Unicorns, beards and freaks ... oh my!
Atlanta Hawks: Dewayne Dedmon's breakout season hit a major speed bump with the news that he'll be out three to six weeks due to a stress reaction in his left tibia. This is going to force the Hawks to play small, with rookie John Collins the likeliest candidate to fill in at center, since Mike Muscala is out with an ankle injury and Miles Plumlee is just getting back into the rotation since suffering a quad injury in the preseason.
Boston Celtics: While Boston's defense continues to amaze, given the injury to Gordon Hayward and reliance on youngsters such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the team still has a ways to go offensively. The Celtics enter Thursday's game against Philadelphia ranked 17th in offensive efficiency, averaging 104.5 points per 100 possessions. Surprisingly, that puts them behind the Knicks and Hornets.
Brooklyn Nets: The absence of D'Angelo Russell (knee) has led to more minutes from not only Spencer Dinwiddie, but also Joe Harris and Caris LeVert, two players who are worthy streaming options in 10- and 12-team leagues. Harris is quietly averaging 28.8 MPG in his past five games, making 2.8 3PG during that span. LeVert is averaging 27.2 MPG over that stretch and contributing as a scorer, rebounder and distributor while racking up steals on the defensive end.
Charlotte Hornets: Michael Carter-Williams served as the Hornets' fill-in starter at point guard when Kemba Walker missed Wednesday's game due to a shoulder injury, and the results were not good. While MCW contributed nine points, six rebounds and five assists, he continued the inefficient ways that have plagued him throughout his career, making only 1 of 10 shots in 32 minutes to drop his FG% to 20.9 percent on the season. Yikes! It's easy to forget that Carter-Williams took home the 2013-14 rookie of the year honors once upon a time.
Chicago Bulls: Nikola Mirotic is practicing with the team and could make his season debut as soon as Monday against Cleveland, according to coach Fred Hoiberg. Once Mirotic is back in the rotation, he will take some of the minutes from forward Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen, but there is also the possibility of using both Mirotic and Markkanen in the same frontcourt to stretch the floor and provide more of a 3-point presence.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson has been out since Nov. 1 due to a strained left calf injury that occurred when he landed awkwardly, but the Cavs are expected to get their rebounding specialist back as early as next week. According to Cleveland.com, Thompson would like to get more practice in before he returns to the court. Since Thompson has been sidelined, Tyronn Lue has used Kevin Love at center and Jae Crowder at power forward, so it will be worth watching whether Love returns to power forward and Crowder to small forward once Thompson returns.
Dallas Mavericks: The wait for Seth Curry's return will continue for at least two more weeks, as Rick Carlisle has said the shooting guard won't make his season debut until at least Dec. 11. Curry is worth stashing if he's available in your leagues, having averaged a career-best 2.0 3PG last season. Devin Harris, Yogi Ferrell and J.J. Barea can all expect their minutes to be reduced once Curry joins the rotation.
Denver Nuggets: A lower-back injury prevented Wilson Chandler from playing in Tuesday's game against Utah, opening the way for second-year forward Juan Hernangomez to step into the starting lineup. This is a development to watch closely, because Hernangomez has the offensive game to contribute as a scorer, 3-point shooter and rebounder as long as Chandler remains out. And the better Hernangomez plays, the bigger spot he could have in the rotation going forward.
Detroit Pistons: Checking back in on Andre Drummond's free throws, the good news is the Pistons' center is continuing to show that his improvement is a lasting trend. He went 16-of-24 at the line in his past five games and is shooting at a 63 percent clip through the Pistons' first 20 games of the season -- a huge step in the right direction for the career 39.3 percent foul shooter.
Golden State Warriors: The veteran-laden Warriors are suddenly a team dealing with a number of nagging injuries, and this is going to be something to watch closely leading up to each upcoming game. Stephen Curry (right-hand contusion), Kevin Durant (sprained left ankle), Andre Iguodala (sore left knee), Klay Thompson (sprained left ankle) and David West (left lateral knee soreness) are all listed as questionable for Friday's road game against Orlando. That makes Patrick McCaw, Omri Casspi, and Shaun Livingston potential pickups, depending on which players are unable to suit up.
Houston Rockets: Harden is taking this whole 3-point thing to a whole different level this season. Entering play on Thursday, Harden has 43 more attempts from long range (233) than anyone else in the game (Steph Curry and Eric Gordon are second with 190, Thompson is third with 167). To put that in perspective, Harden has just fewer than twice as many 3-point attempts as another one of the game's best, CJ McCollum, who has 117. To Harden's credit, his 40.3 percentage from distance is considerably better than Curry's (36.8) ... though the season is young.
Indiana Pacers: Bojan Bogdanovic doesn't do much more than score and shoot, but there's a reason he is ranked No. 70 on ESPN's Player Rater: The fourth-year veteran is very efficient. Bogdanovic is shooting 51.7 percent on the season and is hitting at a blistering 45 percent clip from beyond the 3-point arc, draining 2.3 3PG. He's more than a streamer at this point and should be on a roster in 10- and 12-team leagues.
LA Clippers: Losing Blake Griffin for the next two months when the team is already without Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley means someone is going to have to step up as the team's primary scorer, and that someone is almost certainly Lou Williams. Williams poured in 42 points last game against the Lakers and has a usage rate of 33.4 with Griffin off the court this season. The next-highest on the team, per nbawowy.com, are Jawun Evans (25) and Austin Rivers (23.4). Get ready for the Lou Williams show in L.A.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers are a whole new team under Luke Walton. We started to see that last season, with a renewed emphasis on shooting and spacing the floor. This year, they've added pace to the equation. Entering Thursday, the Lakers are playing at the second-fastest pace in the league, averaging 105.5 possessions per game. Only the Suns (105.6) are faster, but by the slimmest of margins.
Memphis Grizzlies: Former lottery pick Ben McLemore was buried at the end of the bench for much of the season, but injuries in Memphis' backcourt and the removal of David Fizdale as coach have changed all that. McLemore started at shooting guard for the Grizzlies on Wednesday and finished with 10 points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal in 27 minutes. He is still nothing more than a streamer in season-long leagues but could be worth a look as a contrarian pick in daily leagues in the right situation.
Miami Heat: Hassan Whiteside's knee continues to be a concern, as he was held out of Wednesday's game against New York due to discomfort. Prior to the game, the center indicated that the knee injury was a serious issue. Obviously, this is bad news for Whiteside, the Heat and fantasy managers everywhere, as it opens up the possibility of surgery and extended time off. Keep a close eye on the Whiteside situation in the days and weeks ahead.
Milwaukee Bucks: One of the more underrated aspects of Antetokounmpo's rise this season is his efficiency. While still not much of a factor from 3-point range, the Greek Freak is shooting a career-best 55.8 percent from the field, while taking a career-high 20.2 shots per game. He might have been passed by Harden and LeBron James in my roto rankings this week, but Antetokounmpo is still right in the mix for the top spot as we get ready to enter December.
Minnesota Timberwolves: It took 22 games into the season, but Gorgui Dieng finally busted out with a big performance in Minnesota's convincing win over New Orleans on Wednesday night -- 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Don't jump on the Dieng train just yet, though. Karl-Anthony Towns was saddled with foul trouble against the Pelicans, contributing to Dieng's breakout performance, and Nemanja Bjelica was out. Add to that the bigger issue -- Minnesota's addition of Taj Gibson -- and it will likely take an injury or two in the starting lineup for Dieng to see more playing time and approach his numbers from last season.
New Orleans Pelicans: Unless things take a dramatic turn for the better, Rajon Rondo might not be of much fantasy value at all this season. Through his first eight games, the veteran point guard is averaging only 4.8 PPG and 0.6 SPG, while shooting 39.1 percent. Right now, he's strictly a streaming option whenever you need assists (6 APG), and nothing more.
New York Knicks: There was palpable concern in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday when Porzingis went down early with an injury to his right ankle, but tests revealed no structural damage, and there's a decent chance the big man will be available when the Knicks play next on Sunday.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook injured his left hand in the loss to Orlando on Wednesday, but it appears that he's going to be just fine. He was a full participant in Thursday's practice, which bodes well for his availability heading into Friday's home game against Minnesota. Westbrook, for all of his aggressiveness -- and some would say recklessness on the court -- has missed only three games the past two seasons.
Orlando Magic: Terrence Ross sprained the MCL in his right knee and suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right tibial plateau during Wednesday's victory over Oklahoma City, and Magic team officials said Thursday that the sixth man will miss "a significant amount of time." Without Ross, Jonathon Simmons and Evan Fournier will be counted on to log more minutes, and Magic coach Frank Vogel indicated that Arron Afflalo would most likely receive the bulk of Ross' minutes, with D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack also candidates for larger roles.
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid is getting a night off to rest on Thursday, and whenever that happens, it changes the whole dynamic of the 76ers' offense. Namely, Ben Simmons goes from a distributor to more of a scorer. A closer look at the numbers via nbawowy.com reveals that Simmons goes from a 22.1 usage rate and 58.2 true shooting percentage to a 31.5 usage rate and 46.6 true shooting percentage whenever Embiid is off the court. Expect more shot attempts but less efficiency out of Simmons when he plays without Embiid.
Phoenix Suns: The promise Marquese Chriss showed as a 19-year-old rookie last season hasn't translated in Year 2, and that's putting it nicely. Chriss is down from 21.3 minutes to 20.0 this season, his shooting has fallen from 44.9 to 39.1 percent, and his scoring is also down (9.2 PPG to 6.3 PPG). Chriss isn't a forward to consider in daily or season-long leagues at this time, and for that matter, neither is fellow second-year forward Dragan Bender.
Portland Trail Blazers: Quietly, Terry Stotts has the Trail Blazers playing some of the best defense in the NBA this season, even with Al-Farouq Aminu missing extended time due to injury. Portland enters Thursday ranked second in defensive efficiency, giving up 99.4 points per 100 possessions. Only Boston (98.3) is better.
Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein is moving up the season-long rankings at a rapid pace, as the third-year pro is suddenly playing some of the best ball of his career. Cauley-Stein is averaging close to one block and one steal a game on the season, while making half of his field goal attempts, more than 70 percent of his free throws and contributing 10.5 PPG and 6.3 RPG. There's a lot to like here, and if his breakout performance against the Warriors on Monday (19 points, 8 rebounds ,6 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks) is any indication, he's only scratching the surface.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs certainly aren't going to rush 17-year veteran Tony Parker back into a big role, and even when he's at full health, Parker isn't a player who will likely play more than 25 minutes a night at this stage in his career. With all that in mind, Parker didn't look too bad in his first two games of the season, averaging eight points, 4.5 assists and 16 minutes against the Grizzlies and Mavericks. Parker's presence moves Patty Mills back to his natural role as instant offense off the bench and slides promising up-and-comer Dejounte Murray further down on the bench.
Toronto Raptors: The Raptors tend to be considered a defensive team, but it's their offense that has been superior in recent seasons. Toronto finished sixth in the league in offensive efficiency last season (109.8) and is currently third this season (110.7), trailing only Golden State (113.6) and Houston (112.4). For what it's worth, the Raptors ranked eighth and 10th in defensive efficiency the past two years.
Utah Jazz: Rodney Hood (ankle) has already been ruled out for Thursday's game against the Clippers. This is the second game in a row Hood has missed, and it leaves Alec Burks and Donovan Mitchell to carry the scoring load along with Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio. The Clippers are a poor defensive team against shooting guards, which is also worth noting for those considering using Burks or Mitchell in this game.
Washington Wizards: Otto Porter Jr. tends to settle into a secondary offensive role on a team that includes go-to scorers in John Wall and Bradley Beal, but Wall's injury has created an opportunity for Porter to be more offensive-minded. The smooth swingman has attempted 47 shots in his past three games, scoring 22 or more in two of them, and his fantasy value gets a boost as long as Wall is out.