When the Brooklyn Nets traded for Jahlil Okafor (available in 67.2 percent of leagues) last week, I pointed out my belief that in the long-term the Nets are likely to try to build around the Nos. 2-3 picks of the 2015 NBA Draft: D'Angelo Russell (available in 28 percent of leagues) and Okafor. I still believe that to be true. However, in the meantime, Russell is still out with a knee injury and Okafor has yet to see the court as Nets coach Kenny Atkinson is making him learn the playbook and earn the minutes. With their two potential cornerstone pieces out, the Nets are still fielding several players of fantasy interest who all happened to have good games on Thursday.
Spencer Dinwiddie (available in 40.9 percent of leagues) led the way on Thursday with 26 points (9-17 FG, 4-5 FT), 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 3-pointers, 1 steal, 1 block and 2 TO. This marked a career-high in scoring, but he has been solid as a distributor, with six-plus assists in 14 straight games. All told, he's averaging 15.4 points, 8.1 assists, 3.9 boards and 2.5 3-pointers during this Russell-free stretch.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (available in 39.4 percent of leagues) was also strong on Thursday, dropping 25 points (10-16 FG, 5-7 FT) with 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 4 TO. Hollis-Jefferson is usually more of an all-around player, but he's seen an increase in scoring since the trade that sent Trevor Booker out of town. Over the last five games, he's averaging 18.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals.
Caris LeVert (available in 68.9 percent of leagues) continued his strong play off the bench, notching 15 points (4-10 FG, 4-4 FT) with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 3-pointers, 3 steals and 4 TO in 28 minutes on Thursday. Levert is in the midst of a strong short-term run, in which he has averaged 16.2 points, 6.8 assists, 3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.6 3-pointers in 29 minutes per game over his last five outings.
DeMarre Carroll (available in 53.6 percent of leagues) continued his strong "garbageman-style" play, contributing positively in many categories without dominating in any single area. On Thursday, he scored 13 points (5-10 FG) with 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 3-pointers, 1 block, 1 steal and 3 TO.
All of these performances will likely be affected in some way when Russell returns, and also if Okafor is ever given the larger role that I expect from him in Brooklyn. However, all four have produced with enough consistency that they have a solid chance to remain fantasy-relevant for the remainder of the season, even if the Nets (as a team) change the offense's focal point to the new guys.
Towns was my recommended player on Thursday, because he's been playing well of late, even while ceding more responsibility to Jimmy Butler at the top, and because he was playing an awful Sacramento Kings interior defense. His game went almost exactly according to expectation, and Butler was still able to combine with Andrew Wiggins for 43 points as secondary support, even with the "Big KAT" going off.
I cautioned against Drummond on Thursday because he had been playing so poorly of late, but I did make note that his Thursday match-up was a great one, as the Hawks are terrible against opposing centers. The latter proved more relevant, as Drummond still didn't score that well, but he kick-started things everywhere else in his game. The Pistons broke a seven-game losing streak with Thursday's victory, and the rest of the team was pretty solid, thanks to Drummond leading the way.
There has been a lot of talk in the media of late about how much LeBron James' game-to-game greatness gets taken for granted, so I wanted to spotlight his Thursday. Kevin Love (28 points, 11 boards, 4 3-pointers, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal) could have gotten the headline as well, and Jose Calderon (17 points, 6 assists, 5 3-pointers -- available in 99.4 percent of leagues) has quietly put together two consecutive really solid games. He could be interesting as a short-term PG fill-in.
In the same vein of not taking consistent greatness for granted, Durant earned this space even though he's been a metronome as a 30-plus point triple-double threat while Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have both been out. The bigger fantasy story may be the performances of injury subs like Omri Casspi (17 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists -- available in 99.4 percent of leagues) and Jordan Bell (8 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals -- available in 97.1 percent of leagues) because the Warriors have four games next week.
Schroder is here as the place-holder for a Hawks team that is struggling all the way around. Taurean Prince (available in 65.2 percent of leagues) produced just 4 points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Kent Bazemore (available in 48.9 percent of leagues) scored only 8 points on 2-of-10 shooting from the floor with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. The only starter to produce was Ersan Ilyasova (available in 83.1 percent of leagues), who scored 23 points on 10-of-14 FG with 3 rebounds, 2 3-pointers and 1 assist, to bounce back from a poor game on Tuesday.
Matthews, too, is here as the representative for an all-around "meh game" from the Mavericks. The lone bright spot was Dirk Nowitzki (available in 51.9 percent of leagues), who announcers joked was 62 years old. Still, the "old man" showed up with a respectable 18 points (6-13 FG, 4-5 FT), 9 rebounds, 2 3-pointers and 2 assists in 27 minutes of action.
Injuries of note
Kristaps Porzingis left Thursday's game early in the third quarter with a knee injury. It wasn't visually dramatic to watch, but he apparently tweaked it early in the game, then on a defensive sequence in the third quarter he said it just didn't feel right and he immediately signaled to come out of the game. Keep an eye out for more information about the severity and prognosis for this injury. In his absence, Courtney Lee (available in 62.6 percent of leagues) stepped up on Thursday. If Porzinigis misses time, Enes Kanter would have more responsibility while someone like Michael Beasley (available in 98.2 percent of leagues) could edge back towards the fantasy radar.
De'Aaron Fox left Thursday's game with a quad bruise after only seven minutes of playing time, and didn't return. Consider him day-to-day for now.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope didn't play on Thursday for personal reasons, which allowed Josh Hart (available in 99.8 percent of leagues) to start and produce a double-double in his absence. There's no word yet on whether his absence will extend beyond Thursday, so keep an eye out for his availability moving forward.
Analytics advantage for Friday
The Orlando Magic have allowed (by far) the most PG fantasy points in the past 10 games and, in fact, rank among the league's eight-worst fantasy defenses to every position except center over that 10-game stretch. Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers (who face the Magic on Friday) have played three consecutive games without starting C Jusuf Nurkic (questionable, ankle). Portland features an elite point guard, but beyond that, has several good stream options in this plus match-up, including Al-Farouq Aminu (available in 77.3 percent of leagues)
Top players to watch tonight
Russell Westbrook has triple-doubles in three of his last five games, and also has three 30-plus point performances in his last five games. Yet, his DFS price has crept down below some of the other elite performers. He has a great match-up against a fun 76ers squad on Friday who, by the way, are being led by their own transcendent monster. Joel Embiid has separated himself slightly, even from Ben Simmons, as a production threat in the last handful of games in which he's played.
The Pelicans' perimeter players keep producing, and somehow remain solid value plays in most DFS formats. They've got a good match-up on Friday against a Nuggets squad that isn't strong defensively on the perimeter. Denver, meanwhile, is slated to possibly get Nikola Jokic back from an ankle injury, and have gotten strong play of late from both Jamal Murray (available in 56.2 percent of leagues) and Gary Harris. Can Murray and Harris continue to thrive when star players like Jokic and possibly Will Barton (questionable, back) return? We shall see.