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.
Elton Brand, F, PHI - It took a lot longer than expected, but Philly is finally starting to see signs of the player it signed to an $80-million deal in the summer of 2008. In the past three games, Brand is averaging 19.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.7 blocks and 2.7 steals. Granted this has come with Marreese Speights (knee) on the bench, but Brand has proven he can still log heavy minutes, and he appears to be catching on to coach Eddie Jordan's pro-style Princeton offense. The window to buy low on Brand has probably already slammed shut.
Rudy Gay, F, MEM - Gay was one of the most hyped sleepers entering last season, but failed to live up to expectations. Looks like we were all a year too early. The swingman out of Connecticut is starting to live up to his vast potential this year, averaging 21.9 points, 6.8 boards and 1.8 steals through 14 games. His threes and blocks have dipped, but Gay has countered that by shooting a career-high 50 percent from the floor. With Allen Iverson now officially out of town, Gay should be able to continue posting career-best stats.
James Harden, G, OKC - After topping 20 minutes of floor time just once through the first 11 games of the season, Harden has played over 26 minutes in three consecutive games. In those three outings the rookie shooting guard is averaging 19.7 points, 3.3 assists, 3.3 treys and 2.7 steals. As long as the increase in playing time continues, Harden with put up solid lines.
Marcus Thornton, G, NOH - Thornton is the Hornet who has benefited the most from Byron Scott getting fired. After an impressive preseason, Scott inexplicably kept Thornton planted on the bench despite lackluster performances from veterans Morris Peterson and Devin Brown. General manager and replacement head coach Jeff Bower has opted to give the young shooting guard a shot at extended playing time, and Thornton has responded by averaging 18 points and 2.3 three-pointers over the past six games. He's worth a look in most leagues.
Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL - Lost in the commotion over Brandon Jennings' breakout in Milwaukee is the quality play coming from Ilyasova. The Turkish forward has started four consecutive games for the Bucks, averaging 15 points, 7.8 boards, 1.3 steals and 1.5 threes - numbers good enough to warrant ownership even in shallow formats.
Monta Ellis, G, GS - In three games since the Stephen Jackson trade, Ellis appears to be the Warrior who will benefit the most. He's averaging 25 points while chucking up 24 shots per game with Jackson out of town. Ellis is finally taking over a leadership with the team and could prove to be one of the highest scoring guards in the league given the high volume of shots he has at his disposal.
Martell Webster, G/F, POR - Blazers coach Nate McMillan tweaked his starting lineup again over the weekend, demoting Andre Miller (see below) in favor of Webster. He responded in his first game as a starter with 21 points, 13 rebounds and four treys. The rebounds are an illusion, but Webster will be a solid source of points and threes in deep leagues as long as he's starting.
Drew Gooden, F/C, DAL - With Erick Dampier sidelined indefinitely due to a mysterious illness, Gooden has taken over as the Mavs' starting center. In four starts, Gooden has averaged 14.8 points and 13 boards. Dampier might be cleared to play soon, but Gooden's play has nabbed him extra playing time and a shot at keeping the starting gig.
Serge Ibaka, C, OKC - The rookie out of the Congo recorded his first career double-double on Sunday, totaling 11 points and 13 rebounds with five blocks. He's still very raw, and Sunday's game was a blowout loss, but deep leagues should monitor Ibaka's progress in case Thunder case Scott Brooks decides to start giving him regular playing time.
Shawn Marion, F, DAL - Marion, who's nursing a sprained ankle, returned to practice on Monday, but still wasn't able to go 100 percent. He's listed as questionable for Tuesday's game against the Warriors, making him a risky play this week.
Manu Ginobili, G, SAS - Ginobili has missed three consecutive games with a groin injury and isn't expected to return until Friday at the earliest. An MRI revealed no structural damage, so owners can breathe easier, but don't be surprised if the Spurs are cautious with the 32-year old.
Tracy McGrady, G/F, HOU - The debate between T-Mac and the Rockets over his rehab continues. McGrady is convinced he's ready to return, but the Rockets will be cautious and monitor his recovery at practice before reinserting him into the lineup. All owners can do at this point is keep him stashed on their benches and hope he returns to the court sooner rather than later.
Mike Dunleavy Jr., G/F, IND - Dunleavy has been cleared to return from his knee injury, but coach Jim O'Brien is going to hold him out until the oft-injured swingman proves his health in practice. The Pacers are in a stretch of four games in six days, so practice time may be limited before the weekend. Nevertheless, if Dunleavy is floating out there on your waivers, now is the time to grab and stash him.
Eric Gordon, G, LAL - After missing eight consecutive games with a groin injury, Gordon finally appears to be nearing his return. He actually dressed for Sunday's game but was held out. Unless a setback occurs, he should be back on the hardwood for Wednesday's tilt against the Pacers.
Brook Lopez, C, NJ - Lopez suffered a sprained right ankle at Monday's practice. The injury wasn't serious enough to warrant X-rays, so owners probably don't have much to worry about, but you'll want to keep an eye on his status before the next few games.
Andre Miller, G, POR - As previously mentioned, Miller was demoted back to the bench. His numbers as a reserve (8.7 points, 4.9 assists) have been significantly lower than his production as a starter (12.4 points, 5.1 assists), and there's no reason to expect that to change unless McMillan decides to give Miller over 30 minutes per game off the bench, which appears unlikely.
Mike Miller, G, WAS - An MRI confirmed that Miller has suffered a torn calf muscle, sidelining him for the next three to six weeks. Shallow leagues can cut ties with the underperforming shooting guard, but leagues deep enough to value his combination of rebounds (6.1) and threes (1.4) may want to keep him stashed on the bench.
David West, F, NOH - West has found that life without Chris Paul isn't all that fun. In the five games since Paul went down with an ankle injury, West is averaging just 12.6 points on just 35 percent shooting from the floor. Even before Paul got hurt, West was underperforming, averaging just 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in 10 games, so he's long overdue for a downgrade.
Jameer Nelson, G, ORL - Nelson underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee last week and will be sidelined for at least the next month. This will be the fourth time in his career Nelson has missed 13 or more games in a season. Keep that in mind when targeting him in future drafts.
Andrew Bogut, C, MIL - Bogut will be out the next two to four weeks after suffering a left leg injury. Luckily for owners, this injury isn't related to the chronic back problems Bogut has dealt with in the past, so hopefully he can resume being a double-double machine upon his return.
Article first appeared on 11/24/09