Thomas proving his worth in February
In a practical sense, Aaron Brooks has been out of the rotation for weeks. But in the two games since coach Keith Smart announced that he was formally pulling Brooks out of the rotation so he can lean exclusively on Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette at the point, IT2 has taken flight. On Saturday, he scored 25 points with 2 3s, 3 dimes and 3 steals, and he followed that performance up with 23 points, 2 3s, 6 assists and 2 steals Sunday night.
At this point, there is no sense in rehashing the season-long debate about why on earth Smart didn't turn Thomas loose months ago, but as fantasy owners, we should just be happy it has happened. Thomas has knocked down two 3s in each of his past four games, has taken double-digit shots in eight straight games and 12 of his past 13. He has also been highly active at the free throw line, where he has had games of 10-of-10 and 13-of-13; in fact, he hasn't missed a free throw in February (29-of-29).
In five games this month, Thomas is averaging 19.4 points, 1.6 3s, 4.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals, while shooting 42.9 percent from the field (14.0 FGA) and, as mentioned, 100 percent from the line (5.8 FTA). That compares well to the numbers he posted after the All-Star break last season: 14.2 ppg, 1.5 3s, 5.2 apg, 3.0 rpg, 1.1 spg, 47.2 FG% (10.3 FGA) and 83.1 FT% (3.6 FTA).
It seems that Smart finally is back on board with his talented and tiny point guard, so hopefully he will continue to turn him loose for the remainder of the season. The only catch with his production is for those of you in leagues that set weekly lineups, because the Sacramento Kings have an unappetizing schedule during the final five full weeks of the season: 2, 4, 3, 3 and 3 games. That means you may want to consider flipping him for a player of similar value with a better schedule for your fantasy playoff stretch, perhaps someone from the New York Knicks or Minnesota Timberwolves, who have the strongest late-season schedules.
• After playing limited minutes in his first three games since returning from a broken finger, Jonas Valanciunas played 26 minutes Friday, coming off the bench for 14 points (6-10 FG), 13 rebounds and two blocks. On Sunday, he was placed back into the starting lineup and responded with 11 points (5-8 FG), 10 boards and two blocks. There is plenty of upside in this rookie as a double-double threat with blocks, so long as he can stay out of foul trouble. He's worth adding off waivers to see if things click after the All-Star break.
• Gustavo Ayon hadn't topped 14 minutes in a game since December, but he was on the hardwood for 31 minutes Sunday and came up big with 16 points, 11 boards, 6 dimes and a block against the Portland Trail Blazers. Considering that his resurgence coincided with the Magic snapping a 12-game losing streak, we may end up seeing more of Ayon going forward. Considering the Magic likely will be involved in trade-deadline deals, he could be worth a speculative add in case he is dealt to a team willing to use him more, or in case a trade opens up more game action for Ayon in the Magic's rotation.
• Tim Duncan missed his third straight game -- and eighth of his past 10 -- Sunday due to a sore knee. Meanwhile, teammate Manu Ginobili skipped his fourth straight game due to a sore hamstring. With just two games remaining before the All-Star break, it would be surprising to see either of them lace up this week.
• Danny Granger took part in his first full-court practice Sunday and could be back in the mix as soon as Wednesday. That's the Indiana Pacers' final game before the break, so it appears he will be back in the mix afterward, regardless of his availability for Wednesday. He's been out all season with a knee injury. Meanwhile, Paul George has exploded and taken over as the best player on the Pacers roster. We should keep all expectations in check for Granger going forward, because he will be a second wheel to George and may be on a minutes restriction for a while.
• Per John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Eric Gordon still is not 100 percent healthy, remains on a minutes restriction and has no timetable for when he will begin playing back-to-back games. He's still hovering around 29-30 minutes per game most nights, but his production has been downright awful this month (27 points Friday, 25 combined points in his other three games, and little else statistically). Considering his lengthy injury history, it's hard to fault the Hornets for babying him. His sketchy production of late makes him a decent trade target if you need to take a risk to win your league; maybe they will turn him loose over the final weeks of the season when it matters most.
• I mentioned above that Ayon is worth a look in case the Magic pull off a trade or two prior to next week's deadline, but there are plenty of other players whose value could change due to trades. Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, J.J. Redick, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, Jared Dudley, Kris Humphries, Gordon and Andrea Bargnani all have been tied to trade rumors of late. I think that most of them will see a bump in production if traded, though I expect Redick and Dudley to see a decrease in touches and production if dealt away.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
With James Harden battling the Golden State Warriors and Kobe Bryant against the Phoenix Suns, you should be set at guard Tuesday evening. The same goes at forward, where Fastbreak beasts LeBron James and Kevin Durant are active. At center, Dwight Howard looks like a good bet against the Phoenix Suns, but I'm leaning toward Omer Asik against the Golden State Warriors. He's been rolling lately with eight straight games of at least 17 Fastbreak points and three games of at least 28 points over that stretch, including Sunday against the Kings.