• It isn’t a bad time to be a Pelicans fan.  After eking out an excruciating stretch of basketball, the Pelicans are finally sustaining good play.  Since Derrick Favors returned on December 13th of last year, the Pelicans are 10th in net rating and 12th in defensive rating.  This is substantial improvement, and it has occurred over the course of 14 games, which is a non-negligible portion of the season.  Lonzo Ball is a big part of this revival, but it’s not just him.  Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are both looking far more comfortable over the most recent stretch of games.  Some of this, without any doubt, is related to the recent schedule, which has been considerably easier after the Pelicans got bulldozed by great teams over the first part of the season.  But they do look, as the cliche goes, “like basketball players” now, and this is a huge win for the Pelicans long-term.  The wins now are nice, but seeing individual players develop is far more important for the future.  Once Zion comes back, this is doubly true, as how Ingram and Zion fit (or do not fit) with players will be of extreme importance over the next few years in terms of roster building.  There will be gaps, and this is the time to start seeing where those gaps are.

    Jaxson Hayes, in particular, is coming along.  His ability to finish through contact with such a slight frame is impressive, and everyone is already aware of his jaw-dropping lob dunks. JJ Redick noted that the defensive scheme change (let the big drop in pick and roll coverages) has helped shore up the Pelicans defense (Favors being back is likely the biggest difference), and this shift likely simplified things for Hayes a great deal.  Hayes was a foul machine early on, and as his recognition has improved, he is cutting down on them.  One thing that is very clear is that Hayes is getting frustrated with himself (and refs) when he contests shots and brings his arms down, only to be called for a foul.  This is a violation of Big Defense 101, which stipulates that you should keep your arms straight up to avoid getting called for fouls.  The frustration, to be clear, is good: Hayes is learning from his mistakes and it’s showing in his blocks per foul over the course of the season.

    Lonzo also continues to grow during this period, as he is attacking more than he was previously.  He still isn’t consistent in his ability to cut into the paint and create chaos, but again, he’s getting better at it and his outside shooting looks to be for real.  Lonzo is a confidence shooter, so it wouldn’t be altogether surprising if he has some pretty bad droughts along the road to becoming a consistent outside threat.  He’s also finding some easy forays to the rim when the defense makes mistakes.  This is showing up in his field goal percentage, which has been substantially better over the period.

    Brandon Ingram is perhaps the easiest young Pelican to write about, as he has been the most consistent player for the team this season.  His shooting is for real, and making 36 straight free throws is a testament to that.  In very non-eloquent language, dude is just good.  His defense still requires some work, as he has the length and quickness to be a real impact defender, but he’s still ironing out things.  The other area in which he can improve is ball-stopping.  Sometimes Ingram gets the ball and spends too much time sizing up his defender with an array of jab steps, and it can kill offensive movement.  But again, he has been so dang good this season: he’s not that far from a 50/40/90 season while scoring 25 points per game at 22 freaking years old.  The man can hoop, and the sky is the limit for him.

    Jrue Holiday has missed the last few games with an elbow injury, and it hasn’t hurt the Pelicans.. yet.  On a tougher schedule, it likely would, and now that Derrick Favors has gone down, things could get dicier for the Pelicans if Zion hasn’t returned.  The next 8 games are largely against playoff teams, or, at the least, teams that aren’t cupcake opponents.  It’s time to prepare for a more disappointing stretch of basketball.  3-5 would be a solid stretch, 2-6 would be slightly disappointing, and 4-4 would be excellent.  The schedule for the Pelicans is so easy in March and April that they only need to remaining within striking distance to have a plausible chance at rattling off some 7-3 and 8-2 streaks towards the end of the season.

Fantasy News

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard was on fire again in Thursday's 125-133 loss to the Mavs, scoring 47 points on 16-of-28 shooting to go with six boards, eight assists, a steal and eight 3-pointers.

    Lillard put forth his best efforts to Carry the Blazers to another win tonight and it's going to be looking like this for the foreseeable future. He's the No. 6 player overall in 9-cat leagues and there's no reason he can't finish there with some upside beyond that with how much the Blazers are leaning on him.

  • Trevor Ariza
    SF, Portland Trail Blazers

    Trevor Ariza started on Thursday and scored 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with seven boards, two dimes, two steals and four triples.

    Ariza did a great job on offense in his start and the Blazers have no real reason to not play him big minutes as they don't have many reliable options. His defensive abilities are still limited, but it might be worth it to scoop up Ariza just to see where this thing goes as the Blazers have revived a few fantasy careers this year already.

  • Hassan Whiteside
    C, Portland Trail Blazers

    Hassan Whiteside had some foul trouble (5) on Thursday, but still managed to play 33 minutes, tallying 14 pointson 6-of-8 shooting to go with 10 boards and a block.

    Whiteside couldn't really keep up with the Mavs tonight, which led to his poor stat line. He's the No. 7 player in 9-cat leagues so we'll give him some leash considering the Mavs are the No. 1 offense in the NBA. Even with Jusuf Nurkic (leg) resuming practice, as long as Whiteside stays in Portland, he should maintain early-round value.

  • Carmelo Anthony
    PF, Portland Trail Blazers

    Carmelo Anthony double-doubled on Thursday with 16 points and 11 boardsto go with five dimes, one steal, one block and two triples on Thursday.

    Anthony recorded his first double-double since his game against Houston on January 15th and added his usual inefficient scoring to his line. He had a couple extra dimes thanks to closing out the game in garbage time minutes so don't expect those to come too often.

  • Luka Doncic
    PG-SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Luka Doncic scored 27 points on 11-of-25 shooting to go with six rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two triples on Thursday.

    Doncic was his usual superstar self on Thursday and was named as an All-Star starter tonight, making him the youngest player to earn this honor since LeBron James in 2005. He's in elite company already in reality and fantasy and his historic year should end with him inside the top-12.

  • Maxi Kleber
    PF, Dallas Mavericks

    Maxi Kleber scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting with four boards, one dime, three blocks and two triples on Thursday.

    Kleber came off the bench, but he's stepped into his increased role and easily landed with standard league value for the remainder of the year. He's going to be good for traditional big man stats with a couple cash counters here and there to keep his head above water.

  • Kristaps Porzingis
    PF-C, Dallas Mavericks

    Kristaps Porzingis scored 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds, one assist, one steal, two blocks and three 3-pointers on Thursday.

    Porzingis' playing time will be on the lower end of 30 minutes at a maximum and his shooting most likely won't get back on track, but his contributions on triples (2.2) and blocks (2.1) are enough to keep him within the top-50 at a minimum.

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.
    SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting to go with one rebound, four assists and three triples on Thursday.

    Hardaway Jr. has scored in double figures for the ninth consecutive game and has found some consistency in his play as of late. The Mavs lost Dwight Powell (Achilles) for the season and Kristaps Porzingis will always be on a minutes limit due to his knee which means THJ should have some extra opportunity to deliver on his scoring numbers.

  • Seth Curry
    SG, Dallas Mavericks

    Seth Curry scored 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with one rebound, two assists, a steal and four triples on Thursday.

    Curry has had a solid stretch lately and is worth owning for owners in need of triples, but outside of that he holds little value. Jalen Brunson (17 points, three rebounds, one assist and four triples) also had a solid game off the bench with Delon Wright (nine points, eight boards and four dimes) always finding a way to put up a solid line as well. The three-headed monster at guard isn't the most ideal situation in fantasy hoops, but target Brunson for dimes, Curry for treys and Wright for a little bit of everything.

  • Jarrett Allen
    C, Brooklyn Nets

    Jarrett Allen didn't take advantage of DeAndre Jordan's absence on Thursday, scoring seven points and grabbing eight boards as the Nets fell 128-113 to the Lakers.

    Allen added just one blocked shot in his 30 minutes. He should still be a decent mid-round value going forward, even if DeAndre Jordan is around to gobble up rebounds.