July 30, 2020, 2:27 pm
The Northwest Division of the Western Conference has four teams joining the NBA restart. Three of those teams have clinched berths to the playoffs, while one is well-equipped to make a serious push to qualify for the planned play-in tournament.
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Record: 43-22 (Clinched Playoffs, currently 3rd in the Western Conference, 1.5 games behind the Clippers)
Restart Opponents: Heat, Thunder, Spurs, Blazers, Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, Raptors
Official Roster for Restart: Will Barton, Keita Bates-Diop, Bol Bol, Vlatko Cancar, Tyler Cook, Torrey Craig, Troy Daniels, P.J. Dozier, Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Mason Plumlee, Michael Porter Jr., Noah Vonleh
Nikola Jokic tested positive for COVID-19 but has recovered nicely and a slimmed-down version of Denver’s point-center has been playing reasonably well in scrimmages so far. Jokic started the season off slow, needing to lose some weight he gained from the offseason. When he finally worked his way into game-shape, Jokic returned to his top-10 form of old. Now that he’s lost even more weight, there’s no telling what he’s capable of, being able to play this light on his feet. On the season overall, he’s averaging 20.2 PPG, 1.1 3PG, 10.2 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.2 SPG and 0.7 BPG on .528 FG% and .813 FT% through 65 games. While the Nuggets’ offense clearly flows through him, he’s got a stacked roster ready to complement his well-rounded game.
The Nuggets have been creative in their scrimmages, deploying an “ultra-big lineup” featuring Bol Bol and Jerami Grant, allowing the team’s guards to take it easy.
The guards eventually got their time to shine in the prep games and it looks like that Jamal Murray is locked and loaded, ready to resume being the team’s second-best player from a fantasy basketball perspective. Flirting with top-50 value this season, Murray has been the team’s second-leading scorer with 18.8 points and 1.9 treys per game.
Despite being 35 years young, Paul Millsap has somehow played his way into top-100 value on the season, but he’s playing on a definitive timer, given the clear signs that he’s in the twilight of his career. He’s been spared by Jerami Grant, who the team traded for over the summer of 2019, specifically to develop as the team’s next defensive four who is also able to stretch the floor with his outside shooting. For now, Millsap remains the priority PF to own with Grant being a worthwhile pick whether for his minutes as a sixth man or as a handcuff for Millsap owners.
Gary Harris is still dealing with a sore hip and has not been able to scrimmage with the team. It’s a good thing that the Nuggets have Will Barton, who has been performing handsomely throughout the season, in his regular, underrated, under-the-radar way.
The Nuggets are playing purely for seeding and are within striking distance of the Clippers. They might need guys like Michael Porter Jr. to finally step up and keep the offense rolling. Monte Morris was under quarantine at last update and should be considered a toss-up for the first game. Until he’s cleared, the Nuggets will need to keep a tighter rotation and P.J. Dozier could see some playing time.
Players to own in restart leagues: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, Gary Harris*, Mason Plumlee, Monte Morris*
Record: 41-23 (Clinched Playoffs, currently 4th in the Western Conference, 1.5 games behind the Nuggets)
Restart Opponents: Pelicans, Thunder, Lakers, Grizzlies, Spurs, Nuggets, Mavs, Spurs
Official Roster for Restart: Tony Bradley, Jarrell Brantley, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley, Ed Davis, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Donovan Mitchell, Juwan Morgan, Emmanuel Mudiay, Georges Niang, Royce O’Neale, Miye Oni, Rayjon Tucker, Nigel Williams-Goss, Justin Wright-Foreman
Despite losing Bojan Bogdanovic for the season with a wrist injury, the Jazz are ready to “Rock & Roll” for the resumption of the 2019-20.
Mike Conley, who initially had difficulty acclimating to his new team, started coming to life just before the NBA went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Jazz’s scrimmages in preparation for the restart, Conley has looked sharp and closer to his old Grizzlies form. He’s going to need to bring his A game in order to help offset the absence of Bogdanovic, who was the team’s second-leading scorer with 20.2 points and 3.0 treys per game.
Key core players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were two of the earliest players in the league to test positive for the Coronavirus, have long been cleared and have been able to practice at full bore. They got into a little bit of a “drama” on social media, but that’s also been dealt with, and the teammates have buried the hatchet and are ready to once again to play as together without issue.
In the absence of Bogdanovic, the Jazz are expected to tap both Joe Ingles and Georges Niang to fill the void. Ingles, who had trouble adjusting to his role as a sixth man, should be able to bounce back from a disappointing 2019-20 season so far. Ingles’ 3-point shooting and ability to make plays will be an important X-factor for the team during these seeding games.
Then there’s Royce O’Neale, who has been producing top-170 value for the Jazz, quietly being a good role-player, focusing on defense and chipping in whenever and wherever he can.
Jordan Clarkson also be an important asset off the bench, providing an offensive punch when the Jazz rest either Conley or Mitchell. Clarkson is not notable for 3-point shooting but he can handle the ball and create his own shot. Expect more shots to funnel his way with Bogdanovic out.
Players to own in restart league: Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, Royce O’Neale
Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 40-24 (Clinched Playoffs, currently 5th in the Western Conference, same record as the Rockets)
Restart Opponents: Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Grizzlies, Wizards, Suns, Heat, Clippers
Official Roster for Restart: Steven Adams, Darius Bazley, Deonte Burton, Hamidou Diallo, Lugentz Dort, Terrance Ferguson, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devon Hall, Kevin Hervey, Mike Muscala, Abdel Nader, Nerlens Noel, Chris Paul, Andre Roberson, Dennis Schroder
The Thunder is a team in the midst of a rebuild, moving on from the “Russell Westbrook era.” So, it’s a bit more than a little surprise that they’re in the thick of things and have a clinched playoff berth. In a word, they’re “impressive,” plain and simple.
The team’s decision not to trade Chris Paul has played a big factor. He’s managed to post top-15 value this season and has served as an amazing mentor to promising young guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Paul has surprisingly also managed to stay away from injury this season, playing in 63 games for the team and averaging 17.7 PPG, 1.6 3PG, 4.9 RPG, 6.8 APG and 1.6 SPG on .489 FG% and .900 FT% in 31.8 minutes per game. It’s inspiring to see that the 35-year-old vet still has a lot left in the tank; so much so that he’s been a leader for this young team, on and off the court.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been the team’s leading scorer with 19.3 points per game. He’s shown that he can be a triple-double threat when he’s playing at his best. The Thunder will need SGA to take his game to yet another level if they’re going to find a favorable seeding over the next eight games.
The other guard in the Thunder’s triumvirate is Dennis Schroder, who has been a solid sixth man for the team all season. Unfortunately though, Schroder has to leave the Orlando bubble to attend to the birth of his second child. He and his 19 points per game will be sorely missed. Schroder is the team’s only true backup PG, so they’re going to need to get creative in compensating for his missed games. That absence is expected to come in August but no firm timeline has been set yet, which means that picking Schroder presents a light roll of the dice.
Speaking of being missed, the Thunder have recently gotten Andre Roberson back after a lengthy absence. He joined the team in the bubble and was able to scrimmage with the team, his first real basketball action since January 2018, when he ruptured his patella tendon. Roberson is a known defensive stopper and if he’s back to 100 percent, the Thunder can surely use his services over these next eight games.
At center, the team has Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel, who have both capably been able to handle the action in the paint. Danilo Gallinari has been playing as the team’s stretch four and the Italian tends to hang outside the 3-point arc more than he spends time in the shaded area. He’s been the team’s second-leading scorer with 19.2 points and 3.0 treys per game.
Players to own in restart leagues: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel
Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 29-37 (currently 9th in the Western Conference)
Restart Opponents: Grizzlies, Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, Sixers, Mavs, Nets
Official Roster for Restart: Jaylen Adams, Carmelo Anthony, Zach Collins, Wenyen Gabriel, Mario Hezonja, Jaylen Hoard, Damian Lillard, Nassir Little, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., Hassan Whiteside
The Blazers are playing for a shot to qualify for the play-in tournament allowing them to somehow make it into the playoffs. Thankfully for them, they’ve recently got back the services of now-healthy Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. Nurkic is coming off a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula. Collins missed extended time after undergoing surgery to address a dislocated shoulder. Both big men ended up being beneficiaries of the league’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve both been able to be full participants in the team’s scrimmages in preparation for the restart, so it looks like they’re good to go. With so much on the line, their timely return is welcome news and should play out favorably for the Blazers.
There’s still a looming question as to how Hassan Whiteside can share the paint with Nurkic. Whiteside has seen a resurgence since joining the Blazers, posting top-10 value on the season with averages of 16.3 PPG, 14.2 RPG and 3.1 BPG on .618 FG% and .680 FT%. Mind you, those numbers were with him being the only true big man occupying the paint. Carmelo Anthony has been serving as a stretch four for most of the season.
The Blazers will be without veteran 3-and-D specialist Trevor Ariza, who has opted not to participate in the season restart. Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Mario Hezonja will be handling duties at small forward in the meantime. Melo has managed to keep fit over the hiatus in order to be able to stay light on his feet. Anthony is going to play like he did in his years in Denver, or at least as close to his old form.
Speaking of feet, Blazers star guard Damian Lillard has been missing scrimmages due to inflammation in his left foot. He’s a trooper and a fierce competitor, so as long as there’s a chance he’s able to take to the floor, he’ll be there to light up the scoreboard. If Lilllard does end up missing time or needs to have his minutes monitored in the short-term, Anfernee Simons will be filling in and handling those extra minutes.
On the bright side, C.J. McCollum has looked sharp on the court while he’s been in the Orlando Bubble, so the Blazers will be able to count on him to deliver the goods like he normally does.
If the Blazers are going to squeeze into that play-in tournament, they’re going to need guys like Simons, Collins and Trent to step up off the bench, easing the pressure on Lillard and McCollum to produce.
Players to own in restart leagues: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Hassan Whiteside, Jusuf Nurkic, Carmelo Anthony, Zach Collins*