If You're Hardcore: One-trick ponies
As fantasy owners fight to stay alive in head-to-head leagues or jockey for positioning in roto formats, we're at the point in the season when it's OK to trade off production in an extra category or two for surplus in another one. Without the benefit of trading, you may have to just bite the bullet and drop a player who in a vacuum may be quite productive, but whose production proves redundant for your roster. The only way to make up ground quickly in a specific category is to pick up a category specialist, otherwise known as a one-trick pony. In roto leagues, you could jump three or four points in a certain category with just a bit more production for a week or two. In a head-to-head league, you could cover up a critical weakness with the use of just one roster slot.
At this time of the season, though, it's easy to overlook some of those players on your free-agent list, as they don't always log consistent starter's minutes. It may be useful to take a look at a handful of those categories that easily can shift with a little extra production as well as the players who can lend a hand in doing so:
Steals: Trevor Ariza, SF, Lakers: It took four months, but Ariza finally earned a starting job. He has played well since earning that job on March 11, with 15.0 points and 5.0 rebounds on 63.8 percent shooting in four games. It's doubtful Luke Walton will take back the job any time soon. More importantly, Ariza has had at least two steals in each start and is averaging 2.5 per game in 26 minutes in March. Many steals and blocks specialists suffer when given extended playing time because they no longer can play all out for a handful of minutes at a time -- I'm looking at you, Russell Westbrook -- but so far, Ariza is looking like an exception.
Assists: Dominic McGuire, SF, Wizards: As I mentioned a few weeks ago, McGuire has been productive for quite some time, but because he is an unknown commodity on a cellar dweller, it's not too surprising that owners have been slow to react. Caron Butler has been nursing a strained hamstring and aggravated it last week. He'll probably shut down for the season soon given that he has no incentive to stick around. Butler already has missed six games this month, which has allowed McGuire to up his assists to 4.6 per game, which isn't far off from many point guards' averages.
3-pointers: Steve Novak, PF, Clippers: While the Clippers' front court was decimated with injuries, Novak began carving out a role for himself off the bench, and one thing he loves to do is shoot. Novak has averaged more than five 3-point attempts per game since January, and he's quite the sharpshooter, shooting a whopping 44.7 percent from beyond the arc. That equates to 2.3 3-pointers per game, which places him in elite company. Projected across a full season, only Rashard Lewis, Danny Granger, Ray Allen and Peja Stojakovic would average more 3s per game. He offers nothing in other categories, however, making him the epitome of a one-trick pony. Plus, with Chris Kaman back, things are getting a bit crowded in Los Angeles. On the other hand, Novak is the first guy off the bench when there's any foul trouble, and he has been that guy for 2½ months, so it may be foolhardy to doubt him at this point. For a player with zero perceived value, he's the perfect guy to stream if you need some extra oomph from long range.
Turnovers: Steve Blake, PG, Trail Blazers: Although average at best in pretty much every other category, the one advantage Blake has on other point guards is that he rarely makes mistakes. He's tied with Mike Bibby for the second-lowest turnover rate among all starting point guards. (Only Derek Fisher turns the ball over less often.) Because turnovers aren't included as a category by default in ESPN.com leagues, they often end up overlooked and undervalued in the custom leagues that do include them. Blake's stability separates him from the pack of other similarly valued guards such as Aaron Brooks and Beno Udrih, the latter of whom strangely is owned in nearly four times as many leagues.
Everyone's favorite tease, Andray Blatche, is at it again, averaging 13.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in his past three games, all starts, filling in for Caron Butler. Blatche actually looked to be improving before a knee injury in late January derailed his ascent, but after a rough couple of games upon his return, he looks ready to start producing again. If he continues to play well, he could take some of Darius Songaila's playing time as the season winds down. With 18 points Wednesday, Nick Young made it five consecutive games with scoring in the double figures as he, too, benefits from Butler's absence. Young is averaging 15.6 points in that span and should have the green light as long as he continues to have the hot hand. Roy Hibbert has started 15 of the Pacers' past 17 games, even though Jeff Foster returned to action on Wednesday. The rookie has been productive in limited minutes, most notably in blocks (he swatted two on Wednesday and is averaging 1.8 per game in March), and is becoming serviceable in deep leagues. The latest player to take advantage of an injury, Keyon Dooling, is making his case to be picked up. He has had consecutive 17-point performances starting in place of the injured Devin Harris. A career 41.8 percent shooter, there's a good chance he'll be exposed thanks to extended playing time, but he's not a bad speculative grab while the severity of Harris' shoulder injury remains unknown. With 20 more rebounds in his past two games, Renaldo Balkman is averaging a ridiculous 10.9 rebounds in just a little more than 24 minutes in seven contests this month. The return of Kenyon Martin has hardly put a damper on his board-crashing ways, and Balkman is becoming the new one-trick pony of rebounds.
James Singleton, PF, Mavericks (0.4 percent owned): With Antoine Wright struggling to fill in for Josh Howard, and Jose Juan Barea battling inconsistency, Singleton has been getting more run recently, averaging 30.3 minutes in his past three games. He's ferocious off the boards, averaging 14.2 rebounds per 48 minutes, and provides Dallas much-needed athleticism and the ability to play two positions. Singleton has been productive when he has received the minutes -- he averaged 11.8 points and 11.6 rebounds in 27.4 minutes during a five-game stretch in late February -- and with Howard reportedly just "trying to get back for the playoffs," Singleton is becoming a sneaky option in deep leagues.
Arron Afflalo, SG, Pistons (0.2 percent owned): The Pistons are quite banged-up, so Afflalo has been forced into action, logging 39 and 45 minutes the past two games filling in for the injured Richard Hamilton. There's no telling how long Hamilton's bothersome groin could keep him out -- it could be a couple of days, or he could take off weeks to ensure his health for the playoffs -- but even in the short term, Afflalo's 20.0 points and 4.0 3-pointers in his past two games demand attention. One of those contests was a double-overtime affair, and he won't continue to shoot better than 50 percent, but he should continue to score in the midteens and provide one or two 3-pointers per game until the Pistons get healthier.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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