Midway through Week 14, Nick Whalen checks in on the players and storylines impacting the fantasy basketball landscape.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier this week that the Mavs have escalated their efforts to move Dennis Smith out of Dallas. Smith has missed the last three games with what the team called a sore back, but he's now listed as questionable due to an illness for Wednesday's game against the Spurs.
Reading between the lines, it's likely Dallas is keeping Smith out until it finds a deal, so from a fantasy perspective the 2017 lottery pick is in a holding pattern. Smith hasn't exactly been a bust in Dallas, but he's clashed with Rick Carlisle and, more concerningly, hasn't meshed well with Luka Doncic, who's clearly the Mavs' cornerstone for the foreseeable future.
Through 28 games this season, Smith is averaging 12.6 points, 3.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals in just under 28 minutes. He's improved his scoring efficiency over last season – 44.3% FG, 37.5% 3PT – though he's still a poor free throw shooter (68.1% FT) who turns the ball over a ton, with his turnover rate (20.7%) up nearly six percentage points from his rookie year.
Even so, there's reason for longer-term optimism. Smith is still only 21 years old and he's battled injuries over his first season-and-a-half in the NBA – not to mention, he tore his ACL late in his high school career. The expiration date on that latter excuse may be running out, but as far as underwhelming top-10 picks go, he's no Dragan Bender or Jan Vesely. Smith has played 97 NBA games – he's not a lost cause.
Depending on where he lands, the same may be also be true for his fantasy value. Unsurprisingly, Orlando and Phoenix, both in dire need of an NBA-caliber point guard, are reportedly interested in Smith's services, and each franchise would likely offer Smith more opportunity than he currently has in Dallas.
Smith's ownership rate is down to 62 percent in Yahoo leagues as of Tuesday. I wouldn't be rushing to the waiver wire to grab him, but if you have a spare roster spot, Smith may be worth a speculative claim in hopes he's quickly traded to team willing to offer him more autonomy. The NBA trade deadline – February 7 – is just 23 days away.
By now, we're all well aware of the one-man assault James Harden is unleashing on the NBA. On Monday night, Harden went for casual 57 points – including 36 in the first half – in just 34 minutes in a win over the Grizzlies, extending his 30-point streak to 17 straight contests. In that 17-game span, Harden is up to 41.3 points per game, to go with 9.2 assists, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals.
Take a second to wrap your head around those numbers.
Now consider that Harden somehow hasn't been the No. 1 player in Yahoo leagues during this run. As great as the reigning MVP has been, he ranks second behind Anthony Davis in average fantasy value, due in large part to a heavy turnover rate (5.5 TPG) and relatively pedestrian field goal percentage (41.7% FG). But most of the credit should go to Davis, who's averaging 32.0 points, 15.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.9 steals since the start of Harden's run. Davis is also committing four fewer turnovers per game, and shooting nearly 53 percent from the field.
Given the amount of offensive responsibility he's entrusted with, Harden's turnovers and shot volume are beyond forgivable. It's fair to question how much longer he can keep it up, but after the Rockets announced Monday that Clint Capela will miss several weeks, the Rockets don't have much choice but to continue hopping on Harden's back.
In Houston's first game without Capela on Monday, Harden finished with a usage rate (60.6%) north of 60 percent – by far the highest of his career, roughly 21 points higher than his season-long rate, and more than four points higher than Kobe Bryant's usage rate in his 81-point game. So I guess maybe Kobe wasn't a ball hog after all.
Even with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon banged up, Harden can't sustain that kind of responsibility, but for now it appears the Rockets' answer to Capela's absence is, quite simply: Harden, Harden and more Harden.
In term of compensating for Capela up front, Houston started Nene at center but mostly went small against Marc Gasol (25 minutes played) and Jaren Jackson (31 minutes). Nene played only 14 minutes, while Marquese Chriss and Isaiah Hartenstein each saw just seven minutes off the bench.
Chriss has been on the fringes of the rotation all season, but it was still a surprise that he played less in the first game without Capela than he did in each of the previous two games with Capela. Fantasy-wise, there won't be an obvious beneficiary over the next few weeks. Unless they swing a trade for a Robin Lopez type, it looks like the Rockets will try to ride out Capela's injury with as much small-ball as they can get away with.
Turn on a Bucks game and on any given night a different starter can look like Milwaukee's second-best player. Malcolm Brogdon has often made a case for that title this season, and he's one of four Bucks who currently rank inside the top-55 in Yahoo leagues. While Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe each come in ahead of him – I'll let you guess the fourth – Brogdon has been the most efficient of the three, and he's quietly bidding to become the first ever Bucks player to join the exclusive 50/40/90 club.
Through 39 games, Brogdon is shooting 51.8 percent from the field, 42.2 percent from three and 97.7 percent at the line. Brogdon missed a free throw Sunday in Atlanta for the first time since Nov. 19.
In order to gain entry to the 50/40/90 club, a player must maintain the requisite percentages and make at least 300 field goals, 82 three-pointers and 125 free throws over the course of the season. Given those constraints, the club has only seven members, six of whom are either in the Hall of Fame or locks to be elected: Larry Bird, Mark Price, Steph Curry, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller and Kevin Durant.
Prorating Brogdon's numbers, he's well on pace to eclipse each of the minimums, assuming he stays healthy. Free throw percentage is probably the biggest lock of the three, but whether Brogdon can continue to stay afloat in field goal and three-point percentage will be a fun second-half subplot.
Quick HitsJim Boylen informed Robin Lopez on Monday that the veteran will likely see fewer minutes going forward. Lopez wasn't exactly being run into the ground as it was, but Boylen could be looking to free up some more time for Wendell Carter and Bobby Portis, which would, of course, be good news for fantasy owners. Lopez (1% owned) hasn't been a fantasy factor this season, but there's an outside chance he could return to relevance in deeper leagues if he's traded or bought out. Before the Bulls entered full-on tank mode last season, Lopez was good for 12.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Richaun Holmes has been a top-40 player in Yahoo leagues over the past 30 days. Even more surprising is that his rise has coincided with Deandre Ayton hitting his stride. Holmes is averaging less than 19 minutes per game over the past month, but he's still providing 10.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.0 blocks/steals, while hitting better than 72 percent of his field goals. A career 69.5 percent free throw shooter, Holmes has hit 37 of his 44 attempts (84.1% FT) over his last 16 games.
There was some mild Klay Thompson panic around mid-December, but the world's best spot-up shooter has climbed his way back into the top-30 for the season in Yahoo leagues. His three-point efficiency is still eight points lower than last year's career-high figure, but Thompson has begun to heat up over the last two weeks, in particular. He's been a top-10 player in Yahoo leagues in that span, holding averages of 27.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.6 steals/blocks and 4.6 made threes per game. Since going 0-for-9 over a two-game stretch before Christmas, Thompson is shooting 43 percent from downtown on 7.9 attempts per game.
Bam Adebayo has taken on a larger role and is a top-35 player over the last two weeks. He's averaging 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.5 steals/blocks, while shooting 64 percent from the field. We've seen stretches like this from Adebayo before, but they've typically come with Hassan Whiteside out of the lineup. That hasn't been the case this time around, though Whiteside did miss Saturday's game against Memphis, which enabled Adebayo to make his first start since mid-December. He responded with 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in 38 minutes.
One of the biggest keys to a successful fantasy season is figuring out which players to exploit on bad teams. Right now, Alec Burks is one of those players. The Cavs are an objectively terrible basketball team and Burks has never been an overly effective player, but over the last nine games he's been good for 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists with 51/50/90 shooting splits. Chances are, Burks doesn't keep this up the rest of the way, but if he continues to see 30-plus minutes per night, he'll be worth much more than his current, 41% ownership rate implies.