• Merry Christmas Hoop Ball readers! Welcome to another edition of The Week Ahead!

    Between 40-point games, Luka Doncic domination, a triple-overtime game, potential Anthony Davis tampering from LeBron James, and more, the NBA has had a fascinating week.  Each and every week brings something different which is why I love the NBA.  Christmas season in the NBA is typically a competitive time where the best teams face off on Christmas day and bring a lot of entertainment to fans.  This Christmas has the Bucks at Knicks, Thunder at Rockets, 76ers at Celtics, Lakers at Warriors, and Blazers at Jazz.  These games should be full of energy and competition and make Christmas more enjoyable than it already is. Tune in to see the excitement these games bring on Tuesday.

    The Warriors and Wizards have had their fair share of public implosion this season that has had many people over-reacting on social media and on television. The next team hit with that bug is the Boston Celtics. The Celtics had a meeting after losing to the Bucks on Friday night about selfishness and each of their roles. They continued this meeting on Saturday and Brad Stevens said all of the meetings had good intentions and ended calmly.  He also said the meetings begin like “festivus” and end with “hugs.” The Celtics are still 18-13, but they had higher expectations for the season and are taking it out on each other because the team as a whole is underperforming. There have been rumors since last season about Kyrie Irving leaving the Celtics after this season, but Irving assured them he was not going anywhere. Is it possible that due to the recent issues those rumors could come to fruition? We will have to see as the season progresses if the Celtics can fix these issues and dominate the East like they should be.

    In terms of fantasy, Larry Nance Jr., Myles Turner, Buddy Hield, and Monte Morris have come onto the scene and become top-25 players over the last two weeks.  Nance Jr. and Morris have received more minutes and opportunities due to injuries and have thrived in their recent roles. Hield and Turner have just developed as players and become good fantasy options this season. On the negative side of things, it is easy to point out how bad Aaron Gordon has been over the past two weeks. He is outside the top-360 and is playing awful basketball. In those two weeks, he is averaging 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and little defensive stats on 28.3 percent shooting and 61.1 percent from the free throw line. Hopefully, he can turn his play back around because he is a much better player than what he has shown as of late.

    Now here is an overview of the week ahead:

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown 

    4 games: Lakers, Trail Blazers

    3 games: 76ers, Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Magic, Mavs, Nets, Nuggets, Pelicans, Pistons, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Suns, Thunder Warriors, Wizards, Wolves

    2 games: Grizzlies, Pacers

    Best Schedule: Wolves (at Bulls, Hawks, at Heat)

    The Wolves are 3-7 in their last ten games and are 14th place in the Western Conference. However, 14th place is just 3 games out of the 8th seed, so it is still very possible for them to make the playoffs. This week has three winnable games, with the toughest opponent being the sub-.500 Miami Heat. The Wolves need three wins this week so they can return to a near-.500 record and compete in the tough West. Expect big weeks from Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington, and maybe even Josh Okogie who could see extra minutes if they blow out either the Bulls or the Hawks and will also have a bigger role since Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague are out. Look for a big week from the Wolves, period.

    Worst Schedule: Knicks (Bucks, at Bucks, Jazz)

    In this case, the worst schedule is the best schedule.  By this I mean, the Knicks are in tank mode so playing three games that they are likely to lose is a win for their tank mode process. They want a high draft pick and are currently .5 games back of the Cavs, Bulls, and Suns for the worst record in the NBA. Furthermore, their schedule is a very difficult one as the play the Bucks twice and the gritty Jazz to finish off the week. The Knicks’ players will all likely have inconsistent weeks where a different player goes off every game, so do not start any of them with confidence.

    Game of the Week: Lakers at Warriors on Christmas Day at 8 PM ET

    The Lakers at Warriors Christmas Day game was scheduled for the sole purpose of seeing LeBron against the Warriors like it has been for the past few seasons. Since King James can’t play them in the Finals anymore, seeing them play on Christmas Day and in the playoffs (hopefully) is the next best thing. Look for a very close matchup as the Warriors have not been playing their best and the Lakers are on top of their game as of late. They are only 2.5 games apart in the standings and this looks like it has a chance to be a really close one.

    Waiver Wire Watch

    Larry Nance Jr. – You would think that this would be a no-brainer at this point.  However, Nance Jr. is only rostered in 34.7% of ESPN leagues despite being a top-70 player this season and top-15 player over the past two weeks. The absence of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson should have set off alarm bells in fantasy owners heads to go pick him up.  However, his owner percentage is not anywhere close to 100% so he is definitely available in quite a few leagues.  Over the past two weeks, he is averaging 11.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks on 56.7% shooting.  If he is available in your league you should not hesitate to grab him before anyone else picks up on his recent surge to fantasy stardom.

    Jeff Green – On the season, Jeff Green is just inside the top-120 which is already good enough for late-round value.  However, He is top-80 over the last two weeks and is now starting at the power forward position over Markieff Morris. He is seeing minutes above 30 per game and is producing enough for the Wizards to keep starting him. Although his potential is capped at top-80 value for the season, he is worth owning and should consistently provide late-round value for your fantasy team. Pick him up if he is available.

    Emmanuel Mudiay – Mudiay has been the best point guard to own in New York by quite a lot  Although Trey Burke has had his random explosive games and Frank Ntilikina plays great defense, Mudiay has all-around played better and more consistently which is why he is starting for the Knicks.  Over the past two weeks he is a top-65 player and is averaging 23.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists on 51.5% shooting. He is in the driver’s seat as the starting point guard for the Knicks and should be owned in most formats. Pick him up and hope that he remains consistent and holds top-100 value on the season.

    Injury Report

    Aron Baynes (left hand) will be out 4-6 weeks with a fracture in his hand.  He has been the backup center for the Celtics this season and was a big role player for them.  However, his injury gives way for Robert Williams III to see minutes and potentially steal the backup center spot from Baynes before he returns.  It has yet to be seen if Williams III does anything besides block shots at a ridiculous rate, so these next 4-6 weeks will be his trial for playing time.

    Zach LaVine (ankle) will miss 2-4 weeks of action with an ankle injury. The Bulls are in tank mode, so they will not rush LaVine back like they did not rush Lauri Markkanen or Kris Dunn back.  Ryan Arcidiacono will get a boost and start while LaVine is out, but he is only a stream option and is not worth owning long-term.

    Bobby Portis (ankle) will also miss 2-4 weeks of action for the injured Bulls.  Like LaVine, the Bulls will not rush Portis back as they are tanking.  Portis just came back from a different injury, so this has been an unlucky season for him thus far.  Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. will all have a bigger role while Portis is out.  Markkanen is the most attractive asset to own of the three and is obviously a must-start in standard formats.  Parker is the least attractive to own of the three, but he and Carter are worth a look in deep leagues if available.

    Chris Paul (hamstring) will be re-evaluated in two weeks. This is a big blow for the Rockets, who were just starting to play well after a rough start to the season. The Rockets are fighting for a playoff spot and need Paul to compete, but they can hopefully stay alive until he returns. Newly acquired Austin Rivers and veteran scorer Gerald Green will likely see a big role during the two weeks that Paul is out and they are worth streaming.

    Goran Dragic (knee) underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday and will miss the next two months.  He has been out for a large majority of the month, but there was no decision on whether or not he would need surgery.  It was ultimately decided that he should get surgery and he will be out and re-evaluated in two months.  Josh Richardson will dominate for the Heat while Dragic is out, but Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson will also see a boost in value.  Pick up Winslow or Johnson if they are available, but Richardson is likely already owned in your league and congrats if you are a Richardson owner.

    Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose (ankles) –  Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose both have ankle injuries that are making them day-to-day.  Derrick Rose was out on Sunday and Jeff Teague has been out the last couple of games so Tyus Jones got the start.  You will have to check for updates on a game-by-game basis on these two as it is anyone’s guess when they will or will not play.  When they are both out, Jones and Josh Okogie will see an increased role.  If one of them returns before the other, their value will go up and they will be a great play until the other returns.  Both players are worth owning and are producing inside the top-100 when healthy so deploy both as you typically would when they return to full health.

Fantasy News

  • Mychal Mulder
    PG, Miami Heat

    The Heat have announced the signing of guard Mychal Mulder.

    Mulder played last season with the Windy City Bulls of the G-League and averaged 8.8 points in Summer League this year. He has good range but is unlikely to contribute much at the NBA level in 2019-20.

    Source: Miami Heat

  • Vincent Poirier
    C, Boston Celtics

    Nicolas Batum praised the play of Celtics center Vincent Poirier at the FIBA World Cup.

    According to Batum, Poirier "is a center that can block shots and control the paint." A native of France, Poirier has performed well over six seasons in Europe. Nevertheless, he should only be a depth option for the Celtics with Enes Kanter starting.

    Source: NBC Sports Boston

  • Zach LaVine
    PG, Chicago Bulls

    Zach LaVine has been fine tuning his playmaking skills in the offseason, according to an interview with FanSided.

    LaVine enjoyed the best field goal percentage of his career for the Bulls last season. He also scored a career best 23.7 points per game. However, LaVine averaged 3.4 turnovers and his fantasy value will increase if he can take better care of the ball.

    Source: FanSided

  • Tyler Herro
    PG, Miami Heat

    According to Ira Winderman, rookie Tyler Herro is unlikely to start for the Heat at the beginning of the season.

    The Heat drafted Herro out of Kentucky with the 13th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. Dion Waiters should be the primary shooting guard at the outset. However, expect Herro to get plenty of opportunities to contribute.

    Source: Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

  • Jordan Murphy
    PF, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Forward Jordan Murphy will be in training camp with the Wolves after signing an Exhibit 10 deal, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

    Murphy averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds for the University of Minnesota last season. Murphy could join the Iowa Wolves of the G-League if he does not crack the NBA roster.

    Source: Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic on Twitter

  • Semi Ojeleye
    PF, Boston Celtics

    Semi Ojeleye could compete with Grant Williams for more minutes at forward for the Celtics, according to Jay King of The Athletic.

    Ojeleye only played 10 minutes per game for the Celtics last season but improved his field-goal shooting to 42 percent. He has shown some defensive prowess but could use more consistency in his perimeter shooting. Ojeleye is unlikely to contribute much for standard league owners.

    Source: Jay King of The Athletic

  • Mohamed Bamba
    C, Orlando Magic

    The Magic exercised their team option on Mo Bamba, signing him through 2020-21.

    Bamba averaged 1.4 blocked shots during his rookie season in just 16 minutes per game. However, the #6 overall pick in 2018 is firmly behind starting center Nikola Vucevic on the Magic's depth chart.

    Source: Orlando Magic PR on Twitter

  • Jonathan Isaac
    PF, Orlando Magic

    The Magic exercised their team option on Jonathan Isaac, signing him through 2020-21.

    Isaac started 64 games in his second season, scoring 9.6 points per game to go with 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Isaac also improved his free-throw shooting, finishing at 81.5 percent. He certainly has the potential to do even more going forward if he can stay healthy.

    Source: Magic PR on Twitter

  • James Ennis III
    SF, Philadelphia Sixers

    James Ennis should be the first wing off the bench for the Sixers, according to Rich Hofmann of The Athletic.

    Ennis, who averaged 6.7 points in 21 minutes per game last season, will provide depth behind Tobias Harris. His fantasy value isn't terribly high, but head coach Brett Brown trusts his defensive game. This report could mean a slight uptick in playing time for Ennis.

    Source: Rich Hofmann of The Athletic

  • Markelle Fultz
    PG, Orlando Magic

    The Magic have exercised their team option on Markelle Fultz.

    That will keep Fultz under control through the 2020-21 season. While Fultz is a former No. 1 overall pick, this was not a slam-dunk decision for the Magic given his health record and all the mystery that's clouded the first couple years of his career. With current starter D.J. Augustin set to hit free agency following the upcoming season, Orlando could be preparing to hand Fultz the reins. We want to know that he's healthy before endorsing him as a fantasy selection but the upside is enough to at least consider a deep-league flier.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter