- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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Injuries have dominated the fantasy news of late, but next week's All-Star Game should give fantasy owners some much-needed time to rebalance their rosters in preparation for the stretch run. The All-Star break is a great time to get to work on the waiver wire and make some moves in trade negotiations. It's also a good time to reflect on the season to date. What have we learned in the first half of the season that could be helpful as we gear up for the second half?
• I don't know whether Paul Millsap is better than Carlos Boozer in real life, but thanks to his versatility, he certainly is better than Boozer in the fantasy game. I'd take Millsap's 17.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks in 29 starts over Boozer's 20 points, 11 boards and 0.9 steals any day of the week. If I were a Boozer owner, I'd be awfully worried that Millsap will cut into some of his production if/when he returns this season.
• Let's go ahead and add Andrew Bynum to Eric Karabell's list of players you can't trust. For the second time in two years, Bynum has destroyed the dreams of fantasy owners with a possible season-ending knee injury. Will this guy ever stay healthy? I don't know. What I do know is that it will take fantasy owners more than a few years to get over this sting, and Bynum figures to hold the "injury-prone" label for quite some time. The Lakers, meanwhile, will be forced to rely more on Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in the paint as they adjust to life without Bynum.
• While we're at it, let's also add Elton Brand to the list. Brand's first season in Philadelphia didn't go exactly as planned, but news that he'll miss the rest of the season might benefit those who own Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young. The Sixers' offense was stagnant with Brand clogging up the middle, and Iguodala and Co. took off once he was out of the lineup. With Brand out and a fantastic second-half schedule on the horizon, the Sixers figure to be a fantasy-friendly team for the remainder of the season.
• I now am convinced that Al Jefferson is the best back-to-the-basket scorer in the league. With his wide array of post moves and ball fakes (not to mention his soft touch), it's almost impossible to stop him when he gets the ball in the low post. Do not be surprised if he averages 25-plus points the rest of the way.
• Devin Harris is even better than we expected, and that's saying a lot, because we were huge on this kid coming in. One key to his breakout has been his aggressiveness on the offensive end, which has led to his 9.0 free throw attempts per game, on which he's shooting 81.7 percent. He has slowed down a little after a torrid start but still is dominant in points (21.4), steals (1.6) and free throw percentage, while contributing modestly in assists (6.4) and 3-pointers (0.8).
• Just as owners who drafted Baron Davis and Tracy McGrady are feeling the effects of a risky draft strategy, those who took shots on Dwyane Wade and Yao Ming are reaping the rewards. Part of that is just pure luck, although I'd argue Wade was a smart calculated risk after he dominated in Beijing. Still, owners should keep in mind that it's never wise to take more than one high-risk/high-reward player in the early rounds. Be sure to hedge your bets by surrounding your early risks with some safer options. The same can be said for your strategy in the second half. If you own a few high-risk players who have made it this far without incident, you might want to consider trading one in for a safer investment. After all, your luck might last only so long.
• I know he dropped 61 on the Knicks and all, but does anyone still want to go with Kobe Bryant as their first overall pick? LeBron James is statistically superior in every relevant fantasy category other than free throw percentage and turnovers, and it's not really that close in terms of overall value. One look at their stats side by side shows just how big the discrepancy is:
LeBron James: 28.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.3 blocks, 1.3 3-pointers, 49.0 FG percentage, 77.0 FT percentage and 3.0 turnovers.
Kobe Bryant: 27.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.3 3-pointers, 48.0 FG percentage, 86.8 FT percentage and 2.7 turnovers.
• Just when everyone thought he was finished, 35-year-old Jason Kidd has proved he still has something left in the tank, with averages of 9.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.6 3-pointers per game this season. After meeting with Rick Carlisle last week, Kidd is taking even more control of the offense in Dallas. Not surprisingly, Kidd has averaged 9.5 assists and the Mavericks have gone 4-1 since the meeting. Unlike last season, Kidd might actually gain some steam in the second half rather than lose it.
Pickups: Shallow Formats
Mike Miller, SG/SF, Timberwolves (78.7 percent owned): Judging by his percent-owned numbers, it seems as though some owners held on to Miller through the rough times (which has happened to be the entire season up to this point). The good news is that those who were patient just might get some value out of him after all. In recent action, Miller has regained some of the minutes he lost in January and has come through with 12.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 3-pointers in three games this month. That looks a little more like the Miller of old, and he could be on his way to turning his season around in the second half. Give him a look if he was dropped in your league.
Lou Williams, PG, 76ers (8.5 percent owned): After averaging 13.8 points, 4.5 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.4 3-pointers in January, Williams should be owned in most fantasy leagues by now. I'm not sure why owners have balked at picking him up, but he should fly off waiver wires now that Elton Brand will miss the remainder of the season. The Sixers play at a faster pace with Brand out, and Williams is perfect for that style of play. Willie Green might eat into his production from time to time, but Green is too streaky to hold Williams down on a consistent basis. On a related note, Thaddeus Young is another more obvious pickup candidate.
D.J. Augustin, PG, Bobcats (15.5 percent owned): Word out of Charlotte is that Augustin will join the starting lineup once he's fully recovered from the abdominal injury he suffered in early January. He is expected to suit up Friday, and he'll play alongside Raymond Felton in the backcourt once he gets his game legs back. Augustin showed a considerable amount of potential earlier this season when he averaged 18.8 points, 7.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.8 3-pointers in six starts, and while we can't expect him to repeat those numbers, I am expecting big things from him after the All-Star break, provided that he can stay on the court.
Anthony Johnson, PG, Magic (1.7 percent owned): Johnson won't be able to replace Jameer Nelson, and Hedo Turkoglu will assume a larger role in the offense as a point forward, but the fact remains that the Magic need to find someone to take Nelson's 31.2 minutes per game. Even though Orlando already has traded for Tyronn Lue, the front-runner for most of those minutes has to be Johnson. He has limited upside, and he won't solve all your problems, but he has been a solid fantasy player as a starter in the past and has averaged 10.3 points, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.0 3-pointers in six starts this season.
Pickups: Deep Formats
Ryan Anderson, PF, Nets (0.6 percent owned): It took him a little while to find his way, but with Yi Jianlian out, the Nets rookie has come on strong of late. His solid play has earned him a few extra minutes, and he's averaged 11.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 3-pointers in 27.8 minutes per game in his past five games. Anderson will be inconsistent at times, but he's worth a look for owners in deeper leagues who are looking for a boost from behind the arc.
Tyrus Thomas, PF, Bulls (14.4 percent owned): I know I'll end up regretting this in about a week, but Thomas once again is looking like a worthy acquisition in fantasy leagues. With 13.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.2 blocks per game in his past five, Thomas could provide some serious short-term relief for fantasy owners. Just don't get too fond of seeing his name in your lineup, because he's about as inconsistent as anyone else in the league.
Brandon Bass, PF, Mavericks (1.5 percent owned): "The Animal" was a popular deep-sleeper pick in the preseason, but the talented 23-year-old has had a tough time earning enough minutes to make good on his potential. Bass has shown some flashes of brilliance with 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in his past five games. He'll have to secure a few more minutes per game in order to be relevant, but those in deeper leagues should consider adding him just in case he can break into Rick Carlisle's regular rotation.
Joey Graham, SG/SF, Raptors (0.5 percent owned): Graham is too inconsistent to be relied on as a long-term investment, but he has had some big games lately with 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 0.8 steals in his past five games. Consider him a short-term stopgap if you are struggling with multiple injuries.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2hBy Ian O'Connor