- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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At least once per year, I try to have my Flip Murray moment, when I reminisce about the magical fall of 2003. I'm transported to a happier time, when my city had a team and the dollar was worth more than seven buttons. Ray Allen went down early for my Sonics, forcing the unheralded Murray into a key offensive role. He went on to go bananas, averaging nearly 21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.6 3s, and 1.1 steals in the month of November while filling in for Allen, numbers that provided many fantasy teams with an early lead. His value was short-lived, as he failed to average more than 14 points in any other month once Allen returned, but those owners who got a month of Ben Gordon-esque numbers for free off the waiver wire capitalized upon Flip's unexpected short-term value.
A Flip Murray moment means rostering a hot short-term option early in an attempt to get an early-season boost similar to the one he provided in that awesome autumn. Several injuries already have occurred this season, creating short-term value for others. With Kevin Martin, Michael Redd, Andris Biedrins, Eric Gordon, Devin Harris and other top fantasy players sidelined, we must look to their substitutes for value. Often, we're looking at these substitutes because we own the injured players, and if you are in that situation, don't hesitate to grab one of the players below as your "handcuff." This is especially the case with point guards, and if you're depending on Harris, Mike Conley and Nate Robinson, it'd be shrewd to handcuff them with Rafer Alston, Marcus Williams and Toney Douglas.
Also, these early-season dings allow us to evaluate players who won't contribute significantly over the course of the entire season, but they get an early chance due to circumstance -- and we can evaluate whether or not they'll be a force in the future and are worth monitoring. Let's take a look at some players benefiting from early-season injuries:
Beno Udrih, PG, Kings (6.2 percent owned): Udrih is consistently one of the luckiest fantasy players in the land. He's been given Sacramento's starting point guard spot again and again despite being consistently mediocre. Now, with Martin out for months, he's struck gold again, as he and Tyreke Evans are the Kings' starting backcourt duo. It helps Udrih to have another guard on the floor who can dribble and pass, and he could be in line for a couple of career months. He's averaging 16 points and four assists in three starts this season, and likely will score more than in years past since he doesn't always have to bring the ball up. He's attempted at least 11 shots in every November game thus far and is a must-add if you need a point guard.
Taj Gibson, PF, Bulls (1.0 percent owned): This long, athletic rookie forward is averaging a steal and a block per game in just 23 minutes, and he has a significant chunk of time to shine since Tyrus Thomas is sidelined for a month. In five starts this season, Gibson is averaging 10 points, five rebounds, 1.4 steals and a block. He's the perfect example of a short-term option in deep leagues, where any player posting a productive 20 minutes is helpful. In this case, he gives you great per-minute defensive stats, some upside and a clear window of time when his value will be at its peak. Capitalize now, but know he'll be a fine fantasy player down the line, as well.
Rasual Butler, SG/SF, Clippers (1.1 percent owned): "Business" Rasual has been a favorite of mine this young season, and even though he's bounced between starting and coming off the bench, he is now a primary scoring option for the Clippers in the short-term since Gordon is sidelined with a groin injury. Butler has attempted an insane 26 3-pointers in his past three games, a trend that'll continue as he keeps bombing away, and his length provides just enough steals and blocks (0.4 and 0.6 respectively), so he's not considered a complete one-trick pony. Butler will have value all season in the 3-point department, although with Gordon out, his numbers will be inflated in the short term, and he's worth starting until he stops shooting 3s like we're Mayan and it's 2012.
Marcus Williams, PG, Grizzlies (0.2 percent owned): Allen Iverson's spirit quest (which isn't technically an injury, but roll with me) will undoubtedly benefit Mike Conley in the long run, and the fact he hasn't gone insane since A.I. departed is no biggie, but the fact that Williams has emerged as a viable backup and in-game option for the Grizzlies is. Williams has been enigmatic, a fantastic college player who has been hated on by many in the league for his work ethic but has shown flashes of brilliance in the regular season and preseason. If you translated his career stats (which have been disappointing) to 30 minutes per game, he'd average six assists, and if he ever found his groove he could do even more. Although Conley will surface as a solid option at the point and get a bulk of the minutes, Williams is a sleeper as his backup, and an ideal deep-league add for those who need assists.
Charlie Bell, SG, Bucks (0.4 percent owned): Michael Redd joins Kevin Martin as a recently derailed top shooting guard, as he'll miss at least another week with a knee injury. Bell is averaging 1.2 3s and 1.4 steals in November, replacing Redd in the lineup and earning more minutes than he has in the recent past. He'll continue to flirt with 1.5 steals and 3s with Redd sidelined, and is a nice short-term option, especially if you need those stats without the turnovers.
Rafer Alston, PG, Nets (7.4 percent owned): Since Devin Harris is close to returning from a groin injury, Skip once again will be relegated to bench status, although he's the clear backup, is in great shape and can still provide 3s, steals and assists with the best of them. In his past three games starting for Harris, Alston is averaging 13.3 points, 6.0 assists and 1.3 3s per game, and should put up a few more solid performances until Harris is back and ready to reclaim his minutes. This early-season stint of productivity shows that Alston is an immediate add next time Harris is sidelined or if there's a snag in his rehab, as something tells me this isn't the only time this season Alston will be forced into action.
Terrence Williams, SG/SF, Nets (4.0 percent owned): With the majority of the Nets' backcourt sidelined Wednesday, Williams got his first start and responded with 10 points and 12 rebounds in 37 minutes of play. With Harris, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian, Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling all dinged in one way or another, Williams has about as much opportunity now as he will all season, and he isn't worth adding in any but the deepest of leagues. But it is worth noting how he responded to the opportunity, and his steal/block/3 potential is mouth-watering (he averaged 1.5 3s, 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks as a senior at Louisville).
Toney Douglas, PG, Knicks (2.0 percent owned): The rookie point guard has made a statement in the past three games, averaging 20 points, three 3s and a steal, flourishing in Nate Robinson's absence and most recently sharing the starting backcourt with Chris Duhon. Douglas isn't a distributor, and much like Robinson he's more of a scorer than a true point (he averaged 21.5 points, 1.8 3s and 1.8 steals his senior season at Florida State, but just 2.9 assists). Rumors of their sharing the backcourt have surfaced, and it'll be interesting to see how D'Antoni uses Douglas once Robinson returns. My guess is that he'll go with the hot hand, meaning they'll negate much of each other's value and consistency -- although, like Williams, Douglas proved in this short stint that he'll be a name in the fantasy realm for quite some time. Don't drop a dependable player for him, since there isn't a huge amount of opportunity with Robinson and Duhon also on the roster, but like Williams in New Jersey, definitely keep an eye on this promising rookie.
Josh Boone, C, Nets (0.6 percent owned): Two seasons ago, Boone's prospects looked promising, as he averaged 7.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.5 steals per game in just 25 minutes, including some monstrous nights on the boards where he looked like he'd be a force for years. Then the Nets drafted Brook Lopez, and Boone averaged just 16 minutes last season. With Yi out for a month or so, Boone is back in the mix and has started the past two contests at power forward, averaging 10 boards and 1.5 blocks. Boone will have value in rebounds and blocks with Yi sidelined, and with most of the early-season surprise big men gone, Boone is worth looking at if your team has been ravaged by injuries or you need cheap big man stats.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling takes a look at players who are taking full advantage of short-term opportunities, and are worth a look in fantasy leagues.