Let's start with a look around the league:
Did anyone else besides me have the Philadelphia 76ers as the first place team at this point in the season in the Atlantic Division? Seriously, while everyone wants to discuss the problems with the Celtics and Knicks, the success of the 76ers seems to be overlooked. I've written about the success of Spencer Hawes while Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday have been steady. One of the keys to their team is their second unit Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams all of whom could be starting for other teams in the league. Philadelphia leads the league with only 11.3 turnovers per game and has a league-high plus-10.9 point differential as a result of holding opponents to 88.5 points per game, third fewest in the league.
If you had to pick one team in the league to win the Championship besides a "healthy" Miami squad it would have to be the Oklahoma City Thunder, right? Besides owning the best record in the Western Conference they appear to have all the parts to be the favorite coming out of the conference. Russell Westbrook provides a legit second scoring option to Kevin Durant, and they have the size to match the LAkers' Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol by countering with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. James Harden is playing like a "sixth man of the year" candidate, but after him the team's weakness is exploited: depth. For the team to make a deep run into the playoffs it will have to heavily rely on its starters and Harden. If anyone gets banged up, the Thunder are in trouble unless you think Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed and Daequan Cook can carry them to a title. Remember, three seasons ago this was a team that had a 14-game losing streak and finished 23-59.
You can't like the sound of Luol Deng's injury if you own him, and I'd at least be prepared to cut bait on him if you have a short bench. Not only is there a good chance he'll get shut down at some point, you can't think he'll be close to the player he was before he injured his wrist. If there's a silver lining it's that the injury is to his left wrist, which is his non-shooting hand. Just keep an eye on your waiver wire to see if there is a more attractive option to snag.
The Raptors won back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday after Andrew Bargnani returned to the lineup following a calf injury. Bargnani missed six consecutive games - and the Raptors lost all six. See any correlation? Unfortunately, Bargnani aggravated the injury in overtime Wednesday, and the injury is reportedly "much worse" than before. Stay tuned, I'll discuss a couple of other Raptors soon enough.
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 it at least offers some players to put on the radar.
Jerryd Bayless, G, TOR - It's an easy call to stick someone in the "minutes" section who hasn't played all season and is therefore going from zero to "x" minutes. Raptros coach Dwane Casey said during the offseason that both current starter Jose Calderon and Bayless would share time at point guard this season. Now that Bayless is back, he should get a chance to prove himself if Casey sticks to his word. Bayless seems to have accepted the role of coming off the bench and said in December that he thought "Jose" should be the starter. It's hard to ignore Bayless' numbers when he gets starter's minutes. With Calderon missing all but one game in April, Bayless averaged 22.5 points, 5.6 assists, three rebounds, 1.8 three-pointers made and 1.1 steals in eight contests. Of course, for that to happen Calderon would have to get hurt, and he has missed exactly 14 games in each of the last three seasons. Calderon owner's should start to peddle him; quote his 8.7 assists per game, fifth in the league, before other leaguemates realize Bayless has returned.
Derrick Williams, F, MIN - Williams got his first start of the season Monday with both Michael Beasley (foot) and Wesley Johnson (illness) sidelined. He responded with 11 points and seven rebounds in 37 minutes. While Johnson likely will be back any day and Beasley next week, Williams is an interesting player to keep an eye on. The Wolves have a glut of options at forward, but Williams has a ton of upside. He's seen his minutes steadily increase while Beasley has been out and has actually posted better numbers overall than Wesley Johnson. Don't be surprised if Williams ends up with more minutes than Johnson by season's end.
Arron Afflalo, G, DEN - It's unfortunate that Afflalo tweaked his groin, missing the last two games. While the injury doesn't sound too bad, Afflalo could end up missing Sunday's game too. The unfortunate part (besides the injury, obviously) relates to the boost in his minutes prior to the injury. He averaged a whopping 37.2 minutes over his previous four games, which, if continued, would have led to a very fantasy-worthy add. Keep an eye on his status as he could be dropped in many leagues as a result of the injury but should return soon.
Each week we'll look at players who can help your fantasy team in the standard nine categories. Remember, while each player highlighted can help in a certain category, there's no guarantee he will contribute in other areas.
Landry Fields, F, NY - Lost in the Knicks' struggles is that Landry has picked up the scoring over the last few games. He's averaged 15.2 points over his last five games and hit double figures in each. The nice aspect to Fields' game is that with his 6-foot-7 frame and ball-handling ability he's able to chip in across the board. While it's a red flag, don't worry about his 61.7 free-throw percentage; that has nowhere to go but up.
Jimmer Fredette, G, SAC - The sharpshooter out of BYU has made the most of some extra minutes the last three games, totaling 52 points, 10 assists, 11 three-pointers made and two steals. Until the last three games, Fredette had struggled with his shot, owning a 35.4 percent mark from the field. It's possible that after adjusting to the pro game he's more comfortable with both his teammates and shot selection. If he continues to get minutes - he started Wednesday for an injured Marcus Thornton and played 36 minutes - he'll be a good source of threes; he's got 27 total in 19 games despite limited playing time.
James Johnson, F, TOR - Johnson took advantage of having some of his teammates sidelined, averaging 12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 1.5 steals in his last four games. He's had a couple of scoring duds in that span, but Wednesday when he scored just two points he still contributed with six blocks. It's somewhat surprising to see him not get more minutes this season since he averaged 9.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, three assists, 1.1 blocks and a steal in 25 games with the Raptors last season. The bad news here is that his teammates appear to be on the mend, which could cut into his playing time. Keep an eye on the score box to see if he's earned himself some extra minutes.
Always check your league's eligibility rules to make sure a player qualifies.
DeAndre Jordan, LAC - Now eligible at power forward
Shane Battier, MIA - Now eligible at shooting guard
Gerald Henderson, CHA - Now eligible at small forward
Tyler Hansbrough, IND - Now eligible at center
Kawhi Leonard, SA - Now eligible at guard