Target players on lottery-bound teams
As I'm writing this, most teams have played right around 70 games. That's a lot, and it means there are only 12 to go. Twelve games, you're undoubtedly aware, is not a lot. For actual NBA teams, it's most likely not enough to catch a team eight or nine games ahead of them in the standings, for example. As such, teams that were trying to remain competitive are going to start trotting out potential talent (rather than veteran stalwarts) in order to see what they have.
This phenomenon is always a major dilemma in fantasy leagues; in roto leagues, where stats are counted until the end of the season, it might give you one last chance to catch the teams ahead of you, as their star players in these out-of-contention situations begin to rest more and play less.
For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers are on a seven-game winning streak, have won nine of their past 10 and are six games ahead of their closest competitor in the East (the Orlando Magic), and three games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers in the loss column for the best record league-wide. There's an extremely good chance they'll have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs locked up very soon. You think they're going to keep trotting LeBron James out there for 39 minutes a night with nothing to play for?
These situations will keep popping up all over the place as teams settle into position for the playoffs, and it'll be hard to predict in most places, but it means you might have a chance to gain a bit of ground if you aren't relying on those sorts of players. Basically, this is just a reminder not to quit just yet. Twelve games isn't a lot, but it's nearly 15 percent of a full season. That leaves a decent amount of stats still left to be accumulated.
Here are some players on lottery-bound teams you might want to consider picking up in the hopes that their minutes rise down the stretch. I'm leaving out these players' Player Rater rankings, because many of them have not done very much up to this point in the season.
Reggie Williams, SF, Golden State Warriors: With the recent news that the Warriors have extended Williams' deal for the rest of the season, it seems like a reasonably good bet that he'll continue to see at least the 25 minutes per game he's been playing in March. In his past four games, he's averaging 20.3 points per game in just under 33 minutes of action, and with all the Warriors' injury problems (and the fact that they're out of the playoff race by a considerable margin), it stands to reason that they'll continue to see what they have in this guy. Keep in mind also that the Warriors have Williams locked in at small money next season, so they'll want to know whether they should keep him in their offseason plans or not. He doesn't do that much in terms of his all-around game, but if you're looking for points, 3-pointers and free throw percentage on the waiver wire, I don't think you're going to do too much better than this Williams.
Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers: Amazingly, Hibbert is owned in only 25 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, even though he's actually been pretty productive all season. Lately? He's been even better, and there's some serious fantasy-stud potential here, too. In his past four games (three wins and one loss to the Cavs), Hibbert is averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in fewer than 30 minutes. Those are impressive numbers, and considering he's averaging 1.6 blocks per game on the season and shooting 50 percent from the floor, there's even more to like here than it would seem at first. Hibbert isn't just a great pickup down the stretch; he's a possible keeper for next season.
Jason Maxiell, PF/C, Detroit Pistons: Maxiell has been extremely up and down over the years as a prospect, and it seems as if every time he begins to show some promise, the Pistons come up with some new excuse to stick him back on the bench. Of late, however, Maxiell is putting together a great stretch of games and should be owned in far more than the 7 percent of fantasy leagues in which he is currently owned. In his past five games, he's averaging almost 32 minutes and a double-double to go along with 1.4 blocks and 54 percent shooting from the floor. He's had stretches like this in the past, so it's not a given that he'll go back to being unproductive any time soon. Strangely, he's actually having his worst season in years in terms of PER, but he's still only 27 years old and has enough of a track record of success in limited minutes that he's definitely worth trusting for the rest of this season.
Darko Milicic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves: Darko hasn't done much yet, given his being handed the starting spot for the Wolves, but nonetheless, if you need some shot-blocking you might have to pay attention to him in the coming weeks. The Wolves seem intent on seeing what they have in Milicic, so he'll probably keep getting better than 25 minutes most nights, and considering his 16-point, 12-rebound performance against the Lakers this past weekend, there's some real potential for spikes in his production down the stretch. He hasn't been blocking shots the way he has historically, but that could change at any moment. In deep leagues, he's definitely worth owning right now.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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