2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. Hopefully, Luka finds his groove soon.
Josh Richardson seems more comfortable in Dallas and is playing solid, averaging 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1 steal. Fantasy players should be happy to see Richardson return to the steal a game average he’s had for most of his career, but Richardson is a better real NBA than fantasy NBA player. His shooting percentage remains relatively low at 43 percent and playing next to Doncic limits his ability or need to rack up assists. He’s a complimentary talent who’s not a good enough shooter or a good enough defensive playmaker to massively move the needle in fantasy.
If you made it this far, treat yourself!!