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As the 2012-13 NBA regular season winds down, most of our focus is on working the waiver wire and setting the best possible lineups for head-to-head playoffs and the stretch run of rotisserie leagues. However, it's never too soon to look ahead to next season for teams in keeper leagues. One of the more intriguing players to project for the 2013-14 campaign will be New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon, whose body hasn't proved capable of holding up to the NBA grind.
Gordon still is not allowed to take part in back-to-back games and has played as many as 32 minutes in just a handful of contests this season. The upside for Gordon is that the Hornets are limiting him now with the hope that he'll enter next season at full strength and return to his career average of 35 minutes per game and solid all-around stats. Not surprisingly, in his limited and inconsistent role, his statistical contribution has been equally limited and inconsistent. To wit, he scored seven points with no 3s, three dimes and two steals Sunday night after scoring 20 points with two 3s, no assists and one steal the game prior.
On the other hand, he has scored at least 20 points in 12 of his 29 games this season, and his 3-pointers and assists are similar to his typical production. I think it's safe to assume that if he can somehow get and stay healthy, Gordon will return to the production we were used to seeing from him during his tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers. As a full-time starter who plays 35-plus minutes, he should shake off those inconsistencies, which should boost his field goal percentage from this season's 40.6 back up to the 45 percent range, and we should see him attack the lane and bump his free throw attempts up from 4.5 per game closer to six-plus per game.
Considering his inability to stay healthy at all the past four seasons, though, there is no way I can say with any certainty that he'll be able to suddenly start doing so next season. He is still young (24), though, and wouldn't be the first player to shake off the injury bug as his body matures. After all, Grant Hill is still playing in the NBA. Assuming he doesn't have a setback between now and the fall (and isn't traded), I would be comfortable drafting him in the sixth or seventh round if the rest of my team is not prone to injury. I think that's about where the balance of risk and reward will start to pay off.
As for the remainder of this season, he likely will sit out Monday night since he played Sunday, but the Hornets don't have another back-to-back set until April 9-10, so it's possible that he could get into a rhythm over the next 10 games, which would help fantasy teams during the stretch run this season and do a lot to ease our minds about drafting him next season.
• Both Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko returned to action (and the starting lineup) Sunday. Pek had 13 points (5-8 FG), 6 boards and 2 blocks in 24 minutes, while AK47 had 8 points (3-6 FG), 5 boards and 2 blocks in 24 minutes. The Minnesota Timberwolves play four-game weeks throughout the fantasy hoops playoffs, so their return to action couldn't have been better timed. Also of note is that Derrick Williams scored 28 points (9-16 FG) with 3 3s, 7 boards (and, ouch, 5 turnovers) Sunday. We'll have to see how things roll once Pekovic and Kirilenko settle in, but it appears that Williams may continue as an effective scorer until or unless Kevin Love returns.
• Initially, Caron Butler was expected to miss about a week due to his strained left elbow, but he made a quick return to action Sunday after skipping just one game. Against the Knicks, Butler had 14 points (5-9 FG), 4 3-pointers, 5 rebounds and an assist. Unlike Hill above, Butler is an example of a guy who never was able to shake the injury bug and a good reason we should all remain skeptical about Gordon's ability to do so.
• Detroit Pistons fans long hoped to see Amir Johnson develop into a reliable double-double threat. Unfortunately for them, it took eight years, including four with a different team. But sure enough, at age 25, Johnson has averaged 13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg and shot 60.0 percent from the field in nine games this month. That includes Sunday's 18-point, 18-rebound performance and Friday's 12-point, 21-rebound outing. He is dialed in, and with Andrea Bargnani out of the picture, Johnson should remain a double-double threat for the remainder of the season.
• It sounds like Derrick Rose could return to game action at any moment, which means you will want to check for updates on Rose as game time nears this evening. I'd prefer to wait to see him play a game or two before inserting him into my lineups, but if the choice is Rose in his first game back or some random scrub off waivers, I'd take Rose. The Bulls play four times in Week 21.
• The Los Angeles Lakers, on the other hand, play only twice this week, and considering the health of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, they will be lucky to take part in one game during that stretch. Kobe is doubtful for Monday due to his sprained ankle, while Gasol already has been ruled out for Monday and will have an ultrasound Tuesday on his ailing foot. That means more playing time for Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison, but with just two games this week they don't offer anything significant to those of us in weekly-lineup leagues.
• It's not clear if Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler will be ready to ball Monday evening against the Utah Jazz. Chandler appears more likely to roll than Melo, but you'll need to check for updates later in the day. Like the Wolves above, the Knicks hit the hardwood four times throughout the fantasy playoffs, so they both offer excellent long-term upside if they can just get healthy. As it stands now, owners will have a tough weekly lineup call to make tonight.
Russell Westbrook had a little down stretch recently when he failed to score 20 Fastbreak points in four straight games. Fortunately for fantasy teams, he quickly shook it off and has since responded with FB games of 25, 26 and 35. On Tuesday, he gets a good matchup at home against the Denver Nuggets, a team that he torched for 34 Fastbreak points the last time they met. I'll definitely have Westbrook in my Fastbreak lineup on Tuesday.