There's magical momentum underway in Orlando. Thanks to drubbing the Hornets by 38 on Thursday night, Orlando's largest margin of victory this season, the Magic have now won five straight games and lead the NBA in net rating during the past 10 games.
The winning streak marks the franchise's longest in three seasons. First-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic fittingly has five straight double-doubles, his best streak this season, and is one of only five players in the NBA with as many as 40 double-doubles this season.
As proof the center position is still alive and well in both real and fantasy contexts, Vucevic currently ranks 12th among all players on the Player Rater, ESPN's standard deviation-based index of value, joining Karl-Anthony Towns (third), Nikola Jokic (sixth), Anthony Davis (seventh) and Joel Embiid (eighth) as members of the only position with five entrants currently in the top 12.
What if I told you that beyond Vucevic, there is a player on the Magic found in free agency in three-quarters of ESPN leagues who ranks 14th on the Player Rater overall the past 15 days, just ahead of Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler during this sample? This player rates 26th overall in fantasy value during the past 30 days, suggesting success could prove sustainable. What if there is a player who can single-handedly positively shift your fantasy team's defensive profile? That player is second-year forward Jonathan Isaac.
During his past nine appearances, a stretch during which Orlando has gone 7-2, the defensive dynamo from Florida State has slashed for 14.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.2 SP, 2.4 BPG, and 1.6 3PG in 28.8 MPG while producing an elite net rating of plus-18, thanks mainly to a comparably impressive defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions to opponents with him on the floor) of just 97. For context, the Bucks claim the league's best defensive rating this season at 103.5 points ceded per 100 possessions.
The defensive numbers especially pop for Isaac, but we're also seeing a nice blend of rebounding and stretch shooting value emerge for the impressive young big man. Take some time during the All-Star break to sift through the Player Rater with an eye on identifying underappreciated producers such as Isaac, Patrick Beverley (ranked 35th in fantasy value the past 30 days), Kelly Oubre Jr. (46th), and Trevor Ariza (50th). These players prove available in at least half of ESPN leagues and could become critical differentiators for your team with the fantasy playoffs looming soon after the break.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 44 (18-30 FG), 14 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 blocks, 5 TO
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder: 4 points (2-5 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 TO
Kemba Walker: 10 points (4-20 FG), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
The Thunder lost to the Pelicans last night but extended their streak of scoring at least 115 points to 18 straight games, breaking a tie with the 1961-62 Royals for the second-longest single-season streak in NBA history. Westbrook also extended his own NBA record with his 11th straight-triple double and passed Sonics legend Gary Payton for the most points in franchise history. The performance marked Westbrook's 12th career 40-point triple-double, tying for second most in NBA history with James Harden. Oscar Robertson accomplished this rare feat 22 times in his storied career.
The Thunder's impressive defensive roster extends into their bench, with Noel averaging 2.3 combined blocks and steals in just 14.4 MPG. With an excellent double-double outing in only 21 minutes of action last night, it's becoming more likely we see Noel opt out of his contract this summer to enter unrestricted free agency. If you are in a keeper or dynasty format where Noel is floating on the wire or is affordable via trade, consider acquiring him and his unreal defensive upside with the hope he secures a more prominent role next season.
The Pelicans' Kenrich Williams finished Thursday third among small forwards in fantasy points using DraftKings' scoring key, thanks to pulling 12 boards, four dimes and two combined blocks and steals. The fact Williams was successful as a fantasy force despite taking just seven shots is further proof he doesn't need much usage to deliver strong results. Since earning regular minutes a few weeks back, Williams is averaging 11.2 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.4 combined blocks and steals and 1.9 3PG during the past nine games, including six straight starts.
The Knicks' wire-to-wire win over the Hawks last night snapped an ugly 18-game losing streak, the longest single-season losing streak in franchise history and two shy of tying the longest streak spanning multiple seasons. Once again a bright spot off the bench for New York, Kadeem Allen netted nine dimes and 14 points and has averaged 16.5 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, and 1.3 3PG in nearly 27 MPG the past four games. It's possible Allen could get lost in the shuffle after the break, but I'm interested in speculative shares in deeper leagues (at least 12 teams) given this recent run of statistical success. Allen is currently a free agent in 99.5 percent of ESPN leagues.
Even with last night's loss to the otherwise reeling Knicks, the Hawks are respectably 13-16 over their past 28 games after starting the season a league-worst 6-23. Trae Young tallied 16 points and 11 dimes last night, marking his third straight double-double, tied for the longest such streak of his young career. Like his team, Young endured a rough start to the season but has since shined with 19.6 PPG, 8.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 2.3 3PG on palatable shooting rates (42.5 percent from the floor) during his past 21 games.
Young's veteran teammate Dewayne Dedmon produced a game-high 21 points last night and appears unlikely to be bought out, given his role as a steady presence on an otherwise young roster. Dedmon is among the more intriguing backup centers for fantasy purposes, thanks to his evolution as a shooter; he's made 38.9 percent of his 162 attempts from beyond this season. This marked Dedmon's third 20-point game this season, while he had just two such games in his first five pro seasons combined. You can add this stretch big for the price of a roster spot in 80 percent of ESPN leagues.
Injuries of note
Anthony Davis left Thursday's win over the Thunder early due to a shoulder injury that doesn't appear severe based on postgame commentary from coach Alvin Gentry. Sunday's All-Star game could reveal just how serious the injury is if Davis can't suit up.
Miami's head coach Erik Spoelstra recently told reporters Goran Dragic is making notable progress from knee surgery conducted back in December. While Dragic won't likely be ready right after the break, I'd go ahead and stash him (available in free agency in 40 percent of ESPN leagues) with an eye on him potentially making a return later this month.
Analytics advantage for All-Star weekend
We don't get to resume regular-season fantasy fun until next week, so let's instead celebrate some fun statistics ahead of All-Star weekend.
For instance, LeBron James is making his 15th All-Star appearance and will have started in each one. James' 15 straight starts are the most consecutive All-Star Game starts in NBA history, while only Kobe Bryant has as many All-Star Game starts as James. Unsurprisingly, James is the all-time leader in All-Star Game points (343), 3s (35) and field goals (141).
Charlotte is hosting All-Star weekend for the second time and for the first time since 1991. The East beat the West 116-114 that year and Charles Barkley won All-Star Game MVP with 17 points and 22 boards. The wildest part of the box score from that game is that the East won the game without making any of their seven 3-point attempts. I'd wager that at least seven players shoot at least seven 3-pointers in this Sunday's edition of the exhibition.
My grand prediction for this year's game is that we see Ben Simmons make a 3-pointer on Sunday. It won't count towards his career total, but with Simmons attempting one last Sunday against the Lakers and with him incorporating deeper shots into his pregame routine (I've attended most of his home games this season), I have a feeling we'll finally see Simmons sink one from beyond.