This article is part of our NBA Barometer series.
By Charlie Zegers
RotoWire Staff Writer
Skip to My Lou
The Rockets were so dissatisfied with their point guard position this offseason, it seemed they were very close to bringing guys in off the street for tryouts. Rafer Alston was the most unpopular incumbent this side of George Dubya Bush.
A few months later, the Rockets are riding the second-longest winning streak in NBA history even after losing Yao Ming for the season, and Rafer Alston has been a major factor – even before his 31-point explosion against the Lakers on Sunday. No less an authority than former Houston coach and ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy has called Alston the key to the Rockets' winning streak and one of the top point guards in the league this season.
While we're not quite ready to group Skip to My Lou in the same league with Nashie, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd, Alston has been remarkably efficient of late. In eight games this March, he's averaging nearly 19 points on over 42 percent shooting from the field and from three -- with five assists, and just under four boards. He's also been an adept thief, with 1.6 steals per game.
Meanwhile – all those other guys who were supposed to take his job have faded into the background. Brooks has played in just four of eight games in March, and averaged under 10 minutes when he's gotten in. Mike James is gone, as is John Lucas. Francis is out for the year with a torn quad.
Of that list of backcourt players that at times resembled an American Idol audition, only Luther Head plays a significant role for the team today. He and Bobby Jackson – who arrived in the trade that sent James to New Orleans – are valuable 10-15 minute/night bench players for Houston; neither is considered a serious challenger for Alston's job.
Shawn Marion's back was giving him trouble on Sunday, causing The Matrix to miss Miami's game against the Mavs.
Then Alexander Johnson was forced to leave the game in the second quarter after sustaining a bone bruise to the right knee.
Assuming they're both unavailable for Miami's next game – Tuesday night, against the Bucks – the Heat will have just eight active players for the game.
(Gotta give 'em credit - when Miami looks to solidify their draft position, they go all-out.)
Don't pity the Heat – instead, think of this as an opportunity. When this many players are unavailable, some fairly obscure names suddenly become valid fantasy options. The best two are probably Daequan Cook -– who has started four straight games in place of Dwyane Wade and who scored 11 points, a game-high eight rebounds and three assists in Sunday's game – and Earl Barron – who returned from his own injury to post a team (and career) high 21 points on Sunday.
Cook and Barron should continue to get minutes – if only out of sheer necessity.
Joe Johnson (ATL): Johnson has been on fire of late as the Hawks make a play for a playoff berth in the East. He's averaging 29 points per game over his last eight, including 28 points and eleven dimes against the hapless Knicks on Sunday. (A side note for guys who play matchup-based games like "Pick One" on NBA.com -- the Hawks play the Knicks twice more before the season is out.)
Marcus Camby (DEN): In a game full of video game stat lines, Camby's stands out: Camby posted 13 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists, four blocks and one steal in just 27 minutes of Denver's 168-116 rout of Seattle on Sunday.
Chucky Atkins (DEN): Atkins is averaging roughly 21 minutes of court time over his last three games, posting per-game totals of 15 points, five rebounds and five assists while connecting on 12-of-19 3-pointers. It's unclear if he's become a key reserve for the Nuggets or if he's amassing numbers during garbage time – all three games were blowouts – but it seems reasonable to think George Karl will look for opportunities to spell Allen Iverson, who is playing with a broken finger – and that could mean extended minutes for Atkins.
Ronny Turiaf (LAL): Starting for Pau Gasol, Turiaf had 13 points, eight boards and three blocks in the Lakers' loss to Houston Sunday. He could be a nice short-term pickup while Gasol (see below) recovers.
Carl Landry (HOU): Landry went through a tough workout on Saturday and had no problems with his aching knee. He's expected to be activated for Tuesday's game against Boston.
Chris Paul (NO): Paul is playing with a sore ankle, which limited his productivity in Sunday's game. Though he played 40 minutes, Paul told reporters he "couldn't attack like (he) wanted to." Keep a close eye on his minutes and numbers when the Hornets play Chicago on Monday.
Radoslav Nesterovic (TOR): Nesterovic has put up some really nice numbers filling in for Chris Bosh – in nine games with the Raptors' superstar on the shelf, Rasho is averaging 29.2 minutes, 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. Unfortunately for Nesterovic owners, Bosh is expected back this week. It remains to be seen how much of a factor Nesterovic will be once the Raptors are at full strength.
Caron Butler (WAS): Butler took a hard fall during Thursday's game against the Cavs, and it was still bothering him during Saturday's win over the Clippers – he was seen icing himself after the game. Combine this latest problem with the hip injury that caused him to miss extensive time in February and March, and it seems reasonable to expect inconsistent results from Butler for the next couple of weeks.
Pau Gasol (LAL): Gasol missed Sunday's game with a sprained ankle. The initial estimates were that he'd miss just a couple of games, and Phil Jackson seems to be holding to that, which means he could be back by end of week. We'll believe it when we see it.
Anderson Varejao (CLE): The arrivals of Joe Smith and Ben Wallace seemed to mean Varejao's minutes would take a hit, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas got hurt shortly after the trade and gave Varejao a temporary reprieve. The big fella returned to the lineup on Sunday, and Varejao played just 16 minutes in Cleveland's win over Charlotte. Barring foul trouble for Ilgauskas or Wallace, that's probably around the number you should expect from Varejao down the stretch.
Udonis Haslem (MIA): Haslem has now missed five straight games due to a recurrence of the ankle injury that's hampered him since late January. With Miami in full-on "lottery drive" mode, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that the team is considering shutting Haslem down for the season.
Yi Jianlian (MIL): The Bucks have updated Yi's official status from "day-to-day" to "out." With each game that passes, the likelihood that he'll return from a wrist injury before the end of the season gets slimmer.
Article first appeared on 3/17/08