Benched players great buy-low options
Ben Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Tyrus Thomas waiting for opportunity to bust out again
In a sense, every player is just one coach's decision away from fantasy relevance, because just about anyone can put up stats if given enough touches and minutes. A great example of this is Jerry Stackhouse, who somehow averaged 29.8 points per game for the Detroit Pistons during the 2000-01 season, despite shooting 40 percent (that season and for his career). How do you score nearly 30 points each night when you shoot that poorly? Stackhouse did it because his coach, George Irvine, gave him 24 shots per night! It just goes to show you that if a coach likes a player or has to give him extra work out of necessity, that player should have fantasy value.
This season, there's no better example of a guy who has battled for his coach's love more than the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love. Coach Kurt Rambis had a game plan in place that didn't include turning Love loose. In fact, Rambis had regular run-ins with the youngster and had no problem sitting him at the slightest whim. But whether the order came from the front office or from Rambis himself, the coach has turned Love loose the past month and he's become an absolute fantasy stud.
Let's take a look at some guys who are just a coach's decision away from making some fantasy noise and determine whether they're worth trading for.
Ben Gordon, Detroit Pistons: Speaking as both a fantasy guy and a Pistons fan, I can't for the life of me figure out why Gordon is coming off the bench. As a Pistons fan, I wonder why we spent all that money on a sixth man, especially when we've won just a third of our 21 games. As a fantasy guy, I know what he can do when he starts or gets 16 shots a game: 20 or more points per game and 2 3-pointers per game. I also know what he does when he's a reserve getting 27 minutes and 9 shots per game like he is this season: 12.3 points and 1.1 3-pointers per game. He's unusable in most formats right now. If the Pistons ever dump Richard Hamilton and his contract on somebody else, Gordon should finally boom. Until then, though, he's at the whim of coach John Kuester and looking like a bust. Still, you can get him dirt cheap right now, stash him and maybe you'll get lucky. The talent's there for Gordon, he just needs his coach's love.
Tyrus Thomas, Charlotte Bobcats: If Thomas was getting 35-38 minutes per game, his stats would look something like Josh Smith's. Instead, he's coming off the bench for 21 minutes per game and barely registering on the fantasy radar outside of deep leagues. The thing is that there's no rhyme or reason to how many minutes Thomas gets from coach Larry Brown from night to night. During a six-game stretch last month Thomas' minutes/points per game looked like this: 30/20, 18/9, 29/22, 11/5, 33/26 and 16/4. To an extent Brown's hands are tied because Thomas, Boris Diaw and Gerald Wallace all play similar roles. Brown may not be able to give Thomas starter's minutes until there is a trade. However, Thomas' upside is too great to ignore when you could get him as a throw-in on a low-end trade.
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies: The former third-overall pick is coming off the bench and averaging career-lows in minutes (29), points (12.2), field goal percentage (40.1) and, well, actually, every other fantasy stat. Why Mayo's coach, Lionel Hollins, has him riding the pine is up for debate, but I think he'd agree that Mayo simply can't continue performing like this; the Griz can't win without him playing a significant role as a starter, and he's simply too good to shoot this terribly for long. He may not max out his stats this season, but there's nowhere to go but up for Mayo, especially if his coach gives him his touches back. He's not going to come any cheaper in trades than right now, that's for sure.
Marcus Thornton, New Orleans Hornets: What an epic fall from grace in Fantasyland it's been for Thornton. A sweetheart of the waiver wire last season, Thornton averaged 20.3 points and 2 3-pointers per game after the All-Star break. This season? He can't even get into coach Monty Williams' rotation. There was a blip of hope on Nov. 28 when he played 20 minutes for the first time that month and scored 11 points. But that was followed up by a DNP-coach's decision the next game. I was holding out some hope for Thornton and will continue keeping my eye on him in case of injuries or in case Williams decides to put him into a prominent role. However, I honestly think the arrival of Jarrett Jack pretty much killed any chance Thornton may have had at turning things around in New Orleans this season. I'd only stash him on my bench in the deepest of leagues.
J.R. Smith, Denver Nuggets: The cat's already a little bit out of the bag on Smith, since he recently popped off games of 30, 20 and 21 points. But in classic fashion, he scored just 5 points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field in the next contest. Smith always starts off slowly, but the past three seasons he's performed significantly better during the second half of the season. When he's in coach George Karl's doghouse -- and he was locked in it a couple of weeks ago -- he has no value. But when Smith is getting minutes and staying focused, he can average 17 points and 2.5 3-pointers. Wait for another stinker or doghouse stretch from Smith and get him on the cheap. It will pay off big in the second half of the season.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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