Potential fantasy haymakers

Updated: January 29, 2014, 5:27 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

I want to take you into the future.

I want to take you to a time where your fantasy basketball teams are free from trade offers. Where the waiver-wire pickings resemble the milk aisle before a snowstorm.

It's a bleak landscape, our future. It sort of looks like the set from one of David Cronenberg's student films.

It's a place where major roster improvements, barring cataclysm or injury, are nigh on impossible.

I want to take you to March 12, 2014, which is going to be one of the busiest evenings of your fantasy basketball season, with 11 games on tap that night.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
Glenn James/Getty ImagesCan you still get Chris Paul at a discount?

Brooklyn visits Miami in what was supposed to have been (and still could be) a battle of division leaders. Meanwhile, I'll be more excited about the Sacramento Kings' visit to Philadelphia. Think of all of the turnovers Michael Carter-Williams will generate in that game for and against the 76ers.

I want to take you to March 12, because it's the last week of the regular season in head-to-head leagues. It's a little over a month from the end of the NBA regular season (Wednesday, April 16.)

So we are only six weeks away from the playoffs. Even fewer weeks remain before most leagues' trade deadlines.

If you've got a struggling team and you need to make up some ground, or if you need to improve your team's middling playoff potential, you're running out of chances to throw what I call a Fantasy Haymaker.

A Haymaker is a forceful punch that requires a bit of a windup. It's a wild move, one with a low percentage of meeting the proposed target.

But if it connects? Look out. You just turned your scrap into an honest-to-goodness donnybrook.

Every year, there are always a group of once-productive players who for one reason or another are staggering through a lost campaign. Some aren't even staggering: They're sitting on the shelf, looking dapper, attending games in street clothes.

These players are ones who have recently displayed top-30 fantasy production, but haven't put it together in 2013-14. But there's still a chance for these players to come back and close out the season strong. Strong enough to goose your fantasy team's production come playoff time.

Most of these players are big-to-epic names. Under normal circumstances, you'd have to pay a premium for their services. But mitigating circumstances might mean you can grab one or more of these players for a relative steal, or perhaps even for the price of a trip to the waiver wire.

To lay out the Haymaker market, I made you this little table. The columns (ADP, %OWN, PR Avg 2014, PR Final 2013, PR15) are there to give you some perspective as to where these players might have slipped in our collective estimation.

Let's take a look at how these players might do on March 12.

Chris Paul (versus Golden State): 18 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 3 steals.
Chris Paul isn't having a middling season. It's just mildly star-crossed. He's been nursing a separated shoulder since Monta Ellis' hard foul back on Jan. 3. The official word is that he'll be back for All-Star weekend, but he'll most likely play before then. That means this is your last chance to deal for Paul at a discount.

There are rumblings of Paul conducting a recent on-court workout. Once there are reports of him resuming 5-on-5 practices, his trade price will shoot back up to pre-injury levels.

One big caveat: the danger of Paul being rested down the stretch. The Clippers are increasingly looking like a lock to win the Pacific Division, but they will most likely be jockeying for a better seed until the final week of the regular season.

Russell Westbrook: He was off, but he had 26 points, 8 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 3-pointers and 2 steals versus the Rockets on March 11.
There were rumors floating around that a Westbrook return was imminent, as in it could have happened this week. But with Westbrook (hopefully) practicing some extra caution after his second injury timeout of 2013-14, mid-February seems like the safer bet.

Oklahoma City has ridden Kevin Durant's recent out-of-body experience to a three-game lead in the Northwest Division. In terms of impetus to keep playing late into the season, the Thunder probably be jockeying in the overall playoff seeding with the Clippers and Spurs. But they also could be competing with the Pacers for best overall record.

[+] EnlargeMarc Gasol
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesMarc Gasol is starting to find his groove after an extended injury absence.

Marc Gasol (versus New Orleans): 16 points, 5 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal.
The Grizzlies have disappointed, and Gasol's difficulties to recapture his pre-injury form have been emblematic of that struggle. But the Grizzlies have ripped off an 8-2 stretch, and Gasol is starting to show some signs of life.

Gasol had one of best games of the season Tuesday night, going for 15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block and 4 assists against the Blazers. The Grizzlies as a whole are starting to wake up, and they boast several solid buy-low candidates on their roster.

Deron Williams (versus Miami): 18 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 3-pointer, 1 steal.
I don't trust Williams' injury prognosis; chronic ankle issues have to be managed, and he'll be rested whenever possible down the stretch. But with Brooklyn needing to make up for a lost first half of the season, Williams could be poised for a late-season charge. Don't forget he closed out with top-12 value last season after a middling first half. He has a recent history of turning it on late (24.6 PPG, 8.4 APG last April).

Dwyane Wade (versus Brooklyn): 19 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 2 steals.
As Joe Kaiser points out, Wade has become tough to trust in fantasy situations. With his game schedule seemingly being faxed in by Gregg Popovich, Wade's perpetual DTD status makes him a risky add.

Rajon Rondo (versus New York): 13 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals.
Tonight will be a big night regarding Rondo's fantasy trade value. If he manages to play the second night of a back-to-back, it will represent a tangible leap in his fantasy prognosis. He's on track to regain his pre-injury value by late February.

Ricky Rubio: He was off, but he had 7 points, 13 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal versus the Bucks on March 11.
Like Andre Drummond and his free throw shooting, it's unlikely Rubio irons out the major defect in his game -- his .356 field goal percentage -- this season. However, his playing time is edging upward, which means his volume-based stats should continue to climb. Rubio almost averaged a double-double (9.0 points, 9.6 assists) over his last five games.

Rubio may not score in bushels, but he provides elite production in two of the scarcest categories: assists and steals. Oh, and he made a 3-pointer last Tuesday. Sometimes it's about the small victories.

Jrue Holiday (versus Memphis): 18 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 3-pointers, 1 steal.
It's a little odd to me that Holiday has dropped to just 59.5 percent owned. He's on track to return around All-Star weekend. He had posted top-40 value and flashed top-30 value before going down earlier this month. There's no reason to think Holiday won't be back in the top 40 by the end of February.

[+] EnlargeO.J. Mayo
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesO.J. Mayo still has plenty of fantasy upside, whether it's in Milwaukee or somewhere else.

O.J. Mayo: He was off, but he had 23 points, 3 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 3-pointers and 1 steal versus the Timberwolves on March 11. I'm inflating these numbers a little, but it's to prove a point.

It's hard to comprehend at this point, but Mayo was the 33rd-most valuable player in fantasy last season. A lot of it was the Maverick Effect, but Mayo's cratering on some distant, numerical Elba (that being Milwaukee) has been stunning.

Perhaps Mayo gets traded. Perhaps other Bucks get traded. But no matter which way you spin it, Mayo is the proverbial player with nowhere to go but up.

Josh Smith (versus Toronto): 12 points, 3 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 1 3-pointer on 4-for-17 shooting.
I can't believe I own Josh Smith. It's a bad, recurring dream, where the repeated, numbing sound of clanging iron drums me into night terrors. I can't believe I own Josh Smith. It's a bad, recurring dream, where the repeated, numbing sound of clanging iron drums me into night terrors. I can't believe I own Josh Smith.

Kobe Bryant: He hasn't played since aggravating an ankle sprain sustained March 6 versus the Clippers.
My gut tells me Kobe will go on a 12-game binge at some point this season. My gut also tells me that during the course of this binge, Kobe will post top-20 value. The question is where this binge will occur? But if it does occur, it most likely will be during your fantasy league's playoffs.

Eric Bledsoe: He projects a return to action at the beginning of a homestand on March 19.
A restricted free agent on a rebuilding team, Bledsoe has no reason to rush a return to action. But there's a paradox here. What happens when the rebuilding team is riding a coach-of-the-year-esque performance into the playoff picture? If Phoenix is still in the hunt, I think Bledsoe comes back, and I think Phoenix will be in the hunt.

Ryan Anderson: He is due to have his neck re-evaluated this week.
As the owner of multiple herniated discs, I'd say there's less than a 50 percent chance Anderson returns this season. The Pelicans should be in full-blown tank mode by mid-March, and there's no reason for them to push Anderson back.

Some might say that the Pelicans will avoid a tank job, as the 76ers own their first-round pick. But that pick is top-five protected. The tank is on, hoops fans.

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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