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Learning to Love the Scrubs

In his recent post, "Get Ready for the Scrubs", Chris Liss lamented the annual NBA ritual of elite players sitting out at the end of the season. Top players on top teams reduce their minutes to rest up for the playoffs, while top players on lousy teams pack it in early with nothing at stake–often helping their teams' Tank-O-Rama efforts to land higher draft picks. I've been burned by this practice–very recently, in fact.

Last season, half my team decided to pack it in with anywhere from 5 to 10+ games left in the season. Since the league I'm in limits waiver pickups to 30 per season, I ran out of moves and couldn't fill all the slots. Since my league limits games played to 82 per position, and since I'd been carefully budgeting games played all season, I was suddenly forced to play a series of non-usable players just to get to those limits and roll up some counting stats. The whole affair was ugly.

Since then, I've decided to use this predictable late-season series of events to my advantage. If you're in a league with games played limits, I highly suggest you forcefeed starts to all your good players now, without worrying about going over a breakeven games played pace. So if you've got a 15-man roster with 12 starting spots, and 1 of your bench players is starter-caliber, cycle through those 13 guys instead of 12. It'll even out in the end, and you won't end up starting Chris Mihm late in the year just to catch up.

League quirks aside, the question becomes: Which scrubs should you target? With apologies to The Professor and the other Rotowire basketball guys who cover this stuff way better than I ever could, here are 3 former scrubs I've targeted for starter's minutes on my squad:

Spencer Hawes and Francisco Garcia. Pretty much the entire Kings roster can be considered scrubby, except for Kevin Martin (who I also own). In the Kings' case, there's been an additional Sudden Value Scrubs Factor: the trade deadline. Subtract Brad Miller and John Salmons from the starting lineup (and the roster), add Hawes and Garcia.

Both Hawes and Garcia have for brief periods flirted with fantasy relevance. Hawes started the season with 8 double-figure points games in his first 10 outings, including 3 double-doubles. But when Miller returned to health, Hawes was reduced to scrub status. With Miller gone, Hawes suddenly provides a legit points-rebounds threat from the center position, with an occasional three-pointer thrown in (on the downside, his percentages are weak for a big man with his shooting touch, if you play in a league with percentages). I picked up Hawes right after the Miller trade, and am happy I did.

I like Garcia even more. Talented but playing time-limited earlier this season, Garcia has thrived since taking over for Salmons as a starter, averaging 15.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.7 spg, with 2 blocks and 2 threes a contest. If you're in a keeper league, Garcia makes a great pickup for a long-term, jack-of-all-trades guy on a bad, high-scoring team. I drafted Garcia for a buck ($300 total budget, 15 players including bench) and held onto him all season. Happy I did.

Luis Scola. In a league that doesn't count percentages, Scola was the prototype of the player who gets picked up and dropped 5 times in a season. When the Rockets are healthy, Scola's not worth rostering in anything but the deepest non-percentage leagues, since he's just a decent two-category guy (points and boards) who gives you almost nothing else, bringing significant negative value in the blocks department if you're starting him at center. But with Tracy McGrady done and Ron Artest and Yao Ming both injury/absence time bombs, Scola becomes a reliable #2 center, able to overcome his limitations in other categories by becoming a double-double machine. He's riding a stretch of four straight double-doubles, throwing in a surprising five steals in his last two outings. There are very few NBA players who can't be acceptable lower-end fantasy starters when given 30+ minutes every night. As long as Scola's getting the minutes, you could do a lot worse.

So let's hear it...who are your favorite scrub targets for the home stretch of the NBA season?