While the Los Angeles Lakers couldn't secure a win in Sacramento on Wednesday evening, it appears that they've unearthed a trusted scoring guard in Malik Monk. The former lottery pick entered the starting lineup in late December and, including last night's 22 points against the Kings, he has averaged 20.3 points during those eight games.
In addition to becoming a capable perimeter scorer in this new role with the Lakers, Monk has averaged 2.0 combined blocks and steals as an active defender across his last nine games. Thanks to his production on both sides of the court, Monk ranks 10th among all shooting guards on the ESPN Player Rater during the last 15 days, just ahead of Fred VanVleet and Bradley Beal.
Outside of a sluggish 7-point showing this past Sunday, Monk (who is available in free agency in nearly 80% of ESPN leagues) has scored at least 20 points in all of his other appearances this month.
San Antonio's Murray established a new career-best in scoring during his seventh triple-double of the season. In the process, he also became the first Spurs player since David Robinson to record a 30-point triple-double. Even as the Spurs have lost eight out of nine games amid a tough wave of COVID-driven absences, Murray's ascension to statistical stardom has been encouraging.
Harden tallied his 10th game this season with at least 20 points and 10 assists in last night's rousing win over the first-place Bulls (tying him for second in the league for such performances with Luka Doncic). Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving was quiet with just nine points on 10 shots. Kevin Durant was wildly efficient with 27 points on just 10 shots (no, really), but it certainly appears that there will be some statistical sacrifice to consider when all three of Brooklyn's superstars are active.
Cleveland is sustaining a new level of competitiveness this season. Jarrett Allen is battling Rudy Gobert for the true-shooting crown among the league's most efficient interior scorers, while Darius Garland has become a full-fledged star -- including last night's triple-double performance in a win over the reeling Jazz. Meanwhile, Evan Mobley has just been absurdly effective as a rookie, as his seven assists last night came on a bevy of deft passes from the high-post. The favorite to win Rookie of the Year, Mobley became the first Cavaliers rookie with 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game since LeBron James in 2003.
Injuries of note
Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Portland superstar Damian Lillard will undergo surgery to address a lingering abdominal injury. The procedure is likely to keep Lillard out for at least two months, but it seems his entire season could be in jeopardy given the team's lottery-bound trajectory. Anfernee Simons is a priority addition in all formats given the rewarding role he's likely to serve at the helm of the offense for the next several weeks. The eventual return of CJ McCollum will prove intriguing for this rotation. However, at least for now, it will be "The Simons Show."
Analytics advantage for Thursday
Paul George won't play this evening due to a lingering elbow injury. With George off the floor this season, Marcus Morris Sr. has seen his usage rate jump by nearly 3%, leading to 21.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.0 3-pointers (per 36 minutes) in such scenarios. Go ahead and scoop Morris up ahead of tonight's matchup against a New Orleans team that rates 24th in defensive efficiency.
Ben McLemore, Portland Trail Blazers: During a five-game slate, it can help to identify a few of the more undervalued rotations for Thursday. I think Portland's qualifies. McLemore has played 25-plus minutes in consecutive games and could enjoy some freedom to space the floor against the Nuggets this evening.
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers: With Portland's depleted backcourt, Nurkic has been tasked with more creation in the half-court, as evidenced by the big Bosnian averaging 4.4 assists during his last five games. Facing his former team in Denver this evening, Nurkic is in a good spot to deliver a big line.