After a six-year run, the honorable Shannon McKeown is dishing off the NBA Barometer article to direct his focus elsewhere in the ever-expanding enterprise that is RotoWire. By taking on the piece, I'll attempt to uphold the standard attained by Shannon during his lengthy stint, which included a nomination for FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year in 2012. The bar has been set high, but here goes everything.
The Suns' Goran Dragic has been scorching for much of the season, but since the loss of Eric Bledsoe on Dec. 30 due to a partial tear of his meniscus, Dragic has assumed the reins of the offense. During the last 15 days, a span of eight outings, Dragic has been shining particularly bright, knocking down 55.7 percent from the floor en route to 23.5 points, 6.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.9 treys, and 1.5 steals in 32.5 minutes per game. The line is good enough for Top 5 status among all fantasy ballers, with standout production in most categories.
Earlier in the week, though, reports surfaced that Bledsoe had been cleared for an increase in workouts related to his rehab, encompassing speed and endurance training. Moreover, the six-week timetable laid out for his recovery comes to a close just after the All-Star break, which infers that his current path jibes with this presumed plan. Even with Bledsoe in the fold for half of Phoenix's contests to date, Dragic ranks in the Top 20 for the 2013-14 campaign, providing solace that he'll remain a fantasy mainstay upon Bledsoe's potential presence in the backcourt.
Owners of Dragic should further note that recuperation from Bledsoe's specific procedure (removal of a portion of his meniscus) can be pockmarked with roadblocks, as evidenced by Russell Westbrook's continued concerns related to the injury. Consequently, Dragic's elevation to elite point guard should remain a constant in his attempts to keep the Suns afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase, despite a guard rotation devoid of Bledsoe.
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.
Steve Blake, G, LAL – Sidelined eight weeks due to a torn UCL in his right elbow, Blake's long-awaited return Tuesday was predictably tentative. Although he logged 32 minutes, he was held scoreless on two shot attempts (0-1 3Pt), yet still managed six assists, five rebounds, and three steals, despite rupturing his right eardrum. It's no surprise that he deferred rather than take on much of the offensive burden himself during his reintroduction to teammates, but as injuries chipped away at the Lakers' eight-man squad Wednesday, one-by-one, the onus was placed upon Blake to produce, and boy, did he. His 15 dimes laid the groundwork for a franchise-record 18 three-pointers made, two of which came from his own fingertips in the final minutes to stave off the Cavaliers. The final line – 11 points (2-7 3Pt, 5-6 FT), 15 assists, 10 boards, and three steals in 40 minutes – came from left field, but the battered and bruised nature of the entire roster should supply sustained work for the veteran guard, resulting in ownership in most formats.
Steve Nash, G, LAL – Blake is the safe play among the Lakers' ailing backcourt, especially with the caveat placed upon Nash in his first game back Tuesday: no appearances in both ends of back-to-back sets, at least initially. Working in tandem with Blake, Nash posted seven points (3-6 FG, 1-2 FT) and nine assists, one of which harkened back to his prime, when he nabbed a defensive board, promptly turned upcourt, and hit Wesley Johnson in stride for an alley-oop from midcourt. When one breaks down Nash's 25-minute outing, he was handed three stints of approximately eight minutes in each of the first three quarters, rather than one at the beginning of both halves, proving that his bout with nerve irritation is behind him. Expect the point man to be subject to Tuesday's limit for the time being, and facilitating will likely be his primary offering to fantasy pursuits.
Larry Sanders, C, MIL – Considered the poster child for the Bucks' calamity of a season, Sanders' past five games hint at a narrative at odds with the prevailing opinion, inducing fond thoughts of his breakout campaign from a year ago. After a 25-point, 15-rebound performance in his most recent contest Wednesday, he's averaging 13.4 points (on 57.7 percent shooting), 10.4 boards, two blocks, one steal, and 0.8 assists in 32 minutes during the aforementioned stretch. Perhaps the Greek Freak's sheer love of the game is brushing off on the fourth-year big man. Maybe health and personal concerns aren't bogging down Sanders' mind, and thus, his game. However, because he appears to be rounding into form as the All-Star break approaches, enterprising owners should pluck him off any waiver wire in which he still resides.
Jared Sullinger, F, BOS – Since ringing in the new year, Sullinger has been a fairly consistent force on the glass, ripping down double-digit rebounds in 11 of 19 tilts. His diligent work has paid off, with coach Brad Stevens handing Sullinger at least 35 minutes in three consecutive games. Sullinger didn't disappoint, producing a trio of double-doubles on his way to 21.3 points (on 49 percent shooting), 13 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 swats, and one three-pointer in 36.3 minutes per contest. For the season, this particular combination of points, boards, and treys is matched only by Kevin Love, which is not to say that the Celtics forward is Love's second coming, but Sullinger's services should be called upon, as Stevens entrusts more of the frontcourt responsibility on his shoulders.
Danny Green, F, SA – Despite an expected return date next week, Green was slated to test out his hand prior to Monday's game, and when his broken finger checked out, he was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup due to the injury-ravaged state of the Spurs. Although his initial outing was innocuous – seven points (1-7 FG, 1-5 3Pt, 4-4 FT), seven rebounds, two assists, one block, and one steal in 30 minutes – he has since ripped off 22- and 17-point outbursts during a back-to-back set Wednesday and Thursday. Thus, the three-week absence did him fine, as he marked his first three-game span of the season in which he tallied at least one three-pointer, one block, and one steal on each occasion. In fact, he never accomplished the feat during San Antonio's run to the Finals last year, and with continued stays on the sideline expected from wing linchpins Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, Green should utilize his expanded workload (37 minutes per contest of late) to contribute across the board.
Tony Parker, G, SAN – Parker was removed from Wednesday's win in Washington due to a tight lower back, which held him out of Thursday's tilt entirely. The ailment is just one of many that he's endured this season, as groin, shin, and ankle issues have all forced at least one DNP. Among his five games away from the court, he's only missed back-to-back outings one time, meaning owners should take heed, if the point guard takes a seat again Saturday in Charlotte. Another absence would provide Cory Joseph, who is averaging 27.1 minutes in the past eight contests, with yet another nod.
Carlos Boozer, F, CHI – A late scratch Thursday, Boozer's calf strain reared its ugly head again, forcing his second absence in the last nine games. While the seven appearances have been quite fruitful – 14.1 points (on 41.9 percent shooting), 9.1 boards, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals in 29.4 minutes – every category of owner must keep a watchful eye on the veteran forward to ensure active status on a nightly basis. The only positive: daily leaguers can take advantage of the fact that Taj Gibson will log 40-plus minutes, which will repeat itself Sunday afternoon at the Lakers, if Boozer requires additional rest.
Andrew Bogut, C, GS – Bogut is battling the first incidence of a shoulder issue in his career, which is remarkable considering his checkered medical history, but the injury resulted in only his second missed game of the current campaign Thursday. He'll likely return to action for Saturday's contest in Phoenix, but if the soreness and stiffness lingers, the aging Jermaine O'Neal should earn a second start in a row at center.
David Lee, F, GS – Shoulder concerns first emerged for Lee more than two weeks ago, which soon required anti-inflammatory shots. Following word that he'll don street clothes Saturday at Phoenix, he'll have missed three out of the past four outings, after toughing out the injury for four consecutive games. With three tilts remaining before the break, the Warriors may opt to hold him out to allow for ample rest heading into the second half, though he could very well make an appearance Monday against the Sixers. In his stead, Marreese Speights got the nod at the four Thursday, but depending on the matchup, coach Mark Jackson could slot Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes into the starting lineup.
Jodie Meeks, G, LAL – In the Lakers' back-to-back earlier this week, Meeks channeled his surname and sustained a right ankle sprain during the first tilt, which didn't allow us to deduce how he'll fit into a healthier backcourt. After DNPs on Wednesday and Friday, he'll likely be labeled with a questionable designation for Sunday's clash with the Bulls. Two further outings next Tuesday and Thursday could provide a glimpse of his eventual role, and the day-to-day statuses of Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar (not to mention Nick Young's fractured patella) lend credence to sustained value for Meeks upon his inevitable return.
Kendall Marshall, G, LAL – The staggered returns of Blake, Farmar, and Steve Nash in the previously mentioned back-to-back relegated Marshall to a bench gig. Nevertheless, with nary a fresh individual in the reserve unit, Marshall was still afforded 21 and 25 minutes, respectively, in the two-game set, which he turned into 8.5 points (on 54.5 percent shooting), five dimes, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.5 three-pointers per night. Entering the weekend, his ledger should handle a similar allotment of minutes, with Farmar taking a seat Friday due to cramps, but as the season wears on and his teammates presumably muster enough health to take the court, Marshall may find court time more difficult to dig up.
Ramon Sessions, G, CHR – Sessions wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire during Kemba Walker's stay on the sideline due to a second degree sprain of his left ankle, boasting averages of 13.1 points (on 40.2 percent shooting), 6.3 assists, and 2.4 rebounds in 33.4 minutes across eight contests. Order was restored Tuesday, when Walker assumed his starting point guard role, and despite eking out 29 minutes, versus Walker's 33, Sessions resorted to his familiar pedestrian lines with six points (2-7 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 2-3 FT), two assists, and two rebounds on the evening. Due to Sessions' inability to pitch in defensive counting stats or knock down treys, he's fallen completely off the standard-league radar.