By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s Week 4 of the fantasy basketball season, so as each team moves into the double-digit games played margin, the hierarchies in each conference are beginning to take shape. Out West, the Warriors moved to 9-1 after blowing out the Hawks on Monday, while the shorthanded Sixers still sit atop the Eastern Conference at 8-3.
As far as fantasy basketball is concerned, we’re still in the process of sorting through some early season noise. While injuries and COVID-19 absences have impacted a few teams, others have been generally healthy, offering us a better glimpse at how their rotations shape up on a nightly basis.
In this week’s trip around the league, we’ll check in on teams dealing with key absences as well as highlight the players, trends and storylines making fantasy headlines in Week 4.
Sixers, Bucks begin the week shorthanded
Milwaukee heads to Philadelphia on Tuesday night to face the Sixers on the first half of a back-to-back set. While it’s a battle between two Eastern Conference contenders, both teams will be without some key contributors.
Milwaukee has been banged up since Opening Night, when it was already without some key bench pieces — plus Donte DiVincenzo — before losing both Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez to injuries. Holiday has since returned after a five-game absence, but Lopez remains sidelined without a timetable.
DiVincenzo is also without a firm timetable, but offseason acquisition Grayson Allen has filled in admirably thus far. The ex-Grizzlies guard ranks inside the top-75 in 8-cat leagues thanks in large part to hitting 3.4 threes per game.
With all of the injuries, Milwaukee is lapping the field in terms of unique lineups used this season.
The Sixers, meanwhile, are still down Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Isaiah Joe and Matisse Thybulle, all of whom remain in the league’s health and safety protocols and could remain out through the week.
Filling in for Embiid, Andre Drummond went for 14 points, 25 rebounds, one assist and two blocks in Monday’s loss to the Knicks. In two Embiid-less starts, Drummond has racked up 28 points, 40 boards, eight assists, five steals and three blocks.
Philly is, of course, still without Ben Simmons, whose standoff with the organization continues without an end in sight. On Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Simmons has been regularly working out at the Sixers’ facility, and he’s begun meeting with a team-recommended mental health specialist. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction (Maybe? Possibly?), but it doesn’t seem like Simmons will be back on the floor anytime soon.
LeBron James out for Week 4 — and possibly longer?
The four-time MVP had two of his first three seasons in Los Angeles cut short due to injury, and he’s off to a less-than-encouraging start in the health department. Wednesday’s game against Miami will already mark James’ sixth absence of the season. His most recent injury is an abdominal strain, which the Lakers say will sideline him for all of Week 4.
The hope is that James, whose body has a history of recovering at a borderline-superhuman level, doesn’t miss more than a handful of games, but former Lakers trainer Tim DiFrancesco weighed in over the weekend and said he believes James could miss closer to 4-to-8 weeks. That would be a catastrophic scenario for Los Angeles, which has struggled on nights when Russell Westbrook is the primary playmaker.
The Lakers needed overtime to notch their second LeBron-less win of the season Monday night against Charlotte. And while Westbrook posted a 17-point, 14-assist, 12-rebound triple-double, he racked up seven more turnovers and finished as a minus-17 in a game the Lakers won by three points.
Curry takes over top spot
On the heels of putting up the first 50-point game of the 2021-22 season Monday against Atlanta, Stephen Curry has taken over the top spot in 8-category leagues (per-game value). Obviously, Curry is off to a fantastic start — 27.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 6.6 APG, 5.2 3PM/G, 1.6 SPG — but he should be able to improve upon his 43.1 percent mark from the field.
Unsurprisingly, Curry has been the league’s single most valuable free-throw shooter, hitting 50 of his 51 attempts through 10 games.
Spicy P is back in action
The Raptors got a major boost over the weekend when Pascal Siakam made his season debut Sunday versus Brooklyn. Playing under a soft minutes restriction, Siakam finished with an encouraging 15 points (5-12 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 4-5 FT), four rebounds, one assist, one steal and two blocks in 25 minutes.
Siakam entered the season without a clear timetable, so missing just the first 10 games of the season feels like close to the best-case scenario for Toronto, which plays three games in Week 4. Nick Nurse confirmed that Siakam will play Wednesday at Boston, but he noted that he could be rested Thursday at Philly on the second half of the back-to-back. The 27-year-old should be back in full capacity for Toronto’s four-game Week 5, which includes road matchups at Portland, Utah, Sacramento and Golden State.
Nurse opted to start Siakam at center Sunday, keeping Scottie Barnes in the lineup at one forward spot alongside OG Anunoby, Gary Trent and Fred VanVleet. It’s unclear if he’ll continue to roll with that small-ball look, but chances are he’ll address the center spot on a matchup basis.
Are the Cleveland Cavaliers … good?
After blowing out the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, the Cavs are 7-4, setting up a heavyweight matchup against the 7-3 Wizards on Wednesday night. Despite losing a pair of contributors in Kevin Love and Lauri Markkanen to COVID-19 protocols, the Cavs have rolled to four straight victories behind strong play from Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Ricky Rubio.
All four of those players rank in the top-65 in 8-cat value entering Tuesday night. Rubio, in particular, has been a godsend, averaging 13.7 points, 6.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and a career-best 2.2 made three-pointers through 11 games. Rubio caught fire Sunday night, drilling eight three-pointers en route to 37 points and 10 assists.
Over the last three games, Garland is averaging 18.7 points, 7.7 assists, 3.7 threes and 1.0 steals in 35.7 minutes. He’ll be counted on even more going forward after Collin Sexton was diagnosed Monday with a torn meniscus in his left knee. The Cavs haven’t announced a timetable yet, but Sexton could be looking at a multi-week, if not multi-month, absence.
Mobley continues to be perhaps the most impressive rookie in a deep and talent-rich 2021 class. After putting 26 points, nine rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block on the Knicks, Mobley ranks 57th overall — higher than Nikola Vucevic, Robert Williams, Jusuf Nurkic and Draymond Green. Seemingly every night, Mobley is the subject of a new Twitter video showcasing things you just don’t see from rookie big men very often.
Odds and ends
Dejounte Murray may be having the breakout season fantasy managers were hoping for. At the 10-game mark, Murray ranks inside the top-20 in 8-cat leagues behind 17.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.3 three-pointers. Murray has some room to improve upon his free throw efficiency, which sits at just 71.4 percent — down from 79.1 percent last season.
We’re now 11 games into the Lakers’ season and Carmelo Anthony is a top-55 player in 8-cat leagues. It feels like the 37-year-old has to cool off at some point, but he kept on cooking Monday night, drilling seven threes on his way to a season-high 29 points. Entering Tuesday, Anthony’s 39 made threes are tied with CJ McCollum for third in the league behind only Stephen Curry (52) and Buddy Hield (48).
Things have gone from bad to worse for Michael Porter Jr., who will be out “for the foreseeable future,” according to head coach Michael Malone. Considering his history of severe back issues, this is a major concern for Porter and the Nuggets, who agreed to a five-year, $173 million extension in September.
Before the back issues, Porter was perhaps the most disappointing player in all of fantasy basketball. In his nine healthy games, Porter averaged just 10.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 three-pointers with a 36/22/56 shooting line.
A suspension will almost certainly be coming for Nikola Jokic, who took out some frustrations — to put it lightly — on Markieff Morris late in Monday’s blowout win over Miami. Chances are, it’ll be a multi-game ban, so it’s a tough break for managers who locked him into weekly lineups on a four-game week for Denver.
On a more positive note, Will Barton continues to play well for the Nuggets. After going for 25 points, six assists, five boards, one steal and seven threes Monday, Barton ranks inside the top-50 in per-game value.
Luka Doncic has never been an exceptional free throw shooter, but he’s down to a career-low 70.6 percent, as his struggles from the end of last season appear to have carried over. Combined with a slow start from three (29.5% 3PT) and a drop in assists (6.7 APG), Doncic ranks just 36th overall in 8-cat leagues thus far.
When it comes to free-throw shooting, Doncic is not alone. We know about the habituation offenders — Rudy Gobert, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, Jakob Poeltl, to name a few — but a handful of other stars are seeing their fantasy value dragged down by an inability to convert at the line.
Draymond Green (41.7% FT), Christian Wood (53.3%), De’Aaron Fox (68.3%) and Kyle Kuzma (47.8%) are among the league’s biggest drags on the FT% category. None of those four currently rank higher than 97th overall in 8-cat leagues (Green). Fox has tumbled all the way down to 123rd and is looking like a possible bust after an encouraging 2020-21 campaign.
New York City mayor-elect Eric Adams clarified over the weekend that he will not adjust the vaccine mandate to accommodate Irving, so the waiting game continues for fantasy managers still stashing the Nets star.
Tuesday night brings a light slate of NBA matchups, so managers in dynasty formats may want to flip over to the college game to check out Duke freshman Paolo Banchero — the potential No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft — making his debut against Kentucky as part of the Champions Classic.