The New Orleans Pelicans beat the LA Clippers by five points on Tuesday night for their ninth win in a row. The Pelicans are a real "feel-good story" in the NBA right now, as they have thrived and moved up to the No. 4 slot in the Western Conference -- even after DeMarcus Cousins' terrible Achilles injury. Cousins is still around the team, contributing to the positive vibe and helping them to stay loose:
Boogie got jokes for AD. pic.twitter.com/7BH9fxKuIi
- NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 7, 2018
Of course, any story that talks about the success of the Pelicans tends to lead with Anthony Davis, who has raised his already outstanding level into the MVP conversation ever since Cousins went down. He kept up his brilliant play on Tuesday with another sparkling effort:
AD carried the Pelicans to their 9th straight win. �� pic.twitter.com/9xxL2P8H6Y
- ESPN (@espn) March 7, 2018
During the team's current nine-game winning streak, Davis is averaging a cartoonish 37.7 points (53.2 FG%, 85.4 FT%), 14.6 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 2.8 blocks, 1.8 assists, 1.4 3-pointers on 41.9 3-Pt%, and 2.3 turnovers. Last week, he took over the top spot in the points-based rest-of-season rankings and should have a chokehold on that spot moving forward.
Interestingly, though, if you look closely at those nine games, Davis doesn't lead New Orleans in +/-. Of course, nine games is way too small of a sample size to make any hard conclusions, but it also turns out that this trend holds up over the whole season. While Davis has a strong raw +/- footprint, he's actually overshadowed in that stat by teammate Jrue Holiday.
This is no fluke. While Davis has been a monster, Holiday has quietly been putting up beastly numbers of his own. On Tuesday, Holiday scored 19 points (7-22 FG, 3-3 FT) with 17 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 2 TO. Holiday has played well enough during the last 15 days to rank No. 15 on the Player Rater, well behind the No. 1 Davis, but certainly contributing more than his fair share. In points-based leagues it's even closer, with Davis still sitting on top in fantasy points per game over the last 15 days in standard scoring, but Holiday checks in at No. 7 on that list.
This was somewhat predictable. In the immediate aftermath of Cousins' injury, I did some analysis using the available data as part of an article on whether the Pelicans might actually be able to improve after Cousins' injury. At that time, I concluded that "it's also possible that Cousins' proclivity for boxscore contributions could be more valuable in fantasy basketball but that it is fooling the RPM stat, giving him credit that should have gone to Holiday on offense and credit that should have gone to Davis on defense. And if this is the case, that it's really been Davis and Holiday that have been more responsible for the Pelicans' fortunes this season than Cousins has been."
No question, Davis and Cousins are both incredible basketball players. Still, even among those giants, Holiday deserves to receive his due credit. He has been playing like at an All-Star level all season (No. 21 on the Player Rater by average). Just like Davis, Holiday has raised his level tremendously since Cousins went down and has proven himself to be one of the biggest impact players in both the NBA and in fantasy.
Ben Simmons led the Philadelphia 76ers in a very balanced effort over the Hornets on Tuesday night. Simmons flirted with a mega-efficient triple-double, scoring 16 points (8-9 FG) with 13 assists, 8 rebounds and 1 TO. Robert Covington had one of his best scoring days of the season with 22 points (7-11 FG, 3-3 FT), 5 3-pointers, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 1 TO. Dario Saric (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 3-pointers, 3 assists), Joel Embiid (18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block) and JJ Redick (14 points, 3 3-pointers, 2 rebounds, 2 assists) were all solid as well from the starting unit. Newly signed Ersan Ilyasova (11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 1 assist, 1 block) and Marco Belinelli (11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 3-pointer, 1 steal) were both strong off the bench.
Dwyane Wade continued his "throwback effort" since returning to the Heat, leading them in scoring again on Tuesday with 22 points (8-18 FG, 6-6 FT), 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal and 3 TO. Tyler Johnson (21 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 3-pointers) and Justise Winslow (15 points, 6 rebounds, 1 3-pointer, 1 steal, 1 assist) were also strong off the bench. Among the starters, only Goran Dragic (16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 3-pointer, 1 steal) and Josh Richardson (16 points, 3 steals, 2 assists, 3 3-pointers) had strong games.
Jokic was my "fade candidate" in yesterday's Building Blocks article, because he has been struggling a bit since Paul Millsap's return to the court. Those struggles continued and even worsened on Tuesday, against a solid Dallas Mavericks defensive interior. Jamal Murray was almost as bad, scoring six points on eight shots without doing very much else. Millsap was back in the starting lineup on Tuesday, scoring 12 points with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 20 minutes of action.
The Clippers turned in several notable performances on Tuesday. Tobias Harris (27 points, 11 rebounds, 3 3-pointers, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block) is clearly established as the best scorer on the starting unit, while Lou Williams (27 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 3-pointers) is the best off the bench. DeAndre Jordan turned in another 20-rebound game, while Montrezl Harrell was a monster off the bench with 26 points (11-17 FG, 4-6 FT), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 TO.
Injuries of note
Anthony Davis had to briefly leave Tuesday's game in the second quarter with a rib contusion, but he was able to return. He wore extra padding when he came back in the third quarter, but was able to thrive with 19 third quarter points to help the Pelicans take charge of the game.
Otto Porter Jr. crashed into Dwyane Wade and, after attempting to play for a few more minutes, had to leave the action with a bruised hip. Consider him questionable for Friday's game with the Pelicans.
Analytics advantage for Wednesday
The Orlando Magic-Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies-Chicago Bulls games both feature two teams that are headed to the lottery. As we explored in this space last week, that generally leads to higher scoring than expected and, often, hidden streaming value. The first game stands out more, as the Magic allow the sixth-most points in the NBA (109.7 per game). Meanwhile, the Lakers have scored 100-plus points in 18 straight games and are one of the more potent offenses in the NBA right now in terms of volume.
Top player to watch tonight
Nikola Jokic has played poorly over the four games since the return of Paul Millsap. Can he turn it around on Wednesday against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that has quite a few injuries up front?