- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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One thing you can count on during every fantasy season is that players will emerge out of nowhere to be relevant in spurts, whether because of an injury or just because a head coach wants to tinker with his rotation. Regardless of the reason, you have to pay attention to these specific situations if you want to regularly beat your leaguemates to the wire as the flavors of the week and month change.
The latest developments have left us with a trio of players who should be picked up in most formats because of their multiple-category contributions. In addition, there are others who have become consistent threats from deep, if you're hoping to catch up in 3-pointers. And while it's tough to find useful big guys on the wire in deeper formats, there are a handful of centers whose per-minute numbers bear watching as we work toward the All-Star break a month from now.
Anderson Varejao, PF, Cavaliers (8.2 percent owned): Varejao's a lock for eight boards, a steal and a block per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor with negligible turnovers. The only other players averaging at least eight boards, a steal and a block per game are Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Smith, Ben Wallace, Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace and Dwight Howard. Additionally, Varejao is one of four players in the league averaging as many or more steals and blocks per game than turnovers (Camby, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Jamario Moon). That's why if you need boards and defense, Varejao is a no-brainer, especially since January was his best month last season (10.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.9 steals). He's even more of a no-brainer in roto leagues, particularly in those that count turnovers, making him a sneaky five-category contributor with a unique combination of categories in which he does contribute.
Rasual Butler, SG/SF, Clippers (2.4 percent owned): Please refer to him as "Business Rasual" whenever the opportunity presents itself. He's no stranger to the outskirts of fantasy relevance, as this is his fifth season averaging at least 1.1 3s per game, and his third season in the past four in which he's averaged more than 10 points per game and 1.5 3s. Butler had failed to secure a regular starting job until last season, in which he started 74 games for the Hornets. Despite this, he failed to prove worthy of the Hornets' long-term consideration, likely because of his career 40.5 percent mark from the floor from the shooting guard slot and failure to capitalize upon his size in the rebounding department. Well, this season he's grasped a starting job for the Clippers after signing a modest free-agent contract, experienced widespread statistical improvement and rendered Al Thornton worthless. In December, "Business Rasual" averaged 12.0 points, 1.8 3s and 0.8 blocks on 46.7 percent shooting from the floor, his best full month shooting since last January. He peaked last January and February and seems to be doing so again this season, as he's averaging 13.5 points, 2.0 3s, a block and 0.5 steals per game this month. The hidden gem in Butler's stats? This is the third season in his past four in which he's averaged 0.7 blocks per game, and he ranks seventh this season among guard-eligible players in blocks. As evidenced by this article, there are other valid 3-point options out there, but very few who also provide blocks, so he's undoubtedly a no-brainer if you covet both.
Luther Head, SG, Pacers (2.5 percent owned): His recent productivity binge (21.7 points, 1.8 3s, 1.2 steals, 3.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds in his past four contests) has been well-documented by now. And by well-documented, I mean I called it a month ago, then analyzed it in this week's Fantasy Basketball Blog, and now he's the talk of the (fantasy basketball) town, jumping from 0.2 percent owned last week to 2.5 percent this week, the largest relative jump of any player among the top 25 most-added. Head's value will soon decrease, as Danny Granger indicated Thursday that he's very close to returning. Still, savvy fantasy owners view every game as an opportunity to bolster team value and standing, and Head is a top-15 fantasy shooting guard until Granger -- the league's eighth-leading scorer -- returns, with his value to be determined, as he'll compete with Brandon Rush. Then it becomes Head versus Rush, which sounds like a Gatorade flavor. But we'll get to that in a bit.
3s for free!
Each of these widely available guards is a legitimate 3-point option, and owned in less than two percent of ESPN leagues. I'd expect between 1.5 and 2.0 3s per game from each of these gunners, and rank them in the following order:
Devin Brown, SG, Hornets (1.4 percent owned): Amid trade rumors, Brown exploded for 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting including five 3s on Monday, and has logged more than 30 minutes and knocked down at least two 3s in four of his past five contests after averaging two treys per game in December.
Roger Mason, SG, Spurs (1.4 percent owned): Mason has at least one 3-pointer in each of his past eight contests, including three games with four treys, and is averaging 2.3 3s per game this month. A safer bet than Brown, but with less upside.
Brandon Rush, SG, Pacers (1.2 percent owned): This hot preseason sleeper has averaged 1.2 3s per game in every month so far this season, but saw his numbers drop across the board from November to December. January is more promising thus far, as Rush is averaging two 3s per game this month and played 33 minutes Tuesday, his highest total since Dec. 16. Rush's numbers shouldn't be hampered by Granger's return, as Rush averages 1.5 3s per game on 43.2 percent shooting from downtown in 13 games off the bench versus 1.1 3s per game on 28.8 percent when starting, indicating he's an ideal fit in a supplementary role. Granger's impending return brings us back to Head versus Rush. The short and sweet? Short-term: Head, no question; next several weeks: Head for points, Rush for 3s; long-term: Rush.
Wayne Ellington, SG, Timberwolves (0.9 percent owned): Ellington is averaging two 3s per game this month and 1.7 per game in the past 15 days. He averaged 2.2 per game last season at the University of North Carolina, has proven his capability from the NBA 3-point line and should be a lock for one 3 per game with the potential of close to two per game if he continues to log more than 20 minutes per game, as he has in three of his past four contests.
Centers owned in fewer than 0.5 percent of ESPN leagues worth adding in deep formats
Serge Ibaka, C, Thunder (0.3 percent owned): Nick Collison has been effective lately, stepping in for the struggling Jeff Green at times, providing rebounding, accurate shooting, smart defense and an extremely high basketball IQ to the Thunder frontcourt. But hidden beneath all the young talent on the Thunder's roster is Brazilian rookie Ibaka, who is averaging a block and 4.8 boards per game in just over 15 minutes of play. Average that out to starter's numbers and we're talking about 10 boards and two blocks from a rookie who has seen his PT increase with each month this season (15.7, 16.2, 18.3 minutes per game in November, December and January, respectively), and is on the fringe of fantasy worthiness despite minimal playing time.
Marcin Gortat, C, Magic (0.4 percent owned): Despite playing just 13 minutes per game, Gortat is averaging 0.9 blocks and bolstering the argument that he's a legitimate starting center for half the teams in the league. He could still be dangled as trade bait and see his value skyrocket with a new team -- as it will if iron man Dwight Howard ever gets hurt -- but for now if you need blocks in deep leagues, Gortat is providing them in the poorest possible situation. Even if he never finds himself in a place where he'll play 35 minutes per night and have a chance to showcase his talent, he'll still put up great per-minute stats; it just won't be until those minutes increase that he's worth a look in anything but the deepest of formats.
Joel Anthony, C, Heat (0.2 percent owned): Anthony is becoming the JV version of Ronny Turiaf this season, providing insane per-minute blocks (1.4 per game this season, 1.8 per game in his past 13 contests; his 4.45 blocks per 48 minutes ranks third in the league behind Hasheem Thabeet and the ghost of Greg Oden), but nothing else. Forget the minutes; if you're desperate for blocks, he's a legit block specialist, and is worth adding in any format in which you're last in swats. Throw in the fact he plays behind the fragile Jermaine O'Neal, and I think we'll be hearing about Anthony as a faint blip on the fantasy radar for the rest of the season, with tremendous upside in the blocks department.
DeSagana Diop, C, Bobcats (0.1 percent owned): Diop was the former king of fantasy hoops block specialists, averaging 1.8 swats per game in 2005-06 in just 18 minutes. He barely sniffed the court for the Bobcats until the past couple of weeks, but in his past five games he's averaging a block along with 3.6 boards per game in more than 16 minutes of play. Any time Diop flirts with 20 minutes, he'll be good for more than a block per game, but please realize he's worth considering only if you're in a super-deep league and are scraping the bottom of the barrel for blocks.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling takes a look at a few players who should be owned in most leagues, as well as a handful of under-the-radar options.