The Toronto Raptors have a knack for discovering and developing talent. Chris Boucher, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby all became fantasy forces in just the past few seasons. Now, the team is converting Khem Birch from career backup to standout starting forward.
Birch produced an efficient 17 points and a team-best plus-minus for the Raptors in an overtime loss to the Washington Wizards on Thursday. The athletic big man swatted four shots and registered a steal to go with nine rebounds last night. Birch has now produced at least one defensive stat in all but two appearances with Toronto since being waived by Orlando in early April.
The Raptors have started Birch in place of an ailing Boucher for the past dozen games. Particularly productive lately, Birch has averaged 14 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 combined blocks and steals during his past seven outings.
It's not only established fantasy stars fueling deep playoff runs this month, but also guys who are quietly stepping up -- like Birch.
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors: 44 points (17-28 FG), 11 rebounds, 7 assists
Detroit's Cory Joseph was back in the starting mix for the Pistons and produced yet another strong line. Joseph finished the night second among all shooting guards in DraftKings points thanks to compiling 18 points and a game-high 11 dimes. The performance marked just his fifth career double-double and his second this season with Detroit. Joseph posted the highest plus-minus on his team last night and was key to Detroit's upset win over Memphis. He'll rest a few more times this season, but Joseph has become a trustworthy fantasy option whenever active.
Russell Westbrook just won't be stopped in his pursuit of history. The do-everything guard notched his 180th career triple-double last night and now sits just one shy of tying Oscar Robertson for the most all-time. Westbrook has posted 24 triple-doubles since the All-Star Break, tied with Wilt Chamberlain from 1967-68 for the most after the All-Star Break in a season in NBA history. The Wizards next play the Pacers on Saturday.
Zach LaVine returned to action to join with Nikola Vucevic in downing the Hornets last night. LaVine only took 11 shots and seemed rusty after enduring his longest absence from the NBA floor since 2018. The Bulls only have a four percent shot at making the play-in tournament, per ESPN's BPI, so it will be interesting to see if LaVine sees a full workload down the stretch.
Injuries of note
The Lakers' Anthony Davis left last night's loss to the Clippers after playing around nine minutes of game time due to back spasms. Davis struggled with his shot before leaving the game, but at least the All-Star said he planned on playing on Friday.
Chuma Okeke, Terrence Ross and several other perimeter players are sidelined for Orlando this evening. Rookie playmaker Cole Anthony is an interesting target, while R.J. Hampton and Mo Bamba are top streaming candidates.,
Analytics advantage for Friday
I'm not sure I've ever seen an injury report like Houston's for tonight's matchup against the Bucks. The Rockets list eight players as out due to respective injuries, one player as doubtful, and four others as questionable. With Kevin Porter Jr. sidelined, Kenyon Martin Jr. becomes a relevant fantasy option.
Martin played a team-high 44 minutes for the short-handed Rockets on Wednesday in a loss to the Sixers and was second on the roster in rebounding chances with 15. These chances are defined as being within 3.5 feet of an available rebound. Martin was second on the team in total touches on Wednesday with 70, while another big role awaits him tonight.
Top player to watch on Friday
The savvy guard has an amazing 10 steals across the last two games and should compile enough shooting and assist opportunities to deliver a fun fantasy line against the Jazz this evening.