When a major fantasy contributor gets hurt, it often ends up feeling like a major opportunity for most fantasy owners, which is, I suppose, a morally confusing situation.
For example, the recent news that Stephen Jackson (toe surgery) is out for the season harms really only the people who own him on their fantasy team. For the rest of us, not only do we benefit from that owner's loss of production, but we all get an opportunity to grab his replacement. Morally, we feel bad for Jackson, who still had a good season. But as fantasy owners, we stand to gain from the incident.
Of course, most of the time, this fantasy opportunity isn't as good as it seems. After all, there's a reason Stephen Jackson plays as many minutes as he does and his replacements don't. In this case, however, those folks who don't own Jackson might actually end up coming out way ahead, even if it is just for a couple of weeks. Jackson was playing 39.6 minutes per game when it was announced he'd be out for the remainder of the season. That's the second-highest total in the league, and it's a whole lot of minutes to replace for coach Don Nelson. So far, it appears those minutes will be filled by some combination of Kelenna Azubuike and Anthony Morrow, and it appears they will do an admirable job.
Azubuike is currently starting, and has averaged 37.2 minutes per game over his past five games. What's more, at 15.17, Azubuike's player efficiency rating (PER) isn't much worse than Jackson's 16.22. It's a difference, but it's clear that Azubuike can be a suitable starter as long as he gets the opportunity. Over the same five-game stretch, he's averaging 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.6 3-pointers and 1.0 steals on just less than 50 percent shooting from the floor, and there's no reason he can't continue to post those numbers for the final nine games of the season.
Morrow is a similar case. It remains to be seen what happens to his minutes once Corey Maggette returns from his head injury, but for the past two games, Morrow has averaged 23.5 points in 36 minutes. He has 11 3-pointers and has gone 17-for-25 from the floor overall in those two games. He doesn't tend to do much else, but the fact is that Morrow has gone on some amazing hot streaks this season, and it's not unreasonable to think that he'll remain on this one for the final few weeks of the regular season.
Both Azubuike and Morrow deserve to be owned in just about all formats right now. You can drop Morrow if his minutes dry up when Maggette gets back, but if you need scoring and Morrow is playing more than 30 minutes a night, there's no better place to look. Here are some other widely available players who should boost their final standing on the Player Rater in the coming weeks.
Note: The first number in parentheses is the ranking based on totals, and the second number is the ranking based on averages.
Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Pistons (121, 141): It's easy to chalk up Stuckey as a disappointment this season because he hasn't been as tremendous as some of us thought he might be, but the fact is he is producing some numbers you can use right now. He's averaging 14.4 points, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals over his past five games, and he has real potential to be a key contributor, especially in assists, the rest of the way. He's owned in only 50 percent of leagues, so he might still be available in yours.
D.J. Augustin, PG, Bobcats (136, 140): Owned in 18 percent of ESPN standard leagues, Augustin is not playing the major minutes he was earlier this season, but on the strength of some incredibly hot shooting, he has scored in double figures three games in a row. More importantly, in those games, the Bobcats have outscored their opponents significantly when Augustin has been on the floor. Hopefully coach Larry Brown is noticing that and Augustin's minutes will stay in the 25-per-game range the rest of the way. If that happens, he's going to have a few big games and be a solid contributor across the board.
Jason Thompson, PF, Kings (148, 174): It all seems to have come together for Jason Thompson during the month of March. He has averaged 13.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 53 percent shooting from the floor over that stretch while playing 31.8 minutes per game. That all sounds nice, right? Well, it gets better. Over the past five games, he has averaged 16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game and shot 64 percent from the floor. Those are numbers most power forwards in the league would be pretty excited about, and yet he's owned in only 15 percent of leagues. Sure, he's benefiting from a fast pace and playing on a terrible team that plays him plenty even though he's still working out the kinks in his game, but we don't need to be concerned with that stuff in fantasy. Thompson is good, and he's going to continue to show it the rest of the season.
Courtney Lee, SG, Magic (160, 176): The Magic don't need Lee to be a superstar in order for them to win games. That said, Lee has been spectacular over the Magic's recent five-game win streak. Lee has averaged 15.0 points, 2.2 3-pointers, and 1.8 steals during that stretch, and while he doesn't do much in terms of rebounds and assists, his production in those three categories is enough to make him fantasy-relevant if he keeps it up. Almost no one owns the guy (just 1 percent of ESPN standard leagues), so he's most likely available if you decide to get on board.
Glen Davis, PF, Celtics (unranked): He hasn't even cracked the top 200 in either set of rankings, and he's unowned in nearly every fantasy league out there. There are various reasons for this, and the biggest one is that we don't know for sure when Kevin Garnett is going to start playing full-time again. All that aside, Garnett is currently sitting, and even when he has played in limited minutes of late, "Big Baby" Davis has produced off the bench. I think that when Garnett is truly healthy, the C's will work him back slowly, and with Leon Powe still out (probably until the playoffs), Davis is going to keep getting a chance for at least a few more games. Over his past five games, he's averaging 15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 33.2 minutes, and his most recent two games were both double-doubles. Clearly he can produce, and in deeper leagues he can certainly help you for at least one more week.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.