Even as his Celtics lost to the 76ers in South Philly last night, Marcus Smart was brilliant in defeat with a season-high 24 points and three steals. The team's trio of talented wings that includes Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown shot just 27% from the floor in the loss, while Smart's efficient offense off the bench proved critical in keeping Boston competitive against their rivals.
Smart is mostly regarded as a defensive specialist in both real and fantasy contexts, but he's shown impressive growth as a distributor (4.1 APG since the start of last season) and as a shooter (1.6 3PG, approaching league average efficiency since the start of last season). Even a recent shift to a role as the team's sixth man has resulted in strong statistical contributions from Smart, as he's slashed for 14.4 PPG, 4.6 APG and a stellar 2.2 SPG and 0.8 BPG during his past five appearances.
One of just three players averaging at least 1.5 steals, 4.6 APG and 2.1 3PG this season -- joining James Harden and Fred VanVleet -- Smart is rostered in just shy of 40% of ESPN leagues despite sustaining such uniquely helpful numbers.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics: 6 points (2-12 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 TO
James Harden, Houston Rockets: 17 points (5-17 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 TO
The Sixers' Josh Richardson scored 29 points sans Joel Embiid (who could face a prolonged absence), his second-most in a game this season. Richardson scored on five different primary defenders against Boston last night and is still a free agent in roughly a quarter of ESPN leagues.
In a loss to Cleveland, Drummond delivered his 39th career game with 20 points and 20 rebounds, fifth most since the ABA-NBA merger (since 1976-77.) Derrick Rose impressively tallied 27 points and a dozen combined rebounds and assists, good for his third straight game with at least 20 points, tying his longest such streak in the last five seasons. With the Pistons dealing with injuries to Luke Kennard and Blake Griffin, wing Bruce Brown is getting more minutes and increase usage. Brown responded last night with his second-best game score (a linear version of PER) of the season and has now scored in double figures in three of his past five games.
Thompson's opus against Drummond's Pistons marked his first career 30-point game and his fifth game this season with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds after having just five such performances during the previous five seasons combined. Thompson had played 597 games before recording his first 30-point game, the most among top-five picks in the modern draft era (1966-67).
The Timberwolves' Gorgui Dieng posted a double-double in just 17 minutes of play last night in a win over the Trail Blazers and has been solid in place of an ailing Karl-Anthony Towns, who has missed 12 straight games with a knee injury. During the past dozen games, Dieng has nearly averaged a double-double to go with stellar defensive rates. Towns could return to the lineup soon, but until then, Dieng is a solid streaming option.
Russell Westbrook scored 34 points in his first game back in Oklahoma City on Thursday night, but the Rockets lost by 21. Thursday marked Westbrook's 195th career 30-point game and yet the first in which his team lost by 20 points. Harden has shot 14-of-51 over his past two games (27.5%), the fourth-worst field goal percentage over a two-game span in the last 15 seasons (min. 50 FGA). For context, there have been more than 1,200 instances of a player attempting 50 shots over a two-game span. Per Second Spectrum, Harden scored a season-low four points on drives on Thursday, tied for his second fewest in a game in theplast five seasons (min. 10 drives).
Injuries of note
Philly's Embiid will undergo surgery Friday morning to repair a torn radial collateral ligament in the ring finger of his left hand, and he'll be reevaluated in 1-2 weeks. The usage rates for Richardson, Al Horford, and Tobias Harris can all be expected to swell in Embiid's absence.
Chicago's Wendell Carter Jr. continues to struggle with injury issues, as the second-year big will miss up to six weeks with a significant right ankle sprain.
The Clippers' Paul George has been ruled out ahead of tonight's game with the Warriors due to a hamstring ailment.
Analytics advantage for Friday
With George off the floor this season for Los Angeles, we unsurprisingly find Kawhi Leonard has enjoyed a team-high 2.7% jump in usage rate (percentage of team possessions he consumes). For those seeking to stack with the Clippers' rotation in DFS play, it also helps to consider that Lou Williams enjoys the largest leap in fantasy points per minute on the roster with George out (using DraftKings' scoring key).
For those interested in a streaming option for redraft competition, shooting guard Landry Shamet should also enjoy a leap in shooting freedom sans George's volume-driven offensive role from the floor.
Top players to watch on Friday
There are only so many NBA players who can be identified by a single name, but it's clear that Luka and LeBron qualify. LeBron James and Luka Doncic will square off for the fourth and final time this regular season. Entering Friday's matchup on ESPN (9:45 ET), LeBron and Luka have each scored exactly 77 points when competing this season and both are averaging a 25-point double-double in their meetings this season.
In the 79 minutes the two have shared the court this season, LeBron has scored one more point than Luka. The Lakers have outscored the Mavericks by 12 points in that time. Luka, meanwhile, is on pace to become the fourth player to average a 25-point double-double in four head-to-head matchups against LeBron in a single season.