Ethan Norof

The Specialists

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The Specialists: Smart Start

Monday, April 30, 2018


Welcome to the second round!


The postseason field has thinned, the spotlight is shining brighter, and we have just eight teams left dancing on basketball’s biggest stage.


LeBron James survived and advanced, but not before Victor Oladipo gave the Cavs—and the entire state of Ohio—a legitimate two-week scare. The Thunder began the season with big dreams, but finished the campaign with a nightmare and were left celebrating little victories. And the Wizards, a team that has long been adamant that its current core is good enough, is now seeing foundational cracks becoming tire-size potholes.


The offseason storylines are already starting to build, but we’ve still got plenty of basketball in front of us. Let’s dive in.


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Jae Crowder: 3-pointers, Steals


The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon smartly pointed out that this “might” be a series in which Favors is forced to sacrifice. I’ll take it one step further: This is definitely time for the big man to do more by doing less. It’s not a reflection of Favors as a player, but instead a result of matching up with the opposition. And while it’s a hard sell—if only for the sake of continuity, especially with Ricky Rubio (hamstring) out of the lineup and without a timetable to return—to entertain the notion that Crowder could replace Favors in the first five, it’s not an impossible one and the Jazz might be in a better (but still difficult) spot if everyone bought into the idea. Unlike the first round in which the five-seed Jazz were considered the favorite, there is no question about who wears the top dog crown this time around.


Although Crowder has only had two playoff games with double-digit points—including Sunday’s Game 1 affair in Houston in which he finished with an eye-catching 21 points, two steals, and five triples on 8-of-13 shooting—his playing time and offensive involvement over the last four games are awfully encouraging signs for Game 2 and beyond. Crowder has also had at least two steals in five of seven postseason games to date, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are likely wondering where this version of the veteran was prior to pulling the trigger on the midseason Rodney Hood deal. Like many of Cleveland’s chosen moves during the season, that one hasn’t exactly worked out as anticipated.


J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers: 3-pointers


Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid get the attention, but when is Redick going to get more than just Brotherly Love?


The Sixers needed just five games to make quick work of Miami in Round 1, but it was so fast that some might have missed the fact that Redick scored 24 or more points in three of those five games. For the entire first-round series, the veteran shooting guard averaged 20.0 points and 2.6 3-pointers on a solid 30-of-66 (45.5%) from the field, and the fact that he played at least 30 minutes in all but one game—a blowout Game 3 victory—is a very encouraging sign.


Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics: Steals


No Gordon Hayward, no Kyrie Irving, and now no Jaylen Brown—at least for Game 1—means a whole lot of Mr. Smart to open the second round.


Brad Stevens isn’t tipping his hand when it comes to who might start in Brown’s place, but even if Smart doesn’t get the call, he’s going to factor prominently into this series. The Sixers rely on their perimeter shooting in order to open space on the court for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to operate, and you can bet the C’s will task Smart with a heavy load on the defensive end in order to try and disrupt Philadelphia’s flow.


Since returning from thumb surgery, Smart has averaged 27.7 minutes per contest, a number that is almost certain to rise given how thin Boston’s backcourt currently is. And given Brown is not certain to return after just a one-game absence, Smart could find himself building his free-agent case with his potential suitors all watching from home. For a player who is going to be looking for more money—and more years—than most currently feel comfortable giving him, Smart could make a strong, emphatic statement about just how much he’s worth.  


Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets: 3-pointers, Steals


Although the veteran forward has not had a steal in either of his last two games, I’d expect him to buck that trend in the near future after averaging at least 1.5 steals per game for the fifth straight campaign. And although there was some inconsistency in his scoring at times during the regular season, Ariza has been solid though unspectacular through six playoff games with an average of 10.5 points to pair with 2.3 triples, 1.0 steal, and a microscopic 0.2 turnovers.


While it’s unlikely Ariza will explode on the stat sheet, his predictable performance is capable of providing a stabilizing force for playoff fantasy teams in an otherwise (occasionally) volatile landscape. I wouldn’t expect Ariza to be the difference between a victory or not—in any format—but he’ll almost never hurt you and can always serve the elevate the ceiling of your roster.



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