NBA Observations: New Faces in New Places, Blazers Thriving, All-Star Primer + More

NBA Observations: New Faces in New Places, Blazers Thriving, All-Star Primer + More

This article is part of our NBA Observations series.

Welcome to Week 18 of the NBA season, which will bring us into the All-Star break. In some leagues, the abbreviated Week 18 is treated as a stand-alone scoring period, while in others it's lumped together with Week 19. Either way, the All-Star break provides a much-needed reprieve for fantasy managers, especially those in daily lineup leagues who have spent much of the last four-and-a-half months scrambling to maximize their rosters.

The break also acts as a final wake-up call for fantasy managers, as the trade deadline is rapidly approaching in most season-long leagues. The time is now to perform a roster audit and determine the areas in which you may need to improve. For roto league managers, it's important to examine each category and decide where to best focus your efforts down the stretch. Some managers may look to pad a lead in a category or two, while others may need to narrow down the categories in which they can feasibly make up the most ground.

The NBA packs the pre-All-Star schedule with nine games on Monday, seven on Tuesday, 11 on Wednesday and five on Thursday. All 30 teams are off from Friday, Feb. 18 through the following Wednesday, Feb. 23. Play resumes Thursday, Feb. 24 with 16 teams in action.

Every team is back in action either Thursday or Friday, with the exception of the defending champions. Milwaukee will be off until Saturday, Feb. 27, when it plays host to the new-look Nets in what could be Ben Simmons' 2021-22 debut. More on that below.

In this week's look around the league, we'll dig into some new faces in new places and highlight the biggest fantasy storylines heading into All-Star Weekend in Cleveland.

Harden to debut after break, Simmons TBD

As you may have heard, the 76ers acquired James Harden from the Nets at last week's trade deadline. Harden arrived in Philly over the weekend and was on the floor at Monday's practice, but he won't make his 76ers debut until after the All-Star break. A sore hamstring – the legitimacy of which was called into question before the trade – has kept Harden sidelined for seven of the last nine games. 

  • Philly announced Monday that Harden will not play in Sunday's All-Star Game. Cavs big man Jarrett Allen was swiftly chosen as Harden's replacement.
  • The Sixers are off for a full seven days, so the hope is that Harden can debut on the road next Friday (Feb. 25) at Minnesota. Philly then plays Sunday at New York to close out its February schedule.
  • The date every NBA fan has circled is March 10, when the Sixers play host to the Nets. It will mark the final meeting between the two teams during the regular season. Harden should be fully up to speed by that point, as should Ben Simmons. If Simmons opts to play that game – frankly, I don't see that happening – the vitriol directly at him could rival the LeBron-back-in-Cleveland/Durant-back-in-OKC environments of the previous decade.
  • Speaking of Simmons, there's no firm timetable on his Nets debut. He reiterated Tuesday that he's still ramping up his conditioning – both physically and mentally – after failing to suit up for a single game as a member of the Sixers this season. Dating back to the 2021 Playoffs, Simmons has not played in an NBA game since his fateful Game 7 against Atlanta on June 20 (240 days ago).
    • Like Harden, Simmons' debut figures to come sometime shortly after the All-Star break.

Haliburton, Sabonis hit the ground running

Last week's trade between the Kings and Pacers was consummated prior to the deadline, so both Domantas Sabonis and Tyrese Haliburton have already appeared in multiple games for their respective new teams.

  • Sabonis debuted for the Kings last Wednesday and helped lead Sacramento to a 132-119 win over Minnesota with 22 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and one steal in 33 minutes. He followed up with 16 points, 11 boards and seven assists in Saturday's win at Washington.
    • Despite entering Monday's game against the shorthanded Nets as 2.0-point favorites, the Kings had a complete no-show, falling 109-85 while Sabonis struggled to finish with just nine points (4-11 FG) and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
  • In Indiana, the Pacers have immediately installed Haliburton as the lead playmaker with Malcolm Brogdon (Achilles) sidelined indefinitely (perhaps for eternity, at this point). Haliburton debuted Friday against the Cavs and posted 23 points, six assists, three rebounds, three steals and four three-pointers in 40 minutes. IN Sunday's loss to the Timberwolves, Haliburton again saw big minutes (41) and finished with 22 points, 16 assists, five rebounds, six three-pointers and one steal.
    • Haliburton now has 17 games this season with at least 10 assists – something he accomplished only five times in 58 appearances as a rookie.
  • Buddy Hield, who also came over from Sacramento, has started and played huge minutes alongside Haliburton in each of his first two games with the Pacers. Hield had 16 points, nine rebounds and a season-high eight assists against Cleveland before a nightmare shooting effort Sunday (1-of-13 from three). Hield played 40 minutes in both games. 

Blazers thriving post-McCollum

The Trail Blazers opted to clean house at the trade deadline, offloading the bloated contracts of CJ McCollum and Norman Powell in order to reset the roster around Damian Lillard going forward. Seemingly, the objective was to officially declare 2021-22 a lost season and accelerate the process of rebuilding around the 31-year-old star. However, since dealing McCollum last Monday, the Blazers are 3-0 behind strong play from Jusuf Nurkic, Anfernee Simons and new arrivals Justise Winslow and Josh Hart, among others.

  • Nurkic's hot stretch dates back several weeks, but he's posted seven straight double-doubles and averaged 18.0 points, 16.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists during the three-game winning streak.
  • Josh Hart made his Blazers debut Saturday against the Knicks and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup. He finished with 23 points in 37 minutes. On Monday night, he posted 27 points, seven rebounds, five assists, five three-pointers, two blocks and a steal in 36 minutes.
  • Justise Winslow's (37% rostered in Yahoo leagues) last four games since entering the starting five:
    • Feb. 8 loss vs. Orlando: 33 minutes, 12 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks
    • Feb. 9 win vs. LA Lakers: 33 minutes 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists, four steals
    • Feb. 12 win vs. New York: 37 minutes, 14 points, five rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block
    • Feb. 14 win at Milwaukee: 32 minutes, 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals one block
  • Anfernee Simons' last 22 games: 36.0 minutes, 23.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 4.4 threes, 41.5% 3Pt
    • Since January 1, Simons ranks 19th overall in total value (8-cat)
  • Meanwhile, McCollum has played well in his own right since arriving in New Orleans, averaging 24.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.3 three-pointers in three starts (35.0 MPG). McCollum went for a season-high 36 points on 24 shots in Saturday's loss to the Spurs.

Quick Hits

  • The Nets snapped an 11-game slide Monday night against the Kings, while both Seth Curry and Andre Drummond made their debuts and were in the starting lineup.
    • Curry: 23 points, seven rebounds, five assists, 3-8 3PT
    • Drummond: 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block
    • With Kevin Durant sidelined and Kyrie Irving ineligible for the next three games, Curry should continue to function as the Nets' primary offensive option alongside Patty Mills.
  • Derrick White has two games under his belt as a member of the Celtics after coming over from San Antonio at the deadline. He finished Friday's win over Denver with 15 points, six rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes off the bench. White posted 14 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 29 minutes Sunday against Atlanta.
  • As of Tuesday afternoon, Kristaps Porzingis is considered questionable to debut for the Wizards before the All-Star break. He'll have two more opportunities – Wednesday at IND; Thursday at BKN – but it would not be surprising if Washington holds the big man out until after the break. Porzingis has not played since Jan. 29 due to a bone bruise in his knee.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans are expected to be available for the Mavs on Tuesday night against Miami.
    • Dinwiddie fell out of favor in Washington – both in the rotation and in the locker room – but the Mavs will need him to bring a spark right away with Tim Hardway Jr. (broken foot) potentially done for the season. Reggie Bullock (bruised hip) is expected to sit out Tuesday night's game, as well.
  • The hits keep coming for the Bulls, who announced that Zach LaVine will remain out through the All-Star break with discomfort in his left knee. LaVine has not been ruled out for the All-Star Game itself, but it's very possible he could be held out for precautionary reasons.
    • KC Johnson reported that LaVine has been dealing with tightness and "almost clicking, at times" in the knee. It's the same knee on which LaVine underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL back in 2017
  • Stephen Curry looks to finally be getting back on track after a prolonged shooting slump. Over his last three games, he's averaging 30.7 points and 4.7 made threes on 48.3 percent shooting (37.8% 3Pt). He capped off that run with 33 points and eight three-pointers in Monday night's loss to the Clippers.
    • Curry now has seven games this season with at least eight made threes, but this was his first since Dec. 23. Five of those seven outbursts came within the Warriors' first 15 games of the season.
  • This is our final check-in before the All-Star break, so here is where each All-Star falls in terms of total fantasy value (8-cat) relative to their preseason Yahoo ADP:
    • Notes: Current Rank (ADP); Total value is affected by number of games played.
  • Team LeBron
  • Team Durant
  • Players with sub-30.0 Yahoo ADPs who did not make the All-Star Game:

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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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