Ryan Knaus

The Numbers Game

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Back-to-Backs & Bargain Bin

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


We're reaching the tipping point in the NBA campaign, where unpredictable lineup changes and a deluge of injuries take on a life of their own -- welcome to 'silly season'. The Suns (19-53) and Grizzlies (19-51) are in hot pursuit of the league's worst record, but the Magic and Hawks aren't far behind. At the other end of the spectrum, the Raptors have pulled 5.0 games ahead of the Celtics, while the Rockets are 4.0 games up on the Warriors. If those gaps get any wider, it will only encourage the top teams to start aggressively resting guys for the postseason -- it doesn't help that Boston and Golden State both have very comfortable leads over the No. 3 teams.

 

The good news for fantasy owners is that seeds Nos. 3-8 in both conferences are still extremely close, giving enough teams incentive to play key guys and win games. And even chaotic situations create opportunities for fantasy value. We'll explore the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly in today's column, ranging from how many back-to-backs each team has remaining on the schedule, to some unlikely fantasy heroes who have emerged in recent weeks, to a handful of useful players who might still be on your waiver wire.

 

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Remaining Back-to-Back Sets

 

 

# of back-to-backs

Dates of back-to-backs

Boston Celtics

3

Mar. 25-26, Apr. 3-4, Apr. 10-11

Chicago Bulls

3

Mar. 23-24, Mar. 29-30, Apr. 6-7

Washington Wizards

3

Mar. 31-Apr. 1, Apr. 5-6, Apr. 10-11

Atlanta Hawks

2

Mar. 22-23, Apr. 3-4

Charlotte Hornets

2

Mar. 21-22, Mar. 31-Apr. 1

Cleveland Cavaliers

2

Mar. 27-28, Apr. 5-6

Dallas Mavericks

2

Mar. 27-28, Apr. 3-4

Detroit Pistons

2

Mar. 31-Apr. 1, Apr. 8-9

Golden State Warriors

2

Mar. 31-Apr. 1, Apr. 7-8

Houston Rockets

2

Mar. 24-25, Apr. 10-11

Memphis Grizzlies

2

Mar. 21-22, Apr. 8-9

Minnesota Timberwolves

2

Mar. 23-24, Apr. 5-6

New Orleans Pelicans

2

Mar. 21-22, Apr. 6-7

New York Knicks

2

Mar. 25-26, Apr. 6-7

Orlando Magic

2

Apr. 3-4, Apr. 8-9

Philadelphia 76ers

2

Mar. 21-22, Apr. 3-4

Toronto Raptors

2

Apr. 3-4, Apr. 8-9

Utah Jazz

2

Mar. 22-23, Apr. 10-11

Brooklyn Nets

1

Mar. 31-Apr. 1

Denver Nuggets

1

Mar. 26-27

Indiana Pacers

1

Apr. 5-6

LA Clippers

1

Mar. 27-28

Los Angeles Lakers

1

Apr. 3-4

Miami Heat

1

Apr. 3-4

Milwaukee Bucks

1

Mar. 29-30

Oklahoma City Thunder

1

Mar. 29-30

Phoenix Suns

1

Mar. 23-24

Portland Trail Blazers

1

Mar. 27-28

Sacramento Kings

1

Mar. 31-Apr. 1

San Antonio Spurs

1

Apr. 3-4

 

The Celtics, Bulls and Wizards have the distinction of being the only teams with three back-to-back (b2b) sets remaining on the schedule. Whether that's good or bad depends on your situation. If you're hoping Cameron Payne will continue to help your team without Kris Dunn (toe), it's probably a good thing -- Chicago has no reason to rest Payne, Cristiano Felicio or other young guys, so all those b2b games just mean more 'quality' games on light Mondays, Thursdays or Saturdays.

 

The outlook isn't as rosy if you're relying on Zach LaVine (knee) or John Wall (knee). The Wizards still haven't pegged a date for Wall, and it's all but guaranteed he'll be rested during b2b situations when he does get back -- even if the playoff race remains incredibly tight. Celtics veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Morris are also worth watching closely in the coming weeks -- with Boston currently 5.0 games behind Toronto, but 6.5 games up on Cleveland, they could easily downshift into 'postseason preparation' mode soon.

 

On the other hand, the list above is good news if you own veterans on teams with just one b2b remaining -- the Spurs jump out, even though Gregg Popovich has no compunction about resting guys regardless of the situation. The same goes for Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos, who are DNP candidates even during a lull in the Kings' schedule...but that's nothing new. Circumstances are crucial, of course -- for instance, we've already seen the Raptors (safely entrenched in the No. 1 spot) rest Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as a precaution. That trend is likely to continue in their final two b2b sets and could be extended to other veterans like Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and even C.J. Miles.

 

The Grizzlies, Hawks, Rockets and of course the Warriors are also prime DNP suspects over the final weeks of the season -- on the one hand because Memphis and Atlanta are trying to lose games, on the other because the top seeds are increasingly written in stone. LeBron James' fortunate owners shouldn't have too much to fear -- with just 1.5 games separating the No. 3 Cavs from the No. 6 Sixers, LBJ has sufficient motivation to stay active and earn home-court advantage. Although some DNPs are unavoidable, fantasy owners can mitigate the damage by preparing for them and being ready to pounce on streaming fill-ins.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @Knaus_RW!

 

 

Unlikely Late-Season Heroes

 

Stephen Curry (ankle) is aiming to play Friday vs. the Hawks. Klay Thompson (thumb) will be re-evaluated on Thursday and already said he expects to beat his initial timetable. Even if they both return soon and eradicate Quinn Cook's playing time, it's been an entertaining ride. While playing 38+ minutes over the past three games, Cook has gone off for 24.3 points, 4.0 threes, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals, while making 60.4% of his field goals. He'll be an instant cup of streaming goodness if Golden State rests key guys during their two remaining back-to-backs (see above).

 

Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are playing the best ball of their seasons in recent weeks and should clearly be owned in every fantasy league. Johnson is shooting 56.1% since the All-Star break, with the type of versatility fantasy owners love (4.5 boards, 3.8 dimes, 0.8 threes, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks). Olynyk has been just as efficient and versatile, averaging 1.6 triples, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in that span -- the only player hitting those marks for the full season was DeMarcus Cousins.

 

Corey Brewer's tenure with the Thunder started with a whimper. He failed to score in 12 minutes in his first appearance, then fouled out with zero rebounds, assists or defensive stats in his next game. Since then, though, he's been a man on a mission. By averaging 13.6 points, 1.6 triples, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.6 steals and 0.9 blocks over the past seven games, he's racked up top-80/top-30 value in points leagues/roto.

 

Moe Harkless has been just a fringe option in most points leagues since the break, but as detailed last week, he's rolling as an 8-cat and 9-cat roto option. Over the Blazers' past 10 games, he's scored 9.9 points on 60.7% FGs and 80.0% FTs, with 1.5 threes, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.4 turnovers. Those are the money stats for Harkless, who has added a mere 2.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists in that span. He's locked into mid-round value lately and shows no signs of stopping, despite playing a modest 23.7 minutes per game, so don't hesitate to grab him off the wire. Blazers teammate Al-Farouq Aminu also deserves attention for his stellar play of late, but he's already owned in more leagues than Harkless.

 

Speaking of defensive stats, we can't ignore Kyle O'Quinn. The 28-year-old is seemingly in a poor spot as one of the oldest players on the Knicks, yet he's thriving in recent weeks with 8.3 points on 60.9% FGs and 83.3% FTs, 6.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals and a value-anchoring 1.9 blocks. That he's putting up such numbers in just 18-22 minutes per game makes me more than a little skeptical, yet he's been doing it for multiple weeks now...it's time to suspend disbelief and make sure he's not still available.

 

 

Bargain Bin Watch-List

 

A lack of scoring and the likelihood of more DNPs means that Nerlens Noel is still floating on plenty of waiver wires. The Mavs have two back-to-backs left this season and that likely means two more DNPs for Noel, so he's best suited to streaming (especially if you have a lot of transactions available). If you need a cheap big man, though, he's looked reliable for rebounds (7.9 per game in March) and defensive stats (2.0 steals. 1.1 blocks). He's attempted seven free throws all month, too, so his poor FT% shouldn't be an issue.

 

Cristiano Felicio is already owned in plenty of competitive leagues, especially after he scored 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting vs. New York on Monday. Robin Lopez has fallen out of the rotation for two straight games, and prior to that he was just making a token first-quarter start, so Felicio should be safe rest-of-season. I'm also monitoring Noah Vonleh in deep leagues, due mostly to the ongoing absence of Lauri Markkanen (back). That's five straight DNPs for Markkanen and the Bulls have no reason to push him, which means Vonleh could find himself playing 26-30 minutes on an every-night basis. He can rebound the ball but needs to prove he can contribute more than just boards -- so far in March he's averaging 0.1 blocks while shooting 33.9% from the field. If his shots start to fall, however, he could be a hot pickup overnight.

 

If you didn't grab Andrew Harrison right after his return vs. Brooklyn on Monday, it might already be too late. He posted 19 points, eight assists, one rebound and one block in 31 minutes, quickly reminding owners what he was doing prior to missing nine games earlier this month. From Feb. 1 -Feb. 28, he averaged 15.6 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks. Tyreke Evans could be a buzzkill for Harrison, but then again, he was scratched just before tip-off on Monday for mysterious (aka tanking) reasons. Briante Weber also made a case for himself with 15 points, four boards and three steals on Monday, but I'll need to see that duplicated before burning a transaction on him.

 

Reggie Bullock has been as steady as they get scoring the ball -- excluding one DNP on Mar. 13, he's scored double-digit points in 17 consecutive games. He's also hit at least one 3-pointer in all but two games since mid-December, and has weathered a variety of challenges in the wing rotation -- the emergence of rookie Luke Kennard, the arrival of James Ennis, playing alongside Stanley Johnson, etc. He offers very little beyond scoring and 3-pointers, but then again...we're talking about Reggie Bullock here.

 

Bojan Bogdanovic's recent slump may have prompted impatient owners to cut him loose -- he shot an astounding 2-of-21 from the field in a two-game span last week, which tanked FG% for most of his owners. He also has just one block and zero steals in his past five games combined, yet I'll still happily add him if he hits the waiver wire. Prior to this skid he was simply on fire, including February averages of 18.9 points, 2.7 triples, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.8 steals, while making 52.3% FGs and 98.8% FTs. He was just as hot in early March, and I'll put my faith in that month-plus sample size, rather than one bad stretch.

 

Cheick Diallo strengthened his appeal as a pickup by posting an impressive 10-point, 14-rebound double-double on Tuesday. He didn't have any assists, steals or blocks, but grabbed five offensive boards while playing 24 minutes for the second straight game. The key is that he's earning plenty of his minutes alongside Anthony Davis -- to sustain value, that will have to be consistent, rather than matchup-based vs. a team like Dallas (against perimeter-happy big men Dwight Powell and Dirk Nowitzki, Emeka Okafor wound up playing just five minutes on Tuesday).

 

Staying in New Orleans, there's plenty of reason to like what Ian Clark has done lately. His minutes have increased from 21.0 in Week 20, to 25.5 (Week 21) and 27.5 (Week 22), and he logged 31 minutes while scoring 19 points with four dimes on Tuesday. "These guys in this locker room, they give me the most confidence," Clark said. "They've been telling me to play my game and be aggressive." The bad news for both Clark and Cheick Diallo is that New Orleans doesn't have a good schedule down the stretch (3 games, 3 games and 2 games), but there's still value to be found if their minutes don't drop off.

 

Fantasy owners' on-again, off-again love affair with Allen Crabbe is as tumultuous as ever, but he's an easy add if he's floating on the wire. He's had two lousy games recently, followed by two DNPs due to illness, but bookended that stretch with a 29-point eruption and a 22-point eruption -- he averaged 5.0 triples on 58.1% shooting in those games. Scoring is hard to find on the waiver wire, and if you just lost a guy like Jonathon Simmons (wrist), you're unlikely to find a higher-upside replacement.

 

Other guys to watch: Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Delon Wright should also benefit if Toronto starts aggressively resting veterans/starters...Damion Lee made his first start for Atlanta on Tuesday and is better than Tyler Dorsey, at least...Jordan Bell only needs 18-22 minutes per game to make an impact in roto, so keep him in mind down the stretch...Enes Kanter has battled back spasms periodically this season, and if he misses time we will see a ton of Luke Kornet...Alex Len finally had a good game on Tuesday, but we've seen this act before so I'm waiting until he does it 1-2 more times...Jonathan Isaac is likely already owned, but up there with Noel if you want defensive stats...that's all I have time for this week...good luck!



Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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