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Hoops Lab: Curry at the Top

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

At the start of the 2012 season I said that Stephen Curry was one of the very few players in the NBA capable of being the No. 1 overall player in rotisserie. While LeBron James and Kevin Durant were the usual suspects, Curry joined Chris Paul and Kevin Love as the only others with a legit shot at the title. The problem was, Curry sprains his ankle so often and so severely that he was also one of the few players capable of challenging Eric Gordon, Andrew Bogut, and Andrew Bynum as the most fragile player in the NBA.

That combo of tantalizing talent but ceramic ankles has made Curry fairly impossible to project. Every August I project the stats and minutes for every rotation player in the NBA as part of the Yahoo Draft Kit, and with Curry, the conservative call has been to predict him to miss so many games that he would lose his first round status in the draft. I've done so for each of the past two years, and I've followed my own advice and not drafted him despite his tantalizing upside.

In January of this year I was right on the borderline of being convinced that Curry was back. As I wrote in the January 5th Hoops Lab, "As the calendar flips to 2013, though, Curry has moved back into my top 10 by finally staying healthy and living up to his potential. With the possible exception of Chris Paul, there isn't another point guard I would rather have on my team right now than Curry." So what happened? A week later Curry re-sprained his ankle, spooking me into dropping him back down the rankings.

But now?

Curry has finally earned his way back into the top-5 of the Cheat Sheet. All eyes are on him right now because of his 54-point/11-3-pointer explosion on Wednesday in Madison Square Garden, but his play had already dictated that it was time for him to move back up before his shooting spree. If you check out the Y! player rater for the past month, here's your top 5:

1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Durant
3. James Harden
4. Al Horford
5. Stephen Curry

In fact, if you look at the top-5 for the entire year, you'll see very familiar names manning the list:

1. Kevin Durant
2. LeBron James
3. Chris Paul
4. James Harden
5. Stephen Curry

We're in March now, and Curry's ankle has held up through 54 of the team's 58 games. I'll never be fully comfortable with his ankle, but at this point, comfort is a luxury that most can't afford. It's all about production and value, and I have to rank players on who they are and not who they could be.

That said.

While I sincerely meant every word that I just wrote, now might be the most perfect opportunity that you'll get to trade Curry for value. The problem with trading Curry before was that a) he didn't have name recognition and b) he was known as injury prone. But he just shined a megawatt spot light on himself with that 54-point effort that leads the NBA thus far on the season, and as I pointed out, it should be easy to sell that his ankle is healthy enough with him having suited up in 93% of the Warriors' games thus far, with him playing all 48 minutes in game 54. He's obviously healthy.

So why would you want to trade him?

Two reasons: One, you only trade him if you're getting top-5 player value for him, which might give you a bit of a peace of mind if the ankle still bothers you. But much more importantly than that, reason two was given in the lead to last week's Hoops Lab. The Warriors are extremely game limited during the head-to-head fantasy playoff weeks (only nine total games for weeks 21-23, least in the NBA). If you're in a roto league, this won't matter, but if you're in a head-to-head league, it could really hurt for your best player to have the least number of games on your team.

Bottom line: Curry has no roto weaknesses in his game outside of his history of injury. He's finally convinced me that he's healthy, which has him back at the top of my rankings. But if I got a great offer for him, I'd trade him today at the peak of his stock to get players of similar caliber that will play more games for my squad in the fantasy playoffs. Curry's a personal favorite of mine, but fantasy sports are strictly about the numbers, and business is business.

Around the League

Harden's knee: James Harden sat out practice on Thursday due to a sore knee and will be a game-time decision on Friday in Orlando. On the one hand, with the Lakers breathing down their necks, it seems unlikely that Harden will miss any action if humanly possible. On the other hand, the Magic are about as bad as we have in the NBA right now, so I could imagine the team making the sober decision to sit Harden and try to win anyway. Either way, with Harden playing as one of the top players in the NBA, this injury certainly bears watching.

Curry vs. the Pitbull: Coming off of his detonation in New York, it will be interesting to see how Curry does in his match-up Friday against Avery Bradley and the Celtics. Bradley, nicknamed the Pit Bull by teammate Courtney Lee, is gaining recognition as one of the best on-ball perimeter defenders in the NBA. Curry and Bradley are similar in size and age, and appear to be the irresistible force to the other's immovable object. With both playing well, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when they lock horns.

Hawks on the rise: I wrote last week that Smith was poised for a big finish to the season with his lame-duck status in Atlanta potentially motivating him to showcase himself as a tryout for a max deal this summer. And Smith has lived up to my prediction, averaging 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists over the last week to rank in the Y! top-25 for the week. The interesting thing in Atlanta, though, is that Smith still isn't even playing like the best player on his team not even the second best! Al Horford is the top-ranked player by Yahoo over the past week (26 points, 14 boards, 4.1 combined steals/blocks, and 65% shooting from the field) while also holding down the No. 4 slot for the past month. Horford has long been one of my favorite under-the-radar players in the league, but he's played himself well and fully onto the radar. And point guard Jeff Teague is also in the top-5 for the last week, notching averages of 20.5 points, 10 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.5 treys in that stretch. The Hawks decided not to blow up the team at the trade deadline, and the early returns are that the team plans to reward them with a strong late-season push.

MASH unit updates: Kevin Love was spotted taking 18-foot jumpers at practice on Wednesday. There's still no stated deviation from the expectation that he will return in mid-March, but there has also been no official confirmation of that time-table either.

Derrick Rose has been shooting around and practicing in a limited form for awhile now, and he has been spotted dunking the ball as well. He is still considered out indefinitely, though, and with his stated willingness to sit out the entire season, you can't be completely confident that he will return. That said, some conservative estimates have him returning in mid-to-late March then trying to get acclimated for a playoff run.

Andrew Bynum recently took an MRI that showed "degeneration" in his knee, which is terrible news for his return. This type of prognosis is what forced Brandon Roy into an early retirement and then an injury-plagued comeback. I have less and less expectation that Bynum will play this year, and I begin to wonder about the future of his career.

The mini fight: Three Warriors segments in one Hoops Lab has to be a record for me, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the scuffle that led to the suspensions of David Lee and Roy Hibbert (both already served). As fights go, this one wasn't much just a lot of shoving, really, with no punches thrown. The only reason that suspensions were handed out at all is that the fight spilled over into the crowd, which is strictly a no-no after the Malice in the Palace. The most interesting part of the fight itself was watching Hibbert throw Curry around like a rag doll. There aren't any long-term ramifications for the fight, and since the suspensions and fines have already been served, we can call this one water under the bridge.

Kobe's technicals: Unlike the fight just mentioned, Kobe Bryant's technical fouls are still a looming danger. Kobe entered the week with a league-leading 14 technicals, but one has been rescinded, so he officially only has 13 now. On his 16th technical foul of the season, he will be suspended a game, and every two technical after that would be another game suspension. The Lakers are battling for a playoff spot, so Kobe will presumably try to curb his reactions moving forward, but for his fantasy owners, this is a concern.

Time to drop Bargnani?: I received this tweet on Sunday from TK: "@ProfessorDrz do you think it's time to throw in the towel on this bum Bargnani?" I received the same question on the air on Thursday from Chris Liss during the RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today show. My answer is that by March 1, you have to say that a player is who he is. Bargnani obviously has the ability to play much better than he has, and it wouldn't shock me if he turned it around. He has nice upside. But if there's a better option on the free agency wire, we've reached the pint in the season where it may not pay to wait on potential. And with his cold shooting and turnovers, Bargnani is actually hurting teams right now. It may very well be time to cut the cord if you haven't already.

New Additions

Derrick Favors (60% owned in Yahoo! leagues) and Enes Kanter (3% owned): Favors and Kanter didn't get the boost at the trade deadline that would have come with the anticipated trade of either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. But while those trades didn't happen, both Millsap and Jefferson are currently dealing with ankle injuries that kept Millsap out of Wednesday's game and Jefferson out of Thursday's practice. Neither injury is serious, so Jefferson and Millsap will likely both be back very soon. That said, the youngsters are worth spot starts while either starting big is out, and they also have the upside to play great and earn more minutes down the stretch. Favors notched 17 and 15 with three blocks on Wednesday with only Millsap out. This is strictly a short-term add with upside, but that can be valuable to some teams.

Jeff Green (38% owned): I've written about green three times now in the past month, and he's still owned in less than 40% of leagues. After he notched 31 points, seven boards, five blocks, four assists, three treys, two steals and shot 11-for-14 from the field and 6-for-7 from the line against the Suns last week I don't know what else to say. Green obviously won't do THAT every night, but he's averaged about 17 points per game for almost a month now, and he's the clear third option in Boston behind Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. He also plays starter minutes now, despite coming off the bench. He's worth the add.

Kirk Hinrich (34% owned): Derrick Rose might be dunking and practicing more regularly, but he's also still making noises about being willing to sit out the season. I doubt that he will, but still, it's no longer a given that Rose suits up soon. And in the meantime, Hinrich has returned to health and has been playing good ball. Hinrich has averaged 13 points and 8.5 assists in the two starts since his return and has value for as long as he holds onto the starting gig.

Tobias Harris (18% owned): Last week I wrote that the entire Magic team could go in this space because they have very little team talent and someone would have to tally the stats. It appears that Harris will be one of those to do so, as he's up around 17 points and 7 boards since the trade.

Jermaine O'Neal (13% owned): I've been trying to ignore O'Neal for the past two weeks. I don't believe in him anymore, and I'd rather stay away. That said, he's been playing really good ball for weeks now, coming one point shy of five double-doubles in his last seven games. He also has 16 blocked shots in those seven games, and his efforts culminated in a 22-point, 13-rebound, 2-blocks effort on Wednesday against the Spurs. I still don't believe in O'Neal, but his numbers look very good, believe it or not.

Donatas Motiejunas (6% owned): Motiejunas appears to have won the open power forward gig in Houston in the wake of their big trade. He's young, he's 7-foot, and he's playing well right now. All of that is worth taking a flyer on.

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.