Joakim Noah breaks new ground
Joakim Noah went bananas against the Sixers Thursday night, posting a 23-point, 21-rebound, 11-block triple-double, becoming the fourth player in the past 20 years to post a 20-20-10 in those categories, and the first to do so while shooting at least 65 percent from the floor since blocks became an official stat in the 1973-74 season.
Noah ranks 14th on the Player Rater by averages, and the injuries that have harmed his value in the past haven't ruined things, as he's missed just six games total in the past two seasons after averaging 55 games played in the previous two seasons. He was drafted 45th on average in ESPN leagues, but puts up the type of defensive stats that anchor a fantasy team, and will find himself taken in the second or third round of next season's drafts if he continues his strong play for the remainder of the season. He's averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, partly due to his huge spike in minutes as Tom Thibodeau is playing him 38.4 minutes per game compared to his career high of 32.8 two seasons ago. He just turned 28 and is in the prime of his career, so it's best to ride him without fear and expect these type of big numbers to continue, as his stats are difficult to replicate and provide the type of foundation in defensive stats few other players can. I'm buying Noah's strong play for this season and next, and expect to be high on him come draft day 2013.
• Antawn Jamison had 17 points and eight rebounds, his seventh consecutive game with at least 13 points, bringing his average up to 15.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 3s per game over the past five contests. Earl Clark has struggled for the Lakers, and Jamison is proving he can still score, hit 3s and rebound decently, and at this point is an option in standard leagues if you're looking to make up ground in 3s by getting them from the power forward slot.
• Paul George led a valiant comeback attempt for the Pacers, but Chris Paul's swagger was insurmountable and George's 20 points, four 3s, two steals and a block weren't enough to secure a Pacers victory. Aside from George's statistical prowess, he's demonstrating the ability to take over games as well as displaying continual improvement, both positive indications about his stock next season and beyond. I always think it's important to start thinking about player value for next season during the current season, before too much offseason analysis and time away from actually watching players play the game muddles our perspectives, and George is a late-first round pick for me next season. Few players have the ability to contribute in multiple categories the way he does, and he hasn't remotely hit the peak of his potential yet.
• Nikola Pekovic left with an abdominal strain after just nine minutes of play Thursday night, and his status is unclear going forward. He's undoubtedly a tough player, but injuries to the core can be problematic, as it's impossible to do any sort of movement without utilizing that area of the body. If he misses significant time, Derrick Williams' value will rise even more, and we should also see more minutes for Chris Johnson, who is posting an impressive 0.7 blocks per game in just 11.6 minutes, and will have value for teams in need of swats if he gets more run. In the four games this season in which he's played at least 18 minutes, Johnson is averaging 1.5 blocks per game. He could be counted to do that if Pek misses time and Johnson sees a bump in playing time.
• Spencer Hawes snared a season-high 15 rebounds days after coach Doug Collins put him on blast for grabbing just one board in Tuesday's loss to the Magic. With Andrew Bynum still sidelined, Hawes still gets enough minutes and opportunities to be a standard-league option, and is now averaging 11.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game in February.
• Both James Harden (sore knee) and Jeremy Lin (sore ankle) will be game-time decisions on Friday. Neither injury is serious, but both did sit out Thursday's practice. If either sees a day of rest, look for Patrick Beverley, who's averaging 1.6 3s and 1.0 steals in just 19.6 minutes per game in his past five games, to see an increased load and be worth a potential spot-start.
• Shane Battier will likely return Friday after missing Tuesday's game with a tight hamstring, and in leagues which count turnovers Battier has once again surfaced as a nice glue player, especially if you need 3s. He ranks 58th on the Player Rater if you count turnovers over the past 30 days, and is averaging 2.8 3s, 0.7 blocks and 0.5 steals per game in February with just 0.3 turnovers per game. It's rare that a player can provide more 3s, steals and blocks than turnovers, and although his numbers don't wow you, he's undoubtedly worth a filler slot in turnover leagues if you can't afford to take a hit in that category but need 3s with a handful of steals and blocks thrown in as well.
• Joe Johnson hopes to return Friday after missing the past three games with a heel injury, and should be put back into your starting lineup despite the fact he'd been struggling a bit in February prior to the injury. Even when Johnson is struggling, however, he's still worth starting in every format and should immediately contribute in points, 3s, assists and free throws once he returns to the court.
• Eric Gordon sat Wednesday against the Thunder as it was the second game of a back-to-back, but should be primed to go Friday. When he plays, he's solid, just be aware of his restrictions and use him accordingly in leagues which allow daily lineup changes.
• Al Horford's numbers have been bonkers lately, and his February averages of 21.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game on 62.1 percent shooting from the floor illustrate what he can do when healthy and utilized properly in an offense. I've always felt Horford had the talent to be a second-round fantasy selection, and if he keeps up this pace for the rest of the season he could find himself there come draft day next season. If your league's trade deadline hasn't passed, I wouldn't sell high on him, as he's been the top center on the Player Rater over the past month and could continue that trend for the rest of the season.