This article is part of our Category Strategy series.
Under the Radar
On Wednesday, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton were suspended for the remainder of the season. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone as commish David Stern may have gone easy on both of them. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a life-ban for Arenas given the alleged events - if you have enough time to update a blog, you should have enough time to read the news and see what happened to Plaxico Burress.
What's gotten into Corey Brewer lately? I definitely didn't see this coming, his points per game average over his last five games is now at an even 20 after Wednesday night's game. So what's been the difference in his play? The three-point shot. Brewer is 16-for-29 (55 percent) over his last seven contests, a huge improvement from his 34-percent season average. I mentioned this once last year; this guy was on a college team with Al Horford, Joakim Noah and David Lee. Throw those guys a point guard and you've got a team that's at least better than the Nets.
Speaking of the Nets, they notched another "W" on Wednesday, bringing their record to an ugly 4-40. Perhaps the scarier thought about this team is the lack of upside they have for the future. I don't think Devin Harris (leadership), Yi Jianlian (42 percent from the field doesn't cut it for a power forward) and Courtney Lee have panned out like they hoped. They do have a couple of nice pieces in place with Brook Lopez, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Kris Humphries. Their best move would be to move Harris once he's healthy for a first-round draft pick, which would give them three. Go after John Wall, aggressively if you don't win the first pick in the lottery. Minnesota has Johnny Flynn, and I'm sure they could be talked into trading down. Barring a monster free-agent signing, expect New Jersey to remain in the bottom of the league for the next couple years.
I'm always looking in my weekly leagues at my players' upcoming schedule. Heading into Wednesday night's slate of games, the team allowing the most points this year is Golden State (not surprising). Filling out the two through five spots are: Phoenix, Minnesota, Sacramento and Toronto. I was somewhat surprised to see New York (8) and Denver (11) not higher on that list. Conversely, the teams holding opponents to the lowest point totals respectively are: Charlotte, Boston, Portland, Cleveland and Oklahoma City. The Thunder are the biggest surprise to me on that list; this is easily the most improved team in the Association from last year.
Now onto our weekly look at player minutes, roto categories that waiver-wire players can help with and new position eligibility.
Marcus Thornton, G, NO - I've been preaching all season to take a chance on rookies, and it appears Thornton's turn in the spotlight is now. The Hornets traded Devin Brown, opening up the two spot for the cousin of the Clippers' Al. New Orleans might have gotten a steal at pick No. 43 in the draft, landing the 2009 SEC player of the year. Thornton shot more than 38 percent from beyond the arc last year in college and averaged 21.2 points per game. That stat is even more impressive considering he saw limited action against inferior competition (Jackson State, Alcorn State, Centenary, McNeese State and Louisiana Lafayette) resulting in 49 total points. On Monday, the first game in the post-Devin Brown era, Thornton scored 19 points in 39 minutes. His assist, rebounding and steals haven't been impressive to this point, but the extra court time should see them improve slightly (he averaged 5.5 rebounds last year at LSU). He's a solid pickup if you need scoring or three-pointers.
Arron Afflalo, G, DEN - Afflalo has done a nice job picking up the slack left by injuries to Ty Lawson and Carmelo Anthony. He's been on fire from downtown, going 13-for-22 (59 percent) over his last four games playing an average of 31.8 minutes a night. Obviously he isn't going to continue to shoot this well beyond the arc, and Melo should be back soon. However, with Afflalo's production and J.R. Smith not exactly in the good graces of George Karl, expect Afflalo to get enough playing time to help your squad with threes and scoring.
Anthony Tolliver, F, GS - Last week I talked about teammate Cartier Martin, this week it's Tolliver. Typically if you get more than 30 minutes a night for Golden State, you become a waiver option in deep leagues at the very least. Tolliver signed a second 10-day contract Wednesday after averaging 30.8 minutes, 10 points and 7.2 rebounds in his last four contests. Before signing with Golden State he was averaging 21.4 points and 11.4 rebounds for Idaho of the NBA D-League, showing some upside. Hopefully, he ditches the three-point shot (only 2-for-22), which would help boost his 39.5 field goal percentage. I'd only recommend him in really deep leagues for now, but monitor his progress on a team that is extremely fantasy-friendly.
Here are some players who can help your fantasy squad in specific categories.
Shaquille O'Neal, C, CLE - Finally healthy, Shaq has put together a nice run of games for the Cavaliers. He's scored in double-digits in six straight games putting together a nifty 15.6-point average during that stretch. Don't forget that the free-throw line still isn't his friend (51.4 percent for the season), but he can help with field-goal percentage (54.4 percent for the season). Pick him up as a No. 2 center, especially if you're in a league that requires you start two centers.
Assists and Rebounds
Boris Diaw, F, CHA - Remember back to 2005, when Diaw put up a Lebron-like season with 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and one block per game? Every time I've gone to write about Diaw he's turned cold seemingly as quick as he was hot. Well, he's in the middle of another hot streak and turned in pretty consistent production in 2010. For January, he's averaged 10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists and just less than one block and one steal per game. Grab him especially if your league requires a starting small forward.
J.J. Hickson, F, CLE - Hickson recorded his first double-double of the season last Thursday, scoring 11 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Throw out a dud against Miami and he's averaged 12.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in his last four games. The second-year pro is only 21 and should be on your radar for next season as a sleeper, especially if Lebron James takes his services to a different NBA team. Either way, Hickson has enough upside to be a nightly double-double threat in the not too distant future.
Every league has different rules regarding eligibility. Always check your rules to make sure your league recognizes the new position a player may be eligible to play.
Article first appeared on 1/28/10