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Category Strategy: Injuries Creating Opportunity

Alex Rikleen

Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball. A certified math teacher, Rikleen decided the field of education pays too well, so he left it for writing. He is a Boston College graduate living in Delaware.

Two players are underowned due to injuries, yet too widely owned to qualify for the bulk of this article. Tyreke Evans is available in a ridiculous 54 percent of ESPN leagues, as well as 35 percent of Yahoo! and eight percent of CBS leagues. He’s only played more than 23 minutes in one game so far, so his workload should continue to expand as the Pelicans keep working him back after a knee surgery.

On the other side of the injury equation is James Johnson, who is taking on an expanded role with Justise Winslow (shoulder) out for the season. Both Evans and Johnson are multi-category producers who are likely to yield significant dividends down the line.

The Nuggets play five games this week, while the Pistons and the Thunder play only two. In some settings, fringe Nuggets may have been dropped when they played only one game last week – now is a good time to snag those guys and take advantage of their extra games. Outside of those three teams, the schedule is evenly split between 13 teams with three games, and 14 with four.


Terrence Jones, Pelicans
(Ownership: ESPN – 17%; Yahoo – 48%; CBS – 65%)

Anthony Davis (back) has only missed three games this season, but Jones has averaged 34.0 minutes in those contests. Davis left Monday’s game in the third quarter and is questionable for Wednesday’s game. Jones is inconsistent game-to-game, but he is averaging 15.8 points per 36 minutes this season, along with 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. As long as Davis is out, Jones is worth a short-term flier in most settings.

If Chris Paul misses any time with his thumb injury, Raymond Felton deserves an immediate add based on what he did last time Paul sat. Paul missed seven games, and Felton played more than 30 minutes in all of them. He reached double-digit points in four of the last five of those. He also averaged 4.9 assists during that span.

Other suggestions: Jodie Meeks, Magic


Kelly Olynyk, Celtics
(Ownership: ESPN – 6%; Yahoo – 25%; CBS – 33%)

Olynyk has seen an increased role in the Celtics’ rotation recently, which is all he needed to rise to fantasy importance. Olynyk is a stretch-big with good passing and moderate rebounding skills. He’s averaging only 21.0 minutes per game on the season, but has seen that increase to 25.6 over his past five games. He’s shooting 38.5 percent from long range this season, and he’s doubled his three-point production over this recent stretch.

C.J. Miles also deserves some recognition for his Troy Daniels-like ability to provide steady value from behind the arc, while contributing almost nothing else -- a pure specialist. If you have the option to choose between the two, take Daniels.

Other suggestions: Joe Ingles, Jazz; Marvin Williams, Hornets; Troy Daniels, Grizzlies; C.J. Miles, Pacers


Cody Zeller, Hornets
(Ownership: ESPN – 30%; Yahoo – 52%; CBS – 62%)

After missing four out of five games, Zeller has returned to action and is playing some of his best ball of the season. In his last three games, he is averaging 12.7 points and 9.0 rebounds, both well above his 10.9 and 6.4 season averages. Zeller has had a few weeks where he put up good fantasy value, and this appears to be the start of another one.

Tyson Chandler is too widely owned to really qualify for this article, but I’m mentioning him anyway. He sat Monday’s game, but Alex Len still only played 21 minutes and managed just five rebounds. Chandler is averaging 15.5 rebounds over the last two weeks, and 12.1 on the season. I can’t take Len seriously as a challenger for minutes. Yes, he is a limited player, but Chandler’s rebound production is so extreme that should be owned almost everywhere.

Other suggestions: Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers; Terrence Jones, Pelicans


Joe Ingles, Jazz
(Ownership: ESPN – %; Yahoo – 4%; CBS – 5%)

Rodney Hood (knee) went down with what looked like a nasty injury last week. While the news on Hood looks relatively optimistic, considering the initial fears, he is still expected to miss at least two weeks. That opens up a starting spot and a lot of minutes for Ingles, who has been an efficient per-minute producer in his limited opportunities this season. While is biggest fantasy impact is in assists, averaging 3.9 per-36 minutes from the wing, he also provides some help in threes, rebounds, and steals, without really hurting anywhere.

I mentioned Mike Dunleavy in this week’s Numbers Game as a player who looks poised to see a jump in assists. Dunleavy averages 2.3 assists per game for his career, a good number for a low-usage wing. Though his assists have been falling for years, his 0.9 per game with the Cavaliers this season is by far his lowest total ever. He leaves a Cavaliers squad that is second in the league in isolations, and where non-Lebron James wings are primarily used as outside shooters spreading the floor for James and Kyrie Irving. He now joins the Hawks, who run the fifth-fewest isolations. He is likely to see a few more minutes as a member of the less talented Hawks – and filling in for the departed Kyle Korver, who averaged 27.9 minutes per game. Dunleavy has not impressed in his first three games as a Hawk, but I expect his value to increase significantly.

Other suggestions: Raymond Felton, Clippers; James Johnson, Heat; T.J. McConnell, 76ers


Seth Curry, Mavericks
(Ownership: ESPN – 10%; Yahoo – 26%; CBS – 33%)

Curry has been in and out of this article all season, as his play and the Mavericks’ rotation experience the ebbs and flows of a season. When playing well and seeing consistent minutes, Curry produces threes, steals, and a few points. Curry is currently doing both of those things. Over his last three games, he is averaging 28.7 minutes, 2.3 steals, and 2.0 threes. He’s the youngest and healthiest option in the Mavericks backcourt, so periodic streaks of strong play are likely to continue throughout the season.

Other suggestions: Thabo Sefolosha, Hawks; Tony Allen, Grizzlies


Lucas Nogueira, Raptors
(Ownership: ESPN – 9%; Yahoo – 23%; CBS – 25%)

There isn’t much in terms of new or exciting shot-blocking talent available on the wire right now, so I’m focusing on Nogueira, since I think he has the best long-term upside of anyone widely available. He is 24, but only has 68 career games under his belt, and most of those have been in limited mop-up minutes. This year is his first time as member of the regular rotation, and he has an impressive knack for defensive production. As long as he continues to develop and improve, he could become a widely-owned fantasy asset down the road.

Other suggestions: Dewayne Dedmon, Spurs; Dragan Bender, Suns

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