LeBron James’ status still in the air
Coach Frank Vogel provided an update on Wednesday regarding LeBron James (ankle) who will miss his second straight game on Thursday vs. the Clippers. Vogel said LeBron didn’t practice on Wednesday, instead doing some individual rehab on the side.
“We want him back as soon as possible. But we want him back as healthy as possible,” Vogel added. “That’s the No. 1 goal. Wherever we end up in the standings, we want him as healthy as possible going into the playoffs. Other than that, we’re just going to compete and try to win as many games down the stretch here.”
The Lakers are just 3-8 over their last 11 games and could potentially fall to 7th in the West, forcing them into a play-in game. LeBron spoke out against the play-in tournament and said whoever came up with it should be fired. No seriously, he actually said that. That was just an amazing self-own, as LeBron himself was one of the biggest advocates for it last season when his Lakers were on top of the world. Funny how that works.
Anyways, Vogel did say LeBron would be “day-to-day” after Thursday, potentially opening the door for a Friday return after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski ruled him out.
Mo Bamba’s stock on the rise
The only thing rising quicker than Dogecoin right now is Mo Bamba’s fantasy value as he undoubtedly fast tracks his way onto my sleeper list for next season. The majority of fantasy leagues have already completed, so here’s hoping he can fly under the radar even though he’s putting up some absolutely insane numbers. He got the start for an injured Wendell Carter (eye) on Wednesday but may have replaced him even if he was healthy, as he’s been Orlando’s best player lately. He posted a monstrous 19-point, 15-board game with one assist, four blocks, three steals and one triple, but this is nothing new.
For the last couple weeks, Bamba has been a top-30 fantasy player with 13.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.3 dimes, 2.3 blocks, 0.9 steals and 1.1 triples. Did I mention he did all this in 25 minutes? This per-minute upside is in Robert Williams’ territory, and both players are going to be highlighted, starred and underlined on my draft sheets for next season.
How many people wrote this guy off years ago? To be fair, he had some serious red flags with his durability and conditioning, including a massive setback due to some COVID issues, but it looks like he’s finally ready to put that all behind him. Can you imagine how excited Orlando is going to be to pair him alongside a healthy Jonathan Isaac next season? That defense is going to be unfair!
Nightmare in Indiana
It’s bad enough that the Pacers were absolutely destroyed by the injury-depleted Kings for their fourth loss out of their last five, but to add insult to injury, assistant coach Greg Foster lost his cool on the bench and went off on Goga Bitadze (link). Myles Turner held him back and several players and staff tried to intervene as well, but the damage was done in what was yet another example of a complete lack of cohesion among the team.
This comes just 24 hours after a “Woj Bomb” about head coach Nate Bjorkgren’s future with the Pacers. Woj reported that Bjorkgren “has significant work to do with his relationships among players throughout the team and with some members of the organization,” and that his “style of coaching and communication” on and off the court has been the “root of team turmoil” this season. Woj also reported that the front office will wait until after the season to make a decision on his future, though whether tonight’s antics and poor performance changes that remains to be seen. The Pacers are 30-35 on the season and remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, but based on their body language it looks as though they have already clocked out.
If I had to guess, I would imagine the Pacers clean house this summer with a whole new staff and then move Myles Turner for draft compensation to free up playing time for Goga Bitadze, a player that GM Kevin Pritchard is higher on than every other Pacer not named Domantas Sabonis.
Terry Stotts on the hot seat?
Speaking of coaching changes, Terry Stotts is another name apparently on the hot seat according to a report by The Athletic unless he can “pull a rabbit out of his hat.” Stotts, who has been with the Blazers for nine years, has struggled with adjustments and the defensive side of things. He also "has less player support now than he did in years past," but it sounds like the real reason he might get canned is because he has failed to make the Blazers a legit contender with Damian Lillard’s window closing.
Jason Kidd, Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan, 76ers assistant Dave Joerger, Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups and Spurs vice president of basketball operations Brent Barry are the top five candidates, though I find it hard to believe the Hawks would let go of McMillan.
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Knicks to sign Luca Vildoza
Perhaps the most interesting storyline of the day, the Knicks agreed to sign Argentinian guard Luca Vildoza to a four-year, $13.6 million deal to help with their playoff push. One of the most coveted guards overseas, Kobe Bryant actually tried to convince the Lakers to sign him a few years ago with no luck. The 25-year-old PG is a crafty playmaker who lives in the pick-and-roll, has some bite to his defense and is also armed with a strong pull-up game. He was named MVP of the 2020 Spanish ACB finals and most recently averaged 10.1 points, 3.4 dimes, 1.6 steals and 1.8 triples in 25 minutes during EuroLeague play. Fantasy managers shouldn’t worry about him though, as it sounds like his arrival will take some time as he has to clear the immigration process and then go through the medical protocols. Perhaps we’ll see him during the playoffs though, and with the Knicks shrewdly signing him for three non-guaranteed years, they will get a chance to evaluate him thoroughly without too many financial implications. It’s taking me a while to get used to New York making good decisions, and hopefully this means the end for Elfrid Payton’s time in the rotation.
And now for the top pickups of the night, for those of courageous enough to play THIS deep into the silly season:
De’Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane- Grayson Allen left Wednesday’s game with a middle body strain and could potentially miss more time. Melton hasn’t been able to throw the ball in the ocean lately as he’s shooting 28% for the last two weeks, but it’s hard to ignore his per-minute production all season. Prioritize Melton if you need dimes, triples, defensive stats and rebounds, and look at Bane if you need points, triples, rebounds and steals. Bane certainly has the hot hand right now, scoring 22 points in back-to-back games with a combined four triples.
Naz Reid- Had a very strong outing with 14 points, seven rebounds, one steal, two blocks and two triples in 25 minutes. Wolves aren’t afraid to use him alongside Karl-Anthony Towns for stretches thanks to Naz’s athleticism, and you have to think KAT gets at least one or two games off down the stretch, right?
Devin Vassell- I initially had Vassell as the pickup over Lonnie Walker when Derrick White went down, and after a couple Lonnie Walker outbursts, it looks like it’s swinging back in Vassell’s favor with 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.0 dimes and 1.0 triples in his last two. He also reached 30 minutes Wednesday, so the signs are encouraging as a possible late-round add.
Facundo Campazzo- How is he only 26% rostered? Continues to be a silly season hero with Denver down their top three guards. The rookie had 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists, five steals, two blocks and two triples, an unheard of line for a player his size. And if you’re considering adding Austin Rivers, just don’t.
Daniel Gafford- Why he only played 14 minutes is beyond me and a typical blunder by Scott Brooks, but Gafford played some key fourth quarter minutes and ended up with 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a block. I think we’ve all seen enough of Alex Len, Brooks.
KJ Martin Jr.- Armoni Brooks and Anthony Lamb had some pretty fluky lines but KJ Martin Jr. is for real and we’ve known this for some time. Christian Wood’s latest absence has catapulted him right into the middle rounds in terms of fantasy output with him putting up 23 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two triples. In his last six games, including with Wood active, he averaged an impressive 15.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 dimes, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 0.7 triples.
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Moritz Wagner- Has played really well for the Magic in three straight, and getting run at the four is huge for his short-term value since the center spot is untouchable thanks to Bamba. In his last three, Wagner put up 18.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.0 dimes, 1.0 blocks and 2.7 triples.
RJ Hampton- He still has a lot of mystery box upside with a limited sample size but he tapped into it big time on Wednesday with a 18/10/5 line with a triple in 31 minutes. He’s been the definition of a silly season hero in his last three, posting top-50 numbers of 17.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.7 dimes, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.3 triples.