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The Nets surprisingly fired Avery Johnson on Dec. 27, which immediately led to accusations of Deron Williams being a coach killer. Given Williams' apparent role in getting Jerry Sloan to resign while the two were in Utah, those accusations didn't appear too far-fetched.
Brooklyn replaced Johnson with P.J. Carlesimo, who has led the team to a 9-1 record through his first 10 games as the head coach.
Carlesimo's early success can easily be tied to the improved play of Mr. Coach Killer himself. Under Carlesimo, Williams has shaken off a near two-year shooting slump, hitting 45 percent of his field-goal attempts and 42 percent of his three-pointers over the last 10 games – percentages that are a lot closer to what we saw from Williams during his time with the Jazz than his first 94 games with the Nets.
With his shooting woes seemingly a thing of the past, Williams has started to produce like the first-round fantasy pick he was touted as before the season. Williams' per-game averages of 19.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 2.1 treys, and 1.0 steal rank him as the fifth most valuable fantasy player over the past two weeks.
We've seen this with Williams in the past. He plays better when he's getting along with his coach, and by all accounts, Williams and Carlesimo have a mutual respect for one another. Hopefully this marriage stays its current course and Williams continues to post first-round level production for his fantasy owners.
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.
Glen Davis, F, ORL – Davis was able to make quick work of his rehab from a left shoulder sprain as he returned to action Monday, which was just under the four-week mark of his original four-to-six week timetable. He played 18 minutes off the bench Monday night, finishing with 13 points and four rebounds. Magic coach Jacques Vaughn has already hinted that any sort of minutes restriction would be short-lived, and Davis could start seeing extensive run again as soon as Wednesday. Big Baby ranks as the 99th player on a per-game average, and he's still available in 32 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Go grab him now before other owners realize he's healthy again.
John Wall, G, WAS – After sitting out the first 33 games of the season with a knee injury, Wall finally made his season debut last week. He has averaged 13.0 points and five assists in 20 minutes per game while coming off the bench in his first two appearances. Wall will continue to see a minutes restriction in the short term, but he'll eventually start to resemble the player who averaged over 16 points and eight assists in his first two seasons once his minutes increase. The 2010 No. 1 overall pick is still available in 12 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so go grab him if your league is guilty of being late to the party.
DeMarcus Cousins, F/C, SAC – There's no denying Cousins' status as one of the biggest head cases in the league, but after a late-December team-imposed suspension, the enigmatic power forward has been playing like a man possessed. Over his past 10 games, Cousins has averaged 20.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.6 steals. Those numbers are more inline with the expected third-year breakout that made Cousins a top-25 draft pick in Yahoo! leagues this year. Cousins' overall stat line is still below his production from last season, so there could be an opportunity to get him for a slight discount from an unassuming owner.
O.J. Mayo, G, DAL – The return of Dirk Nowitzki put Mayo's future fantasy value into question. Would the high-volume shooting guard disappear behind the Mavericks' longtime star, or would Mayo thrive as the team's No. 2 scoring option? Based on early returns, it looks like Mayo will thrive. After dealing with a shooting slump (44 percent) in December, Mayo has bounced back to average 18.0 points, 4.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 2.0 three-pointers, and 1.6 steals while shooting 49 percent from the floor through eight games in January. With Nowitzki now back in the fold and starting to round into shape, defenses can no longer key in on Mayo. There will still be plenty of nights where Mayo's shot just isn't falling, but the presence of Nowitzki should lead to continued consistency from Mayo.
Earl Clark, F, LAL – Clark has risen from a seldom-used, garbage-time player to starter in less than a week as the Lakers try to find ways to turn around their season. The 25-year-old forward has responded well to the newfound playing time, averaging 12.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 blocks over the past four games. He'll likely be moved back to a reserve role once Pau Gasol (concussion) returns to action, but Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has already stated that Clark will remain in the rotation. The Lakers have lost Jordan Hill (shoulder) for the remainder of the season, so Clark should assume those 15-16 minutes Hill was playing while gaining extra minutes based on the quality of his play. His value in shallow leagues will be short-lived, but Clark's ability to post solid scoring and rebounding totals in limited minutes could still come into long-term play in deeper formats.
Wilson Chandler, F, DEN – Chandler, who was sidelined for 30 games while recovering from offseason hip surgery, returned to the court this week. Despite averaging just 20 minutes per game in his first two games back, Chandler has averaged 13.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 2.0 three-pointers. The Nuggets are deep on the wing, so Chandler will likely continue to play a limited role off the bench in the short term, but he remains an interesting player in deeper leagues. If any of the Nuggets' primary players at the two or three suffer an injury, Chandler would immediately be considered a strong option in shallower formats as well.
Pau Gasol, F, LAL – Gasol missed his fifth consecutive game Tuesday, but he appears to be close to returning from his concussion. The Spanish big man has passed some of his required concussion tests and will visit with an independent neurologist for his final clearance Thursday. If all goes well on his visit with the doctor, Gasol could suit up to play against Miami later that night. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has already stated that Gasol will return to his starting role once healthy, so he'll be worth activating immediately.
Jared Dudley, G/F, PHO – Dudley has sat out the past two games due to a right wrist strain. He practiced fully Tuesday and has already said he'll suit up for Thursday's game against the Bucks, but Dudley also admitted that he's not at 100 percent yet. The injury is to his shooting wrist, which could cause some problems with his stroke in the short term. There's no reason to drop Dudley, who has been extremely productive over the past month, but owners may want to consider keeping him on the bench until fully healthy if other lineup options are available.
Chris Paul, G, LAC – Paul has missed back-to-back games with a bruised kneecap. The injury isn't considered serious, but the Clippers are being understandably cautious with their superstar point guard. He's currently listed as day-to-day going into Thursday's game. Eric Bledsoe, who has started the past two games, will continue to fill in if Paul misses any more action.
Manu Ginobili, G, SAN – Ginobili is set to miss up to two weeks with a strained left hamstring. After a slow start to the season, the 35-year-old veteran had hit his stride recently, so this injury obvious comes at an inopportune time. Two weeks is a short enough timetable to keep Ginobili stashed away on the bench, given the amount of value he'll have upon his return. Danny Green, Gary Neal, and Kawhi Leonard should all pick up the slack in Ginobili's absence.
Josh Smith, F, ATL – The Hawks suspended Smith for conduct detrimental to the team following Monday's blowout loss to the Bulls. He'll serve the suspension Wednesday against the Nets. While Smith's suspension hurts his fantasy value for one game, his shooting struggles are what fantasy owners should be concerned about long term. His shooting has been down all season and continues to head in the wrong direction, as Smith is shooting just 43 percent from both the floor and charity stripe in January. The field-goal percentage is manageable, but the Ben Wallace-like performance at the free-throw line has been a category drain all season for Smith's owners. He's also racking up 2.9 turnovers per game, which is an extremely high number for a power forward. J-Smoove still posts solid totals in scoring, rebounding, and both defensive categories, but his inefficiencies have led to a ranking of 84th overall based on per-game averages. That type of overall production just doesn't cut it for a player who was widely selected in the first round.
Andre Iguodala, G/F, DEN – Like Smith, Iguodala's biggest bugaboos this season are his struggles with efficiency. Iguodala is shooting career-lows of 43.6 percent from the floor and 60.9 percent from the line while racking up 2.7 turnovers per game. His other production (13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 treys) remains great, but Iggy has been doing his best to help fantasy owners tank some of the tougher categories to gain ground on. Owners shouldn't give up and dump Iguodala to the free-agent heap, but if you're near the bottom of field-goal and free-throw percentage in your league, shopping him around for a more efficient player may be the only way to gain ground in those categories.
Anthony Davis, F, NOR – While Davis hasn't exactly taken the NBA by storm, he has posted solid fantasy numbers overall, averaging 13.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.1 steals in 25 games. Despite showing great potential value, Davis has seen a drop in playing time recently. After logging nearly 34 mpg in December, Davis has seen his playing time drop to under 25 mpg in January. His production has dropped with the reduction in playing time, as he's averaging just 9.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.1 steals in eight January contests. There have been reports of his conditioning not being up to par, while whispers of Davis hitting a rookie wall have also been bandied about. It's also interesting to note that the Hornets have appeared to be somewhat hesitant to play Davis in crunch time minutes, as he's been on the court just 57 percent of the time in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the scoring difference is five points or less. The Hornets won't be making a playoff run this season, so the team should eventually start leaning more heavily on their No. 1 pick, but his fantasy value will take a hit until he gets over this hump and starts logging heavier minutes again.
Devin Harris, G, ATL – Harris caught the attention of fantasy owners last week when he scored 24 points in his return to the starting lineup. He followed up that 24-point outburst with just eight total points over his next two starts, including an abysmal zero-point effort in Monday's 39-point loss to the Bulls. Following that lopsided loss, Hawks coach Larry Drew hinted at possible lineup changes, and Harris figures to be one of the top candidates to lose his starting gig. Given the success Lou Williams had in the starting lineup prior to Harris' return, the decision should be easy. While Harris still has the skills to put up 20-plus points on occasion, his production will be too sporadic to hold value in shallow to mid-sized formats.