Two Young Stars Return
Tuesday night marked the return of two young stars, as Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis returned from lengthy absences.
Irving was on the shelf for 11 games while recovering from a broken finger. He showed no rust in his first game back on the hardwood, finishing with 28 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, four three-pointers, and one steal in 38 minutes against the Lakers.
The reigning Rookie of the Year has made strides across the board in his second season, averaging 23.4 points, 6.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 2.0 treys, and 1.1 steals in 11 games. The only downside to his game at this point is his propensity to turnover the ball. Irving is racking up 4.1 turnovers per night. As his game continues to mature, Irving will cut down on his turnovers. Once that happens, he'll be neck-and-neck with elite fantasy point guards like Chris Paul.
Davis' return wasn't quite as explosive as Irving's, but The Brow still looked to be in top form in his return from an ankle injury. He finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, three steals, and three blocks while playing just 25 minutes off the bench in his first game since Nov. 17.
The 2012 No. 1 overall pick has lived up to the hype in his rookie campaign, averaging 15.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals, which is good enough to rank him as the seventh most valuable player in Yahoo! Leagues based on per-game averages. Statistically, he's already looking like a younger, albeit much more efficient version, Josh Smith. And we all know what kind of love Smith has received in fantasy circles over the years.
The only thing holding back Irving and Davis from fantasy superstardom at this point is their health. Irving missed significant time during his lone season at Duke and has also sat out 26 (of a possible 88) games since joining the Cavaliers. Outside of his recent ankle problems, Davis has a relatively clean bill of health. It's too early in their respective careers to label either player injury-prone, so hopefully that's not something Irving and Davis become known for. One thing is for sure, though, both players have the skills to become studs in real and fantasy hoops.
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.
Jordan Crawford, G, WAS – Crawford has started off the month of December like gangbusters, averaging 21 points, 5.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 treys, and 1.3 steals through four games. His improved play has led to a promotion to the starting lineup, where he took over the point guard duties from the underwhelming A.J. Price after Price went down with a broken hand. While Crawford's free-slinging ways don't exactly fit the mold of a prototypical floor general, the Wizards don't really have a better option until John Wall returns to action. The third-year guard is extremely trigger happy and can often be a drain on your field-goal percentage, but he's been productive enough in nearly every other facet of the game to warrant a look in most formats.
Marco Belinelli, G, CHI – The Bulls have called upon Belinelli to fill in for Richard Hamilton (torn plantar fascia) at shooting guard. The 26-year-old Italian shooting guard has been on fire since joining the starting lineup, averaging 17 points, 2.4 threes, and 1.2 steals in 38 minutes per game. He seems to have the green light on offense, hoisting 14 field-goal attempts and 6.2 three-point attempts per contest as a starter. Hamilton could be out another couple weeks, so Belinelli should remain a solid play in the short term, especially for a team in need of a three-point shooter.
Toney Douglas, G, HOU – Douglas is another three-point shooter who should be garnering more fantasy attention. The Rockets' backup point guard has seen his playing time steadily increase over the past couple of weeks, leading to an average of 28 mpg through five games in December. He has caught fire from beyond the arc over that stretch, knocking down 14-of-26 three-point attempts. Interestingly, Douglas and his deadly three-point stroke is actually a better fit alongside James Harden than current starting point guard Jeremy Lin. While Lin isn't in danger of losing his job, the fact that Lin and Harden both work best when dominating the ball gives good odds to Douglas continuing to play a significant role in the Rockets' rotation. Douglas is bound to cool off some from downtown, but he still remains an intriguing three-point option for fantasy owners in deeper leagues.
Andrew Nicholson, F, ORL – After seeing limited playing time over the first five weeks of the season, Nicholson has played over 20 minutes in back-to-back games for the Magic. In those two outings, Nicholson has averaged 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals. The 23-year-old rookie is known for his ability to score, as he averaged 17.1 points over a four-year collegiate career at St. Bonaventure. He has a refined post game while also sporting a solid jump shot that extended beyond the three-point line in college. The main obstacle for Nicholson at this stage is refining his play in the non-scoring aspects of the game. The Magic are currently handing Glen Davis nearly 33 mpg at the power forward spot. While Davis is putting together a solid season, he doesn't figure to be a part of the Magic's long-term rebuilding plans. Nicholson, on the other hand, should be one of the blocks Orlando builds around in the future. This might not lead to Nicholson averaging 20-30 mpg in the immediate future, but his role on the team should continue to grow as the season wears on.
Ed Davis, F, TOR – With Andrea Bargnani on the shelf (see "Stock Down") and Amir Johnson suspended for one game, Davis will get his chance to shine in the Raptors' starting lineup Wednesday night. Davis has flashed double-double and shot-blocking potential in the past, but he has also battled inconsistent playing time and foul trouble throughout his career. He's worth a flier in mid-to-deep sized leagues, but I wouldn't drop a player with guaranteed long-term value for him, as Davis could revert back to his inconsistencies as soon as Johnson returns to action.
Tyler Zeller, F/C, CLE – The rookie out of North Carolina has quietly started to earn a bigger role in the Cavs' frontcourt. Over the past six games, Zeller has averaged 9.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.0 block in 25 mpg. That production is right on par with Tristan Thompson's performance up to this point of the season. If Thompson doesn't start to show improvements, Zeller could be handed an even bigger role. He's a deep-league flier at this point, but Zeller is also a name to keep tucked away for later in the season in shallower formats.
Jared Dudley, G, PHO – An up-and-down campaign for Dudley took a turn for the better over the weekend when he was re-inserted into the starting lineup. His first game back with the starting five was forgettable, but Dudley bounced back in the next outing, posting 15 points, four assists, three rebounds, one trey, and one steal in 38 minutes Sunday. While versatile, Dudley has never been a high-volume producer in any one category, so he needs significant run to ensure solid all-around production. The 38 minutes he played on Sunday matched a season high. If that type of playing time becomes routine, Dudley will be a popular free agent pickup.
Kyle Lowry, G, TOR – Lowry is bound for another stint in street clothes after suffering a triceps injury during Monday's loss to Portland. He's already missed six games this season due to an ankle injury, and now owners will have to deal with Lowry being out for another stretch. The severity of the injury is still unknown, but the Raptors are currently listing him as day-to-day. Lowry always seems to miss more time than expected when he suffers an injury, so I wouldn't be surprised if this injury caused him to miss more than just Wednesday's tilt against the Nets.
Andrea Bargnani, F, TOR – Bargnani is on the shelf indefinitely after suffering an elbow injury in Monday's loss to the Trailblazers. X-rays came back negative, but the fact Bargnani is listed as "out indefinitely" instead of "day-to-day" is somewhat worrisome. The former No. 1 overall pick has struggled mightily this season, shooting just 39.8 percent from the floor while grabbing 4.3 rebounds, which would mark his lowest total since the 2007-08 campaign.
Pau Gasol, F/C, LAL – Gasol continues to be sidelined with knee tendonitis, as he's missed the past five games for the Lakers. There was some speculation that Gasol would return for Tuesday's tilt against the Cavs before the team opted to rest him again, so there is a chance he returns soon. His next opportunity to play will be Thursday against the Knicks. Continue to monitor his status daily.
Nicolas Batum, F, POR – Batum was forced to sit out Monday's win over the Raptors due to a back injury. He complained about how bad his back was after Monday's game, but his participation in shooting drills on Tuesday is a good indication his recovery is taking steps in the right direction. Make sure to double check his status for Thursday's tilt against the Spurs.
Kris Humphries, F, BRO – After starting at power forward for the first 18 games of the season, Humphries was demoted to bench duty over the past two contests. He played a healthy 25 minutes in his first game as a reserve but was held to only eight minutes of playing time Tuesday against the Knicks. The pending return of Brook Lopez could mean even less playing time for Humphries, as Andray Blatche could slide over from the center position and start to see more playing time at the four. Unless he quickly regains his starting gig, it's hard to warrant owning Humphries in shallower formats. Shop him around to unsuspecting owners before scouring the waiver wire for a replacement.
Kyle Singler, G/F, DET – Singler has started the past 16 games for the Pistons. While his presence has helped stabilize the team's overall play, his production has fallen off over the past week. The 24-year-old swingman has averaged just 5.6 points over the past five games. He's still averaging nearly 30 mpg over that stretch, but Detroit isn't asking him to carry much of the offensive load, as he has averaged 6.4 attempts in those games. With Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, and Tayshaun Prince all ahead of him in the Pistons' hierarchy, Singler will continue to struggle posting consistent numbers. His three-point shooting will remain a value in deeper leagues, but shallower formats that don't rely on mid-tier specialists can cut Singler loose.
Jeremy Pargo, G, CLE – As soon as Irving stepped back on the court, any value that Pargo held the past few weeks was squashed. Pargo was surprisingly effective as an injury fill-in for Irving, averaging 14.5 points, 4.4 assists, and 1.5 treys over 11 starts, but he'll now be pushed back to a limited reserve role. If Tuesday's brief 10-minute appearance was any indication of how Pargo will be deployed going forward, owners should have no problem finding a better option via free agency.
Emeka Okafor, C, WAS – Okafor has been highlighted in this area before, yet he remains owned in nearly half of Yahoo! Leagues. The veteran center continues to get starting nods for the Wizards, but his playing time and production this month – 4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.5 blocks in 18 mpg – shows that he's just a placeholder at the position. Eventually, Nene Hilario or Kevin Seraphin should be promoted to the Wizards' starting unit. If either of those two players are available, you'd be wise to replace Okafor with one of them.