Whether you’re watching College Football, the NFL or the NBA, Thanksgiving week almost always features an unforgettable stretch of sports games. Basketball fans were treated to some of the year’s most impressive performances both by individuals and teams alike. James Harden hit 60 points for the first time this year, Luka Doncic continues his crusade of the “Should’ve Gone First” army, and the Toronto Raptors keep winning against really good teams.
This past week, they did it twice: an immediate contender for Best Raptor Game Ever against Philadelphia last Monday, and last night against the West’s sixth seeded Utah Jazz (arguably a top-five defense) — a game in which they put up 77 first-half points en route to a 40-point halftime lead. It was just a ridiculous week of NBA basketball.
Over the past 11 games, fans have grown to love Version 2.0 of the Bench Mob. Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher have been lights-out as reserves going on almost a month now and unlike training camp, Nurse has every reason to trust these fellas moving forward.
Now, add to that group Serge Ibaka, who returned to action Sunday against the Jazz (13 points, 4 rebounds in 21 minutes) and a scorer like Norman Powell once Lowry returns to the starting lineup — what you get is one of the deepest teams in the East, yet again! At the beginning of November, fans were squeamish at the thought of relying on anyone past Ibaka and Powell off the bench and here we are in the first week of December struggling to pick our top-10 for the regular rotation. (Plus, they’re still down Patrick “3-Rings” McCaw and Matt Thomas!)
Depth on NBA teams is great for those teams, but in fantasy it normally spells the opposite — lower minutes, lower production, and lower value. When Lowry returns this week, Fred VanVleet will return to the two-guard position and play more off-ball (unless, of course, Lowry takes that position), meaning his averages from the last 11 games will likely change a bit:
Fred VanVleet tonight: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 11 assists, 0 turnovers, 6-10 FG, 5-7 3P, +19 in 32 minutes.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 2, 2019
VanVleet in 11 games without Lowry: 21.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.7 turnovers, 44% FG, 40% 3P, +42 in 37.5 minutes.
That’s a top-five point guard in the NBA right there, and Fred is currently ranked around 7th best at his position on the entire season. While I don’t believe the return of Lowry necessarily hurts VanVleet’s overall production, it will definitely change the role which he’s excelled in while his All-Star partner was sidelined.
That brings us to Norm, who will (unfortunately for fantasy owners) return to the bench this week. He’s enjoyed a resurgence of value without Lowry in the lineup, averaging 15.9 points in 31 minutes per game as a starter, along with 2.2 threes on 41.5 percent. Norm takes a huge hit overall and could become a drop candidate as the weeks wear on.
Those of you who picked up Terence Davis in deeper leagues, I’d worry a bit. Before Lowry went down, Davis eclipsed 15 minutes only twice in eight games. I do think he proved to be a reliable bench option that belongs in the rotation, but we cannot guess how much he actually plays on a nightly basis. Keep an eye on his minutes and usage when Lowry returns.
Boucher sees the biggest drop in the small amount of value he accrued in Ibaka’s absence. He wasn’t called upon at all in a first half blowout against the Jazz, and only saw garbage-time minutes overall. The return of Ibaka really hinders Boucher’s fantasy stock, which exploded there for a few weeks thanks to his ability to hit threes, block shots and dial in a few double-doubles with his minute increase.
On to the good stuff!
Line of the Week:
Let’s go a little off-the-wall here:
Fred VanVleet vs. Orlando
Fred was astounding this past Friday, racking up a career high seven steals in a victory over the Magic. Combined with five threes and 22 points, it was a brilliant fantasy line that was an assist away from a 20-5-5-5 game. Lowry’s return to the lineup could mean Fred gets easier defensive assignments, meaning more hedging and more steals. Keep an eye on Fred!
Pick of the Week:
Kyle Lowry, Dec. 5th vs Houston Rockets
Everything about this matchup screams three-point festival! But with Lowry potentially returning from a thumb injury? I must be crazy. We’ve seen wilder things from KLOE, and against his old team, Lowry will play Harden and Westbrook as competitively as he has any opponent this season.
Yes, the Rockets have employed a top-ten defensive squad in the 15 games since giving up 158 points in regulation, but when Lowry wants his shots, he’ll find them no matter what. I expect the Raptors to run a lot Thursday, meaning tons of KLOE (plus Pascal and Fred!) PU3IT’s are in store. Kyle’s been out of action for close to a month — he’s hungry for a win.
News Around the League:
The number of games Kyrie Irving has missed this season could reach 11 after Week 7 concludes. That’s bad news for Irving owners, but great news for those who went and grabbed Spencer Dinwiddie off the wire. With reports emerging that Irving still hasn’t been cleared for contact, Dinwiddie’s stock remains steady.
If you’re looking for a plug and play this week, go grab Spencer. He’s averaging 24.5 points and eight assists in Kyrie’s absence — and the Nets have immediately won six of the eight games he’s filled in for the star. Who knows, Kyrie could sit longer, and you’ll have yourself a top-ten option at point guard in the meantime.
Now, sticking with the Atlantic — and the five boroughs — the only young player the Knicks seem to be 100 percent invested in this year is rookie RJ Barrett. Don’t go to the Knicks roster looking for value — the coaching staff doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with anyone outside of the third overall pick in the 2019 Draft.
Kevin Knox was recently hit with a DNP-CD for no apparent reason other than internal struggles, before getting just his second start of the season the very next game. His minutes are wacky, his role is wacky, and the coaching staff seems to be lost. Mitchell Robinson, a player with seemingly good amounts of potential, plays just 20 minutes a night off the bench behind Marcus Morris and Taj Gibson.
Outside of Barrett, Julius Randle is the only player on that roster worthy of an end-of-bench slot in fantasy — and even that’s a stretch. Feel free to ignore 90 percent of the Knicks this year, unless something drastic happens.
We return next week with a full slate! Remember to submit your favorite players from the previous week to me on Twitter (@_JoelStephens_) or by e-mail (joelstephens87 at gmail dot com) for a chance to be included in the column!