• Happy Holidays Hoop Ball readers! Welcome to another edition of The Week Ahead!

    Over the past week there have been many changes in the standings, including the Raptors losing their season-long lead in the Eastern Conference. The Milwaukee Bucks have taken over the lead in the East and have played very well at 8-2 over their last ten games. The Warriors are regaining and losing their lead in the Western Conference to the Nuggets almost every night. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are in massive slumps, but the Warriors are still managing to hover around the top of the West. Thompson has a 3-point percentage of 34.2% and has a worse percentage than typically inefficient players such as Terry Rozier, Andrew Wiggins, and D’Angelo Russell. He will need to step his game up in order for the Warriors to win the West like they have over the past four seasons.  Both conferences will likely come down to the wire and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

    In other news, John Wall is planning to have season-ending surgery on his heel. The Wizards have underperformed this season and traded away Kelly Oubre Jr. for Trevor Ariza in an attempt to make a playoff push now. However, Otto Porter Jr. has been injured and now Wall is out for the season, so it is not looking good for the Wizards. It is possible they could explore trade options for Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris now that Wall is out so they can start looking out for their future. The Wizards sit at 14-23 and are only 3.5 games out of the playoffs, but it is not looking promising and their hopes of making a deep playoff run are seemingly crushed. The Wizards’ season has been an absolute disappointment and this Wall injury just put the nail in the coffin.

    Anthony Davis continues to hold the No. 1 spot in fantasy value and has not budged since he took the title from Steph Curry early in the season. The fantasy player of the week was Kemba Walker, who averaged 37.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks on 56% shooting. He was also making 5.7 threes and only turned the ball over 1.7 times per game in his 38.7 minutes of action averaged over the three games this week. The letdown of the week was Brandon Ingram, who was outside the top-320 and only contributed positive value in the points category. Over three games, he averaged 17.7 points, 4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and lackluster 3-pointers and defensive stats. He only shot 42.5% from the field and 61.5% from the line, so it was a bad week overall for Ingram. However, he is barely inside the top-300 for the season, so the entire season thus far can be considered a fantasy letdown. It is tough to consider him a must-own anymore despite the huge potential he has.

    Now here is an overview of the week ahead:

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    4 games: Grizzlies, Hawks, Hornets, Magic, Mavs, Raptors, Suns, Thunder, Wolves

    3 games: 76ers, Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Heat, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pistons, Rockets, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Wizards

    2 games: Knicks

    Best Schedule: Heat (at Cavs, Wizards, at Hawks)

    This schedule should speak for itself. This team is fighting for a low-end playoff spot in the East and these three games could firmly place them in a good position to earn one of those spots if they win all three. Good news for them is these are three of the worst teams in the East that they are playing. Bad news is that two of the games are on the road, but that should no hurt them all that much. Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside, and Josh Richardson should continue to dominate and lead the Heat to 3-0 week.

    Worst Schedule: Rockets (Grizzlies, at Warriors, at Trail Blazers)

    The Rockets are red hot at 9-1 in their last ten games and now sit at the five seed in an ultra-competitive conference where the 4th through 14th seed are separated by 5.5 games.  They can’t afford to have a winless week, but they are playing some tough teams. Luckily for them, the Grizzlies have been struggling and are 3-7 in their last 10 games and it is a home game for the Rockets. However, their next two games are against the Warriors and Trail Blazers and both games are on the road. It is possible that the Rockets win all three games, but it is also possible they lose all three. This is a huge week for Houston and they will need to give James Harden some help in order to pull off the victories.

    Game of the Week: Raptors at Bucks on Saturday January 5th at 8:30 PM ET

    The Raptors just lost the lead on the Eastern Conference that they have had for the entire season. The team they lost it to is the Bucks. These two will face off on Saturday in a game that could decide who has the first seed in the Eastern Conference at the end of the night. The Raptors are on the road and also have to play the Pacers on the road the very next day, so this is an important game for Toronto. Each team is deep and will need good production from all of the role players as well as the starters to win this game. Watch this great matchup on Saturday night.

    Waiver Wire Watch

    Rodions Kurucs – Kurucs was the Nets’ second round pick in the 2018 NBA draft and not much was expected of him heading into the season. However, he began starting at the small forward position and received this huge role after Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe got injured. Over the past two weeks, he is averaging 27 minutes per game and has put up late-round value. Head coach Kenny Atkinson has said that he needs to find time for Kurucs even when Crabbe does return, but there is a chance he could remain the starter due to his solid play at the position. It will be tough for him to compete for minutes with Joe “Ol’ Reliable” Harris, as the guys on the Hoop Ball Nets podcast refer to him.

    However, he has shown that he is more than capable of making a difference in the game and is making a positive impact while on the court. He is averaging 10.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and just under one steal, block, and 3-pointer per game over the past two weeks. That is good for top-140 value and he should maintain that until Caris LeVert comes back. Take the chance on him if he is available in your league.

    Thomas Bryant –  The Wizards are an absolute mess and Thomas Bryant is there at the right time for his career.  He was put into the starting center spot after Dwight Howard got injured and has played quite well, especially as of late.  He is a top-50 option in fantasy over the past two weeks and has the potential to stay in that range since the Wizards have nothing to lose at this point.  They lost John Wall for the season and are not looking too good for a playoff spot in the East, so Bryant should be able to maintain the minutes and high production. He is averaging 14.0 points and 6.7 rebounds on 75% shooting in 24.3 minutes per game over the past two weeks of action. He is looking like a must-own right now and you should definitely grab him if he is available in your league.

    Mikal Bridges –  This one is a long time coming and would make Hoop Ball’s Dan Besbris very pleased. Dan has tweeted quite a lot about picking up Bridges over a number of people and I completely agree with his outlook.  Bridges has stepped into the starting role quite nicely and the trading away of Trevor Ariza just made things better for him. He does it all as he is top-40 over the past two weeks despite averaging just 9.3 points per game in that span. He is also averaging 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 1.9 3-pointers on 48.9% shooting in 34.2 minutes per game. He is clearly becoming an important piece for the Suns and is actually looking like the type of player they wanted Josh Jackson to be when they drafted him. Pick him up immediately if someone in your league has not already noticed the rise in his value.

    Injury Report

    Kent Bazemore (ankle) is going to miss the next two weeks and will be re-evaluated at the end of that span. The Hawks are one of the worst teams in the NBA and are in tank mode, so there is no reason for them to rush Bazemore back. Taurean Prince is also nearing a return from his ankle injury, so the Hawks lose one of their good players as they are about to get one back. Perfect timing for their tank mode race.  Kevin Huerter will seemingly have an increased role while Bazemore is out, so pick him up if he is available in your league.

    Eric Gordon (knee) injured his knee on Saturday and will be out for Monday’s game. He could miss a little bit more time, but the Rockets need him as Chris Paul is also out for an extensive period of time. Gerald Green and Austin Rivers would have to step up in the games that Gordon is forced to sit out.

    LeBron James (groin) injured his groin last Tuesday and missed the game on Thursday, which marked his first missed game since the 2016-2017 season. He also missed games on Friday and Sunday.  He has never had a muscular injury that was considered to be serious, so the Lakers are trying to proceed with extreme caution and there is no real timetable for his return. Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma should continue to dominate while King James is sidelined.

    Rajon Rondo (hand surgery) is out for one month after undergoing surgery on his hand. He returned from a 17-game absence just to get injured again during that game and need surgery on his hand. Rondo is clearly having health issues this season and should take his time before returning to the court. Lonzo Ball will be the point guard in his absence as he has been this entire season and should continue to play well with both Rondo and LeBron James sidelined.

    Marvin Bagley III (knee) is out another two weeks and is on track to return in mid-January. He hasn’t played since December 14th for the Kings, so this injury has forced him to miss about one month of action. Justin Jackson should continue to see more minutes while Bagley is out.

    Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (groin) are both nearing returns from their injuries and could be back on Tuesday against the Knicks. Harris is seemingly closer to a return than Barton, so it would not be surprising to see Harris play on Tuesday while Barton sits out another game or two. The return of these guys will hurt Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley more than anyone on the roster. Check for updates on these two prior to the Nuggets’ game on Tuesday.

    DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) has participated in scrimmages and is looking at a mid-January return.  Although there is no set timetable for his return, he will return as soon as he is ready, which should be in the upcoming weeks. The Warriors definitely need him as they have struggled at the center position and he could possibly be the missing piece that brings the Warriors back to complete NBA domination.

    John Wall (heel) will undergo surgery on his heel and is out for the season. He has had this injury for years and fought through it since the Wizards were competitive, but it has reached a point where he wanted to get the surgery to fix it. Tomas Satoransky is likely going to start in his place this season and get the biggest boost in value from his injury. The all-star guard will be missed this season and hopefully he can come back even better next season.

Fantasy News

  • Bradley Beal - G - Washington Wizards

    According to Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington, the Pelicans have a “sincere interest” in exploring a trade for Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal.

    The Wizards seem to be determined to keep Beal, but they currently don’t have a general manager, and perhaps their stance could change. The basis for trading Beal centers on maximizing his asset value with two years and $56 million remaining on his original five-year contract signed in 2016. Washington will likely struggle next season with fellow guard John Wall out and an evolving roster that currently has only five players with guaranteed contract. Beal is coming off an outstanding season in which he averaged a career-highs of 25.6 points and 5.0 rebounds, and almost single-handedly kept the Wizards in a chase for a playoff spot until the season’s final weeks.

    Source: NBC Sports Washington

  • R.J. Barret - G - New Orleans Pelicans

    According to an NBA source, the Pelicans have explored moving back to gain more assets and also had internal talks about moving up to the second pick in order to draft R.J. Barrett who is Zion Williamson’s best friend.

    That trade-up maneuver, however unlikely, would allow Murray State’s Ja Morant to fall to the Knicks at No. 3. The Knicks had Morant higher on their board than Barrett at the Chicago combine, but that also was before Morant recently underwent knee surgery. For now, it seems that New York is locked in at keeping the third pick, contrary to a couple weeks earlier, when they were open to moving back. The Pelicans meanwhile continue to explore all possible avenues in order to better use the No. 4 pick which they have acquired from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade.

    Source: NY Post

  • Hassan Whiteside - C - Miami Heat

    According to Barry Jackson, Hassan Whiteside is expected to opt into the final year of his deal, which would pay him $27.1 million.

    This was obviously anticipated, but with Whiteside dissatisfied with his current role with the Heat, there was a sliver of doubt that he'd want to stay in Miami. Jackson mentions that there were talks regarding a Whiteside for Mike Conley deal that didn't get very far. The Heat will be looking at a luxury tax bill unless they can cut some salary, so Whiteside isn't a lock to remain on the roster. A change of scenery could help his fantasy outlook, as unlikely as a trade may be. We're likely to see him return in a backup center role that limits him to late-round fantasy production at best.

    Source: Miami Herald

  • Patrick Beverley - G - Los Angeles Clippers

    According to Sean Deveney, Patrick Beverley will be taking as many as five free agent meetings prior to meeting with the Clippers.

    The Clippers have bigger fish to fry, and Beverley might not want to wait around for them. He will rightfully be getting a lot of attention during free agency. While Beverley is not a great offensive player, he could fit in a variety of places with his defensive intensity and leadership. Anywhere from a rebuilding team like in his hometown of Chicago where they could use some veteran tenacity to a potential contending team like Lakers who just need a lockdown defender, Beverley would be a nice addition that shouldn't break the bank. No matter where he goes, he should continue to get enough minutes (he hasn't played less than 27 mpg since his rookies season) to be relevant in shallow leagues.

    Source: Sean Deveney on Twitter

  • Alvin Gentry - Team - New Orleans Pelicans

    The Pelicans have picked up Alvin Gentry's team option through the 2020-21 season.

    It's encouraging to see David Griffin already showing faith in Gentry. The Pelicans' rebuild is off to what seems like a great start under Griffin. Winning the draft lottery and getting a great haul for Anthony Davis prior to the draft is just be the beginning of a franchise-defining offseason.

    Source: Andrew Lopez on Twitter

  • Chris Paul - G - Houston Rockets

    The Rockets have had conversations about Clint Capela and "preliminary conversations" about Chris Paul, per Shams Charania.

    The Rockets reportedly want to discuss Paul trades with teams that can absorb his three years and $125 million. That's a pretty short list. That deal will be much harder to move than Capela's, though you can be sure that the Rockets probably won't move their young center unless it's a deal that improves both the on-court product and the cap sheet. That proposition is a lot weaker in any deal that includes Paul's monster salaries.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Ed Davis - C - Brooklyn Nets

    Ed Davis is expected to be a hot commodity in free agency and should be looking at multi-year offers, per Shams Charania.

    Davis is a machine on the glass and has drawn rave reviews as a quality teammate and person wherever he goes, so it's no surprise that he's drawing interest. A high-energy big who gobbles up rebounds still has a place on just about any roster, even with Davis' other offensive limitations. He'll remain a solid rebounding specialist for deep-league use next season.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Derrick Favors - F/C - Utah Jazz

    Tony Jones of The Athletic is reporting that the Jazz have yet to include Derrick Favors in trade talks for Mike Conley.

    Favors has been linked to the Lakers, though his landing spot is all contingent on the Jazz picking up his team option. He's due to be paid $17.65 million if that option is picked up, and the Grizzlies may have some interest in him if he can be had on an expiring deal. The Jazz don't look to have a ton that the Grizzlies would be interested in terms of roster players, so Utah might need to get creative if they really want Conley.

    Source: Tony Jones on Twitter

  • Mike Conley - G - Memphis Grizzlies

    The Grizzlies have intensified trade discussions surrounding Mike Conley and the Jazz remain the frontrunner to acquire him, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

    The Jazz have been connected to Conley since the deadline and have been fairly open about upgrading their point guard group. Conley would be a huge addition, though it's unclear what sort of assets the Grizzlies might be after. A trade would really clear the runway for presumed No. 2 pick Ja Morant.

    Source: The Athletic

  • TJ Warren - F - Phoenix Suns

    Shams Charania is reporting that the Suns have "discussed" trade packages involving T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson and/or the No. 6 pick in the draft.

    Other rumors have the Suns hoping to move up in the draft in pursuit of Darius Garland, though they could also assemble a package to go get themselves a point guard and skip a step or two. Their interest in moving Jackson is not new or surprising, but Warren is a steady hand at the forward spots and should have more interest around the league. With Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre looking ready to take over the starting jobs, a trade might be best for Warren's fantasy outlook as well. For now this is all speculation, but the Suns are certainly equipped to deal.

    Source: The Athletic