January 18, 2018, 4:18 pm
OPPONENT: Indiana Pacers
RECORD: 24-20 overall (10-10 on road, 5-5 last 10 games)
MEASURABLES: 108.6 offensive rating (sixth), 106.6 defensive rating (21st), +2.1 net rating (eighth)
PACERS PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Darren Collison, SG Victor Oladipo, SF Bojan Bogdanovic, PF Thaddeus Young, C Domantas Sabonis
WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 10:00 EST, Moda Center (Portland), NBC Sports Northwest/FOX Sports Indiana
The Indiana Pacers, that solid-green net rating be damned, aren’t the eighth-best team in the NBA. Nate McMillan has done an excellent job this season in Indianapolis, withstanding the summer departure of Paul George to reinvent his team in a new style and put his best players in varied positions to succeed. The Pacers aren’t world-beaters, but that hardly means the Portland Trail Blazers can take them lightly and expect to leave Moda Center with a victory on Thursday night – and one player is the biggest reason why.
Victor Oladipo is a veritable lock to be named Most Improved Player at season’s end. A tireless and all-encompassing offseason training regimen, examined in great depth last month by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, turned the former top-five pick from one of the league’s most disappointing players into one of its most exciting young talents in just a few months’ time. More casual NBA fans who remember Oladipo most as the shaky building block of the Orlando Magic’s post-Dwight Howard rebuild, then Russell Westbrook’s bystander sidekick during a surreal MVP campaign will be shocked to find out the Pacers have a bonafide new franchise player.
Oladipo’s improvement offensively is too sweeping to describe in detail at this space. His newfound ability to drain pull-up jumpers behind the arc and from mid-range looms largest, though, and further leverages the high-level dribbling and finishing craft he’s added to his game this season. Staying attached to his hip in ball-screen action and pursuing from behind is chief to keeping Oladipo in check, as is the second line of defense forming a wall at the rim and failing to fall for his plethora of feints around the basket.
C.J. McCollum will get the first crack at defending Oladipo, while Pat Connaughton, Evan Turner and even Shabazz Napier could find themselves tasked with that unenviable primary assignment on Thursday, but limiting his effectiveness will be a team effort first and foremost. Oladipo had four games of at least 36 points last month, and is shooting 51.6 percent from the field in January, when the Pacers have gone 5-1 with him in the lineup. As its soon-to-be first-time All-Star goes, so does Indiana.
Oladipo obviously isn’t the only player on McMillan’s roster having a banner year, though. Domantas Sabonis, son of Lithuanian legend and former Blazers star Arvydas, has been a similarly pleasant surprise for Indiana, reinvigorated by a shift in role compared to his rookie season that has the seven-footer making hay in the paint with his soft touch and bevy of moves and counter moves. Veteran point guard Darren Collison has never shot the ball better from the field or 3-point range. Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph have also made strides from deep, while Lance Stephenson has revived his career given the additional playmaking latitude afforded him by McMillan – license that can still lead to as many befuddling moments as dazzling ones.
Despite widespread improvement across the roster from three, Indiana relies more on mid-range jumpers than any team in the league, exactly the shots that Portland’s defensive scheme hopes to goad out of offenses. That seems a losing recipe for the Blazers on the surface, but only if they’re unable to offset the potential for a barrage of mid-range jumpers with sustained 3-point shooting. Portland has been hot from deep of late, and if that continues on Tuesday, the math should be in favor of Lillard and company.
Indiana, like the Blazers, suffers from a lack of quality perimeter defenders on the ball. Oladipo has yet to make good on the raw defensive gifts that made him such a menace in college with the Indiana Hoosiers, and Collison’s proclivity for steals has long overstated his true impact on that side of the floor. Most telling of the Pacers’ deficiency here is that Bojan Bogdanovic has often been used as his team’s designated stopper this season. He’s woefully ill-equipped to defend the cat-quick likes of Lillard and McCollum, and the same can be said for Stephenson, whose discipline on that end comes and goes as one would expect from a player with his demeanor.
Oladipo, then, will likely draw the same matchup he most often sees offensively. If McCollum can make him work on the other end, that will go a long way toward ensuring Oladipo doesn’t have another big scoring night, or at least has to sacrifice efficiency to get it.
This is a game in which Jusuf Nurkic should be a deciding factor, especially given the absence of sweet-shooting Indiana center Myles Turner. He’ll try and corral Oladipo in pick-and-roll all game long while keeping an eye on the always-active Sabonis, and could create problems for the Pacers by consistently crashing the offensive glass. If Nurkic isn’t engaged early, as was the case against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, don’t be surprised if Terry Stotts again alters his rotation to account for that disappointment. Ed Davis will surely be a better option than Nurkic should that troubling penchant for a blunt playing edge again get the best of him.
Portland enters Thursday’s action at 23-21, suddenly tied for sixth in the Western Conference. With another winnable game at home, the Blazers have a golden opportunity to begin distancing themselves from the pack of teams fighting for that final playoff spot. A mediocre performance or random in-game letdown will likely be too much to overcome against the Pacers, however, especially if Oladipo still has the hot hand.
Was Portland’s occasionally dominant play against Phoenix the beginning of a midseason rejuvenation, or simply the byproduct of facing an inferior, undermanned foe? How the Blazers perform on Thursday will give us a partial answer one way or the other.
July 6, 2020, 7:40 pmDewayne DedmonC, Atlanta Hawks
While Dewayne Dedmon ended at top-240 value in 8-category leagues during 2019-20, he took a step forward after the Kings dealt him to the Hawks.
While injuries limited Dedmon to just 44 games, he provided 8.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 1.0 steals during 10 contests with the Hawks. He was used much more sparingly on the Kings. Holding top-260 value overall in 9-category formats doesn't overwhelm, but Dedmon made solid contributions defensively and on the glass down the stretch. With a career mark of 51.6 percent, he's likely to improve upon the 40.0 percent shooting from the field posted in 2019-20. However, Clint Capela's presence in the lineup could cut into his usage next season.
July 6, 2020, 7:19 pmJeff TeaguePG, Atlanta Hawks
Jeff Teague's production fell off in a big way following a January trade from the Wolves to the Hawks, causing him to end with top-160 value in 8-category leagues.
The Wolves began starting Jarrett Culver over Teague, eventually leading to the swap with the Hawks. Teague possessed just top-180 value in 9-category and his production suffered even on a per-minute basis with the Hawks. During 34 games with the Wolves, he averaged 13.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. Over 25 contests with the Hawks, he managed only 7.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per contest. While Teague was stuck behind Trae Young and can sign elsewhere in free agency, it's fair to ask whether his best fantasy days are behind him.
July 6, 2020, 6:14 pmDamian JonesC, Atlanta Hawks
Damian Jones was largely a blocks specialist in 2019-20, holding top-230 value in 9-category leagues while ranking only among the top 260 in 8-category.
Jones actually posted similar numbers to his final season of 2018-19 with the Warriors, albeit in a larger sample size of 55 contests. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.7 blocks, and 0.5 steals in 16.1 minutes per game. Jones saw an uptick in free-throw percentage during 2019-20, which rose to 73.8 percent from 64.9 percent the season prior. However, his assists average dropped from 1.2 while his blocks average fell from a 2018-19 average of 1.0. The Hawks deployed too many big men for reserves like Jones to be particularly valuable, and the acquisition of Clint Capela could further complicate the situation going forward.
July 6, 2020, 5:18 pmGerald GreenSG, Denver Nuggets
Gerald Green (broken left foot) has been medically cleared to play but will not participate in games when the NBA restarts.
Green missed all of 2019-20 but was traded to the Nuggets in February before being waived. Some teams were interested in signing Green in June, but he declined for family reasons. Green will be able to sign as a free agent in October but is unlikely to hold much fantasy appeal.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter
July 6, 2020, 5:01 pmVince CarterSG, Atlanta Hawks
Vince Carter ranked within the top 350 in 9-category leagues during his final NBA season of 2019-20, averaging 5.0 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals, and 0.4 blocks.
Carter shot 35.2 percent from the floor, the second worst mark in his career, while he garnered a career-low 14.6 minutes per game. None of that should hurt his legacy as an eight-time All-Star and fan favorite. When Carter made his final career basket on March 12, his smile seemed to foreshadow an eventual retirement which came in late June. Carter averaged 16.7 points over his career but twice ended a season with an average of 27 points or greater.
July 6, 2020, 4:25 pmBruno FernandoPF, Atlanta Hawks
Bruno Fernando finished the 2019-20 season as a top-370/380 player (8/9 cat.) while averaging 4.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, and 0.3 steals on 51.8 percent shooting from the field.
The rookie out of Maryland didn't exactly finish strong, scoring just 1.6 points per game over five contests in March. The native of Angola found himself behind John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon on the frontcourt depth chart. The Hawks also added Clint Capela who is under contract for three more seasons. Fernando's campaign did feature a few bright spots, especially when Dedmon missed time due to injury. However, Fernando would need a step up in playing time to become fantasy relevant in most leagues.
July 6, 2020, 2:55 pmDeAndre' BembrySF, Atlanta Hawks
DeAndre' Bembry (abdominal pain/right hand surgery) missed the final 23 games of the 2019-20 season, finishing with top-225/240 (8/9-cat) fantasy value.
Bembry has always been a player we've liked as a deep-league option and potential flier in shallower formats, but between injuries and the rise of younger forwards in Atlanta it looks like he might need a change of scenery to maximize his output. There was still some things to like about Bembry's campaign — 3.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.4 blocks in 21.3 mpg — but his poor free throw shooting (.542) and inability to stretch the floor (.231) really hurt his case for more minutes, despite a sneakily versatile skillset. Bembry should always maintain steals specialist appeal but he's only a deep-league target going forward unless something changes.
July 6, 2020, 2:51 pmBrandon GoodwinPG, Atlanta Hawks
Brandon Goodwin finished the 2019-20 campaign as a top-340/350 player (8/9-cat), averaging 6.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.8 triples in 12.7 minutes per contest.
Goodwin did manage to have a career-best performance with 21 points against the Celtics in early February, but his fantasy appeal really only existed when Trae Young suffered a sprained ankle. Goodwin belongs in the league as a solid depth option but doesn't have a place on your fantasy rosters.
July 6, 2020, 2:49 pmTreveon GrahamSF, Atlanta Hawks
Treveon Graham wrapped up the 2019-20 campaign outside the top-400.
Graham started the season off as a starter for the Wolves, averaging 20.1 minutes across 33 games, but eventually missed time with some minor injuries and then fell out of favor with Minnesota reshaping its roster and leaning towards its youth. A trade to Atlanta was the end of his already-modest fantasy value, as he averaged just 12.1 minutes in his 22 games with the Hawks. Formerly viewed as a 3-and-D bench piece, Graham shot just .275 from beyond the arc after going .297 last season with Brooklyn. He shouldn't be on your fantasy radars for next year.
July 6, 2020, 2:44 pmSkal LabissierePF, Atlanta Hawks
Skal Labissiere never suited up for the Hawks after a deadline trade.
Labissiere was actually getting minutes for a banged up Blazers squad but was felled by a cartilage issue in his left knee and didn't play after December 28. Although his 3-point shooting tanked (23.1%), Skal did have a solid showing in limited minutes with 5.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and a .551 mark from the field in 17.2 minutes per contest. He finished right around the top-250 and will not be a consideration in most fantasy formats going forward, despite the modest bounce-back campaign.