- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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It has been a busy week for sports fans, and at this stage of the season, fantasy hoops has perhaps taken a back seat to NCAA brackets and fantasy baseball drafts. But there are still plenty of fantasy owners who are making a run in their head-to-head playoffs or fending off opponents in roto leagues. With little time left to make the final push, owners will have to pull out all the stops if they want to make up ground. This includes adding one-category specialists, dropping certain injured players and employing the controversial "streaming" strategy (in which you add and drop players throughout the week to maximize games played).
With that in mind, this week we'll first take a look at some players who might be on the chopping block, and then take an extra-long look at some players who might still be available in your league.
On thin ice
Marquis Daniels, SG/SF, Pacers: A hot pickup a few weeks ago, Daniels has seen his fantasy stock plummet since the return of Danny Granger to the Pacers' lineup. It doesn't help that he is dealing with a painful right wrist injury either. With his wrist clearly bothering him, Daniels has averaged just 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and a steal over his past five games. With numbers like those, we simply can't afford to hold on to him any longer.
Jamal Crawford, PG/SG, Warriors: Don Nelson's fast-paced style might benefit most of his players, but his tendency to play musical chairs with his lineups can drive fantasy owners mad. Crawford is still getting it done when he's in the lineup, and that's why this is such a tough situation. Nellie basically gave Crawford an ultimatum either to opt out of his contract or to be traded in the offseason. Plus, the Warriors are looking to evaluate their youngsters for next season, and it's already starting to affect Crawford's playing time. Jamal did not see a minute of the court during Golden State's past two contests, and some fantasy owners can't wait around for Nellie to figure out what he wants to do with him. Those who can afford to wait should hold on to him a few more games, but Crawford should be on a very short leash if it looks like Nellie will continue to bench him in favor of the youngsters.
Manu Ginobili, SG, Spurs: I've received multiple e-mails this week asking about Manu's fantasy prospects the rest of the way. Manu's recovery from an injured ankle has taken extraordinarily long, and although he seems to be getting close to returning, there is still no solid timetable for his return. Keep in mind that even if Manu does come back, he won't be able to help fantasy teams as much as you might think. He will likely be limited to just 20-25 minutes per game because coach Gregg Popovich likely will want to keep him healthy for their upcoming playoff run. Thus, Manu is a definite drop candidate, particularly in shallow fantasy leagues in which there are plenty of solid options sitting on the free-agent list.
Leandro Barbosa, PG/SG, Suns: Ouch. Barbosa had been on fire before going down with a knee injury Wednesday. Initial reports have him missing 1 to 3 weeks with the injury. Not too bad if it's only one week, but he'll play in only the final four games of the season if it ends up being the full three-week recovery. Unfortunately, if you need a warm body to win a head-to-head (H2H) playoff matchup this week, you'll have to drop Barbosa for a hot free-agent pickup.
Devin Harris, PG, Nets: It pains me to write this because Harris has been such a dominant force this season, but the injury he suffered to his shoulder looked terrible, and there is still no timetable for his return to the court. It helps that the Nets are still in a dogfight for the final playoff spot in the East, which will ensure that Harris does everything in his power to get back on the court. Still, it's very hard to say when (or even whether) Harris will return. Some owners will want to wait this out for another week or so, but anyone who needs to win a H2H matchup now might want to think about dropping Harris for one of the players listed in the pickups section below.
Pickups (shallow formats)
Note: Many of the players listed below have been mentioned in previous columns but still are available in plenty of fantasy leagues.
Grant Hill, SF, Suns (55.1 percent owned): Hill has been flying under the radar of late but has averaged 14.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals over his past five games and figures to be the primary beneficiary of Barbosa's injury. When Barbosa left Wednesday's game because of the injury, it was Hill who stepped up to score 21 points while adding 6 rebounds and 2 steals in a victory over the Sixers.
Matt Barnes, SF, Suns (15.1 percent owned): Like Hill, Barnes will benefit from the injury to Barbosa in Phoenix, but truth be told, he was already playing well enough to be owned in most fantasy formats. Owners looking to make up ground in points and 3-pointers should certainly give him a look, as he has averaged 17.3 points and 1.9 3-pointers since joining the starting lineup in Phoenix two weeks ago.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Lakers (8.4 percent owned): Since replacing Luke Walton in the starting lineup last week, Ariza has caught fire with 17.3 points, 2.3 3-pointers and 3.0 steals over his past three games. We can't expect him to continue to score and knock down 3-pointers at this rate, but Ariza is a steals machine, and he should be able to average 2-plus steals per game as long as he sticks in the starting lineup. Ariza is a particularly attractive pickup option since he would be the main beneficiary if Phil Jackson opts to pull back Kobe Bryant's, Pau Gasol's and/or Lamar Odom's minutes as the Lakers pull away in the West.
Jason Thompson, PF, Kings (7.8 percent owned): It took him a little while to get going after the Brad Miller trade, but Thompson is finally starting to live up to the promise that we saw earlier this season. Thompson has quietly averaged 13.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and a steal in 32.6 minutes over his past five games. He is still too prone to foul trouble for my liking, but it's hard to argue with the near double-doubles plus solid defensive stats every night. I think I'd rather own his frontcourt mate, Spencer Hawes, but I'd definitely settle for Thompson if Hawes is already gone.
Thabo Sefolosha, SG/SF, Thunder (6.2 percent owned): I've been all over this kid since he was traded to Oklahoma City, but for some reason fantasy owners have been reluctant to pick him up despite the fact that he is averaging a versatile 11.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.3 blocks in 12 games with the Thunder. Perhaps people are concerned Sefolosha would lose his luster once Kevin Durant and Jeff Green returned to action, but Thabo is still helpful, particularly on the defensive end. Talk about a defensive stud: Thabo is averaging a ridiculous 3.2 steals and 1.6 blocks over his past five games. Get him now if you need to make up ground quickly in steals or blocks.
Larry Hughes, SG, Knicks (24.0 percent owned): I didn't even want to list Hughes here because with the way he's playing, he shouldn't be available in any league of any size right now. If for some reason he is still available, be sure to grab him right away, as he is playing 37.8 minutes per game over his past five games and averaging 19.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.1 3-pointers during that time.
Antonio McDyess, PF, Pistons (29.5 percent owned): Like Hughes, there is no reason McDyess should be available in fantasy leagues at this point. I mean, the guy is averaging 16.0 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game over his past five games. Perhaps owners are hesitant to pick him up with Rasheed Wallace set to return, but while his stock will fall slightly when Wallace returns, McDyess is playing at such a high level right now that it will be impossible for the Pistons to keep him off the court down the stretch.
Andray Blatche, Dominic McGuire, Wizards (4.2 and 1.8 percent owned): I've been pushing these two guys for a few weeks now in preparation for the inevitable Caron Butler shutdown. McGuire has quietly produced in multiple categories for a little while now and is averaging a versatile 5.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals and a block per game over his past five games. Owners might be reluctant to grab him because he doesn't score much, but that doesn't mean he can't be a productive fantasy player. Blatche has more upside than McGuire, and could be a force down the stretch if Butler shuts things down.
Keyon Dooling, PG, Nets (1.5 percent owned): Dooling will start for the Nets while Devin Harris mends, and as of right now we still don't know how long that will be. What we do know is that Dooling has been quite productive whenever Harris has missed time this season. In seven starts, Dooling has averaged 15.6 points, 5.1 assists, 1.4 3-pointers and a steal for the Nets. Given the uncertainty surrounding Harris' injury, Dooling is certainly worthy of a pickup for those in need of a point guard.
Quick-hit pickups (for shallow leagues)
Steve Novak, PF, Clippers (1.1 percent owned): Need a 3-point specialist? Novak has been lights-out from downtown, shooting 22-of-36 from behind the arc in his past five games. That type of shooting can help any team make up ground in the 3-point category fairly quickly.
Renaldo Balkman, SF, Nuggets (0.9 percent owned): Say what you want about Balkman's offense, but this guy is a stud defender when he is on the court. Kenyon Martin (back) is far from 100 percent, and Balkman has stepped up his game of late with 12.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game over his past five games. If Martin's back continues to give him problems, Balkman could be a huge addition for fantasy owners down the stretch.
Ronny Turiaf, PF/C, Warriors (9.0 percent owned): When Andris Biedrins is out of the lineup, Turiaf is the Steve Novak of the shot-blocking department. He is swatting 3.0 shots per game over his past five games and is a must-add for anyone who needs blocks.
Nick Young, SG, Wizards (5.4 percent owned): We all know what can happen when Young gets hot, and he seems to be starting another run; he has scored in double figures in five straight contests for the Wizards. With Caron Butler hurting, Young could see a ton of minutes down the stretch, and he makes for a nice high-risk, high-reward pickup for those needing points, 3-pointers and free-throw percentage.
Ronald "Flip" Murray, SG, Hawks (1.8 percent owned): Flip has been erratic since Marvin Williams went down for the Hawks, but he has scored in double figures in three of his past five games and is averaging 11.6 points and 1.2 steals during that time. He'll have an opportunity to get it going on the offensive end while Williams heals.
Greg Oden, C, Blazers (81.1 percent owned): Oden is finally back after sitting out more than a month because of a knee injury. He was barely productive when he was healthy, so I'm not really rushing out to grab him, but he could provide owners with solid rebounding and shot-blocking numbers down the stretch.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian McKitish takes a look at good players that fantasy owners should (heavily) consider dropping, and then offers some alternatives.