The NBA is currently facing a wave of COVID-19 issues which have had some impact on fantasy basketball outcomes. Sunday saw a scheduled contest between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics postponed due to health and safety protocols, while several other NBA rosters and rotations have been affected by both positive tests and tracing and testing protocols.
Navigating the pandemic in a fantasy context demands increased managerial agility and foresight. It's a good idea to proactively pursue players who are due to have bigger roles and responsibilities given the COVID-related absences of their peers, such as the huge usage leap Philadelphia 76ers rookie Tyrese Maxey inherited this past weekend against the Denver Nuggets.
Starting for the severely depleted 76ers on Saturday, Maxey maximized his minutes and became the first Philadelphia rookie since Allen Iverson in 1997 to produce as many as 39 points. He also scored the most points in a rookie's first start since 1970. Maxey also joined Iverson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin and as the only rookies in NBA history to have produced at least 39 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals in the same game. That's pretty good company.
With shooting force Seth Curry having tested positive for COVID-19 this past week and with Ben Simmons not traveling with the team to Atlanta for Monday's game due to an ailing knee, Maxey will again have a sizable role for the 76ers. Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Tobias Harris will also miss the game due to health and safety protocols, adding to Maxey's rich fantasy upside this evening. Maxey is currently rostered in just 11.4% of ESPN leagues, but he should continue to play a big role for Philadelphia in the games ahead.
The nature of this unique season will produce many Maxey-like moments where young players and fringe rotation talents will be thrust into meaningful roles that could lead to interim fantasy stardom.
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets: 5 points (2-7 FG), 2 rebounds, 4 assists
After falling just one assist short of a triple-double on Friday, just one day later against the Hawks, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. The youngest of the Ball brothers snagged that distinction away from the oldest Ball brother, Lonzo. Charlotte's Ball notched his big line off the pine, becoming the first player in Hornets history with a triple-double off the bench. Ball's effective field goal percentage, which weighs 3-pointers more heavily than traditional field goal percentage, was the sixth-highest of any triple-double over the last 25 seasons.
The Wizards got some serious injury news over the weekend with Thomas Bryant suffering a season-ending ACL injury. The fantasy fallout focuses on rising rookie Deni Avdija, who led the team in both minutes and scoring and was second in assists this past Saturday against the Heat. Avdija has produced 10.9 more DraftKings points per 36 minutes with Bryant off the floor this season. Second-year forward Rui Hachimura has seen a usage leap of 4.7% with Bryant sidelined this season, making him another intriguing option in the wake of this unfortunate injury.
Tim Hardaway Jr.'s hot streak off the bench continued over the weekend for Dallas, delivering a season-high 36 points and eight 3-pointers on Saturday night. Hardaway Jr. has had two games in his last three appearances with eight made 3-pointers and a field goal rate of at least 60%. The rest of the NBA has produced just two such games this season. Somehow, he is still a free agent in nearly 50% of ESPN leagues.
Phoenix's Mikal Bridges was a popular breakout candidate this season after a strong showing "in the bubble" over the summer. He scored a career-high 34 points on Saturday evening in a win over the Pacers, becoming the first Suns player to score 30 points in any game this season. Given his strong defensive rates -- including an atypically strong block rate for a wing -- Bridges should be rostered far more than his current 80% of ESPN leagues.
Injuries of note
In addition to all of those we've mention earlier, also sidelined for the 76ers tonight in Atlanta are Vincent Poirier, Furkan Korkmaz and Terrance Ferguson. Star pivot Joel Embiid is listed as probable, as is shooting specialist Mike Scott. Shares of Maxey and Danny Green could prove rewarding in both redraft and DFS play tonight, while Embiid is a strong building block, given what should be Shaq-like offensive usage.
The Cavaliers have an extensive injury report for tonight's matchup with Memphis. Darius Garland has been ruled out with a lingering shoulder ailment and backcourt peer Collin Sexton is questionable due to a sprained ankle. Wing Cedi Osman makes for a worthy streaming option in deeper leagues, while Larry Nance Jr. could enjoy another big night as a distributor.
As previously noted, the game between the Heat and Celtics was postponed on Sunday evening. Boston's Jayson Tatum tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, which should force more usage upon Jaylen Brown's and Marcus Smart's shoulders in the games ahead.
Analytics advantage for Monday
Atlanta's Bogdan Bogdanovic has a fractured right knee and will obviously miss this evening's game against Philadelphia. SG Kevin Huerter has seen a sizable jump in fantasy points per minute (and a stellar 66.6% true shooting clip) in the 114 minutes with Bogdanovic off the floor this season. You can find Huerter in free agency in roughly 70% of ESPN leagues.
Cam Reddish could also return to the starting lineup after having shifted to the bench recently to make way for Bogdanovic. The Duke product had a season-high 21 points this past Saturday and also netted an impressive four steals off the pine, marking his fourth career 20-point game off the bench.
Top player to watch on Monday
Keep an eye on Tyrese Maxey, who squares off against Trae Young in a Monday matchup of two high-usage young playmakers. The Hawks have surrendered 53.2 fantasy points per game to point guards on DraftKings, which is the fourth-highest mark in the league.