This is the time of the year when you need to look ahead. First, in weekly leagues, check how many games your starters have not only this week but in the upcoming scoring periods. You might want to use a bench player based on those numbers. Keep an eye on starters on playoff teams who might be rested more down the stretch as well as younger players who might get a chance to showcase their talents with their teams eliminated from contention. Finally, look at your categories and figure out what you need to do to get over the final hump and win your league. For example, in one of my leagues I lost three points in field-goal percentage last week. With an increase of .2 percent, I would be in first place by a half a point. Guess which two players I'll have to move to the bench at some point? Two of my top-7 draft picks, Brandon Jennings and Kevin Martin. It's a tough trade-off as my opponents will gain ground on me in three-pointers and points, but it looks like a risk I'll have to take. Don't be afraid to bench a stud player who tanks your team in one category or can't improve a category you need extra help with (for example, fill your utility spot with a three-point shooter/free-throw shooter over a big man).
In the coming weeks I'll look at under-the-radar players who were late-rounds picks or undrafted this year who became solid fantasy contributors. I'll also look at some under-the-radar sleepers for next year and make playoff predictions.
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 the radar.
Toney Douglas, G, NYK – Douglas has done an excellent job filling in for Chauncey Billups, who is battling a thigh injury. According to coach Mike D'Antoni, Billups will not play until he's pain-free. In the meantime, Douglas makes for a nice add considering what he's done in Billups' absence. In his last four games he's posted averages of 16.3 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 three-pointers made per game. Watch the updates on Billups, and feel free to use Douglas in leagues with daily transactions until there's definitive word on Chauncey's return.
Samardo Samuels, F, CLE – I was surprised to find Samuels un-owned in half of my leagues, given his recent production. The undrafted former Louisville Cardinal has scored double-digits in five straight games while providing more than seven rebounds per game. He's not the tallest guy on the floor at 6-foot-9, but his 265 pounds eats a lot of space in the paint. With the Cavaliers playing for the future and Antawn Jamison all but done for the year, expect Samuels to play a lot.
Jarrett Jack, G, NO – He's probably gone in most leagues by now, but he's worth a mention with it being so hard to find point guards with any kind of value on the waiver wire. It's a safe play to at least stash Jack on your bench until there's word on the severity of Chris Paul's concussion. He filled in admirably Monday with 23 points, four assists and three rebounds with Paul sidelined. While Paul owners are likely nervous about the injury, the truth is concussions in basketball aren't even close to the concussions sustained by football players. There's a good chance Paul is back sooner than later, but Jack is a nice fill-in if Paul misses substantial time.
Dominic McGuire, F, CHA – The darkhorse pick of the week, McGuire finds himself starting for the Bobcats while Stephen Jackson sits with a hamstring injury. Jackson could return as soon as Wednesday, but the situation bears watching since he may be shut down if/when the Bobcats are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. McGuire isn't a great scorer but plays solid defense and has the ability to contribute in rebounds and blocks from the small forward spot if he gets enough minutes. Controlling his fouls will also go a long way toward helping his time if Jackson is out.
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 in a certain category, there's no guarantee they will contribute in other areas.
Courtney Lee, G, HOU – The trades of Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks opened some extra playing time for Lee, who's made the most of it. He's averaged 16.7 points over his last three games with 2.0 blocks/steals. A good shooter from beyond the arc (43.9 percent for the season), Lee has made two threes in four of his last five games. Throw in an 11-game scoring streak of at least nine points and you've got some solid scoring production. His 33.5 minutes per game last season are down to 19.5 minutes per game this season, but there's no reason he can't keep the scoring up with fresh legs and about 30 minutes a night.
Hakim Warrick, F, PHO – Warrick will get first crack at the starting gig with Channing Fye out with a separated shoulder. Warrick's production has been inconsistent this year and there's a good chance other players – Josh Childress and Jared Dudley could pick up Frye's minutes if Warrick remains inconsistent. That said, Warrick took advantage of the start Tuesday and finished with a career-high 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Looking at his game logs, his inconsistency could be due to not getting enough minutes to get into the flow of the game. He's shot 54.1 percent from the floor this season with Steve Nash distributing the ball to him, so take a look if you need help with field-goal percentage.
Ed Davis, F, TOR – Davis has been cleaning the glass lately, posting a career-high 15 rebounds in a loss Saturday against the Nets. He had eight rebounds in each of his two games before Saturday and looks to be developing into the defensive force the Raptors need in the paint, since Andrea Bargnani has never been confused with Dennis Rodman. Reggie Evans should return soon, but it would behoove the Raptors to play the 21-year-old Davis and get him as much experience as possible before next season. At the very least, remember his name for next year as he should make for a deep sleeper.
Always check your league's eligibility rules to make sure a player qualifies.
No new eligibility this week.