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The Boston Celtics' normally efficient offense was no match for the Chicago Bulls' defense on Thursday night, but the fact that the Bulls are the best defensive team in the league isn't exactly news. More surprising is the way the Bulls' offense was able to operate effectively against the Celtics' defense. In particular, Luol Deng managed to stay hot and is now averaging 17.2 points on nearly 52 percent shooting from the floor in his past five games.
Deng, somewhat surprisingly, has far exceeded all the fantasy expectations put upon him to start the season, and because he's remained healthy, he has a shot at cracking the top 50 on the Player Rater by the time all is said and done. He's improved his fantasy game despite his numbers falling in many categories across the board; he's experienced declines in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds and blocks. He has even declined in PER, which is a good representation of how a guy is playing overall offensively.
Deng's fantasy game has gotten better for one simple reason: He is making more 3-pointers. It isn't even that he shoots 3s well (he's down to 34 percent this season after being up around 39 percent last season), it's simply that he's taking and making more of them. His 4.1 attempts per game are more than double his previous career high. Strangely, he isn't alone on his own team. Derrick Rose, too, has gotten a lot of press for his fancy new 3-point shot. The problem is, he's still pretty terrible at shooting 3s -- under 30 percent since the All-Star break.
Quite simply, making 3s is valuable enough in fantasy that it doesn't really matter what your percentage is, so long as you make enough to carry some value in that category. It's a good reminder that players who make 3s, even if their games are deficient in various other ways, are disproportionately valuable in the fantasy game.
Devin Harris returned to action for the Jazz on Thursday night in their loss to the Trail Blazers. Despite losing, Harris finished with 26 points, five assists and five 3s, and he was the best player the Jazz had much of the night. He should be good to go moving forward. Nicolas Batum continued his hot shooting for the Blazers, finishing with 21 points in his fourth straight game shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. Additionally, he's been great against the Lakers this season, averaging 21.3 points on 53 percent shooting in three games, so he's a good bet to produce again on Friday night in what could possibly be a preview of a first-round series, depending on how things break in the Western Conference.
Josh Smith will miss another game for the Hawks on Friday against the Pacers, but the guys who will get his minutes, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia, are not worth starting in fantasy, especially against a competent defensive team like the Pacers. Deron Williams will have surgery on his right wrist and miss the remainder of the season. If you need assists, you'll want to get Jordan Farmar into your lineup to take advantage of the matchup against the Knicks' defense. Another guy you'll definitely want in your lineup on Friday is Jerryd Bayless, as the Raptors face the 76ers. Bayless has been great of late, averaging 20.4 points and 5.4 assists and shooting 53 percent from the floor in his past five games. Add to that the fact that Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa may both be out of the lineup, and it's a golden opportunity for Bayless to have a big night.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.