Remember last week when I said the NBA was fun?
Yeah. It still is.
Just a little bit after seven o’clock on Monday night, right when a bunch of DFS NBA players were so confident about their lineups, a basketball bomb dropped. The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled guard Dion Waiters out of the game because they traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder, part of a three-team deal. Cleveland would acquire both J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks, as well as a protected first-round draft pick from the Thunder.
The Knicks, meanwhile, are basically throwing in the towel, as they only received guys like Lou Amundson and Alex Kirk, a rookie center who has played 14 minutes all year. As a Cavs fan, I really like this deal. They receive almost a clone of Waiters in Smith, who is a better rebounder and (when he wants to be) a better playmaker. And once Shumpert returns from injury, he provides them with a defensive anchor, something they desperately need at the moment. I’d expect Shumpert to start at the two for Cleveland when healthy, and Smith to come off the bench. Smith, a former sixth-man of the year, has been having one of the worst seasons of his career, but can still provide a spark on certain nights.
From a fantasy perspective, there really isn’t much to love for anyone here. Waiters joins a crowded OKC backcourt where Russell Westbrook leads the league in usage rate, Reggie Jackson is still there and they still have guys like Jeremy Lamb and Anthony Morrow. Oh, and that Kevin Durant guy, too.
Meanwhile, Shumpert was fantasy relevant at times this year, but that was on the worst team in basketball that was really banged up. By the time he is healthy, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James should both be back in the lineup. This is a good move for the Cleveland Cavaliers, not for fantasy owners. And finally, no one really cares about the Knicks anymore. Sorry, folks. No one’s fantasy stock really saw a dramatic change due to this move, but entering Week 10 of the hoops season, we continue to see players’ values fluctuate.
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks- At 26-8, the Hawks are currently the number-one seed in the Eastern Conference, and Teague has been a huge part of it. On the year, he’s averaging a strong 17.4 points, 7.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game, but over his last five, he’s averaging 23.2 points and 8.2 assists per contest. During that span, he’s logging 35 minutes per game, and over the last weeks, has performed like a top-20 overall player in fantasy basketball.
As Dalton Del Don points out, Teague’s PER has improved in each of his six seasons in the league, and he continues to progress each year. His points per game have gone up in each season, as well as rebounds. His PER this season is good for 16th overall in the NBA, and Teague continues to serve as one of the more underrated point guards in the game today. I love the fact that he gets good looks on offense, too, ranking fourth in all of basketball in drives per game (11.5), scoring 6.7 points per game off drives, which is around 39 percent of his points.
Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks- Playing for a small market team like the Bucks, not many people understand how good Brandon Knight has been this season. Averaging an awesome 18 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game, Knight is now averaging career-high numbers across the board for the Bucks this year. With injuries to guys like Jabari Parker, Knight has been a workhorse for Milwaukee, averaging around 33 minutes per game. He also ranks 11th in the entire league with a whopping 2,713 total offensive touches, averaging a healthy 75.4 per contest. The Bucks tend to mess with their rotations a bit at times, but Knight is easily the safest of the group, and should serve as a top-10 fantasy point guard the rest of the way.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks- The Knicks are really, really bad, but are also really, really injured. That’s helped Hardaway Jr. log 38 and 34 minutes over the last two games, averaging a whopping 6.5 three-point attempts per game during that span. And over his last 11 games, he’s attempting 6.6 triples per game, which is in the Klay Thompson range. Now with JR and Shumpert out of the picture, Hardaway should continue to see a strong workload, especially if the Knicks decide to shut down Carmelo Anthony for the rest of their lost season.
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers- With Anderson Varejao out for the year, and LeBron James sidelined for the next week or two, Thompson is playing a big role in this Cavs roster. He’s averaging an insane 40.4 minutes per game over his last five outings, and if he would have grabbed one more rebound on Monday night, he’d have posted five consecutive double-doubles. Thompson now has nine double-doubles on the season, but if he continues to play 30-plus minutes, he’ll be a double-double monster. He’s seeing a strong 15.1 rebound chances per game on the year (15th in the NBA), and is converting 54 percent of those opportunities into rebounds. Thompson is also a very tenacious rebounder, averaging 3.8 offensive boards per game. Another aspect of his game is that he can haul in difficult rebounds, converting on 49.3 percent of contested rebounds, which is one of the highest rates in basketball. Playing just 28.7 minutes per game on the year, Thompson is nearly averaging a double-double on the year, so assuming he sees an uptick in playing time, he could very well be a consistent 10 and 10 guy, at the least.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls- Is Rose a stronger candidate than most to get injured? Yeah, probably. But let’s not ignore the fact that he hasn’t really played very well this season, either. As Dalton Del Don points out here, Rose, who is universally owned in Yahoo! leagues, ranks just 215th overall on a per game basis over the last two months. 215th! Over his last five games, Rose is shooting an ugly 26.3 percent from the field, and on the year, is shooting just 40.4 percent, his lowest percentage since entering the league. He’s also shooting just 31 percent on catch-and-shoot shots, as well as 33.7 percent on pull-up shots. Despite ranking fifth in the entire NBA in usage rate (30.9), Rose is just averaging five assists, as well as 74.9 offensive touches per game. His assist ratio of 19.1 is the second-lowest of his career, despite seeing the second-highest usage rate he’s ever seen. Simply put, this may be Jimmy Butler‘s team now, and Rose just hasn’t been very efficient this season.
Thaddeus Young, Minnesota Timberwolves- I truly love Thaddeus Young. He’s one of my favorite players in the league. However, he just hasn’t taken advantage of the absences of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, averaging just 14.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game during the month of December. The 5-27 Wolves may want to mix things up in the lineup, as Andrew Wiggins, Shabaaz Muhammad, and Anthony Bennett are playing significant minutes, and you’d think arguably their best player in Young would be playing more than 27.4 minutes over the last five games, especially with Rubio, Martin, and Nikola Pekovic all sidelined. Once they all return, Young isn’t going to get nearly as many touches on offense, not as if he was seeing a significant amount anyway. Minnesota is playing a lot of different guys, and it appears Young has taken a bit of a backseat.
Dion Waiters, Oklahoma City Thunder- I still think Waiters has Dwyane Wade-type upside– on the right team, of course. This move to OKC isn’t it, at least not for his fantasy value. His usage rate in Cleveland actually wasn’t too bad (22.9), despite playing alongside their big three. But now, he’s heading to the Thunder who already have plenty of options at guard, and also have two of the seven-best players in the NBA. Russell Westbrook ranks first in basketball in usage rate (40.2), while Kevin Durant ranks fourth (31.3). That’s two players inside the top-five in the league in that category.