Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Hawk
With Al Horford (torn pectoral muscle) lost for the season, Paul Millsap has officially taken over as the Hawks' go-to option in the frontcourt.
In the three games since Horford hit the shelf, Millsap has averaged 28.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.7 steals in 38 minutes per game. He has been getting to the line (12.7 FTA) a ton in those three games and hitting at a higher clip (78.9 percent) than normal, but his shooting from the floor (51.0 percent) during this stretch is right on par with his career mark of 51.5 percent.
Can Millsap continue to post such strong numbers?
While some regression back to the norm should be expected, Millsap is in position to post the best stats of his career over the next few months. Millsap's usage rate has soared with Horford out, reaching 29.8 percent, which would rank as the fourth-highest mark in the league and well above the 22.3 percent he has averaged over the course of the entire season.
The Hawks have very little depth in the frontcourt. The in-house replacement options for Horford are Mike Scott, Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, and Pero Antic, which should lead to continued reliance on Millsap carrying a much larger load than usual.
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.
Larry Sanders, C, MIL – A slow start, followed up by a lengthy injury absence, led to Sanders being one of the bigger busts through the first couple months of the season, but the Bucks' Minister of Defense is finally starting to flash the skills that made him a breakout star last season. In four games since returning from a broken hand, Sanders has averaged 10.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.8 steals in 31 minutes per game. It will be interesting to see how the Bucks' frontcourt rotation pans out after John Henson (lower body) returns, but the odds are that Sanders remains in the starting lineup and continues to see significant run. While he still hasn't developed much of an offensive game, Sanders will provide stellar shot blocking numbers and near double-double production the rest of the way.
Reggie Jackson, G, OKC – With Russell Westbrook (knee) back on the shelf, Jackson has once again taken over starting point guard duties for the Thunder. Jackson has struggled with his shot (35.1 percent from the floor) in four games since reclaiming the starting gig, but he should turn the corner soon. He was fantastic after taking over for Westbrook in the playoffs last season, averaging 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.1 threes in 36 minutes per game. If you're looking for point guard help, Jackson can give your fantasy squad a nice boost for the next couple months.
Kendall Marshall, G, LAL – Two weeks ago, Marshall was a forgotten prospect toiling away in the NBA Development League. Now he's the starting point guard for the Lakers. With Steve Nash (general soreness), Steve Blake (shoulder), Kobe Bryant (knee), and Jordan Farmar (hamstring) all out, Marshall will man the point in Los Angeles beginning Friday night. Marshall has already failed to catch on in Phoenix and Washington, but he has great pedigree (2010 McDonald's High School All-American, 2012 Bob Cousy Award winner for top collegiate point guard, 2012 lottery pick) and will receive his chance to claim ample playing time with the Lakers. He's worth a speculative add in most 10-12 team leagues.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, TOR – Valanciunas has started living up to the preseason hype that surrounded him. Since the Raptors decided to part ways with Rudy Gay, he's become a much bigger part of the team's plans. Over the past 10 games, Valanciunas has averaged 13.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and 78.4 percent from the line. The Raptors have been playing surprisingly well over this 10 game stretch, and Valanciunas has been a big part of that success. His role and production should continue to grow as the season wears on.
Thaddeus Young, F, PHI – Young has quietly played the best basketball of his career over the past two weeks. In his past six games, Young has averaged 25.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 3.0 steals, 2.2 threes, and 0.8 blocks while shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 89.7 percent from the charity stripe. Needless to say, he's been the top-three fantasy option over that 14-day stretch. While owners shouldn't expect Young to continue playing at this high of a level, any concerns about his slow start to the season should be long gone. If Young can continue to hit threes at an increased rate, his overall fantasy value will remain higher than we've seen in previous seasons.
Kyrie Irving, G, CLE – Uncle Drew put a scare into his owners when he suffered a left knee injury on New Year's Eve. There were initial fears that the injury was severe after the star point guard admitted to hearing a "pop," but Irving's MRI came back clean, which should lead to a quick return. Jarrett Jack filled in for Irving on Thursday night and will continue to do so if the Cavs' franchise player is forced to miss any more action.
John Henson, F, MIL – Henson, who has missed three consecutive games with a lower-body injury, hopes to return to action Tuesday against the Warriors. That timetable is a bit quicker than the Bucks' original plans of at least two weeks, so it remains to be seen if Henson will truly be ready for action early next week. The second-year big man was a double-double machine before having his season sidetracked with injuries the past two weeks, but Henson will have to compete for minutes upon his return as the Bucks frontcourt is suddenly crowded following the return of Larry Sanders.
Andray Blatche, F, BKN – Blatche is expected to return to action Saturday after missing the previous four games for personal reasons. With Brook Lopez (foot) out for the year, Blatche is expected to take on a larger role for the Nets. It appears Blatche's four-game absence has led to him still being available in many leagues. Owners in most mid-sized leagues who need some help in the frontcourt would be wise to look in Blatche's direction.
Nikola Vucevic, C, ORL – The Magic center suffered a sprained ankle Tuesday against the Warriors, which forced him to miss all but nine minutes of that contest and the following game against the Cavaliers on Thursday. Vucevic was a game-time decision Thursday night, so it appears a return is imminent, but he did miss four games with a similar injury earlier this season. Owners will want to monitor the situation closely before plugging Vucevic back into their lineups.
Russell Westbrook, G, OKC – Westbrook is expected to be sidelined until at least the All-Star break after he underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery last week. That marks the third time in seven months Westbrook has had surgery on his right knee. He has already ditched his crutches, so the recovery appears to be going well. Given his value when healthy and timetable to return well ahead of the fantasy playoffs, owners will want to keep Westrbook stashed on their bench.
Al Horford, F/C, ATL – For the second time in three years, Horford's season has been cut short by a torn pectoral muscle. The Hawks' franchise big man underwent surgery this week and is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Horford was in the midst of one of the better seasons of his career, posting career-highs in points (18.6), blocks (1.5), and field-goal percentage (56.7). The Hawks have deployed a mishmash of replacements since Horford hit the shelf, but Mike Scott is the most intriguing option from a fantasy perspective.
Jordan Farmar, G, LAL – After just four games, Farmar's stint as the Lakers' starting point guard came to an end. The veteran guard is expected to miss at least the next four weeks after suffering another tear in his left hamstring. By the time he returns, the Lakers will likely have Nash and/or Blake back in the starting lineup, so owners can safely toss Farmar back to the waiver wire scrap heap. The aforementioned Kendall Marshall will take over floor general duties for the Lakers in the interim.
Andrew Bynum, C, CLE – Bynum was suspended indefinitely by the Cavaliers last week for conduct detrimental to the team. The suspension has forced Bynum to miss the past four games, and it doesn't look like he'll be sporting a Cavs jersey anytime soon. Cleveland has been actively shopping Bynum in trade talks, but even if a new team acquires him, odds are Bynum will be cut loose, as his contract isn't fully guaranteed and can save a team lot of cap room and/or help an organization avoid the luxury tax.