Centers of Attention: Lopez Taking Advantage
Centers of Attention: Lopez Taking Advantage

This article is part of our Centers of Attention series.

Week 21 brings the start of the fantasy playoffs in many leagues. This is what you've worked all season for! Now is the time to know the intricacies of the schedule more than ever. Let's take a look at the next two weeks and what can be expected from five players who man the center position for their respective teams.

DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors: For the first time this season, Cousins eclipsed the 30 minute plateau Monday against the Hornets. He came through with a monster performance, scoring 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a steal. For those who took a flier on him late in their draft hoping he could help for the fantasy playoffs, it was certainly an encouraging step for him to take.

While Cousins might not have the same minutes restrictions, the Warriors are going to be careful with him during the rest of the season. Case in point, he sat out for rest Wednesday against the Heat, which was the first game of a back-to-back set. Golden State plays three times in Week 21 and none of those contests are on consecutive days, so be sure to deploy Cousins in your lineup.

However, the Warriors are one of only two teams to play just twice in Week 22. That's significant, considering 10 teams will take the floor four times. You may not have any better options, but if you do, benching Cousins that week is by no means crazy.

Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors: Gasol being traded to the Raptors may have improved their chances of making a long playoff run, but it's dealt a significant blow to Gasol's fantasy value. He's only started one of six games since joining the team and didn't log more than 24 minutes in any of those six contests. With his reduced workload, he's only averaged 9.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

Another reason why Gasol was so valuable when he was on the Grizzlies is that he was averaged 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 three-pointers a game. That's great production from a center, especially when combined with Gasol's ability to rack up assists. However, he's only recorded 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.5 three-pointers a night with the Raptors.

To make matters worse for those who roster Gasol, the Raptors only play three times each in Weeks 21 and 22. With his inconsistent playing time leading to a decline in production across the board, anchoring him to your bench might be a wise choice.

Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies: As bad as the Raptors and Grizzlies trade has been for Gasol, it's provided a huge boost for Valanciunas. He's shown he can be productive even in limited playing time, so it's not surprising that he's thrived in an expanded role for the Grizzlies. Over 25 minutes a night, Valanciunas has averaged 18.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks during his five games with the team. He's also shooting 56.3 percent from the field.

Unfortunately for those who have reaped the rewards so far, the Grizzlies also have a very unfriendly schedule the next two weeks. They start out by playing three games in Week 21, followed by just two appearances in Week 22. Valanciunas is probably still worth starting that first week, but even with his improved play, playing only two games the following week puts a cap on his upside.

Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks: Not a lot has gone right for the Knicks this season and they've really torn down their roster through trades and buyouts. Coach David Fizdale also deploys some unpredictable rotations, which makes for a lot of tricky situations in fantasy. However, the one constant of late has been the strong play of Robinson.

The addition of DeAndre Jordan (ankle) brought a veteran presence at center, but it hasn't negatively impacted Robinson. Since the deadline, the rookie has averaged 11 points. 8.9 rebounds, one steal and 3.8 blocks per game while shooting 66.7 percent from the field. With Jordan out the last couple of games with an ankle injury, Robinson posted back-to-back performances with at least 15 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.

When Jordan does return, Robinson should still have a large enough role to provide value. He's gotten his fouling under control of late and is (by far) the best per-minute shot-blocker in the league. The Knicks play four times in Week 21 and follow that up with three games in Week 22, making Robinson a comfortable starting option in fantasy both weeks.

Robin Lopez, Chicago Bulls: The popular belief was that the Bulls would buy out Lopez after the trade deadline if they couldn't move him. No deal has materialized, and at this point it's likely he'll remain in Chicago for the rest of the year.

Let's be clear, the Bulls aren't just "hanging onto" Lopez. He's their starting center from here on out. His production has increased dramatically since the trade deadline, posting averages of 17.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks across his last eight games. Add in his 63.3 percent shooting from the field and 81.5 percent shooting from the charity stripe during that stretch and Lopez is a big man to target on waivers. He's still available in 67 percent of Yahoo leagues and has a favorable stretch ahead of him with the Bulls playing four times in Week 21 and three times in Week 22.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Barner
Mike started covering fantasy sports in 2007, joining RotoWire in 2010. In 2018, he was a finalist for the 2018 FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year award. In addition to RotoWire, Mike has written for Sportsline, Sports Illustrated, DK Live, RealTime Fantasy Sports, Lineup Lab and KFFL.com.
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