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By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Week 8 of the fantasy basketball campaign brings us a uniquely unbalanced schedule, as one team, the Spurs, plays five games, while three teams — Atlanta, Phoenix and Toronto — each play only two games. The rest of the league is evenly split between three- and four-game weeks, so it’s a particularly strategic point in the NBA season.
Looking around the league, COVID-19 continues to be a significant storyline, with multiple key players being placed on protocols. Beyond the virus, injuries are affecting a handful of big-name players, as well.
But as always, the news is not all negative. The 2021 Draft class continues to look like one of the most talent-rich in recent memory, and the No.1 overall pick is coming off of a record-setting night Monday. Meanwhile, the once-lowly (and still pretty lowly, if we’re being honest) Houston Rockets are riding a six-game winning streak heading into a showdown with the Nets on Wednesday.
In the West, the Suns and Warriors continue to look like the clear frontrunners, while the Grizzlies are finding ways to win without their best player. The Lakers remain a mess, but with LeBron James back healthy, now is the time for the preseason conference favorite to make its run.
As we near the one-third mark in the 2021-22 NBA season, let's through all of the top fantasy news and storylines of the week:
The Charlotte Hornets are the latest team to be hit by COVID-19
All five of Ish Smith, Mason Plumlee, Terry Rozier, Jalen McDaniels and LaMelo Ball are currently in the league’s protocols. It’s unclear just how much time each player will miss, but the prevailing belief is that Charlotte will remain shorthanded for at least Wednesday’s game against Philly and Friday’s matchup against the Kings.
The Hornets were able to pull out a 130-127 win over the Hawks on Sunday, but they fell to the Sixers in overtime Monday.
James Borrego rolled with a starting five of Cody Martin, Kelly Oubre, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges and Nick Richards, while P.J. Washington, JT Thor and James Bouknight each saw at least 20 minutes of action off the bench.
Martin (42 minutes), Oubre (43), Hayward (44) and Bridges (43) each topped 40 minutes and should continue to shoulder a heavy workload through the end of the week.
In six games since returning from injury, Washington is up to 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.0 steals and 3.3 threes per game (32.8 MPG).
Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan also landed in COVID-19 protocols Monday
He will not travel with the team for Wednesday’s game at Cleveland. As usual, we don’t have a firm timetable, but DeRozan will likely miss at least 10 days unless he’s able to return a pair of negative COVID-19 tests within a 24-hour span.
The Bulls are off Thursday and Friday before heading to Miami on Saturday night. They then have two more off-days before hosting the Pistons next Tuesday, so when all is said and done it’s possible DeRozan could end up missing only three or four contests.
Making his first career start, Dosunmu posted 11 points, eight assists, six boards, a steal and a three-pointer in a game-high 42 minutes. For managers in deeper, daily lineup leagues, the local product could be worth a short-term stream so long as Caruso and DeRozan remain out.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Tuesday morning that, beginning Jan. 15, unvaccinated players will not be allowed to enter Canada to play games at Toronto. This mandate comes via the Canadian government — not the NBA – but it could cause some headaches for players who still have not received the vaccine.
Outside of Kyrie Irving, of course, it’s unclear how many other players remain unvaccinated. The number is likely quite small, and that information may not come to light until teams make their annual trip(s) up to Toronto.
Cade Cunningham made history Monday night ...
He became the youngest player in NBA history to record at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five made threes. The No. 1 overall pick finished with 28 points, 11 boards, five assists, two steals and six threes, but Detroit fell 114-103.
Over his last five games, Cunningham is posting 19.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks and 3.4 threes with a 47/46/71 shooting line.
The Indiana Pacers are reportedly moving toward ...
... making all three of Caris LeVert, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis available ahead of the 2022 trade deadline, per Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz of The Athletic.
The exact phrasing in the report is that the Pacers are receptive in trade dialogue with rival teams, which doesn’t come as a huge surprise considering all three players have been the subjects of trade rumors in the past. Depending on the asking price, Indiana should have little trouble finding deals, as Sabonis, Turner and LeVert are all productive players in the midst of their respective primes.
Fantasy-wise, if deals are reached, the players set to benefit most would appear to be rookies Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson. Moving LeVert would obviously clear the way for Duarte, while either big man departing would propel Jackson to a larger role.
For now, there’s no reason for fantasy managers to panic. Despite sitting at 10-16, the Pacers have a decent roster with multiple key contributors, so Sabonis, Turner and/or LeVert would likely find similar roles with other teams if they’re ultimately moved. For Turner, in particular, a move to a center-needy team could actually boost his fantasy value, as he’s playing only 29.0 minutes per game and taking a career-low 8.6 field goal attempts per game through 25 appearances.
After a sluggish start, Jayson Tatum is steadily rebuilding his fantasy value
He’s up to 25th overall in 8-cat leagues after back-to-back 30-point efforts against Utah and Portland over the weekend. In his last 10 games, Tatum is posting 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.9 threes while shooting 89 percent at the line. As the season wears on, Tatum’s field-goal percentage (40.6% FG) and three-point percentage (32.2%) should progress toward the mean.
Tatum’s co-star, Jaylen Brown, continues to struggle with the hamstring injury that’s cost him 10 of the Celtics’ last 15 games. He appeared to aggravate the injury against Philly last Wednesday and sat out games Friday in Utah as well as Saturday in Portland. As of Tuesday afternoon, Brown is considered questionable for the night’s matchup against the Lakers.
While the Pelicans have remained tight-lipped about the status of Zion Williamson ...
... recent photos strongly suggest the third-year big man is not exactly in peak condition. To be fair, who among us hasn’t been victimized by bad angles or poor lighting, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in this situation.
For now, all we know is that Williamson had a “slight delay” in his rehab last week, and he remains without a firm return timetable. The Pelicans are still hoping to have him back by Christmas, but ultimately that may not be realistic.
Don’t look now, but James Harden is currently the No. 2-ranked player in 8-cat leagues
He's behind only Stephen Curry. Early on, the former MVP admitted that he wasn’t fully back up to speed, but he’s begun to look a lot more like his old self over the past month. In Brooklyn’s last 12 games, Harden is up to 22.8 points, 10.4 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 2.0 threes.
Efficiency remains an issue — 40.7% FG, 29.3% 3PT in that span — but one overwhelmingly positive indication is that Harden is back to parading to the line on a nightly basis. Heading into Tuesday’s showdown against the Knicks, Harden ranks third in the NBA in both made free throws and free throw attempts behind DeMar DeRozan and Giannis Antetokounmpo, respectively.
With DeRozan set to miss a few games, Harden will have a good chance to pass both players for the league lead in makes by the end of the week.
Lonzo Ball is enjoying a fantastic first season in Chicago
He currently ranks 17th in 8-cat fantasy value behind a well-rounded 12.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks and 3.0 three-pointers per game. Ball had a career-high four blocks in Monday’s win over Denver.
Ball has always been a low-volume free-throw shooter, but he’s taken that to another level this season. In 879 total minutes, Ball has attempted only 11 free throws. His current Free Throw Attempt Rate (FTr) of .040 is the second-lowest in NBA history among players who saw at least 800 minutes.
Evan Mobley has rightfully commanded much of the attention in Cleveland ...
... but could Jarrett Allen quietly be moving toward his first career All-Star bid? The big man is averaging 17.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 71.0 percent from the field. Thus far, at least, it’s difficult to point to more than one or two big men in the East who have been more consistently productive than Allen. The 2022 All-Star Game is set for Sunday, February 20 in Cleveland.
Bam Adebayo underwent surgery on his right thumb Monday and is expected to miss the next 4-to-6 weeks. This is a crushing blow for managers — this one included — who pulled the trigger on the big man early in drafts, but the hope is that he trends toward the lower end of that timetable and is back sometime in early-to-mid January.
Dewayne Dedmon has started the last four games in Adebayo’s place, averaging 7.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 threes in 24.8 minutes.
Bobby Portis is currently a top-75 player in 8-cat leagues, and with Brook Lopez undergoing back surgery last week, Portis may be able to maintain that value. With seven double-doubles in his last 10 games, Portis is up to 16.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 2.4 threes in that span.
The Bucks did bring in DeMarcus Cousins for added depth, but at this stage in his career, he’s a 15-to-20-minute player, so he’s not a major threat to Portis’ workload.
In other Bucks news, Donte DiVincenzo appears close to making his long-awaited return from the ankle injury that’s kept him out since early in the 2021 postseason. DiVincenzo is practicing with the Bucks’ G League team this week and looks to be on track to debut sometime before Christmas.
With Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen playing well, it’s unclear what DiVincenzo’s role will be, but he could eventually reclaim the starting shooting guard spot from Allen, who ranks 83rd in 8-cat total value through 24 games.
On Monday, the Wizards provided an update on Thomas Bryant, who has not played since tearing his ACL in early January of last season. It’s unclear how long of a ramp-up period Bryant will face, but he figures to be back in the rotation within the next month or so. Over his last two seasons (56 games), Bryant holds averages of 13.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 threes with a 59/41/73 shooting line.
With Rui Hachimura (personal) also expected back soon, Wes Unseld Jr. will have some difficult decisions to make when it comes to doling out minutes in the frontcourt. Daniel Gafford, Kyle Kuzma and especially Montrezl Harrell have been productive thus far, but each could see their respective roles decline if Hachimura and Bryant stay healthy and reclaim anything remotely close to their usual workloads.