Christmas Day in the NBA was a huge success as expected, but perhaps the best part came when a fan courtside got caught calling LeBron James a cry baby. I couldn’t agree with her more. When you’re built like an NFL linebacker, you probably shouldn’t complain every time you drive to the basket. In other news, some major injuries and an interesting trade also highlighted this past week. Blake Griffin was diagnosed with a partially torn left quadriceps and will reportedly miss at least two weeks. The key word there is “at least.” Something tells me this injury will last longer than the original timetable. Keeping it in the Western Conference, Eric Bledsoe will the rest of the season with a torn left meniscus. Perhaps that was part of the reason for his subpar play recently. Brandon Knight will assume a larger role in his absence. Finally, the Philadelphia 76ers said, “enough is enough,” and with that they made a blockbuster trade! Just kidding, they acquired Ish Smith for two second-round picks. It’s a step in the right direction, but the move does have Fantasy implications, however.
The aforementioned Ish Smith is this week’s top pickup, considering he will start and play the majority of the minutes at point guard moving forward. The 76ers’ current roster could barely make it in the D-League, but acquiring Smith was a smart move. They now have a veteran presence at the most important position on the floor, point guard. It’s hard to consider a 27-year-old journeyman a veteran but compared to rest of the roster, that’s exactly what he is. He’s a tad undersized for a starting guard at 6’0”, 175 pounds but he makes good decisions offensively. He’s nimble, can score at will and is an excellent distributor. He went through a seven-game stretch earlier this season with the New Orleans Pelicans during which he averaged 16.1 points and 8.9 assists per game. In his first game with the 76ers, he managed 14 points, five assists, one steal, and one 3-pointer on 6 for 15 shooting. From here on out, assuming he remains in the starting lineup, Smith can post numbers similar to that seven-game stretch he had with the Pelicans. At this point in the season, that’s a must-own player that you have to consider using 20-percent or more of your FAAB on. He will provide mid-level scoring and near-elite assists with a steal per game. The only areas where he might hurt you in category leagues is field-goal percentage and three-point shooting. On a side note, the acquisition did cause Tony Wroten to lose his job with the 76ers. In deeper dynasty leagues, owners might want to consider holding onto him because he is talented and could latch on with somebody else.
Looking Deeper: As a result of the Bledsoe injury, Knight will move over to start at point guard with rookie Devin Booker starting at the two guard. Booker is an offensively talented rookie out of Kentucky (what else is new?) who can shoot the lights out from downtown. In just over 21 minutes per game last year at Kentucky, Booker averaged 1.5 3-pointers made per game on 41-percent shooting. He’s a lock to see 25-plus minutes per game now moving forward with the Suns, which means Fantasy owners should expect around two 3-pointers made per night. Recently, he was pressed into 20 minutes of duty and managed 19 points as he went 3 for 4 from downtown. He’s been said to have the upside of Klay Thompson, and while those are lofty expectations, his body type and shooting stroke make them a possibility. He should be owned in 12-team leagues and deeper.
There isn’t a clear-cut replacement for Griffin in the Clippers’ lineup, but so far one beneficiary has been the timeless Paul Pierce. Clearly, the team doesn’t trust Josh Smith after giving him just five minutes of playing time a few nights ago. They could choose to go small without Griffin by inserting Pierce into the lineup. In his first game playing 27 or more minutes since mid-November, Pierce scored 20 points with five rebounds and five 3-pointers made. His upside is definitely capped but Pierce has great chemistry with Head Coach Doc Rivers, and he knows how to make the most of his minutes at his age. If he receives around 25 minutes per game over the next 2-3 weeks, Pierce becomes starter-worthy in 12-team leagues or deeper. He can still provide some scoring to go along with some rebounds and 3-point shooting in category leagues. Behind him is a mess made up of Lance Stephenson, Wes Johnson and Luc Mbah a Moute, so really, it’s anybody’s guess how Doc handles this. Based on their mutual respect, I say he goes with Pierce.
Looking Deeper: Byron Scott may have decided he doesn’t want to start youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, but he never said anything bad about Larry Nance Jr. The 22-year-old rookie has been inserted into the starting lineup and has played well within his hustle-man role. He’s averaging 14.5 points and nine rebounds per game over his last two, which included a breakout 17 and 11 double-double. His upside isn’t immense, but as long as he’s getting 25 minutes per game on this Lakers roster, he will hover around those numbers. His college numbers suggest the same, as he can be a willing scorer and rebounder, something every team in the NBA needs. He’s shooting over 50-percent on the season, so he won’t hurt you in that category either. He’s worth taking a look at in 14-team leagues or deeper.
Last week, I raved about the upside of Bulls rookie Bobby Portis, and this week I’ll boast the consistency of his teammate, Taj Gibson. Gibby has seen his role increase as well; he’s played at least 33 minutes in four straight games. In those four games, he’s averaged a modest 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game with at least one block in three of four contests. Like the aforementioned Nance Jr., Gibson is a high-energy player who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. Joakim Noah is in the first week of a shoulder injury, which was said to need 2-4 weeks to heal. Throughout that time, owners who lost Blake Griffin could look to Gibson for his rebounding numbers with the occasional double-double as well. The Bulls don’t have much frontcourt depth besides Gibson, Pau Gasol and Portis, so owners know he will see 30-plus minutes each night. He should be looked at in 12-team leagues or deeper.
Looking Deeper: Earlier in the season I raved about Pacers center Myles Turner, who is loaded with potential on both ends of the court. He’s missed nearly two months with a finger injury but has been cleared to return to full activity. He undoubtedly has more upside than current starter Ian Mahimni, but it’s a question mark whether Head Coach Frank Vogel will figure that out sooner rather than later. Turner has excellent shooting touch for a big, and he is athletic enough to average more than a block per game. He’s more of a stash for now in deeper dynasty/keeper formats.
*All stats used before games started on 12.29.15*