Pau Gasol plays well in bench role
The move arguably was an inevitability, so it really was no surprise to see Pau Gasol coming off the bench when the Los Angeles Lakers battled the Chicago Bulls on Monday. The team had lost eight of its past 10 games, and coach Mike D'Antoni is grasping at straws trying to find the right mix of players on the court.
"We got to go small," D'Antoni said. "That's just the way it is."
"Small" isn't a reference to height -- Gasol's replacement is 6-foot-10 Earl Clark -- rather, it's how deftly players can get up and down the court in D'Antoni's high-speed offense. We'll leave the debates about trying to fit his square peg of a roster into the round hole that is his offensive system for another time and place, but the bottom line is that Gasol simply isn't a good fit.
Coming off the pine could actually benefit his fantasy game, though. With Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard hogging touches, Gasol was never going to be a high-volume producer in L.A. this season. As a reserve, he will face lighter competition, and get the rock in more comfortable positions, which may help him improve his 43.2 percent mark from the field, a number that is nearly 10 percent off his career field goal percentage.
He had 15 points, 12 boards, 2 assists and 2 blocks in just 25 minutes Monday. Unfortunately, he was 6-of-14 from the field and the difference between 50 percent (7-for-14 FG) and 42.9 percent (basically his season average) is one miss. His only hope may be getting comfortable in this new role to boost his value in a potential trade deadline deal. Oh, and for what it's worth, the Lakers lost Monday's game, too.
• Speaking of benchings, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau benched Joakim Noah for the final 22 minutes of Saturday's game. Noah took the blame for mouthing off to Thibs and responded with a good effort in Monday's victory over the Lakers. Unfortunately, it didn't translate into offense, as he missed six of his eight field goal attempts and finished with just six points. However, he did show up big in rebounding (13) and hustle stats (2 steals and 6 blocks). It appears that this was just a little bump in the road, so Noah will continue to be a solid fantasy play going forward.
• Kawhi Leonard had 16 points, 7 boards, 2 3s and 2 steals in 34 minutes Monday. It's noteworthy because the 34 minutes was the second most he's played all season, and the 13 field goal attempts were the most for Leonard since the season opener. As a guard who shoots 49 percent from the field, Leonard should be watched closely; if coach Gregg Popovich ever commits to giving him a larger and reliable role on offense, Leonard could really break out.
• Nicolas Batum messed around and got a triple-double Monday with 12 points (5-for-10 FG), 10 boards, 11 dimes, 3 steals and 2 blocks. The kid is an absolute fantasy beast with no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, his Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of a six-game losing skid.
• After missing two games due to his troublesome ankle, Stephen Curry returned for two games during the holiday weekend. He looked good, tallying 20 points, 7 assists and 4 steals Saturday and 28 points, 6 assists and 6 3s on Monday. If you went into panic mode when he was sidelined due to his chronically troublesome ankle issues, then you darn well better put him on the trading block immediately before he ends up missing a longer stretch. This is your official warning; don't regret it later.
• Reliability in fantasy hoops is important, because then you know what you get with a player each night. Unfortunately, reliably awful isn't very helpful, which brings us to Ricky Rubio, who has tallied exactly six dimes and two turnovers in each of his past four games, and that's the good news. The bad news with Rubio's stats is that, despite starting the past three games, he has hit just six of his 19 field goal attempts (31.6 percent), averaged 5.5 PPG and stolen a total of three balls. I really don't expect much more than this until, perhaps, the waning weeks of the season, as he had major problems with his shooting even before he tore his ACL last year.
• Andrew Bynum said he believes he remains on target to make his Philadelphia 76ers debut around the All-Star break, but we should take that prediction with a pound of salt. First, he hasn't tested his troublesome knees with lateral movement yet. Second, that prediction came from Bynum, not the team or its doctors. He may well return then, but considering his lengthy injury history, we should all remain skeptical. That having been said, it can't hurt to add him to your roster to see if you get lucky in a few weeks.
• A strained right hamstring has kept Luol Deng sidelined the past two games. His status for Wednesday's tilt with the Detroit Pistons is unclear, though the fact that he didn't do Monday's shootaround isn't a great sign. Jimmy Butler has been hot starting in place of Deng, averaging 14.0 points, 8.0 boards, 3.5 assists and 2.0 swipes in 45.0 minutes of action during that time, and should be a good plug-in Wednesday if Deng sits again.
• On Monday, Anthony Davis turned the same ankle that caused him to miss 11 games earlier this season with a stress reaction. He downplayed it afterward and said he is "pretty sure" he'll be ready to play Wednesday, but you'll want to check for updates as the game nears. I do think Davis is going to have a strong finish to the season, but his propensity for injury and the wear and tear of the long NBA season on rookies has me a little bit worried that his body just won't hold up to the grind.
• According to ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell, Derrick Rose may begin full-contract practices this week. This is the biggest and most important step in making his return to game action imminent. I should caution that "imminent" in this case may be a few weeks, as Thibs said his star point guard will have to do full-contact practices "for an extended amount of time" before being activated for games, but if his knee responds well and he has no setbacks, we may finally see him in action around the All-Star break.
Fast Break Player of the Night
With Tim Duncan going against the New Orleans Hornets, and LeBron James and Kevin Durant playing Wednesday evening, your center and forward spots should be set in stone. At guard, Kobe Bryant has been struggling a bit, so I wouldn't have a problem with subbing in Russell Westbrook in a terrific matchup against the Golden State Warriors and using the red-hot Paul George against the Portland Trail Blazers.