The regular season came to an end on Wednesday night, which gives us an opportunity to start looking ahead to next season. Here are some players who gave us something to think about on the final night of the season.
• Andre Drummond put up 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, and had a pretty nice April after returning from his injury. In eight games, he averaged 10.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks and shot 66 percent from the floor in 27 minutes of action. If he's going to play anywhere close to 30 minutes per game next season (and I think he is), he's going to be very valuable in fantasy, even if he's looking like a Dwight Howard-level train wreck from the free throw line.
• Chris Copeland had his second straight 30-point night, throwing 33 up on the Hawks in a win at the Garden. Copeland can score, with a true shooting percentage of .583 and a solid usage rate to go along with it, and the Knicks have been creative of late finding minutes and opportunities for him. For April he averaged 15 points and made just fewer than two 3-pointers per game, and those are certainly fantasy-worthy numbers. If he's in the rotation next season, there's a good chance he'll be worth owning in fantasy leagues.
• Josh McRoberts has long been a frustrating player, but he's capable of putting up numbers when he's given the opportunity. On a Bobcats team with very few players who could even be described as good, he found a niche and ended up being pretty valuable these past couple of weeks. He had 20 points on perfect shooting from the floor Wednesday night in a win over the Cavaliers, and in nine games in April, McRoberts averaged 11.9 points and 9.3 rebounds and shot 52.5 percent from the floor. Those numbers are nice, but it took him nearly 40 minutes per game to accumulate them, and he has been in the league a while, so the odds of his carving out a permanent role aren't great. He'll get some attention in the offseason, but you should feel free to ignore it.
• Arnett Moultrie finally got some playing time down the stretch and averaged a solid 9.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in 23.4 minutes over the final five games of the season. With Doug Collins having resigned as head coach and someone new stepping in, one would figure that Moultrie, a young player with a great deal of promise, would be in line for a bigger role next season. Keep him in mind as a possible sleeper candidate heading into drafts.
• Al Jefferson was the only guy on his team who could get a bucket, finishing with 22 points and 16 rebounds in a soul-crushing loss to the Grizzlies. Jefferson is an extremely interesting player to watch this offseason; he's a free agent, and at 28 years old, he's one of the few players in the league who can reliably score points in the post. He's not a fringe first-round pick in fantasy anymore, but nights like Wednesday, when he puts up huge numbers against a great defense, are why he always ends up going very high in fantasy drafts.
• John Henson had a career-high 28 points to go with 16 rebounds in a win over the Thunder. Henson has been a monster of late and probably will go way too high in drafts next season based on it. The Bucks have a lot of players vying for frontcourt minutes: Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, to name a few. Henson is really good, and averaging 15 points and 15 rebounds over the final five games of the season is impressive, but I have a feeling he'll go a little too high in drafts to justify the expenditure in the fall.
Here's a twist: On this, the final day of 2012-13 NBA regular season, Gregg Popovich is apparently going with his starters.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are all expected to be in the lineup when the San Antonio Spurs host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. These three rested when the Spurs faced the Golden State Warriors on Monday.
Obviously, you shouldn't expect Duncan, Parker or Leonard to see starter's minutes, and the same goes for any regular on any NBA team with a playoff spot secured. For instance, on Tuesday, Al Horford (shoulder) was held out against the Toronto Raptors, while Josh Smith (six points in 13 minutes) and Jeff Teague (4 points, 9 assists in 18 minutes) were limited. And looking ahead, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks has already made it known that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will play only "very limited minutes" in their finale against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Facing this reality, here's a quick list of widely available free agents who could provide solid stats on Wednesday. To those fantasy owners who still have something to play for, best of luck.
John Henson, PF, Milwaukee Bucks: Though Larry Sanders (back) will be with the team, he's expected to sit out again when the Bucks take on the Thunder. In Sanders' absence, Henson is averaging 11.8 points, 14.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks over his past four.
Norris Cole, PG, Miami Heat: With Mario Chalmers joining LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the sidelines, Cole started and posted a huge line -- 16 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 3-pointers -- in 43 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday. Expect Cole to see ample playing time again in the finale against the Orlando Magic.
Markieff Morris, PF, Phoenix Suns: Morris had an absurd 20-point, 6-block and 5-steal line against the Houston Rockets on Monday, and has made multiple 3-pointers in five straight. He should be a good play against a Denver Nuggets team that won't have Kenneth Faried (ankle).
Chris Copeland, SF, New York Knicks: Copeland had 32 points and four treys against the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday as the Knicks rested their starters. While it's not clear how the team will approach its finale against the Hawks, Carmelo Anthony (shoulder) shouldn't play much, if at all.
Kris Humphries, PF, and Andray Blatche, PF/C, Brooklyn Nets: Starting in place of rested regulars Reggie Evans (shoulder) and Brook Lopez, Humphries and Blatche tallied 20 points apiece against the Wizards on Monday. Evans and Lopez -- along with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson -- seem likely to sit again Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons.
Trevor Booker, PF, and Kevin Seraphin, PF/C, Washington Wizards: With Nene (knee, foot) out and Emeka Okafor (ankle) limited Monday against the Brooklyn Nets, Booker (16 points, 13 rebounds) and Seraphin (17 points, 7 rebounds) anchored the front line. The matchup against the Chicago Bulls should be favorable, since the playoff-bound Bulls will give only scant minutes to the just-returned Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.
Josh McRoberts, PF/C, and Bismack Biyombo, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats: McRoberts is averaging 15.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists over his past three games. Biyombo is averaging 8.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over his past five. The Bobcats host the Cavs, who have been dominated by bigs all season.
The fact that Stephen Curry is just two long-range jumpers away from owning the NBA's single-season 3-point record isn't really surprising. After all, he has knocked down 44.7 percent of his 3-pointers during his four-year career, including 45.5 percent the past two seasons. The difference this season, during which he has seen his 3-point production jump from about 2.1 3s per game each of his first three seasons to a whopping 3.5 3s per game this season is that coach Mark Jackson is letting Curry chuck an average of 7.6 3s per game (up from about 4.7 per game in his first three campaigns). Well, that and the most important element of all: he has stayed healthy for the first time in years.
Curry, whose bum ankles kept many fantasy owners from buying into his upside in drafts in the fall, forced him to miss just four games this season. There was reason to be very concerned about his ankles being a genuine, long-term issue for him, since he missed 40 of 66 games last season. The question now is whether his health issues are in the rearview mirror. He wouldn't be the first young player whose body had trouble adjusting to the rigors of an 82-game NBA campaign before his body got acclimated for the long term. Plus, last season's 66-game slate was so condensed that it was even tougher on Curry than a regular NBA season. Curry just turned 25, so although I will remain concerned about his health, I'll be willing to throw caution to the wind and roll the dice on his health next season.
Curry, who followed up Friday's 47-point, 9 3-pointer game with 35 points and 7 3s on Monday, will aim to beat Ray Allen's 3-point record Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Let's take a brief look at a number of unheralded players who had big games Monday night, because they may be able to chip in for their regular-season finales and/or carry intrigue for the 2013-14 campaign, if they can garner bigger roles next season.
• Since the Miami Heat rested their big dogs Monday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Norris Cole started and nearly triple-doubled: 16 points (6-12 FG), 2 3s, 11 boards and 9 dimes. He turned the rock over four times, but if the Heat rest or limit their studs again Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, Cole could be in position to make some noise again.
• Markieff Morris has been a shaky fantasy option this season, primarily because he couldn't get his FG% above the 40 percent mark. However, with an increased role since the All-Star break, we've seen some hope. He's shot 47.8 FG% and averaged 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds to go with a well-rounded 1.9 3s, 1.6 steals and 1.7 blocks in seven April games. He had his second straight 20-point game (8-15 FG) Monday, adding 2 3s, 7 boards, 5 swipes and 6 blocks. That sort of Shawn Marion-esque stat-stuffing makes him worthy of use Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets, and will make him an intriguing flier in next season's drafts, if he remains a starter.
• It's anyone's guess how the Milwaukee Bucks roster will look next season, but John Henson is doing everything he can to make a case for a bigger role then. On Monday, he torched the Nuggets for 14 points (6-13 FG), 15 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks. That gives him a total of 14 blocks and 59 boards in his past four games after he was taken out of the Bucks' proverbial moth balls. So long as Larry Sanders doesn't return to a full role Wednesday, Henson appears to be a solid play against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who likely will be resting their better players.
• I've long been intrigued by Kevin Seraphin, but he hasn't been able to carve out a big enough role to crank out reliable stats. With Nene out for the rest of the season, though, Seraphin had 17 points (8-12 FG), 7 boards and a block against the Brooklyn Nets Monday. He has blocked at least one shot in each of his past six games and has a total of eight in his past four. He figures to be a decent plug-in option Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls.
• Prior to Sunday's game, Cole Aldrich failed to even post a single-double, much less a double-double, this season. However, he had 12 points and 13 rebounds Monday after going for 12 points, 12 boards and 4 blocks the day prior. He also hit all but one of his 13 shots in those two games. He's hardly a safe play, but deep-leaguers in need of rebounds may toss Aldrich into the mix Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
• Dorell Wright could end up being a reliable fantasy contributor once again next season if he lands in the right situation as a free agent. He had a solid game Monday against the Detroit Pistons with 22 points (5-12 FG), 4 3s, 8 rebounds, 6 dimes, 1 steal and 1 block. Since he has taken at least nine shots in each of his past six games, Wright figures to be a quality contributor Wednesday against an Indiana Pacers team that likely will rest its starters.
• Chris Copeland stayed hot Monday, following up Sunday's 20-point performance with 32 points (12-25 FG), 4 3s and 7 boards. The New York Knicks basically just used six players against the Charlotte Bobcats, which meant that Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, James White and Steve Novak joined Copeland as fantasy-relevant options. That likely will remain the same in their regular-season finale Wednesday versus the Atlanta Hawks.
• The NBA canceled the game that was scheduled for tonight between the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics; it will not be rescheduled. "The NBA expresses its sympathy to all those affected by the tragedy in Boston earlier today," read a statement issued Monday by the league.
• You'll want to check for updates tomorrow, but it sounds like Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks intends to limit or hold out most or all of his starters Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. That could leave the door open for guys like Ronnie Brewer, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson and Daniel Orton to makes some noise. We may even get a glimpse of rookies Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones.
• According to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich appears to be leaning toward using his starters in Wednesday's finale, but it's not clear how much game action they may see. You should check for updates as game time nears.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
Every player likes to go out on a high note, so I love Kyrie Irving in Wednesday's season finale for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has been relatively quiet of late, but a matchup with the hapless Charlotte Bobcats should cure that ill. He's a high-upside play Wednesday, when so many of the usual top options will be taking the night off or seeing a limited role in preparation for the playoffs.
With one simple, routine basketball move, Kobe Bryant's season came to an end Friday. Here in Fantasyland, there isn't much sense in looking back and debating whether he should have been pushed to the max by playing so many minutes at this stage of the season and at his age. Instead, we need to look ahead to next season and ponder what we can expect from him as a fantasy option at age 35 as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.
The Los Angeles Lakers announced that Bryant will miss at least six to nine months; six months would get him back for the season opener, while nine months would put his return a little before the All-Star break. But playing in games and performing like the Black Mamba are two different things. As our Stephania Bell noted, "Perhaps the most challenging element of a basketball player's game to regain following this type of surgery, however, is sudden acceleration, the quickness off the foot necessary to make a sharp move around an opponent. Athletes will often say that it is this explosiveness, this quickness that takes nearly a year to regain, perhaps long after returning to competition."
Obviously, quick bursts have long been a central part of Kobe's ability to create space for jumpers and get to the rim. If it takes a full year before he's up to speed -- and it seems like a reasonable assumption, considering his age -- then he likely will be a shell of his former self for at least the first few months after he returns to the hardwood.
In the short term, many fantasy owners are going to have to decide this summer whether to hold on to Bryant in keeper leagues. That includes Gary, who asked me via Twitter (@AtomicHarpua) whether he should "keep Deron Williams, Joakim Noah or Brook Lopez over Kobe now?" Unless Bryant truly is on a miracle pace by October, I think all three make better keepers than Kobe, though I'd lean toward D-Will, if he gets his ankles taken care of. In general, I wouldn't keep Kobe over any younger and safer option.
In the long term, I suspect that I will simply steer clear of drafting Bryant in the fall. I already was passing by him for younger options the past few years, because I feared an injury like this would happen in midseason and crush my fantasy team. Even if he is nearly ready to play, I will hesitate to draft him for the reasons stated above -- simply too much risk in the early rounds of a draft. Before you pull the trigger, you should consider how long it's taken Derrick Rose to return from his ACL, that Dominique Wilkins is the only aging stud of note who returned from a ruptured Achilles and performed reasonably well, and that ruptured Achilles tendons ended the careers of Isaiah Thomas, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal.
• Greivis Vasquez returned Sunday from a one-game absence due to a sprained ankle, but he mustered just 11 points (5 of 16 FG) and 4 dimes against the Dallas Mavericks. He should be good to go for the New Orleans Hornets' season finale rematch against the Mavs Wednesday. Vasquez's return didn't limit the hot play of Brian Roberts much; he played 26 minutes off the bench Sunday and had 13 points (5-8 FG), 6 dimes, 0 turnovers and 3 3s. In his past three games, Roberts has tallied 48 points, 22 dimes, 3 steals and 7 3s and figures to remain a solid plug-in option Wednesday.
• DeMar DeRozan went off for 36 points (12-22 FG, 9-9 FT) Sunday and even knocked down 3 3s. Unfortunately, it was a quintessential DeRozan game, because he did literally nothing else of note, posting zeroes in every other statistical category besides pulling down five rebounds. In fact, his 3 3s equaled his total from beyond the arc over his past 30 games. That means he's great if you are in a tight race for points in your roto league, but as a well-rounded fantasy option, he comes up way short.
• After missing four games with a calf injury, Chandler Parsons returned Sunday and had 13 points (5-7 FG), 2 3s, 5 boards and 5 dimes. Since the Houston Rockets are scrapping for the No. 6 seed in the West, Parsons may well play their final two games Monday and Wednesday, though you'll want to check for updates to make sure he isn't an unexpected late scratch.
• I thought the Denver Nuggets might ease Ty Lawson back into game action slowly, but he played 19 minutes off the bench in his return Friday from a torn plantar fascia and 31 minutes Sunday in his return to the starting lineup. He finished with 12 points, 10 assists and 3 steals in 31 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday and appears set to take part in the Nuggets' final two games, Monday and Wednesday. Lawson's start pushed Andre Miller back to the bench, where he played only 18 minutes Sunday and had just two points and one assist. He should do better than that in the final two games, but Lawson's presence will cap Miller's upside.
• Here are a few things we know about coach Doug Collins: He knows fundamentals; he knows Xs and Os; he grates on every last nerve of his players after a while; he produced the lowest-scoring team in the NBA (92.9 ppg) this season; he is out as the Philadelphia 76ers head coach. Looking ahead to next season, we should see the reins taken off a number of their players. Who will benefit the most will depend a lot on Andrew Bynum's health, whether he sticks with the team, who the new coach is and how the roster fleshes out. However, we should have higher expectations for their top scorers next season, regardless of those other factors.
• DeMarcus Cousins picked up his 16th technical foul of the season Sunday, which would result in an automatic suspension for Monday's game. However, it sounds like he has a decent chance of getting the call rescinded, which would keep him active Monday. Check for updates this afternoon.
• Jose Calderon is expected to miss Monday's game due to his triceps injury, and it sounds likely that he will skip the Detroit Pistons' season finale Wednesday, too. He seems to be a good fit with the Pistons, but time will tell whether he re-signs as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Another Piston, Andre Drummond, will be a game-time call this evening due to an ankle injury.
• The New York Knicks have locked up the No. 2 spot in the East, which means that coach Mike Woodson is planning to rest his core players for the final two games of the regular season. As is the case for every game at this stage of the season, you'll want to check for updates, but we should expect Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith to join Tyson Chandler on the bench. Chris Copeland, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni and even Jason Kidd could be decent plug-ins.
• The Indiana Pacers have the 3-seed in hand, which means that Paul George, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert likely take a seat until the postseason. That would open up minutes for Lance Stephenson, Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Pendergraph, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green in the Pacers' final two games.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
Tuesday schedules are typically light anyway, but our Fastbreak choices have been thinned out even more due to injuries and playoff teams resting players. I like the Atlanta Hawks' matchup with the Toronto Raptors, though. So, I think center Al Horford is in position to have a big night, and the same goes for teammate Josh Smith at forward.
One of the most puzzling and polarizing players for both actual NBA teams and fantasy owners next season will be J.R. Smith, who, after signing a one-year deal with the New York Knicks, appears to be in line for a massive payday based upon his stellar late-season performance. His talent has never been in question, but he's regularly exhibited some of the most questionable decision-making abilities in the league, often settling for circus jumpers and demonstrating varying levels of effort within the course of games.
But Smith, who scored 28 points with 14 rebounds, four assists and two 3s in the Knicks' overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, has been fantastic since the All-Star break, averaging 21.1 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting compared to 16.2 points per game on 40.0 percent shooting prior to the break. Perhaps the most telling, and promising, statistic is his increase in free throw attempts, a tangible indicator of his increasing willingness to take the ball to the rim. He's going to the line 5.3 times per game after the break compared to 3.1 times per game before the break, including a fantastic March in which he shot 80.6 percent from the stripe on 6.0 attempts per game. Additionally, he's attempting 4.6 shots at the rim in his past 10 games after averaging just 1.4 at the rim in February, the primary reason his field goal percentage has been unusually palatable since the break.
Smith ranks 27th on the 30-day Player Rater, and his value next season will be strongly tied to which jersey he wears, and perhaps more importantly, who is coaching him and which veterans surround him. Word is Jason Kidd has rubbed off on him in a positive manner, and Mike Woodson deserves kudos for helping Smith change his game, so perhaps staying in New York is the best-case scenario. To me, however, he's too unpredictable to select in the top 50, and I want to see more than two months of solid play before taking a chance on Smith with an early pick. He'll be a high-risk/high-reward player for the rest of his career, but at least next season that's a risk I'll let somebody else take, as more dependable and well-rounded players will likely still be available around the spot where he'll typically be selected.
Jimmy Butler posted a fantastic line Thursday, posting 22 points, 13 boards, three steals, three blocks and two 3s, and he will undoubtedly be on many preseason sleeper lists next season. His season totals don't stand out because his playing time has been inconsistent, but in 16 starts, he's averaging 15.6 points on 47.3 percent shooting with 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 3s and 1.9 steals per game, illustrating his capability to contribute when getting adequate run. He boasts a solid 57.4 true shooting percentage and willingly takes it to the rim, attempting 39.2 percent of his shots in the protected area. Butler's steals are especially impressive, and the fact he could flirt with two steals per game if he starts is the primary reason he'll be on my list of players to watch next season and why he's become a must-start late in this fantasy hoops season.
After two consecutive clunkers in which he scored 11 total points, Jarrett Jack bounced back with 19 points, six assists, three 3s and two steals against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. Jack had a rough March, shooting just 38.9 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.6 3s per game, but he's upped his play this month with a solid 12.6 points on 47.1 percent shooting with 5.2 assists, 1.2 3s and 1.4 steals per game in April. Feel free to start him once again if you benched him during his rough spell, as he's putting up start-worthy numbers for most leagues down the stretch.
Andrew Bogut sprained his left ankle in the first quarter Thursday and won't travel with the team for Friday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He wasn't providing much anyway, but if you had Bogut in your starting lineup for his defensive stats, be sure to bench him as there's a chance he won't play another regular-season contest.
Martell Webster is unlikely to play Friday with an abdominal strain. Garrett Temple (1.2 3s, 1.4 steals per game over his past five) and A.J. Price (16.3 points, 3.7 3s per game over his past three) should get more offensive looks, and make nice spot-starts based upon potential increase in opportunity and recent solid play.
Larry Sanders is questionable Friday with a sore back, making Samuel Dalembert a spectacular spot start. In 23 starts this season, Sammy D is averaging 7.3 boards, 1.4 blocks and 0.5 steals per game, and will post helpful defensive numbers if Sanders' absence has him in line for an uptick in playing time.
Rookie Mike Scott is averaging 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in his past two contests, and in very deep leagues has surfaced as an option if you're fielding a depleted roster and need somebody who is available in virtually every format.
Dwyane Wade is expected to return Friday, although LeBron James and Chris Bosh are considered day-to-day. Norris Cole and Mike Miller have benefited from Erik Spoelstra resting his starters for the playoffs, although no player has been consistent enough to warrant must-start status, and now that D-Wade is back in the mix, I'd look for more dependable and intriguing options such as Evan Fournier and John Jenkins, who are both available in most leagues.
Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are fighting for home-court advantage for the playoffs, so don't expect reduced roles for their starters, and be sure to keep any fantasy-relevant players on these Western Conference contenders in your lineup.
Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic continue to make Magic general manager Rob Hennigan look good. Each guy went for 30 points on Wednesday night in an overtime win over the Bucks, and they combined for 39 rebounds and 10 assists as well. This is the time of year when good players on bad teams can really make a name for themselves, so keep an eye on both players the rest of the way; depending on what moves the Magic makes in the offseason, I could see an argument for either guy as a potential top-50 player in fantasy next season.
• John Henson hadn't been playing much of late for the Bucks, but he blew up in the loss to the Magic to the tune of 25 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Henson has chance to be extremely valuable in fantasy leagues next season if he can lock down the starting power forward gig in Milwaukee, and games like this make him the odds-on favorite to do just that.
• Andre Drummond had his first great game for the Pistons since returning to the lineup, posting 29 points on 10-for-11 shooting from the floor in 34 minutes in a win over the Cavaliers. He also threw in 11 rebounds and should obviously be started in all leagues for the rest of the Pistons' schedule.
• Atlanta Hawks rookie John Jenkins had his second straight big game, going for 21 points and six assists in 33 minutes off the bench in a win over the 76ers on Wednesday night. He could be a good source of 3-pointers in deep leagues for the final few games of the season.
• Ray Allen got to make a cameo as the Heat's best player against the Wizards with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all out of the lineup. Allen had 23 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals, and he could be in line for a few more big games if the Heat keep resting their stars down the stretch.
• Andre Iguodala had a triple-double for the Nuggets in a win over the Spurs, finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. He's now averaging 9.2 assists over his past five games, proving to be a great source in that category when Ty Lawson is out of the lineup.
• The Knicks will continue to be without just about their entire front line against the Bulls on Thursday night, and considering Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will both be out as well, it should be an interesting matchup between undersized lineups. All the same, I'd be expecting a huge night out of Carlos Boozer, who should be going up against smaller defenders all night.
• Everyone is healthy for the matchup between the Warriors and the Thunder, and that matchup has been particularly kind to Kevin Martin this season. The Thunder sixth man is averaging 20.0 points on 55 percent shooting from the floor in three games against the Warriors this season while also chipping in 3.3 3s, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
Even against the Bulls, I have to go with Carmelo Anthony here. Anthony's averaging 40.6 points in his past five games, and has done so against some pretty decent defensive clubs. Until he goes cold, it's worth riding out the hot streak.
On Tuesday, Reggie Evans needed only three quarters to amass 24 rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers. It marked the fifth time in his past 12 games that Evans has accumulated 20 boards or more. He is averaging 17.8 rebounds over this span.
I couldn't help but wonder, and it turns out it's been 20 years since an NBA player has averaged more than 17.8 rebounds over an entire season. In 1992-93, Dennis Rodman put up 18.3 boards in his final season with the Detroit Pistons.
So yeah, it's easy to see why during the past couple of months Evans gone from a deep-league flier to a mainstream fantasy force. He makes the most sense in roto formats, since over the final few weeks of the season roster decisions are typically based on categorical needs. However, seeing that, as of Tuesday, Evans was on a roster in 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues, he is being added in a majority of head-to-head formats as well.
It will be interesting to see where Evans goes in drafts this fall. I wouldn't take him at any point, since I'm leery of one-category guys in general. (To me, Ryan Anderson is kind of the Reggie Evans of 3-pointers.) There's also the fact that, to get all those boards, you sacrifice free throw percentage. Since the break, Evans is shooting just 53.4 percent from the line on 3.7 attempts per game. That's not Dwight Howard-level carnage by any means, but playing close to 30 minutes a night, Evans gets to the stripe enough to matter.
But what matters now is fantasy championships, and Evans is undoubtedly playing a role in a fair number of those.
• Jonas Valanciunas spent the night in a Chicago hospital after being carted off the court at the end of the Toronto Raptors' win over the Chicago Bulls. After a jump ball, Valanciunas apparently injured his neck in a collision with teammate Rudy Gay. The rookie's neck was placed in a brace before he was removed from the court.
• As for the game itself, with Luol Deng (hip) sitting out, Jimmy Butler played all 48 minutes and recorded a career-high 28 points. You don't need to understand usage rates to see Butler's fantasy value at the moment. The second-year pro is averaging 43 minutes a night over his past nine games.
• Metta World Peace was expected to miss six weeks following knee surgery. Instead, he missed only six games. It's tough to imagine him having much fantasy value over the final week of the season, though. MWP was limited to just four points and 15 minutes played against the New Orleans Hornets.
• After shooting just 23.5 percent (12-of-51) in his previous three games, Kyrie Irving went 10-of-20 in a 29-point effort against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. But he could be held out Wednesday when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Pistons. Irving rested April 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, the last time the Cavs played on consecutive nights.
• Beno Udrih is the most popular add in ESPN.com leagues, and while Jameer Nelson (ankle) hasn't been ruled out for the season, there's no word on when or if he'll return. So expect Udrih to start again when the Orlando Magic host the Milwaukee Bucks. In his past five games, he is averaging 18.2 points, 7.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 3s and 1.8 steals.
• Chris Bosh (illness) didn't play Tuesday and isn't expected to accompany the Miami Heat when they visit the Washington Wizards. Dwyane Wade (ankle) will be with the team but seems unlikely to play. LeBron James should go, though following Tuesday's shootaround he said he will sit out some games prior to the playoffs.
• Josh Smith, Al Horford and Kyle Korver are expected to play when the Hawks visit the 76ers. All three were rested in Atlanta's previous game against the San Antonio Spurs on April 6, and Smith has apparently been dealing with a knee problem.
Much of the focus for fantasy squads at this time of year is running the gauntlet of DNPs in the box scores. There are plenty of veterans on playoff teams who are getting random games off to rest, dinged-up players on bad teams who are held out of back-to-back sets and just the random missed game from players who normally would play but won't because the season is winding down. The Dallas Mavericks are kind of a combination of all of those factors, because their roster is filled with aging veterans and they are technically still in the race for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs, but they could be formally bumped out of that race soon, because they are 2 1/2 games back with six games remaining.
This makes it a little hard to project what to do with them for fantasy owners who need to set their final lineups for the remaining nine days of the season Monday or Tuesday (remember there are no NBA games Monday night). On the one hand, the Mavs should push their players hard until they are out of the playoff race, but at that point coach Rick Carlisle could pull the proverbial plug on his rotation.
The main injury risks right now are Elton Brand and Dirk Nowitzki. Brand has missed the past four games with a sore calf, though he was able to take part in Sunday's shootaround and was a game-time call for the Mavs' evening tilt with the Portland Trail Blazers. Nowitzki missed the fourth quarter of Sunday's game due to a sore foot, but Carlisle said "it's not considered serious" and Diggler said "I'll definitely play Wednesday."
That extended break before their next game Wednesday should give both Brand and Nowitzki a good shot at playing. However, if they sit out -- or if they end up getting shut down in the coming days -- Brandan Wright(20.6 percent ownership in ESPN leagues) and Chris Kaman (25.5 percent) should make for quality fill-in options. Over the past three games with Brand sidelined, Wright has totaled 46 points, 21 boards, 3 steals and 5 blocks, while taking double-digit shot attempts each game (21-37 FG). Meanwhile, Kaman has started the past four games with Brand out of action, and despite not touching the 25-minute mark, he has been scoring and hitting the glass at a decent clip, including Sunday's 26-point, 11-rebound, 2-block performance.
• Wesley Matthews had been cruising along as a steady and reliable fantasy play, but he rolled his ankle during Sunday's game and didn't return. It didn't look pretty, but the Portland Trail Blazers don't ball again until Wednesday, so if the injury isn't serious, he may be ready to play. If Matthews does sit out some games this week, Will Barton could be worth the roll of the dice. The rookie came out of nowhere Sunday to nearly post a triple-double (22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 dimes and 3 steals) in 32 minutes. All of those numbers were season highs, but if he gets some extra run with the season winding down, you never know.
• The Eric Gordon fiasco continued along this weekend, as coach Monty Williams benched him for most of the second half Friday after the two got into a shouting match during a timeout. Gordon returned to the starting lineup Sunday and had 17 points (4-11 FG) and 6 assists, so it looks like they patched things up. The trouble with Gordon the rest of the way is that he'll presumably skip one of their back-to-back games Tuesday or Wednesday, which would leave him with just four games, assuming he doesn't get hurt or tossed back in the doghouse once again.
• Joakim Noah finally returned to game action on Sunday but mustered only 13 points and 7 boards in 21 minutes. It's not clear whether the Bulls will limit him in back-to-back games (they have two more sets), but odds are you'll just have to toss him into your final weekly lineup and hope for the best, since the Bulls play a total of six more games. Luol Deng, on the other hand, skipped Sunday's contest to rest his sore hip. It sounds like he should be back soon, but Jimmy Butler (14 points, 2 3s Sunday) figures to be a decent replacement if Deng ends up sidelined later this week.
• With Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett back in the mix Sunday, the Boston Celtics tried out their new lineup with KG at PF, Green at SF and Pierce at SG. Unfortunately, despite playing and beating the lowly Washington Wizards, none of the trio posted stats of note. Presumably, the C's would like to roll this lineup out each night to get used to it before the playoffs, but with KG and Pierce dinged up and two sets of back-to-backs during their final five games, it's just as likely that those guys will see some DNP-CDs.
• Jose Calderon has been in and out of the lineup (including Sunday) due to a triceps strain. It's entirely unclear if he will be able to play Wednesday or any other games the rest of the way. To make matters worse, the Detroit Pistons have only four games remaining. Rodney Stuckey and, perhaps, Will Bynum will be viable fill-ins if Calderon sits.
• The Cleveland Cavaliers have six games left on their schedule, but unless they unexpectedly lift their no back-to-back game restriction on Kyrie Irving, he'll be available for only four of those contests. He may need only four games to outperform any bench player you may have who has six games, so you will probably have to make a tough call in setting your lineups when it comes to Irving.
• A right calf injury has forced Chandler Parsons to miss the past two games, but he hopes to return to action on Tuesday. If he can't play Tuesday, it sounds like he's close enough to get back in the mix Friday, but you'll need to check for updates.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
There are a ton of great high-end options at guard and forward Tuesday night, but things are a little thinner at center, since Tim Duncan and Al Horford don't have games, Joakim Noah is just coming back from his injury and Al Jefferson has a tough battle with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That leaves Dwight Howard (vs. NO), Nikola Pekovic (@GS) and Marc Gasol (vs. CHA) as the top options in my book. All three should have good games, but I like Gasol, versus what is probably the weakest frontcourt in the Association, as the top center play.
Danilo Gallinari exited Thursday's matchup against the Mavericks with a major knee injury, likely a torn ACL, allowing Corey Brewer to play 35 minutes off the bench. He scored 23 points with two 3-pointers, two steals and a block. Brewer was averaging 25.8 minutes per game in the five previous contests, but he is primed for a significant uptick in minutes now, which will result in solid points, 3s and especially steals. Brewer ranks sixth in the league with 2.88 steals per 48 minutes, so with consistent starter-type minutes, he should be among the league leaders in steals from here on out. He's currently owned in just 15.5 percent of ESPN leagues but warrants much higher ownership if he's getting 30-plus minutes per night on a regular basis. Gallinari's injury should also open up extended minutes for Wilson Chandler, who is averaging 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 3s, 0.6 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in his past five contests. Chandler provides the type of across-the-board production that makes him an excellent late-season fill-in if you've got an injured player or a starter not performing up to standard. Both Brewer and Chandler deserve to be owned in most formats now that Gallinari is sidelined, and Kenneth Faried's production could also increase if his 12 points, 19 rebounds, 2 steals and 4 blocks Thursday is any indication.
• Kawhi Leonard returned after missing two games with a sore knee. He posted a dazzling line in a losing effort against the Thunder, scoring 24 points with 14 boards, six assists and three 3s. He's averaging 14.7 points per game since the All-Star Game after averaging 10.5 points per game prior to it and is blossoming into the type of multicategorical gem many expected when they drafted him this season. Despite his inconsistent production, Leonard ranks 43rd on the season Player Rater when sorting by averages and is looking like a legitimate fourth-round pick for next season's draft.
• Chris Kaman scored 13 points with nine boards and two blocks Thursday, coming off Tuesday's contest in which he scored 14 points with six rebounds. He's back in the starting lineup, at least for now, and even though he's been awful this season, he's still capable of putting up nice scoring and rebounding totals when getting minutes, as indicated by his 20.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per 40 minutes. If he keeps starting, he's a viable second center in most formats, especially if you want to augment your team's field goal percentage down the stretch.
• Paul Pierce is questionable for Friday's game with a sore ankle, which will open the door for Jeff Green to continue his hot late-season play. Green ranks 19th on the 30-day Player Rater and is averaging an impressive 23.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.0 3s, 1.2 blocks and 2.0 steals per game in his past five, numbers he should easily replicate if Pierce sits.
• J.R. Smith has been very un-J.R. Smith-like lately, taking the ball to the rack with much higher frequency and shooting 50 percent from the floor in the past five games and 79.1 percent on 8.6 attempts per game from the stripe. If he continues being aggressive, he's much less of a hindrance in the field goal percentage department and becomes a much savvier play against a mediocre Bucks defense that's allowing teams to score 100.5 points per game since the start of March.
• There's not much incentive for Erik Spoelstra to start his stars against the lowly Bobcats on Friday, so look for Norris Cole to continue his improved play and put up a stat line worthy of notice in deep leagues. Cole is averaging 13.0 points, 3.0 assists, 1.0 3s and 1.3 steals per game in his past three contests and is a nice spot-start for daily transaction leagues if it looks like Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers are set to sit out another game.
• Among my new favorite players is rookie center Jonas Valanciunas, primarily because of his ability to contribute heftily in both percentage-based categories. This was on full display Wednesday night when he scored 24 points while going 4-for-7 from the field and an incredible 16-for-18 from the stripe, and he's a must-start in every format at this point if you need a bump in percentages with some points, rebounds and blocks thrown in. He ranks 33rd on the 30-day Player Rater and will be a hot name in next season's draft based upon his post-All-Star averages of 10.8 points on 59.6 percent from the floor and 81.8 percent from the stripe with 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26.6 minutes per game. Extrapolate those numbers to 30 minutes per game, and he's a top-10 center next season, so spending a mid-to-late round pick on him should reap dividends.
• Keep an eye on how Terrence Jones is used Friday, as he came out of nowhere to score 14 points with 12 rebounds in 29 minutes Wednesday night. The power forward situation in Houston now consists of a four-headed monster of Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Thomas Robinson and Greg Smith. The overcrowded nature of the situation will likely result in none of the players seeing enough consistent playing time to be worth anything in all but the deepest formats. If you need a power forward, monitor the minutes distribution Friday, and if Jones once again sees significant run, he's a nice flier for deep leagues.
Ricky Rubio had a truly phenomenal fantasy line in the Timberwolves' win over the Bucks on Wednesday night, finishing with 19 points, 12 assists, 8 steals and 5 3-pointers. Obviously, with Rubio, the 3s are the big thing, because shooting is -- to put it politely -- not one of his strengths. Still, he's so good in just about every other facet of the game that you can forgive his offense; plus, he certainly has his ways of scoring. Among players averaging at least 25 minutes per game, Rubio leads the league in percentage of points derived from free throws, which means he's living in the lane, which is what makes the whole rest of his game work.
Rubio would currently rank 73rd on the Player Rater based on per-game numbers, but in the 24 games since the All-Star break, he's averaging 13.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 3.0 steals. It could probably go without saying that there's no one else putting up numbers exactly like that. If he's healthy heading into next season with a healthy Kevin Love alongside him, he might wind up being as high as a second-round pick in many fantasy leagues.
• Jonas Valanciunas continued his stellar play for the Raptors, managing 24 points and 10 rebounds in 41 minutes in a win over the Wizards. Most impressively, he scored his 24 points on just seven attempted field goals while going 16-for-18 from the foul line. In his past five games, Valanciunas is averaging 18.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks, while shooting 61.5 percent from the floor and 82.4 percent from the line. Those are pretty good numbers, and if he can finish the season posting numbers anywhere close to those, he'll be a very high draft pick next season.
• Jrue Holiday had an unimaginably bad shooting night, making just 2 of his 24 shots in a loss to a terrible Bobcats team. What's worse, it's part of a trend, as Holiday's numbers are down across the board in the 23 games since the All-Star break. It's almost amazing right now to consider that he was a legitimate All-Star this season. He's still 24th on the Player Rater today, but it will be very interesting, given his struggles, to see where he gets drafted next season. In particular, would you rather have Holiday or someone like Kemba Walker or Jeff Teague? There was a clear answer to that question a few months ago, and now there really isn't.
• MarShon Brooks had a big night for the Nets, scoring 27 points in a win over the Cavaliers, but he went 12-for-16 from the floor against a bad defense, and seeing him shoot that well is probably something of a mirage. I don't see anything there that would incline me to play him in fantasy leagues, especially if news comes out that Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace are due back soon.
• Terrence Jones got into a game for the Rockets for the first time in more than three months and was really good in their win over the Kings, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. Donatas Motiejunas and Greg Smith both played far fewer minutes, and there's a real opportunity here for Jones if he can establish himself as a power forward with the kind of perimeter game that fits into the Rockets' scheme. He's got a ton of talent and is worth picking up in most leagues.
• With Taj Gibson out and Joakim Noah questionable for the Bulls in Thursday night's game against the Nets, it should be a great night to play Reggie Evans. The Nets forward had 18 rebounds on Wednesday night against the Cavs and is averaging a ridiculous 17.2 boards over his past five games. Sure, he's terrible at everything else, but if you need rebounds, this is a cash grab.
• Ty Lawson continues to miss time for the Nuggets, but they have done a good job of spreading around the minutes. Andre Miller started at point guard again but played just 27 minutes in the win, and Andre Iguodala is capable of handling some of the point guard duties as well. If you weren't playing Miller before, I don't see any reason to do so now (though he does have his value depending on your needs). Iguodala, however, is averaging 6.6 assists over his past five games and should keep that up against the Mavericks on Thursday night.
• It's hard to know who will play for the Spurs on any given night, but seeing as they're only one game ahead of the Thunder in the loss column, I have a feeling their key guys will go in this one.
Fastbreak Player of the Night
It's tough to ever advocate playing anyone against the Bulls, but I have a tough time believing they'll be able to defend Brook Lopez with all the injuries they have. Lopez is averaging 20 points per game in his past five games and could easily go for 30 here.