A somewhat sleepy Tuesday night in the NBA didn't see any prolific individual performances occur, but we did witness Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks earn their 10th home win of the season to shift into the seventh seed in a contentious Western Conference.
Damian Lillard was his brilliant self against Dallas, nearly turning in a high-scoring triple-double, but he finished with the second-worst net rating on the team (minus-12) thanks to another stellar showing from Doncic, who joined Joel Embiid as the only other rookie in past five seasons with at least 20 points in half of his first 22 games.
A hot start to the season saw Portland get to 12-5 as one of the top seeds in the West a few weeks back, including four straight wins on the road, but they've now lost six of their past seven. However, the dip in the standings is not hurting Lillard's statistical stock, as he is third overall on the Player Rater during the past seven days, behind only Anthony Davis and James Harden. Given age and usage patterns, this is likely one of, if not the, best statistical seasons for the veteran, so his managers should enjoy the ride.
Doncic, meanwhile, is found ahead of Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum on the Player Rater this season, thanks to averaging 18.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, and 2.3 3PG. The list of rookies to ever average these numbers is, well, zero, as Doncic would become the first professional freshman in league history to tally such a deft balance of offensive output.
For some greater context league-wide compared to veterans, only LeBron James, Paul George, Blake Griffin and Victor Oladipo also claim Doncic's current blend of production. Even Doncic's biggest supporters likely didn't envision this level of initial success, as the smooth Slovenian wing is downright dominant off the bat.
With an eye on meaningful fantasy performances and relevant statistical trends, let's delve into the night that was in the NBA.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 33 points (10-23 FG), 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 TO
The Kings allowed only nine points in the first quarter in a convincing win over the Suns last night. This marked the franchise's fewest points surrendered in the first quarter during the shot-clock era (since 1954-55). The Kings won the first frame by 27 points, their largest in any quarter since Dec. 19, 1964, when Oscar Robinson was leading the Cincinnati Royals with nightly triple-doubles. Sacramento improved to 12-11, as this is the deepest into a season they have been above .500 since 2005-06, when they finished 44-38 with Mike Bibby, Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest), and Peja Stojakovic.
My favorite fantasy trend from Sacramento, save for the awesome ascension of De'Aaron Fox, has been the brilliant floor game displayed by Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has averaged 17.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, and 2.6 3PG the past 10 games and finished last night with a team-high plus-28 net rating.
The Suns, meanwhile, have reached 20 losses faster than any other Phoenix team before, a dubious distinction, given the team's intention of proving more competitive this season, as the signing of Trevor Ariza suggested. A rare positive for Phoenix has been the play of rookie De'Anthony Melton, acquire in a trade with Houston late this past summer. Melton was somehow a team-best plus-24 in net rating last night, while starting point guard and fellow rookie Elie Okobo was a team-worst minus-22 in the loss. Melton has been a favorite of mine since the draft evaluation process began last spring and could assume a starting role in the coming weeks. Another deep-league target from Phoenix is Richaun Holmes, who rates just behind Indiana's Turner on the Player Rater the past 15 days thanks to fun defensive rates.
Kyle Korver scored 15 points in 15 minutes in a declarative victory for Utah, his new team. I'm not sold on Korver's fantasy stock, however, as he's not going to consume the opportunity rates necessary to support steady value. I'd rather roster Chicago's Justin Holiday or even Melton if prospecting for shooting prowess. It did mark an historic shooting night for the Jazz, though, as they made 20 of 33 attempts from beyond the arc in downing the Spurs, the most made 3-pointers in a game in franchise history (the previous record was 19 earlier this season against the Warriors). The performance marked the largest margin of victory over the Spurs in franchise history, with the only previous 30-point win over San Antonio coming on Dec. 13, 1979. Adrian Dantley had a clean 36 points that night for the Jazz, while George Gervin countered with 34 of his own.
The first game of the Jim Boylen era for the Bulls was at least competitive, as the team lost by just six to the Pacers. Moral victories aside, it was telling to see Lauri Markkanen unleashed with 24 shots in 32 minutes. Holiday logged 41 minutes, so it appears his role as the team's reliable 3-and-D wing will continue under the new coach. For the Pacers, Darren Collison scored a season-high 23 points and remains a priority addition with Oladipo ailing.
Injuries of note
The Pelicans' Nikola Mirotic is questionable with an illness that held him out of the team's game on Monday. Julius Randle will become a clear target acquisition in daily fantasy competition if Mirotic sits.
Reports suggest Cleveland's Kevin Love is targeting a mid-January return to action from a foot injury. If your league has an injured reserve spot or a deep bench, it's time to stash the stretch big.
Philadelphia's long injury odyssey might finally have some clarity, as Markelle Fultz has been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which should sideline him for up to six weeks, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Analytics advantage for Wednesday
The Spurs and Lakers are trending in different directions this season. The Lakers are five games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season, while the Spurs have a losing record through 24 games for the first time since 1996-97 (6-18). That was the season Gregg Popovich took over for Bob Hill after 18 games.
The Lakers have heated up recently, going 10-3 over their past 13 games, following a 4-6 start. The key to their turnaround has been improved play defensively, something that seems to align with the arrival of Tyson Chandler, as they've shifted from a generous 115.5 defensive rating (ranked 23rd in the league during this sample) before he arrived, to just 101.7 since he joined the Lakers, the second-best defensive rating during this sample.
The Lakers are 0-2 against the Spurs this season despite LeBron averaging 33.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists in those games. Loading up on shares of LeBron won't be too difficult in DFS tonight, given the big slate should offer some nice values to balance out the budget.
Top players to watch tonight
Philadelphia has won four straight and eight of its last nine games. A fifth-straight victory would be its longest win streak this season. The 76ers are also 8-2 since acquiring Jimmy Butler, tied for the best record in the NBA during that span. As for the Raptors, they are an NBA-best 20-5 this season, marking their best 25-game start in franchise history (previous best was 19-6 in 2014-15).
Overall, the Raptors have performed much more efficiently with Kyle Lowry on the court than off. Per NBA Advanced Stats, Toronto is outscoring opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions with Lowry on the court and is being outscored by 2.3 points per 100 possessions when he is off. The Raptors are also assisting on 60 percent of their field goals when Lowry is on the court compared to just 51 percent when he is off the floor.
Ben Simmons, meanwhile, is flirting with a triple-double most nights and has upped his drive rate a great deal since Butler joined the team. The key might be the removal of Fultz form the floor, with Simmons capitalizing on increased floor spacing with Butler in place. Lowry and Simmons will spend some possessions in direct competition, as will Butler and Kawhi Leonard, making this a marquee matchup with real consequences in the conference race.