A week ago, I wrote about the "Dog Days" of the season, but was pleasantly surprised that some huge fantasy lines were produced anyway. One of my colleagues brought up the Dog Days again yesterday, this time in conjunction with all of the fights, chippiness and technical fouls that have been permeating the league during the past week. Thus, the concept was fresh in my mind as I watched last night's games.
Only this time a Dog Days night did NOT produce big fantasy lines. The exact opposite, in fact, as there were a whole slew of underperformances on Wednesday. This is more in line with what one might expect if guys really are having trouble staying focused. So, whereas last Thursday I used this space to go through some of the many monster performances from the night before, this week I'll shed some light on several of the weaker-than-usual lines from last night. Are they part of trends that should worry you, or were they just a Dog Night's work in the middle of a long season?
Rajon Rondo, New Orleans Pelicans: 3 points (1-4 FG), 1 rebound, 6 assists, 2 TO
Davis and Rondo both struggled on Wednesday, but have vastly different stories. Davis was coming off historic back-to-back games of at least 45 points and 15 rebounds, and on the second night of a back-to-back just seemed to run out of gas. Barring an unannounced injury, Davis should bounce back fine in his next outing. Rondo, on the other hand, has his minutes and production fluctuate wildly from game to game, so he's just difficult to rely upon.
Porter slid in this week's points-based rankings because of too many recent performances like this. He has scored in single digits in six of his past eight games. He showed earlier this season that he has impact potential, but right now he's not showing it very often.
New York Knicks point guards: 2 points (1-11 FG), 6 rebounds, 15 assists, 1 steal, 6 TO, 48 minutes
This is an unusual one, because it is actually comprised of two different players in Jarrett Jack and Frank Ntilikina. Jack is the veteran who has been starting, but rookie Ntilikina (available in 97.1 percent of leagues) had his best game of the season on Monday. On Wednesday, neither of them did much overall, but their lines were remarkably similar and both at least did a good job distributing the ball. If the rookie keeps matching the veteran, with the New York Knicks likely lottery-bound, he could end up eventually supplanting Jack in the starting lineup.
Ingram came back from an ankle injury on Wednesday, but showed rust before leaving again late (see below). The rust and injury likely explain Ingram's poor game, and he should be better moving forward.
LaVine had a big second game of the season, showing that he still has strong upside, but he's clearly still rusty as evidenced by Wednesday. While brighter days are ahead, he's still got a ways to go.
Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons: 3 points (1-12 FG, 1-4 FT), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 1 TO
Like Aldridge, Pau Gasol (13 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 3-pointer) and Patty Mills (25 points, 7 3-pointers, 3 steals, 2 assists, 2 rebounds) also had big games for the Spurs. Aldridge and Gasol are likely to carry the team in the foreseeable future (see below).
The Heat are in the midst of another strong surge, similar to the one they finished last season with, and are doing a good job sharing the load. Whiteside was the man on Wednesday, but Goran Dragic (15 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 3-pointer), Josh Richardson (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 3s) and James Johnson (9 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 3-pointer) were also solid, and Kelly Olynyk gave them 15 points off the bench.
The Splash Brothers were dominant on Wednesday, with Thompson and Steph Curry combining for 68 points and 13 3-pointers. They were hot enough that Kevin Durant was content to flirt with a ho-hum triple-double with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.
Ibaka was ice-cold on Wednesday, but Jonas Valanciunas had another of his strong games with 17 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists and a 3-pointer in 27 minutes. When Valanciunas gets minutes, he tends to produce, but his minutes are inconsistent so he's hard to rely on game to game.
Injuries of note
Kawhi Leonard was announced to be "out indefinitely" to continue rehabbing his quad. Clearly, this takes him out of fantasy plans for the foreseeable future, though it is a big benefit to the production of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
Marc Gasol didn't play on Wednesday night due to an illness. He should be considered questionable for Friday, but it is not expected to be an extended absence.
Kyle Kuzma left Wednesday night's game with a sprained left metacarpal phalangeal joint, and didn't return. Brandon Ingram played a team-high 26 minutes for the Lakers, but he also left the game after re-tweaking his left ankle. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also left the game early with a strained Achilles' tendon. All three should be considered questionable for Friday's game against the Indiana Pacers. When added to the absence of Lonzo Ball (knee), there could be some big opportunities for other Lakers perimeter players on Friday if most of this group has to sit.
Draymond Green sat out Wednesday to rest the shoulder injury that he has been working through. In his absence, Jordan Bell sprained his left ankle on the first play of the game and did not return. He left in a wheelchair, but X-rays were negative. He will undergo an MRI on Thursday, and should be considered very questionable in the short term.
Kris Dunn took an incredibly hard fall after a dunk, landing on his face. There were mixed reports afterward as to whether more damage was done to his teeth or the floor, but ultimately it was disclosed that he dislocated two front teeth. He was cleared of concussion symptoms after the game, though he will be re-evaluated on Thursday.
Jamal Murray entered the league's concussion protocol on Wednesday from an injury that happened on Tuesday night, and didn't play. In his absence, Will Barton got extended run handling the ball and finished with a solid line of 17 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 1 3-pointer.
Avery Bradley played on Wednesday and finished with 19 points, 3 3s, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes, but he apparently is still dealing with groin issues and will see a specialist about it on Thursday.
Analytics advantage for Thursday
There are only four games on Thursday, and when looking at the difference between the caliber of offense (as measured by Offensive Rating, ORTG, points scored per 100 possessions) and the caliber of the opposing defense (as measured by Defensive Rating, DRTG, points allowed per 100 possessions), two of the games stand out in a positive way for fantasy purposes.
The Orlando Magic (27th in DRTG, 111.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (28th, 111.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) are both among the bottom-five defenses in the NBA. The Magic offense isn't much better (24th in ORTG, 105.8 points scored per 100 possessions), but the Cavaliers' offense is (fifth in ORTG, 112.4 points scored per 100 possessions). Thus, the expectation on Thursday is that the Cavaliers' players should have better than expected offensive production on the night.
A similar calculation suggests that the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets should have the fantasy game of the night. Both are generally average on defense (Rockets tied for 11th in DRTG at 107.3 points allowed/100, Timberwolves 21st at 109 points allowed/100) but both are excellent on offense with the Rockets second in the NBA in ORTG (114.9 points scored/100) and the Timberwolves fourth (113.1 points scored/100). Thus, the expectation for Thursday is that the offense should reign supreme in this game, for both teams.
Top players to watch tonight
• James Harden is expected to make his return from his hamstring injury on Thursday. Though there is word of a 25-minute restriction on The Beard, it will be newsworthy just to have him back on the court. The Rockets will also be without Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green on Thursday, as they begin their their two-game suspensions. It is worth keeping an eye out to see whether PJ Tucker (available in 97.7 percent of leagues) and/or Luc Mbah a Moute (available in 99.6 percent of leagues) will see an uptick in action in their absence.
• The Cavaliers have been getting a lot of negative press for their struggles of late, and a lot of those have been centered around the issues of working a still rusty Isaiah Thomas into the rotation. Thomas showed some signs of coming out of his scoring slump in his last game, and has had another couple of days of rest since, so he could be in for a breakout game on Thursday against an Orlando Magic defense that struggles against opposing point guards. This one is a hunch for me, so I'll be watching closely.