Duhon among categorical helpers
If you can take on negatives elsewhere in order to improve your team
Continuing with last week's theme of addressing players who can help you make up a lot of ground in individual categories, let's look at the categories that don't involve a player's scoring -- rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
Remember, these aren't necessarily the highest-ranked players in these categories. They are generally more-available types who might have a low overall value but a high value in a single area. At this point in the season, if you are solid in some categories but weak in others, these sorts of players are important to consider, as they may be the easiest way you have of playing catch up, rather than trying to deal for a superstar like LeBron James who can help you across the board.
The players' rankings below, both in the individual category and overall, are in parentheses (both based on per-game averages).
Ben Wallace, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (21, 168): Despite the fact Wallace clearly isn't the player he used to be, it appears the Pistons have made a decision to let him play a lot of minutes this season. On the whole, as you can see from his overall ranking, that decision has come with varying degrees of success. Still, Wallace can go get the ball; he's averaging 9.4 rebounds on the season and there's some consistency there, at least in this category. As you've already learned with Wallace over the years, he's going to hurt you from the line and he doesn't score, but this season he's up over 50 percent shooting from the floor, which means he's not taking any bad shots, and, as always, he's a contributor in steals and blocks, too. For a guy who's probably available on your waiver wire, he should help you make up some ground in rebounding if you can get him into your lineup.
Chris Duhon, PG, New York Knicks (10, 148): Let's face it, Duhon is having a terrible season. He's totally miscast as a starting point guard playing big minutes, and his shooting percentages have completely fallen off a cliff. All of that aside, Duhon gets assists, so much so that based on his per-game numbers he helps you more in that category than guys like Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, etc. Take, for example, Duhon's line from Tuesday night's game against the Timberwolves: zero points, two rebounds, 13 assists. Can you use a line like that? Well, overall, probably not, but if you were looking to make up some ground in the assists column, that line would start looking pretty sweet.
Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (11, 57): Don't let the rankings fool you, Jennings has been sliding down the charts for a while. A few weeks ago, I wrote that I thought he'd be a top-50 guy for the rest of the season, and while I think he's got a chance to do that still, I don't think that's the consensus among most fantasy owners. Right now, Jennings is a point guard who is good but drains your field goal percentage. Keep in mind, however, that, remarkably, his assist totals are rising each month while his turnovers have dropped from 3.3 per game in November to 2.2 per game in January. That's impressive in terms of his long-term prospects as a point guard. You may not be able to pry him away in a keeper league, but in most leagues, if you need the assists, an offer of someone like David West, Caron Butler, Ray Allen or Luol Deng, to name a few guys, might do the trick and get you the boost in assists that you need.
Trevor Ariza, SG/SF, Houston Rockets (10, 95): Ariza is another case of a guy whose field goal shooting is masking his overall effectiveness in other areas. Slightly miscast in a role where he's trying to create his own shot and initiate offense, and not a very good pure shooter to begin with, Ariza's 38 percent shooting from the floor is really crushing a lot of fantasy teams. So, this is really a simple problem with a simple solution: I need steals, you need field goal percentage -- let's make a deal.
Tyrus Thomas, PF, Chicago Bulls (10, 131): Thomas has not been very good at all since returning from his injury. Well, let me revise that: Thomas has not been very good at doing the things that normal players in the NBA tend to do. He's a power forward with a low shooting percentage. He's been ineffective lately as a scorer and isn't setting the world on fire with his rebounding, either. Often, he picks up too many fouls and can't play a lot of minutes, and he's not playing that many minutes in the first place anyway. But Thomas can flat-out block shots. He's averaging 1.9 blocks in 23.9 minutes on the season, and in his past five games he's averaging 2.8 blocks in 24.6 minutes. Don't try to trade for him thinking he's going to be the all-around force he was becoming toward the end of last season (though that would be a sweet bonus). Instead, trade for him while he's down because he's your best chance of making up ground in blocks.
Instead of listing one more player who can help you in blocks, I'm going to give you a type of player and list a couple of them. The blocks category is particularly interesting because a player begins to have some value in it if he can manage to block one shot per game. If sometimes he can block two shots, now he's starting to become extremely valuable. If Thomas is a specialist (which he is), at least he does a little bit in other areas. Joel Anthony (C, Miami Heat) blocks 1.4 shots per game and literally does nothing else. He plays just 15 minutes per game and averages fewer than three points and three rebounds. Ronny Turiaf (C, Golden State Warriors) also blocks 1.4 shots per game but averages fewer than four points and four rebounds and plays just 19 minutes per game. Both of those guys will help you make up ground in blocks, but depending on your league, it might not be worth it to roster them quite yet. Instead you might look to Shaquille O'Neal. His 1.1 blocks per game are nothing to shake a stick at, and he'll score and rebound a bit for you too. You'll need to be able to take a huge hit in free throw percentage, but I can't imagine it would be too hard to deal for a guy ranked 226th overall based on per-game average stats.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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