- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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While many owners are starting to pay the price for drafting injury-prone players such as Baron Davis, Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O'Neal, others are hopeful that their returning stars will provide a much-needed boost in the second half of the season. Mike Dunleavy has already returned to the Pacers' lineup, while Monta Ellis is poised to return sometime within the next few weeks after receiving promising news during his most recent training session. Provided that they are 100 percent, both Dunleavy and Ellis will provide a major boost for fantasy owners, but they'll also drastically change the fantasy landscape on their respective teams.
Dunleavy didn't waste any time getting back into the flow of things with 14 points and four assists in 21 minutes Wednesday, and he'll continue to earn more and more minutes as he regains his strength and conditioning. He's a perfect fit for this offense, so expect the Pacers to rely heavily on him once he's back to full strength. Jarrett Jack and Marquis Daniels figure to be hurt the most by Dunleavy's return, although Jack could sustain value if T.J. Ford's injuries linger. Look for both players to lose out on some minutes and suffer a drop in production as a result. Don't assume that Danny Granger is immune to a dip in scoring, either. Granger's peripheral numbers should remain fairly constant, but he'll probably score closer to 22-23 points per game rather than the 25.8 he's currently putting up on a nightly basis.
Monta Ellis is still a few weeks away from returning, but we might as well prepare for the future now, right? A healthy Ellis is undoubtedly one of the quickest and most electrifying players in the league, and regardless of his relationship with the Warriors' front office, it will be nearly impossible for Don Nelson to keep a player of his stature off the court once he returns. In Nellie's fast-paced offense, there's probably enough ball for everyone, but Jamal Crawford, Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette owners should prepare for a slight drop in production across the board. A healthy Ellis is the best scorer and playmaker on this roster, so it wouldn't be surprising to see a small trickle-down effect on Crawford, S-Jax and Maggette. Still, the two players who will be hurt the most will be Kelenna Azubuike and Marco Belinelli. Both have fleeting value at the moment (depending on Nellie's mood), but neither will be able to sustain it with Monta around. Be sure to keep this in mind as Ellis inches closer and closer to his season debut.
Pickups: Shallow formats
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cavaliers (13.7 percent owned): Last week's column came out just before Zydrunas Ilgauskas was ruled out for 3 to 4 weeks with a bone chip in his ankle, so I unfortunately missed the boat on Varejao. Luckily, I was able to get to him in Saturday's Basketball Blog, so I didn't miss out entirely. Grabbing Varejao is pretty much a no-brainer at this point, as he has averaged 15.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.6 blocks as a starter in Big Z's absence.
Andrea Bargnani, SF/PF/C, Raptors (23.1 percent owned): Bargnani has been on fire with Jermaine O'Neal out of action, and although O'Neal might return from his knee injury soon, Bargnani remains a solid pickup. He's averaging 21.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.8 blocks and 3.2 3-pointers in his past five games, so it is going to be tough to keep Il Mago off the court even after O'Neal returns. Obviously he'll take a hit in value, but there's a good chance that Jermaine's injuries will linger and Bargnani will take advantage in the long run.
Michael Beasley, PF, Heat (91.9 percent owned): I can't believe that Beasley is owned in 91.9 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues, not when he was averaging just 11.0 points and 4.3 rebounds without offering much in the way of steals, blocks or 3-pointers last month. Beasley, however, has turned up his game a notch lately with three consecutive double-digit scoring games. One of those games came with Shawn Marion out of the lineup, but Beasley looks to have regained some of the minutes he lost in December and could be turning the corner in an otherwise disappointing season.
Linas Kleiza, SF/PF, Nuggets (1.9 percent owned): The initial reaction to Carmelo Anthony's injury may be to run and grab J.R. Smith, and that's a fine idea, but don't forget about Kleiza. At just 24 years of age, Kleiza has already proven to be a capable scorer and 3-point shooter in the league when given the opportunity. Evidence of this can be seen in his 13 starts for the Nuggets last season, in which he averaged a cool 17.1 points, 1.5 3-pointers and 1.2 steals per game. Kleiza will start and log heavy minutes as Denver copes with the loss of Anthony for the next 3-4 weeks.
Luis Scola, PF/C, Rockets (29.3 percent owned): The Rockets are an injury mess, with both Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady on the day-to-day list almost every night. Scola has taken advantage of late with 10.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 0.8 steals in his past five games. That includes a zero-point effort Wednesday in Boston (which we'll write off as a down game). Scola will not be consistent, nor will he provide many blocks, but he will step it up when Houston is struggling with injuries. And in case you haven't noticed, Houston is almost always struggling with injuries.
Kelenna Azubuike, SG/SF, Warriors (25.8 percent owned): We mentioned in the intro that Azubuike and Marco Belinelli would be the two players most affected by the arrival of a healthy Monta Ellis, but Monta isn't quite ready yet and Stephen Jackson just went down with a hamstring injury that will keep him out for 2 to 3 weeks. Look for Azubuike and Belinelli to reap the benefits until Jackson and Ellis return.
Jason Thompson, PF, Kings (5.2 percent owned): It was only a matter of time before Thompson supplanted Mikki Moore in the starting lineup, and that's exactly what's going to happen Friday night against Miami. Thompson has displayed fantastic per-minute statistics this season and is a very nice speculative grab if he can hold onto his starting gig. He'll be particularly strong while Spencer Hawes is out with an abdominal strain.
Pickups: Deeper formats
Nenad Krstic, C, Thunder (1.8 percent owned): We spoke about Krstic last week, too, but he finally saw some action Wednesday against the Timberwolves, so he deserves another mention here. Krstic looks like a solid pickup, but don't get too carried away with him. He's not going to save your squad by any means. He certainly might wind up as the starter, but he'll have to compete with Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox for minutes in the paint. Also, keep in mind that Krstic is a poor rebounder and shot-blocker for a big man. Even during his best runs in the past, Nenad averaged around 16 points, but only 7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Lakers (6.7 percent owned): With injuries to both Luke Walton and Lamar Odom, the Lakers will be forced to turn to Vladimir Radmanovic and Ariza to help fill the void. Vlad Rad will hit some 3s, but Ariza is the guy fantasy owners want to consider as a short-term addition. He's one of the best steal artists in the league and had a big 17-point, 9-rebound, 1-steal game Wednesday.
Courtney Lee, SG, Magic (0.4 percent owned): Lee started at shooting guard for the Magic on Tuesday, and if he plays well enough, he just might keep the job long-term. Mickael Pietrus is out for the foreseeable future and Keith Bogans (ankle) has struggled as of late, thus leaving the door open for the rookie to steal the job. The Magic have a lot of weapons so we can't expect the world of Lee, but he does have a smooth shot from downtown and could score in the double digits while draining a few 3s per game as a starter.
Sebastian Telfair, PG, Timberwolves (1.8 percent owned): I'm not a huge Telfair fan for fantasy purposes, but with four straight victories, the Wolves are on a roll with him at the point and Randy Foye at the 2. Bassy has looked pretty good, too, with 10.4 points, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals and a 3-pointer in his past five games. Give him a look, but don't sell out for him.
Von Wafer, SG, Rockets (0.3 percent owned): It must be nice to play behind Tracy McGrady, huh? Largely unknown before last week, Wafer has busted out with 15.3 points, 1.3 steals and 2.8 3-pointers in his past four games. Given T-Mac's injury history, it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep Wafer around in the back of your mind (or on your bench) just in case McGrady misses any more time.
Mardy Collins, PG/SG, Clippers (0.9 percent owned): With the injuries piling up, just about anyone could have value in Los Angeles. That includes Collins, who has had back-to-back big games for the Clips. Given all the injuries, it wouldn't be surprising if Collins has some short-term value in deeper fantasy leagues.
Will Solomon, PG, Raptors (0.2 percent owned): Jose Calderon shouldn't miss too much more time with a hamstring injury, but it's worth noting that Solomon has averaged 10 points, 7.5 assists and 1.3 steals as a starter in his absence. This is something to keep in mind just in case Calderon's injury lingers.
Eddy Curry, C, Knicks (1.8 percent owned): Just checking to make sure you're still with me here. I'm not seriously recommending Curry, but he did return to action on Thursday for the Knicks. Mike D'Antoni has had success in turning mediocre players into fantasy stars, but that doesn't figure to happen with Curry. Unless you're in a 30-team league, you should stay away for now.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Brian McKitish points out the impact the returns of Mike Dunleavy and Monta Ellis will have on others.