• What’s up Hoop Ballers. I’ve got over 4,000 words of fantasy analysis for you guys below, but I want to spend a quick second to thank all of our readers and also all of our contributors.

    We won another FSWA nomination this year for Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, and while one such award had been given to me when I was with Rotoworld, as you can imagine just being nominated for another one under the Hoop Ball platform is really, really special.

    It was a tough, gut-wrenching genesis. It’s a journey that one day I’ll probably share because the highs and lows are so instructive and maybe one person out there will be inspired, forewarned or forgiven for whatever they choose to do within this crazy industry (or whatever it is they do).

    It is that journey that compelled me to build Hoop Ball. We have about 50-75 contributors now depending on the season. The inner circle we’re building around is scary talented. I’ll leave the names out so I don’t write a book here, but everywhere I look there are supremely talented people doing the heavy lift of getting a platform off the ground.

    That I can get nominated for an award like this is a direct reflection of their work and it would not be possible without them and it would not be possible without you. Your premium subscriptions have helped get the gears moving. Your tweets and well wishes and emails of support have all had a tremendous impact on the spirit of this organization.

    I write and I orchestrate and I get my courage to keep pushing ahead because these contributors have decided this isn’t just a show up and throw your hat at it type of experience.

    I took a chance deciding that something more was better than a pseudo-safe play. These folks have taken a chance that this something more is something they want to be a part of.

    And yesterday we got recognized for the totality of our efforts.

    WELCOME BACK

    I’ve watched a lot of DeMarcus Cousins basketball – at least at the pro level. And this was some DeMarcus Cousins basketball, which should without a doubt scare the rest of the league. Unless Cousins is really bad, the Warriors’ talent is enough to leverage an extreme advantage in any playoff series, full stop.

    As for Cousins, he looked a bit heavier than he normally looks entering a season, which isn’t a knock or anything like that but it’s more a preamble to how teams will have to approach the Warriors this season.

    Teams must isolate him in the pick-and-roll mercilessly and run him off the 3-point line offensively, as the lumbering strides to the hoop might not be quite as devastating if he’s dealing with weight issues.

    Weight has always been an issue creeping beneath the surface even when Cousins has been in extremely good shape, as a player his size is going to struggle as the mileage racks up, or in his case as the serious injuries strike.

    Cousins scored 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting with six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in just 15 minutes, which fantasy owners are undoubtedly salivating over, as the Warriors clearly wanted to get him involved and have a good night.

    Also, he’s just a magnet for the basketball.

    Tonight he stepped into wide, wide, WIDE open threes as the Clippers — who were totally overmatched even when the game was close – correctly decided to make Cousins beat them in his first game in about a year.

    The Warriors used him in ball-screens and we saw both the roll and the pop, and plenty of five-out and high post action designed to take advantage of his passing.

    Again, it was a quintessential DeMarcus Cousins game even if it was understated.

    Defensively he wasn’t good and there was some pretty bad decision-making at times, and there was even plenty of the stuff that one doesn’t want to see – including effort plays after not getting a call, barking at refs and over-aggression on offense in an attempt to get calls (the mind game with refs is easily as big as the one on the floor).

    Klay Thompson (12 points, 0-for-4 3PTs, two steals, one block) took a back seat in this one and he might be the guy that gets hit the hardest by the Cousins gravity, though with all of this we have to caution that it’s just one game.

    We don’t know how often Cousins will be rested and he’s going to be an injury risk until he’s not, which is a year or two away at best. There are any number of ways this could blow up.

    Still, it’s looking like Cousins has an extremely good chance to produce in the top-75 range at a minimum, and if he can morph into an efficient shooter his combo of wide open threes and dunks might make for one of the best lower-minute fantasy producers you’re going to find.

    As for the totality of this group, let’s see how much they tilt toward Cousins and when they demand their first correction in his play. If Golden State can keep the Kevin Durant and Draymond Green drama down to a minimum, they should be able to harness his talent and keep the speed bumps to a minimum.

    If I had to guess, it’ll be Thompson and then Green that take the hits in fantasy leagues, the bench guys will all take big steps back and if you squint you might see a scenario in which they have so much talent they can start to rest one player a night to keep legs fresh.

    Last note on this – all of this is going to look different against the few top-tier teams in this league that can dictate some tempo. That’s when we’ll see how much the Warriors will bend toward Cousins and when the seams will start to burst if there are fissions either on or off the court.

    POINT BEING

    The Clippers had a fairly consequential night with Danilo Gallinari leaving the game after eight minutes of action due to a back issue, and Lou Williams’ hamstring injury is going to keep him off the floor for another two games.

    This team has dodged the injury bug for the most part and they don’t have a lot of margin for error on that front in the Western Conference playoff chase. Sitting at three games over .500 they’re looking at a short-term stretch with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (43 minutes, 24 points, three boards, five assists, three steals, 10-of-10 FTs) getting a big workload.

    He has been inconsistent but good in the grand scheme of things and regardless, this is a nice window to make an add and see if he can ride the momentum into a bigger role. There’s a chance the attrition starts to set in for guys like Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley, and maybe you can bridge all these gaps until a scenario in which the Clippers fall out of playoff contention.

    Point being – he’ll have a late-round floor for the rest of the season and versus the beginning of the season, the odds of things breaking in his favor are much better. Think top-80 upside.

    As of midnight after the game we didn’t have any real info on Gallinari, and there were no real standout beneficiaries from this game, as the Clippers’ box was bad outside of SGA and Tobias Harris (28 points, nine rebounds, three treys, 11-of-12 FTs).

    PIVOT POINT

    The Grizzlies are a franchise with question marks all the way from ownership to the front office and coaching staff, but it’s their two franchise players that hit the trade rumor mill in the last 24 hours. It’s as if the parties are warning all of us and especially the folks in the Grizzlies’ orbit that changes are coming.

    It’s hard to say what that means and locals are still suggesting that – even in the case of Marc Gasol’s more tenuous future – that the team probably stays put at the deadline, even if it means losing Gasol over the summer.

    Still, there are assets now for pickup in Memphis and we saw some glimpses of that in last night’s loss to the Celtics with Justin Holiday (14 points, six rebounds, two assists, four steals, two threes, 36 minutes) and JaMychal Green (12 points, four rebounds, one steal, two blocks, two threes, 23 minutes) both producing.

    Sure, Kyle Anderson will be back sooner rather than later, but you start subtracting players and these are the guys that are going to see their floors rise from their current top-150 range to something in the top-125 or even top-100. It’s a great equation in almost any standard formats, and both of these guys have pretty predictable stat sets so I like being aggressive here.

    I AM SO SMART – SMRT

    I don’t give the Celtics enough attention because they’re so boring from a fantasy perspective, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve missed out on Marcus Smart’s compelling run this year. He was great again in last night’s win over the Grizzlies and scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting with six threes, six boards, three assists, three steals and one block in 29 minutes.

    It appears the Celtics know that Smart brings something that balances well with Kyrie Irving’s offensive-focused game, and he’s cruising with top 90-100 value on the year in 26.5 mpg on the season. That’s bankable at this point as long as he stays healthy.

    He’s been great over the last two weeks with top 40-60 value (9/8 cat) in 29.4 mpg but he’s probably a good bet to slide back toward the season-long numbers.

    It’s been a bit of a slow return from his neck strain, but Marcus Morris (eight points, six boards, one steal, one block, 25 minutes, 4-of-12 FGs, 0-for-5 3PTs) has been hovering around the top-150. Dissatisfied fantasy GMs should look to his top 80-110 (9/8 cat) season-long numbers for inspiration on a hold. Let him get at least another week of on-court rehab under his belt.

    In the also worth pointing out department, Irving had yet another big night and put up 38 points, seven boards, 11 assists, one block and four treys.

    Yes, he’s in the media for very Kyrie reasons right now and you’re always tempting the injury gods owning him, but he’s the No. 8 and 11 producer (9/8 cat) when on the floor this season. You can keep it going or try to flip him for a safer player – both are great options so be picky.

    JUST SHOOT ME

    The Heat are painful to watch right now and the Pistons are boring like the Celtics but they’re also not good and have no real future, which makes things worse. The Pistons were able to secure the win even though Andre Drummond got elbowed in the face and left after seven minutes of action.

    Blake Griffin (32 points, 11 boards, nine assists, one steal, three treys) gave owners a big fat sell-high line, which is more a statement on his annually overinflated fantasy value than anything else. He seems like he might grind out the rest of the year, though the injury risk is always going to be there.

    Reggie Bullock (19 points, three treys) has been good lately with 15.3 points and 3.3 treys per game in 34.1 mpg over the last eight contests. It’s a top 100-130 (9/8 cat) run for him and my god this is boring to talk about.

    The Heat are imploding and my compadre Koz of the Koz and Bru Show’s theory is that they’re keeping a strong core in hopes of trading for a star. It’s really the only thing I’ve heard that makes sense. The Miami beat writers are flummoxed and what a mess.

    Derrick Jones Jr. (two points, two rebounds, one block, 10 minutes) is about to have a raised profile after the dunk contest – not that it matters too much in the Pat Riley-Eric Spoelstra braintrust – but regardless it won’t hurt his chances for the Heat to see loudly and clearly that he’s the guy to develop.

    Despite the dud Airplane Mode is still a top 110-140 value (9/8 cat) over the last five games (20.8 mpg), and that does slide to top 140-170 (9/8 cat) when you measure his month (20.4 mpg). Regardless, I just can’t walk away from the upside so I’ll be holding almost everywhere.

    Of course Dwyane Wade is still scoring 20 points with four rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers. Enough of these fantasy dumpster fires.

    MORE MEA CULPA

    D’Angelo Russell finally heard the footsteps it seems as he’s on a massive tear, and in my last piece I mea culpa’d my fading and now I’m genuinely scheduling in time to watch the recent film.

    I highly doubt that Russell has turned the corner on all of his issues (or close), but seeing Spencer Dinwiddie get a contract and knowing that Caris LeVert is way higher on the Totem pole, it’s possible he has been properly motivated to get his act together.

    He has sandwiched a 10-point game on Wednesday against the Rockets with a 34-point game on Monday and last night’s 40-point game with seven assists, one steal and eight treys in the Nets’ win over the Magic.

    Russell is putting up top-30 numbers over the last month that are clearly unsustainable, so yes it’s a by the book sell-high moment, but I wonder if that gets even more exasperated by a possible trade out of town. The acquiring team probably wants him to play a big role, especially if he continues to put up numbers before Caris LeVert returns.

    Still, it’s not likely teams are going to view him as a No. 1 or 2 player but if they need a playmaking point guard (think Orlando), it’s possible there isn’t too much erosion to his value. But a trade to a more complicated place, one that isn’t the cushy scene he has with the Nets, it all points to a few rounds of value that can be earned in a trade.

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (14 minutes) is as banged up as it gets and even with the Kenneth Faried buyout I’m not thrilled about his fantasy outlook. He’s droppable in 14-team formats.

    Caris LeVert came up in the news as having done everything but 5-on-5 practice and that’s enough for me to call him a must-own player unless you’re crushed for missed games. This seems to be on track for the All Star break and that will be here faster than you think.

    Top-75 value is probably a strong chance and top-100 value is a lock unless his game has been impacted, and one has to think the Nets don’t let him on the court if that’s the case.

    If you want to grab Faried if you’re desperate for a big man to see if he can work out for 3-4 weeks in Houston, be my guest. He has been on the bench for a reason but the Rockets definitely need him and Faried is essentially paying real dollars for the chance to get minutes again via his buyout.

    SIR ISAAC NO FUN

    The Magic lost to the Heat and I commented last time I watched them in depth how badly they needed a point guard. They got decent play out of D.J. Augustin (17 points, four assists, two threes) in last night’s loss to the Nets, and the box score was generally healthy at home for them.

    Jonathan Isaac (nine points, 4-of-10 FGs, six boards, two assists, two blocks, 33 minutes) is the guy who stands out the most and he’s the one with all the fantasy hype, including a slot on the Hoop Ball Six, so yes there is a lot riding on him for folks. Many have already dropped him and it’s hard to argue against the point, though the previous section on D’Angelo Russell might help sway you to stay the course.

    The Magic are imperfectly formed to put it mildly, with Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 7-of-20 FGs, 17 rebounds, six assists, one block) the only real creative threat they can go to on a night-to-night basis. Each of the rest of the players ‘can’ get a shot but it’s not ideal for long-term sustenance, and with Isaac he just sort of lingers and that has led to him disappearing on both sides of the floor.

    He’s just a top 170-200 player (9/8 cat) on the year in a healthy 25.0 mpg. This dip is about him getting no real usage increase, dip in 3-point percentage and dips in defensive stats. That’s especially true in the steals department, where he’s getting about half the steals he got last year.

    Flow isn’t just an offensive thing – it’s a defensive thing too. He wouldn’t be the first player to lose his zeal for defense because he’s running back and forth just to stand in the corner. Feel starts to slip, confidence starts to slide and mistakes start to stand out.

    Here’s the counterargument to dropping him, aside from his general upside, and that is that the trade deadline might jar a blocker away from the equation. Whether it’s getting a playmaker that can get him easy shots or something bigger like a trade of Aaron Gordon (23 points, 9-of-13 FGs, four rebounds, five assists) or Nikola Vucevic that frees him up, there’s a few ways this can work out.

    With the trade deadline just a month away holding or adding him now can be a 3-4 week investment heading into a spot on the calendar where things could shift for him.

    It doesn’t hurt that Gordon’s back locked up in Friday’s game, leaving him day-to-day, and that he has a bit of an injury history and plenty of reasons not to hit the gas in Year 1 of his big contract.

    Yes, it’s bad out there and no, I’m not attached to Isaac as a projection or pick. We all saw (and continue to see) the upside in him as a player. It just could easily have been a year early. That said, I’m generally fine giving a 3-4 week leash for somebody that could be a mid-round value.

    DESIGNATING DERRICK

    The Spurs were without the services of DeMar DeRozan because of a sore left ankle, but they still came out of Minnesota with a win in a tight game. The crowd was oddly quiet and the Wolves bench had practically no life down the stretch of this game, which I mean literally, they sat on the bench and didn’t make any motion through multiple big plays going for and against Minny.

    Are they just a collection of chill dudes? The Spurs weren’t hooting or hollering either. But they were winning and on the road. The Wolves will be a bit of a wonder until we get a feel for what they want to do with Ryan Saunders.

    Rudy Gay had a nice night with 22 points, four rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block as his return from a wrist injury is going pretty well now. He’ll be a late mid-round value if he’s healthy.

    Derrick White (15 points, six rebounds, three assists, two threes, 31 minutes) is showing the consistency to be called a must-own asset and the designation has been exactly that for about a week, but with the consistency comes a greater confidence for those wondering if they should latch on to the next best thing.

    White is a top 150-160 guy in 24.5 mpg on the season and he appears to have earned something in the 30 mpg range going forward, which could be famous last words said to Gregg Popovich during a TV timeout, but White has gone over that mark in 3-of-4 games and played big in most of his minutes.

    He’s been a top 40-50 play over the last month because of 59.5 percent shooting from the field and some big games, so something in-between these two measurements is likely in order the rest of the year. Top-100 value seems to be a pretty good bet and he can climb higher with the Spurs boasting mileage and injury risks across the roster.

    The Wolves’ side of the box had the typical Dario Saric (two points, seven boards, two steals, 28 minutes) disappointment, and in this one Taj Gibson (14 points, 11 boards, three assists, two steals, 32 minutes) was good, but neither of them are worth dealing with right now in standard leagues. There had been some hope for Saric after the coaching change, but no dice.

    The only other player capturing widespread add/drop interest is Josh Okogie, and he saw just 25 minutes on his way to 10 points, two rebounds, three assists, one steal and one trey on 3-of-7 shooting overall. He’s still amazingly off the radar in standard formats due to terrible percentages but he’s in a great spot for minutes going forward.

    UPCHUCK

    We’re sort of plowing through some terrible fantasy teams tonight and that means it’s time to check in on the Cavs, who were without Tristan Thompson due to left foot soreness. That seems day-to-day for now and what veteran would push through an injury for this squad, obviously.

    The Cavs were outgunned on the road against the Jazz, with a truly odd box score that featured Ante Zizic starting and putting up 15 points, 10 boards, one steal and one block, and lots of productive bench minutes as the Cavs outscored the Jazz 39-22 in the fourth to merely lose by 16 points.

    I genuinely want to throw up looking at this team, and by genuinely I mean for dramatic effect and not because I’m degenerate to the point of vomiting over basketball.

    ADAPT OR DIE

    Ricky Rubio is not a bad basketball player. Neither is Dante Exum. But the lack of overall athleticism, exasperated by a decision to bring Derrick Favors back and not balance the team a bit better, has really been exposed this season.

    With Rubio out the Jazz are on a six-game winning streak and yes, Donovan Mitchell (24 points, 9-of-15 FGs, 4-of-5 FTs, two threes, two boards, four assists, two steals, 26 minutes) is paying off the buy low recommendations, but he’s also playing at ADP with top-20 value over the last two weeks.

    It begs the question of whether the Jazz will go by the book here, not want to be reactionary and bring their point guards back in the fold for business as usual. But if they can find a taker for Rubio (Orlando WE ARE TRYING TO GET YOU A POINT GUARD) and somehow increase their athleticism and playmaking, I believe they can be competitive within the second tier of Western Conference teams.

    Absent that they’re going to struggle.

    Kyle Korver (seven points, one three, 22 minutes) finally slowed down and that’s to be expected. He’ll be a low-end source of 3-pointers for however long the point guard brigade is out.

    Royce O’Neale put up numbers again with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, four threes, 11 boards, five assists, one steal and one block in 36 minutes. He has a history of doing well when the point guards get injured and it’s a nice asset to get your hands on because the stat set is decent, and he is athletic and versatile enough to be more answer than problem.

    The recent winning should help guide Utah decision-makers to a conclusion that more is better than less, but still when the point guards get healthy it’s not as if they’re getting benched, so it could easily be a short-term play only.

    ALL EYES ON ANTHONY

    All eyes are on the Pelicans and Anthony Davis’ left hand X-rays, which were taken in Portland and unless Portland’s doctors weren’t able or allowed to look at them, it’s a bit weird that the team said the results wouldn’t be evaluated until Saturday.

    As of this writing, we just don’t know what is up. Maybe they’re trying to be super secretive with the top name in this year’s trade deadline speculation, and their injury reporting history is not great, so I’m just going to not have an opinion until the next news report comes out.

    There are no real surprises for the Pelicans. Jrue Holiday is rolling at a top 15-20 level, Nikola Mirotic (13 points, three boards, three treys, two assists, two blocks, 24 minutes, four fouls) will be good as long as he’s healthy and Julius Randle (19 points, nine rebounds, four assists, four cash counters) will be a mid-round player.

    Elfrid Payton (four points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal) saw just 17 minutes in the Pelicans’ 16-point loss and he’s going to have to earn his spot. With just 15 games under his belt it’s a bit unfair to boot him from standard league ownership and especially with top-150 returns during that span (25.9 mpg).

    The going isn’t great for him but starting point guards with his size can easily win out, so I’m more apt to recommend a hold than a drop unless you’re in a 10-team or less competitive format.

    SPLITTING ACES

    It was Jake Layman night in Portland and he’s been the type of player we’ve been rooting for to be good, but the production hasn’t followed in the box score. He can jump out of the gym, he’s built like an ox and can shoot the three.

    That said, he’s a bit top-heavy and the lack of diversity in his game has really kept him on the sideline the past few years. This year, he has been a placeholding starter prior to Moe Harkless’ return, that hasn’t made any real noise but has been a lowkey source of stability for the Blazers.

    Last night he scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting with four treys and just one rebound to the rest of his box score in the Blazers’ win over the Pelicans. Some players weren’t built for standard leagues and he is one of them, but I would bet that he sees a generally upward trajectory in his career for the next 1-2 seasons, for whatever that is worth.

    C.J. McCollum got a shout out for yours truly in our FNBAT pod on Friday, as he has been just a top-75 guy all year and I think the Blazers have to trade him. No, he hasn’t been ‘boast about the Portland backcourt’ good and that may be one reason not to trade him, as the market is down, but generally speaking you probably need to change up the balance of this Portland team if you’re doing it right.

    Specifically, I’m talking about splitting up the Damian Lillard-McCollum backcourt. They can’t defend and McCollum’s fastball hasn’t been anywhere close to where it needs to be to justify the deficiency.

    If somebody gives up assets to get McCollum, and his knee isn’t as big of a deal as it may have seemed in the first half of the season, then it’s possible owners trade into a late-early round value. It’s not irresistible odds but I wonder if folks can acquire CJM for a poorly positioned top-75 player. It’s been that bad this year.

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