- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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There are a few players out there who should be on everyone's permanent watch list. My personal list includes Sean Williams, Andray Blatche, Louis Williams, Tyrus Thomas, Al Thornton and Juan Carlos Navarro, just to name a handful. Each of those players should be monitored nightly, just to make sure nothing has changed on the playing time front. If an injury opens the door for increased playing time -- like it did for Navarro this week -- these guys have the potential to step right in and put up dominant numbers in an instant.
Jose Calderon was one of my favorite "perpetual watch list" guys last year, and this season is no different other than the fact that this year he should be owned in all leagues regardless of T.J. Ford's injury status. Don't get me wrong, Calderon's value takes a hit when a healthy Ford takes the court, but he's still solid enough to be owned in leagues of all sizes with or without Ford around. If someone decides to drop him when Ford returns to the lineup this time around, be sure to scoop him up ASAP.
Craig Smith, PF, Timberwolves (39.2 percent owned): I've been high on Smith all season and he has been mentioned in this space a few times before (most recently in last week's "If You're Hardcore" section), but he deserves another shout-out due to his recent increase in minutes and subsequent stellar play during the past week. Smith's rough start to the season had very little to do with his talent and much more to do with the fact that he didn't once log 25 minutes or more in a single game in November. Since then, he's seen 25-plus minutes in seven of eight games, averaging 18.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.7 steals while shooting 59 percent from the field.
Those are some nice numbers, but don't mistake Smith for something he's not; he's a fine defensive player in real life, but it won't show up in the box score. For a power forward, he'll create his fair share of steals, but you'll be severely disappointed if you're expecting much in the way of blocks. As an undersized power forward, Smith lacks the leaping ability to swat shots, but he's still a valuable commodity as long as you realize that he should only be added for points, rebounds, field-goal percentage and a few steals. Coach Randy Wittman seems to like what he sees in Smith thus far, so while he may have an off night or two (like Friday's foul-plagued three-point, two-rebound effort), he looks to be a very strong long-term addition going forward.
Paul Millsap, SF/PF, Jazz (6.9 percent owned): Millsap, much like Smith, is an undersized power forward that's getting it done with his workmanlike attitude and ability to grab tough rebounds in traffic. The former Louisiana Tech product has earned some extra run during his past five games as Mehmet Okur has missed time with a strained left shoulder. Okur's injury isn't too serious, but it will likely keep him out for another week, and will probably limit him for another week after that. In the meantime, Millsap is a great short-term addition, averaging 11.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks over his past five games. If you're looking for a long-term solution to your frontcourt woes, Millsap may not be your best option, but then again, he does have the potential to produce even after Okur returns. Let's not forget that Okur is having a bit of a rough season, so Millsap could certainly earn himself four or five extra minutes per night if he continues to impress. And the nice thing about Millsap is that he's the type of player that only needs around 25 minutes per night to provide fantasy value. In games in which he's seen 20 minutes or more this season, Millsap is averaging 11.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks. Be sure to keep this in mind just in case Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko or Okur ever go down with an injury this season.
DeShawn Stevenson, SG, Wizards (13.8 percent owned): Stevenson is as hot as can be right now, and he's going to be a targeted man after people get a look at his averages during the past five games: 17.8 points, 3.8 assists, 4.0 3-pointers and a steal in 37.0 minutes. That is, as Borat would say, "Nice!" Stevenson is obviously getting it done right now. The only question is, can he keep it up? I am a huge proponent of the theory that anyone can have value if given the minutes and placed in the right situation, and with Antonio Daniels out of action for the next 2-4 weeks, Stevenson seems to fit both criteria for the time being. The problem here is that there is not much history that suggests that Stevenson's current production can be sustained during an extended period of time. He's been earning solid minutes for a few years now and has never really gone off like he is right now. Grab him for now, but be ready to trade him in for the newest flavor of the week when he starts to come back down to earth.
If You're Hardcore
Stevenson isn't the only Wizard taking advantage of Daniels' knee injury. Roger Mason came off the bench to score 13 points in 36 minutes in Washington's first game without Daniels, and Mason averaged 12.4 points, 1.8 3-pointers and a steal in the past five games. Nick Young may have the starter's title, but Mason is the guy to add in deeper formats.
At some point the Knicks may realize they should probably be giving David Lee more playing time than Eddy Curry, and it was looking like it would happen before Curry dropped 23 and 9 on the Nets on Saturday night. Curry successfully fended off Lee for one more night (Lee saw just 12 minutes), and probably earned himself at least a few more games to prove himself after a very rough stretch earlier in the week. Still, speculators may want to grab Lee just in case Curry falls into another slump.
Suddenly it's Josh Boone, not Sean Williams, who's earning the majority of minutes off the bench in the New Jersey frontcourt. Not only has Boone logged 27.5 minutes during his past four games, but he's also averaged 9.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and a steal during that span. I don't know about you, but I've got a few leagues where I could use that sort of production.
In Toronto, Kris Humphries is taking advantage of some extra playing time, averaging 13.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 0.8 blocks in 25.8 minutes during his past five games. The 22-year-old who spent one season at the University of Minnesota is a big, strong kid who's not afraid to bang with the big boys under the glass and gobbles up loose balls a la Paul Millsap. Humphries is looking like a very intriguing pickup right now because it looks like he can sustain his current production so long as he continues to earn quality minutes from Sam Mitchell.
Sacramento's Mikki Moore doesn't offer much in the way of upside, but that doesn't mean that he can't be a solid contributor in deeper fantasy formats. Moore, who is averaging 10.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game during his past five, proved that he could be a decent addition in deeper leagues last season when he averaged 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.8 blocks in 55 starts for the Nets.
As mentioned in the intro, Al Thornton is on my personal permanent watch list this season, so I took great interest when the Clippers waived Ruben Patterson last week. It appears as though the Clips are trying to make some room to get the talented rookie in the lineup. All the kid really needs to have fantasy value is playing time, so he's looking like a very nice high-upside gamble right about now.
A lot of folks wrote in asking about Hakim Warrick after he went for 17 and 20 points in back-to-back games last week. I'm not a huge fan of Warrick's fantasy prospects for a few reasons. First, the Grizzlies are rolling with a small lineup whenever Pau Gasol or Darko Milicic are out of the lineup, making Juan Carlos Navarro the main beneficiary. Second, Warrick hasn't been able to use his freakish wingspan to create many steals or blocks like many thought he would at the NBA level.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.