- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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We're knee deep in the season, and it's time to eschew the notion that you'll eventually make up ground in certain categories or magically make up games if you're behind pace toward your games played limit without deliberate roster moves. The time for action is now, and every game and roster decision is crucial if you're working toward specific goals for your team. Being proactive about addressing roster deficiencies is key, which means making moves on players and toward specific categories, even if they'll only benefit your team for a limited amount of time.
Take Jason Smith, for example, who is highlighted below. With Emeka Okafor out 1-3 weeks, he's got a prime opportunity to put up solid stats. Even if he slides back into obscurity upon Okafor's return, capitalizing upon those few weeks of productivity will make a difference in your team's production, and move you closer to your end goal. There's nothing worse than missing out on opportunities for roster improvement, other than perhaps leaving games played on the table at the end of the season by not being active in maintaining your starting roster. There's not time for you to wait for a struggling, marginal player to snap out of an extended funk if he's withering away on your bench and a more productive player is available, so make the move. Even if it helps only for the short term, there will likely be another short-term option available once that window has expired, and this type of proactivity is the way to make sure you're putting out the best roster possible for the remainder of the season. Let's examine some widely available players who are capable of helping you now:
Anthony Morrow, SG/SF, New Jersey Nets (42.6 percent owned): Morrow missed 17 games this season, the primary reason he's still unowned in nearly 60 percent of leagues, although he's too productive for that number to remain for long. He's a rare type of player who helps in both field goal percentage and 3s, with career numbers of 47.4 percent from the floor and 43.9 percent from behind the arc. He's shooting 52 percent from 3-point range since returning to action, and even though he's not starting he's getting around 30 minutes per game off the bench. At first glance, Morrow might seem like a one-dimensional fantasy player, helping only in 3-pointers. But he provides points as well as both percentages, and with low turnovers if your league counts them. That's at least four categories where he helps, and he's the efficient type of player who doesn't hurt you in any of the categories which have potentially negative impact. His numbers should only improve as he grows accustomed to his new team and shakes off the rust of missing a month of play, so if he's available in your league grab him before anybody else on this list.
Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks (17.0 percent owned): Ilyasova is prone to bouts of inconsistency, but has proven to have the tools to contribute at times during the course of his career. January was by far his best full month of the season, as he averaged 11.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers in 27.6 minutes per game. He's been scorching during the past five contests, averaging 18.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.0 3s, and played at least 32 minutes in four of the five games. He's a solid source of points, rebounds (for a small forward) and steals, and one would think his 3s should improve as he trends toward his career norm. He's shooting just 28.7 percent from behind the arc this season, but for his career is a 33.5 percent 3-point shooter. He shot 33.3 percent from downtown in January, a sign he's feeling more comfortable. His strong play has him ranked 14th on the Player Rater during the past 15 days, and even though he's streaky if you can catch him on the good end of one of those streaks he has the tools to be a productive fantasy player.
Tony Allen, SG, Memphis Grizzlies (1.5 percent owned): Allen's been productive all season on a per-minute basis, but not seeing enough playing time to be worth starting in most formats. With O.J. Mayo out for another six games due to suspension, Allen is worth grabbing and starting if you can get him in your lineup for that small window. His steals are just insane, with 1.6 per game for the season in just 15.5 minutes, and he could get you 15-20 steals in those six games. That has an impact in the standings, and Allen is the type of player I mentioned in the intro who is worth capitalizing upon in the short term.
Paul George, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (1.0 percent owned): George has enticing statistical potential, evidenced by his stats at Fresno State last season: 16.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.2 steals, 2.0 3s, 0.8 blocks per game. He started slowly in his adjustment to the NBA, but has picked it up lately, and seems to be favored by new head coach Frank Vogel. He's hit double-digit scoring in five of his past six games, and in his past five contests is averaging 12.4 points, 1.0 3s, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks on 50.0 percent shooting from the floor and 77.2 percent from the stripe. He's got a skill set made for the fantasy game, with a propensity to accrue 3s, steals and blocks, and he's already starting to prove that he can score at the NBA level. His upside is huge, and since the Pacers are likely focusing on developing their pieces for the long term, expect him to be a significant part of the rotation for the remainder of the season. That should translate into stats, and although he won't wow you in any category, he provides an all-around type of game that you look for in a fantasy small forward.
Darrell Arthur, PF, Grizzlies (0.9 percent owned): Allen is the most obvious recipient of a boost in value with Mayo out, but Arthur has become the main scorer off the bench for the Grizzlies in Mayo's absence. He's already scored 22 and 14 points in two of the Mayo-less games, and looks to see an uptick in value for the next couple weeks until he returns. He started the season strong and has been on the fringe of fantasy worthiness here and there, with great percentages -- 51.0 from the floor and 78.1 from the stripe -- and a solid 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in just 20 minutes. He's not a long-term option, but if you need a small boost in deeper leagues, Arthur should have a few more double-digit scoring efforts with Mayo out, providing a boost in percentages and a handful of steals and blocks. It's nothing flashy, but in deep formats he'll put up worthy numbers in the short term.
Josh McRoberts, PF, Pacers (0.5 percent owned): McRoberts' lobby to be included in the dunk contest might have been unsuccessful, but things are looking up under Vogel, who is sticking with McRoberts as the Pacers' starting power forward. He's averaging 29.0 minutes per game under the new regime, and although the production hasn't come yet, McRoberts has an intriguing blend of stats, with the ability to contribute steals, blocks and 3s. He also shoots 48.9 percent from the field and has low turnovers, so even though his production is atypical of a power forward, he can be a fantasy contributor when getting the minutes. He's doing just that under the new coach, so the multi-category production should follow.
Ryan Gomes, SF/PF, Los Angeles Clippers (0.2 percent owned): Randy Foye, highlighted last week and still a great pickup if available in your league, is clearly the primary gainer with Eric Gordon sidelined, although Gomes has picked up a bit of the offensive slack as well. He's scored at least 14 points in four of his past six contests, and provides 3-pointers from the power forward position, a hard thing to find in the fantasy world. Only nine power forward-eligible players are averaging more than Gomes' 1.4 3s per game during the past month, and with Gordon out that number should increase. His January numbers were much better than those in December -- 9.6 points, 1.4 3s, 1.0 steals in 32.9 minutes per game, versus 7.2 points, 0.8 3s and 1.0 steals per game in 26.4 minutes – and that upward trend looks to continue into February. His 3s are the first stat you notice, although he provides solid steals as well, and is seeing more offensive looks with Gordon sidelined.
Jason Smith, PF, New Orleans Hornets (0.1 percent owned): As mentioned earlier, Emeka Okafor is out 1-3 weeks with a left oblique strain, and Smith should see the bulk of his voided minutes. Smith is averaging 0.4 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in just 15 minutes per contest, and has seen 24 and 25 minutes in the two contests since Okafor became sidelined. With increased minutes, he should be able to average around 7-8 rebounds per game and flirt with a block and a steal per game, with great free throws for a big man; he's shooting 87.5 percent from the stripe this season. As mentioned, his value will disappear when Okafor returns, but he's in line for a solid couple of weeks and worth a short-term look in deeper formats.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling discusses the best widely available players in most ESPN leagues, including Nets sharpshooter Anthony Morrow.