NBA Observations: COVID Chaos, Rise of the Cavs, Vintage LeBron + More Week 9 Fantasy Notes

NBA Observations: COVID Chaos, Rise of the Cavs, Vintage LeBron + More Week 9 Fantasy Notes

This article is part of our NBA Observations series.

It's already Week 9 of the NBA season, which continues to bring us twists and turns as we come up on the two-month mark. The season got off to a mostly smooth start – especially relative to the last two campaigns – but COVID-19 has once again positioned itself as the dominant storyline across the league, as well as in fantasy basketball circles.

In this week's look around the NBA, we'll hone in on the latest developments surrounding the virus, as well as highlight the players, teams and storylines fantasy managers should be tracking this week:

COVID-19 causes postponements

Any hopes of the 2021-22 NBA season going off without a hitch were dashed earlier this week when the league announced a pair of postponements surrounding the Chicago Bulls – the team hit hardest by the virus thus far.

With the virus landing 10 Bulls players in health and safety protocols, the league moved to postpone Tuesday's game against Detroit and Thursday's game against Toronto. The hope is that Sunday's game against the Lakers can be played as scheduled, but it will ultimately depend on whether the Bulls have the minimum number of healthy players (eight) available.

  • Bulls players in COVID-19 protocols as of Tuesday morning: DeMar DeRozan, Derrick Jones, Javonte Green, Coby White, Matt Thomas, Troy Brown, Zach LaVine, Stanley Johnson, Ayo Dosunmu, Alize Johnson
  • The Lakers may have some virus issues of their own after the team announced Tuesday that it canceled practice in the wake of a positive test for Talen Horton-Tucker. The third-year guard is now expected to miss roughly 10 days, effectively ruling him out for at least the next five games. If that timetable holds up, Horton-Tucker could return for the Lakers' Christmas Day showdown against the Nets.
    • Speaking of the Nets, they placed four players – LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, James Johnson and Jevon Carter – in COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday morning.
    • Kevin Durant is also questionable for Tuesday night's matchup against the Raptors due to a sore right ankle. Whether or not Durant plays Tuesday, Brooklyn will likely be extremely shorthanded for the next week-and-a-half.
  • On a more positive note, LaMelo Ball, Mason Plumlee and Jalen McDaniels officially cleared protocols Tuesday and were promptly assigned to the G League's Greensboro Swarm to work on their conditioning. There's hope that all three players could make their return to action as soon as Wednesday night against the Spurs.
    • On a per-game basis, Ball ranks as the sixth-most-valuable fantasy asset in 8-cat leagues.

Curry gunning for three-point record at MSG

Fittingly, Stephen Curry will have an excellent chance to break Ray Allen's NBA record for career three-point makes at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. After draining five threes in Monday's win over Indiana, Curry sits just two makes away from overtaking Allen.

  • Coming into the night, Curry is hitting 5.4 of 13.4 three-point attempts per game (both career highs). At his peak, Allen topped out at 8.4 attempts and 3.4 makes per game. Allen led the league in total made threes three times, while Curry is on pace to do it for the seventh time in the last 10 seasons.
  • The two-time MVP is posting overall averages of 27.0 points, 6.3 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals. In terms of total value, Curry comfortably ranks as the No. 1 overall player in fantasy basketball, ahead of James Harden, Kevin Durant, Trae Young and Nikola Jokic.

LeBron James: Still good at basketball

Through the first month of the season, it looked like age and injuries had finally caught up to LeBron James, but since returning from an eight-game absence Nov. 19 against Boston, the self-appointed #WashedKing has been on a rampage. Over his last eight games, James is averaging 29.8 points, 8.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks and 2.9 three-pointers while topping 30 points six times. The 36-year-old has a pair of triple-doubles in his last three games, highlighted by a 30-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist, three-block effort in Saturday's win over Orlando. 

  • The missed games early on knock James out of the top 40 in total value (8-cat), but on a per-game basis he ranks as the third-most valuable player behind only Jokic and Curry. If he can keep it up, it would be James' best fantasy season since 2017-18 – his final year in Cleveland – when he finished sixth in per-game value.
  • While James' rebounding and assists numbers are down relative to last season, he's generating 1.8 steals per game – his most since 2011-12 – and draining 2.8 threes per game (by far a career best). And though his attempts are down (career-low 4.6 FTA/G), James is also on course for his most efficient free throw shooting season since 2011-12.

Time to take the Cavs seriously

With a 105-94 win over the Heat on Monday, the Cavaliers have now won four straight games and sit in the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Understandably, there's been some hesitancy to buy in on the Cavs, but they're up to third in defense and fourth in Net Rating, behind only the Warriors, Jazz and Suns.

  • The last time Cleveland was at least five games over .500 without LeBron James on the roster? All the way back in 2000.
  • The Cavs' winning ways have translated to fantasy success, as four Cavaliers players currently rank inside the top 65 in 8-cat leagues.
    • Darius Garland (20th) and Jarrett Allen (22nd) have both been major steals, while Evan Mobley (44th) and Ricky Rubio (62nd) have also outperformed expectations.
    • Over the last two weeks (8 games), Allen ranks as the single most valuable 8-cat fantasy asset, while Garland ranks third. During that span, Allen is posting 19.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.9 assists and 0.9 steals while shooting 74.7 percent from the field and 89.7 percent at the line.
  • Perhaps the most unlikely development in Cleveland has been Kevin Love embracing – and thriving – in a reduced role off the bench. After going for a season-high 23 points (6-10 FG, 5-8 3Pt) and nine rebounds Monday night, Love is up to 15.6 points, 7.0 boards, 2.0 assists and 3.8 threes per game over his last five appearances.

Quick Hits

  • Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, there is "renewed optimism" that Kyrie Irving could rejoin the Nets at some point this season. The report doesn't exactly get into how, exactly, Irving would go about doing so, but it's difficult to imagine the Nets welcoming him back unless he finally decides to get the vaccine. In that scenario, Irving would need anywhere from two weeks to a month to be considered fully vaccinated.
    • As of Tuesday, Irving is rostered in 74 percent of Yahoo leagues. If you can spare the roster spot, he's worth picking up.
  • A bruised right elbow kept Paul George out of a third straight game Monday night against the Suns. If he doesn't play Wednesday at Utah, George will have two more days off before Saturday's game at OKC, which wraps up a three-game week for the Clippers.
  • Klay Thompson remains on track to make his return sometime around Christmas, which is only – checks calendar – 11 days away. With the Warriors on the road this week, Thompson stayed back to continue scrimmaging with G League Santa Cruz Warriors. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Thompson is going through full-game scrimmages, playing in five-to-seven-minute stints.
  • Jayson Tatum continues to heat up for the Celtics, who snapped a three-game skid with Monday's win over Milwaukee. Over his last seven games, Tatum is up to 31.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.4 made threes with a 51/41/83 shooting line. His percentages are still lagging, but after a rocky start to the year, Tatum's counting stats are back up to the levels most fantasy managers expected.
    • Jaylen Brown made his return from a five-game absence Monday, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in 30 minutes.
  • It seems like it's been nothing but bad news for Zion Williamson, who has been "shut down" from basketball activities after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired foot. Even before this latest development, it was difficult to put a timetable on Williamson's return, and this now adds even more uncertainty. With the Pelicans sitting in last place in the Western Conference, it's fair to wonder just how motivated Williamson's camp may be to get him back on the floor.
  • Khris Middleton looks to have avoided a serious injury after departing Monday's loss to the Celtics. Initial scans suggest Middleton suffered only a hyperextension with no ligament damage. Still, he could be set for a multi-game absence as the Bucks enter a three-games-in-four-nights scenario beginning with Wednesday's contest against Indiana.
  • Dewayne Dedmon continues to fill in admirably for the injured Bam Adebayo in Miami. Since taking over as the starter, Dedmon ranks just inside the top-100 in 8-cat leagues behind averages of 8.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.9 threes per game. Obviously, those figures are nothing remarkable, but Dedmon is a reasonable addition for managers in desperate need of boards.
  • Markelle Fultz very quietly returned to practice late last week, going through a full session Friday for the first time since tearing his ACL in January. The team isn't putting a timetable on Fultz's return, but it's been nearly a full calendar year, so he'll likely make his debut sometime in the next few weeks.
    • Jalen Suggs is still shelved with a thumb injury, but the Magic will have some difficult decisions to make once Suggs, Fultz and Cole Anthony are all healthy.
  • Damian Lillard made his return to action Sunday against Minnesota after missing the previous five games due to an abdominal injury. The All-Star guard received a cortisone shot in the abdomen, so he appears intent to play through the issue for the time being. Lillard finished Sunday's 116-111 loss with 24 points (3-14 3Pt), 11 rebounds, six assists and five turnovers in 37 minutes.
  • The Sacramento Kings may be looking to showcase Marvin Bagley ahead of the trade deadline, as he's now played double-digit minutes in four of the last five games. The No. 2 overall pick in 2018 finished Monday's loss to the Raptors with 12 points and 11 boards for his third double-double of the season.
    • Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee reported Monday that Sacramento is shopping both Bagley and Buddy Hield in hopes of landing "a good player" in return. It's unclear at this time if the Kings would consider trading for any bad players.

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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 two-time FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM alongside Jeff Erickson. 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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