Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Welcome to "The Trending Ten" in which I take you through (you guessed it) 10 things happening in fantasy basketball lately.
1) Take your time, Russ - Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook's absence due to another knee surgery has allowed us to see what a scoring machine can do when it's programmed to be selfish. In eight games since Westbrook last played, Kevin Durant has averaged 21.4 field-goal attempts (FGA), 12.6 free- throw attempts (FTA) and 34.3 points per game (ppg). Prior to that he averaged 18.6 FGA, 9.3 FTA and 28.3 ppg.
2) Lace 'em up - Knicks guard J.R. Smith's obsession with untying opponents shoelaces earned him a one-game exile to the bench. After initially seeming aloof as to why defying warnings from the NBA and his coach was a big deal -- he told New York fans to get a sense of humor and took a photo in a nightclub pretending to untie someone's shoelaces the night he was benched -- Smith has begun to play his most efficient basketball of the season since returning to the lineup. In his last two games, Smith has averaged 12 points on 52.6 percent shooting with 4.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 0.5 turnovers per game. That's still not the production fantasy owners paid for, but it's a heck of a lot better than the 11.3 ppg and .348 shooting percentage he put up in his first 29 games of the season.
3) Streaking Knicks - Despite Smith's shenanigans, New York has been rolling since the start of the new year. The Knicks have won five straight and six of seven while picking up wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns in that span. Iman Shumpert has emerged as a fantasy force, averaging 13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.9 threes, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals during the 6-1 stretch.
4) Smooth Jazz - Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward hasn't had a chance to put on an encore of his 37-point performance on Jan. 7, as he suffered a strained hip flexor during the torching of Oklahoma City and missed the last two games. Twenty-two year old guard Alex Burks has seized the opportunity by piling up 50 points during Hayward's absence, including a career-high 34 points on 13- of-19 shooting in 38 minutes Monday against the Nuggets. Hopefully the performance will finally earn him a full-time starting gig in place of Richard Jefferson, who has started all 39 games for Utah after playing just 10 minutes per game with Golden State in 2012-13. If that happens, it will give us a chance to see the mystical Burke-Burks backcourt on a regular basis.
5) Hotter than the Sun - Suns guard Eric Bledsoe's knee surgery not only gave Gerald Green (14.3 ppg, 2.3 3pg last eight games) an extended stay in the starting lineup, it allowed Goran Dragic to get more time with the precious basketball. In the 13 games Bledsoe has missed this season, Dragic has averaged 15.2 field-goal attempts, 6.1 free-throw attempts, 21.7 points, 7.5 assists and 2.0 threes per game. In 21 games with Bledsoe, Dragic has put up 13 field-goal attempts, 5.3 free-throw attempts, 17.8 points, 5.0 assist and 1.0 threes per game.
6) How are they doing it? - Tanking is not in Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's vocabulary, even if he has to win games with Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin, Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell. Even though Derrick Rose is out and the Bulls traded Luol Deng to the Cavaliers, Chicago has won eight of its last 11 games and five of its last six. The success is due in large part to Joakim Noah, who has averaged 12.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals in his last 20 games.
7) Let's Boogie - The Kings have kept DeMarcus Cousins from getting distracted this season like you would any behaviorally challenged kid: by keeping him occupied. According to stats.nba.com, Cousins leads the NBA with a usage rate (the percentage of a team's offensive possessions that a player uses while on the court) of 33.2 percent. Cousins' numbers are staggering: 23.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.9 spg and 1.1 bpg. He's one of four players, along with Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and is also third in the NBA with 305 free-throw attempts (9.0 per game).
8) Not CP3, but ... - Chris Paul is out with a separated right shoulder, but the show must go on in Tinseltown and Darren Collison is proving to be a capable understudy. In the last five games, including the one that Chris Paul left with a separated right shoulder, Collison has scored 20-plus points three times while averaging 18 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 2.0 spg and 1.2 3pg.
9) Who are you? - Trade or no trade, Rudy Gay was bound to improve his shooting at some point this season after making just 38.8 percent of his 18.6 shots per game in his first 18 games. But Gay's shooting stats since joining the Kings are just outrageous. Gay's shots have predictably fallen to 14.7 per game with Sacramento, but he has suddenly discovered a Kevin Durant-like level of efficiency. In 15 games with the Kings, Gay has hit shots at a .523 clip. He's made 57.3 percent and averaged 23 ppg over his last eight games while making at least 47.4 percent in every game during that span. In 18 games with the Raptors, Gay only made more than 46.7 percent of his shots once.
10) Rotating Bucks - Getting a handle on Milwaukee coach Larry Drew's ever- changing rotation is more difficult than spelling Giannis Antetokounmpo correctly without looking it up, especially now that John Henson is back from a high ankle sprain. Nine players -- Brandon Knight, Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Luke Ridnour, O.J. Mayo, Henson and Caron Butler -- played at least 16 minutes Monday against the Raptors, and that was with Ekpe Udoh picking up a DNP-Coach's Decision one game after playing 24 minutes.