Former Philadelphia 76ers president Sam Hinkie often preached that progress isn't always linear. The premise being that leaps in success for both players and teams can sometimes prove exponential rather than gradual.
The Portland Trail Blazers' CJ McCollum averaged just 14.5 minutes and 6.3 points on 5.4 shots per game across 100 games in his first two NBA seasons. Entering his third season in 2015-16, McCollum enjoyed a rapid ascension, leaping to nearly 35 minutes, 18 shots and 21 points per game that season.
It's no longer surprising when the former Lehigh Mountain Hawk produces a game-swaying, or even slate-shifting, scoring performance, such as Tuesday night's 40-point effort in an emboldening win over the Milwaukee Bucks. The big game marked McCollum's fourth career 40-point effort, as he now as at least one such performance in each of the past three seasons. Nineteen of his 40 points came in the third quarter, tied for the third-most points in a quarter in his career. It also helps for entertainment purposes that McCollum shook rookie Donte DiVincenzo with a brilliant crossover last night.
With McCollum's statistical stock already highly valued by the fantasy market, let's pivot to a third-year breakout candidate again living up to Hinkie's maxim. Brooklyn's Caris LeVert tallied 26 points on 16 shots in a win over the Suns in Phoenix last night, giving him his third straight 20-point game, the longest streak of his young career.
Signaling his scoring leap is legitimate, the Nets are allocating rich opportunity rates to LeVert -- such as leading the team in minutes (31.7) and in shots, with his 15.7 per game representing a 50.9 percent jump from last season. It also helps that LeVert is averaging 61.5 touches per game, a high rate for a shooting guard, on par with high-usage wing peers such as Bradley Beal (63.5) and Zach LaVine (61.5).
Signaling the fantasy market hasn't yet fully bought into LeVert's ascent, he's rostered in 62.2 percent despite being one of just nine players to average at least 20 PPG, 1.5 SPG and 1.5 3PG. His peers in this unique performance tier? LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Victor Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, James Harden, John Wall and Donovan Mitchell.
Even as LeVert is likely rostered in most competitive 10-team fantasy leagues, acquiring this rising scoring wing via trade likely won't cost much, especially when considering the fantasy impact of his performance and usage peers. With an eye on meaningful fantasy performances and relevant statistical trends, let's delve into the night that was in the NBA.
Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets: 26 points (10-16 FG), 5 rebounds, 1 block, 3 TO
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: 40 points (17-26 FG), 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 TO
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 13 points (5-15 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 TO
Kelly Oubre Jr., Washington Wizards: 6 points (3-10 FG), 2 rebounds
A hot shooting start from Wesley Matthews helped the Mavericks secure a win over the reeling Wizards. I've been championing Matthews regularly in my waiver wire series this season, and despite ranking eighth in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game, he's rostered in fewer than eight percent of ESPN leagues as of Wednesday morning. The list of players averaging at least 18 points and three 3-pointers includes just eight NBA players, all of them widely respected fantasy commodities besides Matthews.
It seems as if Josh Jackson, the fourth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is slipping out of the rotation in Phoenix. The shooting woes that plagued Jackson as a rookie have persisted into his sophomore campaign; he hit 26.3 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and is replicating that rate with a sluggish 26.1 percent clip this season. Most relevantly, Jackson is down to just 19.3 MPG after netting 25.4 as a rookie, and last night, against LeVert's Nets, he played fewer than seven minutes, a season low. The key beneficiary of Jackson's descent has been rookie wing Mikal Bridges, who posted a career-high in minutes last night. With multiple steals in half of his appearances already despite limited minutes and proficient shooting results, Bridges could become a quality 3-and-D contributor fit for deeper fantasy leagues.
Speaking of losing work, it appears the fantasy market can move on from Brooklyn's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, as he tallied just 13 minutes last night and just hasn't yet become the difference-making defender many (including me) expected.
I've touched on Wendell Carter Jr.'s rising production in recent editions of this column, but even my optimistic impression of this gifted prospect might have been selling the Duke product short as a fantasy asset. Found at ninth in rebounding chances (within 3.5 feet of an available rebound) with 18.2 the past five games, "WCJ" is truly breaking out with 15.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.4 SPG while also hitting 43 percent of his 3-point attempts. Whew. Adding this productive rookie is already a must if floating in your league(s), while netting him via trade could prove palatable, as well.
Injuries of note
On the mend from ankle and hamstring ailments, Donovan Mitchell is listed as probable tonight with the Mavericks coming to Salt Lake City.
Kawhi Leonard is listed as questionable for Toronto's tilt with the Kings due to the still somewhat vague foot injury he suffered this past weekend. Given the Raptors are likely to be sizable favorites no matter Leonard's status, preparing alternatives (such as Matthews), could prove helpful for those in leagues with daily transactions.
Russell Westbrook has unsurprisingly been ruled out ahead of tonight's game with the Cavs due to an ankle injury, per ESPN's Royce Young. Lining up Dennis Schroder in both redraft and DFS play could prove profitable.
Analytics advantage for Wednesday
The 76ers, who are 0-5 on the road this season, visit the Pacers on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. For a bit of historical context, the Sixers are looking to avoid becoming just the 10th NBA team in history to win its first six home games and lose its first six road games.
Joel Embiid is averaging 28.4 PPG, second most in the league, trailing only Stephen Curry (31.3 PPG). For Indiana, Victor Oladipo has been incredible in clutch time this season, totaling 36 points in 21 clutch-time minutes, while shooting 61.1 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from 3-point range.
Philly sports a stellar net rating of plus-10.3 at home and an inept minus-15.2 net rating on the road, which could signal it's a nice window to stack the Pacers in daily fantasy lineups as a gamble that this unique splits trend persists. This wide margin in performance is very much about the 76ers' variant defensive trends; they claim a stout defensive rating of 105 points allowed per 100 possessions at home this season and yet have surrendered 122.4 on the road (only the Suns are worse in road games).
For a player whom you might be able to still scoop in fantasy free agency, JJ Redick ranks third in total 3-pointers made (36) and leads Philly in 3s attempted (8.6) and made (3.3) per game. Overall, the 76ers' offensive rating is 7.3 points per 100 possessions better with Redick on the floor. Only Embiid and Robert Covington have had a bigger positive effect on the Sixers' offense this season.
Top players to watch tonight
ESPN Stats & Info found that in the 203 minutes Karl-Anthony Towns and Butler have played together this season, Towns has notably struggled, averaging just 16.5 points per 36 minutes on 42.7 percent shooting. In 151 minutes without Butler, Towns is averaging 27.2 points per 36 minutes while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor.
With the Lakers' porous defense on deck, this is an important test for Towns to prove productive despite these troubling splits to date. I've already submitted significant trade offers for Towns, widely selected in the top five in fantasy drafts this fall, as he'll likely become an unquestioned statistical superstar whenever a Butler deal is finally consummated. For some tips on how to navigate managing Butler in fantasy this season, check out Eric Karabell's savvy breakdown of this dramatic scenario.