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

    We have reached the midway point in the season and All-Star Sunday night was full of some interesting and competitive events. Domantas Sabonis beat Nikola Vucevic in the Skills competition after knocking off Luka Doncic in the round prior to the finals.  The 3-point competition came down to Steph Curry and Mike Conley and Curry pulled out the victory by one point.  Anfernee Simons took home the dunk contest crown as he nearly kissed the rim on his last dunk of the night.  He defeated Obi Toppin and Cassius Stanley.  The game itself was dominated by Team LeBron as they won every quarter and the total score.  Giannis Antetokounmpo took home MVP of the All-Star game to cap off the entertainment from Sunday night.  Now that we are about to enter the second half of the season, let’s take a look at my midseason awards.

    Most Valuable Player

    Joel Embiid (30.2 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 52.1 FG%)

    Embiid has looked like the clear MVP favorite as the 76ers are leading the East and he is averaging over 30 points efficiently with over 10 rebounds per game and solid defensive stats to go with that.  Also, he is the No.2 player in 9-cat formats this season behind fellow center Nikola Jokic.  He could lose the lead in the MVP race if the 76ers get cold in the second half of the season, but if he continues the path of domination that he showed in the first half he should be able to bring home the award.

    6th Man of the Year

    Jordan Clarkson (17.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 3.2 3PMPG, 44.7 FG%)

    The Jazz have a hefty hold on the first seed in the West and were able to secure three All-Stars. Although Clarkson didn’t make the game, he has been the best bench scorer in the NBA this season and has helped carry the offense for the second unit all season.  He should have this award on lock if he is able to replicate his first half numbers in the second half.  Aside from that, he is a top-80 value in 9-cat formats and has played quite well for fantasy GMs that took a chance on him this season.  He is a key factor in the Jazz continuing to dominate as well, so they will rely on Clarkson to be the solid sixth man that he is.

    Defensive Player of the Year

    Ben Simmons (16.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG)

    Simmons is quickly becoming known as the best perimeter defender in the entire NBA and he could get recognition for that by winning DPOY this season.  The 76ers have a deadly defensive combo with Simmons and Embiid, which is part of the reason that they are the first seed in the East.  Simmons controls the offense and has suddenly shared the anchor spot on the defensive end with Embiid.  His hustle has been off the charts as he leads the league in deflections per game and loose balls recovered.  He has also limited some of the best guards and wings in the NBA to awful shooting numbers when matched up against him.  It is tougher for a guard to win DPOY, but Simmons’ numbers are insane and he should get the recognition he deserves if the 76ers remain dominant.

    Rookie of the Year

    LaMelo Ball (15.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 2.0 3PMPG, 45.0 FG%)

    This award is the easiest to identify as Ball is far and away the Rookie of the Year.  He was inserted into the starting lineup and absolutely ran with it as he has crept into top-50 value on the season in 9-cat formats.  He is putting up a fairly efficient 15.9 points per game and has shown his playmaking ability with a number of flashy passes.  There is no doubt in my mind that Ball will carry his play into the second half of the season, which makes him a lock for the award.

    Coach of the Year

    Tom Thibodeau (Knicks record: 18-17, 5th seed in East)

    The Knicks were looking like a miserable franchise before Thibodeau arrived.  He has instilled a high level of defense to this squad and has helped Julius Randle blossom into an All-Star.  The Knicks give up just 104.4 points per game, which is best in the NBA. However, they are scoring just 104.9 points per game which is the second worst in the league.  He has turned them into a playoff team and they have looked like a team that can compete with anyone.  Thibodeau deserves recognition for the massive turnaround this franchise has produced.

    Most Improved Player

    Jerami Grant (23.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 BPG, 2.5 3PMPG)

    With a new role on the Pistons, Grant has taken it and ran as he is almost a lock for Most Improved Player since Christian Wood went down with an injury. He is a top-40 player in 9-cat formats and has carried the Pistons offense all season.  He has been linked to trade rumors as the Boston Celtics have checked in on acquiring him, but if he remains with the Pistons he should continue to dominate and win this award.

    Fantasy Player of the Year

    Nikola Jokic (27.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 8.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.6 3PMPG, 56.7 FG%)

    Jokic is likely the runner-up MVP to Joel Embiid, which is ironic because Embiid is the runner up for this award.  Jokic is making any manager who drafted him above his ADP look like a genius as he is running away with the No.1 spot in 8-cat and 9-cat formats.  There are minimal weaknesses to his game and he helps fantasy GMs in every category with his playmaking ability and quick hands.  He could sneak above Embiid in the MVP conversation if the Nuggets get hot in the second half of the season.

    Fantasy Surprise of the Year

    Terry Rozier (20.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.4 3PMPG, 49.0 FG%)

    Rozier was expected to have a solid role in the offense, but the efficiency and poise that he has played with this season was unexpected.  He is averaging above 20 points on just under 50 percent shooting, which is not something anyone could have pictured heading into the season.  The emergence of LaMelo Ball and the veteran presence of Gordon Hayward has definitely helped take some pressure off Rozier in the offense and allowed him to play off-ball a bit more.  He is a top-40 asset in 8-cat and 9-cat formats, which is nearly 90 spots higher than his ADP. Rozier is paying huge dividends for fantasy GMs who took a chance on him in the draft.

    Fantasy Disappointment of the Year

    Eric Bledsoe (12.6 PPG, 3.8 APG, 43.5 FG%) and Steven Adams (8.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 0.6 BPG)

    This veteran duo was expected to come in and help the young guns lead the Pelicans into the playoff picture.  Neither guy has been impressive and the Pelicans sit at 15-21 on the season, which is the 11th seed in the West.  Both guys are just inside top-200 value in 9-cat formats despite having ADPs around 80.  They are playing nearly 110-120 spots below their ADP, which as tremendously hurt fantasy GMs that took them with a seventh or eighth round pick.  Hopefully they turn it around in the second half of the season, but they are the fantasy disappointments of the year thus far.

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    3 games: 76ers, Bulls, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Magic, Mavs, Pelicans, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Wizards, Wolves

    2 games: Bucks, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Hornets, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pistons, Suns, Warriors

    1 game: Lakers

    Best Schedule: Trail Blazers (Suns, at Wolves, at Wolves)

    The Blazers are playing the Suns who are currently the second seed in the West before playing the worst team in the NBA, the Wolves, on back-to-back nights.  If they are able to beat the Suns, the Blazers will be starting off the second half of the season on the right foot and should be getting CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic back soon as well.  Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington and Gary Trent Jr. are worth rostering in all formats for the second half of the season.  However, monitor how the returns of Nurkic and McCollum impact Trent and Kanter.

    Worst Schedule: Warriors (at Clippers, Jazz)

    The Warriors are playing two of the best teams in the West to start the second half of the season, which is not ideal for them as they are fighting for playoff positioning.  They currently sit at 19-18, which is the 9th seed in the West.  However, two straight losses could bump them below the Grizzlies to the 10th seed.  Start Steph Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins this week as per usual, but all other Warriors can be left on benches.

    Game of the Week: Suns at Trail Blazers on Thursday at 10 PM ET

    The 2nd seeded Suns and the 5th seeded Trail Blazers will face off in their first game of the second half of the season.  This is a statement game for both sides as the Suns could prove they are a workhorse in the West and the Blazers could prove that they are going to start the second half hot and jump up in the standings. Damian Lillard and co. will battle a balanced Suns team that hit their stride just before the All-Star break.  The Blazers could luck out if Devin Booker (knee) is forced to miss the game, but this should be a competitive matchup regardless of whether or not he suits up.  Tune in on Thursday night!

    Waiver Wire Watch

    T.J. McConnell- McConnell has been red-hot since Victor Oladipo was traded and actually set an all-time record with nine steals in the first half of a game against the Cavs.  The NBA record is 11 steals in one game and he ended with 10 steals in that one.  Over the past month, he is a top-40 value in 9-cat formats and is leading the Pacers in fantasy value.  In that span, he is averaging 9.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 54.4-percent shooting.  He has been a pivotal part of their rotation as he is averaging 30.3 minutes per game over his last 14 games.  We will see if Caris LeVert’s return will impact his minutes, but McConnell seems to have locked in a steady role that will make him worth rostering in all formats.

    Dennis Smith Jr.- Smith Jr. was moved to the Pistons in the deal for Derrick Rose, which has opened the door for him to start while Killian Hayes remains out.  He is a top-60 value over his past four games with averages of 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game.  He is shooting 42.9-percent from the field and making 1.8 triples per game.  He should be rostered in all formats as the minutes will keep coming his way on an awful Detroit team that does not have much to play for, at least until some injured players return.  Give Smith a look if he is available in your league.

    De’Anthony Melton– It has been known since last season that Melton would be a dominant fantasy player if given the opportunity as his per-36 numbers are outstanding.  Over the past four game, he is averaging 14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.8 triples per game on 55.9-percent shooting in just 21.9 minutes.  He should hover around those minutes all season, which means he could be worth rostering in all formats if he continues to put up numbers like those.  He is just outside top-20 value in 9-cat formats in that span.  Make sure Melton is off the wire in your league immediately as he has the skill set to be a league-changing player.

    Injury/COVID-19 Report

    Devin Booker (knee sprain) was forced to miss the All-Star game due to a left knee sprain that he suffered on Thursday against the Warriors.  He returned to that game, so it is likely that Booker can suit up when the Suns face the Blazers on Thursday.  However, keep an eye on his status as the game nears.

    Here are the guys currently listed as day-to-day due to COVID-19 protocols:

    Facundo Campazzo, R.J. Hampton, Marc Gasol, Derrick Rose, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Devin Vassell, Rudy Gay, Derrick White, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Cameron Johnson

    Here are the guys currently listed as day-to-day due to injuries:

    Cam Reddish, Clint Capela, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Devonte’ Graham, Cody Zeller, P.J. Washington, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Love, Darius Garland, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green, Jerami Grant, Eric Gordon, Christian Wood, Danuel House Jr., Marcus Morris, Bam Adebayo, JJ Redick, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Jusuf Nurkic, Tyrese Haliburton, LaMarcus Aldridge

    Check for updates on these guys throughout the week.

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

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