Opportunity knocks. That's the theme for this week's "Are You For Real?" piece. We will look at players who have been given recent opportunities to shine. The question is not whether these players are capable -- they wouldn't be listed here if they weren't -- but rather if they can use those opportunities and maintain their performance to earn the coveted "For Real" status.
Anthony Carter is the starting point guard for the Denver Nuggets, and with Chucky Atkins sidelined for at least two months following hernia surgery, the job likely will be his for the remainder of the season. Does this make him a worthy add for your squad?
Nate Robinson is in a similar situation. Stephon Marbury has missed a lot of games and could miss many more if he elects to undergo surgery for bone spurs on his ankle. Will increased minutes turn Robinson into more than a fantasy oddity, capable of big scoring some nights and goose eggs on others?
Anthony Parker is a bit different in that he has had opportunities on the hardwood all season. However, fantasy owners are just now giving him a chance to stick with their squads after dropping him throughout the first few months of the season. Will he deliver?
What the people want to know is ... Anthony Carter, Nate Robinson and Anthony Parker, Are You For Real?
Anthony Carter, PG, Nuggets
Mac: For Real. Carter isn't going to light up the scoreboard, nor is he going to be a huge 3-point shooter, but he's a solid assists and steals guy and is in a great spot as the starting point guard in Denver. It's tough calling Carter "for real" after calling Mike Conley "not real" a week ago, especially because I'd rather own Conley. But the fantasy game is all about expectations, and I'm betting that Carter continues to exceed his fantasy expectations for the remainder of the season, while Conley will struggle to keep pace with the lofty expectations placed on him by fantasy owners. Here's the deal with Carter: He has started 123 games in his career, averaging a pedestrian 8.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals in 27.4 minutes during those contests. Like I said, he's an assists and steals guy only, but then again we can expect slightly better numbers given that he'll get more minutes in Denver, not to mention that he has two of the league's best scorers at his fingertips. News that Chucky Atkins will miss around eight weeks following his sports hernia surgery has only added fuel to Carter's fire, ensuring that he'll see ample minutes in Denver's backcourt. Currently, he's averaging 8.4 points, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals in 21 starts for the Nuggets, which is about what we should expect going forward.
Guy: Not Real. Unless, as Mac said, you need steals and assists. Though even here, I don't like him all that much. I haven't gone "for real" on Rajon Rondo or Mike Conley, and I can't justify changing course with a lesser talent like Carter. Look, in a deeper league (14 teams or larger), you should be all over Carter. In leagues that size, two-category guys are of use. But let's be clear, it's not as if Carter is Chris Paul on the steals. Snatching 36 steals on the season is nice, but players like Chuck Hayes (45) and Marko Jaric (39) have more steals and are more than likely available on your league's waiver wire. Mac has it right; you can expect a solid 1.2 steals per game from him ... and probably a few other guys available on the wire. Carter shoots well from the field (48.5 percent) for a guard, but with just more than seven attempts per game, his percentage isn't going to make a big impact in your aggregate totals. This leaves the assists, which I do think are for real. Even in a terrible game last night (zero points on 0-for-5 shooting from the field), Carter managed seven dimes. With scorers like Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, he is going to get six assists a game by default. For me, this isn't enough. Again, if I can't rate Conley and Rondo for real, there is no way I can support Carter.
Nate Robinson, PG, Knicks
Guy: For Real. Consider this a condemnation of Stephon Marbury more than an affirmation of Robinson. In the soap opera that is the Knicks, Marbury plays the stock role of the wounded, vindictive matriarch, more than capable of tearing her family apart before she allows her pride to be taken from her. Hmm, am I describing Marbury or Isiah Thomas? Wait, I got it; they're matriarch twins! If these roles are set in "As the Garden Burns," then Robinson is surely the plucky ingenue -- a little annoying when she talks, but you just can't take your eyes off her. It is looking very possible that Marbury will need ankle surgery, which would move Robinson from supporting player to main attraction. You could argue that he already has. He has been playing starter's minutes off the bench since Dec. 21, and in that time has averaged 16.6 points, 2.2 3-pointers, 3.3 assists and 0.8 steals on 49.6-percent shooting from the field and 78.3 percent from the line. While these numbers hardly make Robinson a multi-category monster, he is capable of helping in a few areas. Last night, for example, he handed out eight assists. I think these numbers will hold because I am not convinced that Marbury is going to play a ton of minutes for the Knicks going forward. I am only guessing, but I think he elects for surgery to treat his bone spurs and takes the next six weeks off. After that, who knows? Nate should have value, though Alexis, er Stephon, could decide to put a dagger in all our backs and take the floor again. The Knicks are dramatic everywhere except on the court, but one of the few players worth watching is Robinson.
Mac: For Real. Let me come right out and say this: There are a lot of things I don't like about Robinson, namely his fluctuating minutes and inability to contribute in multiple categories. My initial thoughts were to go "not real" on little Nate because of the aforementioned concerns, but when I sat down to make my argument, the only real reason I could come up with was that he's a New York Knick. And that's not a good enough reason when a guy is averaging more than 16 points, 2 3-pointers and 0.9 steals in 31.2 minutes over his past 11 games. Look, we all know he's not going to be a multi-category contributor, but that's not why we want him on our squads. We want him for his scoring and 3-point-shooting abilities, and that's exactly what we're getting right now. He has proven to be a more than capable scorer and 3-point shooter whenever he's seeing quality minutes, and Marbury seems to be doing his best to ensure that Robinson will receive the minutes he needs to become a viable fantasy option. Marbury's recent comments about his injured ankle make him sound like a guy who's ready to pull the old Baron Davis trick and sit out the rest of the year. Those comments are possibly even more concerning than the injured ankle itself, and if Marbury is sidelined, Robinson is as close to a lock to receive extended minutes as anyone else in New York.
Anthony Parker, SG, Raptors
Mac: Not Real. I like Parker, I really do. He was a reliable shooting guard option for fantasy owners last season, averaging 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 3-pointers and a steal. Many people, myself included, thought that his strong second half (13.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.2 3-pointers and a steal in 35.0 minutes per game) would carry over to this season, but a slow start because of fluctuating minutes left him in fantasy limbo early on. Parker has turned his game up a notch of late, averaging 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.8 3-pointers per game since the New Year. Those are fantastic numbers, and he should be owned in all fantasy leagues at the moment. But his increase in production is directly related to the fact that he's seen a whopping 39.2 minutes per game in the month of January, as opposed to the sub-30 minutes he saw in November and December. Coach Sam Mitchell has been tinkering with his lineup all season long, playing the hot hand. He admitted as much recently, telling the Toronto Globe and Mail, "I tell our guys every day, I don't determine minutes, you determine minutes." He went on to discuss Carlos Delfino's career-high 45 minutes in Sunday's victory over the Trail Blazers: "Did I determine his minutes, or did he make it hard for me to take him out of the game? He made it tough for me to take him out of the game because of the way he played." Mitchell is going to continue to play the hot hand, which makes me wonder: Will Parker's minutes be there when he cools off? I don't think so.
Guy: For Real. For Rotisserie-league owners, anyway. Head-to-head owners will probably find his inconsistency more than they can bear. Like Brian said, he is hot right now and getting some serious burn, and with increased minutes have come increased shot attempts. Parker is up to 12.6 shots per game this month. Will it last? Unlikely. I have added and dropped Parker this season in several head-to-head leagues. This should not be the case, however, for those of you in mid-sized and larger Rotisserie leagues. Parker isn't sexy. But as a late-round or waiver addition to your Roto squad, he is a great value. He is on pace for 146 3-pointers this season. That's top 15 to 20 in this category, which makes him a real boon to Roto leaguers. Add to this the fact that he shoots 45 percent or better from the field and you have a guy who helps in 3-pointers without taxing your field-goal percentage. If you think Raja Bell is for real, then you must consider Parker for real. He hits slightly fewer 3-pointers, but scores about the same, steals the same, turns the ball over just as infrequently and shoots far better from the field than Bell. Again, head-to-head owners will struggle with his down weeks, but Roto guys are on a different clock and should ride Parker out. It's his totals, not his monthly splits that matter in this format.
Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com, while Brian can be found at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.