As we move toward this season's home stretch, it's becoming more and more important to make trades that will help you gain ground fast. Often, you'll have to give up something great to get something great, but you can pick up value if you take the time to figure out which players are likely to trend down in the coming weeks and deal them for players who should be trending up.
Of course, there's nothing new under the sun, and by this point in the season, most fantasy owners are well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their players, but there's always differences of opinion, and those differences are where you can pick up players who might be able to help you down the stretch.
What follows is a list of some players who should be getting better during the second half of the season, followed by a list of guys who will probably be getting worse.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics (50): Rondo's fallen on hard times due to some injuries (not only to himself, but to his teammates) and some major struggles from the free throw line. After shooting 62 percent from the line last season (and 64 percent the season before), Rondo is currently shooting 52 percent from the line and it is really doing a number on his overall fantasy value. While his assists, as everyone knows, are up this season, his scoring is down significantly, and it speaks to the growing issue that he seems reluctant to shoot. On the other hand, Rondo shot 58 percent from the line in January, which would seem to point to him at least starting to regain what little form he had last season. If he can add the little extra scoring punch he had last season to his league-leading assist total, he's going to come a lot closer to justifying the top-20 pick many people used on him in fantasy drafts.
Amir Johnson, PF, Toronto Raptors (52): While still playing just under 30 minutes per game for the Raptors in January, Johnson averaged 12.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 63 percent from the floor. He's in the top 10 in fantasy in terms of field goal percentage, and that's where he carries most of his value, but he's also averaging right around one block per game on the season, and seems to be carving out an increasingly large spot in the rotation for the Raptors. Consider that in his past five games he's averaging 15.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.0 steals and is shooting 63 percent from the floor, and add to that the fact that he's one of the rare big men who makes nearly 80 percent of his free throws, and the sky is the limit for Johnson's fantasy numbers moving forward.
Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers (105): Iguodala missed seven games recently due to injury, but since his return he's been a lot better than he was before. In his past five games, he's averaging 16.2 points, 6.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 steals while shooting 61 percent from the floor. Keep in mind that Iguodala has been a top-30 fantasy guy for years now (even if it doesn't feel like it at all so far this season). As such, it should be no surprise that he's putting up great fantasy numbers now. His 3-point percentage (34.4 percent) hasn't been better since his second season in the league, and he's showing the all-around game that made him so important on Team USA this past summer. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't jump way up in the rankings over the balance of the season, and if you can deal a player who is trending downward for him, he should provide great dividends. If nothing else, he's been remarkably durable during his career, and should be able to stay on the court the rest of the season and into the fantasy playoffs.
Rudy Gay, SF, Memphis Grizzlies (17): Gay had a tremendous start to the season, and is still playing extremely well, but not as well as his current ranking would make you think. He had been on a pace to set career highs in 3-point percentage and free throw percentage, but both of those are falling toward his career levels of late (he was at 74 percent in January after shooting well over 80 percent for the season up to that point), turning a strength into a weakness. And Rudy's already playing 40 minutes per game, so it's not like he can get a boost in minutes to accumulate more stats. In addition to the shooting struggles, he's falling off in blocks and steals from his earlier levels this season, so while he's still a great player, he's not going to give you the top-20 value you've been getting from him so far this season.
Wilson Chandler, SF/SG, New York Knicks (37): Forget the fact that he might get traded if the Knicks can work out a deal for Carmelo Anthony and the fact that there's no way he'd be as good outside of Mike D'Antoni's system in New York. Even if he stays with the Knicks for the remainder of the season, Chandler will not be nearly as good as he's been so far. For one thing, his January numbers are atrocious; despite the fact that he's playing 35.5 minutes per game (three fewer than he played in December), all of his numbers are down. Most importantly, his 3-point shooting has fallen off a cliff, and so have his numbers in steals and blocks. He's currently missing a little bit of time with a calf injury, and if you can trade him as soon as he has a decent game once he's back, you'll get more value for him than you will at any other time the rest of this season.
Elton Brand, PF, 76ers (39): Brand had a great month shooting from the field in January (56 percent), and boosted his scoring average to 15.0 per game after averaging just 13.8 points in December. Unfortunately, despite increased minutes, his numbers in rebounds, blocks and steals all fell during January, and given the struggles he's had staying on the court these past few seasons, it's hard to imagine him playing 35 minutes per game and getting stronger as the season wears on. If you can find someone willing to judge him on his current numbers (which have him in the top 40 for the season so far), he'd be worth dealing for sure.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.