With the Super Bowl in the rear view, it's the NBA's time to shine. With so many teams still in playoff contention ahead of Thursday's looming trade deadline, this week should be rife with rumor, innuendo and buzz. It will prove critical for fantasy managers to stay informed and react to the litany of roster shifts about to occur.
ESPN's Zach Lowe produced an excellent trade deadline primer canvassing the league for potential player movement with an eye on specific team needs. Memphis appears quite busy working the phones with talks focused on both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley in addition to several rotation players on the Grizzlies -- namely Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green.
It's tough, if not impossible, to predict how the NBA market will behave this week, but proactive fantasy managers can find profitable production in free agency once moves start materializing. For instance, the Portland Trail Blazers traded two second-round picks along with the expiring contracts of guards Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin IV to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday for shooting guard Rodney Hood, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Hood has struggled in Cleveland to find the strong scoring touch he flashed with Utah last season, but he's still sinking 36 percent from beyond the arc this season and can offer some help in steals and rebounds when afforded solid burn. The Blazers appear inclined to allocate a healthy batch of minutes and shots to Hood in the coming weeks, making him a reasonable speculative addition in deeper leagues. Even if Hood doesn't shine in his new destination, this change in scenery and opportunity creates the potential for real production -- which is what we're always after.
Saturday and Sunday recap
PJ Tucker, Houston Rockets: 2 points (1-6 FG), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals
In the first game for Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan with the Knicks, the former struggled with his shot but did play 28 minutes in his home debut. Matthews appears bound for a buyout after the deadline. Jordan delivered a double-double in his debut, and while likely to also be bought out, he has been talked about as a veteran mentor by the coaching staff already. Per "DSJ," he took just nine shots in 26 minutes and looked to pass before creating his shot. I'm guessing Smith will assume some heavy-usage games in the weeks ahead, while rookie Kevin Knox will also get every opportunity to produce on offense.
In a close loss to Boston on Sunday, Westbrook tallied his sixth straight triple-double, good for the sixth-longest triple-double streak in NBA history. Westbrook now owns three of the six longest triple-double streaks in NBA history, per Elias (Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson have the three other longest streaks).
In losing to Walker's Hornets, Bobby Portis produced 33 points, just his second career 30-point game, thanks to contributing 28 points in the first half against Charlotte, tied for the most by a Bulls player in first half in past 15 seasons. Walker, meanwhile, became the first player in franchise history with 35 points and 10 dimes in a game.
In a win over the Suns, the Hawks' Collins matched his career high with 35 points and finished one rebound off his career best on the glass. Trae Young notched 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to secure the first 25-5-5 game of his career. With sharpshooting rookie Kevin Huerter and two lottery selections this summer, the Atlanta rebuild is proving promising already.
Atlanta handed the Suns their 10th straight loss, the franchise's sixth losing streak of at least 10 games over the past four seasons, tying the Process 76ers for the most by any team in that span. Devin Booker continues to shine statistically, if not in the win column, finishing the contest two rebounds shy of a 30-point triple-double. Booker now has three games this season with at least 30 points and 10 assists after entering the season with one such game in his career. Another rising Phoenix player is Mikal Bridges, who delivered 20 points on five 3-pointers and notched three steals in the loss. With rich defensive stats, Bridges will likely be a favorite mid-round target of mine in drafts next fall.
Your weekly historical Harden update: Saturday marked his 19th 40-point game this season, 12 more than any other player. That's just silly. Harden tallied his third career 40-point, 10-rebound, five-steal game, tying Anthony Davis and Michael Jordan for most since steals became official in 1973-74, per Elias. Harden and Larry Bird are the only players with multiple career games of 40 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals since steals became official. Expect the Rockets to prove busy at the deadline in trying to complement Harden with shooting and defense from the wing.
The bearded one's brilliance saw the Jazz suffer a 27-point home loss, their second 20-point home loss of the season. However, the loss wasn't due to the league's most glaring All-Star omission, Rudy Gobert, as the Stifle Tower produced his 16th-straight home game with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds, the second-longest streak in Jazz history, per Elias. Truck Robinson -- not Karl Malone as you might have guessed -- has the longest streak with 59 straight home games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Jazz continue to be an intriguing landing spot for Mike Conley, especially given Rubio's lack of scoring efficiency.
Injuries of note
Anthony Davis remains sidelined with a combination of a finger injury and the stalemate created by his trade request. Jahlil Okafor remains a strong option in place of Davis.
The Spurs' Derrick White is an awesome fantasy free agent acquisition given his hot hand from the field, but he's been ruled out for tonight's tilt with the Kings with a sore foot.
Analytics advantage for Monday
Tonight's meeting between the Bucks and Nets features two of the best teams in the past two months. Since December 7, the Bucks have the best record in the league, while the Nets are tied for the fourth best.
A win for the Nets Monday will make them one step closer to entering the All-Star break with a winning record, something they haven't done since 2012-13, their first season in Brooklyn. One of the biggest reasons to the Nets' success is the improvement of D'Angelo Russell, as his numbers have jumped in his first All-Star season; he averaged 23.8 PPG in January, most by a Nets player in a calendar month since Deron Williams in February of 2012.
Russell rested in the first meeting between these teams back in December, setting him up for a compelling showdown with Milwaukee's Eric Bledsoe, who ranks third in real defensive plus-minus among point guards.
Appraising the Bucks, I'm inclined to stack their key stars, namely with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe and Brook Lopez (in a fun revenge narrative), as their already elite offense is somehow reaching new peaks (their net rating is approaching historic territory).
Top players to watch tonight
While paying up for Harden in DFS is still advisable even as his price approaches the ceiling, I'm most interested in complementing him with Phoenix's Deandre Ayton, who comes in at nearly half the price of Houston's superstar and yet projects for roughly 40 fantasy points facing a patchwork Houston frontcourt that made Okafor look like Davis last week. Even as the Suns struggle, there is still plenty of fantasy fun to be had.