Speaking of triple-double threats, the young Sixers got in on the statistical feast in Chicago, as Ben Simmons tallied a career-high 32 points, including a pair of winning free throws in the final seconds. If only the gifted rookie could face Chicago every game; Simmons has averaged 23.3 PPG, 11.6 APG, 11.7 RPG across three wins over the Bulls. ESPN Stats & Information found Simmons and Allen Iverson are the only 76ers rookies in the past 30 years to have 30 points and 10 assists in a game.
Joel Embiid seemingly had a quiet night, given Simmons enjoyed more highlights, but then you look at the box score and realize he posted 30 points, 13 boards, 5 assists and 7 combined steals and blocks. This marked the first time two Sixers teammates posted at least 30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists since Charles Barkley and Johnny Dawkins in March of 1990. The mystery of Markelle Fultz lingers, but the future remains bright in Philly.
I don't think we can learn a ton from Westbrook, Simmons and Embiid enjoying big nights other than to trust them as DFS building blocks going forward, but there is some actionable fantasy intel to glean from both the Bulls' and Kings' rotations.
I'm tempted to call this offensive explosion an aberration for Portis, but he's averaged 15.4 shots and 26.3 MPG during seven games since the team dealt Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls will likely rest Robin Lopez a good bit in the weeks ahead, affording Portis extended minutes and rebounding chances.
Chicago's Zach LaVine looked good from beyond the arc and is now up to a 31 percent usage rate with Chicago after registering a modest 22.5 usage percentage in Minnesota. LaVine is averaging 17.7 shots and 22.6 PPG during his past seven games after averaging 12.5 shots and 12.6 PPG during his first eight games with the Bulls.
Speaking of savvy young shooters, Sacramento's Zach Randolph hit four 3-pointers. Maybe Z-Bo isn't exactly young, but he is worth rostering whenever active. Buddy Hield is the young marksman we speak of, as he's now ninth in the NBA in 3-point efficiency at 43 percent on the season. It's still a bit confounding how Hield has rarely topped 22 minutes during the past month, but he's a potential breakout shooting specialist if the team decides to truly go young down the stretch.
Tracking these teams that appear to be tanking down the stretch is imperative to profiting in fantasy free agency during these final weeks of the season. The volatility of rotations for such bottom-dwellers can become an advantage for those willing to follow the nightly news cycle. We didn't learn about the Bulls resting Lopez and Justin Holiday until Thursday afternoon, while those who pounced on shares of Portis were rewarded.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets: 31 points (12-22 FG), 7 assists, 4 3-pointers, 2 steals, 1 TO
DeMarre Carroll, Brooklyn Nets: 6 points (2-12 FG), 5 rebounds, 1 TO
George Hill, Cleveland Cavaliers: 6 points (2-10 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 TO
Justin Jackson, Sacramento Kings: 4 points (2-7 FG), 4 rebounds, 0 TO
The Washington Wizards are now 8-2 during their past 10 games without John Wall, thanks in part to the sound play of interim point guard Tomas Satoransky, who was brilliant in a pivotal win over the Cavaliers last night. Still widely available in ESPN leagues, Satoransky has averaged 12 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG and 1.5 3PG as the starter during the past 10 outings.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek started Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard on Thursday, a gig Jarrett Jack had assumed since the fourth game of the regular season. Jack earned a DNP-CD in the process, while Mudiay nearly earned a spot in our lowlights section with just eight points and a team-worst -8 net rating in 23 minutes.
It's fascinating New York chose to start Mudiay rather than rookie Frank Ntilikina, but both Burke and Ntilikina played 30 minutes. The French rookie shot just six times, while Burke lofted 22 shots on his way to 26 points, all without a single free throw attempt. I'm not sure we can trust anyone from the Knicks' backcourt, but it's almost certainly not Mudiay.
Sticking with New York-area point guards, D'Angelo Russell started for the Brooklyn Nets for the first time since early November. The results included a team-high 16 shots and a solid slash of 19 points, 4 boards and 5 assists. A big second half could be on the way, considering Russell's usage rate is a robust 32.1 percent since returning to the court in January.
Injuries of note
Jonathan Simmons rolled his ankle in the Magic's loss to the Knicks on Thursday night but returned to the floor after sustaining the injury. Simmons has struggled since incurring an ankle injury earlier this month, so this could become a nagging issue worth noting in deeper leagues.
Working his way back from a hip injury, Aaron Gordon returned to action for the first time in nearly a month to play a quiet 25 minutes. The return of Gordon pushes emergent shooter Mario Hezonja back to the free-agency tier.
The Denver Nuggets' Paul Millsap practiced for a second straight day on Thursday and is nearing a return. Trey Lyles' already precarious fantasy stock takes a big hit once Millsap is back in the fold.
The Memphis Grizzlies continue to deal with injuries, with Chandler Parsons and Wayne Selden already ruled out for tonight's meeting with the Cavs. Mario Chalmers is questionable with an ankle ailment, which means Andrew Harrison could be a top streaming option in the backcourt today.
The Clippers' Avery Bradley is dealing with a lingering groin injury that kept him out last night. Word is the injury could persist for the rest of the campaign, which makes Austin Rivers an interesting free agent for deeper leagues.
Lonzo Ball is due to return to action tonight after a long absence with a knee injury. It's unclear if he'll be on a minutes restriction, but it will be revealing to see how he plays with a reshuffled roster.
Analytics advantage for Friday
Vegas employs a great deal of predictive models and analytics when producing point spreads and totals. We can benefit from such statistical expertise simply by sifting through the point totals for tonight. Friday is a huge slate that includes 22 teams in action, thus we'll want some simple tools for differentiation for both redraft and DFS decisions.
For instance, the Dallas Mavericks are in Los Angeles to face the Lakers tonight in a game that claims the coveted blend of a tight spread and lofty total, which means we can use streaming options such as Dwight Powell from Dallas. It's prudent to offer some simple differentiation on such massive slates.
Top players to watch tonight
Speaking of streaming with Dallas players, I want to get plenty of DFS shares of J.J. Barea, given he has totaled 30 assists during his past three games and still runs the pick-and-roll actions for the Mavericks. Going with a bargain backcourt of Barea and Harrison could leave tons of capital for frontcourt superstars in DFS on Friday.
At the high end of the market, I love the value on Damian Lillard tonight. Lillard, after all, is fifth overall on the Player Rater during the past 15 days and just posted 39 points against the Jazz before the break.