NBA Observations: Zion Takeaways, Oladipo Returns, Remembering Kobe, and More

NBA Observations: Zion Takeaways, Oladipo Returns, Remembering Kobe, and More

As the league pushes past the halfway point and toward the end of January, it's time for fantasy owners to begin an internal audit, of sorts, assessing potential roster holes as the trade deadline approaches. By this point in the year, we should have a pretty strong grasp of most players' night-to-night roles, though there will always be the handful of teams constantly tweaking rotations.

This week, we start with one of those teams – the Sacramento Kings – who pulled off an incredible come-from-behind win in Minnesota on Monday night. 

Buddy Hield came off the bench to score a season-high 42 points in Monday's wild, overtime win over the Timberwolves. It was Hield's second consecutive game as a bench player – a desperation move by Luke Walton to shake things up in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. In the first of those games, Hield finished with 21 points in 23 minutes, but the Kings managed only 81 points, easily a season-low, in a loss to Chicago.  This time around, Hield led the charge for Sacramento, taking a game-high 24 shots and drilling nine three-pointers to go with five rebounds and two assists.

No victory over Minnesota should be taken with too much credence, but the Kings deserve credit for clawing back into a game they had absolutely no business winning – none whatsoever.

Minnesota led by 27 points with under four minutes in the third quarter and held a 17-point lead with 2:49 remaining in the game. Then, Hield took over, scoring 12 of his 20 fourth-quarter points in the final 2:02 of regulation, including a 29-footer to trim the deficit to three with under five seconds left. At that point, it was up to De'Aaron Fox to execute a play that I've honestly never seen work this well at any level of basketball.

By the end of the night, Minnesota – which set a franchise record with 23 made three-pointers – became the first team since the league began recording play-by-play data in 1996 to lose after leading by at least 17 points within the final three minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

After the game, Shabazz Napier – now the Wolves' full-time starting point guard – called the collapse "as low as you can get".

The Timberwolves haven't won since Jan. 9.

Reggie Jackson is back in the mix for the Pistons after an extended injury absence that cost him nearly three full months. In his first action since Oct. 24, Jackson came off the bench in a win over the Kings last week and finished with 22 points and four assists in 19 minutes. Since then, he's started each of his last two games, including Monday's loss to Detroit, in which he played 25 minutes and had 16 points on 14 shots. Jackson's numbers since returning – 17.3pts, 4.0ast, 2.7reb, 1.7stl – are encouraging, and he may be worth an add in the short term, especially as Derrick Rose nurses a sore knee.

The 76ers hope to get Joel Embiid back in the lineup Tuesday night against Golden State. The big man hasn't played since Jan. 6 due to ligament damage in a finger on his left hand, but he should return to the floor sometime before the end of the week. Philly has gone 6-3 without Embiid, with wins over both Boston and the Lakers.

Embiid's absence has coincided with Ben Simmons' best stretch of the season. Over the last nine games, Simmons is averaging 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.3 steals, while shooting 65.3 percent from the field – well above his season-long figure (58.5%). In that span, Simmons has easily been a top-10 value in a number of fantasy formats.

The Jazz fell to an undermanned Rockets team at home Monday night, but it was only their second loss since Christmas Day. In the midst of this hot streak, the Jazz have reintroduced Mike Conley into the rotation. The veteran offseason addition struggled to an alarming degree as a starter early in the year, but he's now coming off the bench in a reduced role. At some point, the Jazz will likely ask for more out of Conley, but for now he's settled into a 20ish-minutes-per-night role as the sixth man. Conley played 25 minutes Monday night – his most since returning from a month-long injury absence.

Both Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic topped 30 points Monday night, but it was Eric Gordon who stole the show, putting up 50 points on 22 shots (16-20 FT) with James Harden and Russell Westbrook inactive. It was Gordon's first career 50-point game and his first game with more than 40 points since his rookie season in 2008-09.

I am completely enamored with Zion Williamson, who's essentially picked up right where he left off back in October. Understandably, the Pels have been cautious in bringing Williamson back, but in his third game back he's already progressed to playing 27 minutes. In that game – a 15-point win over Boston on Sunday – Williamson went for 21 points and 11 rebounds, with two assists and a steal.

Keep in mind that Williamson has only played 67 NBA minutes, but his per-36 averages currently sit at: 31.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks. The scoring, in particular, likely isn't sustainable, but the biggest inhibitor for Zion the fantasy commodity could be his workload. He's shown few signs of rust since coming back, but chances are the Pelicans will continue to monitor his minutes, and it's improbable that he reaches a point where he's averaging 36 minutes per game.

Nonetheless, Williamson should continue to be a points/rebounds monster who shoots an incredibly efficient percentage for a player his size. It's worth noting, though, that Williamson has taken, and missed, just two three-pointers since his fourth quarter barrage against San Antonio last week. And as expected, he's been a liability at the free throw line, where he's a combined 6-of-16 (37.5%) thus far.

Quick Hits

While the Kings have fallen back in the West playoff race, De'Aaron Fox has quietly bounced back from an injury-marred start to the season. Fox has looked more like his old self in January, posting averages of 22.2 points, 7.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 0.8 blocks for the month. His field goal percentage (47.4%) is great for a point guard, though he's still struggling from three (25.6% in January), as well as at the line (69.0% FT on 7.0 FTA/G).

Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss his fourth game of the season Tuesday night due to a sore shoulder. His absence probably has more to do with the Bucks facing the Wizards than anything else, but the reigning MVP is still worth monitoring ahead of Friday's home matchup against Denver.

Brandon Ingram has a good chance to make his first All-Star Game when reserves are announced Thursday. He's been a top-20 asset in standard leagues this season, but his production has taken a bit of a hit since the return of Zion Williamson. Ingram struggled in Zion's debut last week, going just 6-of-22 from the floor to finish with 22 points. More concerningly, he's taken just 24 total shots over the last two games, totaling 13 and 16 points – the first time all season he's failed to hit 20 points in back-to-back games. In those two games – a loss to Denver and a win over Boston – Ingram has posted two of his three lowest single-game usage rates of the season.

Victor Oladipo is set to make his season debut Wednesday night when the Pacers host the Bulls. As expected, Nate McMillan confirmed Tuesday that Oladipo will play under a minutes restriction, which will extend into the All-Star break. McMillan did not specify Oladipo's initial minutes number, but there's a good chance the former All-Star isn't fantasy-viable until after the break. He'll also have to adapt to a backcourt that looks significantly different from the one he left back in January of last year. At the time, none of Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren and T.J. McConnell were on the roster.

Waiver Wire Watch

Trevor Ariza, Trail Blazers (36% owned): At age 34, Ariza has a ton of mileage, but the Blazers appear determined to get as much out of him as they can. Portland has struggled to find a consistent small forward all season, but Ariza appears to be the fix. Through two games, he's averaged 33 minutes, putting up a total of 28 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and five threes. Ariza won't offer anything close to elite production in any category, but he's a solid roster-filler who should be locked into a heavy workload going forward.

Michael Carter-Williams, Magic (1% owned): Look, I know this isn't what anyone wants to hear, but Michael Carter-Williams is back to being a major piece in the Magic's rotation. With D.J. Augustin sidelined, he's filled in as the backup to Markelle Fultz – a role he could hold onto until the All-Star break. There's a reason Carter-Williams is available in 99% of leagues, but he's worth a short-term add in deeper formats. Against the Clippers on Sunday, Carter-Williams went for 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.

Landry Shamet, Clippers (15% owned): At some point, Paul George will be back, but it's still very much unclear when that day will arrive. Shamet has been fantastic over the last two weeks, putting up 15.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 3.6 made threes per game over his last seven contests. Shamet's value takes a short-term hit with Tuesday night's game being postponed, but he's still worth a look for daily lineup leagues, as the Clippers play Thursday and Saturday. If George's absence extends beyond the end of the month, Shamet could be a starting-caliber option in weekly leagues, as the Clippers enter a four-game Week 16.

A Look Back at Kobe's Fantasy Legacy

It goes without saying, at this point, that a pall has been cast over the entire NBA – one that will endure for the remainder of this season, and well beyond.

Processing the loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the other victims of Sunday's helicopter crash is a nearly impossible task, but Bryant's legacy is not one that will soon fade away.

On the court, Bryant is best remembered for his competitiveness, his shot-making, and his almost insatiable desire to win at the highest levels. Those traits not only made him one of the best players in NBA history, but one of the best fantasy players of his era.

In eight-category leagues (total production), Bryant was a top-10 player 10 times throughout his career, including a pair of No. 1 overall finishes in 2002-03 and 2006-07. He logged four additional top-20 seasons, and Bryant finished in the top-25 in 15 consecutive years from 1998-99 through 2012-13. During that span, Bryant never missed more than 17 games in any season, and he played all 82 games four times. In terms of per-game production, Bryant was a top-15 fantasy asset in all but one season between 1999-00 and 2012-13. 

Bryant's 81-point game in 2006 – arguably the greatest individual performance of the modern era – would have generated 100.2 fantasy points under Yahoo's DFS scoring system.

Of course, all of this is incredibly trivial in comparison to Bryant's true accomplishments as a father, an iconic athlete, an opinion-leader, a businessman, and an entertainer. His fantasy basketball legacy is rightfully the last thing on the minds of most. But for those who cherished watching his one-of-a-kind career unfold, this was yet another means by which Bryant's impact – deep and enduring – was felt by so many around the world.

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Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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