Ethan Norof

The Specialists

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The Specialists: Maker's Mark

Monday, April 23, 2018


We’ve had a terrific opening round to date with a ton of close games and some unpredictable action, but perhaps nothing has been more surprising than the Blazers season ending with a whimper. Don’t get me wrong; I picked New Orleans to advance to the second round, but we’d all be hard-pressed to find someone—other than the most die-hard Pelicans truther—who believed a first-round sweep was coming.


The Blazers already have approximately $82.5 million committed to Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, and Meyers Leonard before the offseason begins, and that doesn’t account for the uncertain futures of Jusuf Nurkic and Ed Davis. Without those two, Portland’s PF/C depth chart looks like this: Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu, Caleb Swanigan, Zach Collins, and Georgios Papagiannis. If you’re reading this and squinting in an attempt to find the silver lining, you’re certainly not alone. Neil Olshey has done a questionable job of building around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and the Blazers are going to have to get very creative in order to upgrade this roster in a meaningful fashion to have a legitimate chance at contending in an increasingly improving—and crowded—Western Conference.


With just 15 teams left dancing as of Monday, let’s move onto this week’s specialists.


Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks: Blocks—Series Tied, 2-2


Maker checks in as a lightweight big man at 7’1” and just 223 lbs, but there is no denying that he’s had a heavyweight impact on Milwaukee evening things up, turning the series into a best-of-three showdown. Since John Henson (back) has been unable to play, Maker checks in with a plus-27 net rating and averages of 11.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 3-pointers, and an unbelievable 5.0 blocks on 60% (6-of-10) shooting. Maker is an unusual player to assess in both reality and fantasy, but he should definitely be in lineups right now for his ability to rack up the swat. Even in the event that Henson is able to return from his back injury at some point in the first round, Maker should be the recipient of more minutes. He’s spacing the floor, defending the rim, and providing an element to Milwaukee’s attack that Henson cannot offensively.


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Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: Steals—Series Tied, 2-2 


There has been a lot of chatter around Fran VanVleet’s shoulder injury, and there is good reason to believe that FVV is dealing with more than just soreness in the area. Although the extent of the injury remains unclear, it’s inconceivable that the young guard would be sitting out on this stage if he were cleared to play. From a playing time perspective, that leaves Wright as the major beneficiary in this particular situation, and if you believe in Toronto’s ability to make a deep playoff push, Wright is worth additional consideration in non-DFS playoff fantasy formats.


In the first three contests vs. Washington, Wright averaged 11.7 points, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.0 block, and 1.3 triples on 12-of-27 (44.4%) shooting. Then, Wright played 27 minutes in Toronto's Game 4 loss, finishing with seven points, three boards, five assists, a steal, a block, and a triple. VanVleet is without a timetable to return, and the Raptors have been rather quiet in updating any progress he’s made toward a return. All of the circumstantial evidence seemingly points in the direction of Wright sustaining an increase in minutes, so don’t overlook his value.


Clint Capela, Houston Rockets: Rebounds, Blocks, FG Percentage—Rockets Lead, 2-1


Capela has a tough task to tackle in the first round vs. Karl-Anthony Towns, but he’s a plus-22 through three games in which Houston is plus-seven overall, so clearly, something is going right while he’s out there. In addition to that, Capela has pulled in double-digit rebounds in all three games, averaging 13.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks on 17-of-27 (63.0%) shooting. There is no questioning the value Capela brings to the table, and looking ahead to the next round, Houston is going to need his defense inside for either potential opponent with Rudy Gobert or Steven Adams waiting ahead. And if you want to extrapolate even further and look ahead toward a predicted showdown against. Golden State, Capela averaged 15.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks on 62.5% shooting in three games vs. the Warriors this season.


Josh Richardson, Miami Heat: Steals—Sixers Lead Heat, 3-1


Even if Richardson’s shoulder injury really is a sprained AC joint as Shams Charania reported—the Heat had called it a contusion—we can expect him to take the floor in a do-or-die Game 5. And in a season in which Miami has been most resilient in the exact moments when most expect the club to finally crumble, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Game 6 in Miami.


Richardson has turned things around since a forgettable Game 1 performance, averaging 10.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.8 steals, 1.0 block, and 1.5 3-pointers with just 1.3 turnovers on 15-of-39 (38.5%) shooting over the first four games of what has been an intense series. Richardson would be a more enticing option if Miami’s long-term outlook looked different, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Miami comes out of the first round with their backs against the wall and both Ben Simmons as well as Joel Embiid standing in their way.



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