Isn't it amazing how you can simultaneously be first and last in leagues in which you are a participant, despite having a similar core of players? I'm struggling with this very dilemma right now. Obviously, it's the players who are supposed to be complementary that are lacking in one and stellar in the other. This is a critical juncture – apathy can result in you solidifying your place at or near the bottom of the standings while a few well-played transactions can buoy your team for a climb up the ranks. Don't rest on your laurels in the leagues you are doing well in, either, as we've still got a long way to go – you have to assume everyone else in your league is always trying to improve, as well. Here's this week's Skinny to help you get the wheels in motion:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
Shaquille O'Neal appears to be closer to a return, but how close is still a relative unknown. We may get a bit more of an idea this week, as Shaq said on Saturday that he will practice this Tuesday – his first since spraining his ankle on November 3. O'Neal said that he will go as hard as he can, but is at about 85 percent running straight and hasn't even tried running sideways yet, so any activities will likely be limited. O'Neal also remarked that the true test is "always the next day" after a first practice, so Wednesday updates will be of much interest. O'Neal also stated that he has "strict orders" not to come back until he is at 100 percent, so fantasy owners should still assume they will be using the contingency plans they have in place for likely a few more weeks.
Steve Francis is still feeling effects from a single-car accident on November 19 in which he suffered injuries to his chest and shoulder. Francis missed both of the Magic's games over the weekend after seeking a second opinion on his injuries – according to Coach Brian Hill, he was complaining after practice on Thursday that he could not raise his arms properly. Results of an MRI were not entirely specific – it revealed the same thing as a previous exam, according to Magic General Manager Otis Smith, which was "swelling in the pectoral area" – and according to the Orlando Sentinel he is questionable for at least Monday night's game with the Spurs. Those of you in leagues with daily transactions should plan accordingly and watch for further updates.
Joe Johnson and the Hawks traveled to Phoenix Sunday night and, as expected, were routed as the Suns were up 25-10 after the first quarter en route to a 112-94 win. Johnson was booed lustily by Suns fans to the point that he admitted it was more than he thought it would be – he even sat out the game's final 15 minutes to avoid getting booed further. Can Johnson hear the jeers from fantasy owners, as well? Sixteen games into the season, it's obvious that the trade to the Hawks has decimated his fantasy value. He's had marginal improvements in points and assists, but his percentages have plummeted, his threes are down by half, and his turnovers have almost doubled. His best game of the season came on Friday against the Raptors, when he scored 34 points, had 6 rebounds, and 10 assists. It won't be very often that he will get to face the worst team in basketball, however, especially since the loss to Toronto left "his" team with that dismal distinction.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Speedy Claxton (PG, New Orleans/Oklahoma City)
Claxton's play has been a bit sporadic since he missed a few games with an ankle injury in mid-November, but overall his numbers have been good. Speedy's role with the Hornets is clearly defined, he should contribute solid numbers over the course of the season, and he would be an excellent waiver pickup if your team needs some scoring, steals, and assists.
- Jose Calderon (PG, Toronto)
If scoring is not an issue for your team, then Calderon may be an even better candidate for a roster move. His strong play has continued since he has become a starter – in four games he has averaged 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals, although he has averaged only 8.0 points in those contests. If you need a true specialist, Calderon is your man.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Jason Terry (PG, Dallas) – Terry has been asked to pick up some of the scoring slack since Josh Howard's ankle injury – he has obliged and then some. In the four games Howard has missed so far, Terry has averaged 25.3 points on 60 percent shooting and 2.8 threes.
Samuel Dalembert (C, Philadelphia) – While his offense has been slow to come around since returning from injury, Dalembert's defense has been strong – in his past three games, he's averaged 12.0 boards and 3.7 blocks.
Kurt Thomas (FC, Phoenix) – Perhaps Thomas' decline was greatly exaggerated – in the past four games he's averaged 10.8 points and 13.8 boards and he returned to the starting lineup on Friday after coming off the bench for three games.
Corey Maggette (GF, LA Clippers) – Maggette had a strong week – in the Clippers' three games he averaged 26.3 points on 53 percent shooting, 2.0 threes, and 6.0 rebounds. He is currently averaging career highs in both field goal percentage (48.2) and free throw percentage (89.3).
Jameer Nelson (PG, Orlando) – Injuries to Steve Francis and Keyon Dooling have given Nelson more playing time of late and starts in the Magic's past two games – in his past four, Nelson has averaged 13.3 points, 2.0 threes, 5.0 assists, and 3.8 rebounds in 33 minutes per game.
Sarunas Jasikevicius (G, Indiana) – Jamaal Tinsley's most recent batch of DNP's have resulted in Jasikevicius getting starts, and he has capitalized – in the past three games, he's averaged 15.3 points on 60 percent shooting, 3.0 threes, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.7 steals.
Peja Stojakovic (SF, Sacramento) – Peja has struggled mightily since returning from his finger injury – in four games, he's made just 10 of 46 shots (22 percent).
Raef LaFrentz (FC, Boston) – LaFrentz had a week to forget – in four games, he totaled 21 points and 13 rebounds and shot just 23 percent.
Larry Hughes (SG, Cleveland) – Hughes has been a major drag on team field goal percentages lately – in his past six games, he's made just 33 percent of his 85 attempts (14.2 per game).
Nenad Krstic (FC, New Jersey) – In three games over the past week, Krstic averaged 8.3 points on 38 percent shooting and a mere 3.7 boards
Number of the Week
3 – The number of times that a Laker other than Kobe Bryant has led the team in scoring in 16 games this season (Lamar Odom twice, Chris Mihm once). The 7-9 Lakers are 0-3 in those games.
Yahoo! Friends and Family League Update
Y! – Buser remains atop the standings for the third consecutive update, although Funston has made a strong run over the past week thanks to the three-headed monster of Elton Brand, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Kidd. Transactions this week included my dropping Mike James in favor of Jameer Nelson and TMR dropping Kyle Korver for Jasikevicius.