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If you've ever watched a little bird testing its wings out for the first time, you know it's not often a pretty sight. It flaps and flutters like crazy, and sometimes it looks like it will take flight, but then it falls to the ground. Eventually, though, it will catch some air under its wings and take flight.
Enter the Black Falcon, aka Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes, who has been flapping his rookie wings for a couple of months and finally appears to be catching a draft of wind under his wings to take flight in Fantasyland.
On Sunday, Barnes cranked off a career-high 21 points (8-11 FG), 5 3s, 6 boards and a steal against the Denver Nuggets. This wasn't a fluke performance, as he is now averaging 13.0 points, 1.6 3s, 5.4 rebounds, 1.8 dimes, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks and shooting 55.3 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the line in five games this month, and it isn't likely to stop soon if coach Mark Jackson has any say.
"It takes us to a different level when he's attacking and aggressive," Jackson said, according to the Oakland Tribune's Marcus Thompson II. "At all times he's on the floor, I want his foot on the gas pedal. I want him to force me tell him, 'Slow down, young fella.'"
Jackson said that prior to Sunday's game, and it appears Barnes is heeding his coach's words.
The concern on draft day was which position he would play in the NBA, but at 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, he seems fully confident right now at small forward and has basically no competition for minutes there. Plus, his unique body size and abilities put him in position to contribute across the board, including 3s, steals and blocks. Long term, Barnes could be reminiscent of a healthy Danny Granger and is worth adding in most leagues (he's currently owned in just 14.2 percent of ESPN leagues).
• On Sunday, Dwight Howard returned from his torn labrum and posted a typical D12 line: 22 points (9-11 FG, 4-7 FT), 14 rebounds, 7 turnovers and 1 block. He had a soft landing against the young Cleveland Cavaliers frontcourt, but the fact that he was able to play 29 minutes and look good doing it was a positive. Owners who are leery of his shoulder and back ailments may want to deal the big man sooner than later, though.
• It looked like Paul George was going to miss Sunday's tilt with the Brooklyn Nets after skipping Saturday's game due to the flu, but he battled through the sickness and played well. It wasn't quite Michael Jordan battling the flu to beat the Utah Jazz in the playoffs -- partially because it was a regular-season game and the Indiana Pacers lost -- but he posted a pretty good line: 15 points (6-18 FG), 3 3s, 12 boards, 3 assists and 6 steals. He'll have time to rest up this week, because the Pacers play only thrice. In fact, fantasy teams in weekly head-to-head leagues may want to consider trading George and other Pacers, because they won't have another four-game week until two weeks after the All-Star break. Beyond that, a scheduling quirk has left them with only three more four-game weeks the remainder of the season.
• Danilo Gallinari remained red-hot Sunday, scoring 21 points (7-12 FG) to go with 3 3s, 8 boards and 6 dimes. Overall this season, his production looks like it has for years; scoring in the low teens, 41 percent from the field and mediocre 3-point shooting (at least for a guy who is supposed to be good at that). However, in seven games this month, Gallo is looking like the breakout player many of us have expected for years, averaging 19.1 points, 2.6 3s, 46.7 FG% and 40.1 3-pt FG%. Since he hit 41 percent of his 3s last month, perhaps he is finally settling into his NBA game.
• Rudy Gay will miss Monday's game to attend his grandmother's funeral. Quincy Pondexter started the last time Gay was out, but with Pondexter sidelined, look for Wayne Ellington to get the nod tonight. Gay will be down to three games this week due to his absence Monday.
• A bruised chest kept Serge Ibaka from playing Sunday; Nick Collison started in his stead. Ibaka is considered questionable for Monday's tilt with the Phoenix Suns, so you'll want to check for updates before setting your lineups this evening.
• Lance Stephenson is day-to-day after exiting Sunday's game with a sore foot. There was some promising news for the Pacers, though, as coach Frank Vogel said the Pacers expect Danny Granger to return later this month or early in February. I remain skeptical about his fantasy upside, especially with George proving capable of handling the primary scorer's role, but Granger can still help and is worth a speculative add if you have the space to carry him for another few weeks.
None of the top six scoring forwards in Fastbreak are in action Tuesday, so there is no obvious solution like using LeBron James and Kevin Durant in those spots. The next two options, Blake Griffin and Nicolas Batum, are solid plays, but I also like David West as a sneaky option. He has been hot lately (at least 20 Fastbreak points in three of his past four games) and he goes up against a nonexistent Charlotte Bobcats frontcourt Tuesday. He should be in store for a big night.