- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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As fantasy hoops players, we spend many nights during the NBA regular season perusing box scores, noticing subtle nuances such as distribution of minutes amongst bench rotation and recent statistical trends for individual players and teams. We track per-minute production to see who would do most with the hypothetical minutes granted due to injuries, trades, or any number of in-season value changers. We peg potential breakouts, track those more likely to be injured or traded, and have a multitude of players swimming around in our heads who immediately catch our eyes when reading box scores.
Well, my friends, we've got only a couple of weeks left, and it's safe to say that there will be a minimal amount of "breakouts" from this point forward. Midseason strategy is out the window, and now it's all about manning the headlines, and pouncing upon every little smidgen of available value that emerges, even if it's for only a few games. Maximizing your team's games-played limit with the best possible players is the surest way to get the most out of your own team's value and grant the reassurance that you did what you could with what you had. One of the best ways of doing this at this point of the season is by adding and dropping as many players as possible to hit that limit, which means the deepest of players become relevant for stints. Here are some widely available players worth targeting in order to suit these late-season needs.
Brandon Rush, SG, Pacers (2.2 percent owned): Rush has had an interesting season, as he was a popular sleeper pick during drafts and has consistently provided spectacular blocks for a guard with steady 3-point shooting. His average minutes have fluctuated -- 25 in December, 30 in January and February, and more than 35 per game in March -- as have his scoring and shooting touch. But he's averaged at least 1.2 3s and 0.6 blocks per game every month this season, including March averages of 12.8 points,4.5 rebounds, 2.0 3s, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. It seems like he's been more of a scoring threat this season, but is averaging just 9.5 points per game, which illustrates how much better he's been offensively as of late, averaging nearly 13 points per game this month. He's hit double digits in five straight contests, his second-longest such streak this season. The 3s and fantastic blocks for a guard have remained steady all season, even though his overall production hasn't, but his recent scoring binge warrants Rush being owned in more than 2.2 percent of leagues.
C.J. Miles, SG/SF, Jazz (2.1 percent owned): Andre Kirilenko hasn't played since March 17 and Miles has been starting in his place, averaging 17.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 3s, 1.3 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in his past four contests. For Miles, it isn't a matter of starting or coming off the bench -- his numbers are very similar in his 19 starts versus his 34 games off the bench -- but it's all about his playing time and finding a rhythm in his role with the team. AK47's absence has opened a role more than it's created a starting spot, and Miles has run with it, averaging 13.2 points per game in March and 1.4 3s per game in his past 26 contests. The Jazz will do everything possible to ensure that Kirilenko is at his best for the playoffs, so look for Miles' success to continue, and for him to provide gaudy steals totals -- 1.7 per game this month -- to complement his recent offensive surge. Miles is a great points, 3s and steals option, but I'd avoid him if percentages are an issue with your team, as he's averaging an unimpressive 42.3 percent from the floor and 71.1 percent from the stripe.
James Singleton, PF, Wizards (1.3 percent owned): I touted him as a hustling, gritty, defensively minded player who would post solid defensive stats after the Wizards' roster was dismantled by trades and criminal activity. But on March 19, he turned heads with a 16-rebound performance against the Nuggets, then on Wednesday he snared an eye-popping 21 boards to go along with 19 points on 62 percent shooting. He's averaging 1.2 blocks per game this month and is clearly a force on the boards, so if you want those defensive numbers with some recent, surprising offensive contribution, Singleton is a nice target.
Serge Ibaka, C, Thunder (0.7 percent owned): He's been well-documented in this column over the past couple of months, but Ibaka just continues to improve his production and see his fantasy viability rise. He has progressed from deep-league flier, to deep-league starter, to a player worth considering in all leagues if you need blocks and boards, to an absolute swat monster. In his past six contests, Ibaka is averaging seven boards and 2.5 blocks in about 20 minutes per contest, and in the past 15 days only five players have blocked more shots. He's a no-brainer if blocks are a priority, and based upon his impressive finish to the season, Ibaka will be one of the hottest sleepers for next season's draft based upon his incredible potential. Look for him to be a fun story during the playoffs as the Thunder are primed to be heavily publicized underdogs looking to upset their first-round opponent.
Wayne Ellington, SG, Timberwolves (0.8 percent owned): Ellington is averaging 2.1 3s per game in his past six contests and 23 minutes per game this month, by far his heaviest chunk of playing time this year. Ellington's 3-point acumen is legit, although he's unable to provide much elsewhere. Still, if he continues seeing minutes in the 20s, he should continue to hover around two 3s per game, a magic number that makes him a hot commodity in deep leagues.
Darius Songaila, PF/C, Hornets (0.4 percent owned): Songaila has always been unique player who plays bigger than he is and posts incredible steals per minute from a forward/center-type (he's averaged at least 0.7 steals per game in each of the past three seasons despite averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game in all three). Well, in his past five games he's averaging 25 minutes per game, which translates to a fantastic 1.6 steals per contest that's now surrounded by decent-enough numbers in other categories to make him more than a one-trick pony. He's also averaging 11 points and five rebounds on 59 percent shooting in that span, and much like Brandon Rush provides blocks from a position where they're scarce, Songaila's steals production coupled with his center eligibility makes him a prime candidate for those looking to get as many steals as they can from anywhere possible. He's not dominant, but does have the potential to be a difference-maker in one category, which is important down the stretch as categories are often decided by single-digit totals when all 82 games per slot have been played.
Morris Peterson, SG, Hornets (0.4 percent owned): Mo-Pete's value comes almost strictly in the form of 3s, although he's prone to the type of outbursts (four games of four or more 3s this month) that equal the sporadic high scoring total as well. I pretty much hate Peterson as a fantasy player, but don't deny that he can be a force from downtown, and in deep leagues where teams are battling over 3s, Peterson, with his 1.9 treys per game this month, is worth owning in that circumstance. Unless you're desperate for 3s and only 3s, look beyond Peterson, but don't ignore him if the one thing he does happens to fill your need.
Eric Maynor, PG, Thunder (0.3 percent owned): Russell Westbrook is firmly entrenched as the starter in OKC and is a budding superstar, which prompted GM Sam Presti to trade for the type of player who will make a fantastic backup and whose strengths nicely complement those of Westbrook. As the Thunder brace for the aforementioned playoff hullabaloo, Maynor is doing what he can to maximize his productivity within his backup minutes, and has even earned more playing time lately, logging at least 22 minutes in each of his past four contests. For now, he's able to help only in the assists category, but when he gets on the court that's seemingly all he does, as evidenced by his 11 assists on Sunday and nine assists on Wednesday this week. His 11.1 assists per 48 minutes in March ranks 14th in the league, ahead of Jose Calderon, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and other players who have been assist threats all season long. Don't expect anything else from him, but assists are scarce and Maynor is almost surely going to provide more for you than any other available player at this point, making him an ideal category-specific pickup.
Jarvis Hayes, SF, Nets (0.2 percent owned): Much like Peterson, Hayes is a one-category wonder in the 3-point department, but still manages to make noise there. He's averaging 2.1 3s per game in March, 1.6 in his past five contests, and has played at least 27 minutes in each of his past four games. He's another need-specific target to avoid if you're looking for overall production, but worth adding if you're locked in a 3-point battle.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
7hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy