Jonas Valanciunas improving '13 draft value
Toronto Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas has been showing signs of promise recently. He tallied 17 points (8-14 FG), 6 boards and 5 blocks Monday, which followed back-to-back double-double games (18-10, 14-13). He has also scored in double digits in all but one of his past 13 contests. During that stretch, the big fella blocked at least two shots six times, including a total of 11 in his past three games.
When I spoke to ESPN Insider Fran Fraschilla about Valanciunas last summer, he told me that "He'll have nights where he has 19 points and 17 rebounds against weaker frontcourts, but he may get manhandled and in foul trouble versus tougher opponents other nights." That's been a fair assessment of how Valanciunas' rookie campaign has gone. Looking at his best games during the past month, most of them have come against weaker frontcourts (DET, WAS, CHA, MIA). In fact, his current hot stretch over his past three games came against the Detroit Pistons (twice) and the Washington Wizards.
His biggest nemesis has been foul trouble, as he has averaged 2.9 fouls per game, despite averaging just 23 minutes per game this season. The good news is that his minutes per game shot up to 27 last month, yet his fouls per game leveled off at 3.0. So it appears he is growing more comfortable as an NBA player, which gives hope that he will not only continue to play well as the 2012-13 campaign winds down, but that he will be a solid breakout candidate next season.
Fraschilla's final preseason read on the young center was that Valanciunas "should be outstanding in 2-3 years." I'm willing to bet that we will see his breakout come during his sophomore campaign, which means he will make for an excellent keeper and solid sleeper next fall.
• It took a little while for Mo Williams to get his legs under him, which is hardly surprising considering he missed more than two months of action. He certainly has found his rhythm of late, though. On Monday, Williams torched the Portland Trail Blazers for 20 points (7-12 FG), 6 3s, 9 dimes and 1 turnover. That was his third straight game with at least 20 points and the fourth time he had at least 8 assists in his past seven games. The only downside for Williams right now is that the Jazz finish the season with back-to-back two-game weeks after this week wraps up.
• Nikola Pekovic returned to action Monday after a one-game absence due to a sprained left ankle and looked solid as usual -- 29 points (9-15 FG, 11-11 FT), 5 boards, 1 steal and 1 block -- but the more surprising line came from teammate Andrei Kirilenko, who came up with 17 points (6-7 FG, 4-4 FT), 9 boards, 5 dimes and 2 steals. He's been thoroughly inconsistent since returning from his own injury a couple of weeks ago, which is why he's available in a quarter of all ESPN leagues. If you are in a tight roto battle for hustle stats or even in a tight battle in a points league, Kirilenko could be worth a flier, especially since he plays three more games this week and four next week.
• When Damian Lillard knocked down his 167th 3-pointer Monday night, he passed Stephen Curry's record for the most 3s by a rookie. He finished the game with a typical line of 17 points, 5 dimes, 5 boards and 3 3s. Overall this season, he's averaging 2.3 3s per game after averaging 2.6 per game in March. The only weaknesses in his fantasy game thus far have been a lack of steals (0.9 per game) and a shaky 43.1 FG percentage. However, he has knocked down 46.3 percent of his field goal attempts in 21 games since the All-Star break. There's no doubt that Lillard will be worth consideration next fall as an early second-round pick or even at the end of the first round for those who think he can expand significantly on his rookie stats.
• When a player proves capable of blocking a ton of shots, we fantasy folks can live with the fact that such a player usually isn't asked to score much. So it was a surprise to most of us that we saw Serge Ibaka's scoring average leap from 9-10 points over the previous two seasons to 13.2 ppg this season. Can we expect the same sort of leap from shot-blocking revelation Larry Sanders next season? His scoring average has risen each month this season (7.4 ppg in November, 8.7 in December, 9.1 in January, 11.5 in February, 12.2 in March) and peaked Monday evening with a career-high 24 points. That's the second time in three games that he has topped the 20-point mark and the fifth straight game with at least a dozen points. The real key, of course, is that he is taking double-digit shots nearly every game and shooting around 50 percent of late. His overall value in 2013-14 will depend a lot on how the Milwaukee Bucks alter their roster this offseason, but it appears that last month's averages of 12.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.3 bpg and 49.4 FG% could be a baseline for next season's projections.
• Denver Nuggets coach George Karl granted that Ty Lawson could be a couple of weeks away from returning from his torn plantar fascia. Lawson really doesn't have a set timeline for his return, but you don't need me to tell you that there are barely a couple of weeks left in the fantasy hoops season. That means if you are in a shallow league, you may just have to cut bait on Lawson and move on. I would keep a close eye on his situation, though, and monitor your waiver wire, because he could make a difference in your league if he does get back in the mix for the final few games of the season.
• The Houston Rockets played Monday against the Orlando Magic without the services of James Harden and Chandler Parsons. Harden was a game-time call due to a foot injury and Parsons was ill, so it sounds like both should return soon. With those two out, Jeremy Lin had 19 points (8-16 FG), 11 assists and two 3s and Francisco Garcia had 14 points (5-6 FG), 4 3s, 5 dimes and 3 blocks. Should Harden and Parsons miss more action (next game is in Sacramento on Wednesday), Harden and Garcia should be in position to perform well again.
• At this stage of the season, it may be more beneficial to read the San Antonio Spurs' medical reports than their box scores. Manu Ginobili is expected to miss 3-4 weeks due to his most recent hamstring strain, which means his fantasy season should be over. His absence will give the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw some extra run, at least when they aren't hurt, too. To wit, Leonard and Tim Duncan both skipped Monday's game due to sore knees. Neither of those maladies appear to be serious, so there's a good chance both guys will be back in the mix soon, though the Spurs play a back-to-back set Wednesday (ORL) and Thursday (at OKC), so there may be some random DNP-CDs in those games, too.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
Speaking of Duncan, if he is active for Wednesday's game against the Orlando Magic, I'll have him in as my starting center in the Fastbreak game. He's basically a shoo-in for 25 Fastbreak points and is fully capable of racking up 40 (as he has done three times in his past seven active games). If Duncan sits, I will roll with Pekovic against the Milwaukee Bucks. Just like Duncan, Pek is basically a shoo-in for 25 points and has upside that rolls into the 30s.