What separates the top?
Nikola Jokic missed Friday night's game for maintenance of a wrist injury. This was huge news, because it was the first time Jokic had missed a game since Nov. 20, and it was the only game he's missed this season when he wasn't in the COVID-19 health and safety protocol. And the fact that his single missed game (he'd return on Sunday with a triple-double and a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer) was news is part and parcel to why he is on an island at the top of my FBA points rankings right now.
This season has been full of video-game performances among the top players in the league. We talked about several of them in this space last week, and the numbers don't get less eye-popping with time: Luka Doncic's 61/20/10 triple-double; Joel Embiid's 59 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 7 blocks; tmtplay net:Giannis Antetokounmpo's three-game stretch in which he averaged 47.7 points, 17.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. And Jokic's 40/27/10 triple-double.But what truly separates Jokic from the others is his availability. Jokic has never missed more than nine games in any season in his NBA career, and in four of his first seven seasons, he missed two or fewer games. Doncic has missed the second half of the past five back-to-backs the Mavericks have played and has missed double-digit games in three of his four NBA seasons thus far. Embiid has struggled with injury every season, never missing fewer than last season's 14 games, and has already missed 11 games this season. Giannis is in what appears to be a season-long battle with a sore knee that clearly attenuated his production to only 12.7 PPG on 34.4 FG% in three games before causing him to sit out the past two, and prior to that he had already missed six other games in the first half of the season.Jokic just plays, every night, at an MVP level. Fantasy hoops managers who roster Jokic have been able to depend on their best player showing up and producing for three to four games every week, and have been able to build the rest of their rosters around that foundation. There's a reason Jokic is on such a high percentage of championship rosters every season, and it's why, despite several players living in "he's on fire!" mode this season, it's Jokic who once again has settled into his customary spot at the top.
tmtplay net:Tyrese Haliburton suffered two injuries on Wednesday, spraining his left elbow and bruising his right knee, and was expected to be reevaluated two weeks later. I always point out the key turns of phrase, and him being "reevaluated in two weeks" is not the same as saying he's expected to "return in two weeks." Haliburton vaulted into consideration for a first-round fantasy basketball draft pick this season, and if anything, his play has justified moving him up to an even higher tier moving forward. He is the legitimate fantasy hoops centerpiece on a lot of squads, including one of mine, so his absence will be felt. Just be prepared for that absence to potentially be beyond the initial two-week point and perhaps last into next month.
With Haliburton out, the Pacers are relying on tmtplay net:T.J. McConnell (13.3 PPG, 8.3 APG, 7.7 RPG, 2.0 SPG in 24.7 MPG over his past three outings; available in 88.7% of fantasy hoops leagues) as the primary offense generator.
Domantas Sabonis isn't a household name, and even among NBA fans there are many who still think of him first as Arvydas' son more than a star in his own right. Well, it's (long) past time for that to stop. Particularly for those in the fantasy hoops and NBA betting space. Sabonis has produced a points-rebounds double-double in an eye-popping 20 straight games, the type of metronome-like production it's easy to build around. But, quietly, Sabonis is the best passing center this side of Jokic, so in four of those games, he's turned in a point/rebound/assist triple-double on his way to 20-game averages of 20.8 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 7.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG and 0.5 3PG.Sabonis has worked himself into the top 10 of my FBA points rankings this week, the highest spot he's ever achieved, and coincidentally sits next to Haliburton (whom he was traded for last season) in the rankings.
Jaylen Brown has missed multiple games with a right adductor strain, and he is still out to start this week. Muscle strains can be tricky, particularly in the midsection where a player has to do so much twisting, but Celtics' coach Joe Mazzulla said Brown was expected to be out for only about a week, so hopefully he will return soon.
In the interim, the Celtics started Grant Williams for two games and tmtplay net:Derrick White for one, but neither produced much of a statistical imprint. Instead, Malcolm Brogdon (available in 30.1% of leagues) has maintained and stepped up his run of strong play of late, bringing his seven-game averages to 18.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.6 3PG and 0.7 SPG in 25.4 MPG.
Brunson and Randle
The Knicks have been getting outstanding, noteworthy play from their two best players of late. Jalen Brunson has been a plus scorer all season, but he's stepped up to among the top in the league since the calendar flipped to 2023 with averages of 32.4 PPG (52.3 FG%, 81.8 FT%, 50.0 3P%), 5.7 APG, 5.6 RPG and 2.9 3PG in 40.0 MPG.
Not to be outdone, tmtplay net:Julius Randle has grabbed at least 11 rebounds in 10 straight games, averaging 29.4 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3.6 3PG, 0.8 BPG and 0.7 SPG in 40.3 MPG with two 40/10 double-doubles during that stretch.While these are both hot streaks that are unlikely to be sustained at such an elite level, both players should remain strong contributors moving forward. The Knicks are winning while playing this style of ball, so they are likely to continue to rely on these two as their formula for team success this season. Both Brunson and Randle were fixtures in our Ultimate Fantasy Hoops DraftBoard before the season began, and both have done nothing but build their values as the season has progressed. If you've got either/both in the middle rounds of your draft, you are in a strong position to either continue to thrive with them or trade them at much higher value than where you got them. Win-win.