The New Zeke
Despite being stuck in a backup role through the first 18 games of the season, Isaiah Thomas was able to establish himself as a major fantasy contributor. Through those 18 contests, he averaged 17.8 points, 4.9 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.5 treys and 1.4 steals in less than 28 minutes per game. And now things are about to get even better for owners of the diminutive point guard.
The Kings acquired Rudy Gay from Toronto in exchange for starting point guard Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. The departure of Vasquez opened the door for Thomas to take over the reins at point guard for Sacramento.
Small sample sizes apply, of course, but Thomas hasn't disappointed in his first two tilts as the starter, as he's posted averages of 22.0 points, 9.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 treys and 1.0 steal in over 37 mpg. Other than a significant boost in assists, those numbers are fairly close to Thomas' per-36 production during his stint as a Sixth Man. But owners (or owners targeting him in a trade) shouldn't waive off the increased distribution as a fluke. In his previous role, Thomas was deployed by the Kings as a scoring punch off the bench. As a starter, he'll be expected to be more of a playmaker for teammates like Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Williams, which should allow Thomas to continue posting assist numbers at a higher rate than earlier this season.
At 5-9, 185, Thomas doesn't have prototypical size for a starting point guard in the NBA, but he's a good playmaker and efficient scorer who possesses blazing speed. Add it all up and you have a very good NBA point guard with a high ceiling.
Don't be surprised if there's an adjustment period with Gay joining the rotation, but Thomas should remain the primary initiator for the Kings' offense 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.
Amir Johnson, F/C, TOR Johnson has been on a tear since a brief demotion to the bench earlier this month. Over the past four contests, Johnson has averaged 22.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 0.8 steals while shooting 73.6 percent from the floor and 91.7 percent from the charity stripe in 33 mpg. The impending return of Tyler Hansbrough (shoulder) clouds Johnson's long-term outlook some, but it seems doubtful the Raptors will move him back to a bench role after this latest stretch of solid play. While Johnson doesn't have the offensive skill set to develop into a consistant 20-point scorer, he remains a highly efficient double-double option who will also chip in on the defensive end of the court.
John Henson, F/C, MIL The Muppet Man has been a nightly double-double since joining the Bucks' starting lineup last month but his production hit new heights over the past week. During a four-game stretch prior to Wednesday's blowout loss to San Antonio, Henson averaged 18.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor. The absence of Larry Sanders (thumb) and Zaza Pachulia (foot) has opened up playing time for Henson, and while both are expected to return within the next month, the rebuilding Bucks will continue to give their second-year big man plenty of run. Henson is still raw on the offensive end of the court, but he's a solid rebounder and a pesky defensive player who can make an impact in both blocks and steals.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Antetokounmpo is another young Buck starting to raise eyebrows in fantasy circles. The 19-year-old rookie is still playing a limited role, but he has seen the court enough over the past couple weeks to flash some of his unlimited potential. His best performance of the season came in Wednesday's blowout loss to the Spurs, as Antetokounmpo finished with 15 points (5-of-8 FG, 5-of-8 FT), eight rebounds, two steals and one block in 33 minutes. His length (6-10, 210) and athleticism makes him a terror on defense, and he also possesses guard-like distribution skills and three-point range on his shot. The Greek Freak is still extremely raw, but he has the skill set to develop into a monster fantasy asset one day. While we won't see his true potential for at least a few seasons, there's a chance Antetokounmpo could carve out enough minutes in Milwaukee's rotation to garner fantasy attention later this season.
Jason Smith, F/C, NOR Coming off a monster 22-point, 16-rebound outing against the Pistons on Wednesday night, Smith is sure to be one of the hottest free agent pickups of the week. Smith's big outing pushed his averages since Dec. 1 to 11.0 points and 11.2 rebounds in 34 mpg. Prospective owners shouldn't expect games like Wednesday's eruption from Smith going forward, but he does remain a solid rebounding option while Anthony Davis recovers from a broken hand.
Deron Williams, G, BKN With 11 games missed and lackluster season-to-date production (11.3 points, 5.9 assists) when on the court, Williams has been one of the more disappointing early-round picks this season. But Williams' season finally appears to be taking a turn in the right direction following his return from a nagging ankle injury this week. In two games since his return, Williams is averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds. While his statistical production from his first two games back is certainly encouraging, even more promising is the fact that Williams finally looked healthy for the first time this season. Williams may not be the same player he was during his prime in Utah, but he's still a top-25 fantasy option when healthy. The window to buy low will close quickly.
Jimmy Butler, G/F, CHI Butler, who has missed the past 11 games with a toe injury, is nearing a return. Upon his return, Butler should see a bigger role than he did earlier this season. Not only will Butler help fill the scoring void left by Derrick Rose, but the Bulls could also become sellers on the trade market later this season, which could open up additional opportunities for the young swingman. Send out your buy-low offers now.
Ty Lawson, G, DEN After missing two games with a minor hamstring injury, Lawson is expected to return to the hardwood Friday against the Jazz. The speedy point guard is in the midst of a career campaign and should be plugged back into your lineup the moment he returns.
Nene Hilario, F/C, WAS Nene has sat out two of the past five games with multiple lower-body ailments, including an Achilles injury. The oft-injured big man had been playing through the pain, but he recently hinted that stepping away from the court for a short stint and healing up might be the best course of action. He's currently considerable questionable for Friday's tilt against the Hawks.
Tobias Harris, F, ORL Harris has managed just one appearance and 16 minutes of run this season due to a lingering ankle injury, but owners may finally be able to get some use out of the young forward, as his rehab has been progressing in the right direction. He practiced for the first time in two weeks Thursday afternoon, with eyes on returning to game action if all went well. The Magic will wait to see how Harris' ankle responds before making a final decision on his status for Friday's contest.
Rudy Gay, F, SAC Gay was traded from the Raptors to the Kings on Sunday. During his 50-game stint north of the border, Gay saw the highest usage rate of his career, as he was given carte blanche to chuck up shots at an alarming rate. Owners shouldn't expect as long of a leash in Sacramento. The Kings already have a No. 1 scoring option in DeMarcus Cousins, and the team will want to continue to keep other building blocks (Thomas, Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams) heavily involved. The best-case scenario for Gay is he reverts back to the more-efficient form we saw while he was in Memphis, albeit with a lower-usage rate. There's still plenty of value to be had here, but a dip across the board should be expected.
Greivis Vasquez, G, TOR Vasquez, who was already in the midst of a down season, is now safe to drop in many formats after being shipped to Toronto. As the starting point guard in Sacramento, Vaquez averaged a disappointing 9.8 points, 5.3 assists and 0.9 treys while offering very little production in any other category. In Toronto, Vasquez will be locked in as the backup point guard behind Kyle Lowry. While there's a chance Lowry could get traded later this season or Vasquez could slide over to the two at times, it's very unlikely the 26-year-old guard will carve out much more than the 26 mpg he averaged for the Kings.
Steve Blake, G, LAL Blake is expected to miss at least the next six weeks after suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last week. With Steve Nash (nerve root irritation) and Jordan Farmar (hamstring) also on the shelf, the Lakers are left without an obvious replacement at point guard. As a result, Kobe Bryant and Nick Young are expected to both see time as the team's new floor general.