NBA Skinny: Yao-za!

Matt Buser
Yahoo! Sports
1st Chair: ???
2nd Chair: Eddie House, Mikki Moore, Josh Boone, TBD
Skinny: The Nets have to figure out something to help offset the loss of Nenad Krstic for the season. Eddie House got the start on Saturday, with Richard Jefferson moving to power forward, but the Nets lost big and were particularly weak in the middle. Moore has been playing reasonably well in recent weeks, averaging 7.8 points on 61 percent shooting and 6.1 boards in 21 minutes during 12 December games, and would appear to be the frontrunner among the bigs currently on the Nets' roster. Rookie Josh Boone is also an intriguing prospect – he averaged 11.3 points, 7.6 boards, and 2.4 blocks in 65 career college games and in 19 minutes on Saturday grabbed seven boards, had two steals, and blocked a shot. There is also an outside chance that the Nets will look to bring in a big man via trade.
1st Chair: David Lee, Channing Frye
2nd Chair: Jared Jeffries
Skinny: Jeffries returns from his four-game suspension on Wednesday, and the question remains as to what his role will be when he returns. The Knicks won three of four games while Jeffries was suspended, with Lee starting at power forward and Frye starting at small forward. Lee averaged 12.3 points and 16.5 rebounds during that stretch, while Frye averaged 15.8 points and 7.5 boards, and the Knicks held opponents to 42 percent shooting and outrebounded them by an average of 10 per game. Saying that the chemistry on the Knicks right now "is good," Knicks coach Isaiah Thomas wouldn't repeat his regular refrain that Jeffries would immediately be back into the starting lineup when available. "You just want to see where you are, once you get everybody back and you get some practice time," said Thomas.
1st Chair: Al Jefferson
2nd Chair: Kendrick Perkins
Skinny: Of course, this doesn't seem like it should even be up for debate. In 14 starts before he was sidelined by plantar fasciitis, Perkins averaged 4.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 23 minutes. In nine games as the starting center, Jefferson has averaged 16.3 points, 11.2 boards, and 1.8 blocks in 34 minutes. Still, Perkins is anticipated to return this week, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers has made no indication as to what Jefferson and Perkins' roles will be once Perkins is back. It would defy all logic for Perkins to bump Jefferson, but the silence is enough to make fantasy owners nervous and it's certainly worth keeping an eye out for word from Rivers.

I certainly do hope you all had a very Merry Christmas. Two days with just one NBA game was a welcome reprieve, but now it's back to the triage station that is likely to be your fantasy team. The list of walking (or not walking) wounded expanded over the holiday weekend to include Yao Ming, Josh Smith, and Nenad Krstic, once again anything but bit players. It's certainly enough to knock those visions of dancing sugar plums out of your noggin. On with The Skinny:

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

Yao-za! Yao Ming's broken leg is likely to be just as costly to fantasy owners as it will be to the now-hapless Rockets. He suffered the injury, a fracture on the front of his right anterior tibia, on Saturday and will be out for a minimum of six weeks. Yao was in the midst of his finest professional season, averaging 25.9 points on 52 percent shooting, 9.4 boards, and 2.2 blocks, while shooting 87 percent from the foul line. Yao's loss leaves the Rockets exceptionally short-handed in the frontcourt, as they now have just two players on their roster who are listed as weighing more than 240 pounds ( Dikembe Mutombo and Juwan Howard). Both Mutombo and Howard figure to see their roles increase while Yao is sidelined, and essentially everyone on the Rockets will be needed to step up their game. In 23 games filling in for Yao as the starting center last season, Mutombo averaged 4.1 points, 7.6 boards, and 1.1 blocks in 23 minutes, so he immediately becomes a viable option in deeper leagues. On a more positive note for the Rockets and fantasy owners, Tracy McGrady has gone through four consecutive days of workouts without complications, something he hasn't been able to do since back spasms first limited him on December 9, and he could be back in the lineup on Tuesday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Josh Smith's fantasy owners were dealt a blow on Sunday when it was announced that he will undergo hernia surgery and be sidelined for as many as four weeks. What was even more shocking was Smith's announcement that he'd played through the injury for "the past two months" and it was simply time to "shut it down." Smith had rebounded from a slow start to post great December numbers – 13.4 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.4 boards, 3.8 assists, 1.7 steals, and 2.8 blocks in 12 games – so he will also be leaving a gaping hole in fantasy lineups. You should expect Marvin Williams and Shelden Williams to see surplus playing time in the short-term, and Josh Childress, who has missed 19 games a left foot fracture, is expected to return on Wednesday, and will be given as many minutes as he can handle from the outset even as he gets back to game shape.

Nenad Krstic suffered a grisly knee injury on Friday as he attempted to make a move in the offensive post. "I went to spin," Krstic said, "My knee twisted and I heard a pop." That pop was a torn ACL in his left knee, ending Krstic's season at 26 games played. The 23-year-old was averaging 16.4 points on 53 percent shooting, 6.8 boards, and 0.9 blocks in 33 minutes per game. How the Nets compensate for the loss is still undecided. Mikki Moore and Josh Boone are the most viable options currently on the New Jersey roster, and the possibility also exists that the Nets will bring in a big man via trade. Nets coach Lawrence Frank opted to start an extra guard (Eddie House) on Saturday versus the Bucks, but that resulted in an 11-point loss in which the Nets were outscored by 14 points in the paint.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Earl Boykins (PG, Denver) – Boykins is going to get serious run over the next few weeks, and will be a solid fantasy option during that stretch. The past two games are a decent indication of what he can do – he's averaged 27.0 points, 1.5 threes, 5.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.0 steals in 37 minutes of playing time. While it's true that his field-goal percentage will leave a bit to be desired, he's a career 88-percent shooter from the foul line.

Shaun Livingston (PG, LA Clippers) – Livingston will keep showing up here until he's above the 50 percent threshold – he's currently at 43 percent owned. Let's rehash the stats – in 14 starts, he's averaged 12.7 points on 48 percent shooting, 4.5 boards, and 6.7 assists. Yeah, those numbers could help some fantasy teams.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Caron Butler (SF, Washington) Butler's game has been tough to match in recent weeks. His averages over the past eight games – 25.4 points on 48 percent shooting, 8.9 boards, 4.5 assists, 2.6 steals, and 90 percent free-throw shooting – are signs that Butler is heading towards fantasy super-stardom.

Josh Howard (GF, Dallas) – Howard has taken his game to another level and really has been turning it on of late. He's blocked at least two shots in five straight games and hit three treys in three of the last four. In 12 December contests, he's averaged 19.8 points on 48 percent shooting, 2.0 threes, 5.8 boards, 1.3 steals, and 1.6 blocks, and has made 90 percent of his free throws.

Gerald Wallace (GF, Charlotte) – Wallace's recent production has had cautiously optimistic fantasy owners doing their best impression of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He's blocked a shot in six of the past seven games and had at least five steals in three of the last five. He's averaged 15.6 points on 49 percent shooting, 4.9 boards, 2.6 steals, and 1.3 blocks during the past seven games.

John Salmons (GF, Sacramento) – Salmons has taken advantage of surplus playing time that has come as a result of Ron Artest's various afflictions. He recorded the first triple-double of his career on Friday, and has averaged 17.8 points, 1.0 three, 5.5 boards, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks over the past four games.

Brendan Haywood (C, Washington) – Haywood has made a serious case for remaining the Wizards' starting center even when Etan Thomas is healthy enough to return to the lineup. Haywood has started the past six games and averaged 8.8 points on 72 percent shooting, 10.8 boards, and 1.7 blocks in 33 minutes.

Rasho Nesterovic (C, Toronto) – Nesterovic has been steady in the pivot since the Raptors lost Chris Bosh to injury. Over his past seven games – which include five Toronto victories – he's averaged 10.6 points on 56 percent shooting, 6.4 boards, and 2.1 blocks in 31 minutes of playing time.

Rasual Butler (GF, New Orleans/Oklahoma City) – Butler is looking at starter's minutes indefinitely, and has been a very good fantasy option recently, averaging 16.7 points on 52 percent shooting, 2.3 threes, and 3.8 boards over his past six games.

Matt Barnes (SF, Golden State) – Barnes has started seven of the past eight games for the Warriors, and has quietly emerged as a jack-of-all-trades for fantasy owners. He's averaged 13.4 points, 2.4 threes, 6.6 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.1 blocks in those eight games.

Mike Bibby (PG, Sacramento) – Bibby's season-long shooting woes, likely to be at least in part because of a preseason wrist injury, have reached epic proportions. He's made 28 of 91 field goal attempts (31 percent) over the past six games, bringing his season field goal percentage to 35 percent, almost eight points lower than his previous career low.

Brent Barry (G, San Antonio) – Just as a five-game stretch in early December in which he averaged 14.8 points and 3.2 threes made him a popular roster addition, his most recent stretch of six games in which he's averaged 5.0 points and 0.5 threes has sent him back to waivers in droves.

Darko Milicic (FC, Orlando) – Darko has been on an extended cold streak. He's scored in double figures in just two of the past 11 games, including being held shotless and scoreless on Saturday, and averaged 5.4 points on 35 percent shooting, 4.7 boards, and 1.4 blocks during those games.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League Update maintains a slim lead over Y! – Lago at the top of the standings, with, Y! – Funston, and RotoWire_Liss rounding out the top five. This week's transactions included Tony Allen, Willie Green, Nene Hilario, Gerald Green, and Mikki Moore, among others.