A sleepy four-game Sunday slate saw some surprising names deliver big numbers. With Aaron Gordon, Arron Afflalo and Evan Fournier sidelined for the Orlando Magic, Mario Hezonja was super on Sunday, hitting eight 3-pointers in the best game of his young, if disappointing, career. The former fifth overall pick joins James Harden, Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard and JJ Redick as the only players to have hit as many as eight 3-pointers in a game this season.
The Detroit Pistons were also hot from deep in their win over the Magic, tying a franchise record with 17 3-pointers, thanks in part to a career night from Reggie Bullock, who hit four of his six 3-point attempts in the win. Bullock, and not nominal starter Luke Kennard, merits attention in deeper leagues whenever Avery Bradley is sidelined.
With Gordon's busy offensive profile on the bench, and both Fournier and Terrence Ross working their way back from injuries, Jonathan Simmons' ascent continued Sunday, s he poured in 23 points with an impressive seven assists. "Juice," as the cool kids call him, has averaged 19.1 PPG with 5.6 RPG and 3.2 APG in 36.3 MPG in the month of December and yet is still available in more than half of ESPN leagues. Simmons embodies how rewarding speculation on the waiver wire can prove.
The enduring lesson from Sunday's action might just be for us to continue to churn the bottom of our rosters for meaningful fantasy free agents. There is no way to tell if Hezonja's offensive opus is an outlier or trend, but given he's available for a few clicks in around 98 percent of leagues, it doesn't cost much to find out. The same goes for Bullock, although his path to steady minutes is at least a bit clearer now that he's beaten out Stanley Johnson for a starting gig.
Both players could simply be enjoying momentary surges that prove fleeting, but both also merit our interest in daily fantasy and in deeper season-long leagues in the days ahead to see if they can eventually sustain quality production as Simmons has this month.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic: 24 points (10-18 FG), 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 3-pointers, 2 blocks, 2 TO
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: 20 points (8-23 FG), 12 rebounds, 15 assists, 1 block, 6 TO
Jae Crowder, Cleveland Cavaliers: 7 points (3-5 FG), 1 rebound, 1 assist, 0 TO
Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers: 5 points (2-6 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 TO
Oladipo's elite efficiency continued Sunday, requiring just 14 shots to accrue 26 in the win over the Pacers. Of the 12 players averaging at least 20 minutes with a usage rate of at least 30 percent, Oladipo's true shooting percentage of 50 percent impressively ranks sixth among this unique tier. True shooting considers field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws as an overall measure of scoring efficiency. Oladipo's breakout, facilitated by a surge in free throw volume and a sizable uptick in 3-point proficiency, reminds me a bit of the elite campaign Isaiah Thomas compiled last season in Boston. Sometimes, the leap to fantasy superstardom is exponential and not linear. Speaking of the Pacers, I think it's a solid time to buy low on Young while he's ailing.
After yet another ugly outing, I think it's safe to say Cleveland's Crowder is over-owned based on the strong numbers he posted in Boston. He's rostered in 44.9 percent of ESPN leagues and yet sports a negative rating on the Player Rater. Crowder will only lose minutes and touches as Jeff Green ascends and Thomas nears a return. I think it's fine to cut bait and move on to a rising commodity.
The Nets don't appear to be rushing to hand over the keys to the offense to Jahlil Okafor's old school post game, as he didn't play a single minute on Sunday. The culprit appears to be conditioning, as coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters the newly acquired big man needs to be finely tuned to become an integral part of a team that will continue to challenge for the league lead in pace. The sentiment seems to suggest Okafor won't play many, if any, minutes in the next several games. I understand the speculative interest in Okafor's high-usage offensive game, but I continue to doubt his ability to sustain heavy minutes in a modern, pace-driven scheme.
Since Sunday was so light, let's consider the key takeaways from the weekend. In that vein, it's worth discussing how great Trey Lyles looked on Friday night. Thanks to averaging 18.3 PPG and 3.3 3PG in 29.3 MPG over the past four, Lyles is a key inclusion in my waiver column this week and could continue to thrive in place of Paul Millsap. The Nuggets did, after all, surrender the right to draft Donovan Mitchell to get Lyles on draft night, so it would behoove them to maximize his utility.
Continuing the weekend appraisal, we find Nikola Mirotic thriving for the Chicago Bulls after another strong showing this past Friday night. Available in nearly half of ESPN leagues and enjoying a career-high usage rate -- a measure of team plays consumed by an individual player -- of 26.5 percent, the stretch forward has been the focal point of the Bulls' offense over the past week. Go add Mirotic now in any and all leagues.
Injuries of note
Found at 43rd on the Player Rater overall and 36th by averages, the aforementioned calf injury to the Magic's Gordon could prove important for fantasy purposes. Over the weekend, Gordon had an MRI taken that confirmed a strained calf. A conservative approach could see him miss this coming three-game week for Orlando, which would continue Hezonja's revealing promotion and help the offensive opportunity rates for Simmons and Vucevic. Gordon's managers might want to look for safer options for Week 10 in formats that lock weekly.
Otto Porter Jr. sat out Sunday's contest with Cleveland with a hip injury that saw him play only three minutes on Friday night against the LA Clippers. If this issue lingers into the coming week of action, notably this Tuesday's tilt with the New Orleans Pelicans that is particularly soft against opposing wings, Kelly Oubre Jr. (rostered in 21.1 percent of ESPN leagues) becomes a core rotation player for the Wizards. Oubre's usage rate has jumped 3.4 percent with Porter off the floor this season. Those in deeper and competitive leagues might consider forward Mike Scott, who went off Sunday and was the rare bright spot for Washington in a loss to Cleveland.
Bradley missed his second consecutive game on Sunday with a groin injury. Given he was a game-time decision yesterday, it would be nice to see him available on Wednesday in Dallas.
De'Aaron Fox missed the Kings' game against the Raptors on Sunday afternoon, vaulting Garrett Temple into increased time and touches. It seems George Hill is the enduring value of note in this backcourt, however, as he's being ignored by the market (rostered in just 37 percent of ESPN leagues) despite enjoying some nice scoring performances of late.
Derrick Favors is questionable for Monday with an eye injury. Favors has produced stellar numbers with Rudy Gobert sidelined this season, so he'll be a fun addition (available in more than 30 percent of ESPN leagues) for the next several weeks while Gobert works his way back from a knee injury.
Analytics advantage for Monday
During massive slates, such as today's 10-game edition, we'll want to employ some efficient ways to evaluate matchups while seeking to identify key streamers and DFS values. One quick macro tool I trust is simply perusing the Vegas data for such busy nights.
Tonight, for example, we find the Chicago Bulls hosting the Philadelphia 76ers in a game with a healthy projected point total hovering around 210 points on most books. The fact the game has a tight point spread, with Philly favored by two points with Joel Embiid sidelined, signals we can project heavy minutes for key rotation players on both sides. With Embiid sidelined this season, Ben Simmons' usage rate is up a team-high 5.1 percent.
I dig shares of Dario Saric (rostered in 69.1 percent of ESPN leagues) tonight as a strong streaming option or in DFS play; his usage rate jumps 3.2 percent with Embiid off the court. We can also price in Richaun Holmes (available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues) to enjoy a bigger role.
I don't think we should let betting metrics dominate when it comes to differentiation among similar players, but I do think they can serve as a highlighter to illuminate the key matchups and trends during nights with such a huge player pool.
Top players to watch tonight
In terms of superstars of note tonight, it will be entirely interesting to see how Kevin Durant performs sans both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green from the lineup. Durant's usage spikes nearly five percent while averaging four more fantasy points on DraftKings with both Curry and Green off the floor this season.
Keep an eye on Jimmy Butler's status heading into a matchup with Portland; he's questionable with back spasms after playing at least 40 minutes in four of his past six games. Karl-Anthony Towns sees his usage rate jump a team-high 4.9 percent when Butler isn't on the floor, while Jeff Teague also enjoys a significant jump in touches and responsibilities.