Here are a few Monday thoughts from the Hoops Lab, as we prepare for Week 18 of the fantasy basketball season. Keep in mind, the fantasy basketball rest-of-season rankings also update on Mondays, so check those out as you prepare for this week’s games. Between the rankings and this article, we’ll also help you identify some good Buy Low/Sell high candidates. So, without further ado, let’s dig into it.
FBA re-org after Deadline deals, post Super Bowl pre All-Star Break:
“Now, this is a story all about how, my life got flipped-turned upside down…”. The theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is an apt preamble to the week after the NBA trade deadline, particularly this season. The Brooklyn Nets traded Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns just days after trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers traded Russell Westbrook and brought in D’Angelo Russell and a whole slew of smaller deals could quietly shake up the fantasy hoops landscape without all the fanfare of the blockbusters.
This is also the week of the all-star break, meaning a player with any sort of injury is likely to sit out this week so that they can rest before returning to the court after the break. With football season over, there could be an added emphasis on the NBA and fantasy basketball. Add in the upheaval and player movement that is still settling out from the trade deadline, and this week should be ripe for FBA action from free agency/waivers transactions to potential FBA trades. I’ll be watching for and covering all of the above. Here are a few bullet points to explore a little further, from within this umbrella…or…or…hey.
Luka and Kyrie
One of the two biggest new superstar team-ups is going on in Dallas, where Irving joins Luka Doncic on the Mavericks. The other, Durant joining Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton in Phoenix will have to wait until Durant returns to the court after the All-Star break. However, we can see the first reviews from the Kyrie and Luka show now.
When Irving was traded to Dallas, I wrote about what I thought the new pairing might look like. Irving has averaged about 20 field goal attempts, four free throw attempts, just under six assists and about two-and-a-half turnovers over the past five-plus seasons. Meanwhile, Spencer Dinwiddie averaged about 13 field goal attempts, four free throw attempts, six assists and two turnovers while on the Mavs this season. Irving typically uses about seven more possessions as the finisher on average than Dinwiddie did while playing alongside Doncic. Those seven possessions have to come from somewhere, but my theory is that Irving would take those possessions away from Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and the other role players rather than from Doncic. Irving and Doncic should each maintain most of their volume, but at better efficiency because they lessen the defensive attention on each other, but that volume of some of the other players on the team would go down.
Doncic returned from injury on Saturday, so we got to see one game of the new pairing so far, however it was inconclusive. We saw Irving almost nail his averages with 21 FGA, 2 FTA, 7 assists and 1 TO. Doncic had slightly lower volume than usual with 20 shots, five FTA, five assists and 6 TO (he has averaged 22.3 FGA, 11.0 FTA, 8.2 APG and 3.7 TO/G on the season), but it’s unclear how much his foot injury might be impacting his ability to get to the rim and generate both free throws and assist possibilities.
I’ll be watching the Mavericks’ two games this week, starting on Monday against the Timberwolves. I’m curious to see how the dynamic of the Luka/Kyrie relationship continues to form. Will it be more akin to how Irving paired with LeBron James in Cleveland, with Doncic serving as the on-court alpha and Irving as the secondary scoring option with upside? Or will it be more of what we often saw in Brooklyn, where Irving seemed to have carte blanche to shift into the alpha slot whenever he was available and desired to. I can’t wait to find out!
Nets new hierarchy
While the Nets helped create two new borderline super teams in the Western Conference, they also set up a very interesting melting pot of potential production in Brooklyn moving forward. The Mavericks deal brought back Spencer Dinwiddie and added Dorian Finney-Smith. The Suns deal brought back starters in Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson. They retained their own previous starter/rotation players in Ben Simmons, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Patty Mills and Nic Claxton. And we can’t forget about Cam Thomas, who exploded for three-straight 40-point performances while the deals were happening. There are only five starting slots, as the dust settles, who will get the minutes moving forward?
We saw the beginning of that answer on Saturday, when everyone but Curry was available. The Nets started a funky lineup of Dinwiddie at point guard and three forwards with Bridges playing the two, Finney Smith and Cameron Johnson playing the three and four respectively and Claxton at center. All five starters played between 29 and 34 minutes. Thomas, O’Neale, Harris and Simmons all came off the bench and played between 16 and 18 minutes. No one else played more than seven minutes.
Brooklyn ran their offense through Bridges, who led them in scoring with 23 points. He had picked up a bigger scoring role for the Suns before the trade and has now scored 21 or more points in seven straight games. Dinwiddie had a do-everything game with six assists and six rebounds, but struggled with his shot going 2-for-10 from the field and scoring only nine points. That is likely a fluke, and he’ll probably be the other main scoring threat in the starting lineup. Johnson is a shooter-scorer role player, and should get his share of looks as the tertiary scorer in the starting lineup. Claxton and Finney-Smith are both primarily defensive players, but can finish when set up for shots (threes for DFS, dunks for Claxton).
Thomas is the wild card, and the most interesting to watch. He only played 18 minutes on Saturday, but he got up 12 shots, going 7-for-12 for 14 points. It seems to me to be an interesting decision to bench a player that averaged 44.7 PPG on 56.0 FG%, 90.0 FT% and 56.0 3P% in 35.7 MPG last week, but that appears to be the short-term plan. Thomas averaged 16.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.3 APG and 1.5 3PG in 24.5 MPG in the four games he played prior to his scoring explosion. This may be a more useful template for his value moving forward, unless there is word that he will move back into the starting rotation.
The Pelicans weren’t heavily involved in the trade market last week, but they did get bad news that Zion Williamson suffered a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury. He had ramped up to 3-on-3 action and was moving closer to getting back on the court, but after the setback he is expected to be out indefinitely. Pelicans EVP of basketball operations David Griffin said that he will be sidelined for several more weeks after the All-Star Break.
Williamson’s injury is tough for the Pelicans, who have close to a 59% win percentage when Williamson plays and a 43%-win percentage when he sits this season. They briefly held the top seed in the West last month with Williamson playing but have since suffered a 10-game losing streak without him. On the fantasy and daily betting front, Williamson’s injury means that Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum will continue to be the primary options for New Orleans and 20-plus PPG scorers when healthy. It also means that Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones will maintain a higher FBA value than usual. Williamson’s injury is expected to be re-evaluated shortly after the All-Star break.
Buyout market taking shape
With the trade deadline passed, several veterans in the NBA’s musical chairs game ended up sitting on young, rebuilding teams where they just don’t fit. Reggie Jackson was traded from the Clippers to the Hornets, bought out, and is now heading to Denver. Danny Green, still rehabbing his season-ending knee injury from last season, was traded to the Rockets, bought out and is finalizing an agreement to join the Cavaliers. Terrence Ross was waived by the Magic and is heading to Phoenix to play with the Suns.
But by far the biggest name on the potential buyout list is Russell Westbrook. He was traded to the Jazz last week, who are not only in the middle of a youth movement but have a fan base that Westbrook does not have a good history with. It seems unlikely that Westbrook will ever play a game in Utah, but it is unclear what his market will be moving forward. The Clippers, Heat, Bulls, Nets and Wizards are just some of the teams mentioned in rumors surrounding his name.
Other prominent names on the potential buyout list include John Wall, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Patrick Beverley and Will Barton.