Lesser-owned players on the upswing
It may seem like Utah Jazz swingman C.J. Miles has been in the league for half a decade without really getting much better as a player, and that's probably because it is true. However, even though this is his sixth season (all with the Jazz), he's still only 23 years old and is playing the best basketball of his career.
Of course, if you're just paying attention to the Player Rater, this is something you could miss if you don't spend a lot of time searching beyond the top 100 players. Miles was pretty awful in November but has bumped his numbers in just about every category in December and, as a result, has been a sneaky source of points, steals and 3-pointers during the past few weeks.
Worth noting, too, is that Miles has a lot of room for improvement. He has been fantasy-worthy of late, but his 32 percent shooting on 3s is significantly below what he's shot in previous seasons. He's making up for that by cutting down on his turnovers and using more possessions; these are things that make sense for a player just beginning to enter the prime of his career.
So, for now, Miles is a player worth owning -- someone who should be creeping into the top 100 on the Player Rater as a sixth man for the Jazz in the coming weeks. More importantly, if he can boost his percentages just a little bit, he'll actually be quite valuable, and as it stands he's still available in just about all ESPN.com fantasy leagues.
Here are a few other players outside the top 100 on the Player Rater who are playing better of late and are owned in fewer than 25 percent of fantasy leagues:
Mario Chalmers, PG, Miami Heat: Chalmers deserves some attention on our fantasy radars not because of anything he's done during the past season or so, but because of how good he was as a rookie. That year, Chalmers was a great example that a player's stats don't have to be gaudy in order to be productive in fantasy basketball. He averaged 10.0 points, 4.9 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.4 3s per game and was a key member of many successful fantasy teams. This season, his overall numbers look terrible because he was hurt to start the season and struggled a lot when he returned, but in his past five games he's averaging 2.2 3s and 1.4 steals (to go along with some pretty modest numbers overall). He's not lighting the world on fire, but he seems to be slowly supplanting Carlos Arroyo as the favored point guard in the Heat's potent offensive mix. If he keeps getting 25-plus minutes per game, he's going to be a great source of 3s and steals you can pick up off the wire right now.
Marcin Gortat, C, Phoenix Suns: Besides getting traded to the Suns, Gortat hasn't done anything to make himself worthy of being picked up in fantasy leagues. He's expected to play his first game for his new team Thursday night at home against the Heat, and while everyone's been raving about the Heat's defense of late, it's pretty clear that Miami has had trouble defending big men many times this season. With Robin Lopez playing better of late, it may be folly to expect more than 20-25 minutes out of Gortat in the early going, but even with limited playing time he's an excellent rebounder who has averaged slightly less than a block per game in around 13 minutes of action in his NBA career. Many people don't know who he is yet, but playing alongside Steve Nash in one of the best offenses in the league should fix that pretty quickly. If you need another center on your roster, he's a great guy to pick up before his numbers start making him more popular.
Rudy Fernandez, SG, Portland Trail Blazers: Heading into this season, it seemed like Fernandez had fallen out of favor in Portland, but with Brandon Roy missing some time of late, Fernandez has begun reminding people how good he was as a rookie two seasons ago. Yes, during his past three games (in which he's been playing 38.3 minutes due to injuries to Roy and Nicolas Batum) he's averaged 19.3 points, 6.3 assists, 2.7 3s and 2.0 steals, but all you need to do is look at his rookie stats to see how effective he can be even in limited minutes. If he can manage to play 25 or so minutes off the bench, he could duplicate his rookie production of 10 points, two 3s and decent production in assists while shooting a high percentage from the foul line. The added benefit to owning Fernandez, of course, is that if Roy goes down for significant time, Fernandez could become a major asset. But even coming off the bench, a rejuvenated Rudy is worth owning in many leagues.
Spencer Hawes, C, Philadelphia 76ers: He's had two awful performances in a row, which is probably the reason he's owned in so few leagues. As bad as he's looked against the Magic and the Bulls (to be fair, no one on the Sixers looked so much as decent against the Bulls on Tuesday), he's still averaging 10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his past five. It's probably unlikely that Hawes will ever be a dominant center, but as a guy who can block shots, rebound and occasionally step outside and drain a 3-pointer, there's some pretty tantalizing potential if he can ever string a whole month of good basketball together. For now, he's available and reasonably productive (and has games coming up against the Suns and Warriors to pad his stats).
Jonny Flynn, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves: He's owned in slightly more leagues than any other guy on this list but is still available in most and might not be for long. Flynn certainly has some warts as a player -- it would have been nice to see him average better than 6.1 assists per 40 minutes as a rookie -- but right now he appears to be the Wolves' point guard of the future. Just five games into his season (Flynn was hurt and is still working his way back into form), he's already starting to play almost as many minutes as starter Luke Ridnour; one would think that it is only a matter of time before Flynn is playing the 29-or-so minutes he averaged as a rookie. Even given his struggles through his first action of this season -- considering how difficult it is to find guys on the waiver wire who average better than four assists per game -- it might be worth picking up Flynn now while he's still working out the kinks.
For later consideration:
Jordan Hill, PF/C, Houston Rockets: Two consecutive four-block performances were enough to catch my attention given how valuable blocks are in fantasy, but I'm also intrigued by Hill's situation. Granted, there will probably be no immediate changes in Houston now that it's official Yao Ming won't be returning this season (as evidenced by Hill's unimpressive 19 minutes against the Warriors on Tuesday night), but if the Rockets decide they need to lean on their younger talent in order to see what they have, Hill could find himself playing a lot more down the stretch this season. He has improved his shooting from the floor and the line, and he blocks more than two shots and pulls down nearly 10 rebounds per 40 minutes. For his past five games, which, admittedly, have been spotty at best, he's averaging 8.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, numbers that would make him worth owning in most deep leagues. He's probably not worth having on your roster quite yet, but he's a lottery talent in a good system, which definitely makes him worth keeping an eye on.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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