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

    Although many people have been focused on March Madness and the NCAA tournament over the past two weeks, there are still some intense playoff races I will get into before discussing the tournament.  The Nets, Pistons, Magic, and Heat are four teams that are fighting for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.  Currently, the Pistons are the 6th seed, the Nets are the 7th seed, the Heat are the 8th seed, and the Magic are the 9th seed.  Only 1.5 games are separating the 6th seed from the 9th seed, so with five games left all three spots are still up for grabs.  Personally, I believe the Heat will be the team that misses the playoffs.

    The other playoff race is not for who makes the playoffs, but for who does not have to play the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs in the Western Conference.  This was a race between the Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, and Thunder, but the Jazz and the Clippers have separated themselves by 1.5 games into the 5th and 6th seeds, so they have an edge.  The Spurs and Thunder will fight it out to see who has to play the Nuggets in the first round and who has to play the reigning champs from Golden State.  The last five games in the NBA regular season will be very entertaining as there is still a great deal to be sorted out.

    Now that I have gone over the NBA playoff races, I will quickly discuss the NCAA tournament and some things that I have noticed.  There are a great deal of prospects that I believe are overrated and quite a few that I believe are underrated based on their play throughout the NCAA season and in the tournament.

    The most overrated prospects, in my opinion, are Nassir Little and RJ Barrett.  Little had an underwhelming freshman season at North Carolina and even though he played well in the first two rounds of the tournament, he failed to show up when the team needed him.  He did not play well against Auburn in his 13 minutes as he shot 2/7 and turned the ball over twice. RJ Barrett is overrated solely because many have him as the #3 pick.  There are many flaws in his game including his passing (in)ability, shot selection, and defense.  He takes many questionable shots and missed shots down the stretch when Duke needed him to make them and it resulted in them losing by 1 to Michigan State.  His scoring ability is uncanny, but he needs to improve many other aspects of his game to be worthy of the #3 pick.

    The most underrated prospects, in my opinion, are Carsen Edwards and Jarrett Culver.  Although many might say that it is impossible to call a potential top-5 pick in Culver underrated, I am saying it based on the fact that he is not the consensus #3 pick.  There are few weaknesses to Culver’s game as he is an elite defender and scored above 18 points per game this season.  He has carried Texas Tech to the Final Four and is a huge reason why they are one of the best defensive teams in college basketball.  Culver should be the unquestioned #3 pick in the 2019 NBA draft.  Carsen Edwards currently projects as a second-round pick, which is too low based solely on the fact that he carried Purdue to the Elite Eight and scored 42 points in 2 of their 4 games and more than 20 in the other 2 games.  He is an elite scorer and playmaker that any NBA team lacking bench scoring could use as a versatile guard.  Culver and Edwards certainly helped their draft stock in the NCAA tournament.

    The Final Four is composed of Michigan State vs Texas Tech and Virginia vs Auburn. I believe the championship game will ultimately be Texas Tech against Virginia.  These two teams are defensive powerhouses, so this could be a very low scoring championship game if that is the matchup that happens.  I expect the last three games of the tournament to be as exciting as always.  Who doesn’t love March Madness?

    Now here is an overview of the week ahead:

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    4 games: 76ers, Bucks, Cavs, Celtics, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Magic, Mavs, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pistons, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Suns, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Wolves

    3 games: Bulls, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Thunder, Wizards

    Teams with 2 games after April 8th: 76ers, Bulls, Grizzlies, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Knicks, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Wolves

    Teams with 1 game after April 8th: Bucks, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Hawks, Kings, Lakers, Magic, Nets, Pacers, Pelicans, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Suns, Wizards

    Best Schedule: 76ers (last 6 games: at Mavs, at Hawks, Bucks, at Bulls, at Heat, Bulls)

    The 76ers end the season playing no team better than the Heat that are barely hanging onto the 8th seed in the East, while the 76ers are firmly in the 3rd seed. This schedule does give them leeway to rest players, so although it may seem like the best schedule team-wise, it could be the worst schedule fantasy-wise.

    Worst Schedule: Nets…AGAIN (last 5 games: Bucks, Raptors, at Bucks, at Pacers, Heat)

    The Nets are in the same boat as the 76ers in that their schedule is deceiving.  Although they have the worst team schedule, they might have the best fantasy schedule as they can’t rest any players and will have to play their best players heavy minutes to ensure a playoff spot.  D’Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen are really the only steady fantasy options and are must-starts for the final stretch of the season.

    Game of the Week: Heat at Nets on Wednesday, April 10th at 8 PM ET

    The season only has a week and a half left, so even though this game does not occur this week, it will be garnered game of the week.  The Heat and Nets would not typically be a matchup that would warrant game of the week, but my prediction is that this game could decide who makes the playoffs or what seed they end up in the playoffs if they have already clinched a spot.  This game could have a lot riding on it, so tune in next Wednesday for an exciting matchup for the last game of the season.

    Waiver Wire Watch

    Christian Wood – Congratulations to anyone who grabbed him off the wire as soon as the Pelicans signed him.  Wood has been a difference maker over the past two weeks as he is averaging 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 60.5% shooting which is good for top-20 value.  He should be owned in all leagues.

    Rajon Rondo – Rondo is one of the players that now has free reign in the Lakers offense to do as he pleases due to injuries to the entire starting lineup outside of JaVale McGee.  He will have big numbers for the remainder of the season and should be owned in all formats.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should also immediately be picked up if he floating around the wire in your league.

    Shaq Harrison – Harrison is a volume play whose numbers will be good enough to warrant middle-round value for the remainder of the season.  He is averaging 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals over the past two weeks, which is good for top-60 value.  Pick him up.

    Walt Lemon Jr. – Although it is a small sample size, Lemon put up top-7 value in 9-cat leagues in his first outing with the Bulls as a starter.  He put up 19 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block on 53.3% shooting.  He is worth a speculative add to see if he will keep this up for the final five games of the season. He’s already been promoted to the starting lineup for Monday night.

    Alex Caruso – Like Rondo, Caruso has benefited from the injuries to Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, LeBron James and Brandon Ingram.  Caruso can help win leagues with the numbers he will be putting up over the final five games of the season.  Pick him up immediately.

    Pat Connaughton/Sterling Brown – The Bucks duo will benefit from the team clinching the first seed in the East and should see extended minutes as the starters will be rested for some games to end the season.  They will be great streams when the starters rest and should be added in most formats immediately.

    Seth Curry – Due to CJ McCollum’s injury, Curry has stepped up his play and has become a scoring machine next to Damian Lillard.  He is averaging 15.7 points over the past two weeks and will hold late-round value at the very least for the remainder of the season so he is worth adding.

    Alex Len – Dewayne Dedmon is out for the season, so Len should have a strong finish to the season and should be owned in all formats.  In the latest game with Dedmon, Len put up 23 points and 6 rebounds on 10/15 shooting.  Pick him up.

    Injury Report

    Dewayne Dedmon (left ankle soreness) will be shut down for the remainder of the season due to recurring left ankle soreness.  The Hawks have nothing to play for anymore, so it is best if they shut Dedmon down so he does not further injure himself.  Alex Len should be owned in all formats to finish the season.

    Lauri Markkanen (fatigue) will also be shut down for the remainder of the season.  The Bulls also have nothing to play for and Markkanen is a cornerstone for their franchise, so they do not want to risk any health issues with him.  Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio will pick up most of the minutes in his absence.

    LeBron James (groin) will miss the Lakers’ last six games so he can fully rehab from the groin injury he suffered in December.  The Lakers are out of playoff contention and LeBron is the best player in the world, so why allow the chance of him injuring himself for the long-term?

    Jusuf Nurkic (left leg surgery) will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a gruesome left leg injury against the Nets on Monday.  He ultimately suffered a compound fracture in his leg, but luckily avoided any nerve or muscle damage.  Enes Kanter and Zach Collins will look to fill the void for the rest of this season.

    Players that have been injured that are now ruled out for the remainder of the season:  Josh Hart, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jrue Holiday, Wendell Carter Jr., Frank Ntilikina

    On top of all that, here is the list of guys who are day-to-day. There’s probably some guys here that won’t be coming back this year:

    Taurean Prince, Al Horford, Rodions Kurucs, Allen Crabbe, Cody Zeller, Kris Dunn, Otto Porter Jr., Zach LaVine, Kevin Love, Luka Doncic, Jamal Murray, Blake Griffin, Kenneth Faried, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Kuzma, Jonas Valanciunas, Mike Conley, Avery Bradley, Joakim Noah, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Taj Gibson, Anthony Davis, Frank Jackson, Allonzo Trier, Noah Vonleh, Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, T.J. Warren, Deandre Ayton, Tyler Johnson, CJ McCollum, Trevor Ariza, Marvin Bagley III, Derrick Favors

    Check for updates on these guys throughout the week.

    Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The Week Ahead!

Fantasy News

  • Ricky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz

    Ricky Rubio put up 17 points with four rebounds, nine assists and four steals in a loss to the Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday.

    He shot 7-of-17 from the field and had the unfortunate matchup against James Harden for much of this game. Harden hit him with a crossover that sent Rubio to the floor, but he missed the shot. The Jazz have been getting good performances from Rubio and Derrick Favors, but the inconsistent play from the remainder of their roster has left them with a two-game series deficit. The Jazz are heading back to Utah for Game 3 as they will try to steal their first game of the series.

  • Donovan Mitchell - G - Utah Jazz

    Donovan Mitchell had another poor shooting night as he went 5-of-18 from the field on his way to 11 points in a Game 2 blowout loss to the Rockets on Wednesday.

    Mitchell shot just 1-of-8 from 3-point territory and 0-of-2 from the stripe. He also had five fouls and four turnovers while playing a team-high 37 minutes. He did add six assists and two steals, but this was a disappointing performance from the second-year rising star. Eric Gordon has been outshining him, but Mitchell has a chance to rectify things as the Jazz head home for Game 3.

  • Derrick Favors - F/C - Utah Jazz

    Derrick Favors played well in his 22 minutes of action in a Game 2 loss to the Rockets on Wednesday, with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

    Although Favors is putting up good numbers in such limited minutes, you should not expect to see him go above 25 minutes at all in this series. He shot 7-of-11 from the field and missed both of his attempts from deep. Also, the Rockets play a lot of small ball as PJ Tucker is their power forward, so Favors is often at a defensive disadvantage when on the court.

  • Rudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz

    Rudy Gobert did not have a great showing in Wednesday's Game 2 loss to the Rockets as he managed just 11 points and 12 rebounds on 3-of-6 shooting.

    He made five of his seven attempts from the stripe and added one assist and two steals to the stat sheet. He did not record a block in this one which is rare to see from Gobert as he averaged 2.3 blocks per game on the season. Clint Capela has been defending Gobert well, which is making things a lot tougher on the Jazz to score and rebound the ball. Gobert will look to bounce back as the Jazz head home for Game 3.

  • Royce O'Neale - F - Utah Jazz

    Royce O'Neale played well on Wednesday in a Game 2 blowout loss to the Rockets as he had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with three triples and four assists.

    O'Neale stepped up as Joe Ingles managed just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting with five steals. He saw 27 minutes of action in this one after seeing just 15 minutes in Game 1. He has guarded James Harden on numerous possessions thus far and it seems as though Harden goes at him every chance he gets. This may be the best game we see from O'Neale all series, but he has given the Jazz some solid run off the bench thus far.

  • James Harden - G - Houston Rockets

    James Harden dominated the Jazz in Game 2 on Wednesday as he triple-doubled with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

    Aside from his eight turnovers, there was not much to complain about Harden’s performance. Rather, there were elements of Harden’s showing that deserve high praise such as his six triples, one block and toughness throughout the entire game. He would not back down from Ricky Rubio and actually crossed him up in the first half. The Beard is continuing his MVP-like season into the playoffs, which is no surprise given how truly great his 2018-19 campaign was.

  • Chris Paul - G - Houston Rockets

    Chris Paul put up 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting with two steals and two blocks in a blowout win over the Jazz on Wednesday.

    He made just one of his six 3-point attempts and turned the ball over six times. However, he did add four rebounds and three assists to the box score as well. James Harden is clearly the dominating force for the Rockets, but Paul's stability will be crucial for the team to continue their playoff success.

  • Eric Gordon - G - Houston Rockets

    Eric Gordon outplayed Donovan Mitchell once again in Game 2 as the Rockets beat the Jazz 118-98 on Wednesday.

    Gordon scored 16 points on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting and 3-of-6 shooting from long-range. He also contributed one rebound, two steals and one block to the stat sheet. Gordon is tasked with guarding Mitchell, which is the toughest defensive assignment on the Rockets and he is thriving in that role. He has held him to 30 points on 37 shots in the series thus far. This series could potentially end in four games if Gordon continues to play at this high of a level.

  • PJ Tucker - F - Houston Rockets

    PJ Tucker drilled four triples on his way to 16 points in a blowout win over the Jazz in Game 2 on Wednesday.

    He added two steals and four boards while converting five of his eight shots from the field. The Rockets have confidence in Tucker to fire from deep and he proved them right as he drilled four of his seven attempts from 3-point territory. Surrounding James Harden with 3-and-D wing players has been their formula for success and Tucker fits that mold perfectly. When Tucker is hitting his shots, the Rockets are likely to dominate the way they did tonight.

  • Clint Capela - C - Houston Rockets

    Clint Capela did not have to do much in the Rockets’ Game 2 blowout win over the Jazz on Wednesday as he had just seven points and 10 rebounds with three blocks.

    He shot 3-of-4 from the field and added one assist and one steal to the box score. Although the numbers were down in this one, he did what he had to do in his 29 minutes of action as he kept Rudy Gobert in check as well. Capela is an important cog in the Rockets’ formula for success, so even when he is not scoring as much he is still impacting the game in other ways.