• With Tuesday an off day before our NBA Christmas spectacular comes through on Wednesday, we’ve got a packed night of games on Monday to run through. 

    We saw plenty of fantasy presents under our TV as the Pacers overcame the Raptors Championship pedigree in a high scoring overtime affair for everyone involved, the Spurs veteran duo of DeMar DeRozan (26 points, 10 assists, three steals, 10-of-11 FG, 6-of-6 FT) and LaMarcus Aldridge (40 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks, three 3-pointers, 17-of-25 FG) used mastery of the mid-range to scorch the Grizzlies, and we were treated to John Collins (27 points, 10 rebounds, two 3-pointers, two steals, two blocks) returning from suspension with all of his former early-round excellence. 

    Dive on in to open up some more early Christmas presents and the occasional lump of coal.

    Add(s) of the night

    Kevin Huerter, SG, Atlanta Hawks – 19 points, two rebounds, two assists, five 3-pointers, three steals, one turnover, 7-of-12 FG

    The Trends in Atlanta are gradually moving in Kevin Huerter’s direction. Whatever shoulder tweak he dealt with last week was a minor hiccup and has not slowed him down since his return to the rotation, he is getting staggered minutes as the Hawks defacto point guard when Trae Young rests, and John Collins will serve as a better interior fulcrum point when Huerter breaks down the defense. The minutes are ramping up as he has been at 32 or more in four straight games, and the Hawks system is going to produce plenty of fantasy goodies. The Hawks clearly believe in him, and you would do well to jump on board the wagon. 

    Troy Brown, SG/SF, Washington Wizards – 26 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two 3-pointers, one steal, one block, zero turnovers, 9-of-15 FG, 6-of-7 FT

    Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, Isaiah Thomas for another game, they have all come and gone for the Wizards, and Troy Brown remains standing with youth and an intriguing stat set at his disposal. In just 23 minutes of action, Brown is producing 1.3 steals and over five rebounds a night to serve as a foundation already. He is a solid shooter from the field and the line, and as we saw tonight his ability to see the floor and create for others is expanding with time. The number 15 pick in 2018 is still available in over 80% of Yahoo leagues, and you would be doing yourself a valuable service to remove your league from that list.

    Drop Zone

    We’re not saying that you have to drop any of these guys, only that you should at least consider it depending who’s on your waiver wire. Your mileage may vary based on league size and team build, but for the most part we’ll try to cut dead weight in the 12-team range.

    Luke Kennard

    That is two out of the last three games on the sidelines for Kennard, and the Pistons picked up another defeat during his day off. The bilateral knee soreness is an ongoing struggle and the team is quickly going to lose any urgency to throw him out there if they can’t accumulate victories in a lousy Eastern Conference. Even when he was playing, Kennard was little more than a 3-point specialist with decent points and assists. He functions with putrid steal and block rates, and at the end of the day, Kennard’s late-round value is bound to get worse. If you have a points lover or Pistons fan in your league maybe you can sell-high, but a drop is a standard league option at this point.

    Jabari Parker

    If you aren’t ready to raise the white flag on Jabari Parker, I’m not sure what you have to see. He picked up 15 minutes in another close contest, and put together a measly seven points and two turnovers over that span. His mid-round value was emerging from a healthy dose of minutes alongside his scoring capabilities, but he is never going to create enough 3-pointers, steals or blocks without more playing time. This is Trae Young’s team, John Collins is back as the second fiddle, Kevin Huerter clearly takes precedence, and De’Andre Hunter is getting all of the minutes he can handle. Parker is an afterthought, which is what we all thought he would be heading into this season. It was a nice moment while it lasted.

    Injury Report

    Karl-Anthony Towns missed his fourth consecutive game on Monday against the Warriors as he continues to battle with a left knee sprain. The ironman persona is quickly fading away from Towns.

    Malcolm Brogdon (sore left hamstring) sat out Monday’s game with the Raptors. Perhaps the injury explains his recent shooting slump. Jeremy Lamb (sore right groin) was ready to make his comeback and looked solid in his return to the starting lineup. 

    Marcus Morris (sore left Achilles) missed Monday’s clash against the Wizards, as did Taj Gibson (illness). Morris has been having a great season and it is hard to imagine things going anywhere but down moving forward. His situation is simply too turbulent in New York.

    Deandre Ayton (right ankle sprain) remained out on Monday. That played to the benefit of Frank Kaminsky (right knee soreness) and Dario Saric (right leg soreness) who were able to participate in the Suns-Nuggets clash. When Ayton returns things will get a lot tighter in the rotation. Ricky Rubio is over his illness that kept him out on Saturday.

    Blake Griffin (illness), Derrick Rose (left knee contusion), Christian Wood (left knee bone bruise) were all available on Monday to face the Sixers. Rose should be immediately reinserted into lineups in standard leagues while Wood didn’t take the court and is an end of the roster stash if you can afford to carry him. Griffin stunk (2-of-14 FG, eight points) and continues to be a pain in the you know what.

    Luke Kennard was out for this one due to bilateral knee soreness that he has been addressing since the summer. It is not going away so it will probably further hamper him as the season progresses. Bruce Brown missed Monday’s matchup against the Sixers due to bilateral calf soreness. Just keep him in mind for when the Pistons are missing their regulars, otherwise, he is just a deep-league play.

    Glenn Robinson III was absent for Monday’s contest against the Wolves due to a right ankle sprain.

    John Collins was back in action to face the Cavs with no restrictions as his 25-game suspension came to an end on Monday. Alex Len was forced to depart during Monday’s contest due to a right ankle sprain, which will only make things easier for Collins to reinsert himself.

    Carmelo Anthony only missed one game due to his left knee contusion, as he was back out there on Monday to face the Pelicans.

    Jonas Valanciunas (right foot soreness) made his return on Monday against the Spurs after sitting out on Saturday. His upside is limited with all of the youngsters back for the Grizzlies, but he is still good for late mid-round value.

    After missing two games due to right ankle soreness, Bogdan Bogdanovic was supposed to make his return on Monday against the Rockets but was shifted at just the last minute to out. Either way, his role is more attuned to 14 or 16-team leagues now that De’Aaron Fox is back.

    Despite suffering from illnesses, both Joel Embiid and Raul Neto took the floor for the Sixers against the Pistons. Neto has fallen out of the equation for regular point guard minutes so he should be cut in most scenarios. Embiid is putting up the first-round value recently that his owners have come to expect.

    Marcus Smart (dual eye infection) is partaking in limited practice and is likely to miss Wednesday’s game with the Raptors.

    Anthony Davis (sore right knee) and LeBron James (thoracic muscle strain) are considered questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers. Adam Silver may have to pay the Lakers a visit if they ruin the Christmas Day matchup. 

    Russell Westbrook’s True North

    One of the most befuddling NBA superstars, Russell Westbrook has turned into one of the most confusing fantasy commodities over the last couple of years. Once upon a time in 2016-2017, averaging a triple-double was the cool thing to do, and Russell Westbrook was at the peak of his powers going for 31 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 1.6 steals, 2.5 3-pointers, and a .845 free-throw percentage with over 10 attempts. Sure, the field-goal percentage and turnovers were a downer, but that did not matter when Westbrook was delivering such huge numbers in six other categories. He was a top-five fantasy asset, no questions asked, and he outdueled James Harden for an MVP award.

    Fast forward to 2018-2019 and you now find Russell Westbrook a mid-round value despite averaging a triple-double and nearly 2.0 steals a night. The main culprit that plummeted Westbrook’s value was the free-throw shooting. From that career-high .845 percentage on over 10 attempts, we saw drops to a .737 percentage, and most recently a ghastly .656 percentage. That lousy shooting may have also led to Westbrook’s avoidance of the charity stripe as his attempts nearly sliced in half last year compared to the 2016-2017 season.

    Needing a new lease on life, Westbrook has joined forces with his former Thunder teammate, and MVP opponent, James Harden. While Westbrook’s assists and rebounds are no longer in double figures, they remain above average for a guard, his field-goal percentage has peaked back up to acceptable levels, and all of a sudden he has rediscovered the free-throw stroke. Over the last month, he has a .885 percentage on 6.5 attempts. If Westbrook has the ability to perform above-average from the line he will suddenly leap back into early-round value, beating where most managers selected him on draft day.

    Whether or not you want to believe in this turn around is another matter. I would recommend proceeding in a direction that is favorable to your general fantasy strategy. If you were expecting to field a team that is strong in percentages, better to proceed with caution and sell-high on this version of Westbrook. However, if counting stats were always your aim, now is the time to ride this one out. A truly unique player in fantasy, Westbrook calls for strategizing to the maximum. It would be foolish to assume Westbrook is a great free-throw shooter again, but someone else out there may have already sold themselves on one of the most hotly debated players around.

    If you have made it this far I can tell you will be on Santa’s nice list this Christmas. However, if you don’t follow our fantasy advice you’ll find yourself with some lumps of coal in no time. Happy holidays to Hoop Ballers everywhere!

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