André’s five thoughts: Injured stars, Dame Time, Mavericks’ maturity and more

Damian Lillard’s 71-point performance on Sunday might have been great for his fantasy managers but could hurt his teammates’ fantasy outlooks moving forward. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Feb 27, 2023

  • Andre SnellingsESPN

Here are a few Monday morning thoughts from the Hoops Lab, as we prepare for Week 20 of the fantasy basketball season. Keep in mind, the Fantasy Basketball Rest of Season Rankings also update on Mondays, so check those out as you 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.

Ailing Finals MVPs status headed to playoffs

As the fantasy basketball playoffs rapidly approach, the Finals MVPs from 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022 are all dealing with injuries of differing levels of severity. Throw in Joel Embiid, who very well could have been the Finals MVP in 2019 if Kawhi Leonard’s four-bounce 3-pointer had fallen off, and we’ve got injury watches on several of fantasy’s most key producers.

Kevin Durant (FMVP 2017,18) is likely to make his debut with his new Suns teammates sometime this week. Durant has been sidelined since Jan. 12 with an MCL sprain, and of course was the centerpiece of the biggest blockbuster deal of the NBA trade deadline. I wrote at the time what I thought the new-look Suns would look like from a fantasy hoops perspective, with Durant and Devin Booker as co-lead options that should both get their typical volume but at perhaps better efficiency. Deandre Ayton is the impact player that I think could lose the most as a scorer, while Josh Okogie likely moves back to the bench and loses much of his recent spate of fantasy hoops value.

Embiid was said to be dealing with a lingering foot issue coming out of the All-Star Break, in addition to an illness that could potentially slow him. Even so, he has popped for averages of 34.0 PPG, 15.5 RPG, 5.5 APG and 4.5 BPG in his first two games back. But keep an eye on the peripherals… Embiid has shot only 41.3% from the floor and 0.0% from the 3-point line in those two games. The 76ers are battling for playoffs position, so Embiid is likely to continue to tough things out, but don’t be caught slipping if he does eventually have to miss some time. Make sure your backup center slot is filled and ready to step up.

LeBron James (FMVP 2020) has been managing a foot/ankle issue for a month, and he seemed to (re)aggravate it again during Sunday’s comeback win over the Mavericks. The Lakers are fighting for every win right now, still on the outside looking in to the play-in seeds, so expect LeBron to also try to stay on the court as much as possible. But, he’s also 20 seasons in, and if his body tells him to pause he may have no choice but to listen.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (FMVP 2021) sprained a ligament in his wrist in the game before the Break, played through an initial doubtful tag in the first game back from break, only to suffer a quadriceps contusion and have to leave his second straight game early. Giannis sat out Sunday’s game against the Suns and is considered day-to-day for now. Keep in mind, though, that Giannis has been managing a nagging knee issue all season and may continue to have games that he has to miss down the stretch.

Stephen Curry (FMVP 2022) remains out with the lower leg injury that has sidelined him since he had to leave the game on February 4. Curry is expected to be re-evaluated this week, ahead of a potential return as soon as next week. Curry is having one of the best scoring seasons of his career, and the Warriors still reside in play-in territory, so expect Curry to ramp back up to big numbers as quickly as possible.

Dame Time and Trail Blazers timeline

Damian Lillard just popped for a career-high 71 points, a month-and-a-day after the most recent time he scored 60. In his past 12 games, he’s averaged 41.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 5.6 RPG and 5.4 3PG while winning the 3-point contest at the All-Star Break to boot. Lillard is locked in and makes an interesting contradiction at this point in the season. The Trail Blazers are still battling for the postseason, just outside of play-in territory, but outside of Lillard they have a lot of young players, and one could reasonably expect them to lean into future mode soon.

But Lillard is publicly defiant of the loud outcry that he should want out of Portland and seems determined to post video game numbers instead of packing it in. If you’ve got Lillard, you’re riding with him thick and thin, but this conundrum is more for the young players. I’m particularly paying attention to Cam Reddish, Shaedon Sharpe and Nassir Little. Each of the three has flashed lately, and if the Trail Blazers leaned into future mode each could be worthy of late-season pickup with game changing upside. But, if the Trail Blazers continue to lean on Lillard… said another way, it’s still Dame Time for now. I’m curious if it will remain Dame Time for the rest of the season, or if at some point the youth might be served.

Hawks new coach

The Hawks fired head coach Nate McMillan and are reportedly moving forward with Quin Snyder at the helm. The head coach can obviously impact the offensive philosophy of the entire team, but I’m most interested in what impact this has on Trae Young. Young has come out of the Break on fire, averaging 34.0 PPG, 8.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 2.5 3PG and 1.5 SPG in two wins over teams currently slotted to make the playoffs in the East. Will Ice Trae go on a vindication tour to finish the season? I will certainly be watching to see.

Mavericks’ maturity

After the Mavericks blew a big lead against the Lakers on Sunday, head coach Jason Kidd questioned the maturity of the team. I’m not sure how much is maturity versus how much is the team having to reload on the fly as they integrate Kyrie Irving into the mix, but either way I’m very curious to see where the Mavericks find their level. Luka Doncic is clearly working to find his level; he only has one double-digit assist effort since January 16, and has only surpassed his 33.1 PPG season-scoring average once in the month of February. The Mavericks have also adjusted their entire rotation, moving defensive/dirty work guys like Dwight Powell, Reggie Bullock and Justin Holiday into the starting lineup with Luka and Kyrie, and moving scorers like Christian Wood and Tim Hardaway to the second unit. I’ll be paying attention to how this all settles out.

Bulls’ new off-night backcourt

This note may be more for daily betting than for fantasy hoops, but it’s also just fun. The Bulls have paired newly acquired Patrick Beverley with Alex Caruso in a starting backcourt that seems to be giving their opponents fits. In the first game starting the new duo, the Bulls held the Nets to 29 points in the first half. On Sunday, they held the Wizards to 55 total points over the final three quarters of the game. The Bulls have not been known for their defense this season (understatement), but if they can continue to lock-in like this, you’re going to want to look at taking the under for their next several games until oddsmakers catch up with the new trend.