• 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.

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