Dion Waiters playing his best in January
It seems apropos that rookie Dion Waiters has the word "wait" in his last name, because more often than not, we fantasy junkies have to wait until the second half of the season before first-year players get their fantasy games churning at full speed. Typically, NBA coaches throw a rook into the fire and hope he can break through the rookie wall in midseason, or they baby him a bit early on in the hope that he won't have to face that wall and will come into his own as the All-Star break nears. That latter formula is what Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott has used with Waiters, and it's proving successful at this point.
Waiters started all the way through his first month in the Association before an ankle injury cost him a couple of weeks. He returned to the starting lineup upon his return but struggled to find statistical success, so Scott moved him to a reserve role at the start of January, at which point we saw his production excel. To wit, he scored a career-high 33 points (12-of-18 FG) with 3 3s, 5 dimes and no turnovers in 29 minutes on the road against the Sacramento Kings on Monday night.
In eight January games, Waiters is averaging 16.9 points, 1.0 3-pointers, 2.3 boards, 2.4 assists and 0.8 steals, and he's shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 87.1 percent from the line. Despite averaging five fewer minutes and 1.4 fewer shots per game as a reserve this month compared to his first month (when he was starting), his scoring has increased from 15.3 ppg to 16.9 ppg thanks to an improvement in shooting from 36.9 percent to 45.9 percent.
We should expect Scott to move the fourth overall pick back into the starting lineup by the All-Star break, at which point he could really explode. Hopefully he will avoid that rookie wall because of his limited role at this stage of the season. Waiters has tremendous scoring upside as well as the ability to add good steals and 3s to the mix, plus he's still available in nearly one-quarter of all ESPN leagues.
• Chris Paul missed Monday's game with a bruised kneecap and appears unlikely to take part in Tuesday's game against the Houston Rockets. Eric Bledsoe started in place of CP3 and had a nice performance: 14 points, 3 boards, 4 assists, no turnovers and 2 steals. Bledsoe should be highly motivated to perform well as a starter because he will be a restricted free agent this offseason and looking to land a starting point guard role on a new team. He could even be dealt before the deadline if the right deal comes along. In the short term, though, Bledsoe makes for a solid roster filler if you are dealing with CP3's absence.
• After missing nearly a month, Glen Davis returned from his shoulder injury on Monday. He didn't do much statistically, as he played just 17 minutes off the bench in a blowout loss to the Washington Wizards. Big Baby finished with just 13 points, 4 boards and 2 blocks. Since he doesn't normally block shots and carries an embarrassingly low field goal percentage for a big man (.455), he's not a quality fantasy option. But if you just need some scoring and rebounding, the big fella can help.
• After a late December swoon in which O.J. Mayo scored in single digits four times in six games, the guard has picked things up in January. He has scored in double figures and hit at least one 3 in all eight games this month and flirted with a triple-double Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves: 20 points (8-of-11 FG), 3 3s, 7 boards, 9 dimes, 1 turnover and 2 steals. It's a good time to sell high on him in weekly head-to-head leagues, because after playing four games this week, the Dallas Mavericks' weekly game schedule is weak beyond the All-Star break: 2, 3, 3, 2, 3.
• Per Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, if Iman Shumpert can make it through his first five-on-five practice Wednesday, he could make his season debut Thursday in London against the Detroit Pistons. That's good news for the Knicks, but fantasy folks should keep their expectations in check. Even before he tore his ACL last season, he contributed only steals and a rough assist/turnover ratio. He'll be worth keeping an eye on but isn't a requisite pickup.
• Jeremy Lin was forced to leave Monday's practice with a sprained ankle that has left him a game-time call for Tuesday's tilt with the Los Angeles Clippers. It's too bad he'll be dinged up if he does play, because he would have an easier go of it than usual if CP3 sits out. If Lin is sidelined Tuesday, look for Toney Douglas to start in his place.
• Manu Ginobili is expected to miss 10 to 14 days because of his latest injury, a strained hamstring. This could open the door for Kawhi Leonard to spread his proverbial wings, although it's more likely that the Spurs' redundant group of swingmen (Leonard, Danny Green, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson) will continue to limit any of them from being a standout fantasy option.
• According to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni liked what Kobe Bryant did on D against Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul recently, so he is aiming to use Bryant as their top defensive stopper. That asks the question, "How much can Kobe handle at age 34?" He's already the Lakers' -- and the NBA's -- top scorer, chucking up 21.9 shots and playing nearly 39 minutes per game, so can his body withstand the extra responsibility on the other end of the court? It's hard to doubt the Black Mamba, but the reality is he's playing with fire, and this is a great time to trade him while his value is ultra-high.
Fastbreak player of the night
A full slate of games Wednesday gives us a lot of great options in the Fastbreak game, but I have my eyes on Paul George at guard. He's getting healthier after a bout with the flu that cost him one game of action, and he has a terrific matchup against the Orlando Magic. Look for George to come up with a big statistical night Wednesday.