Ja Morant’s absence opens the door for Tyus Jones to be a fantasy basketball playoff hero
Special to Yahoo Sports
There’s no shortage of notable NBA happenings every week, and nearly all of them impact fantasy. Whether it’s injuries, rotation changes, guys on 10-day deals lighting it up or even off-court drama, you’ll likely have to take responding action on one of your fantasy teams.
Here are a handful of storylines currently affecting the fantasy landscape:
This past weekend, Morant went live on Instagram while brandishing a gun, and a screenshot quickly made the rounds on social media. Shortly after, Morant released a statement that he would be stepping away from the Grizzlies indefinitely. While it’s not technically a suspension, it feels like a situation where the team strongly encouraged him to take this path, which includes the point guard “seeking help.”
While this situation is challenging for Morant and the Grizzlies, it’s relatively straightforward for fantasy managers. Managers with Morant need to just hold tight and place him on the bench — dropping him would be too drastic. And we know the direct replacement for Morant’s starting point guard role: Tyus Jones.
He’s a must-add in standard formats, even if this all blows over by next week. During Sunday’s game, Jones had a monster 25 points, 12 assists, five steals and three rebounds with zero turnovers. In 10 games as a starter, he’s averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 assists, 3.5 boards and 2.7 steals and 1.6 turnovers, making him an excellent nine-cat option.
The Durant-era Suns
Phoenix is 3-0 in Durant’s first three games with the squad, and the team has a ridiculous +23.7 net rating with him on the floor. He’s looked like himself too, averaging 26.7 points on 69.0 FG%, 7.3 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks in 32.7 minutes.
Devin Booker is the least-affected teammate here. He’s averaged 36.0 points on 56 FG% and 7.7 assists in the three games, launching 25.0 shot attempts per content. Of course, both players’ efficiency will normalize, but the volume is encouraging.
As expected, Chris Paul‘s field-goal attempts have taken a hit. He’s averaging 11.1 FGA for the season but just 8.3 FGA since Durant debuted. His assists (9.3 APG) remain great.
Ayton is in the same boat. Averaging 13.4 FGA on the season, the center has taken just 6.7 FGA per game over the past three. His looks will probably be cleaner for increased field-goal percentage with so much defensive attention paid to Durant, Booker and CP3, but Ayton fantasy managers in points leagues will take a hit.
Lillard lighting it up
This is old news by this point, but Lillard continues to tear it up and looks like the best scorer in the NBA. It’s gotten increased attention since he went for 71, but Lillard has been on a different level since he went for 50 points on Jan. 12. Over his past 24 games, the veteran has averaged 38.3 points on 50/40/94 shooting, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 37.2 minutes. He’s been the best fantasy asset during this stretch by a mile and is up to fifth in nine-cat total value. It helps Portland smells blood in the water and is still pushing for a play-in spot (31-34) in the jumbled West.
Lakers without LeBron (and D-Lo)
It’s been just over a week since James last played (Feb. 26), and D’Angelo Russell hasn’t played since Feb. 23. That’s led to coach Darvin Ham trying to piece together coherent rotations on the fly. Anthony Davis has been great during this stretch, averaging 35.0 points, 10.7 boards, 3.0 blocks and 2.7 assists. But contributions from others have been spotty.
Since LeBron’s absence, five players besides AD have posted 30-plus fantasy point performances — Dennis Schroder, Jarred Vanderbilt, Troy Brown, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. But all five also have duds thrown in as well — especially Hachimura.
Reaves — a deep-league bench staple — is my favorite waiver wire add of the group since I doubt he’ll be affected by Russell’s return like Schroder will be. Everyone else has varying degrees of utility based on what stats you need, but they all appear to be more like streamers than long-term adds.
The new-look Knicks
The Knicks haven’t lost a game since trading for Josh Hart, who is giving fantasy managers roughly what he gave them while he was in Portland. The bigger story during this 9-0 stretch has been Immanuel Quickley‘s rise and RJ Barrett‘s fall.
Barrett most recently popped for 29 points and 11 boards in 50 minutes during a double-OT thriller in Boston. But even if we include that game, he’s averaging just 16.8 points on 44/31/75 shooting, 4.4 boards and 2.6 assists in 31.0 minutes over the past nine. Coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t trust him anymore.
During the same stretch, Quickley has reached new levels and ranks 31st in total fantasy value behind 18.8 points on 54/46/73 shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals. During that same Boston game, Quickley erupted for a career-high 38 points, eight boards, seven assists, four steals and two blocks in 55 minutes.
SGA will have his minutes monitored
Following Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s five-game absence due to ankle and abdomen injuries, plus health and safety protocols, coach Mark Daigneault announced that the team will monitor the guard’s workload for the rest of the season. Ironically, following those comments, SGA popped for 38 points, seven boards, four assists, three steals and one block in — get this — 37 minutes.
What’s encouraging is that coach Daigneault noted that the only reason SGA is playing at all is that OKC is trying for a play-in spot, and if it were earlier in the season, he’d be resting. And obviously, it’s encouraging Gilgeous-Alexander played 37 minutes on Sunday. Still, fantasy managers must be wary of back-to-backs and other rest opportunities against bottom-feeding teams like Detroit and San Antonio.
After trading away depth and being without Collin Sexton due to a hamstring injury, the Jazz signed Dunn to a 10-day deal. He’s made an immediate impact and earned another 10-day. In Dunn’s five appearances, he’s averaged 13.0 points, 4.2 dimes, 3.4 boards and 1.8 steals in 23.2 minutes.
Sexton last played on Feb. 15 (the final game before the All-Star break), and his timetable for a return continues to get pushed back. Utah seems content falling out of the playoff mix, so it seems unlikely they’ll rush him back.
Dunn has been in the NBA ether for a long time but has been scraping by since 2020-21, appearing in just 23 games since the start of the season. The sort of production we’re seeing from him is legit, though the percentages are a bit inflated at 55 FG% and 43 3P%. Still, we know he’s a skilled passer and defender — it’s his calling card.
I’m speculating, but I think Dunn will earn a rest-of-season deal with Utah. The assists and steals production is enough to pick him up in fantasy, even if it’s short-lived.