The year of the guard continues unabated, with the imminent returns of Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley expected by week's end. Bledsoe himself has yet to play since the calendar turned to 2014 due to his recovery from Jan. 10 surgery to remove the meniscus in his right knee. Since he embarked upon 5-on-5 contact work nearly two weeks ago, coach Jeff Hornacek relayed that the guard has endured what he terms "training camp soreness," intimating general discomfort rather than specific pangs of pain in the rehabbing knee. A return to the court is all but assured Wednesday versus the Cavaliers, though the sustained success of Phoenix's backcourt duo, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green, during Bledsoe's absence is expected to relegate him to a bench gig off the bat. As Bledsoe becomes more accustomed to the speed of the NBA game and settles into a role, he could very well establish standard league relevance in the near future.
Withstanding a lengthy rehab process of his own, Bradley is slated for a return to the floor Friday versus the aforementioned Suns. Initially diagnosed with a sprained left ankle on Jan. 21, he was sidelined for five contests, before playing in three of four outings, a span in which he aggravated the concern. His previous appearance, Feb. 9, was more than a month ago, which ensures that rust should accompany his first games back in the fold. Over time, though, Bradley is expected to overtake Jerryd Bayless as the starting two-guard, aiding the former in his rejuvenation as a steady option in standard formats. Prior to the injury, Bradley provided a fine line in 24 tilts across December and January, averaging 15.9 points (on 44.3 percent shooting), 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 three-pointers, and 0.9 steals in 31.8 minutes. If he's able to achieve such production in the final month of the regular season, he'd be a boon to owners in grave need of typical backcourt stats.
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.
D.J. Augustin, G, CHI – Since the All-Star break, Augustin has contributed a much-needed scoring punch off the bench to a Bulls squad that otherwise labors to down buckets. Although his dime and steal totals have slipped slightly from his marks on the season, he's prospered in the past five contests, notching 20.2 points (on 51.7 percent shooting), three assists, 2.4 treys, and 1.8 rebounds in 30.2 minutes per game. He may not maintain a 46.2 percent clip from beyond the arc, as he's done during the mini-run, but if he continues to fire five-plus attempts on a nightly basis from deep, there's no reason to believe that he won't uphold his recent standard. Considering he's rostered in 72 percent of ESPN leagues, owners should hop on the wire and nab him, wherever he's available.
Matt Barnes, F, LAC – On Jan. 20, Barnes usurped the starting small forward spot from Jared Dudley and hasn't checked the rearview mirror in some time, attaining double-digit points in nine consecutive outings. Not only has Barnes acted as a consistent scoring threat, but he's yielded fruit across the board, supplying 16.9 points (on 54.8 percent shooting), 5.9 boards, three three-pointers, 2.6 assists, and 1.2 swipes in 33.3 minutes per night. It should be noted that he's has been aided by ailments to Dudley (back spasms) and Jamal Crawford (strained left calf), who have both missed at least three of the last five games. However, Barnes isn't spoken for in nearly 40 percent of leagues hosted by the Worldwide Leader, an unacceptable number due to his workload.
Darren Collison, G, LAC – Collison is taking full advantage of Crawford's void in the starting five, taking on his second extended stretch of the season in place of a Clippers mainstay at tipoff. In five nods in a row, Collison boasts averages of 17.8 points, 3.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.4 threes in 35.4 minutes. While his shooting splits (56/44/90) are apt to fall off, he should remain a feasible consideration in the short term following the premature return of Crawford on Saturday, when he logged a mere 10 minutes. As long as Crawford dons street clothes with what is occasionally a nagging injury, Collison will hold sway as a plug-and-play sub in many leagues.
Maurice Harkless, F, ORL – Upon rejoining the starting lineup on Feb. 21 for a banged-up Arron Afflalo, Harkless posted a dud, which consisted of two points, two rebounds, one steal, and five fouls in 28 minutes. Harkless has since been more prudent and seemed to allow the game to come to him, resulting in seven consecutive fairly similar productions, even after Afflalo returned to action three contests ago. The term was scattered with impressive stand-alone output -- three blocks one night, five blocks in the next tilt, 10 boards three days later -- en route to 14.3 points (on 46.9 percent shooting), 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.9 treys, and one block in 35.9 minutes per contest. Hence, the 20-year-old wing should be scooped up by those with a deficient player on the roster.
Jodie Meeks, G, LAL – Just one year removed from lacking general direction on the court, Meeks has effectively held down the fort at shooting guard in 2013-14 on a Lakers team devoid of Kobe Bryant (leg) for much of the season. The preceding is reflected in Meeks' heaping servings of scoring and steals since the break: 19.2 points, 2.1 three-pointers, and 1.4 swipes per outing, which was powered by a career-high 42 points versus an eroded Thunder defense Sunday. Because Meeks almost always garners 30-plus minutes nightly – he's failed to do so in just five of 42 appearances since Dec. 1 – ownership of the guard is certainly justified in all but the shallowest of formats.
Khris Middleton, F, MIL – Coach Larry Drew's never-ending lineup shuffle doesn't endure many Bucks to knowledgeable owners, but Middleton has handled his fair share of run in six March tilts. Among the splits, a handful – 16.2 points (on 51.4 percent shooting), 3.2 assists, and 0.5 blocks – mark Middleton's finest in a given month this season, which he's enhanced with 3.7 rebounds, two threes, and 1.3 steals in 32 minutes per game. Despite Drew's penchant for handing out erratic work, Middleton's recent play warrants a roster spot in more than a third of ESPN leagues, where his ownership currently dwells.
Amar'e Stoudemire, F/C, NYK – Prior to the NBA campaign entering March, Stoudemire's season was exhibited by flashes of brilliance and lackadaisical lulls, but coach Mike Woodson was holding him out of one side of back-to-backs less often as the season wore on. Meanwhile, the Knicks' schedule this month has already included two of those sets, and Stoudemire has yet to take a seat. Across six contests, he's averaging 17.3 points, on a robust 64.2 percent from the field, while also pitching in 6.5 boards, 1.2 blocks, and 0.8 assists in 27 minutes nightly. He appears to be embedded as a starter, especially with few practical frontcourt options outside of Tyson Chandler (personal), so Stoudemire can be expected to handle the gig (either power forward or center) for the final five weeks.
Andray Blatche, F/C, BKN – Blatche presumably was the favorite to flourish during Kevin Garnett's current bout with back spasms, and while Blatche has earned a bit more run than normal during the six-game span, he's delivered a mere 11 points (on 44 percent shooting), 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.5 steals in 25.5 minutes per tilt. With few outstanding outings on his ledger this season, Blatche is deserving of his place on most waiver wires, but the lack of a veteran presence in the frontcourt outside of Garnett could deliver Blatche to the doorstep of standard leagues, if he can channel his entire repertoire.
John Henson, F/C, MIL – In late January, Henson suffered a wrist injury, which held him out for three games and continues to ail him to date. The echo is evident in his line since the All-Star break – 8.3 points (on 53.1 percent shooting), 6.5 boards,1.5 assists, and one block in 24.1 minutes per contest – which is undeserving of a roster spot in the deeper standard leagues that previously justified a place for the big man. Until his blocks and boards experience an uptick, he'll linger on the wire as an alluring but ultimately untenable option.
Miles Plumlee, F/C, PHO – Plumlee has been jousting with a sprained right knee of late, resulting in DNPs last Tuesday and Thursday. His return to action Sunday was less-than-desirable – two points, four rebounds, and one assist in 10 minutes -- but in the back end of a back-to-back set Monday at the Clippers, he nearly captured his 11th double-double of the season (12 points, nine boards, and two swats in 26 minutes). It remains to be seen if Plumlee can sustain such a load, which he accomplished only twice in 16 prior outings, but the sledding seems tough with Channing Frye and the Morris twins present in the Suns' frontcourt.
Kelly Olynyk, C, BOS – Following a recent two-game absence due to a sprained toe, Olynyk hasn't exactly been handed a healthy amount of work in the Celtics' trio of contests in the interim. No matter, a rarely-seen aggression on offense was on display during that span, with 16.7 points (on 58.6 percent shooting), six boards, 1.7 assists, and 1.7 three-pointers in 20.7 minutes per night. While coach Brad Stevens' preseason statement, in which he said that he could foresee Olynyk leading the team in minutes as a rookie, hasn't come to fruition – those honors go to Jeff Green and his average of 34.1 minutes – Olynyk's status as a 2013 first-round selection could very well place him in the starting five, with an ample workload, before season's end.
Jared Sullinger, F/C, BOS – Sullinger suffered what was eventually termed a concussion on Feb. 21, resulting in three contests on the pine, but the lumbering Ohio State product has assumed his typical assignment since returning to the lineup, turning in 10 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 25.8 minutes per tilt during that four-game run. His shooting touch has been particularly awry in his last nine appearances, during which he's bricked his way to 34.6 percent (35-of-101) from the floor. If he gets back on track, he could approach his double-double marks from February, when he posted 15.3 points and 10.9 boards nightly, but until that comes to pass, owners should exercise a wait-and-see approach.
Marco Belinelli, G, SA – When the Spurs were without one (or more) of their primary backcourt/wing stalwarts earlier in the season due to injury, Belinelli picked up significant run, namely 30 minutes per game in January and February. Once Tony Parker returned to the lineup on Mar. 2, though, the Spurs had their full complement of players available for the first time in months, which hampered Belinelli's subsequent workload. In the past four tilts, Belinelli has averaged a measly six points, 2.3 rebounds, and two assists in 19.3 minutes, with dismal shooting splits of 36.8 percent from the field and 8.3 percent (1-of-12) from three-point land. Thus, he's a persona non grata in fantasy, barring another ailment to Parker or company.
Jamal Crawford, G, LAC – Crawford's lingering strain in his calf has left owners with a quandary from game-to-game due to his premature return to the court Saturday. The facts: he's been sidelined in four of the last five outings, with his sole appearance contained to 10 dour minutes in which he put up three points (0-2 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 3-3 FT), one assist, and one swat. The question is, when will he receive a clean bill of health? His continued absence has boosted the prospects of Darren Collison and helped Matt Barnes rack up 30-plus minutes per contest, which Crawford will eat into when he comes back. Nonetheless, Crawford will continue to warm a bench spot in most formats, unless said league is shallow enough for a logical exchange.
Gerald Henderson, G, CHA – Holding the belief that a return is near, Henderson's bout with a right calf strain is almost a thing of the past. Of greater concern, though, is a sagging stat line prior to his current five-game absence. In 10 February outings, plus the first one in March, he furnished 11.6 points (on 44.1 percent shooting), 3.6 boards, and 2.3 assists in 30.3 minutes per night. Furthermore, Chris Douglas-Roberts has manned two-guard adequately in his stead, which could spur coach Steve Clifford to ease Henderson into his initial contests back in action. Even so, owners are turning elsewhere for backcourt production, with more than a quarter cutting bait since Henderson sustained the ailment on Mar. 2.
Andre Iguodala, G/F, GSW – Near-universal ownership aside, Iguodala's season-long struggles came to head following a dislocated finger in last Tuesday's game. His output across the last four outings – 9.3 points (on 45.5 percent shooting), 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.8 threes in 28.3 minutes per tilt – differs little from that on the year, lending credence to his standing as one of the prime disappointments of the season. Most leagues likely include a more usable (and available) option, with the imminent fantasy playoffs a perfect time to cut bait.