By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s Week 19 of the NBA season, which — for some, at least — means you’re in the thick of the fantasy basketball postseason.
From rampant postponements and COVID-related absences early on to an uptick in rest and unpredictable rotations more recently, fantasy managers have been dealt a difficult hand this season. If you’re still alive in your league, hats off to you. You’ve weathered the storm in what will likely go down as one of the strangest and most challenging fantasy seasons in history.
With exactly 20 days remaining in the regular season, there’s still plenty to be decided, as the playoff picture in both conferences is far from solidified. In this week’s trip around the league, we’ll take a rapid-fire approach and touch on some key players returning from injury, a superstar slumping at the wrong time, and all of the other top headlines in the world of fantasy hoops.
Kevin Durant has appeared in only 25 games this season ...
... with just six of those coming since February 15. After missing three games with a bruised thigh, Durant returned to action Sunday against Phoenix, playing 28 minutes off the bench and finishing with 33 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block. Few players have Durant’s ability to miss multiple games then come back and immediately return to a superstar level. Durant is on track to play Tuesday night at Toronto, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll rest for one half of the Nets’ upcoming back-to-back set against Indiana (Thursday) and Portland (Friday).
Jusuf Nurkic has been among the season’s biggest busts ...
... but 60 games into the season he’s finally giving managers what they expected. Nurkic had his best game of the year against Memphis on Friday, throwing up 26 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, a steal, and a block in 29 minutes. He followed up with 16 points, 19 boards, five assists, a steal, and two blocks in Sunday’s rematch. While the Blazers did lose both games, that’s just a minor footnote for those who are much more concerned about Nurkic’s individual output.
Monday night’s win over Orlando marked Anthony Davis' third game back ...
... from the calf injury that sidelined him for 30 consecutive games. Davis was understandably rusty in a pair of losses to Dallas on Thursday and Sunday — 21 combined points on 7-of-29 shooting — but he came out much more confident and aggressive Monday night, finishing with 18 points (8-15 FG), eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 31 minutes. The fact that Davis has already shaken off his minutes restriction is a great sign.
Davis’ three-point shooting is worth keeping an eye on down the stretch. Since returning, he’s just 1-of-11 from beyond the arc. Before the injury (23 games), he hit just 29.3 percent of his threes after knocking down 33.0 percent a season ago.
The Raptors have done the unthinkable ...
... and used the same starting lineup — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Khem Birch — the last three games. Despite being in the thick of the play-in/playoff race, the Raptors implemented an aggressive resting plan for much of April, sitting several regulars seemingly at random while others battled legitimate injuries. Toronto (26-35) has now won five of its last six games and sits just 1.0 game behind Washington for the final play-in spot.
Lowry played in only one game between March 30 and April 20, missing 10 contests due to a combination of injury and rest. He’s averaged 35.0 minutes in his three games back in the lineup, but Lowry is averaging just 9.0 points on 25.8 percent shooting (8-31 FG) while hitting only four of his 23 attempts from three.
New starting center Khem Birch has at least one block in seven straight games. With Chris Boucher sidelined indefinitely, Birch’s roster rate jumped up to 30 percent in Yahoo leagues. In that seven-game span, he’s averaging 10.1 points, 6.4 boards, 1.3 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.0 steals in 27.9 minutes.
Pascal Siakam is getting hot at the right time, averaging 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.0 threes, and 1.0 steal over his last three games. He’s scored at least 25 points in three straight games for just the fourth time since the start of last season (109 games played).
Damian Lillard might be an All-NBA First-Teamer this season...
... but he’s fallen into a slump at the worst possible time. Following a pair of losses to Memphis over the weekend, Portland has now dropped nine of its last 11 games, tumbling to seventh place in the West and clinging to just a 1.0-game lead over Memphis and San Antonio. Lillard did miss three games due to injury during that stretch (the Blazers went 1-2 without him), but he’s been a major part of the team’s recent struggles.
Over his last nine appearances, Lillard is averaging 21.0 points on 19.4 shots, while shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor and 32.9 percent from three. Even his free throw percentage, which sits at 92.3 percent for the season, is down considerably (80.0%) in the month of April.
Robert Covington has also fallen off a cliff over the last 10 games, averaging only 6.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.9 combined steals and blocks. Covington has only one double-digit scoring game in that stretch and he’s 10-of-35 from three-point range.
Jaren Jackson Jr. made his long-awaited debut ...
... last Wednesday, taking the floor for the first time since an August 3 seeding game in the Orlando bubble. Despite the nearly eight-month layoff, Jackson hit the ground running with 15 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks in just 18 minutes Wednesday. He then posted an efficient 23 points (10-14 FG), three rebounds, a steal, and a block in Friday’s win at Portland. After sitting out Sunday’s rematch, Jackson had a modest 10 points and seven rebounds in Monday’s blowout loss to Denver. He’s racked up 14 fouls in 64 total minutes thus far.
Jackson’s recovery from a meniscus tear took much, much longer than anticipated, so while it’s nice to see him back on the floor, it’s too little too late for most fantasy managers who spent a mid-round pick on the big man (Yahoo ADP: 72.5). Nonetheless, he’ll remain an intriguing, high-risk/high-reward fantasy option in 2021-22 after putting up 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 2.5 made threes last season.
The Rockets announced Monday that John Wall ...
... will be shut down for the remainder of the season due to a hamstring issue. There had been no previous mention of a hamstring injury, so it’s very possible the Rockets simply needed a rationale to hold the 30-year-old out of the final 11 games.
This puts a bow on a frustrating season for Wall, who returned from a multi-year injury absence to put up respectable counting stats — 20.6 points, 6.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 2.0 threes, 1.1 steals, 0.8 blocks — in his 40 appearances. Wall shot only 40.4 percent from the floor, however, and he was constantly in and out of the lineup, missing more than a third of Houston’s games before being shut down.
Wall is on the books at $44.3 million next season, and he holds a $47.3 million player option for the 2022-23 season.
With Wall’s 32 minutes per game now up for grabs, Kevin Porter Jr. and Armoni Brooks are likely to benefit most. Porter Jr. had already been playing a major role before a three-game COVID-related absence, while Brooks — a two-way player — made his season debut less than three weeks ago.
LaMelo Ball Watch has now officially begun ...
... as Tuesday marks eight days since Tim Bontemps of ESPN reported that Ball was expected to return within the next seven-to-10 days. The Hornets haven’t provided any updates in the past week, but Ball is listed as out for Tuesday’s matchup against Milwaukee. Charlotte also plays Wednesday at Boston before returning home to close out the week with a Saturday/Sunday back-to-back against Detroit and Miami. If Ball were to return Saturday, he could play in as many as 10 more regular-season games.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is showing no signs of slowing down
He’s scored in double figures in 16 straight games entering Wednesday’s game at Philadelphia. Taking advantage of Trae Young’s recent injuries, Bogdanovic is up to 21.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 4.4 threes, and 1.5 steals with a 49-49-86 shooting line during that 16-game stretch.
Lesser-known names to monitor down the stretch, especially in deeper leagues
Oshae Brissett: He’s made four straight starts for the banged-up Pacers, averaging 15.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.0 block, and 2.3 threes in 34.0 minutes. His ceiling will decrease when at least one of Goga Bitadze and Domantas Sabonis return, but Sabonis, in particular, could end up missing a few more games.
Daniel Gafford: The ex-Bull has at least one block in eight straight games with three four-block games sprinkled into that stretch. In Sunday’s win over the Cavs, Gafford posted 12 points, six rebounds, four steals, four blocks, and two assists.
PJ Dozier: Benefiting from injuries to Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and Monte Morris, Dozier has started the last two games and played 28 and 26 minutes, respectively. He went for 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks, and three three-pointers against Houston on Saturday.
Raul Neto: He’s started five straight games and played at least 25 minutes in all five, averaging 11.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 threes.
Malachi Flynn: Before Monday’s win over the Cavs, Flynn played only 17 combined minutes in the Raptors’ last two games. He saw 24 minutes Monday and went for 18 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
Isaiah Stewart: He no longer qualifies as a hidden gem at this point, but Stewart is averaging 12.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks over his last six games, despite coming off the bench in three of those. He’s rostered in 54 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Chuma Okeke: Scoring efficiency is not Okeke’s calling card, though he’s racked up 12 steals over his last five games.
Lonnie Walker: He’s been pretty bad over the last few weeks, but with Derrick White likely to miss a few games with an ankle injury, Walker could find himself back in the starting five. In his 31 starts this season, Walker is averaging 12.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 2.0 threes in 28.3 minutes.