Charlotte's Devonte' Graham literally couldn't hit a shot last night (0-7 FG), but the Hornets still topped the Bulls, thanks to another stellar scoring performance off the pine from Malik Monk. The Kentucky product embodies the premise of a post-hype breakout: a player once lauded for his offensive upside as a prospect, then left off fantasy draft lists after a few listless seasons, only to reemerge as a meaningful contributor deep into his third professional campaign.
Monk produced a game-high 25 points while sporting a game-best net rating thanks to sinking all nine of his free throw attempts in an efficient offensive showing. Dating back to before the All-Star break, Monk has scored at least 17 points in five straight and now has 25 points in consecutive showings, good for 21 PPG to go with six combined assists and rebounds per game during his past five contests.
A free agent in roughly two-thirds of ESPN leagues as of Friday morning, Monk is a legitimate scoring source who can help fantasy managers for this final third of the season.
Devonte' Graham, Charlotte Hornets: 0 points (0-7 FG), 2 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 4 TO
Young scored a career-high 50 points Thursday against the Heat, becoming just the seventh player in NBA history to score at least 50 points before turning 22; only LeBron James, Devin Booker and Brandon Jennings scored 50 at a younger age. Young finished strongly Thursday as he scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, marking his third 20-point fourth quarter this season, breaking a tie with Zach LaVine for the most in the NBA. Cam Reddish was impressive again with 16 points and four combined steals and blocks off the bench for the Hawks and can be found in free agency in nearly 90% of ESPN leagues.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way Thursday for Milwaukee with 33 points and 16 rebounds, good for his 15th 30-point, 15-rebound game this season, the most by any player since Shaquille O'Neal in 1999-2000 (18). Shaq won the MVP award that season. Giannis' net rating was plus-39 for the game, tied for the best mark of his career.
Bruce Brown was stellar off the pine for the Pistons on Thursday in a loss to the Bucks in nearly notching a triple-double. As I wrote in yesterday's edition of this column, Brown is suddenly an intriguing playmaker thanks to the departure of Reggie Jackson.
Kyrie Irving averaged a career-high 27.4 points this season but played only 20 games, his fewest in a season for his career. Due to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury that has bothered him for much of the season, Irving will end up missing more games over the past three seasons (99) than his first six in the NBA (95). On the positive side of things, Irving is one of three players this season with multiple 50-point games, and he did so despite playing only 20 games. With Irving's high-usage game off the floor, Caris LeVert took a season-high 29 shots from the field last night and should be a strong fantasy option in the weeks ahead.
The Rockets are now 7-2 this season using starting lineups without a single player taller than 6-foot-7. Now thriving since being acquired from the Timberwolves, Robert Covington has impressively posted eight blocks during the past two games as the Rockets' resident rim protector. I'd make getting Covington in trades a priority ahead of the fantasy playoffs.
Injuries of note
Despite playing a meaningful role in the All-Star game, Boston guard Kemba Walker is listed as out for tonight's matchup with the Timberwolves due to a sore left knee. More on who will step up in his absence below.
Analytics advantage for Friday
For our statistical insight today, let's focus on Walker's absence from the Celtics' rotation. Marcus Smart enjoys a massive leap of 5.2 more fantasy points per 36 minutes whenever Walker is off the floor, using DraftKings' scoring key.
Rising star Jayson Tatum sees his usage rate jump a team-high 4.7% in such scenarios, making him a DFS building block. Regarding Smart, he's still a free agent in 51% of ESPN leagues.
Top players to watch on Friday
Since making his debut, Zion Williamson has been a key piece for the Pelicans. New Orleans has been dramatically better when Williamson is on the court this season. With the Pelicans facing the Blazers on ESPN this evening, all eyes will be on Zion.
The Pelicans have outscored opponents by 74 points with Williamson on the floor since he made his debut, compared to losing by 19 points in the time he's off the floor. Watching how the Blazers and Hassan Whiteside protect the paint against Williamson will prove compelling on the national stage tonight.