• Stephen Curry is back and the NBA is better for it. Thursday night’s highly anticipated return for the Warriors’ star lived up to the hype, as Curry looked much like his old self despite playing alongside teammates that he has mostly never played with (3 of the 4 other starters weren’t even on the team before he went down with his injury). 

    Right from the jump he made his teammates better, whether it was a nifty behind the back pass to Andrew Wiggins or simply his gravity freeing up Damion Lee for an open three, Curry’s presence elevated the league’s worst team to going toe-to-toe with the defending champs up until the final minutes. It was by all-accounts a night of celebration for one of the league’s most entertaining players. From the broadcast team breathlessly keeping tabs on his minutes load, to the crowd igniting every time he lifted up from three and the celebrations from Curry himself after hitting big shot after big shot, the night felt like it was much more than random Thursday night TNT game.

    For me personally, the biggest take away from this game’s festivities was how it represented a win for the minority camp of NBA fans who argued that it made sense for Curry to return because it’s fun to watch competitors compete. While all the logic in the world dictates that it makes sense for Curry to take the rest of the year off considering how far down in the loss column the team has fallen, it is undeniable that NBA basketball is more fun when you have the best of the best playing to play. Curry and Steve Kerr have maintained throughout Curry’s rehabilitation period that he was always going to come back because he wants to compete and play the game he loves, and it was refreshing to see that this was all not just bluster. It will be nice to see Warriors games coming down the pipeline on the National TV schedule and not have to write them off as non-noteworthy. I am very much looking forward to watching another one of the greats do his thing and rally the troops to get back to contention for next year,

    Adds of the Night

     

    Damion Lee, G, Golden State Warriors

    Lee has been a focal point of the Warriors’ game plan for the last few months, and has maintained a solid mid-round pace since the trade deadline when the Warriors shipped out all of their other wings. Thursday’s showing offered some optimism that he can actually finish out the year strong as well playing alongside Stephen Curry. Lee still got up plenty of shots while playing a ton of minutes, and certainly benefited on more than one occasion from Curry’s presence. He got lots of open looks on threes, and was unafraid of attacking the rim and catching entry passes from him as well. He was dropped in a handful of spots with news of Curry’s return on the horizon, and I think he should be given another look on teams to see how his role progresses the rest of the way.

    Kent Bazemore, G/F, Sacramento Kings

    Bazemore continues to see big minutes while shooting well from the floor, and even though I have poo-pooed the notion that this is a sustainable thing, I cannot deny the results that he is currently providing. He’s been a top-100 guy since the All-Star Break primarily as a steals specialist, but that is only made possible because he isn’t killing you from the floor like he has over the last two years. Keep a close eye on that moving forward if you choose to make a move on him.

    Drop Zone

     

    Marcus Morris, F, Los Angeles Clippers

    I think it’s safe to say that you can move on from Morris in pretty much all settings at this point. He’s been well outside of ownership territory since being dealt to the Clippers, falling outside the top-180 in his 10 games there. There are simply not enough shots to go around to elevate him to that top-80 window he was playing in in New York.

    Eric Gordon, G, Houston Rockets

    It’s not Gordon’s fault that he can’t stay off the injury report, but it is fair to say that he isn’t a helpful fantasy guy when he is out there. In a league where 3-point specialists come at a dime a dozen, there isn’t an argument to be made for why Gordon is owned in nearly 40% of Yahoo leagues. He hurts you tremendously in your percentages, and offers nothing outside his multiple triples made per-game to justify ownership in any setting. Oh, and he’s not playing 1 out of every 4 games because of the injury bug. You can do better if you need the 3’s.

     

    Injury Report

     

    While Stephen Curry (hand) was able to make his long awaited return, teammate Draymond Green (knee) was not able to suit up Thursday.

    Serge Ibaka (knee) was upgraded from questionable to probable and was able to play in Thursday’s Finals rematch. Meanwhile Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Fred VanVleet (shoulder) were both ruled out before tip, missing their 15th and 4th straight games respectively.

    Devonte’ Graham (ankle) was able to return from a one game absence to play on Thursday

    Eric Gordon (right knee soreness) was forced to leave Houston’s blowout loss to the Clippers and was unable to return.

    Luka Doncic (illness) is considered questionable for Friday’s game.

    Deandre Ayton (ankle) is without a timetable to return

    LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder strain) will miss his 5th straight game on Friday, He was ruled out a full 24 hours in advance.

    Gordon Hayward (knee) was also ruled out a full 24 hours in advance, and will not play Friday. Jaylen Brown (right hamstring) has also been ruled out.

    Victor Oladipo (knee) and T.J Warren (leg laceration) are questionable for Friday’s game against the Bulls, while Malcolm Brogdon (hip) is considered doubtful.

    Mitchell Robinson (hamstring) is questionable for Friday after missing his last game.

    Dewayne Dedmon (elbow) is expected to return from a four game absence on Friday against the Wizards.

    Interesting Situational Stats 

     

    Buddy Hield coming off the bench – 18 games

    26.8 mpg / .466 FG% / .970 FT% / 19.7 ppg / 4.4 3pg / 4.3 rpg / 2.8 apg / 1.0 spg / 0.2 bpg / 1.8 TO

    Analysis: While much has been made of the head-scratching real-life decision to bench Buddy Hield, arguably the Kings 2nd best player, there is very little to argue with in terms of what it has done for his fantasy game. During this span Hield has been a top-30 player in 9-cat leagues, a far cry from the top-80 guy he was as the starter in the games that preceded this move. The main differences here lie in two major categories: his 3-pointers and his FG%. Maybe it’s the fact that bench defenses struggle a lot more at containing his elite 3-point range, perhaps it’s just Buddy playing angry that he’s still coming off the bench for some reason. Whatever the case, the sample size is large enough to feel comfortable with this being a rest-of-season situation for the sharpshooter.

     

    Serge Ibaka when Marc Gasol last played – 7 games (1/15-1/26)

    24.7 mpg / .520 FG% / .778 FT% / 13.1 ppg / 1.0 3pg /  6.3 rpg / 1.6 apg / 1.0 spg / 0.3 bpg / 1.3 TO

    Analysis: With Gasol’s eventual return imminent I think it’s important to revisit what Ibaka was doing when Gasol was playing perhaps his best stretch of ball of the season. During this 7 game stretch Gasol was starting, winning the majority of the center minutes shares and frankly outplaying Ibaka in every facet. Now, circumstances will likely be a bit different when Gasol returns this time around, as Toronto is going to look to mitigate another potential setback for him as they gear up for their title defense. That being said, an average of 25 minutes seems like a best case for Ibaka, and though this line isn’t wholly representative of what he should bring to the table (the steals and blocks averages in particular feel like they should be flipped) it’s not far off from what we should expect out of him. This stat line was good enough to give him 105 overall ranking in 9-cat leagues. Owners should keep that in mind as they need to make tough decisions on who to keep and who to cut for their playoff runs. 

     

    Patrick Beverley since returning from injury – 6 games

    21.9 mpg / .381 FG% / 1.000 FT% / 4.2 ppg / 1.2 3pg / 3.5 rpg / 2.8 apg / 0.5 spg / 0.0 bpg / 0.8 TO

    Analysis: Beverley has been off in a major way since returning from his groin injury, playing outside the top-240 in those 6 games. This can, in part, be explained by his lower minutes count, which can be attributed to the fact that Reggie Jackson is now siphoning off about 20 per game or perhaps that Bev just isn;t totally healthy yet. It’s likely that it’s a combination of these two factors, and the end result is that he is unusable as a fantasy asset. With the fantasy playoffs right around the corner he has a very limited amount of leash left to work with before he should be tossed to the wire for good.

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