Fantasy 30: Underrated players who are making noise

Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers has seen his efficiency improve dramatically this season. Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

A plethora of underrated role players are posting solid numbers during the month of December. We take a look at that, recent injury updates and more important information in our look around the NBA.

Here's a look at the most fantasy-relevant news and notes for all 30 teams:

Atlanta Hawks: 2018 first-rounder Kevin Huerter is wasting no time making a name for himself as a strong 3-point threat and scorer in the NBA. Unassuming as he may be physically, the 6-foot-7 shooting guard has averaged 10.6 PPG on an efficient 48.7 shooting during the past 10 games, draining multiple 3s in seven of those games. He has a bright future in this league.

Boston Celtics: There are plenty of reasons to be down on Gordon Hayward this season as he continues to work his way back from the gruesome injury that cost him virtually all of 2017-18. In fact, he was cut in my home league last week. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals one key area that Hayward has actually been very good and useful in fantasy: He has dished out 5.0 APG during five games this month. On the right team in leagues like mine that score by category, he can still be very useful as a forward who racks up assists.

Brooklyn Nets: A knee injury has sidetracked Allen Crabbe's hot hand during the past week. Crabbe, who has missed the past three games, has been ruled out for Wednesday as well and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Rodions Kurucs. Even withouth Crabbe, the Nets have plenty of 3-point shooting in the form of D'Angelo Russell (2.5 3PG), Joe Harris (2.3 3PG) and Spencer Dinwiddie (1.9 3PG).

Charlotte Hornets: If you play in a roto league or a category league and are focused on winning field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks, the Hornets have an underrated option in the form of Cody Zeller. The No. 4 pick in 2013, Zeller is playing some of the best ball of his career in recent weeks, averaging 12.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 1.2 BPG during the past five games while making 63.2 percent of his shots.

Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine is going to be out for a while. The Bulls' leading scorer (23.8 PPG) is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with a sprained ligament in his left ankle, which will cause Lauri Markkanen, Justin Holiday and Kris Dunn to take on a larger scoring role. Stash LaVine in your IR spot if your league has one; otherwise, keep him on your roster and stay patient until he returns.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Quick, who is leading the Cavs in scoring this month? If you answered Jordan Clarkson, give yourself a pat on the back. Despite remaining in a reserve role for all nine games he's played in December, the former Lakers guard has led Cleveland with 18.4 PPG this month. Clarkson doesn't add a whole lot else aside from scoring, though, which makes him a stronger option in points leagues.

Dallas Mavericks: How great is Luka Doncic as a 19-year rookie? Good enough that I reached out to a childhood friend who I haven't seen in years to find out what size jersey her five-year-old son Luka wears! One area of Doncic's game that appears to be ratcheting up a notch is his assists. Averaging 6.7 APG this season, he dished out 12 against Denver on Tuesday and has nine or more assists in three of his past five games.

Denver Nuggets: How close is Will Barton to returning to the Nuggets' lineup? Coach Mike Malone may have given a hint recently when he said Sunday that if Barton can get back to the court in 7-10 days "it'd be a big help." That doesn't mean it will happen, but it sounds as though there's a decent chance the versatile swingman could return at some point within the next week. He remains available in just over a quarter of ESPN leagues, so double-check your league to see if you can still add him.

Detroit Pistons: In his two games since returning from an ankle injury, Reggie Bullock has shown no rust from the perimeter. The jumbo swingman has averaged 19.5 PPG while draining nine 3-pointers. Quietly, the first-round pick from 2013 has averaged 2.1 3PG in this, his sixth NBA season, making him a solid streamer for those going after the 3-point category.

Golden State Warriors: DeMarcus Cousins is certainly on the path to a return to the court. He's practiced with the Warriors' G League team in Santa Cruz the past two weeks and is working his way back to full strength, but the Warriors are in no position to rush the big man back. "We're not right there. It's still going to be some time," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this week of Cousins. "We're going to be patient and continue to give DeMarcus the space he needs to prepare. When the time is right, we'll have some things planned for him."

Houston Rockets: One of the best qualities Chris Paul provides in fantasy hoops is his efficiency at the point guard position, but lately the veteran has been in quite an uncharacteristic shooting slump. He is shooting just 33.7 percent in eight games this month, dropping him to 40.8 percent for the season. This isn't the CP3 we're used to seeing, and right now he's not playing like a top-20 fantasy player.

Indiana Pacers: Thaddeus Young remains available in over 81 percent of ESPN leagues, despite being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after recording three double-doubles in four games last week. This is totally out of left field, as Young didn't look like a great fantasy option earlier this season, but his efficient shooting and ability to rack up points, rebounds and steals makes him valuable for the time being. Ride the hot hand.

LA Clippers: Lou Williams has missed four games with a hamstring injury, but he may not be sidelined much longer. The 32-year-old participated in Monday's shootaround, which is a positive sign, and he could be back in the lineup as soon as Thursday's nationally televised game against Dallas. Officially, he is listed as questionable for that one.

Los Angeles Lakers: While Kyle Kuzma has seen his 3-point shooting drop from 36.6 percent as a rookie last season to 30.0 percent this season, his overall field goal percentage has improved from 45.0 to 48.3 percent. What happened? Kuzma has been much more efficient from shots inside the arc, raising his percentage on 2-point shots from 51.1 percent last season to 59.0 percent in Year 2.

Memphis Grizzlies: Rumors have linked Austin Rivers to the Grizzlies, but the recently bought-out shooting guard may not be heading to Memphis after all. According to this story in The Daily Memphisian, the earlier report was "greatly exaggerated" and Rivers will not be signing with the Grizzlies. The Magic are among the other teams that have been tied to Rivers.

Miami Heat: A few injury updates in Miami. First, Goran Dragic. The point guard tried to return but it didn't work out well, and now he's slated for arthroscopic knee surgery that will sideline him for two months. Tyler Johnson's value gets a bump up while Dragic is out. In other news, Dion Waiters (foot), who hasn't played in an NBA game in nearly a full year, is ramping up his workload in practice and has been cleared for full contact. Waiters doesn't carry huge fantasy value even when at full strength, and his conditioning is always a concern, so keep him on the waiver wire until further notice.

Milwaukee Bucks: When Brook Lopez puts up an inefficient shooting night and snags only 2-3 rebounds, it's easy to give up on the veteran big man and send him to the waiver wire. Before you do that, though, consider his presence not only as a 3-point shooting center but also as a shot-blocker. His 1.9 BPG ranks seventh in the league as of Wednesday and would be the second-highest mark of his 11-year career. He has at least three blocks in three of the past four games.

Minnesota Timberwolves: The honeymoon is over for Robert Covington in Minnesota. Okay, maybe that's a little extreme, but lets just say that the 3-and-D forward has cooled off considerably after a scorching start with his new team. Covington has put up 10.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG and shot just 35.1 percent during the past four games.

New Orleans Pelicans: LeBron James raised a lot of eyebrows when talking to ESPN's Dave McMenamin on Tuesday about the man known for his eyebrow(s), Anthony Davis. James admitted that trading for the Pelicans star "would be amazing ... that would be incredible." Well, according to this story by ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Pelicans aren't planning to deal their star. "The Pelicans aren't interested in trading Davis and instead have been engaged in trade talks to try to improve their team around him. They are currently in 12th in the standings but, as is the nature of the Western Conference, they are just three games out of fourth place."

New York Knicks: Emmanuel Mudiay is on a tear, if you haven't noticed already, separating himself from the other Knicks point guard options with recent games of 34 points (at Charlotte) and 32 points (vs. Phoenix) while dishing out at least six assists in four consecutive games. He is still only rostered in 8.0 percent of ESPN leagues, so there is still time to add him if you're up for rolling the dice on a guy many have already written off as a bust.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Jerami Grant quietly is posting career-highs in minutes (30.2 MPG), scoring (11.8 PPG) and can be a strong piece in roto leagues due to his steady contributions and rare skill set. In eight games this month, Grant has put up 12.1 PPG, 1.4 BPG and 1.3 3PG while shooting 53.5 percent. He is more than a streamer in this breakout season.

Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac is far from a finished product three months into his second NBA season, but the bouncy big man is already making his presence felt as a shot-blocker. Entering Wednesday, he recorded at least one blocked shot in eight consecutive games, including three blocks in three games during the past week. Just wait until the scoring and shooting round into shape!

Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons is doing it all right now (except shooting 3s, of course), but one part of his game that stands out is his hot shooting. He has made 65.4 percent of his shots during the past 10 games while averaging 16.8 PPG during that span. Simmons is at 57.8 percent for the season and, unbelievably, has yet to attempt a 3-point shot this season or make a 3 in his NBA career.

Phoenix Suns: Kelly Oubre Jr. will come off the bench in his Suns debut Wednesday, but that could very well be a short-lived role, as he certainly has the talent to move into the starting five at any point. Regardless, Oubre's presence on the Suns could mean an end to Josh Jackson's recent fantasy surge. That's something to watch closely in the weeks ahead.

Portland Trail Blazers: There is so much to like about the consistency in Damian Lillard's game throughout his NBA career, as well as his impressive durability for someone his size. That being said, he is actually behind last year's pace in two important areas this season - assists (6.0 vs. 6.6 APG) and steals (0.9 vs. 1.1 SPG). It doesn't matter much, but it's a trend worth keeping an eye on as Lillard continues to grow as a shooter and scorer.

Sacramento Kings: Plenty of people laughed when the Kings traded Cousins for Buddy Hield late in the 2016-17 season, but Hield is doing all the laughing these days. The third-year shooting guard has the offensive game that can carry fantasy teams - particularly in roto scoring leagues -- as he is putting up career highs in field goal percentage (48.2 FG%), scoring (19.3 PPG), rebounding (5.0 RPG), assists (2.5 APG) and become on of the league's most lethal shooters from 3-point range (2.9 3PG, 42.9 3P%).

San Antonio Spurs: Efficiency was once regarded as a big weakness in Rudy Gay's game, but at this stage in his career, that's no longer the case. The veteran forward has been particularly efficient during the past two weeks, shooting 61.2 percent from the field and 95.2 percent from the free throw line in that seven-game span. His 52.9 shooting percentage this season would shatter his previous high (47.1 FG%).

Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard has never posted a higher average in scoring (26.3 PPG) or rebounding (8.4 RPG) than he's putting up in his first season with the Raptors, and he has done so while maintaining his numbers in virtually all other categories. Maybe his only flaw is the occasional missed game due to rest. He has played in 24 of the Raptors' 32 games so far this season.

Utah Jazz: Much like I mentioned with Zeller above, Derrick Favors is another underrated big man worth looking at in roto leagues, thanks to his efficient shooting (60.5 percent) and contributions as a scorer (11.1 PPG), rebounder (7.0 RPG) and shot-blocker (1.2 BPG). He's doing all this despite averaging just 22.9 MPG.

Washington Wizards: Otto Porter Jr.'s disappointing season got a little worse on Monday when an MRI revealed that he will miss another week due to a Grade 2 strain of his right vastus medialis. Porter's scoring is down 3.0 PPG from last season and that's not all -- his rebounding is down 0.8 RPG and he's averaging 0.4 fewer 3PG. He has already missed four games and won't be back until next week at the earliest.