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The Bulls have been hit by a rash of injuries this season.
Aside from dealing with franchise cornerstone Derrick Rose being out for the entirety of the season thus far, Chicago has also been without key pieces such as Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich over the past couple weeks.
The All-Star MASH unit has opened up playing time for numerous depth players on the Bulls' roster, leading to unexpected fantasy production from Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.
Robinson, Gibson and Butler have all produced at top-50 fantasy levels over the past week, with Robinson leading the pack as the second-most valuable fantasy player over that stretch.
Each of the three players have the necessary skills to be productive fantasy players, but the pending returns of Rose, Noah and Hinrich (Deng and Boozer have already returned to action) mean Robinson, Gibson and Butler will see a cut in playing time sooner rather than later.
Those three players are great when handed 35-40 minutes per night, but how much production can we expect from Robinson, Gibson and Butler once their playing time drops to 20-25 minutes per game?
Streamers should continue to go hog wild on the trio of Bulls reserves in the short term, but owners looking for more long-term solutions should try packaging them in a sell-high offer or turn to the waiver wire.
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.
Jerryd Bayless, G, MEM – Bayless appears to be the Grizzly who has benefited the most from the team's two trades that they completed in January. With Rudy Gay, Wayne Ellington and Maurice Speights now out of town, Bayless has taken on a bigger role in the rotation. Over the past six games, Bayless has averaged 18.2 points, four rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.2 steals and one three-pointer in nearly 36 mpg. He was moved back to a bench role Tuesday night but still managed to score a season-high 29 points in 29 minutes. The Grizzlies have deployed a seven-man rotation in the two contests since Gay's departure, and given the team's lack of backcourt depth, Bayless should continue to log heavy minutes as a reserve. He's a legit option who can help out fantasy squads in the scoring department down the stretch.
Rudy Gay, F, TOR – Speaking of Gay, he looks reenergized since being traded north of the border. Through his first two games with the Raptors, Gay has averaged 24.5 points, two treys, two steals and one block in 37 mpg. Gay will have a tough time keeping that scoring average at such lofty heights, but his shooting percentages (48.7 FG, 36.4 3Pt, 77.8 FT) are sustainable. He appears to be more at home working within Toronto's free-flowing offense over the slow-it-down sets Memphis usually runs. Don't expect a James Harden-like jump in production, but don't be surprised if Gay posts some of the best numbers of his career, either.
Patrick Patterson, F, HOU – An early-season favorite off the waiver wire, Patterson lost most of his momentum after battling a lingering foot injury in late December. The third-year forward is healthy now and back to his productive ways. Patterson has averaged 13.8 points and six rebounds in 27 mpg over his past six contests. His production over that stretch is good enough to crack the top-100 rankings, but Patterson remains available in 76 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He won't be a big help on the defensive end of the court, and his rebounding numbers won't be as good other big men, but Patterson offers decent scoring numbers with solid percentages. Look his way if you need help in the frontcourt.
Lance Stephenson, G, IND – Pacers coach Frank Vogel recently urged Stephenson to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the court, and the results have been encouraging. Stephenson has racked up five straight double-digit scoring efforts, while averaging 15.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.6 threes and 0.8 steals over that stretch. There's some legitimate concern that the pending return of Danny Granger (knee) will take away from Stephenson's recent surge, but Vogel has already stated his plans to deploy Granger as a reserve until the former All-Star can handle a full allotment of minutes. That means Stephenson should be in a good position to continue his breakout for at least a few games, even after Granger returns to action.
Samuel Dalembert, C, MIL – Dalembert shocked the world Tuesday night when he erupted for a career-high 35 points against the Nuggets. He bested his previous career-high by eight points, while making the same number of shots (17) as he did in eight January appearances. Owners obviously shouldn't expect that type of scoring from Dalembert going forward, but his breakout does make him worthy of consideration in numerous formats. He was buried on the bench when Scott Skiles was at the helm in Milwaukee, but interim coach Jim Boylan has shown the willingness to give Dalembert some run. Barring a long-term Larry Sanders injury, Dalembert's playing time will always be limited, but he still provided value in a limited role with the Rockets last season. Deeper leagues should consider Dalembert as an option if in need of rebounds and blocks.
Andrew Nicholson, F and Maurice Harkless, F, ORL – The Magic currently sit 10.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The team traded away the face of their franchise (Dwight Howard) prior to the season. Any way you cut it, Orlando is in a full-scale rebuilding mode. That means it's time for the Magic to give their young players significant run. Harkless has already been handed heavy playing time, logging 37 mpg since being reinserted into the starting five on Jan. 28. The 19-year-old small forward has averaged 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.4 steals over that stretch. Orlando has been more hesitant to give Nicholson consistent playing time, but the team should be expected to go that route with Glen Davis (foot) on the shelf for the remainder of the season. Through three games this month, Nicholson has averaged 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and one block. While Harkless should warrant consideration in shallower formats, Nicholson will remain more of a deep-league option until the Magic decide truly to look to the future.
Andrew Bynum, C, PHI – Bynum hasn't gone as far as pinpointing an exact date that he'll return from his knee injury, but the Sixers big man did shed some light on his timetable this week by announcing he remains on track to return around the All-Star break. The Sixers' games on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20 frame this year's midseason festivities. Hopefully, owners will finally be able to deploy the big man on one of those dates.
Larry Sanders, C, MIL – Sanders left Tuesday's loss to the Nuggets in the fourth quarter after suffering a lower back injury. Initial X-rays came back clean, so it appears that he has avoided serious injury. His status is in doubt for Wednesday's game against the Jazz, though. Keep a close eye on him in the short term, and make sure Sanders is active before plugging him back into lineups.
Gordon Hayward, G/F, UTA – Hayward will miss his sixth consecutive game with a sprained right shoulder Wednesday night. He did start shooting this week, though, so fantasy owners do have a light at the end of the tunnel. Look for Hayward to return in the next week.
Pau Gasol, F/C, LAL – Nothing seems to be going right for Gasol this season. After finally getting into a groove, the Lakers big man is now destined to miss time due to a foot injury. Gasol left Tuesday's win over the Nets after suffering a right foot injury. The ailment has been diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. An MRI taken Wednesday determined Gasol has a torn plantar fascia, and he'll be kept sidelined for at least the next six weeks.
Ed Davis, F, MEM – There are winners and losers in every trade, and Davis appears to be the biggest loser in the three-team Rudy Gay deal from last week. In his first two appearances with the Grizzlies, Davis has averaged just 7.5 mpg. Memphis will continue to hand heavy minutes to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, while Darrell Arthur looks poised to be the first big man off the bench for the foreseeable future. Davis showed plenty of potential in his final month with the Raptors, but it looks like the Grizzlies will work on developing him further before making him a significant part of the rotation.
Thaddeus Young, F, PHI – Young suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain Monday against the Magic. The injury is expected to keep Young on the shelf for approximately three weeks. That's a short enough timetable for teams with a firm hold atop the standings to keep him stashed, but if you're battling for a playoff spot in a shallow league, other options should be explored. Lavoy Allen and Arnett Moultrie may see modest boosts in playing time while Young is out, but Spencer Hawes is the most interesting player from a fantasy perspective.
Jordan Crawford, G, WAS – The return of John Wall last month drastically reduced Crawford's role in the Wizards' rotation, and now it looks like the trigger-happy guard is in coach Randy Wittman's doghouse. Crawford hasn't played in the second half of back-to-back games, while totaling just 20 minutes of run in those two outings. Moreover, he has averaged just 7.5 points, 0.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists since Jan. 18, so he was already on the chopping block anyway. Feel free to cut him loose now that he's often riding the pine.
Jared Dudley, G/F, PHO – In the eight games since Alvin Gentry has been fired, Dudley has seen his playing time and production yo-yo on an almost nightly basis. Dudley has averaged 10.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 0.4 steals in 27 mpg over that eight game stretch. Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter has been consistently toying with his rotation, which has resulted in Dudley playing anywhere from 17 to 33 minutes. Prior to Hunter's rotation juggling, Dudley had averaged over 37 mpg in the previous 18 contests. He still has the ability to put together solid lines, but Dudley will lack the consistency we saw from him under Gentry if Hunter continues to tinker with his rotation. Shallow leagues may want to consider more consistent options.
Avery Bradley, G, BOS – Originally pegged as a breakout candidate when Rajon Rondo (knee) went down for the year, Bradley has done little to show he's capable of making a significant fantasy impact down the stretch. In the four games since Rondo went down, Bradley has averaged just 7.5 points, three rebounds, 1.5 assists and one steal in 26 mpg. He's a solid perimeter defender who will continue to play a sizable role in the Celtics' rotation, but Bradley hasn't shown enough offensive upside to warrant a roster spot in many fantasy leagues.
Jared Sullinger, F, BOS – Sullinger is slated to miss the remainder of the season after undergoing lumbar disc surgery over the weekend. The rookie power forward showed flashes of potential, but he was in the midst of an up-and-down debut season in the NBA. His value going forward will be directly tied to his ability to stay healthy, which was one of the primary concerns on draft night. There's still some upside here for future seasons, but it remains to be seen if Sully will develop into DeJuan Blair 2.0 or a productive undersized power forward like David West.