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NBA Barometer: Thomas Impressing in the Starting Lineup

Shannon McKeown

Shannon McKeown

Shannon McKeown is the VP of Advertising Sales and Basketball Editor for Rotowire.com. He's a two-time FSWA finalist for Fantasy Basketball writer of the year. He also covers the Pistons and Tigers for the site.

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.

Stock Up

Isaiah Thomas, G, SAC – Since being promoted to the Kings starting lineup last week, Thomas has been a fantasy godsend. In four starts, the diminutive (5-9, 185) point guard has averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 treys. While his shooting percentages (50.9 FG, 45.0 3Pt, 92.9 FT) since joining the starting lineup are inflated, this is a player who has shown ability to fill up the basket - a skill which was evident in his nine double-digit scoring efforts off the bench this season. The Kings are just 1-3 with Thomas in the starting lineup, but they have been mostly competitive in all four games, which should give him a longer leash. We’re not looking at the second coming of Linsanity, but Thomas has the scoring abilities, rebounds well for a guard and dishes out plenty of assists to be worth a look in most formats.

Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL – Like Thomas, Ilyasova has started to make a name for himself following a promotion to the starting lineup. He was plugged into the starting power forward spot when Drew Gooden went down with a wrist injury last week. In four starts, Ilyasova has averaged 18.3 points and 13.5 rebounds, including a massive 29-point, 25-rebound effort over the weekend. Gooden will likely slot back into the center position upon his return, which means Ilyasova will have a shot to get a long-term look at the starting power forward gig. Don’t expect many more Dwight Howard-esque outings, but Ilyasova has the skills to remain a solid scorer and rebounder while chipping in occasionally with threes, steals and blocks.

Tristan Thompson, F, CLE – Thompson appears to be the big man in the Cavaliers frontcourt who’s benefiting most from Anderson Varejao’s absence. Over the past four contests, Thompson has averaged 9.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals in 23 minutes per game. The 20-year-old forward is raw on the offensive end of the court and relies solely on his athleticism at this stage of his career. But it’s his athleticism that makes him such an intriguing fantasy option. He can jump out of the gym and has a ridiculous 7-1 wingspan, which is key to his potential as a defensive stud. There will be plenty of growing pains here, but if the Cavs fall out of playoff contention later this season, Thompson should see his role expanded. It won’t happen this year, but there’s Josh Smith-level upside with Thompson on the defensive side of the ball.

Channing Frye, F, PHO – Frye has had an up-and-down campaign, but he’s really hit his stride since the calendar flipped to February. In 14 games this month, Frye has averaged 13.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 three-pointers, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals. That type of production in scoring, long-ranging shooting and rebounding is right at the levels we saw from Frye last season, but he’s performing better than ever on the defensive end of the court. If he continues to stuff the stat sheet on the defensive end of the floor, Frye will not only live up to his mid-round price tag on draft day, he’ll easily eclipse it.

Kawhi Leonard, G/F, SAN – Leonard was plugged into the Spurs starting lineup Tuesday and he responded with a career-high 24 points (9-of-14 FG, 2-of-4 3Pt, 4-of-6 FT), 10 boards and five steals in 43 minutes. The game was a blow out and the Spurs rested stars Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, but the performance still hints at Leonard’s upside for the second half of the season. He showed his versatility by playing power forward – a position he could see more time at over the next couple weeks with Tiago Splitter (calf) out. The absence of Manu Ginobili, who’s expected to miss a couple weeks strained left oblique, will only open up more playing time for Leonard. As with most rookies, there will still be some inconsistency with Leonard, but the Spurs could start to give him more responsibilities going forward after Tuesday’s all-around effort. He’s worth a look in most mid-sized formats.

Gustavo Ayon, F/C, NOH – Since being promoted to the Hornets starting lineup, Ayon has averaged 8.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks in 28 mpg. The promotion and extended playing time is a direct result of injuries, as Emeka Okafor (knee), Carl Landry (knee) and Jason Smith (concussion) have all been sidelined during that stretch. Okafor is sure to reclaim his job as the team’s starting center upon his return, but Ayon could easily keep a spot in the starting lineup by playing power forward, which is the place he’s currently slotted in alongside Chris Kaman at the pivot. Ayon isn’t a flashy player, but he hustles and also seems to be in a good position to get a few easy clean-up buckets on the offensive end of the court. As long as the playing time is there, Ayon could help out in mid- to deep-sized formats.

Check Status

Nene Hilario, F/C, DEN – Nene has missed seven consecutive games with a strained calf. The Nuggets still haven’t announced a concrete timetable for Nene’s return, but hopefully the added time off during this weekend’s All-Star break will give him enough to time get back to full strength. If Nene misses any more time, Kenneth Faried will continue to get extra run at the four.

Elton Brand, F, PHI – Brand sat out the Sixers’ final two games before the All-Star break with a thumb injury. This is the same injury that kept him out of two games earlier in the month. Hopefully the extra rest will allow him to finally get past the injury.

Gerald Henderson, G/F, CHA – Henderson was originally expected to return from his hamstring injury Wednesday against the Pacers, but the Bobcats decided to err on the side of caution and hold the third-year swingman out until after the All-Star break. Corey Maggette has returned to the lineup in Henderson’s absence and has taken over the starting small forward spot, but Charlotte will likely slot Henderson into the two spot, which has been his primary position this season. If Henderson was dumped to the waiver wire, he’s worth look in most mid-sized formats.

Joe Johnson, G/F, ATL – Johnson sat out the Hawks past two games with left knee tendonitis. The Hawks haven’t given any indication this injury will keep their star shooting guard sidelined for an extended period, so as of now he’s expected to rejoin shortly after the All-Star break. Should Johnson miss any additional action, Kirk Hinrich is the Hawks player who receives the biggest boost in value, as he’s been promoted to the starting lineup.

Stock Down

Manu Ginobili, G, SAS – After missing 22 games with a broken hand, Ginobili is already back on the sidelines. This time he’s dealing ailed by a strained left oblique. He managed to appear in just four games before returning to the shelf. In those four games, Ginobili averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 assists in 20 mpg. The original timetable called for Ginobili to be out two weeks, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has already stated he expects his electrifying swingman to miss “several weeks.” Odds are the Spurs will be cautious with the 34-year-old veteran and hold him out until he’s at full strength. For San Antonio, all that matters is a healthy Ginobili come playoff time.

John Salmons, G/F, SAC – Salmons was the casualty with the Kings promotion of Isaiah Thomas to the starting lineup. The 32-year-old veteran has had trouble fitting in with the Kings all season, averaging just 7.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 30 games. He had two ineffective games off the bench before being a healthy scratch in the past two games. The Kings will probably shop him around prior to the trade deadline, but it will be difficult to find a taker for the remaining two years and $15.5 million on Salmon’s contract. He could be an amnesty option come next offseason if the Kings don’t find a trading partner.

Jrue Holiday, G, PHI – Holiday was one of the bigger breakout stories last season, as he averaged 14.0 points and 6.5 assists during his sophomore campaign. His production has dipped this year, especially in February. Through 13 games this month, Holiday has averaged 12.6 points, 4.2 assists and 0.9 threes. The drop in production isn’t based on a regression in Holiday’s skills, though, instead it’s just the by-product of being on a deep team. With Andre Iguodola, Louis Williams and Evan Turner, the Sixers have numerous playmakers to share ball-handling duties. He still remains valuable enough to start confidently in most formats, but unless Philadelphia is forced to give Holiday more responsibility, it’s unlikely he starts fulfilling the promise he showed last season.

Marc Gasol, C, MEM – Gasol has been tremendous this year. Depending on your league’s position eligibility rules, he’s arguably the best center in all of fantasy right now. While he’ll continue to be highly productive for the remainder of the season, his value is set to take a minor hit due to the pending return of Zach Randolph, who has been out for the past 30 games with a knee injury. Gasol’s playing a career-high 38 mpg right now, but his per-minute production has remained on par with his career averages. Once Randolph returns in early March, the Grizzlies won’t be forced to play Gasol as much. In fact, he’ll likely start chiming in closer to 33-36 mpg. Combine that with the fact Randolph will get a boatload of offensive touches in the post and it’s easy to see why Gasol’s production will drop some. Sell high before Randolph returns.

Samuel Dalembert, C, HOU – After a strong month of January, Dalembert’s production has tailed off in February. He’s averaged just 4.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while playing 20 mpg in 13 games this month. Dalembert will still have solid stretches where he looks like a double-double machine, but his consistent play paired with the presence of Patrick Patterson will make it hard for the seven-foot Haitian to return to the levels of production we saw from him last month.