By Shannon McKeown
RotoWire Staff Writer
Where does Brook Lopez rank among the elite fantasy centers?
A reader posed this question to me last week:
Brook Lopez or Jermaine O'Neal?
My first instinct was to side with O'Neal. Who would you choose at first glance, a guy that's only two years removed from being a perennial 20-10 threat and has made six All-Star teams, or a rookie best known for having a twin brother with goofy hair?
Of course, when you try to decipher the fantasy value of O'Neal, you have figure in his injury-riddled past. O'Neal has missed an average of 31 games the past four seasons. And at the time this question was asked, he was on the shelf with a sore knee.
Injury concerns I had over O'Neal were enough to convince me that Lopez would be the better option for the remainder of this season. But once I started to look at Lopez's production I realized he should've been the choice all along. In 34 starts Lopez is posting a solid line, averaging 12.8 points, 8.8 boards and 2.2 blocks. His play has picked up recently too, with 15.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 2.2 bpg in nine January contests. Even if healthy, O'Neal would be hard-pressed to post those numbers.
Lopez kept creeping up in my fantasy basketball conversations. An owner in my hometown keeper league went as far as proclaiming Lopez one of five possible keepers on his team. This sounded absurd at first until I started comparing Lopez to other elite fantasy centers in the month of January. In the past 30 days, Lopez's averages and absurdly proficient percentages - 50-percent from the floor and 85-percent from the charity stripe - slot him ahead of elite centers such as Tim Duncan, Marcus Camby, Pau Gasol and Yao Ming.
Not only should Lopez start getting more buzz in the Rookie-of-the-Year race, but he should also start gaining more hype as fantasy's next great big man.
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.
Jerryd Bayless (POR) – After taking home MVP honors from the Las Vegas Summer League, Bayless was a favorite late-round flier in drafts. It didn't take long for Bayless to hit the free-agent market, as DNPs were the only thing showing up next to his name in the early going. A shoulder injury to Steve Blake has changed that, and now Bayless is seeing extensive run for the first time this season. He's splitting minutes at point guard with Sergio Rodriguez, but is still getting enough run to pour in 44 points in the past three games. His value will probably be short-lived, but he could help any team in need of scoring for the next week or two.
Charlie Villanueva (MIL) – Coach Scott Skiles finally came to his senses and reinserted Villanueva into the starting lineup. He's started three straight games, which included two 20-10 efforts. Villanueva relies on his jump shot more than your typical power forward, resulting in the occasional stinker, like his 3-for-12 performance against the Clippers on Saturday, but he should still be a hot free-agent pickup.
Anthony Parker (TOR) – The Will Solomon experiment is over, opening the door for Parker to assume the role of point guard as Jose Calderon nurses a strained hamstring. In two starts at point guard, Parker is averaging 19 points, eight boards and seven assists. Calderon will be back soon, but look for coach Jay Triano to continue utilizing Parker as a playmaker.
Mike Conley (MEM) – Conley made his first appearance in the starting lineup since Dec. 3 when the Grizzlies faced off against the Pistons for a Monday matinee. His stat line (10 points, three boards and five assists) wasn't too impressive, but he was actively involved throughout the game. Another second-half surge could be on the horizon for the former first-round pick.
Mike James (WAS) – When James was traded to the Wizards with Javaris Crittenton, the popular train of thought was Crittenton would finally get a chance to play. That hasn't been the case, as James has started 18 straight games for the hapless Wizards. Regardless of how bad the team may be, James has been solid with averages of 12.6 points, 3.7 dimes and 1.6 threes in those starts. With Gilbert Arenas' (knee) return still up in the air; James could be useful for an extended period.
Brandon Roy (POR) – Roy has put together back-to-back poor outings, going 3-for-10 from the line in Saturday's loss to the Bobcats and following that up with a 4-for-13 shooting performance from the floor against the Bucks on Monday. He was hit in the knee by Devin Harris in last week's matchup against the Nets and has complained of not feeling right since returning from a hamstring injury. Owners shouldn't panic, nor should they be surprised, if Roy rests for a game or two to get back to full health.
David West (NO) – West was a late scratch for Monday's win over the Pacers after suffering back spasms Sunday night while exiting his car. Coach Byron Scott has already ruled out West for Wednesday's tilt, so make sure you check his status before slotting him back in your lineup.
Tyson Chandler (NO) – If losing West before Monday's game wasn't bad enough, the Hornets had to play without Chandler in the second half after he suffered an ankle injury. X-Rays after the game didn't show any breaks, but he will still probably sit out a few games.
Elton Brand (PHI) – Reports have had Brand nearing a return for over a week, but he still hasn't suited up. It appears he will finally make a return on Saturday against the Knicks. Look for Brand's minutes to be limited upon his return, as the Sixers plan to ease him into the rotation.
Marcus Camby (LAC) – The sprained ankle Camby suffered in Saturday's win over the Bucks was originally thought to be of the day-to-day variety, but now conflicting reports have him missing significant action. With a player once dubbed "Mr. Glass", we'll side with the worse of the two timetables.
Marquis Daniels (IND) – Owners were probably thrilled to see Daniels back in action on Monday after he missed six games with a groin injury, but when he logged only three minutes of floor time that feeling of thrill probably turned to dread. Monday was the first game of the season that Daniels, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and T.J. Ford were all active at the same time. There's no doubt that the Pacers will want to ease Daniels back into the rotation, but it's pretty clear that he won't be reclaiming his spot in the starting lineup anytime soon.
Ben Gordon (CHI) – The return of Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng from injuries has spurred Gordon into a funk. In the past five games, he is 23-for-61 from the floor, averaging just 12 points. He's too good of a shooter to not bounce back, but it will be tough for Gordon to continue scoring over 20 ppg with Hinrich and Deng back in the mix.
Article first appeared on 1/20/08