Ethan Norof

The Specialists

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Specialists: Burke's Buckets

Monday, February 26, 2018


Trey Burke, New York Knicks: Points


If (when) Ron Baker exercises his player option for next season, the Knicks will have committed nearly $9 million to the undrafted Wichita State product. To sign 2013 ninth overall pick Trey Burke out of the G-League, it’s costing the Knicks well under $1 million. Life comes at you fast, and you better be prepared for your opportunity.


Phil Jackson’s Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina ninth overall to be the point guard of the future, but the present has reminded some that the rookie is still just 19 years young. The current regime’s position to bring in both Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay suggests Ntilikina isn’t guaranteed to progress along a linear trajectory, and it will be fascinating to see how the situation develops as the club reshapes itself this summer and beyond.


As for Burke, his back-to-back 26-point explosions are simply impossible to ignore. While the sustainability of his volume scoring is certainly a valid question, the Knicks are absolutely desperate for offense, and Courtney Lee’s role seems to be shrinking by the day. There should be plenty of room for Burke to consistently see 25-30 minutes regardless of opponent, and the fact that nobody has checked him about letting it fly—41 field goal attempts over the last two games—bodes well for his immediate outlook. New York needs to see what it has in Burke now because a decision on his future will be due sooner than either Mudiay or Ntilikina, and the idea of taking a wait-and-see approach is a good methodology to lose out on a potential spark plug if your team is in need of some electricity.


John Collins, Atlanta Hawks: Blocks


Although Collins is still establishing himself in the league at large, he’s a known member of the fantasy community due to his shot-blocking ability. And with a strong post-All-Star Break debut of nine points, nine rebounds, and two blocks in 30.5 minutes of action, the 20-year-old rookie is poised to show us why we should be so excited about his present as well as why Atlanta is so intrigued by the potential of his future.


Collins is occasionally limited by his inclination to foul—he’s averaging 4.7 per-36 minutes thus far in his inaugural campaign—but that should improve with experience as the Wake Forest product continues to acclimate to the pro game. And with the Hawks waving goodbye to Ersan Ilyasova, Atlanta’s power forward depth chart looks less familiar than what some G-League teams have to offer. In other words, Collins is going to get a lot of rope as the club’s starting four. There is no reason for Collins to be on the waiver wire in any 12-team format.

 

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Alex Len, Phoenix Suns: Rebounds, Blocks, Field Goal Percentage


The Suns are again playing for an uncertain future, and it makes sense to roster Len while he’s healthy and his path to minutes is clear. However, in assessing a longer-term view, Len’s outlook is a bit more complicated.


There is no doubt that Len has come on strong since the All-Star Break with back-to-back double-double performances in place of Tyson Chandler (neck) with averages of 12.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks on 12-of-16 (75.0%) shooting, but there is less certainty moving forward due to a) Len’s health history, b) Phoenix already publicly stating that there are no plans to openly sit veterans like last season, and c) the return of Alan Williams from knee surgery. While there is no guarantee that Chandler’s absence is of the short-term variety or that Williams is able to make it back cleanly, I wouldn’t be sacrificing a known commodity with sustainable value for the chance to buy Len’s stock at a premium.


Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic: Steals, Points


Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are back in action, but that hasn’t stopped Hezonja from remaining productive. With averages of 14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.0 3-pointer in 26 minutes per game since the All-Star Break, Hezonja continues to look like a direct beneficiary of Elfrid Payton’s trade to Phoenix. The Magic have a roster where putting their best talent on the floor involves sacrificing having a “true point guard” out there, so Super Mario should continue to be a factor as we race toward the finish line.


Every passing game where Hezonja performs makes Orlando’s handling of his player development that much more curious, and the decision to decline his fourth-year option still makes no sense months after the initial call was made. Prior to this season, the Magic never really gave Hezonja a legitimate chance to flourish or to fail despite selecting him fifth overall—eight spots ahead of Devin Booker—in 2015. Like in any other line of work, competent talent is capable of getting the job done through learned exposure. In Hezonja’s case, like for the majority of young NBA talent, it’s hard to show what you know until you’re allowed to play through your mistakes.


Hezonja is a recommended hold in 12-team formats. He has plenty of incentive to keep his foot on the gas with free agency ahead of him, and Frank Vogel hasn’t been shy about his desire to keep Hezonja out there.


Jamal Crawford, Minnesota Timberwolves: Points, 3-pointers


Jimmy Butler’s torn meniscus creates an immediate need, and Crawford is a true specialist capable of helping to fill the offensive void. In his two games since the All-Star Break, the veteran guard has averaged 16.5 points and 4.0 triples, and it’s not unrealistic to expect that kind of production so long as his minutes remain in the 25-30 range. And with Crawford’s ability to light the net aflame with his electric scoring, there is the potential for more than one week-winning performance over the next four-to-six weeks.



Follow Ethan Norof on Twitter @Ethan_Norof for more fantasy basketball analysis, advice and all things Los Angeles Lakers.
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