Lots of owners are currently reeling from some devastating injuries that have rocked fantasy leagues. In most leagues, the top of the free agent pool would be a pretty good team in itself: Elton Brand, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, Michael Redd, Jameer Nelson, etc.
But all these absences create a vacuum that allows other unheralded or forgotten about players to increase the value with more playing time, more shots and more overall fantasy goodness.
Predicting who exactly is going to gain the most value is tough, but lets take a look at the 10 players likely to have the most dramatic increase in value over the season’s final 30 games.
Ramon Sessions (MIL, PG): Too obvious? In every league there were fantasy owners who drafted Sessions knowing he was really the best point guard on the Bucks. Then, they waited while he languished on the bench.
At some point – most likely in December – they could no longer face seeing their flawed draft strategy occupy a precious roster spot and dumped him.
Well now those same owners feel like this, because Redd’s dead, Bogut’s been banished and Ridnour is all no thumbs. And now Sessions is a kid in a candy store with 109 points, 32 assists, nine steals and 41 free throws on 48 attempts in the last four games.
He’s a top 50 player for the rest of the season. There is a little lesson in here about having patience and trusting your draft choices, but I’m not going to rub it in for those who are suffering.
Mike Miller (MIN, SG/SF): With Jefferson out, the Timberwolves will need a steady veteran presence to keep the team from falling into the abyss. It’s just the opportunity Miller needs to revive the worst season of his career.
Miller was averaging just over 30 minutes prior to the injury but logged 44 on Tuesday. He had 12 points, five assists and nailed a couple of 3-pointers. He’s likely not going to regain his old form since his per minute numbers have been poor as well, but there is a chance he becomes a focal point of the offense when Randy Foye is not.
Miller has the ability to contribute in a number of cats from FG% and 3-pointers to rebounds and assists. I think he’ll be one of the top 100 players from here on out.
Kevin Love (MIN, PF/C) : Since so many of the key injuries of late have been to centers, lots of centers are on this list. Love is the most direct beneficiary of the injuries because he is literally stepping into Jefferson’s spot in the Wolves starting lineup.
Basketball Monster had Love ranked as 170th in nine category leagues entering yesterday. It’s hard to tell how far Love will jump in the rankings, but his per minute numbers (14.2 points, 13.3 rebounds 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes) indicate he could be a Top 15 center.
He doesn’t show much potential to be a top shot blocker, but his percentages (.452/.778) have been steadily climbing all season and, frankly, there is no one that is even threatening to replace him.
Mareese Speights (PHI, PF/C): With Elton Brand down for the season, Speights gains a whole new value coming off the bench for the 76ers. While Speights wasn’t Earth-shattering while Brand was out earlier this season, he shoots a high FG% and has averaged 18.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes this season.
In two games since Brand’s inury he has logged 46 total minutes and put up 39 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks while shooting 16-of-24 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the line.
Speights is another guy likely to crack the Top 100 from now until April.
Tyrus Thomas (SF/PF) : I’m partially cheating here since Thomas’ combination of blocks and steals made him a borderline Top 100 players already this season. But game logs don’t lie and Thomas’ last four games (all double-doubles) are pretty nice:
74 points, 45 rebounds, eight blocks, six steals, 24/50 FGs (.480), 24/32 FTs (.750)
If the Bulls can finally just give him steady minutes and ride out the inconsistent moments, he can produce at this level. He’s done it before. And it could make him a Top 50 player.
Part of this opportunity has been the continuing injury saga of Drew Gooden, who may have a sports hernia, which would also continue the increased playing time for….
Joakim Noah (PF/C): I was high on both Thomas and Noah coming into the season beacuseI assumed that with Scott Skiles gone, the Bulls would finally commit consistent minutes to their frontcourt of the future.
Unfortunately, Vinny del Negro is nearly as clueless as Skiles and hasn’t given the duo solid PT until recently. Both have responded and Noah has 84 rebounds and 25 blocks in his last 10 contests.
Noah – like Thomas – still has too many games where he disappears to make him truly reliable. But he has an 18-rebound game and an eight-block game within the last couple of weeks and those kind of performances more than make up for some no shows.
Besides, with the way the center position has been thinned out by injury, the center-eligible Noah is an attractive commodity. You can’t replace the scoring lost from injuries to Brand and Jefferson, but you can fill in most of the blocks and rebounds.
Both Noah and Thomas are a bit risky since we’ve seen these stretches before followed by periods of futility. Plus, Gooden’s possible return could screw things up. But you have to hold out a little hope that the Bulls will realize it’s best to get these guys on the court as much as possible. The short-term future of the franchise literally depends on it.
Speaking of how thin the center position is….
Chris Andersen (DEN, PF/C): In case you hadn’t notice the Birdman is flying again and has been finding himself an increasing part of the Nuggets rotation.
In fact, Andersen averaged better than 20 minutes per game in January. usually, that doesn’t mean a lot of fantasy value, but his FG% (.586 for the season) has improved as the season has worn on and he has been a absolute shot blocking machine (85 in 42 games), which is a real asset in a center-deprived society.
This is a bit of a leap of faith. He’s not going to be a Top 100 player. Even though Kenyon Martin and Nene have been solid this season, we know their injury history and Andersen can be thrown into 30 minutes per game any day now.
Of course, that day likely isn’t tomorrow as Andersen was hurt driving to the basket in Tuesday’s win over Miami. Still, he could be fantasy basketball’s version of a penny stock right now.
Ricky Davis (LAC, SG/SF) : I’m sorry, but I had to do it. There are few players more reliable for stats in meaningless games than Davis. Plus, there are few players as capable of hurting themselves when games don’t matter like some of his teammates.
So there is a possibility that Davis will be pulling down 30 minutes per game down the stretch (he’s playing a season-high 23 per game this month).
Even though Davis has struggled with injuries and lack of playing time most of the season, numbers still indicate he can still shoot 3-pointers and collect assists and steals at solid rates. (1.6 3-pointers, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steal per 36 minutes while shooting .840 from the line).
Davis will still be taking a backseat to Eric Gordon even if the “other” Davis goes down for the count (odds at 3-to-1). But he doesn’t haven’t to be “the man”. Just give Ricky some time and Ricky will produce enough to make him worth owning. Ricky.
Ryan Anderson (NJ, PF/C) : As some of you know, I work roughly four to six Nets home games every month. Doing that many games, it’s much easier to see the progression of young players as compared to watching on TV.
Anderson has gotten to the point where he is no longer afraid to shoot and attack the boards. He has the skills of poor man’s Troy Murphy, averaging 1.3 3-pointers, 6.4 rebounds and one steal in 16 games as a starter this season.
Per 36 minutes, he averages 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.8 3-pointers. He is shooting 39 percent from the floor (48 percent in February) and 82 percent from the line.
The imminent return of Yi Jianlian would seem to hurt Anderson’s value. But Vince Carter and Jarvis Hayes trade rumours are swirling and, based on what we’ve seen in the last few weeks, Anderson may have jumped Hayes in the rotation anyway.
It’s a cluttered situation with Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell also in the mix. But when all is said and done I think Anderson will have “vaulted” himself into the borderline-ownable realm.
At the very least, he’s a center-eligible player who can shoot 3’s. That has value in itself, especially for small ball H2H teams in deeper leagues.
Marquis Daniels/Brandon Rush/Jarret Jack (IND, SG/SF/PG) : Follow me here. Mike Dunleavy’s knee is acting up again, there is constant speculation about Danny Granger getting shut down and it’s only a matter of time before T.J. Ford gets tapped on the head and knocked out for the count.
So odds are ONE of these guys are going to get a boost. Daniels has been banged up and Rush and Jack have suffered from maddening inconsistency. My money would be on Jack, who currently has a tiny shred of value, followed by Daniels (assuming he can get healthy) and then Rush.
The lesson as always as the season starts hitting the stretch run. Keep your eyes peeled because past value is meaningless. It’s almost like drafting all over again.