A light slate in the NBA on Thursday featured a riveting high-scoring duel between rising stars that has only been replicated three times over the past 10 seasons.
Fans at the Smoothie King Arena in New Orleans witnessed a tremendous duel between emergent scorers Brandon Ingram and Donovan Mitchell. The Pelicans' Ingram erupted for a career-high 49 points on 15-of-25 shooting, while his Jazz counterpart Mitchell nearly matched him, tying a career-high with 46 points.
Over the past 10 seasons, only three other games featured multiple 45-point scorers. Of those four total instances, three -- including James Harden and Bradley Beal's showdown in the 159-158 game earlier this season -- have occurred during the past 365 days.
The Pelicans snapped Utah's NBA-best 10-game winning streak, thanks to not only Ingram's elite efficiency, but also former Jazz player Derrick Favors, who produced 21 points and 11 rebounds on just 12 shots from the floor.
We all knew Mitchell was trending for another big season as a key scoring force for Utah this year, while Ingram's emergence as one of the league's top scorers is a bit more revelatory after several somewhat inconsistent campaigns with the Lakers. Either way, both put on an impressive show last night and are vying for their first All-Star births.
Ricky Rubio, Phoenix Suns: 25 points (10-18 FG), 8 rebounds, 13 assists, 4 steals, 4 TO
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics: 7 points (1-10 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 TO
On Thursday afternoon, The Atlanta Hawks acquired point guard Jeff Teague in a three-player trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota also sent guard Treveon Graham to Atlanta in a deal that returns guard Allen Crabbe to the Timberwolves. I don't think any of the three players in the deal are due for meaningfully positive changes in opportunity rates in their new situations, but I do find that Minnesota's rotation should be easier to navigate for fantasy managers going forward. Combo guard Shabazz Napier should continue to start and provide helpful scoring pop to those in deeper leagues now that Teague and Graham are no longer consuming minutes and shots, while rookie wing Jarrett Culver should also play a steadier role in the rotation in the months ahead.
The Nuggets were without Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray due to injuries last night but were still able to mount a comeback from a 17-point halftime deficit against the Warriors. Wing Malik Beasley was a prime beneficiary of Denver's depleted rotation, pouring in a season-high 27 points, the second-highest tally of his career. Michael Porter Jr. was also productive in an expanded role last night while slashing for 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. He should be added in all formats while the team is without several veteran contributors.
For the Warriors, Alec Burks continued to fill the bucket with a team-high 25 points and remains a key fantasy free agent. Burks is a top trade candidate with the deadline just three weeks off but should continue to provide utility for fantasy purposes as long as he's with Golden State.
Walker's 40 points against a dominant Bucks team on Thursday included 24 points in the second quarter, which matched his career high for any quarter and tied for second most in any quarter by a Celtics player over the past 20 seasons. Walker's teams have endured six straight losses when he scores 40 points, the longest streak of its kind since Allen Iverson's Sixers lost seven straight 40-point efforts from 1997-99. Marcus Smart was impressive with 24 points and three combined steals and blocks, and is still available in well over half of ESPN leagues for the price of a roster spot.
Injuries of note
The Orlando Magic will be without guard D.J. Augustin for multiple weeks with a knee injury. Augustin's absence fuels increased interest in Markelle Fultz, as the third-year guard merits more attention from fantasy managers, given the likely uptick in usage sans Augustin going forward.
The Nuggets' Murray will be out for the "foreseeable future" after injuring his left ankle in Wednesday night's victory over the Charlotte Hornets. As mentioned above, it appears Beasley and MPJ are the key pickups for Denver to consider, while those in truly deep fantasy formats might want to give point guard Monte Morris a look, as well.
Analytics advantage for Friday
The Trail Blazers are in Dallas on Friday evening to face the Mavericks in a game that airs on ESPN. The contest makes for a fun fantasy climate, given several key metrics in place; the Blazers rank just 24th in the league in defensive rating in allowing 111.8 points per 100 possessions.
Dallas big man Kristaps Porzingis has missed nine straight games due to right knee soreness. The Mavs declared him available to play against the Kings this past Wednesday but changed plans after he complained of soreness following his pregame warm-up routine. Dallas has gone 5-4 without Porzingis over their past nine games and are 6-4 without him for the season.
Porzingis' continued absence offers an analytical advantage in that we can expect the usage rates for Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell to swell in his place. Given the Trail Blazers have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to shooting guards on DraftKings' scoring key this season, it's advisable to consider streaming with Tim Hardaway Jr. from Dallas.
For those dabbling in DFS play tonight, there is value in Carmelo Anthony, given the veteran forward is averaging 17.9 PPG this month while shooting an efficient 53% from the field and 41% from 3-point range. Over the past three games, Anthony is averaging 18.0 PPG and 9.7 RPG.
Top players to watch on Friday
The Chicago Bulls visit South Philly this evening to face the 76ers, a team with the second-best home record in the NBA, in a game that airs on ESPN.
It is well-documented that Ben Simmons has made just two career 3-pointers, both of which came this season, but he's impressively assisted on 160 3-pointers this season, the most by any player in the NBA. Simmons creates 11.8 points per game in transition, the most by any player in the NBA, per Second Spectrum. The Bulls' thin defensive frontcourt should have trouble containing Simmons in the open court tonight.
Chicago's Zach LaVine, meanwhile, had 30 points and 14 combined rebounds and assists in the Bulls' 115-106 win over the Wizards this past Wednesday. Chicago is seeking to win back-to-back games for just the third time this season, while LaVine is averaging 30.1 PPG since the start of 2020, the fifth-highest scoring average in the NBA during that span. Simmons and Josh Richardson will have their hands full chasing LaVine around the perimeter this evening.