At this point in the fantasy basketball season, with the trading deadline having passed and the playoffs in full swing, there aren't too many surprises. For the most part, we know who can help our team and who is hurting us. On the bright side, it now is easy to finally cut the cord on those particular players you had hoped would turn it on late in the season but never have. Instead, it's time to exchange unproductive hopes and prayers for real, tangible results.
It's important to remember that the past is only the past, and it's especially true in a head-to-head league. Just because a player helped you a lot at the beginning of the season doesn't mean he's going to be of much use to you in any particular round of the postseason. You get no points for loyalty in fantasy basketball.
Let's say you held on to Leandro Barbosa during all his struggles early in the season. Only recently were you able to enjoy the fruits of your waiting; since the Suns shifted back to their seven-seconds-or-less style, Barbosa has been throwing up 20-point games and knocking down 3-pointers left and right. Now the word comes that Barbosa is going to miss one to three weeks with a bone contusion in his left knee. I'm here to tell you that even though it's possible he could help you in a future round of the playoffs, if you need that production right now, you can go ahead and cut bait. Even though he's a very productive player, fear not -- there are other options out there.
Not far behind Barbosa on the Player Rater (for per-game averages) is the underrated and highly useful Heat point guard Mario Chalmers. He'll give you most of what Barbosa was giving you statistically and is available in 70 percent of ESPN.com standard leagues. He's just one example; here are some other widely available and highly useful options.
Luis Scola, PF/C, Rockets (Player Rater rank: 79; Player Rater averages rank: 124): Scola is owned in just more than half of ESPN.com leagues, but he really should be owned in all of them. He is center eligible and has been playing big minutes lately. In 13 games in March, Scola has put up 13.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 52 percent shooting from the floor. He doesn't give you much else, but anyone averaging that many rebounds can be of use in a fantasy league.
J.R. Smith, SG, Nuggets (96, 123): Amazingly, even after his 40-point explosion against the Wizards, Smith remains unowned in just more than half the leagues. He has scored in double-digits in every game since March 3. He's no fluke; we all knew he would do this at some point this season. Most of us just thought it would happen much sooner. Don't wait; if you are carrying any dead weight, drop it and pick up Smith if you need scoring and 3-pointers.
Trevor Ariza, SF, Lakers (105, 136): I know I've written about Ariza in this space before, but he remains one of the best pickups out there. The 2.5 steals he's averaging in 10 games this month would put him in second place in the league behind Chris Paul if he did it for a whole season. He is no fluke, either; Ariza has been among the leaders in steals per minute all season. He's available in almost 90 percent of leagues, and there really is no better option if you need help in that all-important steals category. He's no one trick pony, though. Ariza is averaging 16.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 3-pointers over his past five games as well. The Lakers are leaning more on Ariza of late, and fantasy owners should, too.
Larry Hughes, SG, Knicks (189, 141): OK, be careful with this one, because he currently is injured. That said, he is supposed to play Monday against Orlando, and the fact that he is a little banged up perhaps explains his putrid performance over the past week (just after everyone jumped on his fantasy bandwagon, of course). The truth is, Hughes might be the kind of player you want to avoid at this point, as he is not exactly the epitome of a safe option. That said, besides Hughes (and J.R. Smith, mentioned above), there aren't a ton of players on the waiver wire who can put up 30 points on any given night. If he plays, Hughes probably will do enough for you in steals, assists and 3-pointers to help you, even if he doesn't score a ton and/or hurts your field goal percentage a bit. On the other hand, if he's OK Monday (and for the next couple of weeks) and he gets hot, he could carry your fantasy team to the championship.
Andray Blatche, PF/C, Wizards (145, 154): He actually should be available at small forward, too, because that's where he's been starting in place of Caron Butler, who remains doubtful for Monday night's game against the Bulls. Over his past five games, he's averaging 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks -- nothing spectacular, but pretty effective numbers on the whole. He's having trouble with fouls, but on nights when he manages to stay on the floor for 30 minutes, his numbers are quite impressive. You have to think the Wizards will want to give him as much action as possible for the balance of this lost season and will want to be cautious with Butler, who already is injury-prone enough without making him play through a hamstring injury.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.