Commentary

Working the Wire: Young progressing quickly

Updated: February 11, 2008, 3:55 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

The All-Star break is nearly upon us, and plenty of players are going to get a chance to rest up and get healthy for the second half of the season. Some of this week's hottest pickups may return to the bench as teams start to bring their injured stars back into the lineup. Luckily, the NBA almost always seems give us some big-time pickups immediately following the All-Star break as teams that are falling out of the playoff race start to go with the ever popular youth movement. Next week, we'll take a look at the players who are most likely to benefit from the youth movement trend, but in the meantime, let's take a look at some pickups who can pay immediate dividends.

Pickups

[+] EnlargeMike Conley
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesMike Conley has averaged 33.5 minutes in the two games since returning from injury.
Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies (29.1 percent owned): Memphis wasted no time inserting Conley back into the starting lineup after a back injury kept him out of five games in the past two weeks. Kyle Lowry played admirably in Conley's absence (14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals), but the Grizzlies have made it painfully obvious that they want Conley to be their point guard of the future. Evidence of this can be seen in their breakdown of minutes in the two games since Conley's return; Conley has seen an average of 33 minutes, compared to Lowry's 14.5. As the unquestioned starter (with a guaranteed 30-plus minutes per night), we can and should expect Mike Jr. to post numbers very similar to his averages as a starter this season: 10.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.6 3-pointers.

Jarrett Jack, PG, Trail Blazers (19.9 percent owned): In an effort to bolster his second unit with James Jones out, Blazers coach Nate McMillan replaced Martell Webster in the starting lineup with Jack on Wednesday night. In theory, Webster's sharpshooting would help bring stability to the second unit, but with Brandon Roy missing time due to a death in the family, McMillan has been forced to roll with both Jack and Webster in the starting lineup. Along with Jack's "promotion" came a serious increase in minutes (34.4 per game in his past five) and not surprisingly, his stats have reflected the change: 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists to go along with a steal and a 3-pointer per game in his past five. It is possible that Jack's strong play will earn him some more time even after the Blazers are fully healthy, so don't be afraid to take a chance on the third-year guard out of Georgia Tech.

Dorell Wright, SG/SF, Heat (24.2 percent owned): By most accounts, the Miami Heat are going to look to play a more up-tempo game now that they no longer have Shaquille O'Neal to clog up the middle. It's a style of play that fits Wright's strengths pretty well, and that alone should get you excited about the athletic 22-year-old. Wright's minutes may suffer if the Heat decide to go with a more traditional lineup once Udonis Haslem returns, but that may not happen given that the 9-40 Heat are now in full rebuilding mode. There's enough raw talent here (especially in steals, rebounds and blocks from the guard position) to give the kid a chance, even if he does lack the refined skills to be a consistent performer. It also helps that he's playing quite well as of late, averaging 13.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in his past five contests.

Thaddeus Young, SF, 76ers (6.7 percent owned): I've officially come to terms with the fact that, unless Andre Miller is traded, my man Louis Williams simply isn't going to see enough playing time to be much of a fantasy option this season. And with that in mind, I've now turned my attention to Williams' teammate, Young. Many (myself included) believed that the 19-year-old was way too raw to be able to contribute in the NBA right away, but Young is doing his best to prove us wrong. With his athletic gifts and work ethic, I'm convinced that Young is going to be a future star in this league, and we might just be able to catch a glimpse of his future greatness this season. Young has earned starts in six of the Sixers' past seven games, averaging 11.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 0.5 steals while shooting 55 percent from the floor in 29.3 minutes. Not exactly fantasy-worthy stats just yet, but there's a lot of potential improvement here, especially in the steals category. Young, who was an accomplished thief in his freshman season at Georgia Tech, has averaged 0.7 steals on the season in just 16.8 minutes per game. Those steals are going to start to come along shortly, and Young makes for a nice high-upside gamble for anyone in need of some points, rebounds, steals and field goal percentage in fantasy leagues.

If You're Hardcore

Earl Boykins, PG, Bobcats (0.4 percent owned): Boykins was featured in this space last week, but I feel the need to give him a second shout-out given the fact that fantasy owners haven't yet caught on to his potential value. It will only be a matter of time before Earl is earning 25-30 minutes in Sam Vincent's rotation.

Travis Diener, PG, Pacers (0.5 percent owned): Here's another guy who we've talked about before and has had fluctuating value for a few weeks now. Jamaal Tinsley's injured knee should be enough to give Diener some consistent value during the next few weeks. Anyone who needs a jolt in 3-pointers and assists should give strong consideration to this sharpshooter who is averaging 10.8 points, 5.9 assists, 1.8 3-pointers and a steal in eight starts this season.

[+] EnlargeAndray Blatche
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiAndray Blatche's numbers as a starter have his fantasy owners salivating.
Andray Blatche, PF, Wizards (63.2 percent owned): My love for Blatche is well-documented, and I still can't figure out why this kid hasn't seen more minutes in Washington this season. Seriously, every time he's on the court for more than 25 minutes, he dominates. Earning extra run due to Caron Butler's strained hip flexor, Blatche has put up some big-time numbers in the past few days. It doesn't get much better than Blatche's stats in his six starts: 15.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.8 blocks. As a short-term pickup, there may not be a better option on the wire than Blatche. The only problem is, the Wizards haven't shown the willingness to give the kid enough minutes to be productive when they are fully healthy.

Charlie Villanueva, SF/PF, Bucks (31.3 percent owned): It really is a shame that the Bucks guaranteed Yi Jianlian 25 minutes per game in his rookie season because if they didn't, we'd probably be right in the middle of Charlie V's breakout season. With Yi recovering from a shoulder injury, Villanueva has averaged 15.4 points and 9.4 rebounds in his past five games. He hasn't provided much in the way of steals, blocks and 3-pointers, but he's shown proficiency in those areas in the past. I'd love to give Charlie a full-blown recommendation here, but he's only a short-term option as Yi's presence will hurt his minutes in the long run.

[+] EnlargeMichael Finley
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty ImagesMichael Finley is averaging 18 points in his past two games, thanks to 8-of-12 shooting on 3-pointers.
Michael Finley, SG/SF, Spurs (7.5 percent owned): Surprisingly, it's been Finley, not Damon Stoudamire, who's seeing the biggest bump in value with Tony Parker sidelined. Finley, despite being a shell of his former self, can still score and hit the 3-ball. He has averaged 13.0 points and 2.8 3-pointers during his past five games, making him a nice categorical specialist in deeper fantasy leagues.

Nenad Krstic, C, Nets (6.0 percent owned): I am still very wary of Krstic's surgically-repaired knee, but his minutes are starting to creep up and he could be on the verge of having some real value after the All-Star break. At his best, Krstic is a 13-15 point, 6-7 rebound-type guy who can add in solid percentages and a block per game from the center position. Of course, we can't expect that kind of production right away, and his value is going to depend on how well his knee responds to the increase in minutes.

Marcus Banks, PG, Heat (4.9 percent owned): Banks saw just 14 minutes in his debut with the Heat, but is expected to see plenty of run for Pat Riley once he gets a feel for the Miami's offensive sets. Banks, who owns career averages of 11.4 points, 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals as a starter (35 games) has some upside in assists and steals, and may be worth an acquisition in deeper fantasy formats. For more insight on Banks, Guy Lake and I will be covering him in this week's Are You For Real on Wednesday.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.