With meaningful basketball games finally back, Tuesday felt like a mini-holiday. For the first regular season installment of ďCategory StrategyĒ weíll tackle all three games from Tuesday, highlighting minutes played and specific players that can help in the traditional Roto categories, though this can shed light on players who may be undervalued in points leagues too. Next week there will be much more data and we will be able to draw firmer conclusions on a playerís value. This week the sample size is about as small as it can be, but that doesnít mean we didnít learn anything last night. Letís take a quick look at trends from each game before moving on to specific players.
The Cavaliers bested the Wizards by 10 and had the game relatively in hand throughout. Judging from how evenly minutes were handed out by coach Randy Wittman, it seems that he has no idea what his best lineup is without John Wall. The only guy who dressed that didnít get in on the action was Cartier Martin, and Wittman gave the remaining 11 Wizards between 16 and 29 minutes apiece. This certainly isnít optimal from a fantasy perspective, especially when A.J. Price and Jordan Crawford are getting the most run. Wittmanís two ďhorsesĒ in this game shot a combined 6-of-26 from the field and 2-of-15 from downtown. Hereís to hoping Wittman can find some fortitude in the next week and pick some more competent players to lean on in Wallís absence. The Cavs on the other hand were much more helpful to owners, with four of the five starters playing 32-plus minutes and Dion Waiters wasnít far behind with 28 minutes. Anderson Varejao had what could be the stat line of the week, with nine points, 23 boards (12 offensive), nine assists and two blocks. While he is certainly a great guy to own in fantasy, this may speak more to how weak the Wizards are up front without Nene (foot) and Kevin Seraphin (calf). Both players should return soon, but in daily leagues, streaming big men against the Wizards seems like a great play in the short term.
In what should be the best rivalry of the season, the Heat played like defending champions, dropping 120 points on the Celtics en route to a 13-point win at home. The Heatís rotation was exactly what we hoped for from a fantasy perspective, though LeBron James (cramps) missed much of the second half (but still posted 26 points and 10 rebounds). The one somewhat unexpected wrinkle in coach Doc Riversí rotation was rookie and preseason revelation, Jared Sullinger, playing just eight minutes. This might have been a matchup decision, but it should still put to rest any notions of Sullinger as a standard league option at this point in the season.
The fans of the purple and gold at the Staples Center came to see a one-sided affair Tuesday, and thatís exactly what they got, at least in the second half. The Mavericks looked like the hungrier and better-coached team as they beat the supremely more talented Lakers by eight. TNT analysts, Charles Barkley, Shaq and Kenny Smith along with many on Twitter were calling for the abolishment of the Princeton offense by halftime, as the Lakers failed to score 50 in the first half. That might be a little hasty, but this certainly wonít be the offensive juggernaut that many expected early on. Remember, it took the Heat an entire season to figure out how to play together when the big three were first assembled. We might be looking at something similar with this Lakers team, and this coaching staff seems less likely to figure anything out. More likely, it will need to be Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant who breathe life into this offense.
Dion Waiters, SG, Cavaliers - In this space a week ago, we doubted whether Waiters would see enough minutes to contribute in standard leagues. Itís only been one game, but if he continues to play around 28 minutes per game, as he did Tuesday, and C.J. Miles is held to under 20 minutes off the bench, Waiters should be a decent source of points, three-pointers and especially steals (he had three takeaways against the Wizards), though his field-goal percentage could be suspect.
Elton Brand, PF, Mavericks - As long as Dirk Nowitzki (knee) and Chris Kaman (calf) are out, Brand will likely continue to see close to the 36 minutes he logged Tuesday. He struggled with his shot (eight points on 3-of-10 shooting) but should be a constant source of rebounds and blocks as long as he is holding down the Mavericksí frontcourt.
Leandro Barbosa, SG, Celtics - Barbosa saw 16 minutes off the bench and tallied 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-3 from downtown. Coach Doc Rivers was riding the hot hand here, and we would expect Jason Terry, not Barbosa, to put up these numbers as the season progresses. However, in very deep leagues, Barbosa could be worth monitoring over the next week if he can consistently see close to 20 minutes per game and continue to contribute in scoring and three-point shooting.
Rashard Lewis, SF, Heat - It looks like Lewis may have taken Mike Millerís job in the offseason, as he logged 19 minutes while shooting 4-of-5 from the field and scoring 10 points with one three-pointer. In very deep leagues, Lewis should contribute in points and threes without hurting your field-goal percentage.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat - Chalmers is still available in a small percentage of leagues, and after dishing 11 assists Tuesday (while adding three steals) it appears he should be targeted if heís on the waiver wire and those are areas your team needs help in. He wonít put up those numbers most nights, but an improvement over his 2011-12 averages of 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals shouldnít be unexpected.
A.J. Price, PG, Wizards - Price was abysmal with his shot Tuesday, but he did lead the team with six assists, and that should be a trend for the next month with Wall (knee) out. In deep leagues he should be useful in the short term, and it would be hard for him to not improve somewhat with his stroke while he helps your team with assists.
Earl Barron, PF, Wizards - Barron led the Wizards with eight boards in just 16 minutes. Once Nene and Seraphin return to the lineup, Barron will likely struggle to see the court, but over the next week heís worth a look as a very cheap play in daily leagues.
Tristan Thompson, PF, Cavaliers - Thompson figures to be one of the top waiver pickups this week after recording a double-double and adding five assists and a steal while shooting over 50 percent from the field Tuesday. He will have some nights where he struggles this season, but as long as heís getting close to the 32 minutes he saw against the Wizards, heíll be a great source of rebounding in most leagues.
Brandon Bass, PF, Celtics - Bass had an impressive opening night, posting a 15-point/11-rebound double-double while shooting 6-of-11 from the field. He looks to have a firm hold on the majority of minutes at the four for the Celtics after Sullinger only saw eight minutes Tuesday. If he continues to get around 28 minutes, Bass will be a great source of boards throughout the season.
Metta World Peace, SF, Lakers - World Peace recorded three steals on opening night, and as Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller pointed out on the broadcast, he looks very cut. Donít look for him to contribute much in scoring, and he could hurt a teamís field-goal percentage (he shot 1-of-8 from the field Tuesday), but he should have a solid year contributing in the defensive categories.
Trevor Ariza, SG, Wizards - Ariza, like World Peace, is known for his defense, and he showed why on opening night, recording three steals and two blocks. Both players should have similar seasons, and if your team needs help in steals, they should be a consistent source all season.
Emeka Okafor, C, Wizards - Okafor blocked four shots Tuesday, and with Nene out, heíll be the Wizardsí last line of defense each night in the early going. He doesnít contribute much, even in rebounding, grabbing just seven boards and getting out rebounded by Earl Barron off the bench against the Cavaliers, but he should be a good source of blocks in deep leagues.
Brandan Wright, PF, Mavericks - With Kaman out, Wright was impressive against the Lakersí front line, blocking three shots, grabbing five boards and shooting 5-of-5 from the field. With so many health-related questions in the Mavericks frontcourt, Wright is a great play for blocks and field-goal percentage in deeper leagues.
Jae Crowder, SF, Mavericks - We expected that Crowder could be a sneaky source of the hustle stats, but it was great to see him go 2-for-4 from three-point range Tuesday. If he continues to shoot well from downtown, heíll be an even more legitimate add in deep leagues.
Bradley Beal, SG, Wizards - Beal was as advertised from outside, hitting 2-of-4 three-point attempts against the Cavaliers. Itís frustrating that he only saw 22 minutes, which we touched earlier, but even if Wittman refuses to treat him like a starter, he should at least be a great source of long-range shooting.
Daniel Gibson, SG, Cavaliers - Gibson has always been a go-to for three-point shooting in very deep leagues, and should be again this year, as he went 2-for-4 from downtown on Tuesday.