• 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!

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