At the Mid-Way Point Guards
Since last touching base, Chris Paul took the floor for the first time in more than a month, displaying a full recovery from a separated right shoulder. The blowout nature of his first outing kept him on the pine for a significant portion, but his line was nonetheless fantasy-friendly – seven points (3-6 FG, 1-2 FT), eight assists, four steals, and two rebounds in 23 minutes. He subsequently followed it up with a classic 20-point/12-assist double-double during a see-saw battle with the Blazers last Wednesday. Meanwhile, Darren Collison was pushed to a reserve gig but has sustained a semblance of value, averaging 10 points (on 44.4 percent shooting), five dimes, and two rebounds in 22 minutes. Ownership in standard leagues is out of the question, but Collison should remain helpful to those in deeper formats with his playmaking ability during Paul's brief stay on the sideline.
Yet another player from that banged-up corps of point guards, Tony Parker, sat down twice in the Spurs' four games leading into the All-Star break. Initially, coach Gregg Popovich sent him home Wednesday for a physical and mental break, but during a media session in New Orleans this past weekend, Parker himself said that his left hand has been ailing him since the start of February, adding to a menagerie of injuries to date (right ankle sprain, right shin contusion, groin inflammation, and tight lower back). Because he logged just 26 and 21 minutes in his last pair of appearances, which is well shy of his typical 30.9 minutes per contest, his status should become more clear following his level of participation in the team's demanding back-to-back to tip off the second half Tuesday (at the Clippers) and Wednesday (in Portland).
With the break behind us, stars and scrubs alike have utilized the midseason respite to reload and approach full health, which is at the crux of numerous lineup decisions as the marathon schedule continues onward. Consequently, shuffling lineups are apt to characterize the upcoming slates of games and should be monitored closely in the coming days.
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.
Mike Conley, G, MEM – Like Paul more than a week ago, Conley will make his own much-anticipated return Tuesday, pushing replacement Nick Calathes to his familiar place on the bench. Whether or not Conley will be able to handle his normal workload of 34.5 minutes per game remains to be seen, but his standing among the league's top 10 point guards should spur owners to slot him back into lineups.
Kendall Marshall, G, LAL – Let the point-man diaries continue with Marshall, whose relevance from game-to-game is contingent upon Steve Nash's health. After nearly three months of dogged rehab on the nerve irritation in his back, Nash's navigation of the Lakers' offense resumed on Feb. 4, but he may hold perpetual day-to-day status for the remainder of the season for a variety of reasons: a restriction of playing in just one end of back-to-back sets and a minor aggravation of his back issues since his reappearance. Thus enters Marshall's playmaking self. In the six outings since the aforementioned return, of which Nash took the court on four occasions, Marshall dished out double-digit dimes three times and generally manned the point with a steady hand. The stretch included averages of 9.7 points (on 46.9 percent shooting), 9.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 treys, and 1.0 steal in 29.8 minutes, lining up with his numbers as a Laker and exhibiting that he can produce, even with the threat of an active Nash hanging over his head on a nightly basis.
Brian Roberts, G, NOR – The ledger for Roberts includes five consecutive, double-digit scoring performances, with the three-ball contributing in each contest. His success isn't fleeting but is in fact representative of a prolonged trend with Jrue Holiday sidelined since Jan. 10 due to a stress fracture in his right tibia. Holiday's indefinite state notwithstanding, Roberts has produced across the board in his place, recording 12.7 points, 4.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 three-pointers, and 0.8 steals in 30 minutes per tilt. Putting him over the top is an above-average shot (46.2 percent from the field) and stellar poise at the charity stripe, where he's hit 33 of his last 35 freebies during that span. When one accounts for the fact that he's owned in just 10 percent of ESPN leagues, owners should clamor to the waiver wire and let the good times roll with New Orleans' own.
Eric Bledsoe, G, PHO – Word emerged Monday from coach Jeff Hornacek that Bledsoe will return 3-to-4 days after he's received clearance to practice. However, the point to take is that Hornacek is unsure exactly when the guard's recovering right meniscus will allow him to participate. So far, Bledsoe has fit in agility drills, both side-to-side as well as forward and backward, and spot-up shooting, and with his 4-to-6 week timetable coming to a close Friday, there is reason for optimism regarding his first game action since the calendar flipped to 2014. In the meantime, though, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green will handle the bulk of the backcourt minutes.
Andrew Bogut, C, GS – After experiencing a silent season on the injury front, the perpetually banged-up Bogut has since missed four straight outings as a result of a bone bruise in his left shoulder. A fifth no-show is now threatened due to a cortisone flare reaction, which is an uncommon aftereffect of such an injection and held him out of Monday's practice session. His availability for Wednesday's contest at Sacramento is now in question and may leave the Warriors without a viable option to contend with DeMarcus Cousins (hip), if he plays through his own ailment. Bogut's absence could thrust Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) into the starting five, but coach Mark Jackson may instead trot out slighter lineups, with Draymond Green or Marreese Speights next to David Lee for much of the game.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, SAC – Cousin's left hip flexor strain is jeopardizing his ability to suit up Wednesday versus the Warriors, but the results of a recent MRI are slated for release Tuesday, which could erase any doubts regarding his status. When active, he's a must-start in all leagues, especially after ripping off six double-doubles in a row following six games in street clothes in order to recover from a moderately sprained left ankle. During the preceding run, he dominated to the tune of 22.5 points (on 44.7 percent shooting), 13.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 36.5 minutes per outing. Any missed time would likely compel coach Mike Malone to fiddle with the frontcourt work, as he did during Cousin's previous recuperation from injury.
DeMarre Carroll, F, ATL – Given the day off last Wednesday to rest his ankle and hamstring in the Hawks' final contest before the break, Carroll hasn't taken the floor in a week and wakes up a question mark for Tuesday's tilt at Indiana. Formerly a defense-only option, he's established a two-way game after his move from Utah to Atlanta, scoring in double figures in seven of his last eight appearances. His averages during that stretch – 14.1 points (on 53.6 percent shooting), 5.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.8 treys in 33 minutes per outing – signify his transformation into an all-around threat on the wing. A return Wednesday would give him the green light to proceed in that renewal.
Marc Gasol, C, MEM – Gasol tested out his left knee during Monday's practice but emerged with questionable standing for Tuesday's game versus the Knicks. An MRI performed after he aggravated the ailment last Wednesday came back "clean," and a bulky brace should instill a bit more confidence in the big man's head regarding the knee's viability, if he's cleared for action. No matter, because the malady sidelined him for 22 contests earlier in the season, questions abound whether he can still channel the athlete that garnered Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012-13.
Manu Ginobili, G, SAN – Expected to make his valiant return Tuesday at the Clippers, Ginobili will almost certainly act as a reserve due to the notable play of Marco Belinelli, champion of the Three-Point Contest during All-Star weekend. If he's deemed active, Ginobili's first game back will occur exactly three weeks removed from sustaining a strained left hamstring, lending credence to the original 3-to-4 week recovery timetable. However, if his likely capped workload is on the docket, expectations should be tempered during his initial forays on the court, particularly if he's unable to tally his typical 23.7 minutes per night.
Chris Kaman, C, LAL – Kaman tapped into the rejuvenation machine with Pau Gasol out of commission due to a strained groin, harkening back to his days as a member of the Clippers. Supplying a sense of stability in the frontcourt, but not exactly rectifying the Lakers' defensive woes, Kaman threw down three double-doubles in a row before the break on his way to 18.3 points (on 52.9 percent shooting), 8.0 boards, 3.0 assists, and 1.7 blocks in 26 minutes nightly during Gasol's six-game absence. The latter may be able to suit up in the Lake Show's sole tilt ahead of Thursday's trade deadline – Wednesday versus the Rockets – which would act as an audition of sorts for interested parties around the league. Furthermore, Gasol's mammoth contract is desirable because of its expiring quality, meaning if a deal is struck, Kaman's workload and subsequent lines would be irresistible in all formats. There is a distinct possibility that the status quo reigns, though, thereby pushing Kaman back to a bit part in the rotation behind a healthy Gasol.
Russell Westbrook, G, OKC – No official date has been pointed at for Westbrook's entrance into the lineup, but his rehabilitation from Dec. 27 arthroscopic surgery to his right knee appears to be wrapping up. The indicator is a scheduled evaluation Tuesday, which could reveal a return to the fold for Thursday's heralded matchup against the Heat. On the other hand, the Thunder's medical and training staffs could place all matter of statuses (probable, questionable, doubtful, or out) on the aggressive guard, ensuring that a wait-and-see approach is the suitable one for owners to follow. Kevin Durant has said that Westbrook will return for Thursday's game, but until an official announcement comes down, we're being cautious with our expectations.
Kobe Bryant, G, LAL – Prior to Sunday's exhibition of the stars, Bryant held court with the media, relaying that his recovery from a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee is "coming slowly." A post-break examination is on the calendar, after which he'll have a few follow-ups, but the ambiguity surrounding this generation's top guard leaves his first outing since Dec. 17 a distant point in the horizon. With a third of the Lakers' schedule remaining, only those in standard leagues with excess bench spots can seemingly afford to hold onto the 35-year-old.
Larry Sanders, C, MIL – Sanders was beginning to emerge from the mire that had engulfed his fourth season in the league, but after taking an elbow to his left eye on Saturday, Feb. 8, from the Rockets' James Harden, he was diagnosed with a fractured orbital bone. The ensuing prognosis will keep the center on the sideline for at least six weeks, effectively knocking Sanders out of at least a part of fantasy playoffs to come. Expect John Henson (ankle) to prosper in the meantime, and while a return hasn't been ruled out, Sanders' eventual presence would almost certainly be accompanied by a protective mask.