Damian Lillard showing no signs of slowing
Only one player in the NBA has had as many as five games of at least 20 points and 9 dimes this season. You might think it is Chris Paul, who has actually averaged better than 20 and 9 for an entire season twice in his career. Nope. How about Deron Williams, who has never matched CP3's feat for a season but has averaged better than nine assists four times and 20 points twice before? Nope. Maybe dime machine Rajon Rondo? Nope. Breakout guard Jrue Holiday, who is averaging 18.5 ppg and 9.3 apg? Nope.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the only player who has five games this season of at least 20 and 9 is Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard, who has done so in each of his past two games. He torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for 24 points and 11 assists Saturday and the Charlotte Bobcats for 24 and 9 in an overtime win Monday night. Granted, the Cavs and Bobcats hardly present a tough defensive test, but Monday was the Blazers' sixth straight road contest, and to his credit, Lillard clearly was still on top of his game.
Lillard received so much love from pundits during the summer that he seemed almost overhyped, but the rookie has lived up to every ounce of it so far. He's averaging 19.1 points, 2.4 3-pointers, 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shooting 88.3 percent from the free throw line. His 42.7 percent mark from the field is a bit rough, but he's nailing 38.9 percent of his 3s, so his quality outside shooting could help that field goal percentage rise. His league-high 20-and-9 tally also means that his assist production could rise.
Typically, when a rookie gets off to a hot start, I recommend trading him before things change. The "rookie wall" still lends some credence to that notion, but count me among those who would prefer to be on the buying end of any trade involving Lillard. I still see room for statistical growth from the rookie this season.
• Nikola Vucevic followed up Sunday's impressive 17-point, 12-rebound performance against the Los Angeles Lakers with 14 points and 15 rebounds against the Golden State Warriors Monday evening. The 7-footer just got through a rough stretch of seven games, where he failed to double-double even once. However, beyond that streak, Vucevic has double-doubled seven times in his other 10 games this season. He is owned in only 43.4 percent of ESPN leagues, so give him a look if you need rebounding and a little boost in blocks (1.3 bpg).
• We got a look at Hack-A-Howard Sunday, and Monday we got to see Hack-A-McGee? Somehow, JaVale McGee ended up taking 16 free throws against the Toronto Raptors, converting just nine of them. Fortunately, the career 58.4 free throw percentage big man has averaged just 2.8 FTA per game this season, so mark Monday's explosion at the line as a fluke. McGee's primary fantasy job is to block shots, something he did a season-high five times Monday. Despite his limited role off the bench this season, he's been heavily involved when he does get on the hardwood, and hopefully the blocks will start coming more often. He makes for a nice toss-in for multiplayer trades if you need blocks. They should start coming more often as the season progresses.
• Speaking of guys who should be effective shot-blockers in the second half of the season, Andre Drummond had 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in 19 minutes against the Cavaliers Monday. Per ESPN Stats & Info, since the NBA began tracking blocked shots in 1973, only three other rookies have had a game of at least 12 rebounds and three blocked shots while playing fewer than 20 minutes: Robert Parish in 1976, Ralph Sampson in 1983 and Brian Williams (later known as Bison Dele) in 1992. That's a pretty impressive group for Drummond to join, and I remain thoroughly convinced that the rookie will be in the Detroit Pistons' starting lineup by January, or the All-Star break at the latest. He remains a quality roster stash for rebounds and blocks and helpful lineup filler right now in deep leagues.
• I was skeptical when I wrote yesterday about the aging and injury-prone Richard Hamilton's one- to two-week timeline for returning from a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to confirm Monday that Rip is actually out indefinitely due to the injury, which sounds far more realistic, considering his history. As for his replacement(s), here is how ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell reads the tea leaves: "Thibodeau was noncommittal as to who would replace Hamilton in the starting lineup. Veteran Marco Belinelli and second-year swingman Jimmy Butler figure to be the likely candidates, but Thibodeau also noted that he could move veteran Kirk Hinrich over to the 2-guard position, which likely would mean that Nate Robinson would start at point guard."
• Abdominal surgery will sideline Steve Blake for the next six to eight weeks. He's been out since early November, but this solidifies the current roles that we've seen from Darius Morris and Chris Duhon at the point until Steve Nash returns.
• Andrei Kirilenko's sore back is expected to keep him on the sideline Tuesday and Wednesday. The Minnesota Timberwolves have only three games on their schedule this week, so that would leave AK-47 with just a single tilt Friday night against the Cavaliers, and no guarantee he'll be ready for that. You probably should sit him for the week, if you can finalize your weekly roster Tuesday.
• Gerald Henderson returned to action Monday. He only played 15 minutes in his first action since the second game of the season, finishing with five points on 2-of-4 shooting. Henderson is only owned in 3.9 percent of ESPN leagues, but he should be added if you need scoring. Don't forget he averaged 15.1 ppg last season and will have every opportunity to match or exceed that on the under-talented Bobcats.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
Nicolas Batum has been all or nothing this season -- six games of 18 or fewer Fastbreak points, six games of at least 21 -- but he popped off 31 points Monday against the Bobcats and has another quality matchup against the Indiana Pacers Wednesday evening. With both LeBron James and Kevin Durant taking the night off, Batum makes for a quality high-end replacement play.