By Juan Blanco, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As we head into Week 3, the NBA fantasy landscape is starting to settle in as expected. Injuries are already wreaking havoc, however, with the Warriors (naturally) the most glaring example after losing both Stephen Curry (hand) and Draymond Green (finger) this past week. Notable absences such as those consequently open up opportunities elsewhere.
We have a solid amount of four-game teams on tap this coming week, but there are underachievers on some of those squads who merit a potential benching based on a combination of their production and upcoming matchups.
Without further ado, let’s delve into some candidates trending both upward and downward as the new week approaches.
Notable short-term injuries/absences to monitor: Trae Young, ATL (ankle); Myles Turner, IND (ankle); D’Angelo Russell, GSW (ankle); Karl-Anthony Towns (suspension); Joel Embiid (suspension)
Teams with four games: ATL, CHA, GS, IND, MEM, MIL, MIN, OKC, PHI, POR
Teams with three games: BKN, BOS, CHI, CLE, DAL, DEN, DET, HOU, LAL, MIA, NO, NY, PHO, SA, TOR, WAS
Teams with two games: LAC, SAC, UTA
Start: D’Angelo Russell, GSW (four games)
The bodies continue to drop around Russell, who’s dealing with an ankle sprain himself (it’s believed to be minor). With Draymond Green now set to miss multiple games with his finger sprain, Stephen Curry (hand) gone for multiple months, and with four games on tap this week, Russell is going to get all the run and usage he can handle beginning with a schedule that will include potential high-scoring affairs against the Trail Blazers, Rockets and Timberwolves.
Russell’s usage rate with both Curry and Green off the court this season is already a team-high 32.7 percent, and he’s now set to spend entire games without his teammates alongside him, as opposed to the more modest in-game stretches that number has been built on thus far. The 2015 second overall pick of the Lakers has certainly proven capable of shouldering an offense before, so he’ll be primed for some big numbers any time he takes the floor this coming week.
Start: Chris Paul, OKC (four games)
Paul had a couple of duds over the first three games of the season, but he’s been much better over the last three games, averaging 17.0 points, 6.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals across 31.3 minutes. Paul has been much more efficient thus far compared to last season, boosting his shooting percentage to 45.2% from last season’s career-worst 41.9% figure while also draining a career-best 48.1% from three-point range on 4.5 attempts from distance per contest.
With four matchups this week against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in points allowed to point guards (Magic, Spurs, Warriors, and Bucks) and a 22.3% usage rate thus far, Paul’s outlook for the upcoming week looks increasingly bright as he continues to acclimate himself to his new teammates.
Sit: Eric Bledsoe, MIL (four games)
Even after a win over Toronto on Saturday, it feels like the Bucks have underachieved as a whole, and Bledsoe has been a contributor to some of those struggles. The veteran point guard has seen his scoring average drop from last season’s 15.9 to 12.3 in the early going, a downturn that’s largely the byproduct of a tumble of nearly eight percentage points (48.4 to 40.8) in overall shooting, and nearly 10% (32.9 to 23.1%) in three-point success rate.
What’s more, Bledsoe is also averaging his fewest shots per game (11.8) since the 2012-13 season, and even his free-throw percentage (62.5) is in the gutter. Throw in a drop in assists (5.5 to 4.7), sub-30-minute tallies in four straight games and two out of four matchups against teams ranked in the top 10 in multiple categories against point guards, and Bledsoe is a candidate to take a seat this coming week despite the four-game ledger.
Sit: Mike Conley, UTA (two games)
Conley is another underachieving vet whose current outlook is further dampened by a two-game week. Even after showing some improvement over his last two contests, Conley is still shooting a career-low 33.3% after scuffling in that category the prior two seasons (38.1% and 43.8%, respectively). He’s also taking a full 3.5 shots fewer per game compared to last season in Memphis (12.5, compared to 16.0), and even his 2.8 turnovers per game represent a career-worst figure. The assists production — 4.3 per contest over his first six — has been middling as well, and a matchup versus Ben Simmons’ solid defense in one of Conley’s two games this week doesn’t help his prospects in the short term, either.
Start: Kevin Love, CLE (three games)
There was preseason talk of Love’s minutes being carefully managed this season, which caused some unease in fantasy circles. However, the prolific veteran has logged no fewer than 31 minutes and as many as 36 over his first five games, and he’s churned out a double-double in each contest to boot. Love’s usage sits at a solid 21.4%, behind only Collin Sexton among Cavs starters.
Not only has Love significantly improved his efficiency from the floor (career-high 49.1% shooting after a 38.5% figure in 2018-19), but the 16.8 boards per contest he’s pulling down easily qualify as a career-high number. He’s also on pace to average a career-high in assists (4.8 per game), and a three-game week that includes matchups against two teams (Celtics and Wizards) ranked in the bottom 10 in points per game allowed to power forwards — with Boston also yielding a bottom-five figure in rebounds per contest to PFs — puts him firmly in the Start category this week.
Start: Al Horford, PHI (four games)
Horford has hit the ground running in Philadelphia, proving to be an excellent fit alongside Joel Embiid down low while seeing big boosts in points (16.2) and rebounds (8.2) over his respective 13.6 and 6.7 figures in those categories last season in Boston. Horford is averaging 14.2 shot attempts per game — his highest since his 2013-14 season in Atlanta.
Upcoming this week is a favorable Monday matchup against the Suns without Embiid in the lineup as he serves the second game of his suspension. After that, Horford and the Sixers get matchups against the Jazz, Nuggets, and Hornets. Horford owns a 24.5% usage rate with Embiid off the floor this season, while both Utah and Charlotte are ranked in the bottom half of the league in points allowed to power forwards.
Sit: Harrison Barnes, SAC (two games)
Barnes has been a somewhat perplexing case during the Kings’ forgettable 1-5 start. On the one hand, he’s actually shooting a career-best 49.3% and has experienced nice boosts in rebounds and steals over last season in the early going. On the other, he’s shooting a career-worst 29.4% from three-point range while averaging 11.5 attempts per game, down from last season’s 13.3. His free throw success rate has also taken a dive early, going from 82.4% last season to a career-worst 66.7% over the Kings’ first six games.
Barnes has just one 20-point effort thus far and has already been in single digits in the scoring column once, even as he’s logged a solid 31.7 minutes per contest. The absence of Marvin Bagley (thumb) hasn’t led to any appreciable bump in usage/production for Barnes either, and a two-game week for Sacramento firmly places Barnes in the “sit” category.
Sit: Paul Millsap, DEN (three games)
Millsap is another veteran forward who’s disappointed early with a departure from the consistency that’s been his hallmark. The 34 year old has three single-digit scoring performances over his first six games, along with 10-and 11-point efforts in two other contests during that span. The slight dip in scoring average (11.7 PPG, compared to last season’s 12.6) is largely the result of an early drop in shooting efficiency. Playing on perhaps the deepest team in the league, Millsap’s shot attempts are also down to 8.8 per game, his lowest number in that category since way back in the 2009-10 season.
Start: Domantas Sabonis, IND (four games)
Sabonis walks into a four-game slate this coming week, and there’s a strong chance he plays all of those contests without Myles Turner (ankle) alongside him in the frontcourt. Sabonis is currently dealing with a minor calf injury of his own, but it doesn’t appear likely he’ll miss more than Sunday’s contest ahead of the start of the week. The 2016 first-round pick has been stellar in the early going, averaging 21.8 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 57.0%, including 42.9% from distance.
Sabonis carries a 22.0% usage rate with Turner off the floor this season, and he already boasts three double-doubles (along with 27-and 29-point tallies) over the first five games of the campaign. With Turner heading into the week questionable at best, Sabonis could be set for even better numbers in an upcoming schedule that includes favorable matchups versus the Hornets and Wizards.
Start: Cody Zeller, CHA (four games)
Zeller has taken his game to another level to start the season, averaging career bests in points (14.0) and rebounds (12.4). He’s also been flashing more floor-spacing ability than ever before, taking a career-high 2.4 three-point attempts per game and draining them at a 33.3% clip. The 27 year old opened the season with four consecutive double-doubles, just missing a fifth against the Warriors on Saturday night by a pair of rebounds. His usage rate sits a solid 20.0% as well, while his 29.0 minutes per contest are a career high.
Four games are on tap for Zeller this week, with favorable statistical matchups in all of them. The Pacers, Celtics, Pelicans, and 76ers all rank in the bottom half of the league in points per game allowed to centers, with Indiana also ranking in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage.
Sit: Dwight Howard, LAL (three games)
Howard hasn’t exactly wowed in the early portion of his latest Lakers tenure, and his minutes have been relatively limited thus far. Howard did play a season-high 27 minutes in his most recent game versus the Mavericks on Friday, but he’d been under 20 minutes in three of his first four games of the season prior to that matchup against Dallas. Howard has also averaged a meager 3.4 attempts per contest, leading to just 5.4 points per game over the first five.
The Lakers have a three-game week coming up, and while a matchup against the Bulls is certainly enticing, the subsequent games against the Heat and Raptors will put Howard up against teams that rank in the top half of the league in scoring allowed to centers. Miami also yields the fewest rebounds per game to the position, and both the Heat and Raps rank in the top five in offensive efficiency yielded to fives.
Sit: Brook Lopez, MIL (four games)
Lopez is another Buck who’s stumbled a bit in the early going. His scoring average is down relative to last season, due in part to the fact that he’s shooting just 30.6% from three on six attempts per game. Lopez is still hovering around 2.0 blocks per game, but he’s rebounding at a career-low rate, pulling down just 3.3 boards per contest over his first six games, despite averaging 28.0 minutes per contest.
An upcoming four-game week will see Lopez face some tough matchups down low in the form of Utah’s Rudy Gobert and OKC’s Steven Adams, while Monday’s opponent — Minnesota — currently ranks in the top 10 in defensive rating.