Asked to explain the message his Milwaukee Bucks sent to the Golden State Warriors and the entire NBA with a declarative win over the defending champions in Oakland on Thursday night, Giannis Antetokounmpo simply shared, "We've arrived."
Indeed, the Bucks have arrived. Milwaukee now claims the second-best offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and the fourth-stingiest defensive rating in the NBA. The Bucks also lead the league in net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) by more than two points.
If the Warriors, along with a big assist from Mike D'Antoni, helped usher in the space race in regards to shooting gravity, shot distribution and 3-point frequency, the Bucks are building on this legacy with not just a newfound appreciation for shots from beyond -- Milwaukee leads the NBA in shots made (9.7) and taken (27.5) per game from 25-29 feet -- but also with dominant play in the paint -- the Bucks are second in the league in made field goals within five feet of the rim while enjoying the best shooting percentage in this range.
The Bucks dominated the paint on Thursday, outscoring the Warriors 84-34, becoming just the fourth team to outscore an opponent by at least 50 points in the paint during the past 10 seasons. The 84 points in the paint are the most by any team in a game since January 2012.
At the risk of overreacting to a great start to the season for the Bucks, Antetokounmpo and new coach Mike Budenholzer, I trust this is a team that truly has arrived to become a viable contender (at least in conference terms), but also more relevantly for our specific statistical interests, they've become a consistently elite source for fantasy value. It's not just Antetokounmpo carrying the roster and driving fantasy success, as managers who paid up for shares of Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are being rewarded, while proactive pickups of Malcolm Brogdon from free agency will continue to pay off.
As for the Warriors, things didn't go nearly as smoothly -- they gave up their most points in a home game under Steve Kerr, and Stephen Curry left the game with an adductor strain in the third quarter and didn't return. Kerr told reporters Curry would undergo an MRI on Friday to better gauge the nature of the injury. Sports injury expert Jeff Stotts shared on Twitter the average absence for an adductor strain among NBA players is roughly 10 days, thus Curry's fantasy managers will likely want to prepare alternatives for the next two weeks of competition. We'll learn more about this specific injury on Friday.
With an eye on meaningful fantasy performances and relevant statistical trends, let's delve into the night that was in the NBA.
Al Horford, Boston Celtics: 7 points (3-7 FG), 6 points, 3 assists, 4 blocks, 2 TO
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: 4 points (1-7 FG), 8 rebounds, 1 TO
If the Bucks hadn't trounced the Warriors, we'd all likely be talking about the epic comeback victory the Boston Celtics pulled off in Phoenix last night against the Suns. The Celtics had just 35 first-half points and trailed by 20 at the break with Irving as the lone starter to score a single point for Boston in the first half (no really). Per ESPN Stats & Info, the NBA has kept quarter-by-quarter scoring for individuals since 1997-98. The only other team to have a single starter score in the first half over this time was the Wizards on December 5, 2003 (Larry Hughes: 11 points). The Celtics trailed by as many as 22 points before coming back, marking their second road win when trailing by at least 20 points since 2013-14 (Brad Stevens' first season as head coach). They were 1-33 in those games entering Thursday.
The key fantasy takeaway from Boston's rousing comeback was seeing Jayson Tatum struggle enough in the first half with shot selection that Marcus Smart started the second half over the second-year talent. It's been a cold stretch from the field for Tatum of late; he's made only 33.9 percent of his shots while averaging just 11.2 PPG during the past six games. After digging into Tatum's shooting data, it's apparent that a redistribution of where he's shooting and scoring from on the floor could be the issue; he took 42.7 percent of his field goal attempts from within 10 feet of the basket last season and 28.4 percent from midrange (10-to-23 feet from the rim). This season, those rates halve essentially flipped, with 29.6 percent of his shots coming from within 10 feet of the rim and 38.6 percent from the aforementioned midrange parameters -- the least efficient shooting space on the floor. With the Celtics' coaching staff and organizational philosophy among the most analytically inclined in the league, I'd bank on an eventual shift to more efficient usage for Tatum and consider him a potentially rewarding buy-low target, but it does appear we've found the issue with his current offensive woes.
If we should practice patience with Tatum, I think it's time to stop waiting on Carmelo Anthony to resurface as the scoring maven from years past. A revealing stat surfaced last night; "Melo" has missed more shots this season than the sum of combined made field goals, assist, steals and blocks. Anthony has five assists in 294 minutes played. A substantial 53 percent of Anthony's shots are coming from 3-point range this season (40.6 last year with the Thunder). Most glaringly, the Rockets are 15.1 points better per 100 possessions with Anthony off the floor this season. Feel free to pursue stronger scoring and shooting options in fantasy free agency.
It was only a matter of time before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander claimed a starting role for the LA Clippers. The gifted rookie guard earned his first start last night, and it doesn't appear to just be driven by Avery Bradley's injury, as Doc Rivers told reporters that this move was inevitable regardless of the veteran's availability. Watching "SGA" each night, you find him picking up new tricks of the trade with alarming efficacy. I was high on Gilgeous-Alexander out of Kentucky and remain bullish on his ability to thrive in a starting role, as last night's career-high 19 points reveal.
Injuries of note
The Cavaliers' George Hill will miss at least two weeks with a shoulder sprain, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. For those willing to take on the risks of inefficient play, rookie guard Collin Sexton is going to finally get all the work he can handle.
Analytics advantage for Friday
It's an entirely new day when a Friday night game against the Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets claims the lowest projected point total of a seven-game slate. The Nuggets are down to 20th in pace and the Nets are currently 24th, this after Brooklyn was eighth in pace last season and Denver was 15th. The Nuggets have the third-best defensive rating in the league, signaling this might not be the ideal climate for streaming and stacking, as the reputation of these teams from previous seasons might suggest.
Top players to watch tonight
A rebound performance from Denver's Nikola Jokic is on deck tonight. After producing one of the weaker offensive games of his career last time out, Jokic is surely motivated to perform against a gifted rim protector in Jarrett Allen.