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Centers of Attention: Productive Big Men Stuck in Limbo

Mike Barner

Mike started covering fantasy sports in 2007, joining RotoWire in 2010. He currently focuses on the NBA. Before RotoWire, Mike wrote for KFFL.com.

We finally saw the Jahlil Okafor saga come to an end last week, as the 76ers mercifully dealt him to the Nets. Stuck behind Joel Embiid, there was no longer a path to playing time in Philadelphia for Okafor. Although he has yet to play a game for the Nets, he could eventually carve out a big role considering Brooklyn’s lack of high-end talent up front.

A player with relatively no fantasy value being dealt to a situation where he should have at least a somewhat-significant role can be the difference in many leagues. If you are lucky enough to make the hot pickup in time, it could push you towards a championship.
This week, we’ll take a look at some other centers in less-than-ideal situations who could get a bump in value if they’re dealt before February’s deadline.

Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers

The move to Los Angeles has tanked Lopez’s fantasy value, as he’s averaging a career-low 23 minutes per game for a team with its eye clearly on the future. Once a stalwart in the middle for the Nets, Lopez had averaged at least 29 minutes per game in seven of the last eight seasons.

His lack of playing time is crushing in two ways. First, he’s never been a great rebounder for his size, averaging only 7.0 rebounds per game for his career. With the drop in playing time this season, he’s averaging a career-low 4.5 rebounds per game. You can’t have that from your center.

Second, the main draw with having him on your team as his ability to score. He has averaged at least 20 points per game four times in his career but is only averaging 13.2 points this season, representing the lowest number since his rookie season.

The Lakers play at a fast pace and have some depth up front, so things likely won’t get any better if Lopez stays in LA. He’ll be a free agent after the season, so he could have some value as an expiring deal, but at this point it’s tough to imagine a contending team viewing him as the missing piece.

Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets

Plumlee was playing well as the starting center for the Trail Blazers last year, averaging 11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 blocks in 28 minutes per game. He was then traded to Denver, where he was stuck behind one of the bright, young centers in the league in Nikola Jokic.

To no surprise, Plumlee has seen his playing time plummet this year as he’s only averaging 19 minutes per game. He’s put up respectable numbers, though, averaging 6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.0 block.

Jokic has missed the last seven games with an ankle injury, giving Plumlee a chance to finally see some extended run. He’s played well in his absence, averaging 8.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 25 minutes per game.

Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Plumlee is in the first year of a three-year contract with the Nuggets, so he likely won’t be traded anytime soon. Maybe the best chance for increased playing time for Plumlee is more backup minutes should the Nuggets trade Kenneth Faried at some point.

Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks

Hernangomez wasn’t expected to have a big role with the Knicks last season but ended up averaging 18 minutes per game as a rookie in the wake of Joakim Noah’s disastrous first year in New York. Hernangomez was extremely effective in those minutes, averaging 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and posting a 20.3% usage rate.

While his career looked to be trending in an upward direction, the Knicks brought in Enes Kanter when they traded Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder. Kanter has done an excellent job for the Knicks, so he’s not going to lose his job anytime soon.

Not only is Kanter playing well, but the majority of the backup center minutes have been going to Kyle O’Quinn. As a result, Hernangomez has only played in 14 games this season, and his minutes have been limited.

It’s hard to imagine the Knicks will be willing to give up on a talented young player like Hernangomez this early, but both Kanter and O’Quinn still have another year left on their contracts beyond this season. Not to mention, Noah is still signed through the 2019-20 season. If a team can manage to pry him away from the Knicks, Hernangomez could be a valuable fantasy asset in the right situation.

Boban Marjanovic, Detroit Pistons

I feel like I’ve been fighting this battle all season. Marjanovic is wasting away behind Andre Drummond on the Pistons and has only appeared in eight games this season. His per -6 minute numbers were excellent last year -- 23.5 points, 16.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks e --so he just needs an opportunity to produce.

Marjanovic was behind Jon Leuer (ankle) in the rotation earlier this season, but with Leuer out, things have not gotten any better. Both Anthony Tolliver and Eric Moreland appear to be above Marjanovic in the pecking order, which doesn’t give much hope for things changing anytime soon.

Marjanovic is making $7 million each of the next two seasons, and the market for traditional centers -- even those with his size -- is drying up, so trading him might not be too easy. That being said, he can have fantasy value even if he’s not starting with another team. He just needs a consistent rotation spot.

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