Dirk Nowitzki finishing strong
Dirk Nowitzki has experienced an up-and-down season much like the Mavericks have, averaging 15.2 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting from the floor before the All-Star break but 19.1 points on 51.7 percent shooting since. He'll be a source of contention come draft day next season, as he'll turn 35 in June and has seen his scoring diminish in each of the past four seasons. But as he enters the final year of his contract, Dirk has indicated he'll continue playing beyond next season, and he possesses the type of game that doesn't rely upon athleticism in order to produce numbers. Much like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who have maintained magnificence past the age of 35, Nowitzki is showing he's far from finished, as illustrated by his 21 points, seven rebounds, one 3-pointer, a steal and a block against the Pacers on Thursday. Also like Duncan and Garnett, he'll likely go into next season with so many questions surrounding his potential decline that he'll be a nice value come draft day. Based on his second-half production this season, he's still capable of providing very efficient scoring with fantastic percentages, solid 3-point production and a handful of steals and blocks -- he ranks 10th on the Player Rater over the past 30 days. Many will glance at his final numbers (it will be his worst full season since his rookie year) and figure he's done, but shrewd fantasy owners will select him in the middle rounds and enjoy a still-productive fantasy player with plenty of gas left in the tank.
• Kobe Bryant used a crutch to leave the arena Thursday night, and the Lakers said he has a bone spur in his left foot. He didn't appear to be in much pain (something Kobe typically makes clear), and we know he's willing to play through injuries. With most players, I'd be wary of his production in the final games of the season, but Kobe played more than 36 minutes and won't likely allow this to affect his production as the Lakers vie for a playoff berth. I would still start him with confidence in all leagues and expect his typical production.
• Darren Collison might have lost his starting point guard spot to Mike James, but he's still effective from a fantasy perspective, as he scored 10 points with eight assists in 29 minutes off the bench Thursday. He still ranks 66th on the Player Rater over the past 15 days, proving that holding the starting job doesn't mean everything.
• Pau Gasol lumbered his way into 12 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes against the Bucks, and despite the fact that it appears as if every movement pains him, he's resurfaced as a nice fantasy option down the stretch. He's averaging 14.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game in the past two contests, and has seen his minutes climb in each of the past four games. Even if it'll never make up for the monumental disappointment that this season was for Gasol, he's worth rostering in every format at this point.
• Goran Dragic was rested for his second consecutive game Thursday. Since there appears to be nothing specifically wrong with him, he should return shortly and be ready to continue his recent hot streak. Dragic rattled off five straight double-doubles before this late-season siesta, averaging 20.7 points and 11.0 assists in that stretch. Kendall Marshall did have 13 and 10 assists, respectively, in the two games Dragic missed, so if for some reason it looks like Lindsey Hunter will continue to rest his best player, Marshall become a nice short-term option for assists.
• Wesley Johnson has emerged as a late-season scoring threat for the Suns, and he scored 14 points Thursday, his fifth game in the past six with double figures. Johnson's per-48 minute stats equate to 19.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.4 3s, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks, so even though he's been a painful disappointment after being drafted fourth overall by Minnesota in the 2010 draft, he's showing glimpses of being a rotation player in the league who is capable of some all-around fantasy contribution. He's owned in just 16.5 percent of ESPN leagues, and if you need some scoring and 3s with a little of everything else, he's a viable late-season addition.
• Andre Drummond might return Friday against the Raptors, and even though he is unlikely to provide immediate help for fantasy teams as the Pistons ease him back into playing time, his crazy per-minute numbers should translate into helpful rebounds and blocks in the final games of the season. If you're looking for a lottery ticket with high upside for the fantasy playoffs or need a late-season boost in blocks, boards and field goal percentage, Drummond is the most potentially impactful player owned in fewer than 10 percent of leagues who is still going to play this season. Grab him while you can.
• Amir Johnson, who has a left knee contusion, is questionable for Friday's game. If he sits, look for Jonas Valanciunas' recent excellence to be even more pronounced. The rookie from Lithuania is averaging 15.2 points on 75.0 percent shooting from the floor with 7.5 rebounds per game in his past five and is a must-start in basically every format, especially if you want to bolster your field goal percentage.