- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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I get really edgy this time of the year. It's partly because the end of the fantasy basketball season is near, and partly because of the first round of the NHL playoffs (I don't think I've smiled since Nicklas Backstrom got suspended).
If you're like me, locked in a vicious existential struggle for a couple of fantasy hoops championships, the next few days are going to be a mildly ornery ride for your co-workers, loved ones and/or beloved pets.
As always, this is the most challenging time of the season for owners who are trying to lock up titles. This is due to the high amount of rotational turnover we're seeing as teams shut down for the year, tank or rest stars for the playoffs.
We've already witnessed a Dwyane Wade-less and Chris Bosh-less Heat, a Derrick Rose-less Bulls, a Kobe Bryant-less Lakers, and an Andray Blatche-less Wizards. OK, so that last one isn't very serious. In fact, the Wizards might actually be better without him. But I'm sure we're all feeling the same general pain here.
I've already discussed the tanking/lottery teams in some detail over the past few columns. This week I want to concentrate on playoff-bound teams (although I will pause to tell you to grab Sundiata Gaines ASAP).
A brief glance at the NBA standings will reveal that a shocking number of teams are still jockeying for position. But by this weekend, certain spots will begin to ossify, and the resting of fantasy studs will only intensify.
Let's focus on teams that will look to rest their stars at the first available opportunity, in order of teams most likely to rest their players:
Miami Heat (44-17, 2nd place, Eastern Conference)
Players likely to sit: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James.
With tonight's game versus the Bulls still harboring some postseason ramifications, don't expect either team to rest starters. But Wednesday night's Wade- and Bosh-less win against the Toronto Raptors could be a preview of what to expect over the next week. The larger problem with Miami is that there isn't much to recommend beyond their Big Three (that's not a new issue, I know).
Normally, I'd tell you to hop on Shane Battier, but he also has been out because of a neck issue. But when healthy, Battier is the kind of player who can heat up for 3-4 games when called upon to score. He could provide some low-grade, across-the-board production, especially in 3s and blocks. Terrel Harris flashed some potential last Friday (8 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), but he hasn't been heard from since.
Those in need of help in 3s can probably trust Mike Miller enough for a quick pickup. He's trying to round into playoff form, and though he'll also be rested more, I'd look for him to get 20-25 minutes per game. That should be enough for 1-2 cheap 3s per night. And finally, Mario Chalmers has shown some mild signs of finding his 3-point stroke lately, and also could look to score more over the final week.
Chicago Bulls (47-15, 1st place, Eastern Conference)
If the Bulls win tonight, they'll effectively clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and probably the best overall record in the NBA. So I'd look for Rose and Deng to suit up this evening. But if they win, both players could be semi-shut down for the rest of the regular season. And unlike the Heat, the Bulls have plenty of serviceable fantasy options.
No. 1 on the list would be the newly ambulatory Richard Hamilton (22 points, 4 3-pointers, 6 assists Wednesday night versus Charlotte). Hamilton is trying to get his legs back after missing the bulk of the season and has obviously received the green light from coach Tom Thibodeau to fire at will. He'll probably sap some value from Kyle Korver, but Korver should still be penciled in for 1-2 3s per game.
Those of you in a steals battle should look to Ronnie Brewer for a short-term boost. He has been averaging 26 minutes per game over his past two contests and could see his role increase. I've already hyped C.J. Watson plenty of late. Watson seems to subscribe to the every-other-game theory, which means he's due for a nice night soon probably Saturday night against Dallas.
If you need blocks, Taj Gibson has collected 1.9 blocks per game over his past seven games while adding a little pop in points and boards. And don't forget about Omer Asik, who blew up (at least in relative terms) last night for 9 points, 15 rebounds and a block in the blowout win.
Indiana Pacers (40-22, 3rd place, Eastern Conference)
Yes, it's because of an injury, but we're finally seeing George Hill supplant Collison at point guard. Hill has responded by averaging 15 points, 5 assists and about 1.5 3s per game since April 9. Hill is locking down the starter gig and is still available in about 60 percent of ESPN leagues.
If David West sits, Tyler Hansbrough should see his minutes climb into the 25-28 mpg range. That should be all he needs to provide 10 points, 5-6 rebounds and 1-2 steals per game (the steals are an added bonus from the PF slot). And Leandro Barbosa is fine as a desperation play for those in need of 3s and steals from a shooting guard.
Memphis Grizzlies (37-25, 5th place, Western Conference)
Normally, Zach Randolph would be a top candidate for rest headed into the playoffs. But Randolph is being groomed for a return to starter status, a move that could happen as soon as his next game.
Marc Gasol owners got a scare when he banged knees with Xavier Henry. He has returned, but it's obvious he'll be rested as much as possible from here on out. If Gasol sits, Hamed Haddadi (6 blocks in his past two games) could come in and provide some blocks.
Tony Allen is grabbing more minutes in a return from a nasty mouth injury. As always with Allen, expect elite steals production, about 10 points per game and little else.
San Antonio Spurs (45-16, 1st place, Western Conference)
The Spurs are surging and resting at the same time, which makes for a malodorous fantasy combination. Not a single Spurs player has averaged more than 26 minutes per game over the past week, and a staggering 11 players have averaged between 17-26 minutes per game.
It's an All-Star Game-style rotation that has been tough to predict from game to game. But when in doubt, I'd look for the younger Spurs to step up over the final stanza. Both Daniel Green and Gary Neal have been nice backcourt surprises, producing well in limited minutes. If the Spurs lock up first place, I could see both logging more than 25 minutes per game.
Despite his limited role, Kawhi Leonard has been one of fantasy's more intriguing rookies this year. He's a future 1-1-1 player, someone capable of averaging a 3-pointer, steal and block per game.
Boston Celtics (37-26, 4th place, Eastern Conference)
Boston will probably need to keep its foot on the gas until the final game, but Avery Bradley has already proven a capable fill-in for Ray Allen. And Greg Stiemsma provides more short-term value in the blocks department than anyone you'll find on the free-agent wire.
Dallas Mavericks (35-28, 6th place, Western Conference)
Dallas is still battling for a playoff position, but if that solidifies, I think you could see an 80-100 percent turnover in their starting lineup over their final couple of games. Delonte West, Brandan Wright, Brendan Haywood and Rodrigue Beaubois could all receive extended playing time. West is already flashing value (and solid second-grade-level comedy chops), but Brandan Wright still has upside to burn and will have at least 1-2 nice games over the final week.
John Cregan examines a handful of playoff-bound teams in search of star players who could be rested more in the final days of the regular season, such as Derrick Rose and Marc Gasol.