The Bucks made the surprise decision Monday to part ways with head coach Scott Skiles.
Overall, Skiles was under .500 (162-182) during his time with the Bucks, but he did lead the team to a playoff appearance during the 2009-10 season and had the small market squad in position to make another playoff run this year. Lead assistant Jim Boylan replaced Skiles as head coach.
Amongst the fantasy community, Skiles was notorious for his constant lineup juggling, which had impacted the values of numerous players on the current Bucks team. That constant experimentation appears to be part of Skiles' undoing in Milwaukee, as he struggled to integrate players general John Hammond had signed to lucrative contracts (Ersan Ilyasova), drafted early (John Henson), or brought in via trade (Samuel Dalembert).
Prior to his first game at the helm, Boylan did his best to right one of Skiles' wrongs, immediately promoting Ilyasova back into the starting lineup. Given Ilyasova's success last year and the $40-million deal he signed with Milwaukee this past offseason, it wasn't a surprise Boylan made the move.
The rest of the starting lineup (Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Larry Sanders) remained intact and should stick in those roles going forward. The bench unit also looked to be firmed up in Boylan's first game, with Mike Dunleavy Jr. acting as sixth man while Epke Udoh, Beno Udrih, and Henson rounded out the nine-man rotation.
The big winners from the coaching change are Ilyasova (see Stock Up) and Sanders. Ilyasova will be given the chance to show his early-season struggles were a fluke, while Sanders should be locked in as the team's starting center and one of the team's core building blocks going forward.
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.
Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL If fantasy owners were polled on who the most frustrating player to own has been this season, Ilyasova would receive his fair share of votes. But as we discussed in the intro, Ilyasova's fortunes are finally on the upswing. Even before his promotion to the starting lineup on Tuesday, Ilyasova had shown signs of turning things around. He's been a top-40 fantasy option (per-game) over the past two weeks, averaging 12.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.5 threes while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 93 percent from the line. Aside from those ridiculous percentages, we could see even better production from Ilyasova going forward, as he showed double-digit rebounding potential and the ability to rack up both steals and blocks last season. He's currently available in 27 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Go grab him.
Dirk Nowitzki, F, DAL Nowitzki looked all kinds of rusty after making his season debut on Dec. 23, averaging just 8.2 points through his first five appearances. As should have been expected, he quickly shook off that rust and is now coming off of back-to-back 20-point outings since rejoining the starting lineup. At 34, and coming off a serious knee injury, we shouldn't expect Nowitzki to return to his fantasy glory days, but he looks to have enough in the tank to put up numbers comparable to last season. That makes him worthy of valuing as a top-20 option going forward.
Jameer Nelson, G, ORL Since returning from a two-game absence due to a hip injury, Nelson has been a fantasy monster. Over his past three games, the veteran point guard has averaged 27.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 4.3 threes, and 1.3 steals in 42 minutes per game. He won't continue to score and hit three pointers at league-leading levels, but Nelson's shooting from the floor (46 percent) and downtown (45 percent) during this hot streak are somewhat sustainable, especially his field goal percentage. The main key is how high his usage rate will be going forward. Nelson has taken 20 or more shots in each of the past three outings, and while that number will drop, it's not unfathomable for him to shoulder a bigger scoring load for the Magic for the remainder of the season.
Lou Williams, G, ATL Over the past few seasons, Williams has managed to make a fantasy impact despite primarily being deployed in a reserve role. He opened the season as the Hawks' sixth man and was humming along as usual through the first 24 games, averaging 14.3 points, 3.1 assists, 1.6 threes, and 1.3 steals. A Devin Harris foot injury in late December opened the door for Williams to finally be inserted into the starting five. Since his promotion, Williams has averaged 18.6 points, 5.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.0 triples in 39 mpg. Hawks coach Larry Drew has stated that he plans to keep Williams with the starting unit for the foreseeable future, meaning Williams' boost in value could be here to stay.
Tyler Zeller, C, CLE With Anderson Varejao (knee) expected to be on the shelf for up to two months, Zeller will continue to see significant run as the Cavaliers' starting center. The rookie big man has performed well in the role over the past two weeks, averaging 10.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 34 mpg. There will be some growing pains with Zeller, but he should also show improvements throughout the regular season as he adjusts to his expanded role.
Dante Cunningham, F, MIN and Derrick Williams, F, MIN The Timberwolves will be without Kevin Love for the next couple of months, which means more playing time for Cunningham and Williams. Cunningham has been given the first shot at the starting power forward gig. He has responded by averaging 8.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks in his first two starts. While Cunningham has the tools to be a productive source of rebounds going forward, his scoring will remain underwhelming. But if he can continue to post productive defensive numbers, Cunningham will provide value in mid-to-deep sized leagues. For fantasy purposes, Williams is the more attractive option of the pair. His production has been erratic since entering the NBA, but there's no doubt Williams has solid offensive upside with the ability to help in rebounding and three-pointers, too. The two players will likely cut into each other's value for the time being, but if one can standout and earn the majority of playing time, that player will be a solid addition to many fantasy squads.
Tyrus Thomas, F, CHR Thomas (calf) returned from a 23-game absence last week with little fanfare. He was mediocre (four points and four rebounds in 13 minutes) in his first game back, but Thomas flashed some of his potential in a spot start against Detroit on Sunday. He finished Sunday's game with 13 points, five rebounds, one block and one steal. Hakim Warrick, who missed Sunday's game due to an illness, will likely be given another shot at the starting gig, but his lackluster play he has averaged 11.0 points and six rebounds since moving into the starting lineup could lead to an eventual demotion. Thomas is nothing more than a flier in deep leagues at this point, but he has shown enough upside in the defensive categories to justify keeping an eye on his role with the Bobcats in the short term.
Dwight Howard, C, LAL Howard is currently on the shelf for at least a week as he deals with a right shoulder injury. The ailment was originally reported as a torn labrum, but Howard downplayed the injury and said it's not as bad as those original reports. Either way, fantasy owners will want to keep an eye out for news to surface from Howard's re-evaluation, which is scheduled for early next week.
Andrew Bynum, C, PHI Bynum still hasn't offered up a timetable for his return, but the Sixers big man did say that his knees are feeling better this week and that he hopes to return to action this season. The current plan has him returning to running and shooting by the end of the week, which would be a huge step in his recovery. If you've kept Bynum stashed for this long and still managed to field a competitive fantasy squad, you might as well keep him around a little longer.
Danny Granger, F, IND Granger (knee) has ramped up his rehab recently, focusing on strengthening his ailing left knee while occasionally shooting on his own after practices. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the team was hoping to see Granger back on the court in early February, barring a setback. Keep tabs on Granger's recovery process over the next couple of weeks to see if he can return and give your fantasy team a boost down the stretch.
John Wall, G, WAS Wall practiced fully on Wednesday without any complications to his surgically repaired knee. Barring any setbacks, Wall is targeting a return to action Saturday against the Hawks. He may be rusty in his first few outings, but now would be the time to add Wall if he's available in your league.
Raymond Felton, G, NY Felton (finger) is hoping to return to action in late January, which would put him on the short-end of his original four-to-six week timetable. The Knicks point guard was having one of the best seasons of his career prior to suffering the finger injuries, so feel free to scoop him up off waivers if you have the room to stash him for the next couple weeks.
Anderson Varejao, C, CLE Varejao owners were handed some rough news Wednesday when the Cavaliers announced that their energetic big man would undergo surgery on his ailing right knee. He's expected to miss the next six-to-eight weeks, but given the Cavaliers are near the cellar of the Eastern Conference standings, we could see him sit out longer than that. Cleveland toyed around with having Varejao return from his wrist injury last season before eventually deciding to shut him down, so there has been some precedent set in a similar situation. Don't shy away from cutting him loose if there are viable replacements available on the waiver wire.
Kevin Love, F, MIN Fantasy owners will also have to deal without Love for the next eight-to-10 weeks, as the star power forward underwent surgery on his fractured right hand this week. Love returned well ahead of schedule when dealing with a similar injury earlier this season, but it's doubtful the Timberwolves will let their franchise player rush back this time around. A mid-March return means Love wouldn't be back in action until right around fantasy playoff time for head-to-head leagues. If you're currently battling for a playoff spot, keeping Love stashed might prove too costly.
Kris Humphries, F, BRO Humphries has struggled all season, but there was some hope that he would be able to regain some of last year's form after the Nets made a coaching change in late-December. He's only appeared in three games since Avery Johnson was fired, but the early returns don't look good. In those three outings, Humphries has averaged 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds while playing 19 mpg off the bench. The Nets have won four straight without getting a major contribution from Humphries, so odds are his role won't change much in the short term.
Mo Williams, G, UTA Williams is another injured player who fantasy owners should consider cutting loose. The Jazz point guard was originally expected to miss four-to-six weeks after undergoing thumb surgery last week, but recent reports are suggesting he could be out a bit longer. He's currently scheduled to have a pin removed from his surgically repaired thumb in mid-February, at which time he'll be re-evaluated and a rehab process will be determined. The best-case scenario would see Williams returning shortly after the All-Star break, but his rehab could easily stretch into March if he has any complications with his thumb.