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Just two games into his return, Steve Nash looks like his old self.
The passive play we saw from Nash early on is gone, replaced by the freedom and control he thrives in when running a Mike D'Antoni offense.
After missing 24 games due to a leg injury, Nash returned in a big way, averaging 14 points, 10 assists and 4.5 rebounds over two contests. Even more impressive is the fact he logged 38 and 41 minutes in his first two games back – playing time he rarely approached in his final season with the Suns.
It's doubtful a 38-year-old Nash will continue to log those heavy minutes, but even with a slight dip in playing time, his fantasy production should remain on par with what we've seen these past two games. Nash should immediately be considered an elite assist option, and he will provide some of the best percentages from the guard position as well.
With Nash back, naturally, the Lakers' season is now trending upwards. Nash has that effect on teams, especially when playing under D'Antoni. Hopefully you were a patient fantasy owner and your squad reaps the same benefits the Lakers will over the remainder of the season.
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.
Gustavo Ayon, F/C, ORL – Ayon has been the Magic frontcourt player who has stepped up since Glen Davis went down with a shoulder injury. In the two games since Big Baby's injury, Ayon has averaged 10.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in over 32 minutes per game. While he hasn't chipped in much on the defensive side of the court, Ayon did average 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks in 24 starts with the Hornets last year, so there's upside for him in those categories. He has legit double-double potential when given expanded playing time like he's currently seeing, meaning he's worth a look in most formats if you need frontcourt help.
Kawhi Leonard, G/F, SA – Leonard returned from an 18-game absence last week. He hasn't shown any rust in his two games back, averaging 12.5 points, 3.5 steals and two treys in 23 mpg. The Spurs' second-year swingman has been an absolute roto stud when healthy this season, ranking 25th overall in Yahoo! leagues based on per-game averages. Despite the lofty ranking, Leonard is only owned in 58 percent of said leagues. His scoring numbers don't really jump out of the box score, but Leonard offers great percentages and solid three-point shooting while picking pockets as well as anyone in the league. Don't let him sit there if he's available in your league.
Jarrett Jack, G, GS – Jack has been a steady contributor off the Warriors' bench all season, but his production has picked up significantly of late. Over the past two weeks, Jack has averaged 18.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 2.1 threes in 32 mpg. Those numbers would be career highs across the board, and he's shooting an unsustainable 55 percent from the floor over that stretch, so some regression should be expected. That said, Jack will continue to play a big role in a reserve spot for the Warriors; and given his production this season, he deserves to be owned in more than 57 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Amir Johnson, F, TOR – Johnson, not Ed Davis, has seen the biggest boost in value since Andrea Bargnani hit the shelf with elbow and wrist injuries. Since returning from a one-game suspension, Johnson has averaged 8.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.8 blocks, while shooting 63 percent from the floor and 92 percent from the charity stripe. Like Leonard, Johnson's production doesn't stand out at first glance, but his solid all-around contributions and stellar efficiency can pay dividends in plenty of formats.
Hakim Warrick, F, CHR – With Byron Mullens (ankle) hitting the shelf for up to a month, Warrick is set to take on a bigger role for the Bobcats. Warrick started Wednesday's game, and though head coach Mike Dunlap wouldn't commit to Warrick taking over as the starting four, he did hint that the team would rely more heavily on the 30-year-old veteran. Warrick has never offered much outside of decent scoring and rebounding numbers when given heavy run, but if those are two categories you need help in, he's worth a look.
Luol Deng, F, CHI – Deng, who was already dealing with a sprained shoulder, suffered a mild right ankle sprain in Tuesday's loss to the Rockets. Despite tweaking his ankle in the first quarter, Deng managed to play 36 minutes, which alleviates some concern about the injury. Still, owners will want to keep tabs on Deng over the next couple of days.
Eric Gordon, G, NOR – Gordon gave the Hornets and his fantasy owners an early Christmas present when he returned to full-contact practice Monday. He didn't have any problems with his right knee, which is an indication he is close to playing in a game. The Hornets don't have a set timetable for Gordon's return to action as of yet, but a decision should be made after he logs a couple more practices. When healthy, Gordon is one of the better shooting guards in fantasy hoops, so he should be picked up in most formats.
Chandler Parsons, F, HOU – Parsons experienced swelling in his knee after Tuesday's blowout win over the Bulls, to the extent that he couldn't bend his leg while leaving the arena. The injury happened in the first half of Tuesday's game when Parsons collided with Marco Belinelli. The Rockets forward remained in the game and scored 19 of his 23 points after the collision, so the injury doesn't appear overly severe. However, owners will want to keep an eye on his status in the short term.
Mo Williams, G, UTA – The Jazz point guard is on the shelf indefinitely after suffering a right thumb injury over the weekend. An MRI revealed damage to his thumb, but the Jazz won't know the full extent of the injury until the team returns to Utah after its current road trip. Williams compared the injury to previous ligament damage in 2008, which eventually led to surgery, so there is some concern a lengthy absence could be in store. Owners will want to keep a close eye on Williams' status to see how to handle the situation. Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson will fill in at point guard while Williams is out.
Byron Mullens, F/C, CHR – Mullens suffered a severe left ankle sprain last weekend that could keep him in street clothes for up to a month. The Bobcats haven't released a concrete return timetable for the three-point shooting big man, but his absence figures to be measured in weeks, not days. Those in deeper leagues will want to stash Mullens and hope for a quick recovery, but owners in shallower formats with comparable free agent options available will want to make a move.
Glen Davis, F/C, ORL – Davis suffered a left shoulder strain last week that will keep him out of action for 4-to-6 weeks. That puts Davis' return anywhere from late January to mid-February. Owners in shallower formats will probably want to explore options on the waiver wire, while those in deeper leagues will want to stash Davis and hope for a return at the short end of that timetable. The aforementioned Gustavo Ayon will see a boost in playing time and fantasy production, with Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic also seeing an uptick in value.
Marco Belinelli, G, CHI – With Richard Hamilton (foot) nearing a return, Belinelli's fantasy value is about to take a big hit. The Italian shooting guard has been solid in Rip's absence, averaging 15.3 points, 1.7 threes and 1.3 steals in 12 starts, but Hamilton will take a big bite out of Belinelli's playing time, and eventually grab the starting two spot. Once Belinelli moves back to a reserve role, he won't be much more than a three-point specialist in deeper formats. Instead of waiting for Hamilton to return, get out in front of the pack and find a replacement for Belinelli now.
Kris Humphries, F, BRO – Humphries, who had seen his playing time cut of late, is now dealing with a mild abdominal strain; and there's currently no timetable for his return. The tabloid star is also dealing with rumors that the Nets are looking to trade him once he becomes eligible to be moved January 15th. A move out of Brooklyn might actually give Humphries' long-term value a boost, but there's no denying his short-term stock has taken a hit due to both his injury and recent drop in minutes.
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- Steve Nash