Emerging players to watch
For months, fantasy analysts have urged anticipating and preparing for the stretch run. It's now upon us. There's still time to impact your standings with shrewd roster maneuvering, and either make a push for the championship or at least establish a moral win and momentum to dull the pain of life without fantasy hoops until fall. Hesitating and carefully evaluating is so 2009 -- the time to act is now. Have an inkling about a player? Pull the trigger. Drop your duds, add someone who'll give you a week of productivity and have two available players in mind who've been recently doing well in case he falters. Here are some widely available players with recently augmented values who can still impact your standings for the final portion of the season.
Well, he's averaging nearly 12 points per game in his past nine contests, including efforts of 18, 16, 17 and 19 points in that span. Plenty has been written about him this season so I won't ramble, as we know he's capable of solid production, although I will point out his nice combo of 3s and steals from a power forward-eligible player. He's one of 17 such players averaging at least 1.1 3-pointers, and is a top-50 power forward in the steals department. Nothing too crazy impressive, although when you're trying to make up ground in those categories and have maximized your options at guard slots, having a power forward who contributes is helpful.
Marvin Williams, SF/PF, Atlanta Hawks (4.5 percent owned): After averaging more than 10 points in November, December and January, Williams sputtered in February, averaging 8.7 points on 44 percent shooting, and was hindered by the flu late in the month. He's started March scorching, however, averaging 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and a steal while shooting 58 percent from the floor and 90 percent from the line thus far. Williams is averaging 0.6 3s and 0.7 steals and blocks this season in less than 30 minutes per game, making him one of 15 players with 0.6 or more in all three. The others: Baron Davis, Andre Iguodala, Brandon Rush, Charlie Villanueva, Danilo Gallinari, Rasheed Wallace, Jeff Green, Danny Granger, Channing Frye, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and Gerald Wallace. Williams plays like a poor man's Shane Battier with better scoring but inferior peripherals, solid percentages and low turnovers. If your team is holding onto the top spot and an injury hits, filling the hole with a low-risk player like Williams is smart.
J.J. Hickson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (2.1 percent owned): The Cavs were stingy in their deadline negotiations and refused to part with Hickson, who has rewarded them with 18.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks this month so far in Shaquille O'Neal's absence. With Kazaam out of the picture, look for Hickson to post the best numbers of his career for a sustained stretch. Expect around 15 points and eight boards with a steal and a block -- and maybe even better -- from Hickson to finish the season. He has benefited from LeBron James' assist spree (LBJ is averaging 10.5 dimes per game in February and March). Pounce on him immediately, especially with Shaq out and Zydrunas Ilgauskas ineligible to negotiate his return until March 22.
Jrue Holiday, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (1.2 percent owned): I feel bad for his older brother Justin, a junior for the Washington Huskies -- it's gotta burn to have your little bro flossin' in the league while you're eating dorm food. Despite his fraternal bragging rights, Holiday's an unpolished work-in-progress, and even though he's getting big run with the Sixers in the absence of Allen Iverson, his production will waver. Still, his 0.7 3s and 0.8 steals per game and nights like his 23-point, six-assist game March 1 demonstrate he's equipped with the tools to be an effective fantasy player able to contribute in several categories. If you're looking for assists, this is where he's helped most recently, averaging 4.0 per game in his past five.
Jason Maxiell, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (0.5 percent owned): Maxiell finished February with four games of 13 or more points, 6.4 rebounds per game (including two double-digit rebounding efforts), while shooting almost 60 percent from the field, and also upped his Q rating by appearing on "THS: Basketball Wives" on E!. March is looking better, as Wednesday's contest marked the first time all season he's notched 30 minutes, starting at center while Ben Wallace sat with a bum knee. Wallace is expected to sit the rest of the week, and Maxiell should be primed for his best stint of the season and ride the momentum he'd started building before Big Ben toppled. He's one of the few widely available options to target who can specifically boost your field goal percentage, as he's been better than a 50 percent shooter for four straight seasons and is 24-for-39 (61.5 percent) from the floor in his past five contests.
Serge Ibaka, C, Oklahoma City Thunder (0.4 percent owned): I like his name -- it reminds me of my nectar of choice in junior high, Surge, which must have been a mixture of green highlighter fluid, high-fructose corn syrup and Sudafed. I hate his team's name, which reminds me of an American Gladiator. I love his game, it reminds me of Sam Presti's genius. But for the first time in ages, the Thunder won't have a lottery pick, so they're balancing priming for the postseason with grooming and evaluating their internal talent for the future. Ibaka is garnering rave reviews from scouts and coaches and is already becoming an impact player during his limited minutes on the court. He averaged about seven points, five boards and two blocks per game in just 17 minutes in February, and Wednesday he posted his finest effort as a pro: 15 points and 13 boards with a steal and a block. His 3.22 blocks per 48 minutes ranks 15th-best among players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, and he's even worth a $1 keeper-league flier if you're filling out your roster with cheap sleepers for next season. Ibaka will have an impact upon your blocks totals now (he ranked 13th in the league in blocks last month). You'll have to wait for him to consistently perform elsewhere, but the future is bright for the Thunder rookie.
Here are some super-deep options with a snippet about each:
Nenad Krstic, C, Thunder (0.8 percent owned): Averaging a respectable 10.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.4 blocks while hitting half of his shots during the past five games, he should be inspired to fight for minutes with Ibaka coming on strong off the bench.
Francisco Garcia, SG/SF, Sacramento Kings (0.8 percent owned): Scored in single-digits in each of his first six games back and double-digits in past two (11.5 points, 2.0 3s, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists). He was one of my favorite players last season, able to average more than a 3, a steal and a block per game when healthy.
Marcin Gortat, C, Orlando Magic (0.5 percent owned): Averaged 4.2 boards and a block per game in February in just 12.4 minutes per game, 1.3 blocks per game in his past nine contests, and is on the radar in deep, two-center leagues.
Bill Walker, SF, New York Knicks (0.4 percent owned): In his past two games, he's averaging 21.5 points, 3.5 assists, 1.0 3s and 1.0 steals. His upside is monumental, as we've never seen what he can do with significant run.
Reggie Williams, SF, Golden State Warriors (0.0 percent owned): The D-League call-up averaged 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 3s in 28.0 minutes in his first two games. Corey Maggette is sidelined and Williams is getting big minutes for the Warriors, the basketball equivalent of starting in the outfield for the Colorado Rockies. He should fit in nicely, as he averaged 27.8 points and 10.8 rebounds for up-tempo VMI in college.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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