NBA Observations: AD's Return, Jokic Back On Top, Hits Keep Coming for Bulls

NBA Observations: AD's Return, Jokic Back On Top, Hits Keep Coming for Bulls

This article is part of our NBA Observations series.

Welcome to Week 15 of the fantasy basketball season, where names like Jose Alvarado, Kessler Edwards and even our old pal, Ed Davis, find themselves on the fantasy radar, for one reason or another.

Schedule-wise, we're in the midst of a strange stretch. This past weekend, the league went light on Saturday (three games) before piling up 11 games on Sunday. It's unclear what was behind the decision to go directly up against the NFL Divisional Round, but I'm sure plenty of households turned off the Bills-Chiefs snoozefest to fire up Pistons-Nuggets or Nets-Timberwolves.

This week's slate is also a bit unorthodox, as we had only four games Monday before a much-larger-than-usual, nine-game Tuesday slate. Things are mostly back to normal beginning with Wednesday's fully loaded, 10-gamer, but the NBA once again goes heavy on Sunday with 16 teams in action. For fantasy managers in weekly lineup leagues, the day-to-day schedule doesn't mean as much, but those in daily lineup formats should be extra vigilant.

As we take our weekly look around the league, we'll focus in on the top two teams in the East, the race for the No. 1 overall fantasy ranking, the return of some key players and much, much more:

Hits keep coming for Bulls

While the Bulls were officially knocked out of the top spot in the East over the weekend, it's still been a massively successful campaign for a team many viewed as a fringe-playoff contender. But what began as a dream

Welcome to Week 15 of the fantasy basketball season, where names like Jose Alvarado, Kessler Edwards and even our old pal, Ed Davis, find themselves on the fantasy radar, for one reason or another.

Schedule-wise, we're in the midst of a strange stretch. This past weekend, the league went light on Saturday (three games) before piling up 11 games on Sunday. It's unclear what was behind the decision to go directly up against the NFL Divisional Round, but I'm sure plenty of households turned off the Bills-Chiefs snoozefest to fire up Pistons-Nuggets or Nets-Timberwolves.

This week's slate is also a bit unorthodox, as we had only four games Monday before a much-larger-than-usual, nine-game Tuesday slate. Things are mostly back to normal beginning with Wednesday's fully loaded, 10-gamer, but the NBA once again goes heavy on Sunday with 16 teams in action. For fantasy managers in weekly lineup leagues, the day-to-day schedule doesn't mean as much, but those in daily lineup formats should be extra vigilant.

As we take our weekly look around the league, we'll focus in on the top two teams in the East, the race for the No. 1 overall fantasy ranking, the return of some key players and much, much more:

Hits keep coming for Bulls

While the Bulls were officially knocked out of the top spot in the East over the weekend, it's still been a massively successful campaign for a team many viewed as a fringe-playoff contender. But what began as a dream season has begun to feel like a nightmare of late, as a number of key players have been hit with injuries.

  • Over the weekend, a mid-air contest by Grayson Allen sent Alex Caruso crashing to the floor. It was revealed Saturday that Caruso sustained a fracture in his right wrist. He underwent surgery Monday and will be re-evaluated in 6-to-8 weeks. The injury occurred in just Caruso's second game back from a hamstring injury that kept him out of 13 straight games from Dec. 26 through Jan. 17.
    • Chicago should have Caruso back before the playoffs, but the broken wrist essentially ends his fantasy season. In Yahoo leagues, Caruso's roster rate currently sits at 35 percent.
    • In terms of per-game value, Caruso ranks as the 86th-best fantasy asset in 8-cat leagues, thanks in large part to a career-best 1.9 steals in just 27.7 minutes per game.
  • In addition to Caruso, the Bulls will also be without Lonzo Ball for several weeks after the guard underwent a procedure Thursday to repair his left meniscus. Ball is expected to miss at least 4-to-6 weeks, essentially placing him out through the All-Star break. It's a major loss for the Bulls, though they are 7-4 in the 11 games Ball has missed thus far this season.
    • Like Caruso, Ball was in the midst of the best fantasy season of his career, ranking 25th overall in 8-cat value behind a well-rounded 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks and 3.1 threes per contest.
  • On a more positive note, Chicago got Zach LaVine back from a five-game absence Monday night in Oklahoma City. LaVine blew through an alleged minutes restriction to finish with 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a block in 35 minutes as the Bulls held on for a 111-110 victory.
  • DeMar DeRozan was held out of Monday's matchup – Chicago's third game in four nights – for rest purposes. All indications are that DeRozan will be back for Wednesday's game against Toronto.

AD set to return Tuesday

The reeling Lakers continue to be a reliable source of comedy on a near-nightly basis, but the return of Anthony Davis, which is expected to come Tuesday against the Nets, should help right the ship – at least to some degree. Even when Davis was healthy, the Lakers weren't exactly cruising, but Davis' return means fewer shots for Russell Westbrook and fewer nights when 37-year-old LeBron James has to direct the offense on one end and play center on the other.

  • The narrative around Davis is that the 27 games he has played in were a disappointment. In some ways, that's true. He's strangely turned into one of the league's worst jump shooters and is hitting just 17.9 percent of his three-point attempts. But Davis' scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking numbers are notably up compared to last season, and he's shooting 52.1 percent from the floor – his best figure since 2017-18.
  • Fantasy-wise, free throw shooting continues to be a major hindrance, however. After knocking down a career-best 84.6 percent of his attempts in 2019-20, Davis' efficiency has plummeted from 73.8 percent last season to a career-worst 72.7 percent in 2021-22.
  • Chances are, the Lakers will bring the famously fragile big man along slowly, and fantasy managers shouldn't be surprised if he's held out of one half of the team's upcoming back-to-back set Thursday (at PHI) and Friday (at CHA).

Heat gaining steam

Seemingly every team has dealt with a rash of injuries and COVID-19 absences this season, but few teams have been hit as hard as the Heat. Nevertheless, Miami finds itself atop the Eastern Conference heading into Wednesday night's meeting with the Knicks – not too shabby considering Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker and Bam Adebayo have played a total of 17 minutes together this season

  • Adebayo returned to action last Monday after sitting out 22 straight games with a torn ligament in his thumb. Through his first four games back, Adebayo is averaging 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks in 32.8 minutes.
  • Herro appears poised to return from a three-game absence Wednesday night. He cleared COVID-19 protocols Tuesday morning, and Erik Spoelstra told the media that Herro is "feeling fine and ready to play."
  • Meanwhile, Lowry did not practice Tuesday and will likely miss his fifth straight game Wednesday. Little is known about the personal matter that's sidelined Lowry since Jan. 17, and it's very much unclear when he might rejoin the team.
    • Gabe Vincent has started the last four games in Lowry's place, averaging 12.8 points, 5.5 assists, 1.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.3 three-pointers.
  • Markieff Morris is still without a timetable as he works back from the whiplash-like injury he sustained when he was hit by a double-decker bus bowled over by Nikola Jokic all the way back on Nov. 8. Wednesday will mark Morris' 38th consecutive absence.

Jokic back on top

LeBron James improbably took over the top spot in 8-cat, per-game fantasy rankings for a few weeks, but after a string of monster performances, Nikola Jokic is back on top.

Beginning with his 49-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist, three-steal eruption in an overtime win over the Clippers, Jokic averaged 26.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 2.0 threes across Denver's three-game Week 14, which he finished off with 34 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block Sunday against Detroit.

  • James sits at No. 2, while Kevin Durant, James Harden and Stephen Curry finish out the top five.
  • Joel Embiid has climbed his way up to sixth overall and continues to gain steam.
    • Over his last 17 games, Embiid is averaging 33.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 threes. In his last five games, Embiid has poured in 38.4 points per game on 57 percent shooting, highlighted by a 50-points-in-27-minutes clinic in a win over Orlando last Wednesday.
  • He's not quite putting up Embiid-level numbers, but Luka Doncic is once again continuing his pattern of starting slowly before cranking up his production in the second half of the season.
    • Since returning from injury on Jan. 2, Doncic is up to 25.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 threes per game. His free throw shooting is coming around (81.5% in January), but he continues to struggle mightily from beyond the arc (21.5% in January). Still, Doncic ranks 16h in per-game fantasy value.

Quick Hits

  • If there's a silver lining to all of the Bulls' injuries, it's that they've given Ayo Dosunmu an opportunity to shine. The rookie out of Illinois had his best game yet Monday at OKC, finishing with 24 points (10-14 FG, 4-6 3Pt), eight assists, five rebounds and one block in 35 minutes.
    • Over his last six games (all starts), Dosunmu is averaging 15.0 points, 6.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.0 threes. Dosunmu is rostered in only 49 percent of Yahoo leagues as of Tuesday morning.
  • Dejounte Murray has climbed all the way up to 14th overall in 8-cat value. In the month of January alone, he's racked up three triple-doubles and fallen one rebound short of three more. For the season, Murray is averaging 19.3 points, 9.0 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
  • Four straight absences for Deandre Ayton have led to Bismack Biyombo, of all people, emerging as a legitimate fantasy streamer. Rostered in 38 percent of Yahoo leagues, Biyombo has three double-doubles in his last four games, including a 21-point, 13-rebound, five-assist, two-block explosion in Saturday's win over Indiana.
    • JaVale McGee has started all four games Ayton's missed, but he's averaged just 19.0 minutes compared to Biyombo's 28.5 per game.
  • CJ McCollum check-in: The veteran has now played in four straight games since a collapsed lung caused him to miss a string of 18 contests. Coming off of a 19-point, 10-rebound, six-assist, two-steal showing against Toronto on Sunday, McCollum looks to be fully back up to speed.
  • Kyrie Irving will not be available for any of the Nets' three Week 15 games due to his vaccination status. As you may have heard, Irving is unvaccinated and therefore ineligible to play in Nets home games, as well as road games in a few select cities. One of those is San Francisco, where the Nets face the Warriors on Saturday night. With Kevin Durant (knee) sidelined, Brooklyn's new Big Three is James Harden, Kessler Edwards and Patty Mills.
  • The Pelicans are holding four regular starters – Jonas Valanciunas, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Devonte' Graham – out of Tuesday's game against Philly. Three of those four appear to be dealing with legitimate injuries, but Valanciunas will simply get the night off for rest purposes. As the return of Zion Williamson begins to look more and more like a pipe dream, and the Pels fall further out of playoff contention, whether they opt to go full Sam Presti over the final months of the season will be something to closely monitor.
  • RJ Barrett has gone through some wild ups and downs through his first two-and-a-half years in the NBA, but he's currently in the midst of perhaps the best stretch of his career. Over his last 13 games, Barrett is posting 23.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.2 threes while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from deep. His free throw percentage (65.5% FT), however, remains an abject disaster for managers in roto leagues.
  • While Bulls fans, and media members, were pushing for him to land in prison, Grayson Allen will serve his one-game suspension Wednesday against the Cavaliers. He should be set to return Friday against the Knicks.
  • Daniel Gafford is still rostered in more than half of Yahoo leagues, but at this point he's probably drop-able. Despite remaining in the starting five, here are Gafford's minutes totals over the last six games: 16, 11, 8, 12, 12, 11.
    • The big man hasn't been whistled for a single foul over the last three games, so the decision to slash his workload is entirely tied to Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant returning to the rotation. Both players have earned more minutes than Gafford during that six-game span.
    • In Sunday's loss to Boston, Bryant saw a season-high 22 minutes and finished with 11 points, four rebounds, two steals, two threes and an assist.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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