In the NBA's marquee matchup last night, Dwight Howard delivered one of his better performances of the season versus the Heat: 25 points (on only 14 field goal attempts), 24 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. A 20-20 is a great night by any standard, but this was already Howard's sixth of the campaign, as many as the rest of the NBA combined.
However, for Howard's fantasy owners, his most exceptional line in 2011-12 came last Friday versus the Cavaliers, when Howard swatted eight shots, nearly four times his season average of 2.2 blocks per game.
The truth is, when you own a player who averages 25.5 points and 14.0 boards a night, you should expect at least 10 games with 20 and 20 per season. And Howard is the rare rebounder who can affect a fantasy league's standing just with his own gaudy averages.
But eight blocks is the kind of night Howard will maybe -- maybe -- have once every couple of seasons. The most blocks he's ever had in a game is 10. The most anyone's had in a game this season? Also 10 (Serge Ibaka). As his owner, I'll take a Howard's eight-block night even over his 45-point beauty back on Jan. 12. (I'll take Dwyane Wade's three blocks last night -- from the shooting guard position -- over the 33 points he scored, because a three-block night from a guard is maybe a twice-a-week occurrence.)
Eight blocks is the kind of night that can sew up a win in a weekly head-to-head league or cause a team to jump two to three spots in a rotisserie league. And it's never been truer than as of this writing; in all the time I've written about fantasy basketball, blocks have never been at more of a premium.
This season, distribution of blocks per game across the player pool is insanely top-heavy, with premium production concentrated at Five Alive levels.
In a 10-team league, the average player posts about 0.7 blocks a night, which means in a 40-game H2H weekly matchup, swatting anything above 36 shots usually means a win in that category.
Due to the injury-plagued dynamic of this particular season, the blocks category presents a unique opportunity for fantasy owners: the ability to markedly improve one's team without making a trade. There are game-changing amounts of blocks popping up on the wire every day.
I picked up Marcus Camby in one rotisserie league last week, and within three days had shot up to first in that league in blocks. Sixteen blocks in four games can have that kind of effect. Right now, Camby's block percentage is all the way up to 5.9 percent, his highest since leading the league at 7.3 percent in 2007-08.
If you've never taken a look at blocks percentage (BLK%), well, I'm glad you're here, because it's one of my favorite stats. BLK% is a formula that estimates the percentage of field goal attempts blocked by a player while that player is on the floor. It's a very useful stat when trolling for untapped potential in the blocks category. If you want to calculate it yourself, use this simple formula:
100 * (BLK * [Team MP / 5]) / (MP * (Opp FGA - Opp 3PA)
(Or you can just look it up on Basketball-Reference.com. It's up to you.)
I use block percentage as a sort of a PER for blocks to project the way a high BLK% player could produce given more minutes. JaVale McGee is the official leader in BLK% this season at 7.9 percent, but there are a few players with higher BLK% who don't have enough minutes to qualify.
Let's look at some under-the-radar players that could be on the verge of a blocks breakout:
Bismack Biyombo, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats (7.3 BLK%): I don't care if he's secretly 38 years old, I've been on Bismack Watch since he entered the league due to his mini-Ibaka potential and Bobcat membership. His being on the lottery-bound, frontcourt-bereft Bobcats spells a path to early and steady minutes. Biyombo's numbers are going to be up and down, but he's posted two double-doubles in the past 10 games while adding 16 blocks during the same span. He'll start putting it all together with greater frequency as the season progresses.
Trevor Booker, PF, Washington Wizards (4.0 BLK%): Many of you (up 15.2 percent in ownership) obviously agree with me that the time to scoop up Booker has arrived. Booker's a high-motor player on a bad, bad team; a solid prescription for fantasy-relevance. Blocks, steals, boards (though not as many as I'd like), some offense a nice medium-upside add.
Brandan Wright, PF, Dallas Mavericks (8.1 BLK%): Wright has been something of a roto tease since he began his career playing Nellieball in Golden State. Injuries and a questionable motor have conspired to cancel out his considerable athletic upside, but like Anthony Randolph, Wright's talent occasionally forces him to surface on the fantasy radar. His minutes have been on the rise over the past couple of weeks, and his nine blocks in the past four games mean he's building some deep-league value. His off-the-charts 24.71 PER is another strong indicator of his potential.
Gustavo Ayon, PF, New Orleans Hornets (5.6 BLK%): Now here's a guy I really like; along with his solid BLK%, Ayon gets almost as many steals despite his being 6-foot-10. The Hornets' frontcourt is in a world of hurt, and management has already decided to give Ayon minutes ahead of the more established, Twitter-friendly Chris Kaman.
Fantasy history is littered with names of big men who have risen up with a hot couple months to close out a season, never to be heard from again (Mikki Moore, Anthony Tolliver), and Ayon could be one of those names. Don't forget, he's flourishing on a team that's dropping in overall value like it had just been bought by Bain Capital; 25 MPG could easily be in his future.
Rodrigue Beaubois, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks (3.0 BLK%): Beaubois has done a lot in the past month to shake his "inconsistent" label. Once given a regular 28-30 MPG, Beaubois responded with a nice balanced run of box scores. Best of all were the 15 blocks in 11 games, a shockingly high total for a 6-foot-2 speed guy. Like the next guy on this list, if Beaubois were on a bad team, he'd already be a fantasy factor.
Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets (10.2 BLK%): Add minutes, watch stats grow, repeat free Kenneth Faried! Faried's played only 60 minutes total this season, but already has eight blocks (not to mention 28 points and 26 rebounds). If Faried were on a lottery team, he'd be a fantasy contributor, but for now, he's buried on Denver's depth chart.
He's absolutely worth keeping tabs on due to his overstuffed per-40-minute numbers and the precarious health record of the players ahead of him in Denver's frontcourt rotation. Oh, and his PER is a sky-high 23.20. Think DeJuan Blair, but with better block totals.
Brandon Rush, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors (2.6 BLK%): All 3s, blocks and steals, Rush is a prime example of a fringe player who can make a difference as a situational add in medium-to-deep leagues. And he obviously likes playing for Mark Jackson; just look at his career-high .569 clip from behind the arc.
Ekpe Udoh, PF/C, Golden State Warriors (6.0 BLK%): Even with Kwame Brown out for an extended period, Udoh's locked in a value-killing time-share with Andris Biedrins. But with Biedrins forcing Golden State to play 4-on-5 on offense, Udoh should get an opportunity to pull down more consistent minutes as the season unfolds. All Udoh does at this point is block shots -- his rebounding numbers are shockingly low for a big man -- but he's already altering trajectories at an elite level.
Other Players to Watch: Chris Andersen, PF/C, Denver Nuggets; Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets; Jason Smith, PF, New Orleans Hornets; Brendan Haywood, C Dallas Mavericks; Randy Foye, PG/SG, Los Angeles Clippers
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JPCregan.