Panning for Gold
By Danny Goldin
As the NBA's 2008 All-Star break approaches, it is time for the men to be separated from the boys in the standings. Anybody can either get lucky or have a rough start with fluky injuries or an unfortunate draft, but by now the league's standings can be seen as an accurate reflection of each owner's true managing skills.
One significant fantasy phenomenon that tends to occur around the mid-point of any professional season is that owners can become a little bit lazy. Gone is the excitement of the season's commencement and it will still be at least a month before owners make a desperate late-season push to move up in the league ranks. Bottom-dwellers of the league may have thrown in the towel, while the top competitors often start to feel a loyalty to the players that vaulted them to their league's peak and get comfortable leaving their squad transaction-free.
While the other owners in your league sit back in relax, don't miss this opportunity to take advantage. If your team has struggled thus far, this period could mark the difference whether or not you are at least able to contend for a playoff spot at season's end, and if you're near the top of the standings, these days could very well be the difference between the top of the standings and a second or third-place finish.
Here are some players potentially flying under the radar that can help you out.
Mark Blount, F/C, Miami: Blount has always been one of those guys that owners just don't ever feel too comfortable with as a member of their squads, probably due to his stigma as a softy on the court. Say what you want about the big man, but Blount has always been able to put up points when given the minutes to do so. A boost in minutes is exactly what Blount will receive in Miami's super-thin frontcourt. Shaq's departure to Phoenix, paired with Udonis Haslem likely being out until after the All-Star break with a sprained ankle, has left Earl Barron as Blount's only other competitor to log playing time as Miami's post presence. Blount, who is available in about 90 percent of all leagues, will gather average rebounding numbers and won't give you much of a boost elsewhere, but if you're looking strictly for some scoring help, he's a great option from the power forward or center position.
Jannero Pargo, G, New Orleans: Morris Peterson has logged 30-plus minutes in just one of the Hornets' last 14 games and Pargo has been the benefactor. The six-year vet has averaged 12.6 points in the last month and an impressive 18 points in the last week and there is no reason to think that Pargo's outburst will stop. The 175-pound lightweight has been held under double-digit point totals in just two of New Orleans' last eight games (both of which he posted eight points) and has put up totals of 24, 24 and 22 in the same stint. Pargo, who also posts decent assist and steals numbers, can provide your team with great backcourt scoring and is available in nearly all leagues.
Josh Boone, F/C, New Jersey: The Nets have one of the NBA's weakest frontcourts, but somebody has to get minutes down-low and that somebody is Josh Boone. Boone has started every one of New Jersey's contests since mid-December and has recorded a mass amount of rebounds along the way. The Nets' acquisition of Stromile Swift will certainly diminish Boone's time on the court to an extent, but he will still see enough action to compile very useful rebound numbers. Owned in less than 10 percent of leagues, Boone has averaged 9.2 total rebounds over the last month and has recorded respectable point and block numbers as well.
Joakim Noah, F/C, Chicago: In his limited playing time thus far in his rookie season, Noah has been a rebounding machine. The Bulls' sparkplug has averaged 7.9 rebounds the last month despite being giving inconsistent minutes from interim head coach Jim Boylan. Noah amassed a total of 36 rebounds in the three games that he received 30-plus minutes this year and could become one of the NBA's elite rebounders should either of Chicago's injury-prone big men, Ben Wallace or Joe Smith, go down with an injury.
Mike Conley Jr., G, Memphis: Conley has sat out Memphis' last five games with a chest contusion and has been one of fantasy hoops' most dropped players over that period, but the rookie from THE Ohio State is ready to return. While he no longer has the privilege of dishing it off to Pau Gasol in Memphis, Conley's elite court-vision will still aid in the guard's ability to compile a solid number of assists. The Grizzlies were giving Conley plenty of playing time before his injury and, in the cellar of the Southwest, they have nothing to lose and should continue to let the rookie develop the rest of this season.
Steve Blake, G, Portland: While a number of his teammates have received the load of the media attention for Portland's surprise success this season, Blake has quietly been a large reason for the Blazer's accomplishments in the West. Blake, who remains largely available in most formats, has averaged 4.8 assists over the last month, including 6.7 in the last week. As long as Portland keeps winning with Blake running the point, he will continue to record high numbers in the assist column.
Andray Blatche, F/C, Washington: Blatche has been a pleasant surprise for the Wizards this season and can also be a pleasant surprise for owners with block-deficient fantasy teams. Blatche has seen more and more action as he continues to cut into Brendan Haywood's time on the court. Averaging 1.7 blocks the last month, Blatche has started to gain notice among the fantasy community and has been one of the most popular adds the last week. He still is widely available, however, and teams in need of extra blocks should give him a look.
Sean Williams, F/C, New Jersey: Along with Boone, Williams too has been a beneficiary of New Jersey's weak depth in the frontcourt. Logging significant minutes, Williams has been a block-machine in his rookie campaign. Currently 10th in the league in blocks with 84 on the season, Williams has also garnered nice rebounding totals. Monitor the effect of New Jersey's acquisition of Stromile Swift on Williams' playing time and if it is not too large, pick this youngster up.
Marcus Banks, G, Miami: Banks has always been solid in the limited minutes he's received in the NBA. The only time he ever received consistent playing time was in his half-season with Minnesota two years ago when he logged a solid average of 1.2 steals. After moving from the jam-packed Suns' roster to Miami, Pat Riley has already stated that Banks will see plenty of playing time as he battles with Chris Quinn for the Heat's backup point guard spot. Should the oft-injured Jason Williams get hurt, your chance to snatch Banks would likely disappear.
Kareem Rush, G, Indiana: In his fifth year in the NBA, Rush is currently shooting a personal-best 40.9 percent from behind the arc while jacking up a healthy 3.7 three-point attempts per contest. Rush is an explosive scorer with the ability to put up 20-plus points and sink three or four three-pointers on any given night and is most likely available in your league.
Article first appeared on 2/8/08