Land of the Unknowns
On Wednesday night I was flipping around to some of the interesting games in the NBA. I put it on the Heat vs. Cavs game, and during one sequence I saw Wayne Ellington (who dropped 20 points to lead the Cavs in scoring) drain a trey, then high five Tyler Zeller (who notched a double-double) and Shaun Livingston (still alive, and dropped 14 points, six assists and two steals on the night) on his way back up the court.
Then I switched to the Hornets vs. Celtics game, and saw Brian Roberts (who had 12 points, three assists, and two treys) knocking down big shot after big shot late in the game. During the game it was announced that the Celtics had signed D.J. White for the rest of the season after his second 10-day contract expired and that they would be signing Shavlik Randolph on Friday after his second 10-day contract ran out. They join Terrence Williams, who finished his second 10-day deal and signed on for the season earlier in the month.
But when I flipped over to the Knicks vs. Magic game, my head almost exploded when I saw Maurice Harkless (11 points, six boards, three steals), E'Twaun Moore (started at PG), Andrew Nicholson (14 points, three boards), Kyle O'Quinn (12 points, 14 boards, four assists), and DeQuan Jones (nine points in 19 minutes off bench) try to stop Pablo Prigioni (six points, five assists, four rebounds, two treys from starting lineup), Iman Shumpert (started at the wing), Chris Copeland (nine points, three rebounds, and a trey), Kenyon Martin (seriously, he's still playing?), and Marcus Camby (seriously, SERIOUSLY, he left college the year after I finished high school in the mid-90s).
The same thoughts kept going through my head as I watched these games…"ok, now who is THAT guy again?"
But it's that time of year. We're in the fantasy playoffs, but in the NBA, this is the time when every injury is potentially season-ending and 10-day contracts, rookies, and cheap vets (someone dusted off Kurt Thomas and has him out there playing) are getting a lot more run. The lottery teams are just playing out the string, fielding whoever on their roster is healthy enough to play. And one of the truisms of the NBA is that SOMEBODY is going to score, rebound, and get assists. The worst team in the league is still going to average more than 90 points and almost 40 rebounds a game. It doesn't matter if a team is filled with five guys from the YMCA, someone is going to rack up enough stats to be fantasy-worthy.
By now this should be preaching to the choir to anyone whose team is still competitive enough that you're reading this article, but I'm going to say it again anyway: you've got to stay on top of this. You've got to know that O'Quinn is in line to play more minutes if Nikola Vucevic is injured, and that he's a double-double threat on this team if he plays. You've got to know that Ellington is getting major run with Kyrie Irving out and Dion Waiters injured, and that he's got 20-point and multiple 3-pointer potential on any given night when he gets enough run. Go through the box scores after the games to see if any unrecognized name has an unusually good game, or maybe sort through the players in your fantasy league based on the last game (or last week) to look for outliers. Because in head-to-head leagues, ESPECIALLY in daily transaction head-to-head leagues, these kind of productive foot soldiers are often the key to winning your playoff matchup.
The name of the game right now is survive and advance. Sexy names are irrelevant. A couple of weeks ago I advised one of my Twitter followers (follow me @ProfessorDrz) to stash Danny Granger in case he returned to action during the fantasy playoffs, but if that question would have arisen today I'd have said "cut him." Kevin Love? Not interested. Derrick Rose? Only after you hear that he's playing that night. The only reason I'm not advising that you cut bait on Pau Gasol is that the Lakers are saying that he will play on Friday. But if they announce that he's had another setback and has to now wait until Monday, then cut him too.
The names mean nothing. Potential means nothing. All you have time for are players that are going to actively contribute to your bottom line. Which means, as strange as it might feel, that right now Shaun Livingston is a better fantasy prospect than Kevin Love. Do what you have to do, to survive and advance.
Around the League
Streaking part 2: Everyone's talking about the Heat's historical 24 (and counting) game winning streak, but very few people are noticing that there is another team rocking a huge winning streak as well. The Nuggets won their 14th straight game on Thursday, and like the Heat, it appears that winning is starting to begat winning. On Thursday the Nuggets came from behind late in the fourth quarter to sneak a one point win even with Ty Lawson (heel) on the bench. Andre' Miller stepped in seamlessly with 21 points and eight assists, and Corey Brewer led the offensive charge with 29 points, five treys, and five steals off the bench. Brewer is averaging 15 ppg for March, and is definitely rosterable. The Nuggets are doing it with balance, but someone new steps up every game and they seem to be gaining energy as their streak continues and their record climbs the charts in the Western Conference.
Gasol and Kobe (again): Last week in this space I mentioned Kobe Bryant (ankle) and Pau Gasol (knee), and the news was positive on both players as Kobe had returned quickly (if in limited minutes) from his ankle injury and Gasol was expected to return as soon as last weekend. A week later and they are back in this space, because both had injury setbacks that benched them most of the week. Both players are expected to be back on the court on Friday, which is huge for those in head-to-head playoffs right now. But as I said in the lead, if either experience another setback that could last several days it's not crazy to think about cutting them to go for the win this week if that's what you have to do.
Parker's ankle: Tony Parker was expected to be out longer with his ankle injury, but his recovery has been ahead of schedule and he is back doing 5-on-5 drills with the Spurs. On the downside, they still haven't announced an official return date, and Gregg Popovich is notorious for resting his stars to make sure that they're fresh for the playoffs. With the Spurs still sitting on the number one seed, I can't imagine Pop rushing Parker back, and I'd expect the occasional game off even once he returns.
Tweet of the week: TK (@631 tkeegan) tweeted me (@ProfessorDrz) that he had a bye in his H2H playoffs this week and had just dropped Eric Gordon in exchange for Parker. As I mentioned in the lead, injured stars are taboo during the fantasy playoffs, but in this case, I think the move was justified because TK had a bye to work with. Plus, Gordon has been on injury restriction/no back-to-backs all season and really can't be relied upon during the fantasy playoffs. At least Parker should be consistent when he plays, and has a chance to be back early next week.
Rose getting his Tupac on: Tupac once rapped in a song that "only God could judge him." Derrick Rose borrowed from that theme this week, saying "Nobody knows but God" when Rose will return. While this prognosis isn't enough for fantasy owners, it should be noted that Rose has been practicing to rave reviews from usually dour Bulls coach Tom Thibodeaux. Rose has said that "it could be tomorrow" that he feels like he can play, but he still has no timetable for an exact return.
Noah's down numbers = concern?: Two games ago Joakim Noah flirted with a quadruple double, scoring 14 points with 12 boards, seven blocks, and six assists. He's still an extremely productive player. However, he also has been in single-digit rebounds in two of the last four games and has gone without a blocked shot in three of the last four. Considering the type of rebound/block machine that he's been all season, and the fact that we know that he is dealing with plantar fasciitis, it is worth keeping a close eye on Noah to make sure that these "down" games aren't a sign that his foot is giving him trouble.
Bynum done = Hawes explosion?: Earlier this week it was announced that Andrew Bynum was done for the season with dual knee surgeries, despite having not played a single minute for his new 76ers squad this year. The announcement seems to have had a positive effect on Spencer Hawes, who has gone off for 17.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks over his last four games. Hawes is only owned in 66% of Yahoo! leagues, so there's a chance he might be on your free agency wire and thus worth a pick-up.
Jeff Green (52% owned in Yahoo! leagues): I'm not even going to continue making a case for him. I'll just post his stats against the Heat from Monday: 43 points (14-for-21 FG, 10-for-13 FT), seven rebounds, five treys, four blocks, two steals, and two assists. Obviously he won't do that every game, but anyone even capable of games like this once a month shouldn't be available in half of the leagues out there.
Martell Webster (47% owned): Another repeat in this space, Webster has scored in double figures with at least two treys in seven straight games. He has averaged more than 19 points per game in this stretch.
Jonas Valanciunas (21% owned): Valanciunas was in this space last week as a potential producer with Andrea Bargnani done for the year. He has taken advantage of his increased role, averaging 13.2 points with seven boards and a blocked shot in his last five games.
Reggie Evans (20% owned): Purely a rebound role player, Evans has grabbed more than 20 rebounds in three games and is averaging 14.9 boards so far this month.
Maurice Harkless (19% owned): As mentioned in the lead, Harkless has been playing solid basketball of late. While he's a double-figure scorer, his real value is in his combination of defensive stats and 3-pointers (3.8 steals, 1.3 treys, 0.8 blocks over his last four games).
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.