Whew, boy. Wait until you see the first elite. You’re going to be like, “This dude isn’t elite.” But right now, in fantasy? Yes ... yes, he is. We begin your Friday night in New York City with the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
👍 Julius Randle, PF/C, New York Knicks
Of everyone playing tonight, only James Harden, Russell Westbrook (game-time decision), Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bradley Beal are averaging more fantasy points per game than Randle, who sits at 46.3 (just .2 behind LeBron James) on Yahoo. Randle is cheaper than all of those guys, and as we wait for the other Nike to fall, eventually, we wouldn’t expect it to happen against the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder. Randle, even on a recent off night of 12 points, still had 11 rebounds and eight assists. He’s provided outstanding value and is on an All-Star trajectory if the Knicks remain respectable.
Oh, and Joe Budden keeps calling and apologizing to him on his podcast. Randle said he ain’t playing with us this season. We’ll continue to take him at both his word and his actions. Otherwise, consider Zion Williamson against the Hornets. Your power forward options are mostly suspect tonight.
👎 Kawhi Leonard, SF, Los Angeles Clippers
The Claw just hasn’t given you irreplaceable production, which is what you pay for at the elite level. Other than a random 16-rebound outburst on New Year’s Day, Leonard hasn’t pulled down more than six rebounds in a game. Two nights ago, against Golden State, he only recorded 21 points, four rebounds, four assists, and took just 12 shots. If choosing him against the Warriors again tonight, ask yourself, how much better do you expect him to be than cheaper alternatives like Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Khris Middleton, Caris LeVert (SF on DK), and even the overused Jerami Grant tonight?
💤 Bobby Portis, C/PF, Milwaukee Bucks
His tenure with the New York Knicks, or perhaps the Knicks themselves, gave Portis a bad rap. He’s a good player, and he’s proving it with a contender this season. The near 7-footer is shooting 55 percent from the floor, 39 percent from deep, and is good for 11.4 points and 8.0 rebounds on a nightly basis, all in just over 23 minutes per contest. His career per-36 numbers stand at 18 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and of all the buy-low centers, he’s your most reliable bet tonight, even against the Utah Jazz.
Other sleepers of note: Mikal Bridges, Cole Anthony, Austin Rivers, and OG Anunoby.
🤷🏽♂️ LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets
We expect him to be up and down, but at a time when Devonte’ Graham has been mostly struggling (prior to two nights ago), the young Ball has been a steady fantasy producer, averaging 15.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in his last five games, and that’s coming off the bench. During that stretch, he also has nine total steals. And tonight, he’s playing his brother! Hornets versus Pelicans is secondary to the Lonzo versus LaMelo Ball duel. It would be poetic for Lonzo to disrupt LaMelo’s hot streak, but the younger Ball is proving to be a worthwhile fantasy option even on an inefficient shooting night, thanks to his other statistical contributions.