Love Rebounds from Lost Season
Heading into the 2012-13 season, Kevin Love was a consensus top-five fantasy player. Fluke injuries derailed his season and the championship chances of fantasy owners who committed a first-round pick on the rebound machine.
Despite the wasted year, Love remained a top-10 fantasy option heading into this season, and now, owners who went back to the cupboard are reaping the benefits of sticking with the All-Star forward.
Through nine games, Love is averaging career-highs in points (27.1), assists (5.1), three-pointers (2.3) and field-goal percentage (48.2 percent, which proves the hand injury from last year was the main culprit for his shooting woes). He leads the league in PER (30.86). And we haven't even touched on his 14.2 rebounds per game, which trails only Dwight Howard. Add it all up, and Love is ranked somewhere in the top 3, depending on your league format.
He still offers very little on the defensive end of the court (0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks), but Love's large spike in assists more than makes up for deficiencies on defense. He has more than doubled his career average, jumping from 2.5 in 2010-11 to 5.1 assists per game this season.
While many may consider this fantasy basketball blasphemy, I would rank Love as my No. 2 fantasy option for the remainder of the season, behind only Kevin Durant. Yes, I would trade LeBron James for Love straight up. The unique blend of rebounding and three-point shooting that Love provides as a player eligible at both the power forward and center positions is invaluable.
And here's the scary part: There's a strong possibility we haven't seen the best from Love. He's only in his age-25 season and could continue to improve for the next couple seasons before hitting his peak. Wouldn't it be cool to see a player average 30 points and 15 rebounds in a season? As absurd as those numbers seem, Love isn't too far off from hitting those fabled benchmarks.
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.
Arron Afflalo, G, ORL – With the Magic in full-blown rebuild mode and expected to hand the keys of the franchise over to young players like Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris, most pundits expected Afflalo to take a step back this season. Instead, the 28-year-old veteran is playing at an All-Star level while being deployed as the Magic's go-to scoring option. Afflalo put together his best performance of the young season Wednesday night, finishing with 36 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and eight three-pointers. Wednesday's big game pushed Afflalo's season averages to 21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.9 treys – all of which would be career highs. His 52.0 percent shooting from downtown will start to trend down closer to the 38.9 percent he's drained throughout his career, but Afflalo's 48.6 percent clip from the floor is a reasonable jump from a career 46-percent shooter. While there's definitely a sell-high opportunity here, owners shouldn't trade Afflalo without landing a player with top-50 upside in return. Some regression is due, but Afflalo is also in a solid position to build on his performance of the past two years and post a career-best campaign.
Jordan Crawford, G, BOS – Crawford was promoted to being the starting point guard last week. In four starts since his promotion, Crawford has averaged 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals in nearly 31 minutes per game. The 25-year-old combo guard hasn't done much damage from three-point land (0.9 treys per game) this season, but he's shown the ability to be a plus-contributor in the category in past years. His questionable shot selection will lead to an inevitable regression in field-goal percentage, but Crawford looks like a solid fantasy option until Rajon Rondo (knee) returns to action.
Jordan Hill, F, LAL – Hill is another player who has seen a bump in value thanks to a promotion into the starting lineup. In back-to-back starts Tuesday and Wednesday night, Hill averaged 19.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.0 blocks in 28 mpg. The 2009 first-round pick has flashed legitimate double-double skills in the past, but he's never been able to carve out a big enough role to fulfill that potential. He gives the Lakers some much-needed energy and athleticism in the frontcourt, so Hill should be given a long look in an expanded role. He won't continue to produce at Dwight Howard-like levels, but Hill can make a sizable impact in rebounds and blocks. He's worth a flier in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Corey Brewer, G/F, MIN – Brewer's return to the Timberwolves this season was supposed to result in a dip in production for the wing player, as he would have to contend with Chase Budinger and Derrick Williams for run. Budinger is sidelined with a knee injury until January, and Williams is stuck in a limited role off the bench, leading to Brewer carrying a much heavier load than expected. Through nine games, Brewer is averaging career highs across the board – 14.9 points, 1.9 steals and 1.2 threes while shooting 50.0 percent from the floor. As a career 41.8 percent shooter, perspective owners should expect Brewer's field-goal percentage to dip, but he's developed into a serviceable shooter from long range and will provide a jolt to any team in need of steals.
Terrence Jones, F, HOU – Say hello to the Rockets' new starting power forward. Tired of the redundant frontcourt of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, Rockets coach Kevin McHale promoted Jones to the starting five Wednesday night. Jones responded with 10 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two three-pointers. The 21-year-old forward has the rare ability to provide stats in rebounding, blocks and three-pointers. As we saw with Rashard Lewis in Orlando, stretch fours mesh well with Howard, so don't be surprised if Jones is given an extended look in the staring lineup.
Derrick Rose, G, CHI – Rose suffered a minor hamstring injury Monday against the Cavaliers. While he has missed back-to-back practices, the Bulls weren't concerned enough about the injury to schedule an MRI for their franchise centerpiece. His status for Friday's game against the Raptors is still very much up in the air, so look for him to be a true game-time decision. This minor setback, paired with his shooting slump to open the season, actually makes Rose a great buy-low target at this time. Expect a quick return followed by Rose shaking off the rust from missing all of 2012-13 shortly thereafter.
Trevor Ariza, G/F, WAS – One of the bigger surprises during the early season, Ariza owners may have to do without the small forward in the short term. He suffered a strained hamstring during Wednesday's game against the Spurs. Initial speculation is that the injury is minor, so move Ariza to your bench until more details surface. Martell Webster will be a solid plug-and-play option if Ariza misses any action.
Ben McLemore, G, SAC – The rookie out of Kansas received his first career start Wednesday night. Normally a promotion like this would lead to a boost in value for such a highly-touted prospect, but McLemore's debut as part of the starting five didn't go quite as planned, as he struggled from the floor (1-of-8 FG) and finished with just two points in 15 minutes. Despite the shaky debut, McLemore's presence in the starting lineup does bode well for his long-term outlook. Shallow leagues will want to monitor the situation and jump at the first sign of a breakout, while deeper leagues should make the speculative add now.
Steve Nash, G, LAL – Nash is slated to miss the next two weeks after being diagnosed with nerve root irritation. The veteran point guard has dealt with back issues for years and it's hard to envision the problem getting any better for the 39-year-old. Given his age, uncertain health going forward and lack of production before hitting the shelf, Nash is worth cutting in shallow leagues. Steve Blake, who took over the starting point guard duties in Nash's absence, would be a solid replacement.
Larry Sanders, C, MIL and JaVale McGee, C, DEN – Sanders and McGee were highlighted in this section last week due to their early-season struggles. Now both players are on the shelf for extended periods. Sanders is expected to miss six weeks after having thumb surgery Monday. Meanwhile, McGee is sidelined indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left tibia. These two centers were already two of the more disappointing and frustrating players in fantasy prior to their injuries, and now owners have to decide whether or not either is worth stashing. Deep leagues will likely want to stand pat, but owners in shallow formats shouldn't be shy about window shopping for replacements.
Harrison Barnes, F, GS – After missing the first four games of the season with a toe injury, Barnes has returned and posted underwhelming production. Through his first five appearances, the 21-year-old forward has averaged 9.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 21 mpg. He's locked into a reserve role for the Warriors, and with Stephen Curry, David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson all ahead of him in the pecking order for touches, it's doubtful Barnes is able to make much of a fantasy impact as the team's sixth man. While there's no denying Barnes' talent, it seems unlikely he'll be able to carve out a big enough role in Golden State to hold much value this season.
Omer Asik, C, HOU – The aforementioned Asik put up goose eggs across the board while logging four minutes Wednesday night against the Sixers. Asik doesn't fit in well playing alongside Howard as a starter, and now that he's working off the bench, he will likely have a tough time carving out a large enough role to make a fantasy impact going forward. Owners in extremely deep leagues may want to stash Asik away in hopes of a trade out of Houston, but shallower formats should cut bait.