The NBA regular season resumed on Thursday. Of course, there had to be injury management issues despite the league being off for a week (outside of those who participated in the glorified cardio that was the All-Star Game). Portland's itinerary for traveling to Sacramento was shredded by Mother Nature, with the team finally flying south Thursday morning. As a result, Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant were ruled out. And with Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkić already out due to injury, the Blazers were going to be down four starters.
Drew Eubanks has already been on the radar since Nurkic last appeared in a game on February 1. But there was room for others to step forward, and that's exactly what Nassir Little and Cam Reddish did during the 133-116 loss to the Kings. Little (1% rostered in Yahoo leagues) finished with 26 points, three rebounds, two assists, four steals, one block, and five 3-pointers in 34 minutes, while Reddish (13% rostered) added 24 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals, and three 3-pointers in 35 minutes. While Little had the better night of the two, Reddish also deserves praise and may have a better shot at fantasy relevance moving forward.
Before the travel issues, Blazers coach Chauncey Billups mentioned Reddish, Shaedon Sharpe (30% rostered), and Matisse Thybulle (24%) as the three players in the running to fill the two spots in the starting lineup left vacant by Simons and Josh Hart (who was traded to New York at the deadline). Reddish started Portland's last three games before the All-Star break and Thybulle the last two, and they started Thursday night. Thybulle (5/4/2/2 with one 3-pointer in 27 minutes) was quite offensively, and the same can be said for Sharpe (9/3/1/1 with one 3-pointer in 22 minutes), who shot 4-of-14 from the field.
With the expectation that Lillard and Grant will be available for Sunday's game against the Rockets, we should be back to where we were on Wednesday with the Blazers. Reddish isn't exactly a "safe" fantasy option, but he performed better than either Thybulle or Sharpe in Sacramento. As for Little, he'll have to hope that his play opened some eyes and will get him into the starting lineup conversation.
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Let's now look at a few of Thursday's other top pickups:
Talen Horton-Tucker (34%)
THT had a brutal night shooting the basketball, making two of his 11 attempts from the field in Utah's 120-119 overtime win over the Thunder, and he also committed four turnovers. But he did supplement the nine points scored with seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block, and one 3-pointer in 35 minutes. With Collin Sexton dealing with a hamstring injury. Horton-Tucker could be in the starting lineup for an extended period. The one negative is that he doesn't have point guard eligibility in Yahoo leagues (SG/SF only).
Malaki Branham (33%)
Branham has scored 18 points or more in four of his last five outings, including his 23-point effort in Thursday's loss to the Mavericks. Shooting 9-of-17 from the field and 3-of-3 from the foul line, the rookie guard also tallied two rebounds, five assists, and two 3-pointers in 35 minutes. The four turnovers weren't great, but Branham has been a top-100 player in 9-cat formats over the last two weeks. Devonte' Graham (24%) also started Thursday night but was nowhere near as productive, scoring 10 points with one rebound, five assists, one block, and two 3-pointers in 28 minutes.
Dennis Schröder (31%)
Schroder played 27 minutes off the bench in Thursday's win over the Warriors, putting up a line of 13 points, six assists, one steal, one block, and one 3-pointer. Of greater importance than his stat line was the sprained right ankle that starter D'Angelo Russell suffered during the first quarter. Russell did try to play through it but was eventually subbed out and did not return. Fantasy managers who have Schroder rostered should hold onto him until we know more about Russell's injury, as an extended absence would boost Dennis' value.
Josh Richardson (21%)
If you're like me, you may have assumed that Trey Murphy (60%) was safe in the Pelicans' starting lineup until Zion Williamson (hamstring) gets cleared to return. But Murphy was dropped from the starting five for Thursday's game against the Raptors in favor of Richardson, who put up a respectable line of 11 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Murphy played 23 minutes, scoring nine points with two rebounds, one steal, and one 3-pointer. We'll see if Richardson remains in the starting lineup moving forward, but Thursday's rotation change may be enough to boost his rostered percentage while dropping Murphy's.
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Jonathan Isaac (12%)
Isaac played a season-high 16 minutes in Orlando's two-point win over the Pistons, shooting 4-of-6 from the field and finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals, one block, and two 3-pointers. He doesn't need too many minutes to make an impact as evidenced by Thursday's stat line, and the good news is that Orlando won't play another back-to-back until March 18-19 on the road against the Clippers and Lakers. Of course, this doesn't mean the Magic can't slip in injury management nights for Isaac, but he's worth a longer look in deep leagues.
Xavier Tillman (5%)
Cue Michael Corleone (or Silvio Dante, if you prefer). Tillman didn't start Thursday's loss to the 76ers, but he proved to be far more effective than Brandon Clarke. In 32 minutes off the bench, he scored eight points while also accounting for 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one blocked shot. As for Clarke, he played just 15 minutes, scoring two points with three rebounds, three assists, and one blocked shot. Tillman appears to be a "matchup" player, with games against more physical big men being a better fit for him. Memphis hosts Denver on Saturday, which could give Tillman the opportunity to build on his performance in Philadelphia.
Justin Holiday (1%)
Holiday wasn't someone to consider adding before Thursday's games, and he may not be afterward, either. But he made quite the impression in his Mavericks debut, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 15 points with two rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench. Prior to the game, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said he could envision some scenarios in which either Holiday or Markieff Morris (DNP-CD) gets a spot start. Holiday's fantasy value remains low, but his emergence on Thursday isn't a great development for those who have Josh Green (25%) rostered. Green started and played 26 minutes, scoring 11 points with one rebound, two assists, one block, and two 3-pointers.