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Fantasy NBA Daily Notes: Don't sleep on these hot starts

Raptors forward Chris Boucher is second in blocks with 9 to start the NBA season. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

A series of Christmas blowouts gave way to a more competitive climate over the weekend. While the five-game Christmas slate was not short on strong performances for star players, it was lacking in competitive balance. All five of the games during the holiday featured double-digit margins, with an average margin of 23.2. Per Elias, that marks the most lopsided of the 50 Christmas Day slates to feature at least three games in league history. For some greater context, the 23.2 average margin of victory was the fifth-largest on any calendar date in NBA history.

A busy weekend of NBA action saw a bevy of more balanced games unfold, save, of course, for the Mavericks delivering the Clippers the largest margin of defeat in team history on Sunday afternoon -- which is truly remarkable given the history of that franchise.

One key fantasy hoops takeaway from the weekend is the fact the Raptors might just have unearthed another gem in Chris Boucher, who produced 22 points on Saturday night thanks to sinking three 3-pointers while amazingly securing seven blocks in 28 minutes of action against the Spurs. Prior to Boucher's awesome line, there had been only nine performances since 1979-80 (when 3-pointers were first counted) where a player has delivered at seven blocks and at least three 3-pointers. Boucher's minutes won't always be so strong, but his ability to build big defensive lines remains intriguing, especially as he's a free agent in roughly 80% of ESPN leagues.

Another rising name to consider played against Boucher in that contest, as the Spurs' Keldon Johnson tallied a dozen points and nine boards with respectable defensive rates against the Raptors and then turned in the third-highest fantasy result among shooting guards on DraftKings' nine-game Sunday slate. Johnson could lose some steam once Derrick White is back from a toe injury, but he's clearly earning the trust of the coaching staff along the way.

It's a great time of the season to be proactive and aggressive in acquiring such rising talents on your roster(s), especially as many of fantasy managers remain married to late-round selections over such emergent names as Boucher and Johnson.

Weekend recap

Highlights

Saturday

James Harden, Houston Rockets: 44 points (12-22 FG, 14-16 FT), 4 rebounds, 17 assists, 4 TO

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: 44 points (17-30 FG, 9-16 3PT), 3 rebounds, 8 assists, 0 TO

Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers: 22 points (8-11 FG), 10 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 TO

Sunday

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans: 28 points (9-23 FG), 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 TO

Julius Randle, New York Knicks: 29 points (8-17 FG), 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 TO

Lowlights

Saturday

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks: 10 points (2-15 FG), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 TO

Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks: 5 points (2-8 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 TO

Sunday

Paul George, LA Clippers: 15 points (4-13 FG), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 TO

Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks: 6 points (2-7 FG), 2 rebounds, 2 blocks

Weekend takeaways

  • Apparently "The Beard" doesn't get rusty, as Harden logged his fourth career game with 40 points and 15 assists in his season debut on Saturday in an overtime loss to the Trail Blazers, breaking a tie with Jerry West for the second-most such performances in NBA history. It was the first 40-15 game in a team's season opener in NBA history. Even as trade buzz continues to dominant the news cycle surrounding the Rockets, it appears Harden will continue to post absurdly dominant box scores.

  • In addition to Harden's big line this past Saturday, the short-handed Rockets enjoyed a huge line from Christian Wood, who turned in 31 points and 13 boards in what was just his third career 30-point game. Thanks to a stellar finish to his days in Detroit last season, Wood has now scored at least 30 points in three of his last four NBA games. No matter Harden's long-term status with Houston, they might have landed a statistical star in Wood.

  • The Pacers' Sabonis delivered his fifth career triple-double with the Pacers on Saturday and followed that up by tallying the game-winning points in a close win over the Celtics on Sunday. Another key story on the roster is Victor Oladipo producing 20 points in consecutive games for the first time since January of 2019, albeit he rested to manage his knee on Sunday. Sticking with Indianapolis, Myles Turner is officially the league's block captain, as somehow he has 17 blocks through three games, placing him third on the roto-scoring Player Rater roughly a week into the season.

  • Cleveland's Collin Sexton predicted breakout as a scoring force is being realized, as the third-year guard is averaging 27 PPG with six combined assists and rebounds for an undefeated Cavaliers roster. Prior to Sunday's 22-point showing against Philly, Sexton joined Kyrie Irving (2016-17) and LeBron James (2006-07) as the only Cavaliers with at least 25 points in each of the team's first two games in the last 20 seasons. Sexton is still a free agent in 15% of ESPN leagues. Backcourt peer Darius Garland is also impressing in averaging 19 PPG and 8.3 APG and is rostered in roughly half of leagues.

  • Markelle Fultz recently signed an extension with Orlando and rewarded the team's loyalty with a stellar showing Sunday that included a career-high 26 points on 21 shots including two 3-pointers. The Magic haven't lost through three games, in part because of Fultz's development as a playmaker.

Injuries of note

  • The Minnesota Timberwolves' superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns is dealing with a left wrist injury that will see him "re-evaluated weekly," per ESPN's own Adrian Wojnarowski. For those in deeper leagues, Nazr Reid posted 11 points with nine combined rebounds and assists in a loss to the Lakers in place of Towns on Sunday.

  • Sunday's ugly loss to the Mavericks was due in part to the Clippers missing Kawhi Leonard, who did not play while recovering from a Christmas day collision against the Nuggets that required multiple stitches. The Clippers are now 8-8 when Leonard does not play in the regular season and 41-16 with him.

  • The Cavaliers trounced my 76ers on Sunday with Joel Embiid resting to move to 3-0 on the season. The team revealed that Kevin Love is still dealing with a right calf injury, one that limited him to just four minutes of action before heading to the locker room on Sunday. Larry Nance Jr. becomes a fun addition if Love continues to miss time.

  • The Warriors' Draymond Green remained sidelined with a foot ailment on Sunday, affording second-year Villanova Eric Paschall more burn.

Analytics advantage for Monday

A five-game slate on Monday features the Lakers hosting the Trail Blazers. Superstar big man Anthony Davis missed Sunday's matchup with Minnesota due to a right calf contusion and his status for tonight's tilt is also dicey. Scoring forward Kyle Kuzma thrived as a member of the starting lineup in place of Davis on Sunday with 20 points and six combined assists and rebounds.

Most valuably for fantasy purposes is that Kuzma has produced a stellar block percentage of 6.0% (the percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts he's blocked) the past two games and a blistering offensive rating (team's points scored per 100 possessions with him on the floor) of 149 during this sample. If Davis sits again, Kuzma makes for a fun acquisition in both redraft and daily play.

Top players to watch on Monday

The Hawks' Clint Capela could make his debut with the team on Monday, as he's listed as probable on the team's injury report. It will be interesting to see how much Capela plays and how he fits in the team's new-look rotation. Just as intriguing is how work will be dispersed between Danilo Gallinari and John Collins with Capela in the fold.