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After sitting out the first 29 games of the season due to knee problems, Eric Gordon made his season debut for the Hornets on Saturday.
He flashed his potential quickly, totaling 24 points (5-of-13 FG, 2-of-6 3Pt, 12-of-14 FT), seven assists, and two steals in just 25 minutes off the bench. He followed up his debut with a rusty 11-point showing against the Hawks, but it's hard not to get excited about his return to the court and fantasy lineups.
Gordon has been maddening fantasy owners since he was traded to the Hornets, appearing in just 11 of a possible 95 games over the past two seasons. But when he was healthy on the Clippers, Gordon was one of the best shooting guards in the league.
During his breakout season in 2010-11, Gordon was one of only 13 players to average over 22 points per game. He also contributed steady production in assists (4.4), three-pointers (1.9), and steals (1.3) that season. Those across-the-board contributions were enough to make Gordon the 30th-ranked player based on per-game averages during the 2010-11 season.
Similar to his situation with the Clippers in 2010-11, Gordon is part of a rebuilding franchise that is desperate for a player to step up and be their primary offensive option. He's currently on a minutes restriction and could sit the second game of back-to-backs as the Hornets are understandably cautious, but the leash will eventually be extended. Once Gordon is unleashed, he'll have the opportunity to be a top-30 fantasy option again. Hopefully he's able to stay healthy this time and start to live up to some of his potential.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks – all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then – unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
Isaiah Thomas, G, SAC – After coming off the bench for six weeks, Thomas was able to reclaim the Kings' starting point guard gig last week. In three starts since the promotion, he's averaging 16.7 points, 3.7 assists, 2.7 three-pointers, and 1.0 steal in 32 minutes per game. The Kings have went 2-1 in those three games, beating both the Knicks and Celtics, which should only help Thomas' case in keeping the job. The diminutive point guard won't rack up big assist totals, but as we saw when he had the starting job last season, he'll be a decent enough source of scoring, threes, and steals to warrant roster consideration in most formats while running with the starting unit.
John Salmons, G/F, SAC – Salmons is another King who has seen his value increase recently. The 33-year-old veteran has shouldered a bigger load with Tyreke Evans (knee) out, averaging 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 treys, and 1.0 steal over his past seven games. The assist totals are especially nice, as Sacramento has been using Salmons as more of a creator for his teammates while playing alongside Thomas, who is more of a scoring point guard. Salmons' value will be tied to Evans' health going forward, but there's enough uncertainty with Evans' return right now to at least consider Salmons as a short-term option in mid- to deep-sized leagues.
Nikola Vucevic, F/C, ORL – With Glen Davis (shoulder) on the shelf, Vucevic has taken over as the lead dog in the Magic's frontcourt. Over the past two weeks, Vucevic has averaged 13.6 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks while shooting a healthy 55 percent from the floor. His stock hit an all-time high Monday night when he finished with 20 points and 29 rebounds in an overtime loss to the Heat. Vucevic was one of the key pieces Orlando acquired in the Dwight Howard trade this past offseason, so the team will continue to feed him tons of minutes in hopes he develops into one of their building blocks for the future. The 22-year-old big man is still available in 28 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but his recent play warrants universal ownership.
Hedo Turkoglu, F, ORL – After suffering a broken hand on opening night, Turkoglu was on the shelf for nearly two months. The 33-year-old veteran returned to action for the Magic last week and has already carved out a big role in the team's rotation. In just his second game back, Turkoglu played over 38 minutes off the bench, finishing with nine points and eight assists in a loss to the Heat. Turkoglu is on the downside of his career, but he's still been productive enough in recent seasons to warrant a look in many formats. The Magic don't have many other options at small forward or players who do well setting up teammates, which should lead to ample playing time for Turkoglu, who has always been a sneaky source of assists.
Alexey Shved, G, MIN – Shved has been hyped up for weeks, but he still remains criminally under-owned in Yahoo! leagues. Despite averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.3 three-pointers over the past two weeks, the Timberwolves rookie shooting guard is only owned in 28 percent of leagues. Malcolm Lee (knee) is out for the season, while Brandon Roy (knee) and Ricky Rubio (back) are both banged up, meaning the Timberwolves will continue to lean heavily on Shved. Go pick him up if he's available in your league.
Will Bynum, G, DET – Bynum has come alive over the past four games, averaging 19.8 points, 5.8 assists, and 2.0 treys in 27 mpg off the Pistons' bench. Despite the impressive production, Bynum remains only a deep-league option at this point. Rodney Stuckey (ankle) has missed three of the past four games, but he should return shortly, which will cut into Bynum's run. Also, historically, the evidence suggests that Bynum is unlikely to continue to post such strong numbers over a long stretch, as he's averaged just 7.7 points and 3.1 assists in 256 career games. At best, he'll remain the Pistons' third or fourth guard, which will limit his impact to deeper formats.
Derrick Rose, G, CHI – Based on reports, the All-Star break continues to be the most likely return date for Rose, who's been out all season as he recovers from a torn ACL, but his recent activity hints at the possibility of an earlier return. Rose has already been participating in non-contact drills, and he traveled with the team this week for the first time since suffering his injury. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has hinted at a return in the second half of the season, which has led to the All-Star break reports, but the real midway point of Chicago's season will be late January, as the team is set to play game 41 of 82 on Jan. 23 against the Pistons. Given the positive news that has been surfacing recently on his recovery, don't be surprised if Rose returns sooner than expected. If Rose is available in your league, now is the time to grab and stash him.
Anderson Varejao, F/C, CLE – Varejao missed his seventh consecutive game with a knee contusion on Wednesday, but he appears to be nearing a return after partaking in the non-contact potion of Monday's practice. If Varejao can get in some contact work soon, he should be able to return to action this weekend.
Ty Lawson, G, DEN – Lawson missed Tuesday's game against the Clippers with an Achilles injury. This is the same ailment that Lawson admitted was bothering him in mid-December. He was able to bounce back and post a few solid games in late-December, so hopefully he can bounce back quickly from this again. He's officially listed as questionable for Thursday's game against Minnesota. If Lawson can't play, Andre Miller, who had 12 points and 12 assists Tuesday night, will once again fill in at point guard.
Tyreke Evans, G, SAC – Evans continues to deal with a troublesome left knee, as he's been sidelined for 13 of the past 17 games with the ailment. He recently had a second opinion on the injury, which confirmed the team's rehab plan was correct, so it doesn't look like this will be of the long-term variety. The Kings now hope Evans can be back in action when the team returns from their current five-game road trip next week.
Avery Bradley, G, BOS – Bradley, who has been out all season recovering from a shoulder injury, is set to make his season debut this week. As a result, he's been one of the most-added players in Yahoo! leagues. Owners should take another look at Bradley's lackluster production from last season before rushing to the waiver wire. Even in his 28 starts last season, Bradley managed to average just 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, two assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.7 threes in nearly 34 mpg. He did most of that damage while ex-Celtic Ray Allen was on the shelf, but this year, Bradley will have to compete for playing time with both Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. Given his underwhelming production from last season and the Celtics' newfound depth at the two, Bradley will have a tough time establishing value outside of deeper formats.
Ricky Rubio, G, MIN – While some rust was expected, few foresaw Rubio getting out to such a slow start since returning from a torn ACL on Dec. 15. In his five games since returning to the hardwood, Rubio has averaged just 4.2 points, 4.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.2 steals while shooting 23.8 percent from the floor. To make matters worse, he's now dealing with back spasms that will keep him out of the Timberwolves' current road trip. Rubio still has plenty of upside in the assists and steals departments, but as we saw last year, he struggled mightily with his shot and isn't ready to be a productive scorer at the NBA level yet. At less than full strength, those struggles have only been amplified. He's worth stashing on your bench in deeper leagues, but owners in shallow formats who aren't desperate for assists should explore other options.
Jason Terry, G, BOS – With the aforementioned Avery Bradley returning to action, an already muddled playing time rotation at shooting guard figures to get even messier for the Celtics. That, of course, means Terry will have an even tougher time bouncing back from what has already been a disappointing season. Terry is in the midst of his worst season since his rookie campaign in 1999-00, averaging just 11.5 points and 2.2 assists in 31 mpg. The 35-year-old shooter will still be a good source of three-pointers, but he's at the point in his career that he shouldn't be considered anything more than a categorical specialist.
Austin Rivers, G, NOR – Rivers has been a mainstay in the Hornets starting lineup over the past 12 games, but a demotion to a reserve role is looming, as Gordon will take over the starting shooting guard gig sooner than later. The Hornets drafted Rivers with the intention of playing him at point guard and Gordon at the two, but the point guard spot is now locked up by Greivis Vasquez, who's a much more natural fit at the position than Rivers. Since Gordon's return, Rivers has averaged just 15 mpg, which will be hard to top once Gordon has his playing time restriction lifted. Rivers remains a solid prospect, but given the Hornets' current roster configuration, he'd be best served to carve out a role as a combo guard with the second unit. He could eventually flourish in such a role, but Rivers' upside for this year has taken a big hit with Gordon now back. Feel free to cut Rivers loose in re-draft leagues if you were banking on him getting better as the season wore on.