Basketball Daily Dose

An Era Ends in Minnesota

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: February 22, 2021, 5:41 pm ET

Sunday’s eight-game slate got off to a thrilling start, as New Orleans erased a 24-point second-half deficit to beat Boston in overtime. By the end of the night there would be a minutes restriction controversy in Los Angeles, and a head coaching change. Below is a look at what happened on Sunday, beginning with the end of the Ryan Saunders era in Minnesota.

Sunday’s Scores
Pelicans 120, Celtics 115 (OT)
Thunder 117, Cavaliers 101
Magic 105, Pistons 96
Knicks 103, Timberwolves 99
Raptors 110, 76ers 103
Hawks 123, Nuggets 115
Nets 112, Clippers 108
Bucks 128, Kings 115

Timberwolves lose again, then make a change: Minnesota fell to 7-24 on the season Sunday night, and with the team boasting the league’s worst record Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas decided to make a change. Ryan Saunders was fired, and according to multiple reports the plan is to hire Raptors assistant Chris Finch and sign him to a multi-year deal. To say the least, the way in which things have shaken out in Minnesota has raised some eyebrows. Rosas and Finch worked together in Houston from 2009-16, with the latter also spending time coaching the Rockets’ G-League affiliate.

One issue for Saunders, especially this season, was the fact that his two star players were rarely healthy at the same time. D'Angelo Russell (knee) recently underwent surgery, and Karl-Anthony Towns has struggled with both a wrist injury and COVID-19. Towns played 31 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Knicks, finishing with 27 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, one steal, three blocks and three 3-pointers. Something to watch once a new coach is officially hired is how Towns, the foundation piece of Minnesota’s rebuild, will be used offensively. And that includes who he’s paired with in the frontcourt.

Jarred Vanderbilt (2/2/1/1) started on Sunday but played just 16 minutes, while Naz Reid (11 points, eight rebounds) and Jaden McDaniels (six points, four rebounds and three 3-pointers) played 17 and 22 minutes off the bench, respectively. Of the three Reid is the best fantasy option, especially if the Timberwolves continue to separate his minutes from Towns’. The most perplexing note from Sunday’s game: Malik Beasley (6/4/2/1 with two 3-pointers) attempted just six shots. Given how well he has been shooting the ball recently, that’s inexcusable.

George pulled late due to minutes limit: After Friday’s win over the Jazz, Paul George said that he didn’t feel ready enough to play 30 minutes in his first game back from a toe injury. He remained on a minutes restriction for Sunday’s game, but the exact number wasn’t known beforehand. George played 33 minutes, tallying 34 points, six rebounds, seven assists, one steal, two blocks and four 3-pointers before being pulled with 2:50 remaining. Following the game, he didn’t sound too thrilled that he had to serve as a spectator as the outcome was being decided. Whether or not George remains on a restriction for Tuesday’s game vs. the Wizards, there should be no concerns about his possibly being rusty.

Kawhi Leonard (29/13/3/1 with five 3-pointers) and Ivica Zubac (13/8/1) were the Clippers’ only other double-digit scorers. In the case of Zubac, over the last week he’s providing 9th-round value in 9-cat formats. Coming off the bench, his fantasy value is limited, but Zubac is definitely worth rostering in deep leagues. And with the Clippers having four games this upcoming week, including a back-to-back, adding Zubac would not be a huge gamble at all.

Hernangomez starts again for injured Adams: Pelicans center Willy Hernangomez started for the second straight game Sunday, filling in for the injured Steven Adams (ankle). While he wasn’t particularly effective as a scorer, tallying six points on 3-of-10 shooting, Hernangomez once again managed to corral 13 rebounds. He was also responsible for two assists and one blocked shot in his 23 minutes of game action. With the Pelicans off until Wednesday, it’s likely that Adams (who was a game-time decision Sunday) will be healthy enough to play. If that’s the case, there’s no reason to pick up Hernangomez in most leagues. But he put forth a good account of himself in these two starts.

Jaxson Hayes (three points, one rebound and one block) played just 13 minutes off the bench, while Nicolo Melli gave New Orleans a welcome boost on the defensive end. Melli shot just 1-of-7 from the field, scoring three points, but he also tallied three rebounds and two steals. He didn’t offer much in the way of fantasy value, but his second-half minutes helped New Orleans mount the largest comeback in franchise history. Neither Hayes nor Melli need to be rostered in any fantasy format. Josh Hart, on the other hand, can provide good value on most nights. Rostered in 32% of Yahoo leagues, he accounted for 17 points, 10 rebounds, one steal, three blocks and two 3-pointers in 37 minutes. That rostered percentage should be higher.

Smith Jr. makes first start as a Piston: With Delon Wright (groin) expected to miss at least two weeks, Detroit is now down two point guards (Killian Hayes) due to injury. That leaves Dennis Smith Jr., rookie Saben Lee and Frank Jackson as the options available to Dwane Casey, and on Sunday the former made his first start as a Piston. Smith Jr. (rostered in 9% of Yahoo leagues) had a rough go of it in the loss to the Magic, playing just 15 minutes and posting a line of six points (2-of-6 FGs), two assists, two steals and two 3-pointers.

His struggles opened the door for Lee, who in 33 minutes tallied 12 points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals. Jackson, meanwhile, was a DNP-CD. So which guard is worth taking a short-term flier on? None of them. Smith should have chances to redeem himself, but there isn’t much reason for any fantasy manager to bet on him taking advantage of said opportunity. As for Lee, he should play more but Sunday’s effort did not feel like a harbinger of what’s to come.

If anything, I’d look for Jerami Grant (24/5/4 with two 3-pointers in 35 minutes) to have the ball in his hands even more as a playmaker. He is clearly Detroit’s best player, and when shorthanded those are the guys that you lean on even more.

Aminu starts, and Fournier continues to excel: Magic forward Al-Farouq Aminu continues to shake off the rust in his return, as he replaced Gary Clark in the starting lineup Sunday night. Neither player is worth rostering, as Aminu played 19 minutes and Clark was a DNP-CD. That being said, the few souls who gambled on Aminu were handsomely rewarded with regard to defensive production. While he scored just three points on the night, Aminu also tallied six rebounds, two assists, four steals and two blocked shots. Give him another game or two before taking the plunge, but this was a very promising effort for Aminu given how long he’s been sidelined.

Evan Fournier, playing his third game since missing five due to back spasms, tallied a season-high 29 points (7-of-15 FGs, 12-of-13 FGs) to go along with seven rebounds, seven assists and three 3-pointers in 31 minutes. Fournier, who scored 19 points in his return on Wednesday, had 28 points Friday night. Rostered in 76% of Yahoo leagues, Fournier is providing seventh-round value in both 8- and 9-cat formats for the season. The back spasms, which have sidelined him for a total of 14 games, are why that percentage is a bit lower than what it should be for a player producing at that level. Given how well Fournier has played since returning, now is a good time for managers in leagues where he’s still available to grab him off of the waiver wire.

Holmes returns, while Barnes sits again: Sacramento welcomed back one of its starters for Sunday’s game in Milwaukee, as Richaun Holmes (knee) was cleared to play while Harrison Barnes (calf) remained sidelined. Holmes was on a minutes limit, playing just 21 and finishing the loss with 11 points, 11 rebounds and two assists. And as expected, his return was bad news for those who still have Hassan Whiteside rostered. Whiteside played just eight minutes, finishing with six points and six rebounds. With Tuesday’s opponent, Brooklyn, employing just one true center in its rotation, Whiteside could find it difficult to get off the bench much in that game as well.

Tyrese Haliburton got off to a slow start in his return to his home state, but ultimately the Oshkosh, Wisconsin native produced a solid stat line. He finished with 23 points, five rebounds, eight assists, one steal, one block and three 3-pointers in 35 minutes. Haliburton was the lone Kings player to score at least 20 points, with Buddy Hield (13/3/3 with two 3-pointers) and De'Aaron Fox (13/1/10/2 with two 3-pointers) both struggling in the second game of a back-to-back. DaQuan Jeffries replaced Cory Joseph, who started for Barnes on Saturday, in the starting lineup. Jeffries posted an 18/6/2/1/1 line with two 3-pointers in 40 minutes, and he’s worth a look in deep leagues if Barnes has to sit on Tuesday. There’s no need to even consider Joseph, however.

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Porter Jr. plays just 19 minutes in road loss: After playing well for much of the Nuggets’ time in the bubble, Michael Porter Jr. was considered by many to be a breakout candidate this season. While he does sit just outside of the top-50 in both 8- and 9-cat formats, providing fifth-round value in the former, this season has been a mixed back of sorts for Porter Jr. There are still strides for him to make as a defender, and Denver’s rotation being hit hard by injuries hasn’t helped matters, either. MPJ played just 19 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Hawks, accounting for 10 points, three rebounds, two blocks and one 3-pointer.

"We were getting our ass kicked. I took a lot of guys out. I took all starters except Nikola out in that third quarter because we were getting blown out. Just looking for a group that was going to play hard,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game. “So it wasn't just individual, it was a collective group decision. And the guys that were out there got us back in the game.”

Reserves Facundo Campazzo (16/1/2 with four 3-pointers in 27 minutes) and Monte Morris (15/7/6 with one 3-pointer in 32 minutes) helped spark the rally, and the former is the better choice of the two for managers who are looking for help in deep leagues. That being said, Campazzo won't lack for opportunities to boost his value as Gary Harris (adductor) is once again out of the lineup. And with JaMychal Green (shoulder) sidelined, rookie Zeke Nnaji made his first career start and finished with seven points, three rebounds, one assist and one 3-pointer in 30 minutes. Nnaji can be left on the waiver wire, especially if Porter’s minutes are back to where many expect them to be the next time out.

Allen shines bright for Cavaliers: With Cleveland having made the decision to move on from Andre Drummond, Jarrett Allen is clearly the franchise’s center of the future. And with that comes an increased workload, which has been a development welcomed by those who have Allen rostered. He was outstanding in Sunday’s loss to the Thunder, shooting 11-of-11 from the field and posting a line of 26 points, 17 rebounds, two assists and three blocks in 42 minutes. Allen has played a total of 76 minutes in Cleveland's last two games, and he should consistently go well into the thirties moving forward. JaVale McGee, who remains the backup center, played just six minutes.

Collin Sexton (27/5/3 with one 3-pointer in 40 minutes) and Darius Garland (21/3/8/3 with two 3-pointers in 38 minutes) both shot 50% from the field, while Cedi Osman and Isaac Okoro both had rough nights shooting the basketball. While Osman can offer some deep league value due to his ability to occasionally post a solid scoring line, Okoro is a tough play right now. While he did make four 3-pointers Sunday, the rookie wing is averaging 0.8 3-pointers per game and hasn’t offered much in the way of points or assists on most nights. The steals (three vs. Oklahoma City) aren’t enough to justify rostering Okoro in standard leagues right now.

Green injures shoulder late in Nets game: Brooklyn capped its 5-0 run through the Pacific Division with a win over the Clippers, but the result may have come with a cost. Jeff Green left the game late in the fourth quarter with a right shoulder contusion, which was suffered on an illegal screen set by Patrick Beverley. He’s due to undergo an MRI on Monday, so consider Green to be questionable for Tuesday’s game vs. the Kings. If Green can’t play, and Kevin Durant (hamstring) remains sidelined, that could open the door for DeAndre Jordan to return to the starting lineup.

He played 32 minutes off the bench and had one of his best games of the season, accounting for 13 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal and four blocked shots. Jordan, who’s rostered in 63% of Yahoo leagues, sits well outside of the top-100 in both 8- and 9-cat formats for the season. That being said, unless Brooklyn manages to make an upgrade at the center position he still has some fantasy value in standard leagues. James Harden (37/11/7/2 with four 3-pointers in 41 minutes) and Kyrie Irving (28/4/8/1 with two 3-pointers in 40 minutes) did much of the heavy lifting for the Nets.

Celtics continue to manage Time Lord’s minutes: While Robert Williams is technically healthy, the Celtics are still taking a measured approach when it comes to his minutes due to past hip issues. The hope is that he will be at his healthiest at the end of the season, which doesn’t do fantasy managers much good in the short-term. But that is something to keep an eye on, especially if Williams can get to the point where he’s hovering around 30 minutes per game. He played 21 on Sunday, scoring eight points to go along with 13 rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots.

The minutes limit makes it difficult to take Williams over either Tristan Thompson (14/9/1 block in 30 minutes) or Daniel Theis (5/6/1/1/3 with one 3-pointer in 39 minutes) in standard leagues. But the Time Lord is worth the gamble in deep leagues, and given his stat line Sunday doing so would not qualify as a major risk. Jayson Tatum scored 32 points while also accounting for nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in 41 minutes, but he shot just 10-of-24 from the field.

Milton relatively quiet in return to action: Key 76ers reserve Shake Milton played in his first game since February 9 on Sunday, getting 29 minutes in the loss to the Raptors. He was a bit rusty offensively, shooting 3-of-11 from the field (0-of-4 on 2-pointers) and finishing with nine points, two rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers. Milton’s return drops rookie Tyrese Maxey, who wasn’t worth rostering to begin with, completely out of the rotation. Philadelphia also welcomed back Ben Simmons, who missed Friday’s win over the Bulls due to illness, and in 39 minutes he put up 28 points (9-of-11 FGs, 11-of-14 FTs), nine rebounds, five assists and one steal.

Matisse Thybulle, who was back with the second unit, went scoreless in 16 minutes but dished out three assists. There’s no reason to roster Thybulle when he comes off the bench, but as a starter he can be worth streaming due to the defensive production. Danny Green had a very good game defensively, as he tallied five steals and two blocks to go along with nine points, two rebounds, one assist and three 3-pointers. Providing 11th-round value in 9-cat for the season, he’s rostered in just 20% of Yahoo leagues. Can be a tough sell in standard leagues due to the lack of consistent offensive production, but given Philadelphia’s injury issues he is worth keeping an eye on.

Joel Embiid shot just 6-of-20 from the field, but finished with 25 points, 17 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one 3-pointer.

Some Notable Stat Lines

Julius Randle: 25 points (8-of-16 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs), 14 rebounds, four assists and two 3-pointers in 39 minutes vs. Minnesota.

Nikola Vucevic: 37 points (14-of-27 FGs, 7-of-7 FTs), 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal, two blocks and two 3-pointers in 36 minutes vs. Detroit.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 31 points (9-of-15 FGs, 10-of-12 FTs), four rebounds, nine assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 36 minutes vs. Cleveland.

Khris Middleton: 32 points (13-of-22 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), eight rebounds, six assists, four steals, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 33 minutes vs. Sacramento.

Brandon Ingram: 33 points (11-of-22 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs), six rebounds, three assists and five 3-pointers in 43 minutes vs. Boston.

Trae Young: 35 points (10-of-19 FGs, 11-of-13 FTs), six rebounds, 15 assists, one steal and four 3-pointers in 36 minutes vs. Denver.

Zion Williamson: 28 points (11-of-21 FGs, 6-of-10 FTs), 10 rebounds, four assists and one block in 40 minutes (career-high) vs. Boston.

Jamal Murray: 30 points (11-of-20 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), four rebounds, four assists, two steals and three 3-pointer in 35 minutes vs. Atlanta.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: 38 points (9-of-19 FGs, 19-of-24 FTs), 18 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one 3-pointer in 33 minutes vs. Sacramento.

Clint Capela: 22 points (8-of-9 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs), 10 rebounds, one assist and one block in 32 minutes vs. Denver.

Fred VanVleet: 23 points (7-of-15 FGs, 4-of-5 FTs), five rebounds, nine assists, one steal, one block and five 3-pointers in 38 minutes vs. Philadelphia.

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.