- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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At this point of the season, coaches begin to alter their strategies and distribution of playing time based upon their team's situation. Teams clearly bound for the playoffs typically don't shift strategies much, as they're usually also vying for the best possible seeding. However, with older or injury-prone players on these teams we often see a slight decrease in playing time, as their coaches are trying to keep them fresh for the playoffs. On the other side of the coin, teams with no hope for postseason glory are often looking toward the future, and coaches give more run to their younger players, ones that the organization has future stock invested in. The other benefit here is that it improves teams' prospects for next year's draft with each loss, something that coaches won't openly admit to but that we can't help but suspect will have an impact upon some decisions. Pay close attention to the way that coaches are divvying up their minutes in the final month of the season, as newfound fantasy value can emerge without an injury or roster move taking place. Let's take a look at some widely-available players whose performances have improved lately due to late-season dynamics.
Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, Hornets (21.8 percent owned): He had already been stepping up his game before Chris Paul's concussion, as Jack has hit double digits in points in 13 of his past 14 contests, and if Paul is going to miss significant time going forward Jack is worth starting in any format. In six March contests he's averaging 19.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.8 3-pointers and 0.8 steals while shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and 89.7 percent from the stripe. Four of those contests were alongside Paul, so don't think his increase in value is only due to Paul's injury. Jack is a solid fantasy player capable of scoring, with solid contributions in assists, 3s and steals and typically beneficial percentages. Don't be dismayed by his 41.6 field goal percentage with the Hornets, as he's historically much better with a career mark of 44.7, and last season he averaged 48.1 percent. He's worth adding regardless of Paul's circumstances, although if the concussion is going to keep CP3 out for any extended period of time, Jack's value skyrockets.
Toney Douglas, PG/SG, Knicks (21.6 percent owned): Douglas' value has received a boost due to the Chauncey Billups injury, and he's flourished recently, averaging 15.4 points, 7.2 assists and 2.6 3s in the past five contests. His situation is similar to Jack's, though, because he was already playing better after the Carmelo Anthony trade before Billups went down, and will retain value once Chauncey returns. His numbers will undoubtedly drop, although he'll still gun off the bench and has played so well he's likely earned himself increased minutes upon Billups' return. Mike D'Antoni is going to want Billups to be full strength for the playoffs, so don't be surprised if he's eased back into his minutes. Look for Douglas to retain his elevated value in the short term, and his increased overall value in the long term.
Francisco Garcia, SG/SF, Kings (7.7 percent owned): With a spectacular fantasy skill set, Garcia is always worth a roster spot if he's getting playing time. He missed 21 games recently with a calf injury, but is back in the starting lineup for the Kings, and in the 21 minutes per game since his return he's averaging 12.7 points, 2.0 3s, 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. He's the rare player with the ability to average more than one 3, steal and block per game; this season Garcia is at 1.4 3s, 0.9 blocks and 0.7 steals per game, and he's likely to see his minutes increase as he plays back into shape. With good percentages -- he's a career 44.5 percent from the floor and 80.6 percent from the line -- and low turnovers, Garcia is an across-the-board helper who is roster-worthy in all formats now that he's back from injury.
Brendan Haywood, C, Mavericks (3.6 percent owned): Haywood played well recently in the place of an injured Tyson Chandler, and even since Chandler has returned he's seeing increased run and putting up respectable rebound and block numbers. Haywood is averaging 7.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in his past five contests, and as the Mavericks prepare for the playoffs they'll want to ensure that the injury-prone Chandler is fresh, so Haywood should see more than the 18.5 minutes per game he's currently averaging for the season. He had 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes off the bench Thursday while Chandler was in foul trouble, and if Haywood's minutes stay in the low 20s he'll be a viable contributor in rebounds and blocks even with Chandler in the picture.
Courtney Lee, SG, Rockets (3.4 percent owned): Lee has upped his game now that Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks are out of the picture in Houston, with double-digit scoring in six of his past eight games. In March he's averaging 28.4 minutes per game to the tune of 12.8 points, 1.0 3s, 0.8 blocks and 0.6 steals per game. Lee provides a helpful combination of 3s and steals, with 1.0 of each per game in his career in just 26.2 minutes, and since he's been averaging more playing time than that recently it's safe to assume he'll contribute a little more than one per game in both categories, with decent scoring, good percentages and low turnovers. He's bounced around the league in his short career, and is starting to find his niche with the Rockets, his third team in three years, and is emerging as a valid fantasy option for those looking for 3s and steals.
Marco Belinelli, SG, Hornets (2.9 percent owned): The Italian sharpshooter has had an up-and-down season. He averaged 13.3 points and 2.3 3s in 29.6 minutes in 14 November contests, then in February saw his playing time diminish to 16.8 minutes per game for just 8.3 points and 1.4 3s per contest. Well, he's picked it back up in March, and is acting as the Hornets' offensive spark off the bench. He's averaging 14.2 points and 2.2 3s per game in 30.5 minutes this month, and with his 40.4 3-point field goal percentage, any time he's getting the minutes and the looks, he's good for around two 3s per game. That's the case now, so if your team is in need of long-range assistance, Belinelli is a prime candidate for addition.
Nenad Krstic, C, Celtics (2.6 percent owned): Often forgotten in the trade deadline deals is the fact the Celtics shipped away a second center, Semih Erden, so even when Shaquille O'Neal returns, Krstic should still see playing time. He's averaging 27.5 minutes per game so far with Boston, good for 13.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game on 59.6 percent shooting from the floor, and the career 49.3 percent shooter is a historically sound source of field goal percentage. The Celtics will want to keep Shaq fresh for the playoffs, so look for Krstic to continue seeing floor time, and with it the solid spot-up shooter will be a helpful source of points and field goal percentage with a few boards thrown in. His peripherals are mediocre but he's a solid, efficient scorer, so look for his success to continue in the Celtics' shallow frontcourt.
Anthony Tolliver, PF/C, Timberwolves (1.6 percent owned): Tolliver provides assistance in the stats you don't typically associate with a center, namely 3s and steals, and with the unreliable Darko Milicic manning the center spot for the Timberwolves, Tolliver's getting just enough playing time to help fantasy teams. He's shooting 81.9 percent from the stripe as well, and with his 0.7 3s, 0.4 blocks and 0.5 steals per game in 19.7 minutes this season, he contributes a little in several categories. He played 28 minutes going 2-for-4 from downtown in Wednesday's game, and in deeper formats if you're in need of 3s, Tolliver provides them from a position where you seldom find them.
Shawne Williams, SF, Knicks (1.2 percent owned): Williams has become the Knicks' sixth man, and since they traded away much of their depth to acquire Carmelo Anthony, Williams has become a key offensive player in New York. He's averaging 26.4 minutes in five March contests, which is good for 1.8 3s, 1.4 blocks and 0.8 steals per game, and with his 44.3 3-point field goal percentage he's an accurate gunner with a green light to shoot in the Knicks' up-tempo offense. He's averaging 1.3 3s, 0.8 blocks and 0.5 steals per game for the season in just 19.3 minutes, and now that he's seeing more floor time provides an excellent combination of 3s, steals and blocks that makes him helpful in deeper formats even though he's not in the starting lineup.
D.J. White, PF, Bobcats (0.1 percent owned): White boasts promising per-minute stats for his career, with 2.9 rebounds, 0.4 blocks and 0.3 steals per game with 52.0 percent shooting from the floor in just 12.0 minutes per game. He's getting increased run in Charlotte, which acquired him for a reason, and now the team is auditioning his skills to see how he fits with its future plans. White is averaging 9.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.4 steals per game in 22.8 minutes over his past five contests, and should continue to average around 6-7 boards with half a steal and block per game with those type of minutes. He's an option only in deep formats, although he's come out of nowhere to get his first look at extended run in his career, so keep an eye on what he's able to do with it.
Josh Whitling is a contributing fantasy hoops analyst for ESPN.com
Josh Whitling scours the NBA for players whose minutes are on the rise as teams prepare for the playoffs, or next season.