Road to recovery?
Injury issues boost value of Jermaine O'Neal, Rudy Fernandez and Ryan Anderson
It's easy to look at the calendar, see it's almost 2011 and get the feeling that we already know most everything about the player pool we're dealing with in fantasy hoops this season. Sure, injuries and trades regularly alter player value, but now we're dealing with players returning from injuries that have hampered them for the majority of the season. It's important to analyze their value as well as their impact on the rest of the rotation. Many of the options I'll highlight this week have recently returned to action, and all are widely available. The others, as usual, are benefiting from injuries on their teams or roster shakeups. Let's take a look at some options that should be available on most waiver wires:
Rudy Fernandez, SG, Portland Trail Blazers (6.5 percent owned): Poor, poor Brandon Roy. It's disheartening to see such a talented player devastated by injuries, and his prognosis has grown worse recently. There are now rumors that he'll be shut down for the rest of the season, and even if he does return his shoddy knees will make it virtually impossible for him to get regular starter's minutes. Fernandez is the primary beneficiary of Roy's absence, with five double-digit games in his past seven contests and averaging 2.1 3-pointers per game in that span. He has the acumen from long range to be among the league leaders in 3s when getting minutes, and he also accrues decent steals (0.9 per game in December) with low turnovers (0.9 per game this season), while shooting above 80 percent from the stripe. Anytime a player is able to contribute twice as many 3s, steals or blocks than turnovers, his value in turnover leagues is amplified. Fernandez's minutes for the season are at a career-low, but if Roy is out of the picture he should get around 25 per game, which is good enough for him to hover around two 3s per contest. He can also help in steals, so Fernandez is more than a one-category wonder. If your team needs 3s whatsoever, he is surely one of the best options to target for that category.
Francisco Garcia, SG/SF, Sacramento Kings (6.1 percent owned): The Kings' starting rotation has been a merry-go-round this season, and Garcia is averaging fewer minutes per game than he has since 2006-2007. Paul Westphal tweaked his lineup again recently, inserting Garcia, which should dramatically improve his value. Garcia is a fantastic all-around contributor, with the ability to provide 3s, steals and blocks with solid percentages and low turnovers. Two seasons ago, he was over one steal, one 3-pointer and one block per game for the season, a magical feat that few players are able to achieve in the fantasy game. If he remains in the starting lineup, he could match that, with current averages of 1.3 3s, 0.7 steals and 0.8 blocks per game in just 20.7 minutes. In his three starts this season, he's averaging 14.3 points, 3.0 3s, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 turnovers per game, which is a demonstration of his ability to put up fantastic fantasy stats. All he needed was the opportunity to allow his skill set to shine, and now he seemingly has it. If you're looking for a do-it-all player with dual guard and forward eligibility, Garcia is a player worth owning in all formats now that he's starting.
Tracy McGrady, SG, Detroit Pistons (4.3 percent owned): Just because the Pistons didn't order any of his jerseys to sell in the team store before the year started doesn't mean he's not allowed to be productive this season. He scored a season-high 21 points Wednesday to go along with 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and a 3-pointer. That's proof that there's still some life left in his game. McGrady is a nice player to add because he has the ability to contribute in several categories, especially 3s, steals and assists, with solid boards and even blocks for a shooting guard. He's averaging 23.2 minutes per game in his past seven contests and played a season high 30 minutes on Wednesday, which is evidence that his role with the team is expanding. If he continues to get minutes in the mid-20s on a regular basis, McGrady still has enough gas left in the tank and natural basketball ability to be a fantasy contributor. Even though his glory days have passed, McGrady's craftiness allows him to be a viable, low-risk, high-upside addition to fantasy teams, even if you're unable to rock his jersey.
Jermaine O'Neal, C, Boston Celtics (3.7 percent owned): O'Neal returned on Christmas Day after missing 19 games with a bum left knee, and it happened just in time, as the team should lean heavily on him with Kevin Garnett out for the next few weeks. He might be a shadow of the player he once was, but he still has the ability to contribute in rebounds and blocks with decent scoring, as shown by his averages of 13.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in 70 starts last season for the Miami Heat. Glen Davis likely will take Garnett's place in the starting lineup, but O'Neal should be pushed into extended action. With the opportunity, O'Neal should be able to average double-digit points with 6 to 7 rebounds and about 1.5 blocks for the defensive-minded Celtics. His offensive game became more efficient last season, when he shot a career-high 52.9 percent from the floor, and he's hovered around 75 percent from the stripe for the past five seasons. This means O'Neal should be able to contribute in a few categories without hurting you anywhere, and since Davis was already getting extended minutes as the sixth man for the Celtics, O'Neal should be the player whose value is most impacted. If his knee can hold up, he's a viable deep league option for the next few weeks, especially if you're in need of blocks.
Chris Andersen, PF/C, Denver Nuggets (2.4 percent owned): Andersen has played in just 10 games this season, although whenever he's on the floor he has the potential to block shots in bunches. He's healthy at the moment, playing 26 and 30 minutes in the Nuggets' past two games, respectively, and has hit the boards hard since returning, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game in his past five contests. His current average of 1.5 blocks per game represents Andersen's floor, as he should be able to bring that number closer to 2.0 per game if he remains healthy. Even though his primary strength lies in swats, he also provides decent rebounding and solid steals for a big man, averaging at least 6.2 rebounds with 0.6 steals per game in each of his past two seasons. Blocks are hard to come by, and Andersen is quite simply one of the best shot-blockers in the league when he's on the floor. Now that he's back, if your team needs swats, the Birdman is a legit option.
Mickael Pietrus, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns (1.6 percent owned): The lanky Frenchman is quietly looking like perhaps the biggest winner in the Suns-Orlando Magic swap after averaging 20.0 points and 4.0 3s in 26.5 minutes in his past two games with Phoenix. The run-and-gun offense is perfect for Pietrus, who loves to stand outside and drain, so don't be surprised if he averages over 2.0 3s per game in his new digs. Another reason for him to get more minutes with the Suns is that he is already the team's best perimeter defender and will likely be a cornerstone of the rotation if they shift toward a more traditional, defense-oriented style of play as has been rumored. This should allow Pietrus to use his length to be of value in steals and blocks, as he did in for the Golden State Warriors in 2007-2008, when he averaged 1.0 steal and 0.7 blocks per game in just 19.9 minutes of play. His percentages are suspect, with career marks of 43.5 percent from the floor and 66.5 percent from the stripe, so avoid him if you're closely monitoring your percentages and can't take a slight hit. But if you want big-time 3s with some steals and blocks thrown in, Pietrus is looking like a must-add after making a big splash in the desert.
Ryan Anderson, PF, Orlando Magic (0.4 percent owned): Another player who has missed the majority of the season with injury, Anderson returned to the Magic and found himself surrounded by several new faces. But he's immediately asserted himself as a key member of the frontcourt rotation, averaging 20 minutes in his five games since returning and knocking down 1.8 3s per game in that span. Anderson provides rare assistance from downtown out of the power forward position, which gives him the ability to help your team in 3s without making you swap him out for a guard who is already helping your team in that category. He doesn't produce in multiple categories, so don't jump to add Anderson if you're looking to bolster your team's overall value, but if you're specifically in need of 3s, he's a viable option who will provide them from an atypical position.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.