Here are a few Monday morning thoughts from the Hoops Lab, as we prepare for Week 6 of the fantasy basketball season. Keep in mind, the Fantasy Basketball Rest of Season Rankings also update on Mondays, so check those out as your prepare for this week's games. Between the rankings and this article, we'll also help you identify some good Buy Low/Sell high candidates. So, without further ado, let's dig into it.
Kyrie's back (and he brought Ben with him)
In with our weekly update on the Nets of our Lives soap opera. Irving has been reinstated to the Nets after meeting the terms to end his indefinite suspension. Not long after our update in this space last week, how the Nets w/o Irving were playing better defense, their defense went off the rails to the tune of 125 points allowed/game in their next three, including 153 points in a drubbing by the Kings. After the Kings game, Kevin Durant did an interview in which he named the other four Nets starters besides himself (not naming the suspended Irving or Ben Simmons, who was coming off the bench), and asked "what are you expecting from that group?"
So, Irving's return potentially signals a return to the type of high-octane offense that produces fantasy success, even if there's not enough matching defense for NBA team success. The Nets defeated the Grizzlies (minus Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr.) 127-115 in Irving's return. This was their second-highest point total of the season, even though Irving only produced a modest 14 points with zero assists in 26 minutes.
No, the star of the show on Sunday was Simmons, who returned to the starting lineup with Irving and produced his best offensive performance of the season with 22 points on 11-for-13 FG, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal in 35 minutes. His double-digit shot attempts were the biggest jaw-dropper, but Simmons had ramped up to Sunday with consecutive double-digit scoring efforts including a 15-point/13-rebound/7-assist effort in 32 minutes off the bench in the previous game.
If both Irving and Simmons are back, and play at relatively near their expected levels entering the season, this could be a much more fun team from a fantasy and betting perspective moving forward. Stay tuned.
Lakers finding their level?
The other "Team Drama" in the NBA this season is the Lakers, who were dwelling in the basement of the league for the first month or so of the season. LeBron James injured his groin and has sat out the last couple of weeks, but in his absence the team seems to have figured out how to play together.
Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook have led the way. Davis has reverted to his past self, averaging 32.3 PPG, 16.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.0 BPG and 1.5 SPG during the four games LeBron has missed. More strikingly, he's only attempted one 3-pointer per game while making 58.4% from the field during this stretch, embracing the center role and dominating the paint. To be fair, Davis started the season looking really good before injuring his back in the second game against the Clippers. Perhaps he's just getting healthy.
The other revelation has been Westbrook, who continues to dominate in his roll off the bench. He's now averaging 16.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 5.0 RPG and 1.7 3PG in 29.0 MPG in his 11 games off the bench. He's getting everyone involved, changing the pace of the game when he enters, and playing at such a high level I've been seeing Lakers fans actually praising him instead of criticizing him on Twitter.
LeBron is still day-to-day with his injury, but the Lakers have won three games in a row, their main players are producing strong-to-elite fantasy lines on a nightly basis, and their role players are flirting with streamer value on a nightly basis as well. If they can maintain this once LeBron returns, they still have the chance to (gasp) be a strong, potentially playoff team this season.
The remaining sections are dominated by injury.
Chris Paul has missed six straight games with a heel injury, and may be out longer as he "will be re-evaluated later" this week. Cameron Payne has produced huge numbers in his absence, and should be universally rostered for as long as he keeps the job.
Cade Cunningham is out indefinitely with a lower-leg injury that is rumored to potentially be a stress fracture. In his absence, Bojan Bogdanovic has been the starter to put up dominant numbers but Killian Hayes has stepped up with fantasy-worthy lines to get onto the streaming/potential pick-up radar.
Tyrese Maxey has been putting up huge scoring numbers since James Harden went down, but he fractured his foot and is expected to miss several weeks himself, now. De'Anthony Melton is on the fantasy/streamer radar in his absence. Joel Embiid was just diagnosed with a sprained foot that will keep him out at least two games this week. Foot injuries to big men are often problematic, so it is worth keeping a close eye as to whether this could potentially have longer term ramifications.
Returns and re-injured
LaMelo Ball finally returned last week after his sprained ankle kept him out for the first month of the season, but in his third game back he flukily stepped on a fan's foot that was sitting courtside and re-injured his ankle. This has put him back on the shelf, and opened the door for Dennis Smith Jr. to continue his renaissance campaign.
Damian Lillard returned from, then re-injured the strained calf that kept him out several games earlier in the month. He's day-to-day again, which opens things up for Anfernee Simons to explode and for Shaedon Sharpe to perhaps play himself into streamer/pick-up range.
Ja Morant returned from his ankle injury, but re-sprained it and is out again. Jaren Jackson Jr. is back, but part-time as he ramps up after his long recovery from foot surgery. Desmond Bane, the third star in Memphis, is still out for a couple weeks.
Kawhi Leonard is back to the level where he started the season, playing 20-25 minutes per game on non-back-to-backs. Hopefully he can avoid a setback, and slowly ramp back up toward fantasy starter status.
The Khris Middleton watch continues in Milwaukee. He's practicing with the team, and could return at any time, but thus far no official return-date has been specified. Stay tuned.