The Slim Reaper
Kevin Durant has been a top-2 fantasy player for the last six seasons, but there's been plenty of debate whether or he or LeBron James is the King of fantasy hoops. I've been in the Durant corner for the last the few years, but the fantasy community has been somewhat split on who to take with the No. 1 selection. After Durant's recent stretch of dominance, it's time to officially anoint him the King of Fantasy Hoops.
Since Russell Westbrook (knee) went down on Christmas, Durant has elevated his game to another level. Over those 15 games, Durant has averaged 36.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.6 treys, and 1.7 steals while posting stellar percentages (52.4 FG, 39.8 3Pt, 87.5 FT) across the board. His production has been even better over the past week, as Durant has evolved into the "Slim Reaper" with averages of 41.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 4.0 threes, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 block.
Crazy numbers. So insane, it's scary. Even scarier when you realize Durant is only in his age-25 season. That's right – there's a good chance we still haven't seen the best from the Slim Reaper.
Durant has always had otherworldly skills on the hardwood, so his prolonged success isn't surprising. A bump in production shouldn't necessarily be unexpected now that he's in his prime, but if you watch Durant, you'll notice that the difference in his game this season has been his demeanor. He's playing with more anger and an obvious chip on his shoulder. Hence, the new nickname. The newfound anger might be due to Westbrook missing time, or coming up short of a championship the past few years. Regardless, it's evident that the Slim Reaper is out for blood this season.
We'll have to wait and see if Durant reaching new heights will earn the Thunder an NBA Championship, but the odds are that many of his fantasy owners are in prime position to take home titles of their own this season.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
Derrick Williams, F, SAC – Here we go again. Williams is officially a fantasy yo-yo – his value never stops going up or down. This week, Williams is trending back up. After both DeMarcus Cousins (ankle) and Rudy Gay (Achilles) were forced from Wednesday's loss to the Rockets with injuries, Williams stepped up and finished with 22 points (7-of-15 FG, 3-of-6 3Pt, 5-of-8 FT) and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. The severity of Cousins' and Gay's injuries are still unknown, but Williams stands to be the immediate benefactor for the Kings. The loss of both star players will elevate Williams to a much larger role for the Kings, possibly as the team's No. 2 scoring option behind Isaiah Thomas.
D.J. Augustin, G, CHI – Augustin is another player who has seen his value fluctuate recently, but his value is definitely on the upswing right now. Over the past five contests, Augustin has averaged 21.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 3.8 three-pointers, and 1.0 steal in 33 minutes per game. With Kirk Hinrich (hamstring) expected to miss the next week, Augustin is set to continue playing a large role for the Bulls in the short term.
Mike Scott, F, ATL – A hamstring injury forced DeMarre Carroll out of Wednesday's win over the Magic. The severity of Carroll's injury is unknown, but if he misses any action, look for Scott to see a bump in run. Scott has put together a string of six consecutive double-digit scoring efforts despite averaging under 22 minutes in those games. He's a solid shooter who can chip in with points and three-pointers.
Ryan Kelly, F/C, LAL – The former Duke big man has carved out a surprisingly large role for the Lakers over the past three games. In those three appearances, which include two starts, Kelly has averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 treys in 35 mpg. Kelly is a stretch four and has shown flashes of being a poor man's Ryan Anderson. The Lakers' starting power forward gig has been a revolving door all season, so there's no guarantee Kelly will stick in the role, but he's a solid fit for coach Mike D'Antoni's system. Owners looking for someone to fill in for Anderson or just needing three-pointers in general can take a flier on Kelly.
Jeff Withey, C, NOR – Withey became a blip on the fantasy radar after scoring 14 points in 27 minutes of the bench Tuesday against the Kings. The rookie center out of Kansas will need to prove he can stick in the rotation to be worth a look in most standard formats, but injuries to Ryan Anderson (back) and Jason Smith (knee) have opened up enough minutes for deeper leagues to take a chance on Withey. He was a defensive monster in college and could provide a big boost in blocks if the playing time sticks.
Darren Collison, G, LAC – Clippers coach Doc Rivers admitted after Wednesday's loss to the Bobcats that the team may have to consider sitting Collison, whom has been dealing with a toe injury recently. After a quick start to his fill-in duty for the injured Chris Paul, Collison's production has taken a noticeable dip the past three games with averages of 8.7 points, 5.0 assists, and 2.0 rebounds 30 mpg. Paul hopes to be back on the court in mid-February, at which point Collison's value will nosedive, but owners may have to find a replacement sooner rather than later if Collison's toe ailment doesn't resolve itself quickly.
Terrence Jones, F, HOU – Prior to missing the past two games with a thigh bruise, Jones had hit the next level of his breakout campaign. In the five games before his recent absence, Jones averaged 21.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and 1.4 steals in 38 mpg. His injury shouldn't hold him out of action much longer, but this could be a good time for non-owners of Jones to try and pry him away.
DeMarre Carroll, F, ATL – The aforementioned Carroll was forced from Wednesday's win over the Magic with a hamstring injury. While he's had some trouble staying healthy over the past month, Carroll has also managed to play the best ball of his career when on the court. In his past eight appearances, Carroll has averaged 12.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.5 threes in 34 mpg. He's been a solid contributor when healthy, especially since Al Horford (torn pectoral muscle) hit the shelf, so owners will want to wait for more details to surface before making a roster decision on Carroll.
DeMarcus Cousins, C and Rudy Gay, F, SAC – The Kings had a rough night Wednesday, as the team lost both Cousins and Gay to injury. Gay, whom suffered an Achilles injury, appears to be the bigger concern. It's rare that an Achilles injury would ever be classified as "minor," but owners have little choice other than stashing him on the bench and hoping that any news that does surface is good news. Cousins left the game with an ankle injury, and X-rays have already confirmed that his injury is of the "moderate" variety. Owners shouldn't be surprised if Cousins misses some action, but it appears he may have avoided a serious injury.
Kenneth Faried, F, DEN – Here's another portion of the article that could have been sponsored by Duncan Toys. After putting together arguably his best stretch of the season earlier this month, Faried is back to trending in the wrong direction. Despite remaining in the Nuggets starting lineup, "The Manimal" has seen a noticeable drop in playing time, averaging just 17 minutes over the past three games. Faried's averages over that stretch were a paltry 5.0 points and 3.3 rebounds. A starting frontcourt of Faried and J.J. Hickson is lacking on defense, which has lead to Nuggets coach Brian Shaw riding whomever of the two is hotter on that given night while handing ample run off the bench to Timofey Mozgov. And the Nuggets frontcourt situation will only get messier when/if JaVale McGee (knee) returns.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, TOR – Valanciunas managed to put together his best game in nearly two weeks on Wednesday, but I'm still concerned about his overall value given his recent play. Prior to Wednesday's 12-point, 10-rebound effort, Valanciunas had averaged 3.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 0.3 blocks in his previous four outings. A shooting slump (28.6 percent from the floor) in those four games didn't help his cause, but the real concern was seeing his playing time dip to under 20 mpg. The 21-year-old big man oozes talent, and he's flashed it plenty of times this season, but he has also failed to showcase any sort of consistency. His season-high point total is just 18 points, and it's becoming more and more apparent that Valanciunas is more of a project than pundits thought he would be while drooling over him during summer league play. The upside here remains tantalizing, but I doubt we see it until next season at the earliest.
Kawhi Leonard, G/F, SAN – Leonard is the latest preseason top-40 fantasy player to hit the shelf with a significant injury. The 22-year-old swingman suffered a simple fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his right hand, which should sideline him for the next three-to-four weeks. While his numbers don't really jump off the page, Leonard's diverse stat line has led to him being a top-40 option again this year. Given his value and the relative manageable timeline for his return, owners will want to stash Leonard on the bench.
Arron Afflalo, G, ORL – Afflalo has been one of the bigger surprises in fantasy this season. He started off like gangbusters, and his overall production is still good enough to rank him within the top-50 of most formats, but the veteran guard's production has taken a noticeable step back over the past month. In his past 12 appearances, Afflalo has averaged 16.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 three-pointers while shooting 44.2 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line. While those numbers are still very solid, his production isn't near the 21.9 points or 2.3 treys he averaged through the first 27 games. The Magic will continue to increase the roles of their younger players like Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo as the season progresses, so it's unlikely Afflalo reverts back to his early-season form. Sell Afflalo now while his season-long ranking still reflects top-50 value.