Here are a few Monday morning thoughts from the Hoops Lab, as we prepare for Week 5 of the fantasy basketball season. Keep in mind, the Fantasy Basketball Rest of Season Rankings also update on Mondays, so check those out as your 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.
Nets playing defense without Nash and Kyrie
On November 1, the Nets fired Steve Nash as head coach and Kyrie Irving played his last game before beginning his suspension. Through the November 1st game, the Nets were 2-5, allowing their opponents to average 118.8 PPG on 47.0 FG%, 14.4 3PG on 41.2 3P%, and 19.9 FT/G with 13.9 TO/G. In the five games since, entering Sunday, the Nets were 4-1 while allowing their opponents to average 91.2 PPG on 37.8 FG%, 11.4 3PG on 32.0 3P%, and 16.2 FT/G with 16.2 TO. The difference is beyond noteworthy…it’s downright shocking. Even with the Nets losing on Sunday, get blown out by the Lakers, they’ve been fundamentally a different team since they started playing in this new regime.
It is obvious that new Nets Head Coach Jacques Vaughn emphasizes defense at an entirely different level than Nash did. Vaughn was Nash’s assistant coach, and the rest of the staff didn’t change, so it’s unlikely that the schemes are all that different. But defense is about effort, and the Nets’ effort level at that end of the court has gone from sub-zero to sky-high over the last two weeks.
Personnel obviously makes a huge difference, as well. While Irving is one of the most gifted offensive players in the NBA, he has been a consistently poor defender. Per ESPN’s Real Plus Minus, Irving has been a net negative influence on his team’s defenses in four of the last five seasons, back to his days in Boston. Edmond Sumner has replaced him in the starting line-up, and it’s not that he’s some sort of defensive savant, but at 6-5 he’s got great length for the position and he earned his way on the team as a role player. Right now, that role is defense.
The Nets have been starting Sumner, Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale, Kevin Durant and Nic Claxton with Seth Curry and Ben Simmons as the primary producers off the bench. Simmons actually hasn’t had a big role in the defensive turnaround, ashe missed the first two games of their run with a knee injury, and he averaged only 18.1 MPG off the bench in the three games he has played.
Som this brings up a lot of questions, some of which were already on the radar, that we’re still waiting on answers for. Will Irving ever play another game in a Nets uniform? If so, will he buy into this defensive-minded approach that has been successful or will he want to resume his role as an offensive lieutenant to Durant for a team that just tries to outscore their opponents?
And, what will happen with Durant if/when Irving returns? In the first seven games, Durant averaged 32.4 PPG and 4.4 APG, but in the five leading into Sunday he had yet to score 30 points in any game but had a much larger role as a distributor, averaging 27.4 PPG with 6.4 APG including his first double-double of the season (points-assists) and a 29-12-12 triple-double as well. Durant’s shooting percentages and 3-pointers made stayed fairly constant, but is he more valuable to fantasy hoops rosters as a cheat-code scorer or a power triple-double threat?
And what of Simmons and Curry? It was expected that Simmons would settle into a role similar to the one he used to play for the 76ers, as the floor general and nightly triple-double threat that plays elite defense. He didn’t start the season playing that way, but without Irving at the point, one would think that would open things up for Simmons to shine?
Instead, his role has been reduced (and he’s still dealing with his knee injury, which kept him out of the lineup again on Sunday), and it’s been Curry (available in 77.0% of ESPN leagues) and youngster Cam Thomas (available in 95.8% of leagues) who’ve stepped up as instant offense types off the bench. Curry averaged 22.5 PPG, 5.0 3PG and 2.5 APG in the two games leading up to a load management/ankle recovery day on Sunday, and Thomas had three straight strong scoring games (average 19.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, 1.7 3PG in 30.3 MPG) before Curry’s big two outings and bounced back to score 15 points on Sunday.
As usual, a lot hinges on whether Irving will be available to play moving forward. But, in this case, his presence or absence could change the entire direction of the team, for both fantasy hoops and betting purposes.
Twin historic 50s with teammates out
On Sunday, Joel Embiid dropped a career-high 59 points to lead the 76ers past the pesky Jazz. He also flirted with a quadruple-double in an early candidate for best fantasy game of the season, supplementing those 59 points with 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 7 blocked shots. His performance had all types of historical significance…he became the first player with 50 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks in a game since blocks became an official stat in 1973-74. When added to the 42 points he scored on Saturday, Embiid became just the third player since 1988 to score 100 points in a back-to-back.
With his huge night, Embiid’s MVP odds at Caesars went from 22-1 to 12-1 in one day.
Earlier in the day, Darius Garland dropped a career-high 51 points and led a furious fourth-quarter comeback against the Timberwolves that fell just short. Garland became the first player in the NBA to score 50 points this season, just minutes before Embiid matched the feat.
According to ESPN Stats and Information Group, Garland (6’1″ tall) and Embiid (7’0″) marked the first duo in NBA history where a player 6’1″ or shorter and a player 7’0″ or taller each scored 50 points on the same day in NBA history.
Amidst all this history, though, the key fantasy/betting takeaway is that both players have the talent for this type of scoring upside night in them, but they are unlikely to achieve these types of heights unless their talented teammates are not all available. For the 76ers, James Harden and his 15.9 FGA/game is still out with a foot injury and isn’t expected to return until early next month. For the Cavaliers, both Donovan Mitchell (ankle) and Jarrett Allen (ankle) sat out Sunday. Garland entered Sunday averaging 18.6 PPG in the five games he’s played with Mitchell this season…and Mitchell was averaging 31.0 PPG in those games.
Embiid and Garland have these types of explosions in them, but don’t expect to see them very often when their full teams are healthy.
Darius Garland becomes the sixth player in NBA history with 50-plus points, 10-plus 3-pointers and five-plus assists in a game.
Giannis with the knees
Veiled Megan Thee Stallion references aside, Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed three of the last four games while nursing a knee injury. He is probable to return on Monday, so this isn’t expected to be a major injury, but Giannis missed a career-high 15 games last season, many of which were due to managing knee issues.
I believe Giannis to be the best player in the NBA, and my updated fantasy points per game projections have Giannis on top but availability matters. And the adjustment I have to make in my projections to account for the likelihood that he’ll miss time keeps him out of the No. 1 spot in the FBA points rankings, despite his per-game potential and production warranting the top spot.
The King in waiting
LeBron James is another former multiple-time MVP that sat out on Sunday. LeBron suffered a thigh/adductor injury on Wednesday against the Clippers, and immediately left the court. No timetable has been given for his return, and it’s possible he could return as soon as Friday, but LeBron is also of a certain (NBA) age and has missed major time in three of the last four seasons. This was always the risk with drafting LeBron early in FBA drafts. He’s still, amazingly, playing at a top-tier level on a per-game basis, but that doesn’t help if he misses large swathes of the season.
Keep an ear open for news on LeBron’s return date If it’s a best case scenario and he returns before public opinion (in your league) sours on him, it could behoove you to explore a trade if you can move him at closer to his per-game value than his season-long projected value.
Stars sitting out
When you get off the multiple-time MVP tier, there are several other impact players that are dealing with injury right now. Ja Morant (ankle) and Desmond Bane (toe) joined Jaren Jackson Jr. (foot) in being listed as doubtful for, and ultimately having to sit out of Sunday’s game. No time table has been announced for any of their returns, but the impression is that none are expected to be out long-including Jackson, who was upgraded from ‘out’ to ‘doubtful’ on Sunday was very good news. He could be back soon, so adjust his trade value accordingly.
Paolo Banchero has been setting the FBA world on fire since he scored 27 points with 9 rebounds in his NBA debut, and in the last two games he played in he averaged 31.5 PPG and 11.0 RPG. But, he also hurt his ankle in that last game, and has missed the last two games. He’s listed as a game-time decision on Monday, but that’s of most concern for those of us in weekly transaction leagues where start/sit decisions have to be made on Monday for the entire week. The Magic have four games this week, so I’d be inclined to start him if there’s a serious possibility he could return as soon as Monday…which would imply that even if he missed Monday, he’d return by Wednesday. But, that’s all speculation…if you have him on your roster, listen out for the most up-to-date news before rosters lock and make your start/sit decision then.
Bradley Beal has missed several games with COVID-19, but on Saturday his head coach said that he would sit out on Sunday due to conditioning. This suggests that he’s healthy enough to return, he just needs a little time to get his wind in order and should be returning soon.
Cade Cunningham will miss at least the next week with left shin soreness. He sat out on Saturday, and will be re-evaluated later in the week. According to reports, his best case scenario is a return on November 20, but keep your eye out for the latest information on his return.
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