In the NCAA, March Madness officially began on Sunday with the announcement of the brackets. However, Sunday was also an example of the type of madness that we often see at this time of year in the NBA. We are in the last month of the season, and the vast diversity of team outcomes at this stage of the season can lead to extremely high variance in player fantasy performance.
Yesterday was a great example of this, as nine games yielded a slew of both wonderful and terrible performances. The highlights and lowlights sections below have more than twice as many players in each category as usual -- and that's only because I cut things off there. There were many noteworthy performances on both ends of the spectrum that I had to ignore, simply due to sheer volume.
Some of the big performances were somewhat predictable, such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Durant stepping up for injured teammates, or Chris Paul and Eric Gordon doing the same with James Harden resting. Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic have been monsters for quite some time, so their triple-doubles weren't unusual. Ricky Rubio had shown signs of greatness last month before he got hurt, but his huge game was still a bit of a surprise. However, no one can convince me that they could have foreseen Taurean Prince turning in a game with more points and assists than his previous three games combined.
What about the lowlights? Who took the "under" on 20 total points for DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. combined? Who figured on DeMarre Carroll, Thaddeus Young and Trevor Ariza to combine for 4-of-26 shooting from the field?
There are just so many interwoven factors that can change the expected value of a player drastically. We knew that Harden was going to sit on Sunday, but Kyrie Irving sitting out the second half of his game caught most off guard, even though he had missed the previous Monday.
The Chicago Bulls had gotten in trouble from the league for sitting veterans, and initially they were bringing Justin Holiday back into the mix to call off the watchdogs. But then they had to re-add Robin Lopez, which meant that they had to re-send Bobby Portis to the bench -- where he actually played much better than he did as a starter.
The Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks are two examples of lottery-bound teams just not playing well on a given day, and essentially succumbing to poundings against teams that are gearing up for the playoffs, and thus, depressing the fantasy value of their own players.
The bottom line is that March is when the fantasy basketball playoffs occur. It's also when the end of the NBA season makes everything a little bid mad. The final month of the NBA season is analogous to Weeks 16 and 17 in the NFL for fantasy purposes. Some big names are going to sit, while some young guys are taking their shot at earning future play (and pay). Some teams are going to pack it in, while other teams are fighting for their lives.
It's chaos. But, as Game of Thrones fans know all too well, "Chaos is a ladder." Those that prepare for it can take advantage.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: 31 points (13-24 FG, 3-5 FT), 16 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 TO
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors: 39 points (11-32 FG, 12-12 FT), 12 rebounds, 5 3-pointers, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 2 TO
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: 25 points (9-22 FG, 6-6 FT), 11 rebounds, 10 blocks, 3 assists, 3 steals, 1 3-pointer, 2 TO
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: 20 points (8-10 FG), 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 3-pointers, 2 steals, 1 block, 2 TO
Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz: 30 points (10-22 FG, 6-6 FT), 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 3-pointers, 5 TO
Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks: 38 points (11-18 FG, 9-10 FT), 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 7 3-pointers, 1 steal, 2 TO
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: 9 points (4-16 FG, 1-2 FT), 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 TO
Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers: 5 points (2-11 FG), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 3-pointer, 1 steal
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks: 4 points (2-12 FG), 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 3 TO
DeMarre Caroll, Brooklyn Nets: 6 points (1-9 FG, 4-4 FT), 6 rebounds, 1 block, 1 TO
Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets: 3 points (1-10 FG), 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 3-pointer, 1 block, 2 TO
Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers: 4 points (2-7 FG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 TO
Anthony Davis returned with a bang from his one-game absence due to a sprained ankle. He turned in one heck of a game for his 25th birthday:
Anthony Davis is the first player ever with a triple-double with blocks on his birthday. pic.twitter.com/wnicYphRN5
- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 11, 2018
The 76ers easily pummeled the Nets on Sunday. The overwhelming sense from that game was that the 76ers are actually a good team, and they took care of a weak Nets squad the way a good team should. They had eight players reach double figures, including all five starters and three off the bench -- led by Ersan Ilyasova's 11 point-13 rebound double-double and T.J. McConnell's 10 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals.
Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina were the starting backcourt for the New York Knicks for the third straight game on Sunday, even though Courtney Lee (personal) was actually back and active. The results were nothing to write home about, but both scored in double-figures with a combined 24 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 TO. It is conceivable that the Knicks could continue to try out their young backcourt moving forward, if only to see if they have the chops.
Injuries of note
Kyrie Irving left Sunday's game with the lingering knee issues that had previously caused him to miss last Monday's game. He didn't play in the second half, finishing with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 16 minutes. He joined Jaylen Brown (concussion) and Al Horford (illness) on the sidelines. Actually, this is the Celtics' health situation:
Celtics infirmary report. At least half the team is battling something:
- Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) March 12, 2018
Despite being on that list, Marcus Smart (20 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 6 3-pointers), along with Jayson Tatum (19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 3-pointers, 2 blocks, 1 steal) and Terry Rozier off the bench (16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 3-pointers, 2 assists) were the most productive of the available Celtics on Sunday. Irving is considering an extended rest to let his knee heal, in which case Smart and Rozier could be in for a run of extended extra value.
James Harden sat out on Sunday to rest a sore knee of his own, but has already been announced as returning for Monday's game against the San Antonio Spurs.
LaMarcus Aldridge has soreness in his right knee, and won't play on Monday against the Rockets. Manu Ginobili will also sit Monday, for rest. Davis Bertans, Rudy Gay, Bryn Forbes and Danny Green could all see increased action in their absences.
Devin Booker has a triceps injury that keeps him from being able to extend his left arm properly, and it caused him to miss Saturday's game. TJ Warren (back) and Josh Jackson (knee) also sat on Saturday. All three should be considered questionable moving forward.
Miami's Hassan Whiteside injured his hip on Saturday in the morning shootaround, and didn't play in Saturday's game. He is questionable to play on Monday, but he is traveling with the team. Dwyane Wade hurt his hamstring on Saturday, and is doubtful to play on Monday.
Enes Kanter was a surprise addition to New York's injury report on Sunday, and he sat out the game with back spasms. He is questionable to return on Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks.
Analytics advantage for Monday
The number for the day is 17, as in the Memphis Grizzlies have lost 17 games in a row. They have been devastated by injury this season, have long-since fired their coach and shut down their star point guard for the season. They are essentially playing out the string of an lottery-bound, lost season. The once stalwart Grizzlies defense has allowed 100-plus points to their opponents in 11 of their last 12 games -- and 114-plus points in two of their last three games, both of which were to other lottery-bound opponents.
Enter the Milwaukee Bucks, who have fallen to the No. 8 slot in the Eastern Conference, but are actually only three games out of the No. 4 slot and home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The Bucks have everything to play for, playing against a team with absolutely nothing to play for. The Bucks should put a big number on the board on Monday, with the biggest risk to their fantasy output that they may blow the Grizzlies out so easily that the starters get to rest. Which is why ...
Top player to watch tonight
... Giannis Antetokounmpo is the one to watch tonight. He's the member of the Bucks who most often puts up "video game" numbers. He's leading a very motivated team against a weak, injured and unmotivated Memphis squad. Barring a blowout, this could be a day where Antetokounmpo puts a huge game together.