What am I grateful for every year when I spend Thanksgiving in the East? You feel that frosty November cold when you run out into the street to collect the local newspaper. (Today: The Washington Post. Tomorrow: The Bucks County Courier Times.)
During Thanksgiving week, I swam across the bay to get a tactile newspaper.
Something about the smell of newsprint, combined with my cold-induced asthma, whets my youthful appetite for what awaits on the last page of the tactile sports section. For therein lies the lagniappe that each local newspaper provides: its generous NBA points bounty.
But with sincere apologies to Dr. Naismith, we’re playing fantasy basketball in the post-peach-basket era. The era when the recitation of one-day-old statistics adorns the manager with a scarlet G… which stands for geriatrician.
In this new world, with a few keystrokes, the network can automatically collect a cornucopia of whatever statistics it needs. From minutes played to utilization rate, harvested, compressed and compressed – like apples from the orchard – in any desired configuration.
(You get the idea. I love Thanksgiving. I’ll stop now.)
So why do boxed scores retain such appeal? Speaking for itself, three goals:
1. Imprint Cliff’s Notes in the history of each game
2. The dopamine surge I get when I see players challenge and exceed expectations
3. signs that the player is starting to add new stats to their fantasy portfolio
This is one of my favorite aspects of hunting down wires; being the first to see faint signs that a player is constantly adding extra steals, three-pointers, etc. to his per-game averages. Circumstances in the NBA are constantly changing.
Any single move in a series of trades, injuries, coach changes, rotation changes and new systems can give a player a chance to showcase something new in their arsenal.
It starts with an additional block. Theft. A couple of extra gears. Several bonus trips to the free throw line. Coming soon… the specified player will start producing additional products on a regular basis. This added statistic becomes a trend.
Then over time it becomes an expectation. The higher slot on the Player Rater is stabilizing. Said player’s increased fantasy reputation is becoming the new normal.
For this author, my panorama for added statistics inspires a list of internal phrases. One “where the hell did that come from?” was offered last night: Oshae Brisette inspired a trash time 18 points and 4 three-pointers. Also, AJ Griffin’s second “I see you” line this month; 17 points, 3 three-pointers and 3 steals. (This means that in deep leagues, Griffin’s line would also go “BWARRGGHGH! Is Griffin still available?”)
As the 2022-2023 season looks more and more like a transitional campaign, this season’s points are seeping through with a host of new norms. Let’s take a look at two of the two players’ recent results that could potentially lead to new normals.
Royce O’Neal, SF/PF, Brooklyn Nets
Box Score: Nov. 20 vs. Memphis Grizzlies – 12 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 triples, 1 block.
The consummate deep league hottie, O’Neal has averaged over 30 mpg in Utah over the past couple of seasons. In the 2021-22 season, error-free playing time helped O’Neal average 1.5 trebles, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals despite his utilization rate being in single digits.
There were times when O’Neal showed extended fantasy potential. But in Utah’s seeming stellar momentum, nothing is ever fixed in a trend or added statistic. But three recent developments radically improve O’Neal’s playing edge: 1) Danny Ainge’s summer elimination of the Utah roster, landing O’Neal in Brooklyn 2) Jacques Vaughn’s promotion to head coach this season and Vaughn’s demotion of Ben Simmons. 3) Kevin Durant nods about the chemistry between him and O’Neal.
Struggling, inconsistent, underperforming teams are looking for The Lever. Something that stabilizes performance, builds consistency, and gives momentum. The Nets have already used classic leverage by replacing Steve Nash with the fearless Jacques Vaughn.
Vaughn is now known in some circles for his 10+ year NBA career. But, in my opinion, Vaughn is best appreciated for his legendary bronco command of John Muir High School in Pasadena.
And Vaughn, who displayed the game savvy, deft strategic acumen, lightning-fast analytical acumen, and sky-high emotional intelligence known among all John Muir High School graduates, immediately recognized his Lever: O’Neal as a facilitator.
(Author’s note: I just tried to grease up my son’s school counselor? Today is Thanksgiving. Leave me alone.)
This young Nets season has yet to come with many pleasant surprises. But O’Neal as a striker is certainly a lucky break. Over the previous three seasons at Utah, O’Neal posted the same assists per game average of 2.5 assists. So far this season, O’Neal is averaging 4.6 assists per game. Last week: 6.7 assists.
Over the last two games? O’Neill laid out a total of 19 dimes. The first of those games was a triple-double: 11 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists.
Lauri Markkanen, SF/PF, Utah Jazz
Aggregate: November 19 vs. Portland Trail Blazers – 23 points, 10 rebounds, three triples, one steal.
To date, my favorite Roto success story this season is Markkanen, the player who replaced O’Neal in Jazz Aingified. (I’ve been watching Mr. Ainge since my early days in the NBA. And this roster is the jerky, explosive Peak Ainge.)
Markkanen is my favorite because he subverts conventional wisdom; that he was doomed to his reputation as a frequently injured one-trick fourth stint. Not many have noticed the changes taking place during Markkanen’s (again, shortened due to injuries) 2021-22 campaign. In Cleveland, Markkanen began timing at small forward. Jarrett Allen’s injury gave more playing time and Markkanen began to develop in his new role.
However, Markkanen’s low ADP is indicative of a lack of faith in his potential at the Jazz. It was just a by-product of his creaky Chicago rep. This is a case where, in a couple of moves, a young player with high growth potential and a diverse injury history has matured into his ideal role in an optimized line-up.
Markkanen does a bit more than anything across the board. But he’s slowly tinkering with the two added stats… to be honest, they’re more like “restored stats”.
Markkanen broke the 60.0% TS barrier in another season of his career when he posted 61.9% TS in the 2020–21 season. But at the time of this writing, Markkanen is walking with Steph Curry throughout his career with a 57.5% TS with a tasteless 64.2% TS.
And after a three-year decline in rebounds per game? Markkanen resurrected his charm early in his glass career. Regardless of its other characteristics, any SF feature in 8.5 RPG deserves attention. What about the lagniappe for a bountiful feast including 22.4 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 0.9 BPG and the aforementioned 64.2 TS%?
Only a fantastic glutton lacks gratitude to raise his pitcher to the harvest moon and offer Markkanen a toast of autumn gratitude.