The three players Mac and I discuss this week have something in common. They are coming back after a long layoff of fantasy irrelevance. Each has had moments in the sun -- one much more than the others -- but none has been getting much attention until the past few weeks. Like tight black jeans and a studded belt on a skinny hipster, these players are coming back into fashion. Our question: Should they be?
The last time Kenyon Martin was in fashion in the fantasy world, Kelly Clarkson was pop music's "it" girl. Yeah, it's been awhile. Travis Outlaw's fantasy career, despite being in just his fifth season, has been a repeating pattern. At some point every season, the experts tout his ability and declare him the sleeper of the year -- it's that time again -- and every year he disappears. Finally, Anderson Varejao has been MIA for the first month-plus of the season, locked in a contract dispute with GM Danny Ferry and the Cavs. Now he's back. Indeed, they are all back on our radar. Mac and I will lay out for you who is for real and who is pure fiction.
Kenyon Martin, PF, Nuggets
Mac: For Real. As I discussed in Working the Wire on Monday, Martin isn't just playing like the K-Mart of old, he's looking like it too. Remember how K-Mart used to throw down emphatic dunks and play the role of the enforcer in the paint for the Nets? That's what we're seeing in Denver right now. Looking as healthy as he has in years, K-Mart is bringing it, with averages of 14.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.0 blocks over his last five games. It's not just the stats that have me impressed, though; it's his explosiveness. People who have bad knees just don't take off to the rack like K-Mart has been recently. I'm not a doctor, but it's easy to see that Martin's knees aren't bothering him nearly as much as they have in the past. Of course, Martin is far from a lock. He'll always be a high-risk/high-reward type due to his propensity for injury. It's a double-edged sword, really. Martin is a great defender and finisher because of his tenacity and willingness to throw his body around, but those same qualities can easily put him in street clothes watching from the sidelines.
Guy: For Real. I have to agree with Mac here. Have you seen K-Mart play recently? He is back to the days of huge throw-downs over the opposition. You can see that he has the fire again and that he believes in himself. For a high-energy, high-emotion player like Martin, this is crucial. Martin's real value isn't in the spectacular dunks; it's in his defensive numbers. And as Mac noted, he is stealing and blocking just like he used to. When K-Mart was at his best with the Nets, he averaged better than a block and steal per game. He is doing that again this year. Last season only nine players achieved that feat. Since Martin left the Nets, he has had two microfracture surgeries, and he is unique in that he is the only player to play again in the NBA after having microfracture surgery performed on each knee. He is, as Mac pointed out, a risk. But the best indication of the health of a basketball player's knees is the willingness and ability to jump. As the video showed, there are no problems there. This doesn't mean he won't re-injure himself, but we are talking about a guy you picked up off the waiver wire. If the risk of injury is too much for you to bear, trade him away.
Travis Outlaw, F, Trail Blazers
Mac: For Real. As if you didn't know my answer before I begin. Didn't Guy reveal my unhealthy obsession with the long-armed, athletic swingman a few weeks ago? Well, Outlaw has long been a favorite of mine, mostly thanks to his fantastic per-minute stats in two of fantasy's scarcest categories: steals and blocks. I've always claimed that Outlaw would break out as soon as he started earning consistent minutes, and it was starting to look like I was dead on late last season when he averaged 18.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks in 31.3 minutes per game during the month of April. Many thought he would be able to build on his big finish this season, but Outlaw returned to his normal inconsistent self, averaging 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks in 25.6 minutes per game through the month of November. It appears as though he came into camp slightly out of shape, which, combined with a minor flaw in his jump shot, helped contribute to his poor start. Outlaw has since ironed out the flaw in his jumper (with some help from assistant coach Monty Williams), and has finally gotten his conditioning back up to speed. Not surprisingly, his game has followed suit with averages of 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.4 steals and a block per game over his last five games. Looks quite a bit like what he did toward the end of last season, no? It might have taken him a little while, but things are finally starting to click for the youngster. And now that he's beginning to earn consistent minutes, there's absolutely no reason to think he can't continue his stellar play over the long run.
Guy: For Real. Finally, I plead guilty. In my intro, I described how experts called for Travis Outlaw to break out year after year. Well, I have been one of those "experts." In the past two years, I have burned more than a few column inches pimping Mr. Vertical. This year I am doing it again. But let me add that I am doing so with more conviction. Why? Because it seems like the people who count most, his coaches and teammates, are buying in as well. Jason Quick of the Oregonian is the go-to guy for all things Blazers, and he reports that Nate McMillan is looking for 30 minutes and 15 points per game from Outlaw, and that the youngster should be the third-leading scorer on the team. This is very positive. Based on his per-minute production to date this season, in 30 minutes per game Outlaw would average 13.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.6 steals. I think these projections are low, as they include games from early in the season when Outlaw was, by his own admission, not in the shape he is now. His legs were getting fatigued early in games, and the mechanics on his jump shot were off. With better conditioning and a better jumper, he is playing a strong 30 minutes. The stats Mac showed above from Outlaw's last five games were generated in 28.8 minutes per game. I'd like to end with a quote from Brandon Roy (from the Oregonian): "I remember one day in practice, Travis was playing like he has been lately, and I left practice going, 'He could really dominate a game if he wanted to,' and somebody else said, 'Yeah, if he wanted to.' Now I think he wants to."
Anderson Varejao, F/C, Cavaliers
Guy: Not Real. One must wonder if Varejao's quixotic holdout -- he got less money than Cleveland offered him this summer -- is going to affect how the Cavs will use him. Last season, Varejao averaged a career-high 23.8 minutes per contest. Will he get those minutes again? More? Less? In his first game back, he played 23 minutes with 6 points and 9 boards.
The Cavs were 9-6 without Varejao when LeBron was healthy and Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas were eating up big minutes inside. This isn't to say the team doesn't need Varejao. They do. Varejao brings more than spastic play and bad hair to the hardwood. He brings possessions. Last season, Varejao led the league in drawing charges by a wide margin -- his 99 charges drawn were 22 better than runner-up Devin Harris -- and each one led to a new possession for his team. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, this is not a standard category. For all of his scrappiness, Varejao brings little more than scraps to the fantasy table. With those career-best minutes, Varejao averaged just 6.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks. I know a number of fantasy scribes suggested picking him up with the contract signed, but I have to ask why. The steals are good, but everything else? And given how fit Ilgauskas has looked this season, there is a very good chance Varejao sees fewer minutes this year than last. For my money and time, I would take Craig Smith any day of the week. You get all the scrappiness and more well-rounded stats.
Mac: Not Real. I've always been a fan of Varejao's game; he's one of those guys who lacks the pure athleticism of many of his counterparts, but earns major bonus points with me because of his hustle and ability to grab the loose ball. Of course, as Guy points out, hustle and scrappiness won't necessarily translate into fantasy worthiness. He certainly seems to be one of those guys who's more valuable in real life than he is in fantasy, but I also think Varejao could have some real value if he earns 30-plus minutes per game. I mean, we don't have a huge sample size of how he's performed with extended minutes, but he's done very well in just 10 career starts, with averages of 10.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks in 32.5 minutes per game, and anyone who has seen him play knows that he has the potential to be an absolute beast on the boards. Problem is, with both Gooden and Ilgauskas playing well, I don't think there is a need for the Cavs to give Varejao those kind of minutes just yet. Sure, the Cavs could use his talents in their frontcourt, but he fits better in this lineup as a role player who can provide a spark off the bench. With that said, it's looking like Varejao will be a solid value add for rebounds and steals in deeper fantasy formats, but he'll likely need an injury to Drew Gooden or Zydrunas Ilgauskas before he can produce stats worthy of standard fantasy leagues.
Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com while Mac can be contacted at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.