July 31, 2020, 1:40 am
Hello there. It’s been a while. Lots of things are still bad since the last time we all sat around the campfire, but basketball is back. It looks very different, it’s happening in a different place and it’s got fewer teams than usual, but it’s back. That we were treated to two close, meaningful, entertaining games was just the cherry on top. Let’s get into it.
Add(s) of the Night
Those of you playing in resumption leagues are going to be looking at some weird choices. The player pool is missing almost a third of its usual suspects, so those borderline standard-league guys are likely already hot commodities. You might have to dig a bit deeper to find that diamond in the rough these days, and the risk-reward decision is very different with such a short slate. The Jazz, Pelicans, Clippers and Lakers are already done with 12.5% of their schedule, so you’re not going to be able to sit around and see if something’s a blip or an actual trend — if you want a piece of the action, you’re going to have to scoop someone off waivers immediately.
All that said, the obvious answer for best add from tonight’s small slate is…
Jordan Clarkson, G, Utah Jazz
The Jazz are still a strong team but likely not the dark horse title contenders they were during the “regular season” now that Bojan Bogdanovic will miss the bubble slate due to wrist surgery. His absence blew a huge hole in Utah’s offense, with Bogdanovic accounting for 20.2 points and 3.0 3-pointers per contest. The Jazz need to replace that somehow, and Clarkson has been the obvious candidate to step up given that he’s never met a shot he doesn’t like. After one game in Orlando, it looks like he’s going to be very involved.
Clarkson was one of six Jazz to play more than 30 minutes, while their other three participants all saw under 14. He finished with a team-high 23 points on a team-high 17 shots, rounding out his line with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a 3-pointer. Clarkson went just 1-for-8 from deep (accounting for most of the damage in his 8-for-17 line), so that’s something to be mindful of — as is the fact that he was a team-worst minus-15 in tonight’s comeback win.
Rostered in just 46% of Yahoo leagues at the time of the league’s postponement, there’s a chance that Clarkson was overlooked in your resumption drafts — especially in shallower formats. You simply won’t find this kind of bankable scoring punch on waiver wires, so if he’s still available it’s past time to rectify that.
Bonus easy call: George Hill, who will likely be starting in place of Eric Bledsoe tomorrow. The Bucks have the top seed basically locked up and don’t need to push Bledsoe to a quick return if they don’t want to. Hill could have fantasy value for multiple games (i.e., 25% of the “season”).
We’ve got the Pickups of the Night articles locked and loaded again too, so those of you in leagues where Clarkson’s already been rostered can look to that for a deeper examination of potential waiver adds.
On the flip side of that equation is the guys you might want to cut loose. Much like you can’t wait around to see if a big game is just a fluke, you can’t sit idly by as a bottom-roster player posts duds. Each game carries too much weight to see a stinker and talk yourself into things working themselves out. That’s not for the certified Good players, mind you, but the guys you’ve selected in the last couple rounds.
Marcus Morris, PF, LA Clippers
Morris was a middle-round dynamo as a member of the Knicks, emerging as one of the team’s few viable scoring options. A mid-season trade ended his run of fantasy success, as even though he started for the Clippers, he was so low on the totem pole that he fell outside the top-200. Fantasy GMs may have given him a pass because of the big adjustment, and his overall body of work might’ve been enough to forgive that poor run. Well the four months off didn’t appear to do much good, as he went scoreless in 19 foul-plagued minutes on Thursday. There’s only seven games left, and betting on Morris to turn it all the way around while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both healthy is risky at best.
Dwight Howard, C, Los Angeles Lakers
Howard shouldn’t have been rostered as widely as he was during the regular season, and that’s going to hold true in the resumption as well. Anyone trying to farm some cheap rebounds and blocks can move on to better options — hopefully ones that won’t chip away at your free throw numbers in the process. Howard went 1-for-4 from the free throw line with three rebounds and a steal in 13 minutes. That will never cut it.
We had some returns to action from COVID diagnoses tonight: Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet were the known positive cases to take the floor tonight.
Anthony Davis (eye) played after there was some concern about his availability, while LeBron James (groin), Kyle Kuzma (ankle) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (rib contusion) all played through probable tags.
Patrick Beverley, who left the bubble for personal reasons, was able to suit up in the opener, though his conditioning wasn’t where it needs to be (16 minutes in a rust-shaking outing). The Clippers brought him in off the bench behind Reggie Jackson but we’d expect that to change as soon as Bev is close to full strength.
Speaking of guys who left the bubble, Zion Williamson was able to play after missing the entire scrimmage slate, but we’ll get to him in a second.
For Friday, Brooklyn is unlikely to have Jamal Crawford (conditioning) while Rodions Kurucs (left hip contusion) is probable.
Their opponent, Orlando, is listing Wesley Iwundu (concussion) as questionable.
Among the predictable absences on tomorrow’s slate are Eric Gordon (sprained ankle) and Tyus Jones (knee soreness), as both are expected to be out for at least a week — Gordon’s likely looking at two weeks on the shelf, if not more.
The Bucks will be thin in the backcourt with both Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton unavailable after both arrived late to the bubble thanks to COVID-19. Marvin Williams (groin) is doubtful, though he wasn’t expected to soak up lots of time at the PF spot.
Kemba Walker (knee) will play but is going to be limited to 20 minutes as the Celtics plan to have him ramp up so he’s at 100% right when the playoffs get going. Good luck there, DFS gang.
In a matchup of Western playoff hopefuls, the Kings will be without Alex Len (conditioning) while the Spurs have lost 3-point marksman Bryn Forbes (sore right quad).
For the second time this season, the NBA arranged its opening night schedule around rookie phenom Zion Williamson. For the second time this year, Williamson’s health nearly disrupted the league’s best-laid plans. While he was able to get into the game after missing New Orleans’ scrimmage contests, Williamson was on an unspecified minutes limit after just clearing quarantine on Tuesday. Initially a game-time decision for “re-conditioning,” people were just thankful to see Zion at all, even if it was going to be for short bursts of action.
Once the game started, however, Williamson’s minutes were more sparse than expected. He started but was subbed out after three minutes. By the end of the night he had played just 15 minutes and watched as the Pelicans, in the thick of a playoff race, frittered away a well-earned lead down the stretch. His night ended with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
On one hand, it’s fair — prudent, in fact — for the Pelicans to play things as slowly as they need to with Zion. He’s the next face of the franchise, revealing a truly dynamic game in his limited NBA action to this point. On the other, one has to wonder what sort of limitations he’s working with. Williamson was completely healthy heading into the NBA restart, with the team paying mind to his conditioning levels after being outside the bubble for over a week. For a 20-year-old to be limited to just 15 minutes, even after practicing yesterday, is a major surprise. Surely Williamson’s conditioning isn’t that bad, and yet the Pelicans let a vital victory slip away with their budding superstar on the bench.
After the game, both Alvin Gentry and Zion himself deflected questions about his conditioning, with the coach saying that they had used up Williamson’s allotted minutes for the game already. For his part, the rookie said it was, “not even just conditioning” but rather getting back his flow and feel for the game. “This is the NBA, this is the best players in the world, and you want to feel comfortable. I don’t want to hurt my team more than I helped them in a sense, if you understand me,” said Williamson. That’s where things start to break down a little bit — either Zion makes the team better or he doesn’t. If it’s really not conditioning, there’s no reason for him not to be playing more. His effectiveness doesn’t flip at the 15-minute mark.
It’s the lack of transparency that makes this a frustrating situation for fantasy GMs and regular fans of basketball. Williamson getting the kid glove treatment (again, most likely correctly), is going to have a major effect on the Western Conference playoff race. As for the next seven games, fantasy GMs just have to sit tight and hope for the best because it’s clear that Zion won’t be getting a full workload in the immediate future.
Old Faces in New Places
After such a long layoff, there’s going to be plenty of “oh yeah, that guy” as fans get back in the swing of watching NBA action.
There were a few of those cases tonight, with the Morris brothers lining up for the battle of L.A. after landing on the gold coast mid-season. Be honest — the careers of Marcus and Markieff haven’t been priority items over the last four months. There’s no shame in admitting you forgot that Marcus was on the Clippers, especially with how invisible he was as the team’s third or fourth scoring option.
Joakim Noah made his season debut with 10 uneventful (unless you want to count four fouls) minutes. Dion Waiters shook loose for 11 points on some of his signature ill-advised attempts, while J.R. Smith was back for the first time since November of 2018 in a scoreless, eight-minute outing.
Hell, Chris Bosh popped up during the Lakers/Clippers game as a virtual fan.
There’s going to be a few more a-ha moments in the coming days, especially with the ragtag Brooklyn Nets tipping off tomorrow afternoon.
The NBA, like the rest of the world, is in a very different place than we left it last. But even as we get used to the ins and outs of each team again, it is undoubtedly good to have the game back in our lives.