Fantasy Hoops: Mitchell’s Jazzy Role, Rockets’ Center Dilemma

Injuries are piling up around the league and they are shifting values in the fantasy basketball. Let’s take a look at a pair of developing situations.

The Jazz are out of point guards with Ricky Rubio (hamstring), Dante Exum (ankle), and Raul Neto (groin) all sidelined. The team adapted to the injuries by playing Donovan Mitchell at the one and the early returns are promising.

Over the last four games (contests which Rubio has missed), Mitchell is averaging 32.0 points per game, which is good for fourth in the league over that stretch ( behind James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Bradley Beal). He’s making 51.1% of his attempts and averaging 6.0 assists per game, up from the 3.4 he averaged leading up to the unexpected role change. 

Utah has won all four games since Rubio went down and while it’s worth noting that the wins came against the Magic, the LeBron-less Lakers, the Bulls, and the Pistons, there’s plenty of reason for optimism. Mitchell appears more than comfortable in the point guard role, playing like a young Harden. It will be interesting to see if the arrangement makes the Jazz think about making future plans with him at the one, as I recently mentioned on Twitter.

Season-long fantasy owners probably missed the boat on trading for Mitchell. December was his worst month as a professional. He shot just 38.1% from the field while clocking more turnovers than assists. After this recent stretch, he’s flirting with top-50 fantasy value and that’s factoring in the chances of him staying hot once the team gets a bit healthier, so it’s hard to envision him rising too much further in the overall rankings.

Daily fantasy is a different story. Building a lineup around Mitchell while he’s running the show for the Jazz is a sound strategy. The team plays the Clippers on Wednesday and the Cavs on Friday in a pair of games that should be favorable to the second-year guard. Los Angeles has given up the sixth-most fantasy points to the point guard position this year, according to Basketball Monster. Atlanta and Washington are the only teams to surrender more than Cleveland.

Clint Capela will miss four-to-six weeks with an injured thumb and if the first game without the big man was any indication, the Rockets don’t have a clear replacement plan in place.

Five different players manned the center spot on Monday against the Grizzlies. Nene started and remained on the floor for slightly more than three minutes before coach Mike D’Antoni spelled him with Marquese Chriss. Chriss did not play well and Isaiah Hartenstein then took over. That was before P.J. Tucker closed out the first quarter as the center. Gary Clark then opened the second quarter as the five.

“I was hoping to go big by committee, hoping that works out, or I wouldn’t have done it in the first place,” D’Antoni said (via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle). “It didn’t work out, so guess what: We’re going small. If next game we go small and it doesn’t work out, we go back to going big by committee. Just trying to get a feel for the game and see what works out.”

The Rockets won’t specifically target a center in trades prior to the February 7 trade deadline, Feigen hears. Still, they also won’t restrict potential acquisitions to wing players as they had previously intended to do.

If I had to pick one player to gain fantasy basketball value as a result of Capela missing time, it would be Tucker, as I suspect the team works on its small-ball lineup with the 33-year-old at the five. Regardless, this is a situation to avoid unless the team brings in another player who would demand a full-time role. As for Capela, don’t drop him. He should be back in time for the fantasy playoffs.

Fantasy questions? Take to the comment section below or tweet me at @CW_Crouse.

Missed an earlier edition of Fantasy Hoops? Check out the entire series here.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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