Around the League
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 every now and again - unless they're extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time or role or skill level.
Mike Miller, G/F, WAS - Miller has been an absolute beast for the Wizards of late. In the past five games, he's averaging 17.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 threes on 46 percent shooting from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe. The Wizards are missing a multitude of players due to deadline deals, injuries and suspensions, so look for Miller to continue carrying the torch.
Luol Deng, F, CHI - Deng returned from a calf injury last week. He was originally expected to be brought along slowly, but with the Bulls pushing for a playoff spot, he was thrown right into the fire. In his two games since returning, Deng is averaging 13 points and 6.5 rebounds in 33 minutes per contest. The Bulls play on multiple nights with a light slate this week and next, so Deng's a good player to own during your fantasy playoffs to pick up a game or two on your opponent.
Nicolas Batum, F, POR - Batum has pleased the Blazers' faithful with his staunch defense the past two seasons, but it's his emerging offensive talents that should get fantasy owners excited. The sophomore out of France has turned himself into a legit threat from downtown this season, connecting on three-pointers in 24 of the 32 games he has played in this season. He's still maddeningly inconsistent, but there are few players available on the waiver wire this time of the year capable of hitting multiple threes while adding defensive stats, too.
Chase Budinger, G/F, HOU - A rash of injuries and the Rockets being eliminated from playoff contention has led to more playing time for Budinger. The University of Arizona product has took the opportunity and ran with it. In his past four outings, Budinger is averaging 19.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and three treys. Any team in need of a long-range bomber should take a look at the redheaded rookie.
J.J. Hickson, F, CLE - Hickson has shown flashes of fantasy potential, but his latest stretch has cemented him as a legit option for the remainder of the season. Since March 21, Hickson is averaging 14.1 points and nine boards. With the best record in the regular season clinched, the Cavs are planning on resting some of their veterans down the stretch, so look for Hickson to be leaned on heavily.
Bill Walker, G/F, NY - Walker has picked up his play once again, pouring in totals of 18, 14 and 18 in his past three games. The hot streak has earned him a spot back in the starting lineup, and we all know how productive shooters can be when playing under Mike D'Antoni. He hasn't been a model of consistency since joining the Knicks, but Walker's ability to explode for 20 points on any given night makes him worth a look.
Hasheem Thabeet, C, MEM - With Marc Gasol on the sidelines for the remainder of the season due to a neck injury, Thabeet will take over as the Grizzlies starting center. He's only averaging 1.5 points in his first two games since Gasol was shelved, but Thabeet has shown value with his averages of eight rebounds and two blocks during that stretch. If you're desperate for big man stats, you could do worse.
Richard Hamilton, G, DET - Hamilton has been sidelined for past three games with a right ankle sprain. He was able to return to practice on Monday and is listed as a game-time decision for Tuesday's tilt against the Sixers. Rip can contribute when at full strength, but owners will want to consider healthier options before taking a chance on him this week.
Shaquille O'Neal, C, CLE - O'Neal (thumb) has rejoined the Cavs in practice and could make a return before the playoffs tip-off. He'll probably only play a game or two if he does return, but streamers should keep him in mind down the stretch if they need help with rebounds and blocks.
Jason Richardson, G, PHO - Richardson has been dealing with back spasms since Friday. The injury affected him enough that he was held scoreless in 22 minutes of action Saturday against the Bucks. The Suns are still jockeying for playoff position, but they may opt to rest Richardson for a couple games down the stretch to get him right for the postseason.
Rudy Gay, F, MEM - Gay left Sunday's game against Magic late in the fourth quarter after his back stiffened up. He's expected to play on Tuesday, but owners should double check his status before committing him to the lineup.
Stephen Jackson, G/F, CHA - Jackson removed himself from Saturday's game against the Bulls after suffering a strained hamstring. He has also been dealing with a turned ankle and a sore hand and elbow. The gritty swingman plans to play Tuesday night against the Hawks, but he's a good candidate to get some rest down the stretch once the Bobcats clinch a playoff spot.
LeBron James, F, CLE - Prepare yourself for a fantasy nightmare. No, James didn't suffer a career-threatening injury. But owners will still probably be without him for a couple games down the stretch. As previously mentioned, the Cavs have locked up the top seed throughout the playoffs. King James has been dealing with a couple minor bumps and bruises and appears headed for a couple nights off. It's still uncertain which games he'll sit out, so owners will want to monitor the situation on a daily basis.
Marc Gasol, C, MEM - The Grizzlies shut down Gasol for the remainder of the season last week. He returned from his neck injury for two games before the team decided err on the side of caution and put him on the shelf permanently. This injury shouldn't be a concern heading into next season.
Andrew Bogut, C, MIL - Bogut suffered a brutal season-ending injury to his shoulder, hand and wrist as he fell awkwardly after a dunk in Saturday's game against the Suns. He underwent surgery on Monday. Bogut finishes the season averaging career-bests in points (15.9) and blocks (2.5).
Andrew Bynum, C, LAL - Bynum underwent another MRI on his injured left Achilles' tendon Monday. The MRI confirmed there isn't a tear, but we still don't when or if Bynum will return to action before the playoffs. The Lakers are close to locking up the top seed in the West Conference, so there's not much of a reason for them to rush Bynum back into action.
George Hill, G, SAN - Hill suffered a sprained right ankle in Sunday's win over the Lakers. He has already been ruled out of the Spurs' next two games and could miss more time. A concrete timetable won't be known until the results from Monday's MRI come back, but San Antonio will probably decide having Hill healthy for the playoffs is the most important thing, so don't be surprised if he sits out all week.
Joe Johnson, G, ATL - Johnson is another star player dealing He has already sat out one game with a sprained right thumb and will miss at least the Hawks' next two outings. Atlanta is still trying to lock up the third seed in the Eastern Conference, but they won't risk further injury to their star player at the expense of doing so.