The Celtics' Kemba Walker was hot from all over the floor in Wednesday's win over the visiting Mavericks, but the meaningful fantasy lesson from the nationally televised contest was that Jalen Brunson is going to be a statistical force for as long as Luka Doncic is sidelined with an ankle ailment suffered this past weekend.
Brunson flirted with a triple-double in tallying 10 points, 11 dimes and 7 boards in the loss to Boston. The Villanova product has impressively slashed for 13.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 10.0 APG during the past three games as the team's leading distributor.
Rostered in just 4.1% of ESPN leagues as of Thursday morning, Brunson is emerging as an influential fantasy force with his superstar teammate sidelined.
Earlier this week, rising rookie Brandon Clarke earned a featured spot in this column, thanks to producing a career-high 25 points in a win over the Wizards this past Saturday. Last night, Clarke established yet another scoring peak with 27 points on 19 shots in a loss the Thunder. Already leading the entire league in true shooting percentage, Clarke has become an absolute must-add fantasy contributor in all formats. Fellow rookie Ja Morant produced his 12th 20-point game of the season, most by a Memphis rookie since O.J. Mayo posted 36 such outings in 2008-09.
Sticking with this theme of rare rookie production, the Heat's Kendrick Nunn helped Miami deliver the 76ers their first loss in Philly of the season, as they were the last unbeaten team at home in the league. Nunn impressively netted 26 points and five assists in the victory, securing his ninth 20-point game of the season, tied for the most by an undrafted rookie since the common draft era began in 1966.
The Bulls delivered their third straight victory over the Wizards on Wednesday, two of which, including last night, have gone to overtime. Former Wizard Tomas Satoransky produced 17 points, 7 boards and 6 assists in downing his former club and has provided solid fantasy value the past several outings.
Keeping with the Wizards, last night marked the team's 20th straight game allowing at least 110 points, the second-longest such streak in the past 25 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Info. With the Washington frontcourt banged up, it was elite shooter Davis Bertans who kept the Wizards competitive with 26 points, thanks to sinking seven 3-pointers, marking a franchise record for a single season with his seventh game of at least five made 3-pointers this season.
The Pelicans snapped a seemingly endless 13-game losing streak, the longest streak in franchise history. Breakout combo forward Brandon Ingram notched a game-high 34 points to go with 11 combined assists and rebounds in the victory over the reeling Timberwolves, who now claim the league's longest losing streak at eight games, the longest for the franchise since Karl-Anthony Towns' rookie campaign. Ingram produced 18 of his points in the first quarter, his most in any quarter of his career. Next summer will prove compelling for Ingram's contractual options, as ESPN's NBA sage Zach Lowe recently mentioned in a podcast that Ingram is an obvious max candidate amid a shallow free agent class in July of 2020.
Injuries of note
Orlando's Jonathan Isaac left Wednesday's loss to the Nuggets with a sore hamstring and some back tightness. The Magic are canvassing the Western Conference with a matchup in Portland on Friday against the Trail Blazers, and Isaac told reporters he was dealing with cramping and not a significant ailment.
Towns did not play for the Wolves on Wednesday due to a left knee sprain. If the superstar center misses any further time, streaming shares of Gorgui Dieng make some sense, given he tallied 13 points and eight pulls on Wednesday.
Analytics advantage for Thursday
Atlanta is among the most porous defensive groups in the league, as the analytics confirm with the Hawks ceding 114.4 points per 100 possessions, the third-worst defensive rating in the NBA. The Knicks, a team ranked last in offensive rating entering this past Tuesday's tilt with the Hawks, just scored the franchise's most points in a regulation contest in 39 years in a drubbing of Atlanta. Thus, the key counsel for tonight would be to stream and stack with Utah's rotation however possible, given a matchup with the Hawks this evening.
Combine this soft matchup with the absence of Mike Conley to a hamstring ailment and we find that both Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell each enjoy notable leaps in usage sans the veteran point guard from the lineup. We also find Joe Ingles enjoys a 3.1% leap in assist percentage without Conley in the fold. Finding ways to build around Mitchell and Rudy Gobert with these productive rotation members could prove rewarding, given the inviting matchup ahead.
For those seeking a more enduring option from Utah's roster, consider that Conley is expected to miss multiple games, if not weeks, per the Athletic, with yet another hamstring ailment. This means that Ingles, available in free agency in nearly half of ESPN leagues, becomes a key source for assists until Conley's return.
Top players to watch tonight
The Lakers are in Milwaukee tonight in a decidedly marquee matchup of the two top teams in each conference. This game, of course, features an awesome matchup between Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. Given the success of their teams, it is no surprise that LeBron and Giannis are first and second in real plus-minus, respectively
It is rare the NBA sees a matchup between two teams at least 20 games above .500 this early in the season, but that is what we are getting Thursday. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lakers and Bucks matchup will be just the third game in NBA history between teams 20 games over .500 before January 1.