If You're Hardcore: Cut bait on Oden, Ellis, Deng
Greg Oden's tumultuous rookie season hit another valley on Monday, as the Blazers announced the big man's left knee would keep him out another 7-10 days. He has been sidelined since Feb. 12, and that means his injured knee -- which was not considered serious, and Oden claimed he didn't expect to miss any games -- will have kept him out of action for about a month.
Injuries continue to strike, and it's impossible to talk fantasy without discussing them. At this stage of the season, they are a killer, as owners simply can't afford to be patient.
In Oden's case, his owners aren't particularly damaged. While he was playing well, he was also averaging just 21 minutes in February. He also has an obvious replacement who will replicate, if not outperform, his level of play in Joel Przybilla.
Frankly, with teams having around 20 games left to play, fantasy owners need to be on the ball when it comes to making decisions on these players. Even if Oden was guaranteed of playing well after he returned, is it worth waiting another week or two when you could just pick up a guy like Kendrick Perkins, who's benefiting from an injury circumstance of his own, as the Celtics await Kevin Garnett's return? Or, if you're an astute owner who pounced on Jarrett Jack or Marquis Daniels when Danny Granger went down, when do you cut bait on them so you can pick up the next batch of injury replacements before your opponents? That extra game or two of overlap is not to be taken lightly.
For fantasy teams jockeying for playoff positioning, day-to-day roster management becomes crucial, and these are the questions owners are asking themselves. This is where decisiveness is rewarded. As the injuries pile up around the league (not to mention owner inactivity), the replacement level on the waiver wire grows. Let's look at some of the injury situations around the league and see who's worth keeping and who's worth ignoring.
Greg Oden, C, Trail Blazers: In case you couldn't tell, I'm not bothering to wait around for him anymore. Przybilla is averaging 8.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.2 blocks in 21 starts at center, and that's in just 25 minutes, a number he could easily top. Sure, his field goal percentage has declined in recent months, but his contributions in the hustle stats are valuable enough to keep you above water. Oden is probably going to take a couple of games to get back up to speed, and there's no certainty that Oden will be out only 7-10 days. There's no need to tolerate such uncertainty when there are many other feasible options, and there's a more-than-decent chance he could be waiting for you as he nears his return anyway.
Analysis: Cut bait.
Marquis Daniels, SG/SF, and Jarrett Jack, PG, Pacers: The big question is who will retain more value when Granger returns, which could be any day now. Right now, both are above-average fantasy players, but if both were forced into a time-share upon Granger's return, they are too limited to be much more than bench players. Jack has found his niche as an undersized 2-guard, and Daniels' versatility plays well off the bench. But the main reason I'm going with Jack is I just can't get excited about Daniels as a player. Even when he's productive, he's woefully inefficient, averaging nearly as many shot attempts as points. Jack, on the other hand, is averaging 20.2 points on 13.9 attempts since the break.
Analysis: Hold on Jack, ditch Daniels
Analysis: Cut bait.
Luol Deng, SF, Bulls: The same thing applies to Deng. Deng has an early anterior tibial stress fracture in his left leg, and as you read that, the only word you should care about is "fracture." He will attempt to play on it, but the injury risk is obvious. Take a look at his stats, and it's not as if he's particularly productive, either. When 1.2 steals per game qualifies as your most productive category, you're waiver material. Toss in decreased playing time since the Bulls acquired John Salmons, and there's no way Deng should be owned in anything but deep leagues.
Analysis: Cut bait.
Comings and goings
After arriving from the Bulls in exchange for a first-round draft pick, Thabo Sefolosha was expected to start at shooting guard, hover around 30 minutes per game and become a solid contributor. Instead, an ankle sprain has kept Kevin Durant sidelined the past three games, and Sefolosha has been forced to log heavy playing time, with marks of 38, 41 and 41 minutes in those three games. He's stepped up, averaging 15.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals, and Durant's return shouldn't be taken for granted. His injury is similar to the one that bothered Deron Williams for the better part of a month, and it's not as if the Thunder have anything to gain by rushing him back. On the other hand, it has blown Sefolosha's cover in deep leagues, so grab him now before it's too late. Sefolosha isn't the only player taking advantage of Durant's absence, as Nenad Krstic has dropped 26 and 18 points in his past two games. Afforded extra shot attempts with the team's two best players sidelined (Jeff Green was also out with a back injury), Krstic displayed the offensive potential that allowed him to average 16.4 points two seasons ago. He's shooting a career-high 78.4 percent from the line and even blocks shots nowadays. He is going to be a great sleeper in drafts next season. Welcome back to the NBA, Rashad McCants. An afterthought in Minnesota, it's taken only a couple of games for McCants to remind everyone of his offensive talent. In the past week, he's increased his scoring from 12 to 17 to 20, and his minutes from 23 to 27 to 30. That said, don't get too excited, but the Kings like to run (seventh in possessions per game), could use some offense and, after releasing Drew Gooden, are beginning the tanking portion of their season. They have much more to gain by playing McCants over Andres Nocioni. After totaling 10 points in his first three brutal games with his new team, Larry Hughes has bounced back with three equally impressive follow-ups, totaling 25, 19 and 23 points. He's seemingly entrenched as the starting shooting guard, and while shooting 51 percent from the field is well beyond his long-term capabilities, playing in such an up-tempo pace will do wonders for his assists, steals and 3-pointers.
Matt Barnes, SF, Suns (7.0 percent owned): The Suns have been a little iffy about inserting, and keeping, Barnes in the starting lineup, but during the past couple of days it's become more and more of a reality. His versatility makes him an option at both power and small forward, and he's averaging 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three 3-pointers per game in his past four contests, displaying his monstrous fantasy potential in the new-and-improved Suns offense. He's going to be inconsistent, but he balances out his clunkers with huge all-around games when he's on. Even after throwing out the team's three 140-plus-point games in the wake of Terry Porter's firing, the offense is still averaging a whopping 115 points per game, so there's more than enough production to go around.
Dominic McGuire, SF, Wizards (2.3 percent owned): Since Caron Butler has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, McGuire has started at shooting guard and totaled 15 assists, 14 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Even before Butler's injury, he was averaging 30 minutes per game, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals in 34 starts at small forward during the past two months, and his playing time has been on the rise. Since Feb. 17, he's averaging better than 35 minutes. He's a nonfactor in points and 3-pointers, but has otherwise become a consistent cross-category contributor whose residence on the worst team in the NBA has caused him to be ignored in fantasy leagues. As a utility man or a stopgap, you could do a lot worse.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.