The Real Beal
A strong finish to his rookie season led many pundits to label Beal as a breakout candidate in 2013-14. Not really a tough call given his draft pedigree and post All-Star break numbers of 16.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 treys. Beal was fully expected to assume the role of sidekick to John Wall and provide the Wizards with one of the most promising young backcourts in the league.
Not only is Beal already starting to fulfill that promise, but he's also starting to make his case at being considered much more than a sidekick. In fact, Beal is making the case as the lead dog for the Wizards.
Pouring in 21.2 points per game, Beal has been the Wizards' leading scorer through the first 11 games by a wide margin, besting the second-highest scorer (Nene) by over five points. And Beal has been even better of late. Through the past seven games, Beal is averaging 24.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.1 threes and 1.0 steal in 41 minutes per game. Suddenly those pre-draft comparisons to Ray Allen don't seem so silly.
At 4-7, Beal's breakout hasn't correlated into a winning record for Washington yet, but it's clear the Wizards and fantasy owners who grabbed him in the mid-rounds have a special player on their hands.
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.
Trey Burke, G, UTA – The ninth-overall pick of the 2013 draft made his NBA debut Wednesday night, returning from a thumb injury that put him on the shelf early in the preseason. Prior to his injury, Burke was considered one of the favorites for rookie of the year. With an opportunity to still play in up to 70 games, Burke should get the chance to make his case for Rookie of the Year honors. His replacements (John Lucas III, Alec Burks) didn't make much of a case for significant playing time at point guard in Burke's absence, and the Jazz appear locked into a battle for most ping-pong balls in the lottery, so expect the team to hand over the reins to Burke soon. Efficiency may be an issue, but Burke has the talent to rack up nice point, assist and three-point totals for your fantasy squad. He's worth grabbing in even the shallowest of formats.
Steve Blake, G, LAL – With Steve Nash (back) out indefinitely and contemplating retirement, Blake has taken over as the Lakers starting point guard. The 33-year-old guard has put together one of the better stretches of his career since being thrust into the role. Over the past five games, Blake has averaged 11.4 points, 11.0 assists, two treys and 1.8 steals in over 33 minutes per contest. Blake's career per-36 numbers hint that he is playing a bit over his head right now, but he also didn't have the benefit of running a Mike D'Antoni offense through his first nine seasons. Owners shouldn't expect the veteran guard to continue averaging a double-double as his usage will certainly go down once Kobe Bryant (Achilles) returns, but it's rare to find a player on waivers who can make a sizable impact in the assist category for a long-term stretch, and Blake is certainly capable of helping in that department.
J.J. Hickson, F/C, DEN – Hickson was promoted to the Nuggets starting lineup after JaVale McGee hit the shelf with a broken leg. In five starts since being re-inserted into the starting lineup, Hickson is averaging 12.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steal in over 27 minutes per game. As we've seen with Hickson through his first five seasons in the league, he's a nightly double-double threat when handed extended minutes. He doesn't typically offer much production on the defensive side of the ball, so don't rely on continued contributions in the steals or blocks categories, but he's a solid rebounding option in most formats while McGee is out.
Wilson Chandler, G/F, DEN – The last healthy season Chandler put together was back in 2010-11. During that campaign, Chandler ranked as a top-50 fantasy option with averages of 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 threes and 1.3 blocks in 72 appearances split between the Knicks and Nuggets. The 26-year-old veteran swingman is finally healthy, and a promotion to the Nuggets starting lineup has put him in position to bounce back to the levels of production we haven't seen from him the past couple seasons. While he'll be owned in all but the shallowest of formats, savvy fantasy GMs will start sending out buy-low offers before Chandler re-establishes himself as a top-50 contributor.
Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL – Like Chandler, Ilyasova is a good buy-low target. For the second straight season, Ilyasova has got off to a slow start, which has left a bad taste in the mouth of many owners. But after sitting out five games with an ankle injury, Ilyasova made his return to the hardwood Wednesday, and a promotion to the starting lineup should be in short order. The Bucks' stretch four is a unique talent who can help out in points, rebounds, three-pointers, steals and blocks once his playing time starts to creep above 30 mpg.
Terrence Jones, F, HOU – We highlighted Jones in this section last week, but his continued breakout over the past week deserves another look. Since joining the Rockets' starting five, Jones has averaged 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 treys in 32 mpg. He's another stretch four who can provide contributions in not only the standard big man categories but also three-pointers. His inside-out game is a perfect compliment to Dwight Howard's domination in the paint, which could lead to a long-term if not permanent role in the starting unit. Even the shallowest of leagues should try to find room for Jones on their roster.
Kobe Bryant, G, LAL – The Black Mamba made a surprise return to practice last weekend, returning just seven months after suffering a torn Achilles. He followed up Saturday with practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before taking a day off Thursday due to "a little bit of soreness." The 35-year-old is expected to need at least another couple weeks of practice before seeing any game action, but everything seems to be trending in the right direction for a return in early-December. While I'm still pessimistic that a player his age will be able to return from such a devastating injury and immediately reclaim his former glory, owners who risked the chance on draft day certainly have reason to rejoice. Continue to monitor Bryant's rehab closely.
Deron Williams, G, BKN – Did Williams and Stephen Curry switch ankles at some point last season? It sure seems that way, as Williams has been the elite point guard frustrating fantasy owners with his balky ankles for the better part of a year. Williams' latest setback came Wednesday night against the Bobcats, as he was forced to leave with yet another ankle injury after just 13 minutes of action. The All-Star point guard was forced to sit out practice Thursday, leaving his status for Friday's game against the Timberwolves in doubt. Given his upside, owners of Williams have little choice but to grit their teeth and keep him stashed on the bench. Shaun Livingston will be a plug-and-play option should Williams miss any additional action.
Al Jefferson, F/C, CHA – Here's another fantasy stud who has irked owners with lingering ankle problems. An ankle injury originally suffered during the preseason has limited Jefferson to three appearances in the regular season. He has been able to practice in "some capacity" this week, and the Bobcats are hopeful their prized offseason acquisition will make his return to the lineup this weekend. Owners should be able to deploy Big Al soon.
Jimmy Butler, G, CHI – Butler is expected to miss two-to-three weeks after being diagnosed with turf toe. While Butler hasn't seen the full-scale breakout many pundits predicted in the preseason, he has provided enough value with his combination of threes, steals and blocks to warrant being stashed in most formats. Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy are expected to see their roles boosted in Butler's absence.
Jeremy Lin, G, HOU – Linsanity 2.0 came to an abrupt halt this week, as Lin has averaged just 8.5 points in 20 mpg over his past two outings. The inevitable slow down for Lin shouldn't be viewed as a surprise, given that his run of excellence coincided with the foot injury James Harden battled last week. After missing one game and playing a few others at less than full strength, Harden appears to be working his way back into form, which means the Rockets haven't needed to rely on Lin's playmaking ability as much over the past two games. Patrick Beverly is also a factor, as improved play is solidifying his spot as the team's starting point guard. While Lin certainly has the chops to be a stellar fantasy option, his value will always be somewhat muted when the Rockets are at full strength. Hopefully Lin owners were able to capitalize on his run early this month by packaging him in a deal. If not, the window to sell high will close quickly, assuming it hasn't already.
David West, F, IND – Lost in the continued ascent of Paul George from All-Star level player to superstar is the negative impact on West's fantasy value. Last season, West was the Pacers second-leading scorer, finishing just 0.3 points per game behind George's team-leading mark of 17.4 points. In 2013-14, West's average has dipped to 11.4 points, which would be his lowest mark since the 2004-05 season. West, a career 49-percent shooter, has seen his field goal percentage dip to a career-low 42.7 percent, so owners should expect him to improve in both efficiency and points, but it remains unlikely that West will bounce back to the levels we've seen from him in past seasons. The Pacers have arguably been the best team in the entire league with George leading the charge, and the team will continue to rely heavily on the likes of Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, too, which leaves fewer opportunities than West saw last year. There's still plenty of value to be had from the 33-year-old power forward, but owners shouldn't expect him to bounce back to the levels we saw last year while the Pacers are at full strength.
Tony Wroten, G, PHI – Wroten was the fantasy hoops flavor of the week just a few days ago, but his value took a huge hit when Michael Carter-Williams returned from a foot injury Wednesday night. The second-year point guard out of Washington was pushed back to a reserve role in Wednesday's loss to the Raptors, finishing with nine points, four assists and two rebounds in 28 minutes. At 6-6, Wroten has the size to play at the two, but his spotty shooting from downtown (20.4 percent) doesn't make for a good fit in a starting lineup that already features a three-point shooting challenged Evan Turner at one of the wing positions -- hence the likely continued inclusion of James Anderson in Philly's starting unit. Deeper leagues with bench space will want to keep Wroten around as a handcuff to MCW, but shallower formats can shop around for the next hot waiver wire pickup.
Anthony Bennett, F, CLE – Things haven't gone too well for Bennett this season. The No. 1 overall pick has struggled mightily out of the gate, shooting just 13.5 percent (5-of-37) from the floor in limited action. He appears out of shape and will likely need a lengthy period to adjust to the NBA game. Plus, the Cavs have plenty of depth in the frontcourt, which means minutes will continue to be sparse for the struggling 19-year-old forward. Re-draft leagues shouldn't hesitate to cut bait if they haven't done so already.