Here are a few Monday thoughts from the Hoops Lab, as we prepare for Week 16 of the fantasy basketball season. Keep in mind, the fantasy basketball rest-of-season rankings also update on Mondays, so check those out as your prepare for this week's games. Between the rankings and this article, we'll also help you identify some good Buy Low/Sell high candidates. So, without further ado, let's dig into it.
LA Duos resting/Load management
On Sunday, the Clippers sat both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the second half of a back-to-back. On Monday, the Lakers have already announced that they're sitting both LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the front half of a back-to-back. This makes basketball sense for both teams, due to the sheer, tangible threat of injury to these players on a game-to-game basis. The Lakers just got AD back last week, and all four players have missed significant time both this season and historically. However, the teams' decisions to sit both stars at once has clear impact on fantasy hoops strategy down the stretch.
First of all, we've known for years that Kawhi doesn't play both halves of back-to-backs. That's been the case since he got to the Raptors, let alone the Clippers. The question is whether George, and across town LeBron and AD, will join him in this consistently or whether this was more of a one-off for them. All three are already injury risks severe enough that it affects their long-term fantasy value, but if they start baking in missing back-to-backs as consistently as Leonard then it'd lower their ceiling to the 75% that we have to use for Leonard.
Second, on both teams, the star duos comprise a huge chunk of the team's every night production. Therefore, if the team(s) plan to sit their guy(s) regularly, it becomes a regular large boost for their teammates. For the Clippers, Norman Powell (available in 71.5% of leagues) goes from a high-scoring sixth man to a legit 22-28 PPG scorer when both Kawhi and George are out. On the Lakers, Russell Westbrook goes from fantasy starter to throwback nightly triple-double threat while Thomas Byrant (available in % of leagues) goes from reserve to legit 20-10 threat.
So, I'll be watching what the Lakers look like on Monday with LeBron and AD sitting, and I'll be watching the next back-to-backs for both teams to see if the sit-half strategy was a trend or a one-off (for all but Kawhi), so I can plan accordingly.
Giannis back and healthy... for now
Giannis is another start player that has taken periodic sore knee days that I had assumed was load management, until earlier this month, when he tried to play but was a shell of himself with averages of 12.7 PPG on 34.4 FG% for a three-game span. Giannis sat down for almost two weeks, and it seems that the rest did the trick because he's back posting video game numbers on a regular basis. In his last three outings, Giannis has averaged 41.3 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.7 3PG and 1.3 SPG in only 31.7 MPG. Giannis is being efficiently explosive, which his fantasy managers have to love seeing, but... just saying.
I believe Giannis to be the best player in the NBA, and I'd be confident that he'll show that in the postseason. But, I'm less sanguine about the regular season, where (just like the situations in Los Angeles), the Bucks are a veteran-heavy team that's struggled with injury of late and is focused on having their guys healthy for the postseason. If I have Giannis on my fantasy team, I might strongly consider whether I want to ride out the season hoping that he'll be available every night, or if instead it might be worth cashing in on his ridiculous numbers to trade him at a peak. Just a thought.
There are two very interesting Pacers situations this week. First, Tyrese Haliburton has returned to practice on at least a partial basis, and is now listed as "Game Time Decision" instead of "Out". His potential return in the near future is obviously big news because he has established himself as a top-10 fantasy hoops producer this season. However, it also has ramifications for TJ McConnell, who was had flirted with 20/10 status in his first four starts over the last week before a bad game in Memphis on Sunday. When Haliburton returns, McConnell goes back to the bench and off the immediate fantasy radar.
The second piece of news, which you may have missed if you blinked, was that Myles Turner just signed a two-year contract extension over the weekend. This is huge, because the Pacers have been rumored to have Turner on the block for years, and there was a thought that the team might trade off all their vets (particularly Turner and Buddy Hield) to bring in picks and young players to jump start their rebuild. The Pacers extending Turner effectively takes him off the trade blocks, but also suggests strongly that the team is no longer a seller.
They like their young nucleus of Haliburton and rookie phenom Bennedict Mathurin enough to keep their solid veterans and supplement a bit to try to compete now. That's not a guarantee, but with the trade deadline coming up next week, the odds of the Pacers trading a good chunk of their team to change the NBA landscape and elevate the fantasy prospects of the younger, bench players on their team no longer seems as likely as they were just a couple days ago.
Youth movement, the Pistons in play for deadline
The Pistons, on the other hand, still seem very much like a team that could be sellers at the deadline. With the worst record in the Eastern Conference and best player Cade Cunningham out for the season, it only makes sense for the Pistons to try to stack picks and play their young assets as they get ready for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes this summer.
Their current 10-man rotation features eight players aged 24 and younger, plus 31-year old Alec Burks and 33-year old Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic and Burks are both veteran sharpshooters that could slot right in as instant offense types on a contender. Bogdanovic has been starting all season, but Burks just moved into the starting line-up last week... just in time for the NBA trade deadline. Just saying, that seems more than coincidental.
Meanwhile, their (very) youthful movement is already producing fantasy hoops dividends. Rookie Jaden Ivey (available in 31.6% of leagues), aged 20, has taken a bigger role as a distributor of late, averaging 6.2 APG in the month of February to bolster his 15.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.5 3PG and 0.9 SPG. Fellow rookie Jalen Duren (available in 77.7% of leagues), a 19-year old in a 29-year old's body, has started 18 of his past 20 games and is averaging a double-double in those games to the tune of 10.7 PPG (70.4 FG%, 77.1 FT%), 11.0 RPG, 0.8 SPG and 0.7 BPG in 27.9 MPG. Killian Hayes (available in 76.1% of leagues), an old man at 21 years old, had been starting and producing until he injured his shoulder last week and moved to a bench role in place of Burks. But, if Burks were to be moved at the deadline (and even if not), the path should eventually re-open for Hayes to move back into a starting role.
Looking bleak for Ball
Lonzo Ball recently put out a video of himself working out, which could've sparked some hope among fantasy managers that still roster the oldest Ball brother. Unfortunately, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan made a statement this weekend that doesn't sound promising at all. Donovan said on Saturday that Ball is "nowhere close" to returning, and that the Bulls will have a conversation about a potential cut-off date for Ball to play at all this season after the All-Star break if nothing improves.
If you're in a fantasy hoops league and have either very deep benches or an injured list, it could still be worth it to keep Ball on your roster until you know for sure. But, for those in more shallow leagues, it's hard to justify continuing to roster Ball when there seems to be legitimate concern as to whether he plays at all this season. I'm hoping for the best, but you always have to prepare for the worst.