By Shannon McKeown
RotoWire Staff Writer
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.
Andray Blatche, F/C, WAS - Since joining the starting lineup on Feb. 17, Blatche is averaging 26.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks. While Blatche's value was expected to increase after the trades of Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, no one saw this coming. Blatche will continue to carry the load for the rebuilding Wizards, making him one of the better fantasy options among post players for the remainder of the season. No matter how shallow the league, Blatche should be owned.
Al Thornton, F, WAS - With Josh Howard (torn ACL) sidelined for the remainder of the year, Thornton has been asked to take over starting duties at small forward. In his first three starts, Thornton has averaged 15.7 points and 7.7 boards. Outside of scoring, Thornton has never been much help to fantasy owners. He looks invigorated in Washington, playing with more intensity than we've seen with the Clippers all season. If he continues to crash the boards, Thornton would be a solid addition to any fantasy squad.
George Hill, G, SAS - Hill has quietly been one of the Spurs best players since the All-Star break. In seven contests since the break, Hill has averaged 16.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, three assists and 1.6 three-pointers. He has started 19 consecutive games for the Spurs, and given his production, that won't change anytime soon. And with the Spurs tendency to rest veterans down the stretch, the 23-year-old guard will probably be asked to do even heavier lifting as the season goes on.
Louis Williams, G, PHI - Now that Allen Iverson's second stint in Philly is officially over, Williams can return to being the fantasy stud he was earlier this season. Williams has already started to turn things around, averaging 16.1 points, five rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.6 treys. Get him in your lineup.
J.J. Hickson, F/C, CLE - Hickson got promoted to the starting lineup on Monday, replacing the injured Shaquille O'Neal, who's out for the remainder of the regular season undergoing thumb surgery. The second-year big man out of North Carolina State took advantage of his latest promotion, totaling 17 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes on Monday. He'll still have to split time with Anderson Varejao (and possibly Zydrunas Ilgauskas), but the extra playing time Shaq left behind should give Hickson plenty of opportunities to help in mid-to-deep leagues.
Bill Walker, G/F, NY - Walker exploded for 21 points in the Knicks blowout loss at the hands of the Cavs on Monday. While Walker's playing time could just be the result of a lopsided game, it's worth noting that his minutes have increased in each of his four appearances since joining the Knicks. Deep leagues should give strong consideration to making a speculative grab of Walker in hopes that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni gives the second-year swingman run down the stretch.
Tracy McGrady, G/F, NY - Now that he's back to fantasy usefulness, T-Mac will probably find himself in the "Check Status" section every week. He's already dealing with knee problems in New York and is having trouble finishing games for his new squad. McGrady is the type of player who could be a surprise CD-DNP any given night, so be prepared to check his status on a daily basis for the remainder of the season.
Courtney Lee, G, NJ- Lee missed Sunday's loss to the Wizards with a sprained left ankle. He called himself "iffy" for Wednesday's game against Cleveland, likely making him a game-time decision. The second-year guard has picked up his production since the All-Star break, so owners will want to wait this one out since the injury doesn't sound too severe.
Chris Bosh, F/C, TOR - Bosh continues to be sidelined by sprained left ankle. He has now missed six straight games despite being listed as day-to-day the entire time. The Raptors are off until Friday, leaving plenty of time for Bosh to practice and be evaluated by the team medical staff. Hopefully he's cleared to return at that point.
Monta Ellis, G, GS - Ellis is suffering from a strained lower back and may miss the Warriors upcoming five-game road trip. He has been in and out of the lineup the past month with nagging injuries, and given the Warriors status as a cellar dweller, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Ellis sit out a handful of games. He's one of the better options in fantasy, so owners will want to wait until a concrete decision is made on his availability, but it wouldn't hurt to start preparing a backup plan.
Jason Thompson, F/C, SAC - Thompson suffered a back injury last week. X-rays revealed two fractures in his lower back. He's only expected to miss up to two weeks, so hopefully he makes a quick return for owners. Look for Spencer Hawes to see a spike in playing time while Thompson is out.
Elton Brand, F/C, PHI - Brand sat out Monday's loss to the Magic with a sore right Achilles. The previous Achilles injury he had was in his left leg, so owners can breathe a little easier. He has already been ruled out of Wednesday's game with a timetable for his return still not set. Look for Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights to see increased playing time while Brand is sidelined.
Shaquille O'Neal, C, CLE - As previously mentioned, Shaq will be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season after undergoing thumb surgery on Monday. The Cavs will miss Shaq's big body in the paint, but he should be able to make a return before Cleveland matches up against Orlando and Dwight Howard in the postseason.
Jose Calderon, G, TOR - Calderon missed Monday's loss to the Rockets with a laceration on his elbow. While this latest injury shouldn't keep Calderon out of the lineup long, it should be considered a wakeup call to owners that he's lost most of his value in shallow leagues. Jarrett Jack has the starting point guard job locked up, and barring injury, it's Jack's job for the remainder of the season. Yes, Calderon will still help out with assists, but his overall production only warrants ownership in mid-to-deep leagues.
Allen Iverson, G, PHI - Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski released an official statement on Tuesday confirming that Iverson would not return to the team this season. AI will stay at home to care for his sick daughter. In all likelihood, Iverson's days as an NBA player are over. If he does indeed retire, Iverson will end his career with the sixth-highest scoring average (26.7) of all time.
Joakim Noah, F/C, CHI - Noah continues to be hampered by plantar fasciitis. He has missed back-to-back games with the injury and isn't expected to return for the Bulls' remaining two games this week. Solid fantasy seasons have been derailed by plantar fasciitis in the past, and it looks like we're seeing that take place again with Noah.
Andris Biedrins, C, GS - Biedrins has been ruled out of the Warriors' upcoming five-game road trip after suffering a groin injury in Saturday's win over the Pistons. He was already firmly entrenched in Warriors coach Don Nelson's doghouse, so this should give owners the final nudge to cut the disappointing big man loose.
Article first appeared on 3/2/10