Fantasy 30: Ayton and Collins nearing returns

What will be the fantasy fallout when Deandre Ayton and John Collins return from their respective suspensions? Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Are you totally up to date on what's happening around the NBA? You have to be if you want to stay ahead of the competition in your fantasy league.

To help, I've done the work for you and compiled a look at the most fantasy-relevant news and notes for all 30 teams around the league.

Atlanta Hawks: John Collins is eligible to return from suspension on Dec. 23, and when that happens, the Hawks plan to utilize him at both power forward and center. "Teams tend to go small, especially late in games," Hawks GM Travis Schlenk told The Athletic. "I'm sure that's when you'll see John make that move [to center], as well." Given that development, there's a strong likelihood that centers Alex Len and Damian Jones see their minutes decrease once Collins is back in the fold.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics are down one of their top defenders, as Marcus Smart missed Wednesday's game against the Heat while dealing with two ailments: an illness and a strained oblique, the latter of which he suffered in Sunday's win in New York when he positioned himself to take a charge. It's unclear how many more games Smart will miss, if any, but the Celtics play only one more game this week (Friday vs. Denver), which might work in his favor.

Brooklyn Nets: Kyrie Irving has missed the past 10 games due to a shoulder injury, and there is no clear indication of how soon the All-Star point guard will be ready to return to the court. In the meantime, though, Spencer Dinwiddie has taken full advantage of the opportunity for an extended role; he has averaged 24.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 7.1 APG and 1.1 SPG during Irving's latest absence. His fantasy value will decrease once Irving returns, but it's also good to know what Dinwiddie is capable of doing whenever Irving is out, since that's a frequent issue.

Charlotte Hornets: If you look at all the players over the past two weeks who have played at least five games, Devonte' Graham ranks third in the league with 9.4 APG. That's more than Luka Doncic, Ricky Rubio and James Harden. Graham continues to wow and amaze and at this point is one of the most improved players in the NBA, and what's even better is that he's not just a distributor. Graham has averaged 19.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 3.6 3PG during this recent eight-game stretch. From fantasy streamer to fantasy star.

Chicago Bulls: I was as high on Lauri Markkanen as anyone before the season started, but the third-year power forward is one of the year's biggest fantasy busts so far. His minutes are down from 32.3 to 29.5, his scoring has dropped considerably (18.7 to 13.6) and so too has his rebounding (9.0 to 6.9) and his 3-point production (2.3 to 1.8). For someone who went as high as the third round in some leagues, Markkanen is currently playing more like a seventh- or eighth-rounder.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs continue to lose a lot of games, often failing to stay in touch with their opponent, and the result is a lot of instances where Kevin Love doesn't play as much. Love has played 25 minutes or less in three of the past four games, and scored in single digits in each of those three games. His 16.7 PPG is his lowest since the 2009-10 season while in Minnesota (14.0).

Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Powell left Wednesday's game early due to a left arm injury, but X-rays were negative, so the efficient big man avoided serious injury. If he has to miss time, look for Maxi Kleber to take some of Powell's minutes. Powell has averaged a career-high 25.6 MPG in 18 games this season, which is four more minutes than his previous high.

Denver Nuggets: Few expected it, but Nikola Jokic is really struggling this season with his shot. After scoring 21.1 PPG on 51.1% shooting last season, Jokic has seen his numbers fall to 15.4 PPG on 45.2% shooting this season. It's even more glaring, too, when you consider that his FG% is a career low and so are his 77.6 FT% and 22.5 3PT%.

Detroit Pistons: A knee injury kept Luke Kennard out of the lineup on Wednesday, marking the first game he has missed all season. It could simply be giving him a much-deserved night off on the second night of a back-to-back, but it's worth keeping an eye on his status heading into Friday's game against the Pacers. Kennard is on more than 54% of fantasy rosters in ESPN leagues.

Golden State Warriors: In what looks to be a fairly strong rookie class, who could have expected Eric Paschall to be the rookie leader in total points (380) and rebounds (120) a quarter of the way through the season. Stunning. Paschall is worth rostering in 12-team leagues, but keep in mind that his production could take a hit -- particularly in terms of rebounds -- now that Kevon Looney has returned to the lineup.

Houston Rockets: John Cregan penned a helpful column Thursday on the usefulness of True Shooting Percentage in terms of fantasy basketball, and how it can uncover overlooked values. One of those is PJ Tucker, whose 69.2 TS% ranks third in the league among all players who average at least 20.0 MPG and first among all averaging at least 30.0 MPG. While Tucker doesn't take a ton of shots (6.7 per game), he does play 35.6 MPG and contributes as a rebounder (6.3 RPG) and defender (1.5 SPG) on top of being such an efficient scorer.

Indiana Pacers: Domantas Sabonis is having a career campaign so far and it doesn't seem like an opportune time to change his role, but that could be happening. Pacers coach Nate McMillan told The Athletic that he sees the efficient big man as a strong option in the second unit. "I've tried to get Domas back with that second group, as he was last year, because that's a good group," McMillan said. "Doug McDermott and Domas is a good combination." While that could hurt Sabonis' minutes, it also could lead to a higher usage rate. In any case, it's worth paying attention to.

LA Clippers: One of the benefits of having a bunch of All-Stars around you in the lineup? More assist possibilities. Lou Williams is finding that out first-hand and making a name for himself as more than just instant scoring off the bench. In fact, Williams has dished out 7.0 APG during the past 10 games while still putting up 19.1 PPG. At age 33, Williams' 6.3 APG this season is far and away a career high, outpacing last season's 5.4 APG.

Los Angeles Lakers: As the season has gone on, Dwight Howard's minutes have fallen slightly from where they were at in the opening weeks. While the future Hall of Fame center is playing well in his second go-round with the Lakers, his fantasy value might have the ceiling of a streamer this season if he continues to play under 20.0 MPG. During the past 10 games, Howard has averaged 6.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 1.5 BPG in 18.8 MPG.

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant has missed the past three games due to an upper-back strain and continues to be listed as "week-to-week." Add in the oblique injury to Brandon Clarke that also has him considered "week-to-week," and the scoring duties are falling heavily on the broad shoulders of Jonas Valanciunas. The big man has gone off for 30, 22 and 32 points in the past three games, grabbing at least 13 rebounds in each of them, and will continue to be a strong option for as long as Morant and Clarke are out.

Miami Heat: Justise Winslow is currently on less than a third of ESPN fantasy rosters, which makes a lot of sense given his so-so production since returning from a concussion, but one encouraging sign is the amount of minutes he's getting. If the versatile swingman continues to play more than 30.0 MPG, as he has during the past five games, he's a strong buy-low candidate who is widely available in most leagues.

Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton has logged just 20.4 MPG in his first five games since returning from injury, but the efficient swingman has made the most of his limited playing time with 15.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.8 APG and 1.0 SPG during that stretch. Expect his production to continue to rise in the weeks ahead as his workload increases closer to 30.0 MPG.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Jeff Teague tends to get overlooked in fantasy, thanks in part to his limitations in terms of scoring, steals and 3s, but one area where he continues to excel is assists -- one of the most difficult stats to chase in fantasy hoops. Teague's 7.4 APG ranks 11th in the NBA and it wouldn't be surprising if he finished even higher; he has dished out 8.0 APG during the past 10 games.

New Orleans Pelicans: Injuries have limited Lonzo Ball to 13 games so far this season, and his troubles as a scorer are evident when you consider that he has failed to reach double-digits in points in six of those games. Ball has put in a lot of time to improve as a shooter, but his 37.3 FG% is below his career mark of 38.0% and his gains from the free throw line (60.0%) are minimized by the fact that he gets to the line just 0.8 times per game.

New York Knicks: A hamstring injury has kept Elfrid Payton out since Oct. 28 -- over a month now -- but the veteran point guard is considered questionable for Thursday and Knicks head coach David Fizdale said Wednesday that there was a chance Payton could be on the court against the Nuggets. Whether it happens or not, it appears that Payton is getting close to a return.

Oklahoma City Thunder: For all the concern about Chris Paul's health heading into this, his 15th NBA season, he deserves a lot of credit for playing in each of the Thunder's first 20 games of the season. That's the good news. The bad news is his 15.1 PPG, 6.1 APG and 1.6 SPG are all career lows, and that is probably what you should expect out of a 34-year-old point guard at this stage in his career.

Orlando Magic: Terrence Ross worked his way into a lot of fantasy lineups last season, thanks to his scoring and 3-point shooting, but the veteran swingman's slow start to 2019-20 has caused him to be on less than 30% of ESPN fantasy rosters as of Dec. 5. That could change if his recent production holds up; Ross has shot 50% or better in five of his past six games, and he is finally starting to heat up.

Philadelphia 76ers: There have been times this season where fantasy managers have grown impatient with Ben Simmons, whose offense is as limited today as it was his rookie season. But as my colleague and Philadelphia sports expert Eric Karabell pointed out this week, Simmons' ability to rack up assists and steals helps him maintain a lot of fantasy value. During the past two weeks, Simmons' 9.9 APG and 2.9 SPG rank second and first, respectively, among all players who've played at least five games.

Phoenix Suns: Aron Baynes (calf) is listed as doubtful for Thursday's game against the Pelicans, and if he sits out, it will give him only five more games before Deandre Ayton returns from suspension. Baynes has proved to be a capable fantasy option when given the minutes this season, but the 32-year-old may have already peaked as a fantasy option in 2019-20 as he nears a return to a reserve role behind Ayton.

Portland Trail Blazers: Hassan Whiteside dished out a career-high seven assists in Wednesday's win over the Kings, but before you get too excited about a possible uptick in the helper department consider this: He handed out a total of only five assists in his previous seven games. Wednesday was a total aberration.

Sacramento Kings: The Kings announced medical updates this week for two of their best players, De'Aaron Fox (ankle) and Marvin Bagley III (thumb). Fox is set to be re-evaluated in approximately 2-3 weeks, while Bagley will be re-evaluated at the end of this week and, if all checks out well, could return to the court soon thereafter. Once Bagley returns, he will likely get close to 30 MPG and ease the heavy workload of forwards Nemanja Bjelica and Richaun Holmes.

San Antonio Spurs: Bryn Forbes continues to be a better fantasy version of the Clippers' Landry Shamet, a guard whose primary purpose is to stretch the defense with his 3-point prowess. While Forbes has done that, draining 2.5 3PG this season, he has also averaged 13.0 PPG and 2.0 APG. Forbes is rostered in 5.7% of ESPN fantasy leagues compared to 1.3% for Shamet.

Toronto Raptors: Sam Amico of Sports Illustrated reports that the Raptors are "said to have high interest" in acquiring long-time Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson, a Canadian native. As Eric Karabell has pointed out previously, a trade of Thompson could be crushing to his fantasy value if he goes to a team where his minutes will drop, but this could be a situation where he maintains most of his value with Marc Gasol now at the tail end of his career. Thompson has put up career highs with 13.9 PPG and 10.6 RPG so far this season in Cleveland. Stay tuned.

Utah Jazz: Joe Ingles stepped in to start Wednesday's game, as Mike Conley sat out with a hamstring injury, and Ingles struggled as a replacement to the scuffling Conley. Both veterans continue to be major fantasy busts this season, with Conley shooting an icy 36.9% from the field to go with his 13.9 PPG and 4.6 APG, and Ingles is not any better with a 35.8 FG% to go with 7.2 PPG. If these trends last very much longer, both Conley and Ingles could become big names on the waiver wire in many fantasy leagues.

Washington Wizards: We've dedicated some space here to Davis Bertans in the past, but he continues to warrant attention, thanks to his scoring and 3-point shooting ability. Bertans figures to take on an even bigger scoring role with Thomas Bryant sidelined with a stress fracture, and that has certainly been the case the past two games, as he averaged 20.5 PPG and 5.0 3PG. The former San Antonio sharpshooter remains available in 83.7% of ESPN leagues.