Welcome to the new Risers and Fallers fantasy basketball column. For those of you who aren't familiar with my work, my name is Steve Alexander and I've been known as 'Dr. A' in the world of fantasy hoops for the last 22 years or so.
I'm from Indianapolis and have lived in a small town in Georgia for 19 years, mostly covering the fantasy beat in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping.
I've spent a lot of time writing fantasy basketball and playing Golden Tee at Johnny B's restaurant, and playing golf at my local club, Achasta. People at both places have constantly asked me if I'm the guy who writes for ESPN and I've always had to say "no"... until now.
I'm very excited to be here and my new answer is "yes, I write for ESPN!"
With Kevin Durant expected to be out for at least the next month due to a knee injury, Irving is going to have to step up for one of the East's best teams. They're just 3.0 games behind the Celtics and Irving has shown no signs of being the eclectic guy we saw in street clothes for most of last season.
He's going nuts right now, scoring at least 24 points in seven of his last eight games and in nine of his last 11. He's topped 30 points in three of those, has had at least six assists in four straight games, and is averaging 1.0 steals over his last six games. He's also blocked four shots in his last five and knocked down at least three 3-pointers in 12 of his last 13 games.
He's going to be a huge fantasy option the rest of the way and is the only true big scoring threat left for the Nets. Especially since Ben Simmons hasn't scored more than seven points in his last six games and failed to score on Thursday night.
While the Thunder have been winning games and aren't currently in the real hunt for Victor Wembanyama and the No. 1 pick, they're not out of the race just yet with their 19 wins. There's still plenty of time for them to tank and no one has proven to be better at doing it than the Thunder over the last three seasons.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey have to be considered top shutdown candidates and Williams is young and raw enough that they can run him out there for the entire season without the threat of winning too many games. Williams has quietly scored in double figures in four straight games and in 10 of his last 11, and is averaging 13.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers over his last six games.
He's not a good free throw shooter and is shooting just 57% from the line in January, but he's also hit 50% of his shots this month. If (or when) the Thunder shut down SGA and Giddey, Williams is set to take off like a rocket.
T.J. Warren, SF, Brooklyn Nets
While Irving is going to be the man in Brooklyn, he's going to need help. And Warren is finally healthy and ready to chip in. He stepped up for 20 points and two 3-pointers off the bench on Thursday and has scored in double figures in five of his last six games, as well as in 11 of his last 14.
He hit rock bottom with a zero-point effort on Jan. 4 but has been very solid since. And given that he scored 20 in his first full game without Durant, the future is bright. Just beware that he isn't going to contribute in a lot of other categories on most nights, as he's not a shot blocker, nor does he rack up a ton of rebounds, steals or assists. But he'll get all of them occasionally and has hit five triples in his last three games.
The longer Durant is out and Warren is put into a bigger role, the stats should follow. The Nets need him now more than ever and I'm guessing that Warren is going to answer the call. He's only rostered in 4.7% of ESPN leagues, which is about to change.
Royce O'Neale, SF/PF, Brooklyn Nets
Staying in Brooklyn, I'm kind of shocked that O'Neale is only rostered in 29% of ESPN leagues. The guy is averaging 11 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.0 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers over his last three games. And prior to Thursday's game he was at 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers on the season. Those are all career highs sans rebounds and steals and he's been worth a ninth-round fantasy pick this season.
And when you remove Kevin Durant's MVP-worthy stats from the equation, along with his minutes, O'Neale should be ready to take off. Ignore his meager scoring output and go get him.
Kyle Lowry is going to be 37 years old in March and his numbers are down across the board this season. He played in just 63 games last season and has already missed seven games this season, including Thursday's game with a knee injury. He's going to need more and more rest down the stretch and was a nightmare to roster last season, especially in the second half.
Vincent stepped up on Thursday night and went off for his best game of the season, lighting up the Bucks for a season-high 28 points, three rebounds, six dimes, two steals and five 3-pointers on 10-of-17 shooting. He's not a must-have player just yet, but if you're planning ahead and thinking about the future, we're just one extended absence for Lowry away from Vincent becoming a household fantasy name.
I'm watching the Mavericks beat the Lakers as I'm writing this and the torch has officially been handed from LeBron to Luka, as far as I'm concerned. The Lakers don't have a first-round draft pick, and therefore have no reason to tank, and with every step backwards they take in the standing, the chances increase that LeBron will be shut down, or at least rested down the stretch.
The Lakers are 19-23 and they're currently the No. 12 seed in the West. LeBron's left ankle has been bothering him all year and he's not going to want to go out there and bust his tail every night if the Lakers have no chance of winning it all this season. Maybe the Lakers will make a big move at the trade deadline, but unless something drastic happens for L.A., they may not have a lot to play for down the stretch.
And you can be sure that LeBron is going to know when the party is over -- and start conserving himself for next season -- when he'll probably have more help and more hope. He's a player to deal while his fantasy value is high.
CP3 hasn't been able to stay healthy this season and has already missed 17 games for the Suns. He's currently missing time with a hip injury and the Suns (21-22) have lost seven of their last eight games.
Yes, they're hanging around as the No. 7 seed in the West but Devin Booker's not due back from his groin injury for another couple of weeks and Deandre Ayton, Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet are all out right now, along with Paul. The dude is 37 years old and at some point, like LeBron, is going to have to pack it in for this season and get ready for next year.
The rumors are swirling in the ATL. Young doesn't like his teammates. His teammates don't like him. He doesn't like his coach. Coach Nate McMillan doesn't like him. The Hawks are looking to move him. He wants to find a new team. I don't know how much, if any, of that is true. But I do know that where there's smoke, there's usually fire.
In any case, the Hawks are just 19-22 on the season and are sitting as the No. 9 seed in the East, 11 games behind the first-place Celtics. Yes, Young has been shooting the ball well and playing better for the Hawks recently, but that has equated to just two wins in their last four games and the Hawks are just 3-7 over their last 10.
And as the saying usually reserved for mamas goes, if Trae ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. I'm not a Trae conspiracy theorist and don't expect him to just disappear at some point, but the farther the Hawks fall out of the race, the less excited he's going to be to go out and deal with all this. This is simply not his year and it might make sense to trade him now.
I love most of the guys on this falling list, including LaMelo. But the Hornets are firmly in the hunt for Victor Wembanyama and have just 11 wins on the season, sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference. And they're only one loss away from being tied with the Rockets at 10 wins.
Ball played in just 51 games in 2020-21, missed seven games last season, and has already missed 25 games this season. The Hornets clearly have a better chance to win any game when Ball is on the court and this just feels like a situation where they could be looking for any excuse to shut him down. Given the fact that Ball is healthy and playing well, now might be the ultimate time to move him for max value. .
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Thunder were a better team, SGA would be in the running for MVP. All of his numbers are sick, he's a Top 5 fantasy player and the 6-foot-6 guard ranks 25th in the league with 1.1 blocked shots per game, of all things. He's a bona fide all-star, a fantasy star and one of the most exciting players in the league. But he's also played in just 35 and 56 games in the previous two seasons and has been shut down by the Thunder in both of them.
Maybe, just maybe, they're going to be generous and let him play out the entire season, throwing the Wembanyama dream into an active volcano. But this is the Thunder we're talking about. And they have set a high bar when it comes to tanking over the last three years. I'm kind of torn on this one, as I could see them continuing to try to win games, while I can also see them shutting SGA and Josh Giddey down and calling it a day. The good news is that if you're as nervous about SGA being shut down as I am, you can basically trade him for whatever you want right now.
And while I don't know Sam Presti personally, I know Sam Presti. And he's just sitting back, biding his time and waiting for the right moment to tank. If the Thunder don't shut guys down and try to make the playoffs this season, every single one of us will be wrong. But if you're going to move SGA, you can rest easy knowing you're going to get a lot of goodies in return. Good luck!