We're a little more than a month into the regular season, and quite a few players of fantasy significance have yet to play a minute. But that will change between now and the new year.
Minnesota's Ricky Rubio is practicing with the team and could return to action for the Wolves' Dec. 14 game against Denver. Coach Rick Adelman is expected to integrate Rubio back into the rotation gradually. I'm expecting something along the lines of what Adelman did in Rubio's rookie season, when he came off the bench initially and then took over the starting job.
Watch Adelman's substitution patterns closely when Rubio does return. The Wolves have a lot of options in the backcourt, and at least one of them is going to get the short end of the stick.
The Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert should be back soon after Rubio. STAT is reportedly targeting Christmas Day for his season debut, and Shump could be back in January.
According to a number of reports, Stoudemire is willing to come off the bench when he returns, but I have a hard time believing that's a long-term solution for the Knicks. And I won't believe that Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony can't co-exist until I've seen them on the floor with a decent point guard.
That said, I wouldn't be shocked if coach Mike Woodson starts both his big-money forwards, subs Stoudemire out early, and then puts STAT back in when Anthony gets a rest. That would give the Knicks a bit more scoring punch when the subs are on the floor.
Shumpert will give New York a much-needed defender in the backcourt ... someone to chase the likes of Kemba Walker, who torched the Knicks for 25 points and 11 assists Wednesday night. Shumpert's return could mean fewer minutes for Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, or both. Woodson could also opt to start Shumpert with Felton and bring Kidd off the bench.
Dirk Nowitzki has started shooting again, but when interviewed during Wednesday's loss to the Clippers, he told ESPN that he's still a couple of weeks away from practicing. If we assume he'll need a week or so of practice time before getting back into games, the mid-to-late December time frame for his return seems aggressive.
Elton Brand's value probably takes a pretty significant hit when Nowitzki is ready to play, but as inconsistent as Brand has been, he's not that attractive of a fantasy option in the first place.
Like Nowitzki, Boston's Avery Bradley is still a couple of weeks away from practicing, which puts his return date somewhere in late December or early January. His return probably pushes Leandro Barbosa even further down coach Doc Rivers' depth chart, and should impact Courtney Lee as well. Rajon Rondo and Jason Terry will continue to produce numbers, but it's hard to love any of the other Boston guards at this point.
Finally, despite what you may have heard, Derrick Rose is a "long way" from returning to practice according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
What's wrong with the Lakers?
The Lakers are 3-4 under Mike D'Antoni, 9-10 overall and tied (with the equally-disappointing Denver Nuggets) for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Analysis of the Lakers' struggles seems to concentrate on Pau Gasol, who has struggled for much of this season and has been benched indefinitely to rest his sore knees. But talk of trading the guy seems very premature. Let's bear in mind that this team is supposed to have Steve Nash running the point, but right now that responsibility is falling to Chris Duhon.
That said, it does seem fair to suggest that the Lakers have a positional conflict problem. Gasol is best playing center, but that's Dwight Howard's job. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Gasol didn't fit particularly well with Andrew Bynum either, but Phil Jackson hid that by rotating Lamar Odom into his power forward/center mix. Bynum and Gasol didn't actually play together all that much.
Can D'Antoni come up with a fix and get Gasol back on track? That's certainly possible, but getting Nash back is an important first step.
That said, don't be surprised if Gasol is dealt. Remember, the Lakers have included him in trade offers before - including the Chris Paul deal that was vetoed by David Stern for his unforgettable "basketball reasons."
Lies and statistics
Congratulations to Kobe Bryant for becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to score 30,000 points. But can we give the "Kobe is the youngest player to reach that plateau" headlines a rest, please? Bryant has already played more games than Michael Jordan (third on the all-time scoring list) or Wilt Chamberlain (fourth) did in their entire careers.
Kobe joined the NBA right out of high school. Chamberlain played at Kansas and for the Harlem Globetrotters before becoming a Philadelphia Warrior, and MJ played three seasons at UNC and took a break during his prime to become the world's most famous minor-league outfielder.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo! Your league's mileage may vary.
Anderson Varejao (93%) - In his last eight games, Varejao is averaging 16.3 rebounds. You're telling me that seven percent of all Yahoo! leagues don't have a team that could use those boards?
Chandler Parsons (79%) - The breakout fantasy player of the young season. Chandler is scoring over 20 points per game, shooting over 60 percent from the floor, hitting threes, and racking up steals.
Nikola Vucevic (61%) - If I asked you before the season, "Which of the players involved in the Dwight Howard trade will have the best all-around fantasy season?" I'm guessing Vucevic would not have been the answer. The second-year pro out of USC has grabbed 12 or more boards in three straight games and 15-plus in his last two.
Larry Sanders (56%) - Bucks coach Scott Skiles and his notoriously unpredictable rotation could be keeping some owners from picking up Sanders, who has been producing very nice numbers in the rebound, steal and (particularly) block columns. In a three-game stretch last week, Sanders was credited with 22 blocks - 10 against the T-Wolves on November 30.
Vince Carter (48%) - Carter is the NBA equivalent of a pitcher that loses a couple of miles of the fastball but learns to get by with junk. He won't take off from the foul line for dunks at this stage of his career, but Carter has become one of the league's more productive three-point specialists this season.
Tayshaun Prince (35%) - Look, I have no idea why the Pistons - a team in the midst of a major rebuild - re-signed Prince, but don't let his awful contract - or his awful team - obscure the fact that he is putting up very respectable - and consistent - numbers this season.
Kyle Singler (25%) - Singler Has been producing pretty good numbers since his promotion to the starting lineup - Wednesday night's 1-6 clunker against the Warriors notwithstanding.
Andre Drummond (13%) - Many thought it would take a season or two before Drummond started to show off his considerable potential. It seems he's ahead of schedule, especially on the boards. The Pistons' rookie center has averaged 9.4 boards over his last eight games, with two double-doubles and 12 blocked shots in that span. His value will increase significantly with more playing time, so the 31 minutes he played on Wednesday is a positive sign.
Mickael Pietrus (3%) - The latest entry in the Raptors' season-long search for a starting small forward, Pietrus scored 21 points, grabbed six boards, and hit two threes in Toronto's loss to the Kings on Wednesday. Any player with a starting job merits some consideration, but don't expect a repeat of that performance. Pietrus' ceiling as a fantasy player is pretty well-established at this point, and it's considerably lower than that.
Derek Fisher (1%) - Fisher has been promoted into Dallas' starting lineup, and in Wednesday night's loss to the Clips he played 27 minutes to Darren Collison's 18.
Charlie Zegers (@charliezegers) covers fantasy basketball for RotoWire and hoops in general on About.com.