By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Coming out of the All-Star break, the NBA is back in full swing as we move through the first complete week of the second half.
While COVID-19 will always be the dominant narrative weaved throughout the 2020-21 season, for the first time in several weeks, we’re not obligated to begin this week’s observations with a litany of postponements and players entering protocols. A handful of teams — most notably, the Toronto Raptors — are still dealing with virus issues, but as the vaccine rollout continues to pick up steam, it finally feels like brighter days are on the horizon.
Due to the All-Star break, we didn’t publish any observations last week, so there is a ton of news and information to run through. With that in mind, rather than diving deep on just a handful of topics, we’ll instead go with a rapid-fire approach and hit as many fantasy stories as possible.
Let's dive in.
CJ McCollum is set to return...
... Tuesday night after missing the Blazers’ last 25 games with a fractured left foot. Before the injury, McCollum was off to easily the best start of his career and looked like he might finally challenge for his first All-Star bid. In 12 healthy games, McCollum posted 27.6 points, 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals and a ridiculous 4.9 made three-pointers while holding a 47-43-84 shooting line. Those numbers made him one of the 10 most valuable players in fantasy basketball. While he’s unlikely to resume that torrid pace, McCollum’s return is a major boon for managers who held him on IR.
With McCollum back, Gary Trent Jr.’s fantasy value figures to take the biggest hit. He’s been a borderline-top-100 player in McCollum’s absence, averaging 17.1 points and 3.4 made threes in 34.2 minutes since McCollum went down. With McCollum healthy this season, Trent’s workload sat at 24.3 minutes per game off the bench.
Elsewhere in Portland, fantasy managers will have to wait a couple more weeks for the return of Jusuf Nurkic, who expects to be back in action sometime around the end of March, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. Until then, Enes Kanter should remain a starting-caliber fantasy option. He’s the 56th-ranked player (total value) in eight-category leagues since Nurkic went down.
Caris LeVert made his Pacers debut...
... on Saturday against Phoenix, going for 13 points, seven rebounds, and two assists in 27 minutes. He followed up with 17 points (3-6 3Pt), two rebounds, two assists, and three steals in 29 minutes Monday night at Denver. Expect LeVert to continue picking up steam as he works his way back into shape, but it’s a great sign that he’s started both games without a tangible minutes restriction.
The Rockets are in a complete free-fall...
... but several key injuries have opened the door for players like Justin Patton and Kevin Porter Jr. to work their way onto the fantasy radar. Filling in for Christian Wood, Patton hasn’t exactly set the league on fire, but he’s averaging 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks over his last five games.
Porter, who came over from the Cavs via trade in January, is the real prize. In his season debut last Thursday against the Kings, Porter went for 13 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, three steals, and a block in 29 minutes. One night later, he put up 27 points, eight assists, two blocks, and a steal against the West-leading Jazz. Porter fell back to earth with an 11-point, seven-assist outing in Sunday’s blowout loss to Boston, but he remains perhaps the league’s biggest fantasy breakout thus far in the second half. In Yahoo leagues, Porter’s rostership has already skyrocketed to 73 percent.
Kenyon Martin Jr. — 16.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.7 BPG over the last three games — is another name to monitor, though his role will likely be more volatile than Porter’s.
Christian Wood is listed as doubtful for Tuesday night’s game against Atlanta and remains without a firm return date.
Anthony Davis isn't ready yet
Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported Monday that Anthony Davis could miss at least three more weeks as the Lakers exercise caution with his strained right calf. That’s not great news for those holding Davis in an IR spot, but it’s hard to fault the Lakers, whose goal should be having Davis at full strength for the postseason.
The Lakers have struggled to replace Davis’ production, but so far the biggest beneficiary has been Kyle Kuzma, who’s averaging 15.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.6 three-pointers over his last nine games. In just the last four games, Kuzma has three double-doubles, and his averages climb to 19.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.0 threes.
Help could soon be arriving for the Atlanta Hawks...
... who could get De’Andre Hunter back from injury before the end of the week. GM Travis Schlenk said Tuesday that Hunter could return as soon as Thursday’s game against Oklahoma City. Hunter was in the midst of a breakout sophomore campaign before a knee injury landed him on the shelf in late-January. In 17 healthy games, Hunter averaged 17.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.9 steals with a 52-38-88 shooting line, making him a top-50 player in eight-category leagues.
Keep an eye on the status of Clint Capela, who sat out Sunday’s game with a heel injury. While there’s no reason to believe he’ll miss extended time, Capela did miss several months last season with a similar issue. In Sunday’s win over the Cavs, John Collins got the start at center, but it was little-used backup Nathan Knight who turned heads with a 16-point, nine-rebound, two-assist, two-block performance in 23 minutes off the bench.
It might be time to admit defeat and cut bait on Kevin Love
He couldn’t even make it through the first two minutes of Sunday’s game, and he’s not expected to play in Tuesday’s game at Miami, which falls on the first night of a back-to-back. Even if Love does return to full health sometime in the next few weeks, the Cavs are careening toward yet another high-lottery season, so there won’t be a ton of incentive to prioritize the 32-year-old in the rotation.
LaMarcus Aldridge hopped on the Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond trend ...
... becoming the latest veteran big man to be temporarily shut down while his team works to find a trade partner. Unlike Griffin’s, Aldridge’s contract isn’t a major albatross, so the Spurs should be able to deal the big man before the March 25 deadline, though a buyout could also be in play. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Monday that Boston, Portland, and Miami are among the interested teams.
Jakob Poeltl stands to benefit most, as this likely locks him into the starting five the rest of the way. He’s mostly useful for blocks (2.2 BPG in last 15 games) but also adds some scoring (8.7 PPG) and rebounding (8.9 RPG).
Pistons swapped Svi Mykhailiuk and a future second-rounder for Hamidou Diallo
The trade mostly flew under the radar for obvious reasons, but considering the teams involved, it could carry fantasy implications the rest of the way. The Thunder continue to shift toward more of a youth-oriented rotation, while Detroit essentially waved the white flag on its season when it announced the Griffin shutdown.
Diallo is currently nursing a groin injury, but the former Kentucky standout figures to get an extended look with the Pistons over the next two months. He was already off to a mini-breakout year in Oklahoma City, averaging career-highs in points (11.9), rebounds (5.2), assists (2.4), steals (1.0), field goal percentage (48.1%), and minutes (23.8) per game.
It’s unclear if the Thunder view Mykhailiuk as a future piece, or simply a means by which to acquire yet another future draft pick. He could have some trouble earning consistent run with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome, Theo Maledon, Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams, and Aleksej Pokusevski already in the mix.
Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards has quietly asserted himself ...
... as the league’s most exciting rookie not named LaMelo Ball. After going for a career-high 34 points in Sunday’s win over Portland, Edwards is up to 23.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.9 steals in his last seven games. He’s still streaky and fairly inefficient on most nights, but he’s essentially been the Wolves’ No. 2 option with Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell sidelined. In that seven-game stretch, Edwards is launching 21.6 field goals and 9.1 threes per game.
One name to monitor in Minnesota: Second-year guard Jaylen Nowell. The 2019 second-rounder is averaging 19.8 points, 4.7 boards, 4.3 threes, and 3.0 assists over his last three games, headlined by a 28-point (6-7 3Pt), six-assist, five-rebound performance in last Thursday’s win over New Orleans. Nowell’s role will likely dwindle when Beasley and Russell return, but for now, he’s worth a look as a daily lineup streamer.
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan ...
... made a pair of fairly drastic lineup changes Sunday night, swapping in veterans Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young and sending Coby White and Wendell Carter to the bench. While it’s still unclear if the move is only temporary, the Bulls beat up on the shorthanded Raptors on Sunday, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they stick with the new look for at least a few more games.
In 19 minutes off the bench, Carter still managed a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double — his first since Feb. 24 — while White finished with 13 points (2-8 3Pt), five assists, and four rebounds in 27 minutes. Young’s role likely won’t change much, but Satoransky (11% rostered) could be a player to target if his workload trends closer to the 25-30-minute range. He finished Sunday’s game with 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in 26 minutes.
Devonte’ Graham made his return ...
... from a seven-game injury absence last week, and he’s played the last three games off the bench. The Hornets briefly experimented with a three-guard lineup back in mid-February, but it looks like James Borrego has settled on the LaMelo Ball-Terry Rozier backcourt, with Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington at the forward spots. Since returning, Graham is averaging 12.0 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.3 threes in 19.0 minutes.
Giannis Antetokounmpo reeled off his third straight triple-double ...
... Monday night, cruising to 31 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, and a block in a win over Washington. Beginning with his 47-point, 11-rebound performance against Phoenix on Feb. 10, the two-time reigning MVP is up to 31.7 points, 12.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.5 blocks over his last 15 games. He’s also shooting 76.3 percent at the line during that stretch (10.7 FTA/G) and has hit 20 of his last 21 free throws. Since the start of February (20 games), Antetokounmpo is the No. 2 player in eight-category leagues.