Working the Wire: Sean Williams, Scola stepping up
Scott Skiles is at it again, tinkering with his lineups like always. It doesn't help that Luol Deng is hurting with a sore back, but can Skiles decide on a lineup for once? We go through this sort of thing almost every year with him. His newest flavor of the week seems to be Andres Nocioni, who is playing quite well since being inserted into the starting lineup Thursday. Tyrus Thomas, on the other hand, has found himself stuck in Skiles' doghouse for the time being. I hate to say this, because Thomas has as much upside as anyone in the league, but he's a definite drop candidate in most leagues at this point. I'm holding onto him in most of my deeper leagues, but that's only because I'm a sucker for his steal and block potential. Well, that and I've seen Skiles tinker with his lineups enough in the past to know that Thomas has a pretty good shot at getting himself back into Skiles' good graces within the next few weeks.
Sean Williams, PF/C, Nets (39.2 percent owned): What a difference a week can make. Last week at this time, Williams was a minor blip on the radar, getting just 5.8 minutes per game (including three games in which he received a DNP-Coach's Decision) through his first six professional contests. Things were progressing as expected; Lawrence Frank looked to every other big man on the roster before deciding to give the Boston College product a chance. Four games and 13 blocks later, Williams has become one of the hottest fantasy pickups in the league. As of Sunday night, he's still available in a little more than 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues, but that's not going to last long, not when he's averaging 12.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in just 22.6 minutes per game over his past five contests. Williams should be added in all leagues, not because he's earned himself a starting gig, but because he has the potential to be one of the most dominating shot-blockers in the league. With his length, timing and jumping ability, his shot-blocking ceiling is almost limitless.
Now, before we get too excited, we have to keep in mind that Williams is still young, and inconsistency is to be expected. Big, athletic shot-blockers tend to run into foul trouble early in games, it's just the nature of their game, so don't get frustrated if Williams has a few off nights. I also don't think we can expect him to be a big-time point-scorer just yet. Sure, he dropped 22 in his first professional start, but his post moves are still raw and he will get most of his points on put-backs and interior jams when Jason Kidd draws opposing defenders. Of course, that doesn't mean he can't be a decent scorer. I'm expecting something along the lines of 10-12 points, 7-8 rebounds and 2.5-3.0 blocks per game as long as he continues to earn 30-plus minutes per game (which he will if he keeps his nose clean).
Luis Scola, SF/PF, Rockets (9.3 percent owned): Victory is mine! I had taken a pounding for pimping Scola during preseason action, and continuing to defend him in "Are You For Real?" a few weeks back. Well, now that's he's actually getting on the court, people are starting to realize what all the hype was about. Two straight 20-point games will get you noticed pretty quickly, and Scola looks to be turning into the player we all thought he would be to start the season. Some may be worried that Scola's production is a direct result of Tracy McGrady's recent injury, and while that may be partially correct, most of Scola's minutes are coming at the expense of Chuck Hayes. In the Rockets' past two games, Scola has averaged 20.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in 34.0 minutes per night while Hayes has managed just 2.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 15.0 minutes. After averaging nearly 25 minutes per night during his first 9 games, Hayes is clearly losing his hold on the starting power forward spot. With Hayes now struggling, Scola looks good for about 30 minutes per game going forward, which should translate into something along the lines of 14 points, 7 rebounds and a steal per game after T-Mac returns to the lineup.
Juan Carlos Navarro, PG/SG, Grizzlies (12.6 percent owned): It was only a matter of time before Navarro caught fire from downtown. And he did so on Friday night drilling 8-of-9 3-pointers en route to a 28-point outburst in a losing effort to the Hornets. JCN's big game earned him a start the next night, and he didn't disappoint scoring 14 points with two 3-pointers and a steal in 32 minutes. The key number here isn't the 3-pointers or the points scored, it's the minutes -- 33.0 per game during the past two. It shows that coach Marc Iavaroni is starting to trust Juan Carlos. The minutes come first, and production will follow. All Navarro needs to be a useful fantasy commodity is about 30 minutes per night. With that, he'll be able to get free for plenty of 3s, and should even be able to create about a steal per game. It's not set in stone yet, but it looks like JCN will start to earn around 30 minutes per night, where he has the potential to be this year's version of Jason Kapono.
If you're looking for a high-upside gamble, look no further than the Indiana Pacers' Shawne Williams. Williams went off for 16 points, 8 boards, 2 steals, 3 blocks and 2 3-pointers on Saturday night, which is great news considering there have been rumblings in Indiana about Williams potentially receiving more playing time in the near future. Williams, who averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers during his freshman season at Memphis, is putting up 8.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers in just 21 minutes of action thus far this season. Look out if this guy ever starts getting 25-30 minutes per night, because there's some serious multicategory potential here.
Like Williams, the only thing Andray Blatche needs to be a fantasy force is minutes. Thankfully, an increase in minutes looks to be in the cards for Blatche; head coach Eddie Jordan has shown an interest in getting the athletic big man more time on the court. Unlike many coaches, Jordan has actually followed through on his statements, giving Blatche 22.2 minutes per night during the past five games. Blatche hasn't disappointed in his expanded role (at least on the defensive end) with 7.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and a steal per game during that time. You have to love the steals/blocks potential he offers, so consider adding Blatche if you're looking for a high-risk/high-reward pickup.
Usually the "If You're Hardcore" section will focus on younger players with upside, but this week we have a few veterans that deserve mentioning. Morris Peterson has been incredibly inconsistent this season, but seems to be turning it on as of late, averaging 13.2 points on the strength 3.0 3-pointers during his past five games. You won't be able to count on him on a night-to-night basis, but he'll be a nice specialist for anyone needing 3-pointers. Another veteran, Erick Dampier, could also be worthy of a pickup for those needing boards and blocks, although you may need to give him some time to work on his conditioning after he missed the first six games due to a shoulder injury. Damp is averaging just 5.0 points in three games, but has been able to grab 8.0 rebounds and block 0.7 shots in just 14.3 minutes of action thus far for the Mavericks.
With the Stephon Marbury saga continuing, it might be wise to consider adding Nate Robinson as a backup plan. No one can pretend to know how things are going to turn out in New York, but if Steph ends up playing for another team this season, Little Nate should be able to step in as a viable fantasy starter. Robinson has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career, but he should be able to play some consistency if he's able to secure steady minutes.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.