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After Tyreke Evans put up 27 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in a blowout win against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night, it seems important to acknowledge the fact that he is finally playing the way most people expected him to play this season.
I'm not trying to knock Evans; I know he's been hurt. However, it has to be said that he has been a major underachiever for a guy who was drafted in the second or third round in most leagues. Still, Evans is one of the few players in league history to average better than 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists as a rookie. Most of us were expecting him to be at least that good again this season, but very few were expecting him to take a step backward.
Of late, it appears that maybe he hasn't. He's playing well enough (19.0 points, 6.8 assists and 2.6 steals per game in his past five) that he's slowly way working his way up in the rankings and becoming a guy you definitely don't want to trade if you've been holding on to him through his struggles.
Evans certainly has flaws. He's not a great outside shooter and could do a better job making free throws and protecting the ball, but he's a well-rounded player who has major strengths on both ends of the floor, and it is certainly good to see him finally start to follow up his historically great rookie year with some great basketball as a sophomore.
In case you haven't been paying attention, DeMarcus Cousins is now averaging nearly 22 points, nine rebounds and three assists in his past five games. Those are elite numbers for anyone, not just a rookie center with possible attitude issues. There are currently only three players in the league with a higher usage rate and better rebound rate than Cousins, and they are Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard and Carlos Boozer. That leads me to believe that Cousins is proving his talent at the NBA level and will continue to improve as the season wears on. Nene put up 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against the Kings on Thursday night and appears to be completely over the hamstring injury he was dealing with last week. Al Harrington also played significant minutes for the Nuggets for the first time since missing time with a thumb injury; he made three 3-pointers, and I'd be perfectly happy to have him in my lineup going forward. Carl Landry played 31 minutes for the Kings and had 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the floor, but overall he's just not productive enough right now to play for fantasy teams in any but the deepest leagues.
The Knicks face Mike D'Antoni's old team, the Suns, for the first time this season on Friday night in what promises to be a high-scoring fantasy basketball paradise. Still, it seems like it's probably not a great night to play Marcin Gortat or Robin Lopez, as both are going to have their hands entirely full dealing with Amare Stoudemire. Of course, the Knicks' bigs aren't great on the defensive end, and since no team gives up more made 3-pointers than the Knicks, it's also a good night to play Channing Frye. The Celtics have faced the Raptors twice this season, but Rajon Rondo has played only once, and he wasn't entirely healthy when he did. The Raptors are one of the league's worst teams in terms of giving up both assists and steals, so Rondo should be golden this time around. It will be interesting to see how 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday handles Derrick Rose after the Bulls laid one of the season's worst beatings on the Sixers last time the two teams met. Holiday was totally overmatched and Rose had 22 points and 12 assists in just 29 minutes. Holiday is playing better these days, and this game might be a good measuring stick for his potential as the season progresses. The Bucks face the Heat for the second time in three games on Friday night, and the previous meeting made clear that, while Andrew Bogut may be able to score efficiently in the post, the Heat have clear answers for every other option the Bucks have. As such, I would definitely be benching John Salmons, Ersan Ilyasova, Keyon Dooling and any other Bucks not named Bogut you're starting these days.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.