Reacting to coaching changes
Aside from injuries, there are two primary conduits for unexpected shifts in value during the midseason: coaching changes and trades. For example, with the exit of coach Avery Johnson in Brooklyn, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams are playing like top-20 players and Andray Blatche is once again dropping regular double-doubles. Now that Scott Skiles is out in Milwaukee, it'll be interesting to see what happens to the minutes of defensively focused players such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Larry Sanders. The trade deadline isn't until Feb. 21, but once players are swapped, guys currently earning little or no run could emerge as fantasy options. Pay close attention to the games following coaching changes and trades, as they could reveal value that wouldn't otherwise exist.
With that, here are some widely available players with performances over the past several weeks that warrant attention in a variety of league sizes and formats:
Brandon Bass, PF/C, Boston Celtics (15.1 percent owned): Bass has returned to the Celtics' starting lineup, a lineup that, along with Avery Bradley, he had significant success in last season. In 37 starts last season, Bass averaged 13.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks, while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 81.6 percent from the stripe. The area in which he historically has been a fantasy asset is in the percentage categories; of the 41 qualifying players who shot at least 47.0 percent from the floor last season, Bass was one of nine to also shoot better than 80 percent from the stripe. His field goal percentage is down this season, but now it is on the rise, as he's shooting 51.9 percent in January and should continue to inch up as his current 38.6 percent mark from 10-15 feet trends toward his career numbers (in the mid-40s). Add him for percentages if he was dropped in your league, and consider the middling points, rebounds, steals and blocks a bonus to complement his efficiency.
Carlos Delfino, SG/SF, Houston Rockets (13.9 percent owned): He's spectacularly streaky, but his playing time has been relatively consistent of late. He has played 24 minutes in nine of his past 10 contests, and he is averaging 14.8 points, 3.8 3-pointers and 1.5 steals over the past four games. If you want dependable nightly production, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a player who should average more than 10 points and two 3s from here on out, Delfino's long-range skills will help him do that.
John Henson, PF, Milwaukee Bucks (13.3 percent owned): Based on the hype surrounding Henson coming out of high school, some view his inconsistent college performance and late-lottery selection as disappointing. But last year at North Carolina, Henson averaged a respectable 13.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game, and he's already earning minutes for the Bucks. He has averaged 10.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 0.8 steals over his past five games. Perhaps most importantly, he's averaging 22.6 minutes per game in the same span.
Henson's increase in playing time has continued with new coach Jim Boylan, and it makes sense organizationally for him to play as they develop him for the future. With his 7-foot-5 wingspan, ability to rebound and block shots, and his decent midrange game -- he's shooting 50 percent from 10-15 feet -- Henson has loads of fantasy potential. If he keeps getting minutes in the mid-20s per game, he'll help fantasy teams in boards and blocks right now, and doesn't go to the line enough at this point in his career for his awful free throw shooting to be especially detrimental. His 17.1 rebounds per-48 ranks eighth among players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, so despite his thin frame, his hops and length are allowing him to pull down boards at a rate that makes him worth owning if your team is hungry for boards.
Derrick Williams, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves (6.1 percent owned): Williams is earning increased run with Kevin Love out 8-10 weeks because a broken hand, and despite his disappointing NBA career thus far, he still has plenty of upside and has looked surprisingly solid of late. The accuracy on his jumper has improved this season, and he's averaging more points, 3s, rebounds and blocks per minute despite a dip in playing time. I've given up on him as a player worth the No. 2 overall pick, but not as a player with fantasy value, as his career 0.6 3s, 0.5 blocks and 0.4 steals per game in 20.3 minutes indicates potential as he learns how to play the game at this level. He scored 17 points with three 3s in 21 minutes off the bench Tuesday, 14 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday and will pick up the bulk of Kevin Love's scoring load while Dante Cunningham shoulders the rebounding and defensive responsibilities.
Dante Cunningham, PF, Timberwolves (5.8 percent owned): Cunningham is starting in place of Love and averaging 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in four starts. He's a high-energy defender who can play against the pick-and-roll and has flashed the ability to hit long 2-pointers with efficiency, as well as finish at the rim (he has a career 48.2 percent mark from the floor). He has been used off the bench for the majority of the past two seasons, but in his last extended stretch as a starter, he averaged 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks per game in 18 starts during the 2010-2011 season. His rebound, steal and block per-minute rates have increased since then as he has developed as an NBA rotation player. Expecting 10 points, 6-8 boards, a steal and nearly a block per game while he's starting is realistic, making him a valid deep-league option for owners in search of efficient scoring and defensive stats.
Iman Shumpert, PG/SG, New York Knicks (0.9 percent owned): He's not back yet, and it's hard to project what his minutes will look like with J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton (when he returns) clogging the Knicks' backcourt. But this is a player who averaged 9.7 points, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 3s in 35 starts as a rookie. He has developed a reputation as a defensive stopper, something none of the aforementioned Knicks guards can claim. There's upside here, especially if you need steals, as he ranked seventh overall and fifth in steals per-48 last season, so speculatively add him in deep leagues if you're in search of swipes.
Josh McRoberts, PF, Orlando Magic (0.1 percent owned): McRoberts has historically flashed a multifaceted skill set, but he has been unable to find a consistent role since leaving Indiana after the 2010-2011 season. Now that Gustavo Ayon has joined Glen Davis on the injured list, McRoberts is getting increased minutes, and he showed some of his versatility Monday, scoring 12 points with eight assists, two 3s and a block in 39 minutes off the bench. Ayon's production has been erratic since Big Baby went down, so McRoberts might be in line for more run, and he has additional incentive to play well given that it's his contract year.
P.J. Tucker, SG, Phoenix Suns (0.1 percent owned): The newest starter at shooting guard for the Suns, Tucker provides defensive stability and grittiness to a team desperately in need of it. Tucker has honed his game overseas since being selected in the second round by Toronto in the 2006 draft, playing in Israel, Ukraine, Italy and Germany. He boasts impressive strength and rebounding ability for his size, and is a capable defender on the perimeter and in the paint. In 44 games for the Brose Baskets of the German League last season, he averaged 16.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, and for his career overseas, he averaged about 14 points and seven rebounds with 1.2 steals per game, consistently scoring with efficiency. His final season at Texas, he averaged 16.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He shot better than 50 percent from the floor in all three seasons there, and he is bringing that kind of efficiency this year, making 64.2 percent of his shots at the rim and 52 percent of jumpers between 16-23 feet. His fantasy upside is limited, as he doesn't shoot many 3s, and he's most valuable if you're trying to make up ground by getting rebounding from the guard position. His 8.4 rebounds per-48 minutes ranks first among shooting guards, and with starter's minutes, he could flirt with six boards per game, a feat currently accomplished by just two guard-eligible players: Paul George and Evan Turner.
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