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 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
Gary Neal, G, SAN – With Manu Ginobili sidelined for the next six to eight weeks due to a broken left hand, the Spurs need someone to step up and offer production at the two. James Anderson started in Ginobili’s spot Wednesday, but he ended up playing a season-low 19 minutes. The Spurs went with Neal on Thursday, and he remains the player most likely to benefit from Ginobili’s absence. The 27-year-old sharpshooter was an integral part of the Spurs’ rotation last season, averaging 9.8 points and 1.6 treys in 21 minutes per game. Neal just returned from an appendectomy, so he could be rusty in the early going, but he’ll eventually help pick up the scoring slack left by Ginobili’s absence. He’s a solid player to target in mid-to-deep sized leagues if you’re in need of a three-point specialist.
Marreese Speights, F, MEM – The Grizzlies were left with a gaping hole in their frontcourt after Zach Randolph suffered an MCL tear over the weekend, so the team traded for Speights on Wednesday. Speights was stuck at the end of the bench in Philly, but he’ll be asked to play a steady role for the Grizzlies once he’s acclimated with his new team. Despite playing in limited minutes throughout his career, Speights has shown the ability to fill up the basket while grabbing his fair share of boards. Memphis will give Dante Cunningham and Rudy Gay time at power forward as well, so there’s no guarantee Speights will have a huge role with his new team, but he’s still worth a speculative grab in deeper leagues.
MarShon Brooks, G, NJ – Brooks was promoted to the starting lineup Wednesday. He finished with 17 points in a career-high 34 minutes. The 25th overall pick of the 2011 Draft has proven himself to be one of the more electrifying scorers of his class, averaging 14.1 points in just 23 mpg through the first seven games of his NBA career. The Nets are desperate for offense, so the team will likely give Brooks an extended look as the starter at shooting guard. He’s not going to offer much help in rebounding or assists, but Brooks will be a steady producer in points, threes and steals as long as he’s seeing significant playing time. Shallow leagues searching for an early-season pickup with tons of upside should look in Brooks direction. With Deron Williams (ribs) set to return to the lineup Friday, Brooks could get moved back into a bench role, but he’s proven he can post big numbers off the pine and should be picked up regardless.
Ryan Anderson, F/C, ORL – Anderson has been on an absolute tear to start the season, averaging 19.7 points, 7.4 boards and 3.6 treys in 31 mpg. With a career shooting percentage of 42.5 percent, it’s safe to assume a drop-off from the current 48.0 percent he’s drilling, but Anderson’s hot start shouldn’t be written off as a fluke. He’ll continue to start at power forward while being asked to shoot tons of threes and play 30+ minutes per game, essentially filling the role Rashard Lewis played during his heyday with the Magic. His value will never be higher, so sell-high if you can get a huge haul. If no one’s biting, you’ll still have one of the better breakout players of the 2011-12 season on your roster.
Ricky Rubio, G, MIN – There were plenty of reasons to doubt Rubio’s ability to transition to the NBA after he struggled in Europe the past couple of seasons, but those doubts have been squashed in a mere six games. The 21-year-old point guard is averaging 9.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 threes in nearly 28 mpg. His innate ability to create shots for others rivals that of some of the best point guards in the league and should only improve as his game matures. He’s currently shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and 60.0 percent from downtown, but Rubio’s shaky stroke does remain a concern, so look for both of those rates to drop significantly. Still, he’s already outperforming his price tag on draft day and should eventually join the Timberwolves’ starting five.
Iman Shumpert, G, NY – Shumpert returned from a four-game absence due to a knee injury Wednesday night. He finished with 18 points (6-of-10 FG, 4-of-6 3Pt, 2-of-2 FT), five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 30 minutes. Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was so impressed by Shumpert’s performance Wednesday that he’s considering promoting the rookie to the starting lineup. The rookie out of Georgia Tech has never been considered a great three-point shooter, so don’t count on him to knock down four treys on a regular basis, but he is a good athlete and should produce solid defensive stats from the guard position.
DeMarcus Cousins, F/C, SAC – The Kings wised up and fired Paul Westphal on Thursday, which should clear up some of the uncertainty surrounding Cousins earlier this week. Westphal sent Cousins home prior to Sunday’s loss to the Hornets for reportedly requesting a trade. Cousins’ agent denied that report and the second-year big man returned to the Kings for their next two games. In those two contests, Cousins came off the bench, but he should find himself back in the starting rotation now that the team has handed over the reins to assistant coach Keith Smart. The character questions that have followed Cousins since before he was drafted are still a concern, but he should be a much happier camper now that Westphal is out of town. Hopefully we’ll see Cousins get his head straight and start living up to some of his immense potential.
Rodney Stuckey, G, DET – Stuckey, who’s dealing with a minor groin injury, will be a game-time decision for Friday’s tilt against the Sixers. He initially suffered the injury Monday versus the Magic, but he wasn’t forced to miss any action until the second half of Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls. If Stuckey misses any further action, rookie Brandon Knight will see a boost in value.
Lamar Odom, F, DAL – Odom has been a popular topic on the comment boards in the young season. His early-season struggles have owners up in arms, but all you have to do is look at his 28.6-percent shooting from the floor to realize this is a fluke. The veteran big man has shot 46.8 percent throughout his career. Once his shots start falling and he becomes more comfortable in Dallas’ system, look for his playing time to pick up. Don’t give up on Odom yet.
Derrick Rose, G, CHI – Rose left Wednesday’s win over the Pistons with a left elbow injury. He underwent precautionary x-rays, but no significant injuries were reported. He’s still dealing with pain, and his status for Friday’s tilt against the Magic won’t be determined until closer to tip-off. Keep a close eye on the superstar point guard.
Corey Maggette, F, CHR – Maggette left Wednesday’s win over the Knicks in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Thursday, but the results haven’t surfaced yet. Monitor the situation closely. For now, consider the veteran small forward day-to-day.
Zach Randolph, MEM – Randolph is set to miss the next eight weeks after suffering a slight tear of the MCL in his right knee. The 30-year-old power forward was averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds. Memphis will turn to a combination of Dante Cunningham, Rudy Gay and Marreese Speights to fill in at the four. Randolph is valuable enough to stash on your bench in deep leagues, but shallow formats with quality options on the waiver wire will have a tough decision to make.
Manu Ginobili, G/F, SAN – Like Randolph, Ginobili is set to miss significant time with an injury. Ginobili fractured the fifth metacarpal in his left hand Monday. He’s expected to miss six to eight weeks. The Spurs are optimistic Ginobili will return on the short end of that timetable, but either way, he’ll be out for an extended period. The aforementioned Neal and James Anderson are expected to fill in at shooting guard in Ginobili’s absence.
Dorell Wright, F, GS – Wright has struggled to find his stroke in the early going, hitting just 29.3 percent from the floor and 14.3 percent from downtown. As a result, he’s averaging 5.5 ppg compared to last year’s career-best mark of 16.4 ppg. While Wright will surely start draining shots closer to his career rate of 44.0 percent, he better do so soon, as Brandon Rush is playing well behind him. If Wright continues to concede minutes to Rush, he’ll be one of the bigger busts of the season, given his high early-to-mid round price tag on draft day.
C.J. Miles, F, UTA – After averaging a career-high 12.8 points last season, Miles is down to an average of 9.0 points this year. The drop in scoring can be directly attributed to a dip in playing time, as Miles is playing just 20 minutes off the bench. He’s stuck behind second-year small forward Gordon Hayward in the rotation, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon. If you were in a league deep enough to select Miles, it’s time to start shopping for a replacement.