WITh five games this week, the Portland Trail Blazers deserve a closer look from casual NBA fans and rabid fantasy hoop dogs alike, with the spotlight naturally shining on their starting five of LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. Thanks to this unit, the Rip City franchise currently leads the Northwest Division with a 31-9 record, a half-game up on the Oklahoma City Thunder and just a game behind San Antonio (32-9) for the best record in the Western Conference.
Aldridge or LMA looks to be going to his second straight All-Star Game this year, thanks to stellar first-half-of-season numbers that (as of Sunday) read 24.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, with solid percentages (47.8 fgs, 82.3 fts) and just 1.7 turnovers an outing. Those norms have him 10th overall in 9-category rankings, certainly a great return of investment for those who mostly picked him in the second round of fantasy drafts.
Lillard, meanwhile, is putting up way higher value than his third-round stature at the start of the season. “Thrillard” is just behind Aldridge at No. 11 in the 9-cat per-game rankings with 21.4 ppg (and 3.2 three-pointers a game), 3.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.4 bpg and 2.3 turnovers, not to mention his 42.2 field goal clip and 90 percent rate from the line.
Showing no semblance of a sophomore slump, the reigning Rookie of the Year could even make it into the NBA midseason classic as injuries have derailed the likes of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul on the West backcourt roster. Lillard’s gotten so good that your Fanatic, who has him in a deep roto league with fellow sports scribes, turned down an offer to swap him for the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving.
In another fantasy squad of mine is Batum, who definitely has first-round talent but is only delivering at a third-round clip (28th overall in 9-cat averages) on the season, owing to 2.5 turnovers per game and a lack of scoring. His other numbers are OK – 13.4 ppg (with 1.9 3pg), 6.8 rpg, 5.6 apg, and a combined 1.6 steals/blocks with 46% FG and 82% FT. I read it somewhere that he’s playing like Oscar Robertson Light, but if he kicked his scoring up a notch (he “only” attempts 10 shots a game) he would be like Paul George of the Pacers.
In fact, the Frenchman’s wingmate, Matthews, is outperforming him (21st overall in 9-cat) so far despite being tabbed as a fifth-round pick. Making 2.7 treys a game, Wesley the Sniper averages 16.6 ppg as well as 4.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.0 spg and just 1.3 errors a match. Meanwhile, the other Lopez with the Sideshow Bow afro has emerged from under the draft radar to post reliable fifth-round marks (68th overall) with 10.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg, just 1.2 turnovers and solid field goal (54.8%) and free throw (78%) numbers.
It will be real interesting to see how Portland gets out of this five-game week, as they travel to Houston and OKC, host Denver and Minnesota, then travel to Golden State. The Rockets, Thunder, Nuggets, Timberwolves and Warriors could all be possible playoff opponents for the Blazers, and so fantasy managers will be looking forward to big numbers from the Rip City five.
Five for Fighting
Games Played for Week 13 (Thanks to Rotoworld):
5 Games – POR
4 Games – ATL, BOS, BRK, CHA, CHI, CLE, DAL, DET, HOU, IND, LAC, LAL, MIA, NOP, NYK, OKC, ORL, PHI, SAC, TOR, WAS
3 Games – DEN, GSW, MEM, MIL, MIN, PHX, SAS
2 Games – UTA
PG: Brian Roberts, Pelicans: With starting point guard Jrue Holiday still about a month away from returning from a stress fracture, owners in need of a PG should consider Roberts, who has normed 10.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.1 triples an outing over the last two weeks. He doesn’t shoot well enough for my taste (just 41 percent over the same span), but he’s the only “one” New Orleans has got and is bound to improve his FG%.
SG: Jodie Meeks, Lakers: Life without Kobe Bryant is a breeze for Meeks, who has pumped in fourth-round value from LA over the last fortnight with 21 points (with 2.3 treys), 3.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals an outing. The Black Mamba may not return this season, which has Meeks inheriting the earth, er, the starting two-guard spot for the rest of the year.
SF: Nick Young, Lakers: “Swaggy P” has waded into must-own territory for fantasy managers after a hot two-week stretch that includes a 28-point blast against Cleveland and averages of 17.9 points with 1.7 treys, 3.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and a 97% free throw clip. He was suspended for the game against Boston on Sunday but should resume his run-and-gun ways this week.
PF: Terrence Jones, Rockets: This is certainly the time to pick up Houston’s red-hot power forward, who dropped 36 points and 11 rebounds on the hapless Milwaukee Bucks and has norms of 21.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 3.0 blocks on 58 percent shooting over his last five games.
C: Enes Kanter, Jazz: Utah only plays two games this week, but Kanter has been floating on a lot of waiver wires lately owing to inconsistent performances over the last three months. But the Turk has loads more talent than the current starting bigs – Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson – and if he gets to play starters’ minutes again he should improve on his season marks of 11.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and a combined 1.9 assists/steals/blocks per game. (end)
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