I hope your fantasy hoop squad has some depth. An outbreak of injuries to some of the game's biggest stars has left owners scrambling and the waiver wire humming, and unless you drafted well and managed free-agent pickups with an expert touch, chances are you're in trouble.
Some of these injuries were recent, and some happened last month. Here’s a guide to help you remain sane while navigating between your roster and your league’s free-agent list.
Amar'e Stoudemire, F, Phoenix: A few days after rumors of a trade from Phoenix died at the deadline, Stoudemire underwent eye surgery. He was injured while scoring 42 points against the Clippers. Stoudemire, having a decent — not great — season, started to come on after the All-Star break, and his loss, possibly for the season, crushes the Suns as well as his fantasy owners. In Stoudemire’s absence, look for guards Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa to experience the biggest uptick in production.
Tracy McGrady, G, Houston: Here’s a surprise: McGrady is out for the year with a knee injury. We’ve already examined in this space how much of an assassin McGrady (right) is to fantasy owners, but now that he’s done for the season, expect teammate Ron Artest to step in as a starter and put up big numbers. Artest is gifted in all facets of the game, is an underrated scorer, and will see more of the offense run through him now that McGrady is shelved and point guard Rafer Alston has been dealt to the Magic.
Al Jefferson, C, Minnesota: Jefferson’s season-ending knee injury derailed the surging Wolves, but his injury created a fantasy opportunity for Kevin Love, the 6-foot-10 rookie from UCLA. Love is playing out of position at center, but he’s a double-double machine. Also, Jefferson’s scoring opportunities have now landed in the hands of Minnesota’s guards, Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair.FULL ENTRY
UP Delonte West, G, Cleveland
West gives you a little bit of everything: points, rebounds, assists, steals, even blocks. He can shoot the three, and he's a fearless competitor. Back from his wrist injury, West is already in the Cavs' starting lineup. Look for Delonte and the LeBrons to take off down the stretch.
UP Andrea Bargnani, C, Toronto
Bargnani's value as the season winds down will skyrocket now that Jermaine O'Neal has been traded to Miami. The Raptors have a balanced, skilled front line of Bargnani, Shawn Marion, and Chris Bosh, and Bargnani showed recently how well he fits in by posting 28 points, 10 boards, and three blocks against the Knicks.
UP Leandro Barbosa, G, Phoenix
As noted above, there are many more scoring opportunities available in Phoenix because of Amar'e Stoudemire's eye injury, and Barbosa -- "The Brazilian Blur" -- should receive many of them. Barbosa has been inserted into the starting lineup, and interim coach Alvin Gentry wants to play up-tempo, a style that suits the ultra-quick Barbosa.
If I had to choose between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for Most Valuable Player, I’d choose James. If I had to start a franchise and could take only one of the two, I’d again take James.
But that’s in the real world. How about in fantasy basketball: James or Bryant? Do you go for James’ all-around game or Bryant’s explosiveness (and underrated all-around game)? Both are worthy selections, but is there an obvious answer?
At first glance, the choice seems easy. This season James eclipses Bryant in most categories: scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, blocks, and field-goal percentage. That’s a hefty edge. Bryant, meanwhile, maintains a sizeable advantage in free-throw percentage and three-point shooting percentage.
James’ scoring edge is minuscule: 28.5 to 27.7. His edge in rebounding and assists is more significant, though. James averages 7.5 rebounds per game and 7.0 assists per game. Bryant averages 5.6 rpg and 5.0 apg.
James’ ability to involve his teammates and get on the glass is why I’d select him on the court, but fantasy basketball requires a different evaluation. Which positions do they play? Do they play on good or bad teams? Who plays in the better conference?
James and Bryant play on exceptional teams that could win the Finals, so the edge there goes to no one. The same is true for their conferences’ strength — there’s no discernible edge. Bryant’s Western Conference has long been superior to the East, but some recent powers (Phoenix, Dallas) are in decline. James’ conference has several good teams (Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, Detroit).FULL ENTRY
UP Tyrus Thomas, F, Chicago
Before the All-Star break, and perhaps for the first time ever, Thomas strung together four exceptional performances, averaging 18.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks. His three-year career in Chicago has been inconsistent, and he's lived off his athleticism and the "potential" tag. Thomas has never been anything more than a backup fantasy player, but grab him now if you need forward depth.
UP D.J. Augustin, G, Charlotte
With Raja Bell injured, Augustin is starting regularly. In the three games before the All-Star break, he averaged just under 39 minutes per game and scored 27, 17, and 24. With Raymond Felton on the trading block, Augustin is poised for a bigger role and continued big minutes.
UP Monta Ellis, G, Golden State
Ellis played 44 minutes (and scored 20) in Golden State's final game before the break and appears to be over the ankle injury that kept him out during the first half of the season. Ellis, an explosive scorer who thrives in the Warriors' up-and-down system, is the future for this franchise. Expect him to break out after the All-Star break.
Imagine having your season saved by a Los Angeles Clipper.
We’re talking your fantasy basketball season, and it’s conceivable that a handful of injured players who have returned to the Clippers’ lineup could affect fantasy races down the stretch.
Yes, the Clippers have talent. But they’ve also had injuries, a problem that has prevented LA from putting its best lineup on the court. (We should also mention that the Clippers are the biggest joke of a franchise in all of professional sports, but why get bogged down in negative details? We only care if their players can fill up the stat sheet.)
The Clips’ injury list has been impressive. Baron Davis, one of the more talented guards in the NBA and a headline-worthy free agent signing last summer, had an injured hamstring and a sore tailbone. Marcus Camby, acquired in a trade during the offseason, sprained an ankle. Zach Randolph, acquired in a trade with the Knicks earlier this season, had a sore knee. Center Chris Kaman strained his left arch and is expected back after the All-Star break.
Suddenly, though, the Clippers are getting healthy. In the handful of games leading up to the break, they’ve started Camby at center, Randolph at power forward, talented second-year forward Al Thornton at small forward, promising rookie Eric Gordon at off guard, and Davis at point guard. They even won two straight last weekend before getting crushed by Charlotte Monday night.FULL ENTRY
UP Ryan Gomes, F, Minnesota
A logical beneficiary of Al Jefferson's devastating ACL injury is Gomes, who has consistently started at small forward. Kevin Love is another T-Wolf who will see big minutes with Jefferson out for the season, but Gomes does not get into foul trouble with nearly the same frequency as Love. Expect Gomes' scoring and rebounding production to spike, and he's likely available on waivers.
UP Marvin Williams, F, Atlanta
With teammate Joe Johnson sidelined, Williams has been aggressive, and it's paying off for his fantasy owners. In three contests late last week, Williams averaged 23 points, seven rebounds, and 13.3 free throw attempts per game. Always a fringe fantasy starter, Williams is playing big minutes, so now is a good time to stick him in your lineup.
UP Corey Maggette, F, Golden State
Maggette is hardly a well-rounded player when it comes to statistical value, but he is adept in one category fantasy owners love: scoring. After missing most of December with a hamstring injury, Maggette has averaged 20.3 ppg and has not been held under double digits in scoring one time. He's even averaging nearly six rebounds per game in February.FULL ENTRY
When I drafted Amar’e Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns fifth overall last November, I expected nothing less than domination. I wanted the 25.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game he averaged last season. I wanted consistency. I wanted a cornerstone.
I didn’t expect to want to trade him by January.
But that’s what happened. What also happened is that I was laughed at when I offered him for Kevin Durant one month ago, right when Durant started to blow up, and I would have laughed too if I had been on the other end of the line. Stoudemire is hardly a joke, or a bust, but Durant has been putting up ungodly numbers recently. The type of numbers I expected — and needed — from Stoudemire.
This season Stoudemire’s averaging 21.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists (a career high), one steal, and one block per game. That’s borderline excellent, but for the fifth pick in the draft? It’s not enough. If you add up his averages just listed, you come up with 33.4. In my league, an average of 30 or more is solid, but the problem is that 16 players have higher averages than my guy.FULL ENTRY
UP Charlie Villanueva, F, Milwaukee
The UConn product averaged 23 points and nine rebounds per game during a recent 10-game stretch and will continue to earn plenty of action because of Michael Redd's season-ending injury. With his minutes consistently in the low 40s and his production mirroring that of a solid No. 2 fantasy forward, Villanueva is a terrific late-season waiver steal.
UP Luol Deng, F, Chicago
Deng is a fantasy tweener: You're never sure if he should be in your lineup, because he doesn't excel statistically in any one area. But he recently averaged 18.2 points and eight rebounds per game over a five-game stretch, and his rebounding numbers during January -- he had eight games with eight or more rebounds -- are particularly encouraging because his career average is 6.4.
UP Lamar Odom, F, Lakers:
Lakers center Andrew Bynum went down last weekend with a knee injury and Odom, a bench player this year, is expected to move into the starting power forward spot. Odom is capable of providing solid fantasy numbers across the board, and chances are he's available in nearly all formats.
The people have spoken, and Allen Iverson is an All-Star.
Starters for the NBA All-Star Game were announced this week after fan voting closed, and there weren’t any surprises. Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Iverson, and Dwyane Wade will start for the East squad. Only Iverson — likely in decline and playing in Detroit’s team-oriented system, but still popular — is not deserving.
In the West, Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant will start. Only Stoudemire (see below) is possibly not worthy, and he’s still having a very good season.
Obviously, with the sudden exception of Iverson, these players represent the top tier of both actual basketball and fantasy basketball. James, Wade, Paul, Howard, and Bryant are the top five players in fantasy basketball and, arguably, the NBA. But what happens if we take this group out of the equation and select a fantasy starting five that includes no All-Star starters? Who would make it? Who represents the best of the rest for fantasy purposes?
Let’s take a look.
Al Jefferson, Minnesota: Jefferson is 10th in my league in average fantasy points per week, combining his points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. His 22 points and 11 rebounds per game are All-Star worthy, as is the fact that as the best player on a bad team, he has no choice but to answer the bell every night. And he does. Jefferson will be one of the first big men taken in all drafts next season.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, and Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City: Nowitzki remains a star. He’s averaging 26 ppg and 8.5 rpg on a competitive, yet declining, Mavericks squad. He’s still capable of carrying your fantasy squad, though. Nowitzki can score from anywhere and has gone off in games for 44 and 46 points. Durant (below) is on a tear, and there seems to be no turning back. Last weekend he went to the free throw line 26 times (making 24) in a loss to the Clippers and finished with 46 points. In January, he’s scored fewer than 27 in a game only twice, and he’s routinely reaching double digits in rebounds. Like Jefferson, Durant is the best player on a bad team. Those are the guys you want on your fantasy squad.FULL ENTRY
UP Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto
A hamstring injury kept Calderon out for six games recently, but his return has been spectacular: 23 points and 10 assists against Chicago, and 16 points and eight assists against Sacramento. Calderon is a maestro with the basketball, and now that he's returned, Toronto feels as though it can make a playoff push. He'll be playing big minutes, so get him in your lineup.
UP Ramon Sessions, G, Milwaukee
Sessions' playing time will spike because of the season-ending knee injury star guard Michael Redd suffered on Jan. 24. When Redd was out injured in November, Sessions averaged over 15.8 ppg and 5.8 apg, and since then he's been extremely productive in limited action off the Bucks' bench.
UP Andrew Bynum, C, LA Lakers
Bynum is making his move: In his last three games, he's submitted 42 points and 15 rebounds; 23 points and 14 rebounds; and 15 points and 11 boards. He also has eight blocks over that span. It's understandable if you had Bynum on your bench, but with upcoming contests against Minnesota, Memphis, and the Knicks, you're going to want him in your lineup.
Who knows how long it will last, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are becoming relevant again. That means you should start eyeing their box scores, because they now have more fantasy resources than just Al Jefferson.
After last week’s impressive — stunning? — two-point win at Phoenix, the Baby Wolves had won eight of 11 and averaged 106 points per game during that span. For a team that broke the 100-point barrier just three times during a 13-game losing skid that seemed to last throughout December, that’s an encouraging jump in scoring, and a fact that should not escape fantasy owners.
Other Wolves are now relevant fantasy contributors, but Jefferson (right) is their one true fantasy beast. Acquired from the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett deal, the fifth-year player has been lighting up the stat sheet since his arrival in the Twin Cities. Playing out of position at center, Jefferson still manages to average 22 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. He’s cut way back on his personal fouls and averages 36 minutes per game. If Jefferson isn’t a first-round pick next season, there’s no way he lasts beyond the second round.FULL ENTRY
UP Andre Miller, G, Philadelphia It's no surprise that Miller's superb play has coincided with the Sixers' seven-game winning streak. Just as he did late last season during Philly's playoff push, Miller has proven he's the team's true catalyst. Last weekend he had 27 points, 11 assists, five rebounds, and two steals against the Knicks, and he's facing them -- and their porous defense -- again this weekend. Get Miller in your lineup.
UP Mardy Collins, PG, LA Clippers Collins has quietly stepped in and been productive with Baron Davis out injured. In the five games prior to last weekend, Collins was averaging 14.6 points and seven assists, and in January he's averaging 37 minutes of playing time. Collins' role will be diminished if Davis comes back at full strength, but with Davis' injury history, that's a big "if." Collins could provide valuable depth as the fantasy playoffs approach.
UP Jerryd Bayless, G, Portland Starting guard Steve Blake (separated shoulder) is out for a while, so keep an eye on this explosive rookie from Arizona. Last week in a win at New Jersey, Bayless played just 25 minutes but found a way to connect on six field goals and get to the foul line 11 times (he didn't miss). The Blazers are deep everywhere, so don't consider Bayless a long-term solution, but if you need a quick fix this week, keep in mind that he can put points up in a hurry.
DOWN Rudy Gay, F, MemphisGay is slumping. In two games late last week, he combined for only 15 points, six rebounds, and one assist. He also committed seven turnovers and had nine personal fouls. Gay's playing time has not diminished, so you can rule out an injury, but he's been a turnover machine this month, and Memphis does have options: Forward Hakim Warrick has been excellent off the bench. Now is a good time to sit Gay if you have a comparable option on your bench.FULL ENTRY
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