Rockets pass first test without James Harden

iCrackStreamsJanuary 3, 2021

Rockets fans curious about what the future of their franchise will look like if James Harden gets traded unexpectedly got their first look on Saturday when the disgruntled former MVP was a late scratch against the Kings because of an ankle turn he suffered on Thursday. If the rest of the season without Harden (if a deal happens) goes as well as Saturday’s 102-94 win did, Houston might be OK after all.

John Wall played incredibly well in his second game back after a two-year absence, scoring 28 points (his most since December 2018) with six assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 37 minutes. He made 11-of-21 shots from the field and 2-of-8 3-pointers. After poking the ball away from De’Aaron Fox, Wall erupted with a flex and scream to a mostly empty Rockets arena. He’s back.

It wasn’t just Wall who impressed, though. Christian Wood put together one of his best nights in a Rockets uniform so far, scoring 20 points with 15 rebounds and a season-high four blocks in 33 minutes. He could’ve done even more if he hadn’t picked up his fifth foul early in the third quarter.

If the Rockets are forced to deal Harden, one of the best five or so basketball players in the world, the franchise will undeniably be losing a star it might not be able to replace for years. But the consolation is that they won’t fade from relevance anytime soon. Wall and Wood won’t let them.

Now let’s talk about the highs and lows from Saturday’s six-game slate.

The great

Malcolm Brogdon — The Pacers lost to the Knicks (yikes), but Brogdon wasn’t the reason why. He played a game-high 41 minutes, scoring 33 points on 7-of-10 shooting from 3-point range with seven assists, three rebounds and two steals with just one turnover. Through two weeks, he ranks inside the top-40 in 9-cat leagues.

Gordon Hayward — Hayward scored 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting with six rebounds, six assists and a season-high four steals with just one turnover. It wasn’t enough to beat the Sixers, as the Hornets fell, 127-112, but it was a great night that broke him out from a two-game slump where he scored just 25 points combined.

Tobias Harris — Harris had a monstrous game for the Sixers — something we’re not used to saying much — with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting (4-of-7 from 3-point range), nine rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks. He looked every bit the part of a max contract player in 37 minutes. If Philly can get anything in realm of this level of production from him on a consistent basis, they could finally be a threat in the East.

Clint Capela — In his second game this season, Capela double-doubled with 16 points (8-of-12 FGs) and 16 rebounds. He also finished with three steals and two blocks. With Danilo Gallinari sidelined, Capela is becoming a better fantasy option, though you’ll have to punt free throws considering he’s 0-of-7 so far.

The good

De’Aaron Fox — It wasn’t enough to beat the Rockets, and he wasn’t better than his opponent, John Wall, but Fox had a solid game, scoring 23 points with four assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block. He made 8-of-19 field goals, 7-of-10 free throws, and missed all three 3-pointers he took, but Fox kept the Kings competitive. We’ll wait patiently for his shooting numbers to improve.

Eric Gordon — Gordon got the start in place of Harden (ankle), and put up numbers despite shooting the ball poorly. He scored 21 points (3-of-12 from 3-point range), with four assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Despite being listed on the injury report with a sore knee, he played 33 minutes, which is encouraging going forward, especially with Harden’s status uncertain.

Julius Randle and the Knicks? — Not exactly what we thought would be the case six games into the season, but the Knicks beat the Pacers on Saturday, 106-102, and are 3-3 to start the year. Randle deserves a ton of the credit for that. On Saturday, he scored 12 points with 11 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Sure, he turned the ball over four times and only made 5-of-16 field goals, but with several Knicks guards injured (Frank Ntilikina, Alec Burks, Dennis Smith Jr., plus Obi Toppin), Randle’s stepped up as a do-it-all point-forward. He’s ranked in the top-50 of all players in 9-cat leagues, too.

RJ Barrett — Two Knicks? Yeah, let’s talk about another Knick. RJ Barrett‘s had a weird year, with games ranging from “Oh my” to “Oh… my.” But against the Pacers, he found his rhythm again, scoring 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, with five rebounds and three assists. Is he a reliable player every night yet? Heck no. But the waves of promise are encouraging from the 20-year-old.

Darius Bazley — Bazley’s had a slow start to the season, but notched season-highs with 19 points (7-of-10 FGs) and 12 rebounds in a 108-99 win over the Magic. The rest of his stat-line was fairly empty (two assists, one block, no steals), but those numbers, on top of him not turning the ball over make him worth paying attention to on the waiver wire.

George Hill — Hill’s been so good this year that OKC might have another first-round pick to add to their stash by mid-season. Against the Magic, Hill scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting (three 3s) with a season-high five assists and two steals. He’s been a top-100 player in 9-cat leagues, and is absolutely worth picking up if he’s still available.

Terrence Ross — Ross tied his season-high with 26 points (on a rough 9-of-21 shooting), but he connected on four 3-pointers. He also logged a season-high six rebounds and two assists. Look for his numbers to jump for as long as Evan Fournier (back spasms) stays out.

Terry Rozier — Rozier bounced back from a 1-of-11 night to score 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting including seven 3-point makes. This is new Scary Terry, who’s had two of his most prolific 3-point scoring nights even in just the last six games. He’s taking a career-high eight tries per game this season.

Ben Simmons — No, he didn’t make another three, but he did triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists one steal and one block. He turned the ball over four times, but made 6-of-9 shots from the field and a not-terrible 3-of-5 free throws.

Larry Nance Jr. — Nance Jr. is a top-30 fantasy play in 9-cat leagues for a reason. On Saturday, in a surprise win against the Hawks, he scored nine points on just 3-of-10 shooting, but he sunk a 3-pointer and added 11 rebounds, six assists and three steals with just one turnover. He’s one of the best passing bigs in the league.

JaVale McGee — McGee had another really solid fantasy night, scoring 14 points (6-of-11 FGs), with nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. McGee barely ranks inside the top-200 in 9-cat leagues right now, but he’s worth keeping an eye on as the Cavs’ backcourt struggles.

Chris BoucherPascal Siakam is really struggling, but Boucher stepped up big after he fouled out on Saturday. In 28 minutes, he scored 24 points (7-of-13 FGs) with five rebounds, one assist, two steals and a block. It wasn’t enough to beat the Pelicans, but it was enough to keep him in the top-50 of players in 9-cat leagues.

Fred VanVleet — VanVleet scored 27 points (9-of-23 FGs, 4-of-13 3-pointers) with eight rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block. He hasn’t been shooting efficiently, but he’s put up three 25-point or higher nights in five games so far this season. The Raptors are slumping, but he’s trying to keep them in the picture.

Eric Bledsoe — Bledsoe’s clutch 3-point shot with 42.3 seconds to go made the difference after the Raptors went on an 11-1 run to try and steal one from the Pelicans. He was stellar on Saturday, scoring 19 points (5-of-12 FGs) with 10 assists to no turnovers, five rebounds, a steal and a block.

Brandon Ingram — Ingram scored 31 points to lead the Pelicans past the Raptors, 120-116. He added six rebounds, four assists and a block to his 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. He also sunk 11-of-14 free throws. Ingram’s matching his shooting performance from his breakout season in 2019-20, and looks like a superstar.

Nikola Vucevic — After shooting under 46% for his first three games, he’s shot 53% or better ever since, including 13-of-21 on Saturday for 31 points (4-of-7 from 3-point). He grabbed 13 rebounds and had two assists, too. Vucevic is ranked No. 21 of all players in 9-cat leagues, and he’ll be in that range all year long.

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The disappointing

Victor Oladipo — Oladipo had a rough night shooting, making just 3-of-16 field goals and scoring 16 points with seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. Oladipo looked really sharp in his first three games, and has really cooled down since. Let’s wait it out to see if this is just regression to the mean before we note it as worrisome.

Michael Carter-Williams — MCW started in place of Fournier (back spasms), but didn’t do a whole lot in 31 minutes. He scored just four points on 2-of-11 shooting, missing all four of his 3-point tries. He added nine rebounds and just one assist. He can be kept on the waiver wire.

Darius Garland — Garland’s been so good that I won’t go long on his outlier bad game this season. He only scored eight points on 3-of-14 shooting and turned the ball over five times despite just two assists. It was bad, but I won’t hold it against him because he’s been so good (19.0 points per game on 50% shooting, 7.2 assists, 3.6 rebounds).

Pascal Siakam — After ranking in the top-40 in 9-cat leagues last season, Siakam is outside the top-100 this season. Oof. He missed the Raptors’ last game due to disciplinary reasons, and in his return, Siakam put up another dud, scoring just 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and fouling out in 24 minutes. It’s been bizarre to watch him struggle so hard to start the year. The Raptors are 1-4 and need him ASAP.

The rookies

LaMelo Ball — Ball didn’t shoot well, but he had one of the best night’s of his career so far, filling the stat sheet with 13 points, five assists, four rebounds, four steals and two blocks with just two turnovers in 30 minutes. Ball’s jumper has a ways to go, but he’s starting to get a great feel of how to get an offense moving.

Cole Anthony — Anthony struggled, scoring just two points on 1-of-7 shooting with five rebounds and one assist. With so many players sidelined, Anthony’s gotten minutes, but his shooting percentages are woeful. He’s making just 33.3% of his field goals, and 23.1% of his 3-pointers. Keep him on the waiver wire.


James Harden — Harden was a late scratch on Saturday with a sprained ankle. He suffered the injury on Thursday, and pulled out after warming up. After the Rockets’ win over the Kings, head coach Stephan Silas was unsure if he’ll be available on Monday. Keep an eye on Sterling Brown and Eric Gordon if he can’t give it a go.

Danilo Gallinari — One game after returning from a foot injury, Gallinari’s back on the injured list with a sprained ankle. The Hawks said he’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks, which means there’s added opportunities for John Collins, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter until then.

P.J. Washington — Washington only played seven second-half minutes and 22 minutes overall on Saturday due to a thumb contusion. His status for Tuesday’s game isn’t clear yet, but the team is already short-staffed without Cody Zeller.

Tyrese Haliburton — Haliburton has a bone bruise on his left wrist and will be re-evaluated in a week. Glenn Robinson III might be worth taking a look at, though he only scored five points with three rebounds and two assists on Saturday.

Evan Fournier — Fournier was sidelined with back spasms, and Terrence Ross stepped up in his absence. He’ll be the fantasy play for as long as Fournier sits.

Thanks for hanging around and reading my second Daily Dose. You can follow me, Matt Ellentuck, on Twitter @mellentuck.

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