By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Week 10 of the NBA season is upon us, and it’s the final full week before the All-Star break which begins next Friday, March 5. The NBA is yet to announce the second-half schedule, but details should be coming soon, as the league decides how best to handle the process of rescheduling the basket of games postponed during the first half.
This week, only one game — Monday’s Pacers-Spurs matchup — has been postponed, and it was part of a larger effort to contain the possible spread of the virus after multiple Spurs players tested positive early last week. With San Antonio set to resume play Wednesday, the hope is that things will return to a sense of normalcy after a combination of COVID-19 and winter weather wreaked havoc on the Week 9 slate.
As we embark on our weekly trip around the league, we’ll begin, as always, with a COVID-19 update before digging into DeMarcus Cousins’ future, the struggling Lakers, the return of James Wiseman, and much more.
This time last week, it was pandemonium, as the league announced a series of virus-related postponements after a mini-breakout within the Spurs. San Antonio had the entirety of its Week 9 schedule wiped out, as well as Monday’s game against Indiana. The plan is for the Spurs to resume play Wednesday in Oklahoma City, but with several players (Rudy Gay, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Devin Vassell) still in the league’s health and safety protocols, San Antonio projects to have only nine or 10 players available.
That final number is dependent on the status of LaMarcus Aldridge, who practiced Monday and could make his return after missing the last six games with a hip injury. Whenever Aldridge and the rest of the Spurs return to full health, it could spell the end of Jakob Poeltl’s mini-run as one of the most valuable shot-blockers in fantasy basketball.
DeMar DeRozan will not play Wednesday following the death of his father last week. The veteran is currently away from the team, and it’s unclear if he’ll return for Saturday’s home matchup against the Pelicans, which closes out a two-game week for San Antonio.
The DeMarcus Cousins experiment is over
Just a few days after reports surfaced suggesting the Rockets were preparing to move on from DeMarcus Cousins, the team did just that Tuesday morning. Cousins sat out Monday night’s blowout loss to the Bulls with a heel injury, but he’d started the previous seven games in place of the injured Christian Wood. Houston lost all seven of those games, including double-digit defeats at the hands of Charlotte, New Orleans, New York, and Washington.
Fantasy-wise, Cousins was a pretty substantial bust in Houston. Expectations weren’t exactly sky-high, but his Yahoo ADP (119.3) was higher than that of Larry Nance, Terry Rozier, and Chris Boucher. In 25 appearances, he averaged 9.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists, while shooting a career-worst (by far) 37.6 percent from the field. Perhaps most disappointing is that Wood’s injury served up a golden opportunity, and Cousins simply wasn’t able to take advantage.
Considering the cost will be minuscule, another team will almost certainly take a chance on Cousins. But it’s hard to imagine he’ll find a better situation than the one he was in over the last three weeks. Plenty of teams could use a big body capable of scoring and stretching the floor, but Cousins’ shortcomings on the defensive end will likely relegate him to a smaller role off the bench.
The Lakers are a mess
The Lakers blew a 17-point second-half lead to the Wizards on Monday, dropping their third straight game and fourth in five tries since losing Anthony Davis to a calf injury. LeBron James is putting up 27.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 8.8 assists since Davis went down, but he’s turning the ball over 4.5 times per game (he had a season-high eight turnovers Monday) while throwing up brick after brick from beyond the arc.
After going 2-of-10 from deep Monday night, James is now a combined 6-of-37 from three over the last six games. He’s also down to 63.2 percent at the line in that span, which makes it even more impressive that his overall field goal percentage sits at 52.4 percent.
The Lakers are yet to discover a true second option without Davis and Dennis Schroder, who’s missed the last three games due to health and safety protocols. Kyle Kuzma has been the closest thing, averaging 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds over the last six games. Frank Vogel has been hesitant to fully unleash Montrezl Harrell, who’s averaging just 20.0 minutes per game in Davis’ absence. Perhaps that could change after Harrell posted 26 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in 23 minutes Monday night.
Since Davis went down, the Lakers rank 23rd in offense (107.8 ORTG), 24th in made threes per game (9.8), 28th in three-point percentage (29.1%), 29th in free throw percentage (72.5%), and 29th in turnovers per game (16.2).
Help arrives for Golden State
The Warriors received positive injury news Monday when both Kevon Looney and James Wiseman returned to practice. Both players are likely to make their returns to action Tuesday night. The expectation is that Looney will step back into the starting lineup, while Wiseman works off the bench — that was the case before their respective injuries.
Looney is a non-factor in the fantasy world, but Wiseman could still be useful, especially in deeper formats. In four games off the bench, Wiseman posted 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.0 block in just 19.0 minutes. In the one game in which he played 20-plus minutes in that span, Wiseman went for 25 points, six rebounds, two blocks, and three three-pointers (24 minutes) in a win over Minnesota.
Fred VanVleet’s career year
VanVleet’s ascent from undrafted rookie to NBA champion to All-Star-caliber guard has been well-documented, and he’s taken his fantasy stock to another level in 2020-21. Entering Tuesday, VanVleet is the 16th-ranked player in nine-category leagues (per-game value), and he leaps all the way up to sixth overall in total value. Trim the sample to just the last month, and VanVleet is the NBA’s third-best fantasy player, trailing only Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry.
Take a look at the splits between VanVleet’s first 15 games and his 16 most-recent games:
First 15 games: 18.9 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 3.2 3PM/G, 85% FT (2.7 FTA/G), 36% 3PT
Last 16 games: 21.2 PPG, 6.7 APG, 4.3 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 3.4 3PM/G, 92% FT (4.6 FTA/G), 40% 3PT
For the most part, the numbers are fairly similar. VanVleet has had some big-time scoring outbursts — most notably, a 54-point, 11-three-pointer eruption against Orlando to begin February — but the boost in value is mostly thanks to increases in steals, blocks, and both free throw percentage and free throw volume. Given VanVleet’s size and athleticism, the blocks are what stand out most. But he’s quickly developed into one of the league’s premier steals accumulators. He has at least one steal in 26 of 31 appearances this season, at one point recording a steal in 12 consecutive games.
Both Ball brothers are rolling
Coming off a 21-point, seven-rebound, four-assist, three-steal effort Monday against Utah, the hype around LaMelo Ball continues to build. Over his last 10 games (all as a starter), Ball’s averages are up to 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.8 made threes (40.6% 3PT). Tyrese Haliburton is still in the mix, but the Rookie of the Year award is now firmly Ball’s to lose.
For as well as LaMelo has played, it’s been the other Ball brother who’s emerged as the more valuable fantasy player over the last 30 days. While LaMelo ranks 25th overall in that stretch, Lonzo has been the league’s 15th-best fantasy player in nine-category leagues (total value). In his last 15 games, the eldest Ball brother is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 3.7 three-pointers, while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from three (8.1 3PA/G).
Even after coughing the ball up a season-high six times against Boston on Sunday, Ball is committing just 1.8 turnovers per game. Ball is also beginning to work his way to the free-throw line, where he’s a combined 9-of-12 over the last four games. After attempting only 18 free throws through his first 20 games, Ball has 17 attempts in his last six games.
Robert Williams: Quietly a top-100 player
Despite not starting a single game this season, Celtics big man Robert Williams ranks inside the top 85 in per-game value. The third-year center is averaging a modest 6.4 points and 5.7 boards, but he’s adding 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals while shooting 72.5 percent from the field. Williams has 10 blocks over his last three games alone.
Even with the gaudy per-minute numbers, Boston has been hesitant to turn things over to the 2018 first-round pick. The offseason addition of Tristan Thompson, who’s started alongside Daniel Theis for much of the year, was further evidence that the Celtics don’t fully trust Williams to play more than 15-to-20 minutes off the bench. Thus far, Williams has logged more than 20 minutes only three times, two of which came within the first five games of the season.
Still, when the Celtics are on a four-game week, Williams is a viable fantasy starter. And if Brad Stevens ever extends his leash, he would instantly become one of the most-coveted shot-blockers in fantasy basketball.
One item to keep an eye on this week is the minutes breakdown between Dennis Smith Jr. and Saben Lee in Detroit. With Delon Wright likely sidelined through the All-Star break, the Pistons have a major void at point guard, and it was Lee who took advantage in Sunday’s game against Orlando. Smith got the start but struggled early (four turnovers in 15 minutes), leaving Dwane Casey to ride with Lee for much of the second half. The 2020 second-round pick ended up with 12 points (4-7 FG, 4-7 FT), four rebounds, five assists, and three steals in 33 minutes.
Russell Westbrook fell one assist shy of his fourth straight triple-double Monday night, but he’s still averaging a triple-double over his last six games (20.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 11.7 APG). The counting stats are nice, but Westbrook’s 5.0 turnovers per game, horrific free throw percentage (48.6% FT) and complete lack of three-point production (0-13 3PT) have fantasy managers feeling a little empty.
Jrue Holiday will miss his ninth consecutive game Tuesday night, but he was back on the bench for Sunday’s win over Sacramento, so his quarantine period appears to be over. Assuming he’s cleared from the league's health and safety protocols soon, Holiday’s return to game action could simply come down to conditioning.
Mike Conley made his return from a six-game injury absence Friday against the Clippers. In two games back, he’s averaging 15.5 points, 2.5 assists, 1.0 rebound, 2.0 steals and 3.0 made threes in 27.0 minutes.
A name to keep an eye on in deeper formats: Jordan McLaughlin. With D’Angelo Russell out several weeks, McLaughlin has emerged as the primary backup to Ricky Rubio. Over his last eight games, the USC product is averaging 6.1 points, 5.9 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 20.6 minutes.
Wendell Carter Jr. had his best game of the season in Monday’s blowout win over Houston. A depleted Rockets frontcourt was a contributing factor, but Carter cruised to 18 points, 13 rebounds, two steals, and a block in just 29 minutes. It was his fifth game back after he missed 11 games with a bruised quad.
Terry Rozier was limited to 12 points (5-11 FG, 0-4 3PT) in 31 minutes Monday night against Utah, snapping his streak of four straight games with at least 33 points. Devonte’ Graham has missed five of the Hornets’ last seven games and will now miss Wednesday’s game in Phoenix. Charlotte is in the midst of a six-game Western Conference road swing that also includes games in Golden State (Friday), Sacramento (Sunday), Portland (Monday), and Minnesota (next Wednesday).
Zion Williamson worked his way to the line 10 times in Sunday’s come-from-behind win over the Celtics, marking his third straight game with double-digit free throw attempts. Over his last 15 games, Williamson is averaging 26.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks. During that stretch, he’s shooting 65.2 percent from the field and 74.8 percent at the line (8.5 FTA/G). Through his first 14 games of the season, Williamson made 57.8 percent of his field goals and just 66.7 percent of his free throws.