July 30, 2020, 2:03 pm
The Southwest Division is the only one in the league that’s sending in all of its teams for the NBA restart. However, aside from the Rockets the other teams are in a mad scramble to qualify for the play-in tournament.
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Record: 40-24 (Clinched Playoffs, currently 6th in the Western Conference, tied with Thunder)
Restart Opponents: Mavs, Bucks, Blazers, Lakers, Kings, Spurs, Pacers, Sixers
Official Roster for Restart: Bruno Caboclo, DeMarre Carroll, Tyson Chandler, Chris Clemons, Robert Covington, Michael Frazier, Eric Gordon, Jeff Green, James Harden, Danuel House Jr., Luc Mbah a Moute, Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers, P.J. Tucker, Russell Westbrook
The Rockets are in a precarious position, hanging onto the sixth seed in the West with the Mavs hot on their tails, just one and a half games behind them. The good news is that they actually have the same record as the Thunder and both teams are just one game behind the Jazz, making the Western Conference a crazy-competitive race for seeding between at least half of the top-6 teams.
As expected, the Rockets’ hopes and dreams hang squarely on the shoulders of one man, James Harden. “The Beard” is a beast, the second-best player in fantasy’s 9-cat rankings and at the top of the food chain in 8-cat scoring formats. On the season, Harden is putting up averages of 34.4 PPG, 4.4 3PG, 6.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.7 APG and 0.9 BPG on .435 FG% and .861 FT%. While his stat line is impressive and all, he’s still just one man and it’s been established that regardless of how big of a monster game he puts up, the Rockets can’t win with just him going off.
It’s a good thing that the Rockets have Russell Westbrook, who, based on his scrimmage performances, looks to be fully recovered from COVID-19. Westbrook, another former MVP, is ready for the season but again, the Rockets apparently still need more than their killer guard duo.
Being committed to an all-out offense, the Rockets need a third scoring option. Coach Mike D’Antoni recently announced an adjustment to the team’s starting lineup, inserting Eric Gordon and sending role-player Danuel House Jr. to the bench. Unfortunately, Gordon sprained his ankle in a scrimmage and is expected to miss a couple of weeks. With this development, the Rockets are bringing back House into the starting five. Now, the question still stands, “Who’s going to help Harden and Westbrook put points on the board?”
Off the top, the person that comes to mind to bring more firepower to the table is Robert Covington. The Rockets went all-in on their small-ball strategy this season when they traded for Covington, whom they currently use as a stretch five. RoCo is an excellent 3-and-D player who is capable of explosive games. The only thing is that he’s a bit of a streaky shooter, making it a feast-or-famine situation when the team is dependent on him to deliver the goods on a nightly basis. Overall, even with the departure of Clint Capela, the Rockets are roughly still the same team on defense, but unlike Capela, Covington does not clog up the paint when Westbrook (or Harden) cuts to the basket.
Since joining the Rockets, Covington has put up improved averages from what he was delivering with the Wolves. His Rockets-only averages are 12.8 PPG, 2.9 3PG, 7.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG and 2.5 BPG. Don’t let those 12.8 points per game fool you. When Covington heats up from downtown, he can easily chip in 20 points on any given night.
Austin Rivers, who left the NBA bubble to deal with a family emergency, is back with the team. He’s a dark horse to bring a strong game for the restart, but playing behind both Harden and Westbrook, it’s going to be difficult for him to get enough minutes to make a splash.
As far as role-players are concerned, few in the league are as dedicated to defense yet still very dynamic as the duo of P.J. Tucker and Danuel House. Both guys do a bit of everything, but more often than not, defer to Harden and Westbrook when it comes to scoring.
Players to own in restart leagues: James Harden, Russell, Westbrook, Robert Covington, Danuel House Jr., PJ Tucker
Record: 40-27 (Currently 7th in the Western Conference, 1.5 games behind Rockets)
Restart Opponents: Rockets, Suns, Kings, Clippers, Bucks, Jazz, Blazers, Suns
Official Rosters for Restart: J.J. Barea, Trey Burke, Antonius Cleveland, Seth Curry, Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Jackson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Maxi Kleber, Courtney Lee, Bobab Marjanovic, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell, Josh Reaves, Delon Wright
Currently on the outside looking into the top-6 of the Western Conference, the Mavs have a lot to play for in these eight seeding games. They’re one and a half games behind the Rockets, who also happen to be tied with the Thunder, so the Mavs have a lot of winning to do if they want to be able to take the “easier” way into the playoffs.
With two matchups against the Suns out of their eight games, the Mavs have a relatively easy schedule, which of course, is no excuse for them to fall into a trap of complacency.
That said, “complacent” is one of the last words that one would use to describe the Mavs’ star player, Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic. The 21-year-old wunderkind has been nothing short of spectacular in 2019-20, rocking averages of 28.7 PPG, 2.9 3PG, 9.3 RPG, 8.7 APG and 1.1 SPG on .461 FG% and .752 FT% across 54 games so far. It’s been said time and again, but he’s truly a one of a kind generational talent.
Helping out Doncic lead the Mavs in the restart is Kristaps Porzingis, who, despite recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL, has been playing pretty well so far this season – even managing to play in 51 games.
The Mavs have other potent weapons at their disposal. There’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry, both of whom are able to light it up from deep when they heat up from downtown. Curry, especially, has been a revelation this season. He was on roll just before the league went on hiatus due to the pandemic. From the looks of what he’s been able to deliver in scrimmages, Curry is healthy and ready to light up the scoreboard. His emergence as a legitimate threat this season should go a long way towards easing the burden on the shoulders of Doncic and Porzingis.
The Mavs are missing Dwight Powell, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Despite being unable to play, Powell is lending his full support and has joined the team in Orlando. He’s been replaced in the starting lineup by Maxi Kleber, who has been a serviceable alternate, providing a more defensive-oriented focus and improved 3-point shooting to the table.
The Mavs are blessed to have solid role-players in the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith and Delon Wright, who bring a reliable, albeit low-key two-way game to the table.
The Mavs are a team to watch over the restart not only because they have exciting players on their roster but also because they have a lot riding on these seeding games.
Players to own in restart leagues: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber, Delon Wright, Dorian Finney-Smith
Record: 32-33 (Currently 8th in the Western Conference)
Restart Opponents: Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans, Jazz, Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, Bucks
Official Roster for Restart: Grayson Allen, Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Gorgui Dieng, Marko Guduric, Jaren Jackson Jr., Josh Jackson, Tyus Jones, John Konchar, De’Anthony Melton, Ja Morant, Jontay Porter, Anthony Tolliver, Jonas Valanciunas, Yuta Watanabe, Justise Winslow
If this were a normal NBA season and the playoffs were going to be held tomorrow, the Grizzlies would be in it and would be in for a head-on collision with the Lakers in the first round. Alas, the pandemic forced the league and pretty much the entire world to make other plans. Now, despite sitting in eighth in the Western Conference standings, the 32-33 Grizzlies now have to fight tooth and nail for a spot in a play-in tournament to make the cut.
The Grizzlies have a gem in the form of presumptive Rookie of the Year awardee Ja Morant. The 20-year-old Murray State product is currently averaging 17.6 PPG, 0.9 3PG, 3.5 RPG, 6.9 APG, 0.9 SPG on .491 FG% and .770 FT%. He’s said that he’s “feeling good” post-hiatus and frankly, it shows in how good he’s looked in the team’s scrimmages so far. Morant has steadily gotten better after a relatively up-and-down start. Call it growing pains, but it appears that he’s ready to take his game to another level.
Another head-turning Grizzlies rookie is Brandon Clarke, who has proven to be quite the NBA-ready draft pick. He’s shooting a crazy 62.3 percent from the field (.648 eFG%) on 12.0 PPG. He’s been a welcome impact player off the bench, bringing a well-rounded game to the table.
Speaking of improvement, the Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. took a step in the right direction in his sophomore year as a pro, cracking fantasy’s top-70, displaying a promising stretch-five stat set. As long as he’s able to keep his personal fouls in check, JJJ should be a force to be reckoned with over these eight games.
At the end of the day, Jonas Valanciunas has been the Grizzlies’ pillar of consistency, quietly averaging a double-double while providing the team with a veteran presence on the floor while also anchoring the team’s defense in the paint.
The Grizzlies’ biggest breakout of the season is Dillon Brooks, who as blossomed into a legitimate scoring threat, averaging 15.7 points and 2.0 threes per game. He does come with areas that needs improvement, especially when it comes to his accuracy, shooting 40.2 percent from the field.
Kyle Anderson, who was dealing with a nagging right heel injury throughout most of the season, is finally looking healthy and has been playing much better in the team’s scrimmages so far. He’s able to guard multiple positions, something that’s valuable, especially for a team that’s in virtual “must-win mode” as soon as the NBA restarts the season. It was a tough fantasy season for him as he was also stuck behind Jae Crowder, but Anderson’s defensive contributions on solid efficiency make him a worthwhile fantasy option when the going is good.
Players to own in restart leagues: Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson
New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 28-36 (Currently 10th in the Western Conference)
Restart Opponents: Jazz, Clippers, Grizzlies, Kings, Wizards, Spurs, Kings, Magic
Official Roster for Restart: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Lonzo Ball, Zylan Cheatham, Derrick Favors, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Frank Jackson, Nicolo Melli, E’Twaun Moore, Jahlil Okafor, JJ Redick, Sindarius Thornwell, Kenrich Williams, Zion Williamson
Everyone wants to watch Zion Williamson play, but they might have to hold their collective breath as the rookie is considered to be a game-time decision for the Pelicans’ opener for the NBA restart.
That said, the Pelicans are more than just Zion Williamson, much more. In fact, since Williamson played in only 19 games season-to-date, the Pelicans have been about their backcourt duo of Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball, as well as breakout star Brandon Ingram.
Holiday and Ball had a rocky start to the season, slowly finding a way to jell together on the court. Thankfully, Holiday found his stride after the New Year and began to show flashes of his 2018-19 glory. The two guards form one of the league’s most potent defensive backcourt duos. As the veteran presence and captain of the team, the onus is on Holiday to lead this team of young and promising players to a Hail-Mary performance that’ll somehow propel the team into a play-in tournament where literally anything can happen. So far, he’s looked like he’s up to the task.
Still, you cannot really talk about the Pelicans this season without mentioning Brandon Ingram, who came into his own and became true superstar. He’s seen improvements across the board and upped his averages to 24.3 PPG, 2.4 3PG, 6.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.0 SPG and 0.7 BPG at .466 FG% and .858 FT% in 2019-20. There were concerns that he’d slow down when forced to share the ball with Zion, but when Zion finally made his season debut, Ingram proved to the world that his high-end performances were here to stay.
Rounding out the Pelicans’ list of key players are its group of seasoned vets. Derrick Favors is not the power forward he once was when he was with the Jazz, but he’s been decent at holding the fort, rebounding the ball, blocking shots and being a warm body to clog up the paint. And then there’s JJ Redick, who’s providing the Pelicans with a 3-point shooting threat off the bench.
The team has a lot of young talent with rookies like Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker able to show flashes of potential at points in the season. Unfortunately, the Pelicans are deep and NAW has been having a tough time cracking the rotation with any serious playing time. He’s still someone to watch down the road, even though he won’t likely be too much of a factor for these seeding games, playing behind Frank Jackson in the depth chart.
Players to own in restart leagues: Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson, Derrick Favors, JJ Redick, Josh Hart
San Antonio Spurs
Record: 27-36 (Currently 12th in the Western Conference)
Restart Opponents: Kings, Grizzlies, Sixers, Nuggets, Jazz, Pelicans, Rockets, Jazz
Official Roster for Restart: Marco Belinelli, DeMar DeRozan, Drew Eubanks, Bryn Forbes, Rudy Gay, Keldon Johnson, Trey Lyles, Chemezie Metu, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Luka Samanic, Lonnie Walker IV, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Derrick White, Tyler Zeller
The Spurs are currently 12th in the West and without LaMarcus Aldridge, who will not be playing in the restart after undergoing season-ending surgery on his shoulder after suffering an injury in February. They’ve got one hell of an uphill battle, making one last stand, stretched over eight games, in their own Alamo.
In the wake of Aldridge’s injury, the Spurs brought back former stretch four Trey Lyles, who unfortunately has been ruled out for the rest of the season as well after under going an appendectomy.
The team will now lean on Jakob Poeltl, Rudy Gay and even Drew Eubanks to, by-committee, make up for Aldridge’s absence, or at least do their best to do so.
One thing to remember though, is that if history has taught us anything is that you shouldn’t count out or underestimate Gregg Popovich and his Spurs. Defense and fundamentals win games. And that’s something this team has in spades.
Moving on, the Spurs will focus their attention on their guards. DeMar DeRozan has been a scoring machine in his prime, but in a highly competitive Western Conference, he’s not going to be able to carry the team by his lonesome. It will be up to Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills and even possibly Lonnie Walker IV to step up their collective games in order to make a serious push to qualify for the play-in tournament.
Murray took advantage of the lengthy hiatus to recover from a right calf strain he suffered in March. He’s still currently on a long road back from a torn ACL, but has looked better and better this season. Murray has been playing well in the Spurs’ scrimmages and will need to further improve on his season averages to-date of 10.7 PPG, 1.6 3PG, 5.8 RPG, 4.1 APG and 1.7 SPG on .475 FG% and .798 FT% over 58 games. His defense is already without question, but Murray needs to evolve, pretty much out of necessity, into a full-blown two-way player over these seeding games.
Players to own in restart leagues: DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Jakob Poeltl, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Lonnie Walker IV*