I just watched a post-game interview with DeMarcus Cousins on NBA TV. Cousins had an absolutely monstrous fantasy line on Wednesday -- 40 points (12-25 FG, 14-21 FT), 22 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, 2 3-pointers and 6 TO.
This was Cousins' second 40/20 game of the season, becoming the first player since Patrick Ewing in 1990 to turn in two such games in a single campaign. One of the interviewers asked Cousins about whether or not he was excited to be in such historic company, and it sparked an awkward response where Cousins didn't even speak for a short time. Instead, he just shook his head dismissively for several seconds, before saying, "No. I don't really get caught up in the analytics. I just like to play ball and do what it takes to win the game."
A few things here. First, it was kind of cool to see someone refer to points and rebounds as analytics, because that's a message I often preach. Many people treat the word "analytics" like it's a foreign, dirty word or as if the concept is only comprised of acronyms like PER that some don't find intuitive. But no, analytics is just a catch-phrase word for using numbers and techniques to identify what exactly is going on, on the court.
Points and rebounds (as well as wins and losses) are therefore analytics, and everyone uses numbers like this to discuss and understand basketball, so there's no reason to be intimidated by the term. This wasn't what "Boogie" was trying to get at with his interview response, but it was a positive side effect, nevertheless.
Another interesting aspect of Cousins' reply was his implication that analytics are separate from what is necessary to "win the game." In reality, more and more teams these days are using analytics to help them identify patterns and methods that do, in fact, help their teams win the game. An excellent potential usage for scouting-based analytics came up earlier in the exact same interview, and Cousins himself was right in the midst of it. The interviewer (Steve Smith) asked Cousins what he thought the Pelicans needed to work on most as a team in order to get better -- and therefore win more games -- moving forward.
Cousins' answer was excellent. He noted that the Pelicans tend to come out slow in the second half of games, allowing opponents to take/extend leads, and that the team really needed to improve on their effort coming out of the locker room. That was outstanding anecdotal analysis, and Cousins was able to offer that answer from experience. But, do you know another way that this phenomenon could have been identified (or, separately, confirmed)? Through analytics. Through having someone go through the game tapes, or even the play-by-play, in order to quantify the points in the game at which the Pelicans play well or, alternatively, struggle.
Thus, the second point is that not only are analytics not scary, not only can they be simple box score numbers that we're all used to using to describe sports, but that they also can be useful in identifying very practical ways to improve team play and, ultimately, help teams win.
My third takeaway from Boogie's awkward interview answer, was that I cry foul on his dismissive head shake. That interview would have you believe that Cousins couldn't have cared less that he scored 40/20, but the problem is that I actually watched the game. I saw how hard he, and the rest of the Pelicans, worked to get him those numbers. I even mentioned it on Twitter at the time. The Pelicans had a comfortable double-digit lead with only a few minutes left in the game, and the Pelicans' announcers were starting to suggest that the starters be taken out to preserve them in an easy win.
However, one of the announcers mentioned that Cousins was (at that time) only two rebounds and two points short of a 40/20 game, and that he really hoped Cousins would get it before the starters came out. After that, the Pelicans started visibly funneling possessions into Cousins' clear-outs to try to get him the points. He kept getting fouled and missing free throws that would have gotten him to 40, and thus, he had to stay in.
During one set of free throws, Rajon Rondo was captured on the sidelines asking their coach whether, if Cousins made the free throws to get to 40, he should intentionally foul so that the coach could take Cousins out. Finally, with 39 points and 21 rebounds and less than 24 seconds left in the game, Cousins got an offensive rebound that bounced out near the 3-point line, and instead of dribbling out the clock -- the "polite" thing to do in a game that's essentially over -- Cousins drove hard to the rim, got fouled, and made the second free throw to get his 40.
So, to recap: analytics aren't scary, they're very useful to helping teams win, and Boogie really did care that he got to that 40/20 game. For fantasy basketball managers who rely on the production of these players, we should all be really happy that he did.
Gibson (available in 36.5 percent of leagues) didn't have the biggest stat line for the Timberwolves, but he is the least owned of their impact players, and seems to be legit. He has been playing well for weeks, now, but in his last three games he is averaging 16.7 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.3 combined steals/blocks per game.
Jordan is, predictably, starting to take on more weight for the Clippers, and he has the ability to average 15/15 with the nightly potential to go 20/20. Also of note for the Clippers, Danilo Gallinari returned from his long absence and scored seven points in 26 minutes. At least for the first day of his return, Lou Williams and Austin Rivers (both with 23 points in 37 minutes) remained as the team's primary perimeter scoring options.
James made this list because his stats were ridiculous, as usual. He even made history on Wednesday, joining Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only players ever to have as many points, rebounds and assists through the first 25 games of the season.The most interesting fantasy line from this game, however, was actually from his opponent, Zach Randolph. Randolph, who is still available in 37.9 percent of leagues, turned in 18 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 3-pointers with no turnovers on Wednesday, bringing his average over his last three games to 21.7 points, 10 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 combined steals/blocks per game.
Drummond had another monster 20/20 night on Wednesday. His throwback 3-of-8 performance from the line hurt, but he continued to facilitate offense with six assists. This ability takes him from a strong big man to fantasy gold -- assuming, of course, that he can keep that free throw percentage north of 60 percent.
Durant was playing on a seriously injury-depleted team on Wednesday (see below). He visibly seemed determined to take over the game from tip-off, and responded with a massive triple-double to lead the Warriors to the win. Stephen Curry is out for weeks, but it will be interesting to see if Durant can keep his energy level at such a stratospheric level for that whole time, or whether he settles down a bit, having proven his point.
Payton's performance on Wednesday was an example of a poor fantasy night, but a better real-life game. Payton is the point guard for the Magic, so his No. 1 job is to run the offense so the team performs well. Orlando's offense was great on Wednesday, with the other four starters combining for 88 points on 37-of-72 shooting (51.4% FG) in the win. Nikola Vucevic (22 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, 2 steals) and Aaron Gordon (24 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block) both had monster lines and Evan Fournier was strong as well. Payton got his job done in real life, but his fantasy owners didn't love it.
Evans, on the other hand, had the exact opposite night of Payton. He is the lead guard and de facto point guard much of the time with Mike Conley out, but on Wednesday he managed only one assist. He didn't help his team's offense at all, and ended up with a +/- score of minus-28 (worst on the team) on a night that his team lost by one point. So, not only did his lack of peripheral numbers hurt his fantasy production, his inability to generate offense crushed his actual team as well.
Dragic has played relatively poorly of late, and turned in another sub-par game on Wednesday. The interesting part is that it allowed Dion Waiters (22 points, 5 assists, 4 3-pointers, available in 50 percent of leagues) and Tyler Johnson (25 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 5 3-pointers, available in 88.3 percent of leagues) to thrive in the backcourt instead. Johnson has had a down season, but such a huge game could potentially spur him to the type of hot run that he thrived on last season.
Injuries of note
Frank Kaminsky sprained his right ankle early in Wednesday's game. Later, Cody Zeller strained his left knee. Both men left the contest and didn't return. They should be considered day-to-day until more news emerges. If they miss time, this could mean more run than usual for Dwight Howard, and extra time for players like Marvin Williams.
The Warriors were missing Stephen Curry (ankle) and Draymond Green (shoulder) on Wednesday. Patrick McCaw was also a late scratch, as he entered the concussion protocol from a hit he took on Monday. Zaza Pachulia left the game after five minutes with a shoulder injury. All of these injuries allowed Jordan Bell and Quinn Cook to start on Wednesday, though neither did much with the opportunity. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 57 points, and had the only fantasy-relevant lines.
Evan Fournier had a big game on Wednesday, with 27 points and four rebounds. Unfortunately, he injured his right ankle in overtime and left the game without returning. Consider him day-to-day, until word comes out on the severity of the injury.
Analytics advantage for Thursday
Thursday looks poised to have some big numbers put up on the board, as several of the weakest scoring defenses in the NBA are on display in the four-game slate. The Suns allow 115.7 points per game, most in the NBA. The Nets (112.3 points allowed) give up the second-most points, the Lakers (109.3) the fifth-most and the 76ers (108.1) the seventh-most.
The Wizards face the Suns and the Thunder face the Nets, so those are two places where role players or potential value players show up and give more production than expected. The Lakers and 76ers play each other, and it's the only match-up where two high-scoring teams face off. Both squads are young, exciting, and full of explosive players that can put numbers on the board in a hurry. If I were looking for one game to stream from, or to identify likely spots for value in DFS leagues, that's the one which looks like a likely candidate to produce numbers.
Top players to watch tonight
Joel Embiid has had three days of rest, and faces a Los Angeles Lakers squad that stinks at defending opposing centers. The Lakers have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to centers in the NBA over the last 10 games. He could post a big number on the board.
James Harden is facing what is, on paper, a very tough Utah Jazz defense. Earlier in the week, I cautioned against Russell Westbrook when he faced that defense, only to have Westbrook put up a 34-point, 14-assist, 13-rebound triple-double against them. The last time Harden faced the Jazz, a month ago, he lit them up for a career-high 56 points and 13 assists. Which way will tonight's game go?
The Washington Wizards are still missing John Wall, and the Phoenix Suns are now missing Devin Booker. Thus, Bradley Beal (fresh off his 51 point effort) and TJ Warren (fresh off his 11 point, 4 turnover klunker) are both "next men up" who will be relied upon to lead their teams in scoring and carry the load. Can they do it? Beal has been inconsistent in the role, and Warren is inconsistent overall, so it will be interesting to see what happens.