In last season's final column, I discussed players you wouldn't find on my fantasy team this year and those I liked as sleepers (please ignore any playoff predictions I made ...). One of those players was Roy Hibbert, and I wasn't the only one singing his praises entering this season. Another center I considered at the time in place of Hibbert was JaVale McGee. He was featured at least once in this column last season, and he's begun to realize his potential this season. Let's start from the beginning.
McGee has the perfect genetics to play in the NBA. First, he's the only offspring from a WNBA player, Pamela McGee, to ever wear a NBA uniform. If that wasn't good enough, his father is George Montgomery, a former Illinois player who was drafted by the Trail Blazers but never played in the NBA. McGee weighed 11 pounds, 11 ounces, at birth, which indicates he was a bit bigger than the average baby. After a successful stint during high school, he went on to play two seasons at UNLV. After a solid sophomore season, the 7-footer declared for the NBA.
McGee is now in his third NBA season with the Wizards at the old age of 22. He played sporadically his rookie season, averaging only 15.2 minutes per game. Twice he record 18 points that season and three times he grabbed 11 boards. So there were signs of upside there, especially considering his age. The start of his second NBA season saw him competing for time with Fabricio Oberto, Brendan Haywood and even a slew of power forwards when the Wizards went with a small lineup.
Then the basketball Gods smiled upon McGee. The Wizards traded Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. They realized they needed to play for the future and see what they had in McGee. After getting more minutes, he showed that if nothing else he was a great shot blocker. JaVale averaged 2.9 blocks over the final eight games last season and recorded at least one in 18 of his final 19 games. He received an invite to the U.S. men's team for the second year in a row during the offseason and narrowly missed making the team.
That brings us to this season. I'll be honest, he threw me a softball over the middle of the plate with his performance Tuesday night – 24 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, an unbelievable stat line. Late in the game McGee was hit with a cheap shot from Elton Brand, and while he appeared to be in pain, it didn't look like anything serious. While McGee's numbers were impressive Tuesday, Philadelphia doesn't have a strong inside presence so it wasn't like he did this against the Celtics, Lakers or Magic. However, even before this game, he was showing signs of growth. He had posted three straight double-digit rebounding games heading into Tuesday. McGee had 30 points the prior two games and has at least one block in all 13 games this season, which includes a seven-block effort against Atlanta. Throw in his 59 percent shooting from the floor for the season and you have a superstar in the making. He won't be 23 for a couple months, and I get the feeling he won't see anymore cuts by team USA.
Each week we'll look at players who have received increased minutes. An uptick in minutes doesn't always translate into improved fantasy stats but at the very least offers some players to put on your radar.
Donte Greene, F, SAC – After a slow start, Greene cracked the starting lineup and is earning decent minutes. He's average 27.5 minutes in his last four games and could be ready to take off. Greene has averages of 10.5 points, 5.75 rebounds with one steal and one block over those four games. Small forward is not a deep position, and Greene could become a viable option if he builds on his numbers from the last week.
James Harden, G, OKC – Harden is another player who started slowly and picked up his game as of late. It shouldn't be too surprising considering his pedigree; he was Pac-10 player of the year his sophomore season, which included a 40-point game against UTEP. The injury that kept Kevin Durant sidelined last week opened opportunities for Harden and, just as important, instilled some confidence in him. His averages the last seven days: 12.5 points, 4.75 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Those numbers were even better during the games he started while Durant was out. Unfortunately for Harden owners, Durant is back and his injured ankle appears to be fine. But keep in mind Harden's potential if he gets another bump in minutes due to performance or an injury.
Jason Maxiell, F, DET – Maxiell appears to have officially supplanted Austin Daye in the Pistons starting lineup. Starting his third straight game Tuesday night, the former Bobcat chipped in 10 points and seven boards. Maxiell always seemed like a Paul Millsap-lite type player; same size and type of game. I wouldn't recommend picking him up quite yet; the proverbial wait-and-see approach applies here. The Pistons should keep starting him as long as he provides a physical inside presence, but Daye is easily the player with the better upside.
DeMarcus Cousins, F, SAC – Cousins started appearing on the waiver wire in a lot of my standard 12-team leagues after scoring less than 10 points over a four-game stretch a couple weeks ago. Foul trouble has played a big role in the limited minutes during that stretch, but he has received 24-30 minutes in his last five games. Cousins scored a season-high 18 points Monday with nine rebounds. Oddly, he's only shooting 38 percent from the floor, a number that will increase as the season continues. Cousins still has a lot of upside, so grab him as a speculative bench pick if he's available.
Each week we'll look at certain players who can help your fantasy team in the nine categories most leagues use. Remember, while each player highlighted can help you in a certain category, there's no guarantee they will contribute in other areas.
Nick Young, G, WAS – I'm thinking Gilbert Arenas will get a very nice holiday card from his teammate, Young, over the next few weeks. After all, it's always nice for your teammate to fake an injury to get you some playing during the preseason. On a serious note, Young has been scoring at a stellar rate lately for the Wizards. A player with some serious size for a shooting guard (six-foot, seven inches), Young has at least 16 points in five of his last six games. The guard situation in Washington is crowded with John Wall, Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich all looking for minutes but they've somehow found a way to get Young playing time. Keep in mind he won't contribute much outside of scoring but use him in deeper leagues if you need that help.
Marco Belinelli, G, NO – I talked about Belinelli in my first column this season but his production tailed off after being named the starter. He's now played at least 32 minutes over his last four games and made 10 total three-pointers over that span. Expecting much production outside of threes, points and FT percentage is a risky proposition but he should continue to contribute from beyond the arc. Grab the Italian national team member if you need help there.
Always check your league's eligibility rules to make sure a player qualifies.
Serge Ibaka, OKC – Now eligible at power forward
Sonny Weems, TOR – Now eligible at small forward