All Jazzed Up
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Al Jefferson and Chris Bosh were all on the court Tuesday night when the Heat played the Jazz. All five were consensus top-2 round picks in fantasy leagues. LeBron posted a triple-double. Wade scored 39. Williams dropped 21 and 14. But by-far the best player on the court Tuesday night was Paul Millsap.
Hold on, what?
That's right. In the midst of all of the glittering names and games, Millsap shone as the brightest star by dropping a league-wide season high of 46 points on 19-for-28 shooting from the field. He grabbed nine boards, blocked a shot, grabbed a steal, and just for kicks even went 3-for-3 from the 3-point line. Now obviously Millsap isn't going to lead the league in scoring or made 3-pointers for the season, but this game brings to the forefront an early season trend I've been watching: we may have been wrong about the heir to Carlos Boozer's departed stats in Utah
The Jazz system has always been good for producing high-volume frontcourt numbers, and in the last several years it's been Boozer posting 20 and 11 on a nightly basis in Utah while Mehmet Okur has been the secondary big man scorer (capable of 17 points and eight boards when healthy next to Boozer). When Boozer left and the Jazz brought in Jefferson (ADP 26), it was widely assumed Jefferson would take over Boozer's numbers and position as the alpha male on the Jazz frontline with Millsap taking over a larger chunk of Okur's secondary role as Okur fought off injuries. As I pointed out before the season began, Millsap had proven he could produce as a starter (16 and 10 in that role over last two seasons), and this made him a bit of a bargain at his ADP of 69. But once Okur returned it was supposed to be Millsap whose numbers suffered as he had to split more minutes.
Instead, through the first two weeks it's been Millsap who's taken the primary role (24 points, 10.9 boards, 3.0 assists per night) while Jefferson has been less consistent and in the Okur slot (16 points, 9.4 boards, 1.1 assists per night). The assists actually help tell the story for why this might be, as Jefferson has always been a poor passer which might make Millsap the better main option. It's very early, and the roles aren't set in stone yet, and it should be noted that Jefferson is still taking 14 shots per game to Millsap's 16 but hitting at a much lower clip. So it's still possible that Jefferson could reclaim the top spot. But keep an eye on this, because at some point Okur will return and eat into the available big man minutes. If Jefferson really is the secondary option, this would hurt his numbers even more and make him a prime trade-before-everyone-figures-it-out candidate. This would also mean you don't have to have quite as much urgency to trade Millsap high, as he really might be the franchise fantasy big man he's appeared to be thus far. I have Jefferson in one league and Millsap in another, and I must admit that I currently have trade offers to move both of them at value, just in case.
Around the League
• Cavs in 1st place, Heat 3rd: I had to laugh when I looked at today's NBA standings and saw the Cavs on top of their division at 4-3 while the Heat were in third in theirs at 5-3. Obviously there are huge competition differences, and those records should diverge rapidly (though I continue to maintain that the Cavs are better than people credited without LeBron), but it still gave me a chuckle. Of more concern to Heat fans and interest to fantasy players, the Heat now have a pretty established weakness to great point guards and their big men counterparts. Williams and Millsap combined for 67 points, 16 assists and 13 boards on Tuesday. Last week , Chris Paul dropped 19 dimes while Emeka Okafor made 12-of-13 shots on his way to 26 points and 13 boards. Rajon Rondo dished 17 assists against the Heat on opening night, with Shaquille O'Neal and Glen Davis combining for 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting with 12 boards in 47 minutes at center. The pattern is there, and in the next week both Rondo and Steve Nash come calling.
• Brand back? On the Sirius XM show last week, Chris Liss asked me about Elton Brand's renaissance in Philadelphia this season. Through seven games Brand is averaging 18.6 points (58% FG, 79% FT) with 8.1 boards, 1.9 blocks and 2.3 steals. Those numbers look eerily similar to the Brand of '99 – '07 that was a perennial top-2 round fantasy pick, and nothing like the 13 and 7 fantasy bust Brand's been in the last two years. I told Liss if the draft were re-held I would take Brand in the fourth round, but as I look at it further he's getting pretty close to top-3 round value if he's not already there. He seems finally to be fully healthy again after his Achilles issues, he's back in a feature role for the Sixers, and he's still only 31 years old. My main concern is I don't think his field-goal percentage and steals pace are sustainable, but if he is able to maintain the other numbers he is still an impact player.
• Curry back, Ellis's back: Stephen Curry continues to battle the ankle injuries that have had him in and out of the lineup early in the season, but he has now played in three games in a row and is coming off of a 34-point explosion against the Raptors. He appears to be fine for now, which is right on time as now running mate is dealing with a strained lower back after an awkward fall on Monday night. Ellis is considered day-to-day, but even if he plays his days as NBA leading scorer are likely numbered between the injury and the increasing presence of Curry.
• Yao's minutes limit going away? The Rockets are reportedly exploring the possibility of changing the limits on Yao's playing time because of the progress he's made in his comeback from foot surgery. Yao has been on a strict 24-minute cap for playing time in any game, and has been benched on at least one night of any back-to-back games situation. The Rockets had insisted that this cap would be in place for the whole season, which is why Yao plummeted in fantasy drafts. If the limit loosens he suddenly could become a more valuable commodity, and Luis Scola's value could take a hit.
• Roy minutes limit in works? Brandon Roy has been off to a great start this season while playing 39 minutes per game, but the latest word is that his minutes may be limited to keep him from going through the same injury issues he had last year. The cap doesn't sound as limiting as Yao's 24-minute ceiling, but keep an eye on it.
• Clippers injuries: Last week Baron Davis missed four games with a knee injury, opening the way for rookie back-up Eric Bledsoe to start and play well (12.3 points, 8.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, .8 treys, .8 steals). Davis returned for a 10-minute stint off the bench Tuesday night, and apparently will worked back into the lineup slowly. Meanwhile, Chris Kaman injured his ankle on Tuesday and is expected to miss the next two-to-three weeks, opening the way for DeAndre Jordan to start. Finally, Eric Gordon is day-to-day with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss Tuesday night. Rookie Al Farouq Aminu seemed to be the main beneficiary of Gordon's minutes, scoring 20 points (7-for-10 FG, 4-for-5 FT) with eight boards, two steals, two treys and two assists in 30 minutes off the bench.
• Rose's toes: Derrick Rose revealed he's been dealing with turf toe, an injury he originally suffered during last year's playoffs. It doesn't sound serious, and Rose is playing well, but turf toe can linger and possibly worsen over time which could be troublesome over the course of a long NBA season.
• Brooks down, Lowry coming back: Aaron Brooks injured his ankle this week and is expected to miss the next four-to-six weeks. This opens the way for Kyle Lowry to move into the starting lineup, just as soon as his back will let him. Lowry has missed the last two games with back spasms, and is questionable for Wednesday's game against the Wizards.
• Cousins back to bench: Rookie DeMarcus Cousins had a solid if unspectacular run as the starting center for the Kings, but for now that's over as he has moved back to the bench. Samuel Dalembert has retaken the starting role after missing time with a thigh injury. Cousins still has upside over the season, but he's also in a playing time scrum with Dalembert, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry so his short-term production will likely be unpredictable.
• Green Banged Up: Jeff Green missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury, and is unsure whether he'll be able to go on Wednesday against the 76ers. The injury doesn't sound serious, but it's likely safer to look elsewhere until his return is confirmed.
• Tyson Chandler (46% owned): Chandler continues to split time with Brandon Haywood, but he has started and played the majority of minutes lately and is a reasonable double-double threat on any given night.
• Mike Dunleavy Jr. (33% owned): Dunleavy exploded for 31 points (9-of-13 from the field, 6-of-10 from downtown) on Tuesday against the Nuggets. The team scored 144 points, so Dunleavy's numbers were likely inflated, but still this was a good sign for a player that was averaging in the upper teens with about two treys made per game two seasons ago before injuries struck.
• Eric Bledsoe (34% owned): Bledsoe may move to the bench with Davis back, but with the Clippers struggling and the veteran Davis admittedly out of shape, it would not be surprising to see the team decide on a youth movement with Davis going elsewhere. Long-term, speculative add.
• Travis Outlaw (16% owned): Outlaw has three 17-plus point scoring efforts and three six or fewer point scoring outings in his first six games. He has been inconsistent to say the least, but he is coming off of a 27-point/7-rebound outing against the Cavs and has shown in the past that he can be a mid-teens scorer with reasonable rebounding from the small forward slot.
• Kyle Lowry (9% owned): As mentioned above, Lowry looks to be in line to start for the next month on the Rockets if his health allows.
• DeAndre Jordan (3% owned): Jordan has been a nightly double-double threat as a starter in each of his first two seasons in the league, and with Kaman out for the next 2-3 weeks he should be able to replicate that with reasonable blocks in the interim.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio every Friday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.