Despite hovering near the cellar of the Eastern Conference, Orlando continues to pull fantasy-relevant names out of their hat.
From the season-long, low-post domination of Nikola Vucevic to the post trade deadline emergence of Tobias Harris, Orlando has been a constant source of previously unknowns stepping up their respective games. The latest group of Magic players who have seen their fantasy statuses rise are Maurice Harkless, E-Twaun Moore, and Kyle O'Quinn.
Harkless should be on everyone's radar by now. He's been discussed in this column numerous times over the past month but still remains drastically under-owned in Yahoo! leagues. Over the past month, Harkless has averaged 11.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 1.2 three-pointers in over 33 minutes per game. His production in the steals department alone makes him worth a roster spot in nearly any format.
Moore had flashes as an injury fill-in early this year, but he's locked into a starting role now that Arron Afflalo (hamstring) has been lost for the season. The second-year combo guard has averaged 11.7 points, 5.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.6 treys in 18 starts this season. He's a rare late-season addition who can contribute solid totals with assists.
O'Quinn was inserted into the starting lineup last week to fill-in while Nikola Vucevic recovers from a concussion. The rookie big man has flashed double-double potential (11.7 points, 9.7 rebounds) over the past week while a member of the starting five. Vucevic's return is still up in the air, but O'Quinn definitely warrants a look right now.
Players like Harkless, Moore, and O'Quinn aren't household names and they play for a struggling franchise, but recognizing and taking advantage of these type of breakouts can prove pivotal in a fantasy championship run. Take advantage of these breakouts and pickup one or two of these players before your playoff competition beats you to the punch.
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.
John Wall, G, WAS – The breakout that was expected prior to his knee injury is now here. Wall has averaged 24.8 points, 8.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 0.9 threes in the past two weeks, pushing him to a No. 4 overall per-game rank over that stretch. He's been unusually efficient from the floor during this tear, hitting 56.6 percent of his shots from the floor while connecting on more three-pointers than he had in his previous 96 games. While it's easy to write this off as a hot shooting streak, keep in mind that Wall is an all-world talent and doesn't turn 23 until September. No, he won't continue to shoot anywhere near 56 percent, but if Wall can continue to show off improved skills, he'll be a top-20 fantasy option for the long-term future.
Jeff Green, F, BOS – With Kevin Garnett (ankle) expected to miss the next two weeks, Green is set to get extended run as part of Boston's starting five. Green has averaged 21.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.7 threes, and 1.2 steals in six starts this season. While those stats are inflated by Green's monster 43-point outing from March 18, the solid all-around production is still evident. Go grab him now while he's still available in over 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Jordan Crawford, G, BOS – Here's another Celtic who has stepped up to fill a starting spot left vacant by injury. Crawford was inserted into the starting five Tuesday night in place of Courtney Lee, who's sidelined with an ankle injury. The 24-year-old combo guard put together a solid game Tuesday, finishing with 14 points and six assists in 41 minutes. Lee has already been ruled out of Wednesday's tilt against the Cavaliers, so Crawford should get at least one more spot start. He's worth a look while Lee is on the shelf.
Dirk Nowitzki, F, DAL – Don't look now, but Nowitzki is playing like a top-10 fantasy option again. Over the past two weeks, Nowitzki comes in as the sixth best player based on Yahoo's per-game rankings. He's averaging 20.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.5 three-pointers in 33 mpg during this latest stretch, putting him right on par with his production from last season. The Mavericks are surging right now and battling for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, which means there's hardly any risk of Nowitzki being shut down or having his minutes taper off down the stretch.
Damien Wilkins, G/F, PHI – Wilkens has turned back the clock over the past week, averaging 18.0 points, 2.0 steals, and 1.0 trey in the last three games. The 33-year-old veteran has been locked into the Sixers starting lineup since March 10 and doesn't appear to be relinquishing the spot anytime soon. There's not a ton of upside here, but Wilkins is worth a look as long as he's putting up solid lines.
Reggie Evans, F, BKN – Evans has been an absolute beast on the boards over the past two weeks, pulling down 16.2 rebounds per game. Notoriously bad on offense, Evans has even managed to nearly double his scoring average over those five games, averaging seven points per contest. He's the definition of a categorical specialist and should be picked up by any team desperate for rebounds during the fantasy playoffs.
Jodie Meeks, G, LAL – Meeks is the favorite to step into the Lakers starting lineup following Metta World Peace's knee injury. While Meeks' overall production through 116 career starts (10.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist) aren't too impressive, he can be a huge asset for a team in need of three-point shooting down the stretch. The former Kentucky Wildcat has averaged 2.4 treys per 36 minutes throughout his career, which would put him among the league leaders in the category.
Greivis Vasquez, G, NO – Vasquez sat out Monday's win over Denver with an ankle injury. He took part in Wednesday morning's shootaround but remains a game-time decision for the evening tip against the Clippers. Brian Roberts, who dished out 18 assists Monday night, is worth a look if Vasquez misses any additional time.
Kevin Love, F, MIN – Owners should finally know this week if Love (broken right hand) will be available for the fantasy playoffs. The star power forward is scheduled to have images of his hand taken this week, which will determine if he's able to return this season. The Timberwolves aren't too high on the idea of risking further injury here, but Love has been pretty adamant about his desire to return if he's medically cleared. Unless you're in a heated head-to-head matchup and need the roster spot, keep Love stashed until details from this latest examination surface.
Joakim Noah, C, CHI – Noah has missed back-to-back games due to his bout with plantar fasciitis. He ramped up his activity slightly during Tuesday's practice, but the Bulls' big man remains a game-time decision for Wednesday's game against the Heat. The Bulls will likely finish with the fifth or sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Once their playoff seeding is officially wrapped up, Noah will be a prime candidate to receive some sporadic rest down the stretch.
Nikola Vucevic, C, ORL – Vucevic sustained a concussion last week. He has already missed three games and will sit out Wednesday against the Bobcats, too. He's officially listed as day-to-day, but Vucevic should be considered out indefinitely. Recovery from a concussion can vary widely, and the Magic (18-53) have no need to rush Vucevic back to action. Keep him stashed in the short term, but owners may have to make a tough roster decision with Vucevic if more details don't surface soon.
Marc Gasol, C, MEM – Gasol aggravated an abdominal tear last week, putting him on the shelf indefinitely, but he's making a surprise return Wednesday night. The Grizzlies have already clinched a playoff spot and are pretty locked into the fourth or fifth seed, so there's not much incentive to rush Gasol back into action. He said he's going to take things game-to-game, so we may see Gasol play some nights and sit others down the stretch. Check his minutes and the post-game report Wednesday evening to see how he fared after his first game back. Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis will see extra run if Gasol misses anymore games or has his minutes limited.
Metta World Peace, F, LAL – World Peace is scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday on a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. He's expected to miss at least six weeks, which ends his regular season and puts a return during the playoffs in doubt. Cut him loose.
Kevin Garnett, F/C, BOS – The aforementioned Garnett is sidelined for approximately two weeks with inflammation in his left ankle. Garnett's return may come too late for your fantasy squad.