Week 20 Observations: Markkanen, Isaac Climbing the Ranks

Week 20 Observations: Markkanen, Isaac Climbing the Ranks

Midway through Week 20, Nick Whalen takes a look around the league at the players and teams impacting the fantasy basketball landscape.

The Chicago Bulls remain a very bad basketball team, but don't let that distract you from the fact that Lauri Markkanen has been a top-10 fantasy asset over the last month. After missing the first two months of the season, Markkanen mostly looked like a slightly improved version of his rookie-year self, but he's exploded over the last 12 games, averaging 24.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.6 made threes on nearly seven attempts per game. Even more impressive? Markkanen is getting to the line 6.0 times per game in that stretch and converting at a 91 percent clip. Over his first 26 games, he averaged just 2.2 FTA/G.

The Giannis-less Bucks put an emphatic end to Chicago's three-game win streak Monday night, but the Bulls' wins over Memphis, Orlando and Boston were enough to drag them 3.5 games ahead of the Knicks for the worst record in the East and 2.0 games ahead of 14th-place Cleveland.

With Phoenix sitting at 12-50, the Suns, Knicks and Cavs are now in pole position to finish with the three worst records -- and the same odds at the No. 1 pick. It remains to be seen whether Chicago will attempt to maneuver itself back into that mix. but the Bulls have shown no hesitancy to play Markkanen big minutes after they cleared out their depth chart by dealing Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker at the deadline.

After a one-point loss to the Sixers on Monday, the Pelicans are now 3-4 in games with Anthony Davis since he returned from injury on Feb. 8. The situation remains murky, at best, but the two sides appear to have agreed on a plan that calls for Davis remaining in the regular rotation but only playing about 60 percent of his usual workload. Thus far, the results have be decidedly mixed.

In only 21 minutes Monday, Davis finished with 18 points on 14 shots to go with six rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks -- essentially the best-case scenario given the circumstances. He also played well against Indiana on Friday -- 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists in 20 minutes -- but Davis had a complete no-show against Orlando before the break, illustrating the floor-lowering risk that drastically slashing his minutes entails.

Fantasy owners who opted to hold on to Davis for the stretch run may regret that decision, but Davis is still providing valuable production in limited minutes. His 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.2 blocks in 23.1 minutes are certainly better than nothing at all, which seemed like a real possibility before the All-Star break.

Even so, Davis has dropped close to 50 spots, in terms of per-game fantasy value, since the minutes restriction began, and the Pelicans may continue to strategically hold him out of certain games down the stretch. There's a strong argument to be made that the Pels are crazy to play Davis at all, given the situation and his injury history, but all indications at this point are that Davis will remain a part of the regular rotation.

Looking ahead, New Orleans has only two more back-to-back sets left on its schedule -- the first of which arrives this weekend with matchups against Phoenix (Friday) and Denver (Saturday).

Don't look now, but Mitchell Robinson has gone 13 straight games without fouling out. Since picking up six fouls in back-to-back games on Jan. 21 and 23 (in 33 combined minutes), Robinson has begun to play with more discipline, picking up just 2.5 personals per game over his last 13 contests. In that span, he's averaged 9.1 points on 70 percent shooting to go with 7.3 rebounds and a ridiculous 3.1 blocks per game.

Robinson's block rate for the year (10.4%) already places him in historic company, but during that 13-game stretch it jumps up to 13.1 percent, which would be (by far) an NBA record over the course of a full season.

Despite barely topping 20 minutes per game, Robinson is a top-40 player in Yahoo leagues over the last month. As buyout rumors swirl around DeAndre Jordan, Robinson could be set for an expanded role down the stretch, but even if Jordan remains in New York, it would make sense for the Knicks to switch gears and prioritize Robinson's development at some point over the next 22 games.

Back in the mix for the Cavaliers, Kevin Love notched his third consecutive double-double Monday night against Portland, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes. Love was a little sluggish in his first two games back -- abbreviated outings in which he played a combined 22 minutes -- but he's looked much more like his old self after the All-Star break. In just 25.3 minutes, Love is providing 22.0 points and 11.7 rebounds over his last three games, while going 12-of-23 (52.2% 3PT) from beyond the arc.

While he's missed far too much time to recoup his preseason-top-30 value, Love should be in line to reward owners who patiently stashed him on IR for four months with plenty of points, rebounds and threes as the Cavaliers limp toward the finish line. He'll also provide a boost in free throws (20-of-21 FT over last five games), though it's mildly concerning that he's added only four total assists in 98 minutes since making his return.

Quick Hits

After using the All-Star break to fully recover from a calf injury, Nikola Mirotic made his Bucks debut on Feb. 21 and has quickly found himself at home in the frontcourt rotation. Mirotic played 14 minutes and splashed a pair of threes in his first game and followed up with 17 points, six rebounds, two blocks and three three-pointers in Saturday's win over Minnesota. With Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the lineup Monday in Chicago, Mirotic returned to his old stomping grounds and put up 13 points, four rebounds and two assists.

All in all, it's been an encouraging first three games, and it's clear Mirotic has been given a Brook Lopez-level green light by Mike Budenholzer. The 28-year-old has launched 21 threes in three games -- including nine on Monday in 23 minutes.

Trae Young continues to pick up steam as the season progresses, and he's coming off of his best game as a pro Monday night in Houston. The Hawks fell 119-111, but Young finished with a career-best 36 points on eight three-pointers -- also a career-high -- to go with eight assists. Since Jan. 26, Young is averaging 23.1 points, 8.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 made threes on 43.3 percent shooting from deep. In that span, he's crept into the top-60 in Yahoo leagues. If it weren't for turnovers (3.3 per game) and a relatively pedestrian field goal percentage (43.2% FG), Young would be quite a bit higher.

Jonathan Isaac has moved into the top-25 in Yahoo leagues over the past month by way of 12.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and, most importantly, 3.5 combined steals/blocks per game. Isaac's shooting still comes and goes, but he's improved at the free throw line and has been consistently more aggressive of late. Isaac has scored in double-digits in nine of his last 11 games, and he's nearly doubled his three-point attempts in that span, relative to his first 44 games of the season. However, he's still knocking down less than 30 percent of his threes -- down from 34.8 percent as a rookie.

Caris LeVert made his return shortly before the All-Star break and looks to be back in the starting lineup on a permanent basis. He's started each of the last four contests and is coming off of a 15-point, seven-assists, five-rebound effort in Monday's convincing win over San Antonio. While LeVert has struggled from the field since returning (34.8% FG; 29.2% 3PT), his aggressiveness hasn't fallen off, and he's generated nearly five assists per game in just over 24 minutes.

The Nuggets remained quiet throughout Isaiah Thomas' lengthy recovery, but the veteran guard quietly returned to action in Denver's final game before the break, playing 13 minutes off the bench in a 120-118 win over the Kings. Thomas' workload has gradually increased in the two games since, though his 24 minutes Sunday against the Clippers may have been partially the result of a 27-point blowout. Either way, Thomas appears to be in the rotation to stay, and he's wasted no time acclimating himself, posting a hefty 30.9% usage rate through his first 53 minutes.

Thus far, Mike Malone has mostly staggered Thomas and Jamal Murray, instead opting to pair Thomas with Monte Morris. Forty seven of Thomas' 53 minutes have come with Morris by his side, whereas he's spent just five minutes on the court with Murray.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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