NBA Barometer: Halfway home

By Kyle McKeown

Rotowire.com

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It's the halfway point of the NBA season, and that means it's time to take an honest accounting of your fantasy team.

For those of you sitting atop the rankings in your league, feel free to skip my introductory rambling. You seem to have the basics down. Pat yourself on the back, and scroll down to get on with reading about the players I think are important to talk about right now.

For those of you who are struggling to fight for one of the playoff spots in your league or are stuck in the mucky muck bottom of your league's standings, my first piece of advice would be to revisit your league's settings and see if there's a quirk in the scoring you can take advantage of.

Head-to-head leaguers, I'd encourage you to read up on a new statistical idea called Dynamics that RotoWire's Michael Chua examined in an article a few weeks back. Dynamics can help point out which players are most useful in head-to-head leagues. If you can trade for players who excel in this statistical mode, it's possible you could make a late run into the playoffs and pull off a beautiful upset to rub in your friends' faces.

Roto players should check out Andre' Snellings' Yahoo! Hoops Lab article from early Dec. in which he discusses the importance of boosting percentages early with an eye toward gaining ground in counting stats as the season wears on. Also, check the games-played box in the bottom-left corner of your team page on Yahoo! to make sure that you're using all your games played. Don't worry if you're going over by a few games, but make sure you aren't falling into a negative-game trend in any roster spots.

If you play in a points league, your free-agent pool should easily display the top players for you to add. Beyond that, try to look for breakout players on the waiver wire who could see an increase in minutes down the stretch, and flag them as potential pick-ups. Sort the players by their average stats, and see which players have excelled in limited minutes to try and discern who would truly excel if given more minutes thanks to a trade or promotion in the rotation.

Things might seem dire, but don't be the manager who falters. There are plenty of managers out there who are going to lose interest in their team due to outside life factors. Embrace fantasy as your life – Stop laughing. Embrace fantasy as your life, and be the manager who perseveres. Rise up from the mucky muck like Lazarus, and claim your NBA fantasy championship by recommitting to your team and to daily checking of the waiver wire.

Barometer

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 ,and performance.

Stock Up

Randy Foye, G, UTA – Foye is the 15th-ranked player in Yahoo! over the last two weeks, and he's owned in just 40 percent of leagues. Through his last five games, Foye has averaged 16.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.6 steals, and an insane 3.8 three-pointers in 32 minutes per game. Some of what he's done is fool's gold. Foye is unlikely to continue averaging that many points and three-pointers, as his field-goal percentage (55 percent) over the two-week stretch is far above his career field-goal percentage (41 percent). With that said, even with a drop in his efficiency, Foye should continue to see 30-plus minutes for the foreseeable future and will continue to chuck up enough three-point attempts to ensure that he's hitting about two or more three-pointers per night, making him of use in most leagues. If you're weak on threes right now, Foye's probably the best available option at the moment.

Darren Collison, G, DAL – Collison has had one of the strangest fantasy seasons of any player. Arguably, he started out the preseason undervalued in drafts considering that he was traded to a favorable situation in Dallas, a situation in which his place as the starting point guard was seemingly unchallenged, and despite posting respectable numbers in the first month of the season, coach Rick Carlisle opted to bench Collison in favor of playing a menagerie of mediocre players who were previously confined to the Mavericks' inactive list most games.

Overall, it seems Collison's demotion may end up paying dividends for fantasy owners who were patient or cunning enough to grab the speedy point guard off of waivers during his down spell. Since reclaiming his job as the starting point guard on Dec. 27, Collison has averaged 15.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.1 three-pointers, and 1.6 steals in 34 mpg through 14 games. Those numbers have made Collison a top-25 player over the last month. His ranking is of course aided by his stellar 53 percent shooting from the field and 93 percent shooting from the free-throw line during the stretch, but those percentages aren't far off Collison's career shooting percentages of 46 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line. This ultimately means that, as long as he keeps his starting gig as the Mavs' point guard, Collison has a chance to remain a top-25 player in fantasy for the rest of the season.

Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL – The one thing that's hard to gauge in regard to writing about players in the Stock Up section is whether to write about the players who we think are legitimately better in fantasy or to write about the players whose perceived value has increased. Cunning fantasy managers are good at taking advantage of the perceived value that is often directly tied to a player's name recognition to obtain players who are less well known but are actually more valuable based on their given league's settings. Over his last two games, Ilyasova has averaged 27.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.5 three-pointers, 1.5 steals, and 1.0 block in 31 mpg. In the first game of this outburst, Ilyasova played just 26 minutes, but in the second game, he played a whopping 36 minutes.

When Jim Boylan took over as head coach after Scott Skiles was fired, the one change Boylan made was to re-insert Ilyasova back into the starting lineup at power forward. We assumed that would mean that Ilyasova would finally get the kind of run that he enjoyed in the second half of last season, but Boylan, for some reason, insisted on continuing to run an extended rotation that limited Ilyasova to playing 27 minutes or less throughout Boylan's first seven games as head coach. If Ilyasova continues to get 30-plus minutes a night going forward, he could save a lot of fantasy team's seasons, but where we're confused is as to whether or not Boylan will let Ilyasova break free from his minutes chains like the immortal soft-rock goddesses Wilson Phillips or if Ilyasova's recent blossoming will prove less fruitful. He's available in 22 percent of Yahoo! leagues and should be added universally, but if you're skeptic and can flip Ilyasova for a player that you know will get consistent run, it might not be a bad idea to trade the frustrating big man.

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Fantasy owners should be prepared for a second-half breakout from Andre Drummond. (USAT)

Andre Drummond, C, DET – If you haven't been following Drummond's season too closely, you may not be aware just how special of a season the ninth-overall pick is having. Several experts in the advanced stats crowd have been making the argument that Drummond has a valid case for being the rookie of the year this season, even over the more well-known Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis. While that's unlikely to transpire, it's fun to consider the possibility that Drummond could become the kind of fantasy pickup who leads teams to a championship thanks to a breakout in the second half of the season. We say it a lot, but it's the one rule in fantasy basketball that can't be said enough. The most important stat in fantasy basketball is minutes, and unfortunately, Drummond's fantasy output has been limited by his minutes so far this season.

Through the Pistons' first 42 games, he has averaged 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 1.6 blocks in 20 mpg. Drummond has only played 25-plus minutes three times this season. The Pistons have stuck to their game plan and have kept the big man in a limited bench role so far this season, but there is hope that Drummond could see an increased role as the season progresses. Jason Maxiell has played well this season, limiting the need to force feed Drummond minutes, and the Pistons showed during Greg Monroe's rookie season that they aren't in any rush to put their rookies needlessly into the fire and risk burning their confidence. In the case of Maxiell, it's possible the team has been playing him in an effort to flip him a trade. That means a trade at the deadline in Feb. could open a door to the starting lineup for Drummond. Also in Drummond's favor for this narrative is that the Pistons were careful in bringing along Monroe in his rookie season. Monroe didn't permanently enter the starting lineup until Jan. 10. In fact, in the first two months of Monroe's rookie season, he too was limited to playing right around 20 mpg, and then the Pistons cut him loose for the final three months of the season and let Monroe play over 30 mpg nightly.

If the Pistons are working from the same game plan with Drummond, every step further into the season brings us closer to his true coming-out party. Through nine Jan. games, Drummond has averaged 9.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 2.1 blocks on 69-percent shooting from the field in only 22 mpg. Those numbers are worth rostering in most 12-team leagues, and he's pushing the line to be owned in some 10-team leagues based on his potential breakout. His per-36 numbers this season are 13.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 2.9 blocks on 61-percent shooting from the field. Those may look like reasonable numbers at first glance considering what some other great fantasy players have done over the last few seasons, but really, those numbers are jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, and unarguably flabbergasting when considered just how elite of a class of players it puts Drummond into. He isn't merely excelling at one category as a rookie, Drummond is putting up dominant stats in four statistical categories (field-goal percentage, rebounds, steals, and blocks). He's owned just 37 percent of Yahoo! leagues right now, but if you want a true pulse on where he stands in the eyes of experts, there isn't a single league in which I'm playing this season (10-team or larger) in which Drummond hasn't been owned for at least the last month. Don't sleep on him, and if you can get him for a decent price in a keeper league, go get him in a trade.

Earl Clark, F, LAL – I feel like Clark has been in this article every week lately, but he's kind of begged for it. Last week, the word was that Clark was going back to the bench in favor of Pau Gasol returning to the starting power forward spot, but that story lasted all of one game before coach Mike D'Antoni decided to flip the script and move Gasol to a permanent bench role to get Clark back into the starting lineup next to Dwight Howard. Through two games as the starter, with both Howard and Gasol playing, Clark has averaged 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.0 block in 38 mpg. Those numbers are worth owning in 12-team leagues, and unless D'Antoni gets fired, there's a strong chance Clark keeps his starting gig going forward. If nothing else, Clark has to be picked up as a flier for the next couple weeks, especially with Howard aggravating his shoulder injury Wednesday.

Al-Farouq Aminu, F, NOH – No doubt inspired by the mighty roar of the pelican, Aminu seems to have zeroed in on his role for the Hornets (soon to be Pelicans). Since being re-inserted into the starting lineup on Jan. 5, Aminu has averaged 9.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 31 mpg on 54-percent shooting from the field and 82-percent shooting from the free-throw line. Watching him play, it's obvious he's found his confidence and seems to understand what the Hornets want from him every night. Aminu has even scored in double digits in three of his last four games, foretelling the possibility that his average there could be on the up-swing as well. He's worth taking a flier on in 12-team leagues right now and is only owned in 32 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Tristan Thompson, F/C, CLE – When Anderson Varejao went down with a knee injury on Dec. 19, Thompson was finally given the space he needed to display his development. Over the last 17 games, Thompson has averaged 14.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 0.8 blocks on 51-percent shooting from the field in 35 mpg. While we'd like to see greater consistency from the spring-footed big man in the blocks category, his points and rebounds averages are unmistakably great. Thompson is only owned in 63 percent of leagues right now, and that's far below where he should be. Don't sleep on Thompson. Varejao is out for the season after developing blood clots in his lungs, so there's no one to stop Thompson from continuing to see big minutes the rest of the way.

Check Status

Tim Duncan, F/C, SAN – Duncan has sat out two of the Spurs' last three games to rest his sore knee. Some of you might argue that he should be in the Stock Down section, but at 36 years old, Duncan is a player who you know is going to get a rest every now and then. My opinion on Duncan is that his owners shouldn't panic, and anyone that doesn't own Duncan should be sending out an offer for the big man in the hopes that his current manager does panic and decides to sell him on the cheap. This is particularly a good move to make in rotisserie leagues because you want players who have good averages per game, not guys who are going to have a great game mixed in with a bunch of poopy games. In head-to-head leagues, the Duncan conundrum gets a little more dicey. He missed four of the final six games last season, meaning if your league plays through the final week, you may have lost your championship match-up thanks to Duncan's absences last year. So, you'll want to consider that possibility if you're playing in a head-to-head league.

Raymond Felton, G, NYK – Felton is expected to return on Saturday from the broken right pinkie injury that's held him out since Christmas. The Knicks are going to get him right back into the starting lineup at point guard and will keep Iman Shumpert as the starting shooting guard, moving Jason Kidd to the backup point guard role off the bench. Having his starting job secured should help Felton maintain most of the value he had prior to suffering the injury, but as the Knicks round into health, don't be surprised if the team starts using deeper rotations some nights to keep everyone on the roster fresh and engaged.

Chris Paul, G, LAC – Paul missed three games with a bruised right knee cap before returning to the lineup for two games this week. Unfortunately, in Paul's second game back in the lineup, he said he couldn't move as well due to the pain he was still suffering from in the knee, and the Clippers have decided to hold Paul out until the knee is no longer an issue rather than risk making it a bigger problem. Eric Bledsoe will see more consistent minutes for as long as Paul is sidelined. We don't think this will be a long-term issue, but bone bruises can be tricky. There's no way to know exactly how long Paul will sit. Consider him day-to-day, and if you own him, simply keep an eye on the breaking news before each game.

Manu Ginobili, G, SAN – Ginobili returned to the Spurs' lineup after sitting out four games with a strained left hamstring. He played just 17 minutes in his return, but if you own Ginobili, you know the story. He gets injured; you hate him; he returns sooner than expected; and you love him again. When playing, the stats Ginobili puts up are simply too good to ignore, even in limited minutes.

Luol Deng, F, CHI – Deng has missed the last three games with a strained right hamstring, and Jimmy Butler has played so well in Deng's absence that there's no reason for the Bulls to rush him back. Coach Tom Thibodeau continues to say that Deng is day-to-day and a game-time decision, but that's a line Thibodeau has also stringed fantasy owners along on several times in seasons past. What day-to-day really means when it comes out of Thibodeau's mouth is that Deng will play when he plays. We're not going to know when Deng is going to play until we see him on the court to start a game. It's frustrating, but it's also simply just the way things are.

Nikola Pekovic, C, MIN – Pekovic has a thigh bruise. He was originally ruled out for 7-10 days on Jan. 18, putting him in line to return as early as Friday, but we're not banking on that. The Timberwolves also play Saturday, and then their next game isn't until Wednesday. With their next two games coming against the Wizards and Bobcats, and the Clippers on the schedule at home next Wednesday, it's very possible we won't see Pekovic back on the court for almost another week.

Alexey Shved, G, MIN – Shved's ankle injury technically only has him listed as day-to-day, but it's fair to argue his recovery time could coincide with Pekovic's simply because the extra three days of rest he'd get if he doesn't play this weekend. If you're counting on the rookie shooting guard, watch the breaking news wires before Friday's and Saturday's game.

Stock Down

Louis Williams, G, ATL – Williams tore a ligament in his right knee and will not play again this season. It's a bummer, but there are players available on the waiver wire who can replace most, if not all, of Williams' value.

Gerald Wallace, F, BKN – To be fair, Wallace has been playing through bruised ribs the last couple weeks, but there's an argument to be made that Wallace's recent slide has been more linked to P.J. Carlesimo taking over as head coach than to his rib injury. Since Carlesimo was given the interim coaching job on Dec. 28, Wallace has averaged 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 three-pointers, 1.1 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 26 mpg. For a player who was taken in the fourth or fifth round of most drafts, those averages are putrid enough to cause a gag reflex. If you can find an article out there detailing that Wallace is sure to rebound from this slump once his ribs heal, I'd post that on your league's message board and hope someone offers you something decent for Wallace. Realistically, though, I've seen him dropped and picked up in several leagues. There are a lot of doubters out there. Anything is possible, just don't hang onto him too long in the hopes that he'll recover and save your season. There are plenty of comparable players available on waivers.

Pau Gasol, F/C, LAL – Gasol is getting a raw deal in Los Angeles. Hopefully they end up trading him to a team that will use him to his strengths, but until then, coach Mike D'Antoni has decided to bring Gasol off the bench behind Earl Clark. Go ahead and read that last sentence again. Still sound stupid and counter intuitive to any rational human frame of mind? Yeah, it does. However, that's the reality of things, and we have to play the cards we're dealt. If you cut bait on Gasol during a healthy streak this season and were able to get back something decent in a trade, I extend a gentleman's curtsy to you. Well done. In Wednesday's game, Dwight Howard aggravated his torn labrum injury that has been limiting him the last couple weeks, so it's possible Gasol could see a boost in value. Realistically, it seems Gasol is going to need a change in coach, be that through a trade or D'Antoni's firing, to reclaim the fantasy value he was drafted to provide. I think he'll bounce back at some point this season, but I'm an eternal optimist and believe in the power of positive thought. May you all find a pot of gold tomorrow.

Kyle McKeown, that's me, is the managing editor of RotoWire's NBA content. If you'd like more of my bad advice, you can find me on Twitter @RotoWireKyleNBA. I respond to all tweets that hashtag #handsome at me and some of the other ones.

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