By Shannon McKeown
RotoWire Staff Writer
Coaching Carousel Continues
Randy Wittman followed in the footsteps of P.J. Carlesimo, Eddie Jordan and Sam Mitchell on Monday when he was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was replaced by former Timberwolves VP and Boston Celtics legend Kevin McHale.
Coaching changes usually mean good things from a fantasy perspective. The new suit on the sideline will usually bring with him changes to his newly acquired squad's rotation and give fantasy owners a new player or two to hunt down in the free agent pool. With Oklahoma City, it was Russell Westbrook. The Jordan firing created an Andray Blatche feeding frenzy. The axing of Mitchell hasn't been felt in the box scores yet, but with Mitchell's doghouse no longer located in Toronto, Andrea Bargnani can't possibly still reside in it.
McHale's hiring in Minnesota is harder to decipher than the previous coaching changes. Despite starting the season 4-15, Timberwolves brass still thinks it can turn things around. Even with a goal to win now, McHale will likely switch things up a tad in Minnesota. The one change that seems like a no-brainer is getting Kevin Love more involved in the rotation. Love is playing 24 minutes per game and has only started five of 19 games. He has turned up his production in December, averaging 11.3 points and 10 rebounds in 27 mpg. The only reason Love is playing for Minnesota is because McHale made a draft day trade to acquire the UCLA product. Look for Love to start seeing closer to 30 mpg under McHale, so if somebody gave up on Love after his early season struggles, go scoop him up.
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.
Kevin Durant (OKC) – Yes, Durant's 41-point outburst on Monday was the tipping point for him showing up in the "Stock Up" section, but the super-sophomore was showing signs of consistency before his career-best game. In his past five games, Durant is averaging 25.8 points, seven boards, 2.4 treys, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks. The boost in stats can be attributed to Durant's move from shooting guard to small forward. He feels more comfortable playing his natural position of small forward, and it clearly shows in his production. With the rare triple-threat of threes, steals and blocks, not to mention his high scoring average, Durant looks ready to join the fantasy elite.
Jose Juan Barea (DAL) – Listed generously at 6-0, the Mavs' diminutive ex-backup point guard has seized the role of starting shooting guard due to his strong play as of late. He's averaging 18.3 points and 4.7 assists in December, solidifying his role with the starting unit. The return of Josh Howard (ankle) will likely cut into Barea's newfound production, but he should still see plenty of chances for as long as he starts.
Rodney Stuckey (DET) – The Pistons are reeling since the Allen Iverson trade, and it's left first-year coach Michael Curry looking for answers. Enter Stuckey. The second-year guard has shown maturation on the court in the past six games (12 ppg, 6.5 apg and 1.7 spg) and will move into the starting lineup Tuesday night. Stuckey will start at point guard, pushing Iverson and Richard Hamilton to the two and three. The switch will weaken the Pistons bench, so look for Stuckey and the other four starters (Iverson, Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace) to get plenty of run.
Rafer Alston (HOU) – The absence of Tracy McGrady (knee) has opened the door for Alston to jump in as one of the Rockets top three offensive options. Alston is a low-percentage, shoot-first point guard who thrives when giving a green light. With McGrady out, he's able to chuck up more shots and his averages have jumped with that freedom to 16.6 points and six assists in the past five games. He will have a horrendous shooting game about once a week, but Alston should continue to thrive with TMac on the sideline.
Elton Brand (PHI) – The Sixers prized offseason signing has missed back-to-back games with a strained right hamstring. He wants to lace them up on Wednesday, but Philly's doctors haven't cleared him for action. Brand should be back soon, but make sure he's a go before putting him back in your lineup.
Nate Robinson (NYK) – The small Knickbocker tried to return from a groin injury last week, but had to retire to the locker room after only 13 first-half minutes. He has missed five of the past six games and is currently listed as day-to-day. The Knicks are desparate for backcourt help, so Robinson will see plenty of run when he returns; we just aren't sure when that will be.
Carlos Boozer (UTA) – Thanks to Paul Millsap, the Jazz haven't missed a step with Boozer sidelined for the past 11 games with a sore quad. Sadly, some Boozer owners weren't lucky enough to snag Millsap, so they haven't been as blessed as Utah. There is finally some good news for the less fortunate Boozer owners as he's planning to return this week. Boozer is hoping to suit up on Thursday against the Portland.
Chris Kaman (LAC) – The Clippers were originally planning on having Kaman back in the lineup for last Friday's game against Portland, but a setback has the big man looking at a recovery period that could stretch into the new year. Keep him on your bench and try to find a suitable replacement.
Michael Beasley (MIA) – Count me as one of the preseason Beasley supporters who thought it a given that the stud from Kansas State would average at least 18 ppg and 9.0 ppg in his rookie season. At 13.9 ppg and 5.2 rpg, Beasley isn't even sniffing those preseason predictions. He has been coming off the bench the past six games for the Heat, and it looks like coach Eric Spoelstra will continue giving the rookie tough love in the near-term. If you are like me and still believe Beasley will get his act together and finish with strong rookie campaign, now is the time to buy-low.
Joakim Noah (CHI) – If there is a given in fantasy basketball, it is the inconsistent play of the Bulls big men. Noah is the latest Bull to frustrate fantasy owners. His stat line (3.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is the furthest thing from fantasy worthy, and a recent DNP-Coach's Decision should all but remove him from anyone's radar.
Lamar Odom (LAL) – At 17-2, the Lakers have the second best record in the Association. As long as Kobe and crew continue winning, Odom will continue to come off the bench. The role of sixth-man hasn't been kind to Odom, cutting his averages to nearly half of his career output. Shallow leaguers could probably do better on the waiver wire.
Article first appeared on 12/9/08