One of the undeniable bargains amid the flurry of trades this past week was the Milwaukee Bucks' savvy acquisition of stretch forward Nikola Mirotic for a package of second-round picks. One of the undeniable bargains in fantasy basketball in the wake of New Orleans' fire sale of stretch forwards is the unheralded Kenrich Williams, who has taken off in a starting role in recent outings.
Mirotic is likely to debut for the Bucks in Chicago tonight to face a Bulls team that traded for him on draft night back in the summer of 2011. It will be interesting to witness how Mirotic's usage plays out as another cog on a winning rotation versus his featured role with the Pelicans. I'm guessing his offensive opportunities take a hit given the shift, but there's hope for cleaner looks on a Milwaukee team among the leaders in shot value.
It's Williams who is now enjoying unfettered opportunity in New Orleans, as he's slashed for 14.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.5 APG and 2.5 3PG these past two games since the deadline and is ranked 11th among small forwards on the Player Rater the past seven days. Williams isn't merely an interim flash, either, as he's produced a healthy two percent block rate (percentage of two-point field goals he blocks while on the floor) that has surfaced with 1.3 blocks per game the past six outings while sporting the defensive rebounding rate (19.4 percent) of a traditional big man.
In four consecutive starts at the wing for the Pelicans, Williams has averaged 35.5 MPG and 6.5 3-point attempts per game, signaling he's being afforded a healthy portion of the 9.1 3PA per game Mirotic and forward Wesley Johnson -- who was dealt to Washington -- averaged for New Orleans this season.
With Anthony Davis on a clear maintenance plan, the Pelicans will allocate a fun batch of touches, shots and minutes to Williams in the coming weeks, which is helpful when considering he's available for the price of a few clicks and a roster spot in 95 percent of ESPN leagues.
Saturday and Sunday recap
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Miami's Richardson was brilliant in the Bay last night in keeping the Heat in contention with the Warriors down the wire. A career scoring night included a career-high eight 3-pointers. Dion Waiters (rostered in just 3.5 percent of ESPN leagues) was chirping about more playing time, and the staff is starting to listen, it seems, as the Syracuse product has averaged 30.7 MPG and 15 PPG this past week and poured in 24 points on 19 attempts in Oakland last night.
Sacramento's Marvin Bagley III notched a career-high 32 points in Sunday's first meeting of the top overall picks of this past summer's draft. The Kings have won five of their past six games and trail the Clippers by a half-game for the final spot in the Western playoff bracket. Between Iman Shumpert and Justin Jackson being dealt by the Kings this past week, it appears there is enough usage for Harrison Barnes to approximate his statistical profile from Dallas this season.
It wasn't just Bagley who proved efficient on offense, as top pick Deandre Ayton scored 16 points, missing only two of 10 shots, his league-leading fifth game hitting at least 80 percent of his shots (min. 10 attempts). The Suns, however, have lost 14 straight games, tying the second-longest streak in franchise history. Devin Booker returned from a two-game absence due to another hamstring ailment to tally a strong offensive effort, including 27 points and 14 combined assists and rebounds. I've been watching a lot of Suns, well, because I've been watching a lot of NBA lately, and to the eye test, I've been encouraged by Josh Jackson's game, prompting me to check if the numbers back this up. During the past seven games, he's averaging 19.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.9 BPG, and one 3PG in 34.6 MPG. Despite the team still struggling to win, Jackson might be trending upwards in both real and fantasy regards.
Bobby Portis is enjoying the move to Washington, as the power forward has averaged 20 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.0 APG and impressively 2.0 3PG in a two-game sample with the team. Jabari Parker produced 20 points for the Wizards on Saturday in a win over his former team in Chicago to go with 11 combined dimes and boards, signaling he could revive his fantasy stock if Washington carves out a steady role for him. The Wizards seem to be enjoying their new-look roster, as the 76 points they scored in the first half on Saturday is the most for the team in any half this season.
The Sixers dominated when Embiid was in the post on Sunday. Per Second Spectrum, the 76ers averaged 2.0 points per possession on Embiid post-ups against the Lakers, their highest in a game in Embiid's career (minimum five post-ups). Tobias Harris has made 58 percent of his shots overall and 63 percent from 3-point range in his two games with the 76ers. The Sixers have shot 82 percent overall and 83 percent from beyond the arc off Harris' passes, and he's created the most points (22) off drives for the team the past two games. For the Sixers, the 143 points they posted on the Lakers are the third-most against the Lakers in franchise history -- last topping this total with 158 against LA in March of 1968 when Wilt Chamberlain scored 53 points, pulled 32 rebounds and had 14 assists. I've been to the past two Sixers home games and think this truly could become a dominant team if everything clicks. Even with these impressive numbers, there's a higher ceiling once cohesiveness hits.
In 30 minutes running with the Sixers' new-look starting lineup thus far, JJ Redick has a 111.1 percent true shooting rate (a measure of scoring efficiency from all three levels), per the Athletic, and a 97.4 percent true shooting rate in 41 minutes on the floor with Tobias Harris. For some context for these video game numbers, Rudy Gobert leads the NBA with a 67.4 true shooting clip. Redick is still available in free agency in a quarter of ESPN leagues and might be the key fantasy beneficiary of the Sixers' bold deadline dealing.
The Lakers' defense has allowed 135.7 PPG over their past three games, their second-most allowed in a three-game span in franchise history. Two of the three worst franchise three-game defensive stretches have come this season. The 143 points allowed on Sunday to the Sixers are tied for the second most ever ceded by a LeBron James team. James wasn't in attack mode for the marquee matinee, leaving Kuzma to dazzle with a game-high scoring effort. Kuzma's 39 points was the lone bright spot for Los Angeles and good for the third-most points by a Laker in his first two career NBA seasons since the merger (1976-77).
Russell Westbrook turned in his 21 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists; ninth consecutive triple-double, tying NBA record held by Wilt. Paul George and Russell Westbrook have now had a 40-point game and a triple-double, respectively, in the same game four times this season. Per Elias, this ties the most such occurrences by teammates in a season (Chamberlain and Guy Rodgers 1962-63).
The Pacers have won five straight games following a four-game losing streak since Victor Oladipo went down with a season-ending injury. Bojan Bogdanovic is averaging 21.1 PPG in these nine games, compared to 16 PPG before his teammate's injury.
Injuries of note
Kyrie Irving left Saturday's loss with a knee sprain, but ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports the injury is considered minor. The Celtics play in Philadelphia on Tuesday night in a pivotal divisional matchup and with Irving listed as day-to-day heading into the week.
Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant will miss Monday's game against the Blazers with an ankle injury.
Giannis Antetokounmpo missed Saturday's loss to Orlando with knee soreness but isn't listed on the injury report heading into tonight's game in Chicago.
Analytics advantage for Monday
Just like how fantasy football can make a late-season matchup between two dreadful NFL teams still appealing, I think there is some fantasy fun to be had with the Knicks facing the Cavs in Cleveland tonight. The premise is you can find widely available players worthy of acquiring before tip tonight, such as Cleveland's Larry Nance Jr., one of the top additions to consider this week thanks to ranking fifth in the NBA in rebounding chances (defined as being within 3.5 feet of an available rebound) during the past five games. I'm also a fan of both Kevin Knox and Jordan Clarkson as DFS bargains, given unfettered usage to create offense for their respective teams.
Top players to watch tonight
Luka Doncic scored 28 points in a big win over the Trail Blazers on Sunday that saw him outscore Portland 13-9 in the final quarter, the first time he's outscored an opposing team for a full quarter.
Having scored 42 in battling Westbrook and George this past Saturday evening, James Harden will be looking to extend his 30-point streak to 30 consecutive games facing Dallas and Doncic tonight, something only Chamberlain has ever done. Harden has maintained a 40-PPG average in his last 33 games, tied with Elgin Baylor for the second-longest streak in NBA history. The bearded one will need to score 39 points on Monday to extend the streak to 34 consecutive games.
The league leaders in stepback jumpers meet tonight with Harden and Doncic squaring off. Although it's admittedly not much of a competition when it comes to the leaderboard in stepback shots, with Harden leading the league with 181 stepback field goals compared to Doncic's 66, which ranks second in the league. It will be riveting to see how Doncic and Harden duel in another battle of Texas playmakers.