- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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The end is nigh. And you might as well make the most of what you've got left. The best way to do this is to maximize roster value by dropping those who've been shut down for the season, and picking up players who have performed well recently due to late-season circumstances. There's little differentiation between teams and games remaining, as all either have three or four contests left.
The following teams have three contests remaining (including Friday): Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz.
If trying to choose between two players and you're torn, go with the guy who has four games left if one of them is on these teams. However, if a player is clearly poised to put up better averages, go with the more-promising overall option, as the difference between three and four games with players of this caliber is minimal, and you'd rather have a guy who could have one or two big performances, or is simply more likely to put up servicable statistics. Here are some widely available options who have upped their level of play recently, and are primed to help fantasy owners in the waning days of the season:
Gordon Hayward, SF/SG, Utah Jazz (19.3 percent owned): Watching his alma mater make a run to the NCAA championship game lit a fire under Hayward, who is averaging 35.6 minutes per game in the past five contests and recently drew praise from Kobe Bryant after the Jazz beat the Lakers earlier this week. In those five games, he's averaging 14.0 points, 1.0 3-pointers, 1.2 steals, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, flashing some multicategorial prowess. He's at 0.4 3s, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks per game for the season in just 16.0 minutes per game, so with minutes in the 30-plus range he should put up some fine fantasy numbers in the final days of the regular season. The 3s and steals are most likely to come, although don't sleep on his ability to accrue assists and blocks as well. Despite the fact the Jazz play only three more games, Hayward should perform well in them and has become a much-added fantasy player.
Mike Dunleavy, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (13.4 percent owned): He's back in the lineup after missing 20 games with a broken thumb, and in his past two contests is averaging 21.5 minutes per game with 14.5 points and 2.0 3s. Anytime he's on the court he's a threat from downtown, and now that it looks like he'll get 20-plus minutes in the final games of the season, he could easily hit more than six 3s in the final three contests. He was dropped by many teams due to his extended absence, but is back and is a sure bet to nail 3s with decent steals and blocks (0.7 and 0.5 per game for the season, respectively).
Martell Webster, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (3.8 percent owned): In four April contests, Webster is averaging 15.8 points and 2.8 3s per game in 24.5 minutes per game. He's become more involved in the Wolves' game plan as of late, notching 20-plus minutes in all four April contests after doing so just five times total in March. He's also shooting 55.9 percent from the floor in the past 10 contests, so he is the rare 3-point option who shouldn't hurt your field goal percentage. He drains, is more involved and could easily average at least two 3s per game for the remainder of the season.
Jose Juan Barea, PG, Dallas Mavericks (2.7 percent owned): Barea has scored in double figures in five consecutive contests, after failing to do so in each of the four games prior to that. During this span, he's averaging 13.8 points, 6.6 assists, 1.2 3s and 0.6 steals per game while shooting 49.0 percent from the floor and 81.3 percent from the stripe. The Mavericks rested Jason Kidd for Wednesday's contest because, well, he's ancient and they want him to have fresh legs for the playoffs, so look for Barea to play an integral role in the offense for the rest of the regular season. This should mean more double-digit scoring games, with nice 3s and assists as well, and after putting up a solid overall season in limited minutes, Barea is primed to finish strong.
Anthony Tolliver, PF/C, Timberwolves (2.0 percent owned): Kevin Love's injury did wonders for Tolliver's value, as he's now starting in the Wolves' frontcourt and putting up stats that look like those of a shooting guard. He's averaging 11.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 3s per game in his past five, and should be a productive source of 3s from an atypical position for the rest of the season, with great free throw shooting for a big man to boot (80.5 percent for the season). In his career, Tolliver is averaging 0.7 3s, 0.5 blocks and 0.5 steals per game in 22.7 minutes, so he's a nice little 3s/steals/blocks combo threat whose minutes have recently increased.
Josh Childress, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns (2.0 percent owned): Childress has worked his way into the Suns' rotation after a season of unpredictable minutes, and is stealing the ball like crazy with 11 thefts in his past four games (2.8 per game). He's worth a look only if you're in a very deep league and need defensive stats, especially steals, as he's averaging 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks per game in just 16.5 minutes this season, and is averaging 21.0 minutes per game in his past five.
Delonte West, PG/SG, Boston Celtics (1.2 percent owned): West is still in the Celtics' rotation even though Rajon Rondo has returned, and he boasts the ability to put up 3s, steals and even blocks from the guard position when given playing time. He's averaging 1.0 3s, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in his past five, and for his career he averages 0.9 3s, 1.1 steal and 0.4 blocks per game. He won't blow you away in any one category, but West puts up balanced stats when in the game, and is a key part of the Celtics' backcourt rotation down the stretch who should get minutes and put up numbers for the rest of the regular season, as Rondo being as fresh and healthy as possible for the playoffs is a team priority.
Dante Cunningham, PF, Charlotte Bobcats (0.2 percent owned): Cunningham has been hot this week, with two consecutive double-doubles -- he put up 10 points and 11 boards on Tuesday and followed it up with 16 and 10 on Wednesday. He's starting and playing big minutes, with averages of 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks per game in his past five contests in 33.8 minutes. Stephen Jackson is out for Friday's contest and likely shut down for the season, and Cunningham is the primary beneficiary. He's got a promising combination of steals and blocks in his brief career, with averages of 0.4 blocks and 0.5 steals per game in 16.2 minutes. That should average out to about one per game of both given his current minutes, and his recent play has demonstrated the fact he has the capability to score and rebound when given the chance, as well. He's also solid from the floor, with a .465 career field goal percentage, and .485 mark with Charlotte. Cunningham is perhaps playing the best ball of his short career this week, and is poised to finish strong, making him a viable addition who provides in multiple categories.
Ryan Hollins, C, Cleveland Cavaliers (0.2 percent owned): Hollins has scored in double figures in three of the past four contests, and is having a strong month with 11.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in 28.5 minutes per game in April. It's sad it has come to this point with the Cavs, but with Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison and every other viable NBA frontcourt player nowhere to be found, players like Hollins have been popping up with sporadic stints of value all season for the Cavs, as somebody's gotta get the minutes. Hollins is the current flavor of the week, and should put up solid scoring and block numbers starting at center for Cleveland.
Louis Amundson, PF/C, Golden State Warriors (0.1 percent owned): OK, now we're getting into the deeeeep-league options. But if you are desperate for blocks, Amundson has historically been fantastic on a per-minute basis, with a career average of 0.8 blocks per game in just 13.4 minutes, and he's averaging 22.4 minutes per game in his past five contests. He's put up 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in that span, and with the raw Ekpe Udoh bringing the unpredictability factor to the Warriors on a nightly basis, the veteran Amundson is a steadying presence who should be good for more than a block per game in the final games of the season.
Luke Harangody, PF, Cavaliers (0.1 percent owned): Like Hollins, Harangody is another player who wouldn't put up anything resembling viable statistics for most teams, but this is the Cavs we're talking about. Harangody actually has an intriguing fantasy repertoire based upon his stats in four years at Notre Dame, where he averaged 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.8 steals per game in his career. He's averaging 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 block and 1.0 steal per game in his past five contests, and grabbed 10 rebounds in Wednesday's game. If you're scraping the bottom of the barrel, you'll likely find Harangody, who should provide a little bit of something on a nightly basis for the final few games if he continues to average more than 20 minutes per contest.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
2hMichael C. Wright