Winning Time…no superstars?
This is it. It's championship week. If you're still reading this column, hopefully it means that you are still in contention to take home your title. If so, you know all the tricks, and you're just depending on your personnel from here on out.
But therein lies the problem.
If you check out the Rotowire NBA Cheat sheet, you'll find that three of the top-10, five of the top-20, and six of the top-30 are dealing with injuries right now that could have them sitting right during championship time. Anthony Davis missed one game and sat large pieces of the next due to back spasms; Kevin Love sat out on Saturday; and a trio of point guards (Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, and Ty Lawson) are all on the shelf at the moment. Carmelo Anthony is trying to play through his shoulder injury, but the Knicks only have two games this week anyway, which limits his value. And that's not even mentioning players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook or Rajon Rondo that are working themselves back into shape after injury and dealing with either minutes restrictions or planned game absences.
In this championship week, you may very well have to contemplate sitting some of the best players in the NBA if there is a legitimate chance that they won't play enough to get you to the promised land. To that end, the focus of this article will be to identify the opposite side of the coin: the players that normally don't play that could produce like superstars this last week. If you can't rely on your stars, then who CAN you rely on? Let's take a look at some situations and players that you'll want to consider going into championship week:
Around the League and New Additions
Omer Asik (54% owned in Yahoo! Leagues): Dwight Howard has been out for a week with a sprained ankle, and though he says he's feeling a lot better, the Rockets' main priority is to make sure that he's healthy for the playoffs. This has opened the door for Asik to step in and show that he is still a starting NBA center, even if he's stuck behind Howard. Asik has swallowed the boards for the last week, averaging 16.7 rebounds to go with his 10 points (61% FG), 0.7 blocks, and 0.7 steals and could win that category for you by himself with another week of starts.
Greivis Vasquez (54% owned): Kyle Lowry is out with a sprained ankle, and the Raptors are firmly in the playoffs, so their priority is for Lowry to be healthy for the postseason. Vasquez is a proven starter at point guard, and in the last week in an expanded role, he has averaged 14.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.0 treys per game. Lowry may be back soon, but until he is, Vasquez is a daily start.
D.J. Augustin (51% owned): Augustin has been strong for much of the second half of the season and is finishing up strong. He has scored at least 23 points in three of his last five games, and in one of the other games, he dished 11 assists.
Darren Collison (50% owned): Jamal Crawford has been injured for much of the last month, which has opened up opportunities for Collison. J.J. Redick returned from injury this week and could eat into Collison's minutes, but Collison is playing so well and has the flexibility to play both guard spots, so he should continue to produce down the stretch.
Reggie Jackson (47% owned): The Thunder have been resting Russell Westbrook liberally over the past few weeks to keep him fresh for the season. Jackson has produced solid starter numbers whenever Westbrook has been down, making him worthy of consideration in this last week.
Jordan Hill (38% owned), Ryan Kelly (10% owned) and/or Chris Kaman (33% owned): Pau Gasol (vertigo) looks to be down for the season, which opens things up for one or more of the other Lakers bigs to produce. Recently, Kaman had stepped up, averaging 20 points, 11.5 boards, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks over the last week. However, he tweaked his calf and couldn't play Friday or Sunday, which has allowed Kelly to join Hill in the starting lineup. Hill has four straight double-doubles in games where he has played at least 28 minutes, making him a person of interest moving forward. Kelly has had good and bad moments throughout the season, but if he's starting, he's worth a look as well.
Gorgui Dieng (35% owned) and Dante Cunningham (2% owned): The Timberwolves have been an enigma this season. Their scoring margin suggests they should be one of the 10 best teams in the league, but they have such a terrible record in close games that they're headed for the lottery for the umpteenth year in a row. On the other hand, their franchise player, Kevin Love, is entering the last year of his contract, making him an extremely valuable lame duck. So, how does that translate to the end of this season? Well, there is no impetus to force Love onto the court if he's at all ouchy. Such was the case Saturday, making him a last second scratch with back spasms. Love joined Nikola Pekovic (ankle) on the bench, leaving the frontcourt duties to Dieng (12 points, eight boards, three assists, and two blocks) and Cunningham (12 points, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and a steal). Cunningham is more risky, but Dieng has proven himself and seems likely to continue to get heavy minutes next week.
Ray McCallum (21% owned): Isaiah Thomas is closing in on a return from a quad injury that has kept him out since March 25, but he still had to sit out Sunday's game. In his absence, McCallum has essentially turned in Thomas' statline with averages of 17.7 points, 8.3 assists, 2.7 boards, and 1.3 steals in more than 44 minutes per game. McCallum is a front-line starting fantasy point guard in every game that Thomas has to miss moving forward, and some outlets have suggested that Thomas may not return this season.
Patty Mills (13% owned) and Marco Belinelli (27% owned): The Spurs are 3.5 games ahead of the Thunder, pretty much locking up home court advantage throughout the playoffs. With Gregg Popovich at the helm, you have to feel that Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili ,and Tim Duncan are due for liberal rest over the last two weeks, which should open space for reserves like Mills and Belinelli to produce.
Aaron Brooks (12% owned) and Randy Foye (63% owned): Ty Lawson just suffered what he is characterizing as the worst sprained ankle of his career. While he hopes to return quickly, with less than two weeks in the season, he could conceivably be done. This opens the door for Brooks and Foye to turn in big numbers down the stretch. Foye is owned in most leagues, but Brooks is available. In six starts this season, he has averaged 13.3 points, 6.3 assists, and 1.2 treys per game making him a viable roto starter.
Anthony Morrow (12% owned): Anthony Davis has been in and out of the lineup with back issues, and his scoring has been made up by…Morrow? Apparently so, as Morrow has scored at least 17 points in three straight games, in which he has averaged 22 points and 3.0 made treys.
Draymond Green (11% owned), Jermaine O'Neal (7% owned), Marreese Speights (3% owned): Health is in extremely thin supply in the Warriors frontcourt, as David Lee (hamstring) and Andrew Bogut (pelvis) have been on the shelf for awhile and "could still be a ways from returning" according to coach Mark Jackson. This has opened the way for the extremely unlikely resurgence of O'Neal, who has averaged 10.3 points (66.7% FG), 7.3 boards, and 1.0 block over the last week. Speights has also kicked in 11.5 points (50% FG) and 9.0 rebounds, and Green has been a strong garbageman with 7.8 points, 7.5 boards, 3.8 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.3 steals, and 0.8 treys over the last week.
Kyle O'Quinn (10% owned): Nikola Vucevic has a sore Achilles that kept him out of action on Saturday, which opened up space for O'Quinn to explode for 14 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks. There's no news on whether Vucevic will miss more time, but O'Quinn is definitely worth watching, if not taking a flyer on.
Jerryd Bayless (7% owned): Avery Bradley might be out for the season with an Achilles issue, and Bayless has moved into the starting lineup again. Plus, Rondo continues to miss one half of every back-to-back. This has combined to give Bayless more opportunity, which he has taken advantage of to the tune of 48 points and 10 treys in the last two games.
I've been busy on the airways lately. In addition to my regular Thursday at 11:30 am EST interview on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today, I've co-hosted podcasts in two of the last three weeks for CLNS Radio. Two weeks ago, we interviewed Chris Mannix from Sports illustrated and Brian Robb of Celtics Hub. We talked the NBA draft, Rajon Rondo, the Knicks, the Lakers and more. You can check it out here.
This week, we interviewed Ian Eagle, who announces everything from the NCAA tournament on CBS Sports to the Brooklyn Nets for the YES Network. Eagle had a lot of insight about the players in this NCAA tournament and how they might translate to the NBA. You can find that interview here.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.