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.
Brook Lopez, C, NJ - Lopez, who has been sidelined since training camp with a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot, made a surprise return to practice this week. A return to game action now appears imminent. While Lopez had his struggles with rebounding last season, he still remains one of the best young big men in the league. The 23-year-old center has averaged 17.4 points (50.4 percent FG%, 80.1 percent FT%), 7.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks through his first three seasons as a pro. If he's floating around on your waiver wire, go grab him now.
J.R. Smith, G, FA - Smith absolutely torched the Chinese Basketball League, averaging 34.2 points while hitting 48 percent of his three-pointers. While he won't score anywhere near those levels once he rejoins the NBA, Smith will still be a very valuable fantasy asset in scoring and threes sometime soon. All signs point to him inking a deal with the Knicks before long. He'll most likely be deployed as a sixth man off the bench, but Smith has proven over the years that he can provide plenty of fantasy value in that role. He's worth owning in most formats.
Chris Kaman, C, NO - After being pushed out of the rotation and dangled in trade talks for a couple weeks, Kaman has returned to the hardwood with authority. In four games since his return, Kaman is averaging 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. With Emeka Okafor (knee) expected to sit out until after the All-Star break, Kaman is now set to start at center for the Hornets for at least the next four games. His value will likely take a hit after Okafor returns, but Kaman a great short-term play with the upside to remain a valuable for the long haul.
Semih Erden, C, CLE - With Anderson Varejao (wrist) out, Erden has taken over as the Cavaliers' starting center. His first game as the starter was a zero-point, three-rebound stinker, but Erden showed some potential with an 18-point, eight-rebound effort Wednesday. There will be plenty of inconsistency here, but Erden is worth a speculative add in deep leagues for as long as he's in the starting five.
Corey Brewer, G/F, DEN - An ankle injury to Danilo Gallinari has opened up a spot in the Nuggets' starting lineup for Brewer. In three starts, Brewer is averaging 12.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals. Brewer is a career 41.2 percent shooter and often struggles on offense, but the athletic wingman makes up for his lack of offense with potential to post elite averages in steals. If you're in need of a thief, Brewer is your man while Gallinari sits out for the next few weeks.
Nicolas Batum, F, POR - Batum was promoted to the starting lineup Tuesday night. He responded by pouring in a career-high 33 points (12-of-24 FG, 3-of-8 3PT, 6-of-6 FT) in 42 minutes. His playing time has been up and down this season, but if Batum can average over 30 minutes per game as a starter, he'll be one of the few players in the league to average over a trey, block and steal per game. As long as he's in the starting lineup, Batum is worth owning in most formats.
LaMarcus Aldridge, F, POR - Aldridge sustained a minor ankle injury in the first quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Wizards. He sat out Wednesday's game against the Warriors and Thursday's tilt against the Clippers, but Aldridge shouldn't be out much longer. Batum and Gerald Wallace will continue to carry the load for the Blazers if Aldridge misses any additional action.
Derrick Rose, G, CHI - Rose (back) sat out his fourth consecutive game Thursday. An MRI confirmed the injury isn't structural. He's reportedly pain-free now and a return should be in short order. C.J. Watson will continue to be a solid stopgap if Rose sits out any more games.
Carmelo Anthony, F, NY - After sitting out the past five games, Anthony appears to be nearing a return from his groin injury. The All-Star small forward is expected to return either Friday or Sunday. Many pundits have questioned whether or not Melo would be able to coexist with Jeremy Lin, but Anthony has proved in the past that's he's still a superstar while playing alongside a good point guard. His assist and point totals might go down some, but Anthony will be a much more efficient player with Lin running the offense. If there's an Anthony owner in your league worrying too much about the effect Lin might have on him, it would be wise to try buying low.
Manu Ginobili, G, SA - Ginobili has averaged fewer than 21 minutes per game since returning from a 22-game absence with a hand injury. He's completely recovered from his broken hand, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will continue to ease Ginobili back into action as he rounds into game shape. While Ginobili will be a huge asset to fantasy teams in the long term, owners should consider plugging in other options into their lineups until he's back into the full swing of things.
Kris Humphries, F, NJ - Humphries has been a double-double monster for the Nets this year, averaging 12.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 34 minutes per game. Despite his success up to this point of the season, Humphries' star is about to fade some due to the pending return of Lopez. Once Lopez is active, Humphries will get fewer touches in the post and likely lose out on some rebounds. He'll remain the starting power forward, so there's still plenty of value here, but the window to sell high on Humphries will close shortly after Lopez's return.
Eric Gordon, G, NO - After numerous setbacks to his injured right knee, Gordon finally underwent arthroscopic surgery this week. The 23-year-old shooting guard is now expected to miss the next six weeks. If Gordon returned exactly six weeks to the day from his surgery, he would be able to play in the Hornets' final 17 games of the season. Unless your league has deep enough benches to stash injured players, it's time to cut Gordon loose.
Paul Millsap, F, UTA - Millsap has seen a drop in production this month. After scoring 18.1 points in January, the 27-year-old power forward has averaged 12.4 points in February. His playing time has dropped more than four minutes per game while he's shooting an uncharacteristic 45.4 percent from the floor. As a career 52.6 percent shooter, we expect Millsap to start finding the bottom of the bucket with more regularity, but his playing time could remain in the 29-minute range he has seen through nine games this month. Like with Humphries, Millsap will still hold plenty of value going forward, but he has already hit his apex for production this season. He's currently ranked among the top-20 players in most formats, so you should be able to land a significant haul if you shop him around.
Baron Davis, G, NY - Owners who have been stashing away Davis all season are probably the only basketball fans in the world that aren't excited by the Linsanity that's sweeping the NBA. With Lin seemingly entrenched as the Knicks' starting point guard, it's difficult to imagine Davis making much of an impact upon his return. Start shopping for replacements with more upside.
Anderson Varejao, C, CLE - Varejao is set to miss the next four-to-six weeks after suffering fractured wrist last week. If that timetable sticks, Varejao will return with anywhere from 18-to-25 games remaining on the Cavaliers' schedule. Like with Gordon, owners in shallow leagues should start looking for a replacement.