If You're Hardcore: Players primed for increased opportunities
The passing of the trade deadline signals the dog days of the season. At this point in the season, the haves and the have-nots are pretty much cut-and-dried, and the have-nots -- the teams with no shot at the playoffs -- begin to tweak with rotations and find reasons to sit vets down in order to give developmental players a look.
That means players who have been ignored by coaching staffs and fantasy owners alike may get an opportunity in the coming weeks at their 15 minutes of fame this season. Some teams begin to mail it in for a shot at a better draft position, while others have team options hanging in the balance of seven weeks of play. Here are a handful of players who could see an audition in the coming weeks, and one player who could end his season early after gutting through various ailments all season.
Thabo Sefolosha, SG/SF, Thunder: When the Thunder acquired Sefolosha for a first-round draft pick, they found the perfect role player for their team: a big, defensive-minded wing who is young enough (24) to grow with their core. Considering they were starting Kyle Weaver, Sefolosha should step right into the starting lineup and earn consistent minutes. It's an upgrade no matter how you slice it, as he gets a couple more possessions under his belt (the Thunder, at 94.0 per game, are seventh in the category), gets to play with the game's next superstar in Kevin Durant and has the comfort of a starting role for the first time in his career. He's not a big fantasy performer, but one thing he should do well is steal the ball: Sefolosha averages 2.39 steals per 48 minutes, which would rank 11th if he qualified.
Anthony Randolph, SF/PF, Warriors: The Warriors are 14 games out of a playoff spot and have nearly $50 million tied up in five players; getting cheaper will definitely be a priority for the team in the offseason. Coach Don Nelson said he will start sitting veterans to create playing time for his younger players, and Randolph would seem to be one of the beneficiaries of that strategy if it should come to fruition. He's averaging 9.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks on 52.5 percent shooting in just 16 minutes per game this month. The first-rounder displays a lot of potential and has performed very well in limited minutes for a player who was supposed to be a project. We all know it doesn't take much for any Warrior to turn into a must-grab.
Rashad McCants, SG, Kings: McCants is in a contract year, and the rebuilding Kings would like an idea as to whether he will be a part of their next playoff team. McCants averaged 26.5 points per 48 minutes last season and shot 40.7 percent from beyond the arc. There's always room for a scorer on an NBA team, but it remains to be seen if he has the makeup to last. He hasn't been able to get much time off the bench in his first couple of games since joining the Kings, but he's worth keeping an eye on because, at some point, he should get an opportunity.
Nenad Krstic, C, Thunder: Krstic has seen his playing time increase recently, although he has been slow to regain his effectiveness after re-entering the NBA after spending the first couple of months in Russia. It's been more than two years since he tore his ACL, so it's hard to believe that's still limiting him; chances are, he just needs to play more and regain his confidence, and the Thunder are allowing him every opportunity to do so. He's averaging 27 minutes in his past six games and has started the past three games instead of Nick Collison. He's also blocked a shot in six consecutive games and is actually averaging 1.1 blocks per game, which would be a career high.
Comings and goings
With the Knicks finally buying out his contract, Stephon Marbury becomes a free agent and is expected to sign with the Celtics on Friday. He's already one of the most-added players in the past week, but it's hard to see how an out-of-shape 32-year-old point who hasn't played in more than a year could be of value, even in the deepest of leagues. Andres Nocioni is making some noise on his new team, averaging 13.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 3-pointers in 29 minutes per game in his first three games as a King. Nocioni has the green light to shoot on a team that lacks scorers, and he's getting to the free-throw line five times per game, too. He also had three assists in each of his first two games, after picking up three or more assists in just eight other games this season. That's something to keep an eye on, considering the Kings' Princeton offense offers more chances to pick up dimes. Shane Battier is quietly averaging 2.4 assists, 2.0 3-pointers, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in nine February contests, versatile enough stats to make you ignore the paltry 7.9 points. Somehow he's available in more leagues than you would think despite those jack-of-all-trades numbers. Battier's logging more than 36 minutes per game since Tracy McGrady went down, and all that missed time should make him fresh for a stretch run.
Luke Walton, SF, Lakers (0.8 percent owned): Don't look now, but in his past three games, Walton is averaging 30.3 minutes per game. He has 13 assists to three turnovers in that time, and is 5-for-7 from 3-point range. He's gradually earning more minutes since returning from a foot injury in January and is averaging 4.1 assists to 1.1 turnovers in 11 February games. If Walton can be even decent from beyond the arc -- he's making better than 50 percent of his 3-pointers this month -- he will likely earn himself more minutes since his best skill, passing, is a valuable weapon in Phil Jackson's Triangle offense. Maybe most importantly, he doesn't kill you in any one category, which is important in a deep league.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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