Advice for StatHero NBA Team Survivor Picks for January 28
Availability is the biggest variable when setting a StatHero lineup for Thursday's NBA action.
The four games could be stripped of some serious star power. A hamstring injury has sidelined Devin Booker for the last two games, significantly dimming the Phoenix Suns' outlook.
A marquee showdown between the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat may take place without several big names as Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler have all been out this week due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Heat also played without Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic on Wednesday night.
Adding to this uncertainty, Miami is one of four teams (Suns, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers) playing their second games in as many nights. Anyone backing the Lakers, in particular, must beware of the dreaded load management.
StatHero is siding with Golden State against Phoenix, removing Stephen Curry and Co. from consideration. Let's stay in the Western Conference and counter with a fellow former title contender simply vying for playoff contention.
All participants have to do to advance in the survivor pool is defeat StatHero's lineup, and if this team welcomes back its breakout star, it'll be well-positioned to keep backers in the game.
Team: Houston Rockets
Having shipped James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets two weeks ago, the Houston Rockets are also missing their former franchise cornerstone.
They're doing just fine without him.
Riding a three-game winning streak into Thursday's clash with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets have recorded 109.4 points per game since jettisoning their disgruntled star. They've had four different leading scorers during that window, and all four join forces on this StatHero squad.
Their deeper arsenal will combat an opponent possessing the NBA's second-worst defensive rating (114.7). While the Rockets haven't suffered much since shipping out their stellar guard, the Blazers have allowed 363 points in three games since losing CJ McCollum to a foot fracture.
Failing to keep DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, Immanuel Quickley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in check doesn't bode well for their chances against an uptempo, guard-heavy attack. That's why gamers are encouraged to fill three of four spots with perimeter players.
But before locking in a lineup, be sure to monitor the status of Houston's leading big man.
MVP: PF Christian Wood
Christian Wood has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, but he expressed optimism about returning Thursday night.
"I'm back. I feel 100 percent, and I'm ready to go tomorrow," Wood said Wednesday.
Before getting sidelined, the 25-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season, averaging 23.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks through a dozen games with his new squad. Wood is also scoring with consistency, reaching 20 points in all but one of his appearances. He offered 18 in the outlier and has averaged 25.3 points and 13.3 boards in four games since Houston traded Harden.
The Blazers, meanwhile, have allowed the fifth-most rebounds per game (47.1).
Barring a minutes restriction, he's in line for another 20-10 performance against a lackluster defense. Don't discount the blocks, either, as they account for three points apiece on StatHero.
Out of everyone playing Thursday night, StatHero projects only Damian Lillard (44.6) and LeBron James (44.2) to produce more points than Wood (42.8). Although he hasn't played since Jan. 20, Wood warrants the MVP chair if he's cleared to play.
If Wood misses another game, promote the next highlighted player to MVP and insert DeMarcus Cousins into the lineup. In the last three games without Wood, Boogie has tallied 52 points and 43 rebounds.
SG Victor Oladipo
The Rockets have wasted no time easing Victor Oladipo into their offense.
In four appearances with his new team, the guard has attempted a whopping 20.5 field goals per game with a 32.2 percent usage rate. Both marks not only lead the club but are also higher than those produced by Harden before he was dealt.
After averaging 20.0 points with the Indiana Pacers, Oladipo has parlayed the extra volume into 21.8 points per contest in Houston. He's also stuffed the stat sheet for both squads, registering 5.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game this season.
Oladipo has shown little residual effects from a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee that led to season-ending surgery in 2018-19. He's seemingly put the injury behind him. In fact, he even held a funeral for his knee before the season started.
The two-time All-Star has yet to play both ends of a back-to-back, which means he's played one game in the last five days. Yet neither team has held him back when he's on the court; Oladipo hasn't played fewer than 30 minutes in a contest since Dec. 26.
He should be in line for another busy and productive evening against a Blazers squad struggling to fortify its backcourt defense without McCollum.
PG John Wall
In his second game back from a knee injury, John Wall posted 24 points in Tuesday's 107-88 victory over the Washington Wizards. While he won't have the "Revenge Game" narrative on his side Thursday night, he does have an intriguing matchup against Damian Lillard's Blazers.
Although still not back to vintage form, Wall has returned strong from a ruptured Achilles. The 30-year-old has averaged 17.9 points, 5.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds.
The offense no longer runs through the five-time All-Star, but he's nevertheless attempted 15.3 field goals and 3.8 free throws per game. His 28.0 percent usage rate only trails Oladipo on Houston's current roster.
Wall, who is averaging 31.3 minutes per game this season, plastered his old team in 24 minutes on the court. His playing time could begin elevating closer to early-season norms Thursday night. If not, that'd likely mean more chances for Oladipo and the next guy in the lineup.
SG Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon has scored at least 20 points in all five games he's played since the Harden trade. He's provided both volume and efficiency, going 40-of-82 (48.8 percent) from the field and 21-of-28 (75.0 percent) from the foul line.
Unfortunately, the spot-up shooter won't contribute much in other categories. He's averaging just 2.2 assists to 1.6 turnovers, which respectively earn and deduct 1.5 points on StatHero. He has also accumulated six blocks and eight steals in 12 games this season, so there are scarce opportunities to reap the rewards of a system offering three points per each.
Despite Gordon's limitations, a fourth option is rarely a relatively safe bet to score 20 points. Even if that actual tally matches his fantasy output, it's a fine performance from a supporting cast member.
Anyone going solely off StatHero's projections would instead deploy the red-hot DeMarcus Cousins. The former All-NBA big man demands a roster spot if Wood can't play. However, he's yet to consistently deliver alongside his surging teammates.
Cousins had scored double-digit points just once in 11 games before delivering 28 on Saturday and 19 on Tuesday. He's logging just 18.3 minutes per game, so his playing time remains too scarce to trust following a brief resurgence.
Take Gordon's high floor over Cousins' higher ceiling.
All advanced statistics are from NBA.com unless otherwise noted.