I was tweeted a question earlier this week asking whether to drop Marc Gasol for the fantasy playoffs. In hindsight, the answer was no; Gasol returned from his abdominal injury Wednesday. But situations like this are complicated.
When weighing whether to drop an injured player, it all comes down to two questions: Who replaces him in your starting lineup, and what will that player's role be? If you have a capable replacement on your bench and can afford to stash an injured player until he potentially returns for a championship run, don't dump him simply because he's sidelined in favor of a player you won't be starting anyway.
But if there's a difference-maker lurking on the waiver wire and you can't take the risk of burning a roster spot for an injured player during this must-win week, then dropping a question mark for a surefire augmentation to your potential championship team is a valid choice.
Additionally, in cases where a player's status is uncertain -- like Gasol's was -- you run the risk that he'll return, like Gasol did Wednesday night, when he scored 13 points with five rebounds in 36 minutes. Still, it was a viable query, as rosters need careful and calculated analysis and honing if you want to secure a late-season win.
It can also be appropriate to drop a widely owned player who provides in an area where your team has a surplus in order to address a specific deficiency. If you notice that you're well ahead of the pack in a certain category or would win the category each week without the contribution of a player whose strength lies in that category, dropping him for an option that addresses your needs could be worth it.
Here are some worthy late-season additions who are widely available in ESPN leagues:
Brandon Bass, PF/C, Boston Celtics (36.9 percent owned): Bass is picking up some of the slack left by Kevin Garnett (out for at least two weeks because of inflammation in his left ankle), scoring in double digits in seven of the past nine games, including Wednesday's 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the floor and 6-for-7 from the stripe. His rebounding is unimpressive for a big man -- several small forwards, such as Paul George and Thaddeus Young, average more rebounds per 48 minutes -- but he provides modest contributions in points, steals and blocks and is historically fruitful in the percentage-based categories.
Bass' 47 percent from the floor this season is the lowest mark since 2006-07, although he is shooting 55.1 percent from the floor in March and is primed to once again boost fantasy teams' production in the category. He's also much more efficient from the floor when starting, as he's shooting 48.2 percent from the starting lineup and 40.3 percent off the bench. But the category that sets him apart is free throw percentage, where he is ranked 10th on the Player Rater over the past 15 days and is 26-for-28 from the stripe this month. Now that Garnett is out, his role on offense has increased and he should get to the line more, as evidenced by recent 8-for-8 and 5-for-5 performances from the stripe. If free throws are an area of weakness, Bass is capable of providing significant assistance from a position that's typically a liability in the category.
Elton Brand, PF, Dallas Mavericks (36.5 percent owned): Despite his reduction in playing time this season, Brand is averaging more rebounds and blocks per 48 minutes and is still a fine aggregate source of blocks and steals. Over the past 15 days, Brand is averaging 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, and only three other players have accomplished that feat. His healthy field goal percentage is helpful despite his limited attempts, as more than half of his shots come at the rim, so he won't have many nights in which he shoots lower than 40 percent from the field (just three such games since Feb. 6). The Mavs are clinging to playoff hopes, so they likely won't look toward the future and play Jae Crowder over Brand, who played 25 minutes in two of his past three games and is valuable due to his ability to man both frontcourt positions and act as a defensive cornerstone when on the court.
Mike James, PG, Mavericks (31.9 percent owned): James has usurped Darren Collison as the starting point guard in Dallas and is averaging 10.3 points, 4.9 assists and 2.2 3-pointers per game in 12 starts this season. Rick Carlisle likes him because of his veteran presence and ability to stretch the floor, and given the team's recent success with James at the helm, I expect him to start for the remainder of the season. He's not multidimensional, as you know exactly what categories you'll get from James on a consistent basis, but if you want heaps of 3s, plentiful assists and decent points, James is in line to be one of those unexpected contributors for fantasy teams down the stretch.
Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors (11.9 percent owned): He is averaging fewer minutes per game in March than he did in January and February, as the team has leaned on veterans late in games while it clings to playoff hopes. But over his past three games, he is averaging 29 minutes per game -- coach Mark Jackson has gone with a shortened rotation -- and has notched double-digit points in three of his past four. He won't dazzle you in any specific category but can score efficiently and provide some 3s and steals, and he should increase his production with the recent expansion of playing time.
Kenyon Martin, PF, New York Knicks (11.7 percent owned): Tyson Chandler has missed the past nine games because of a neck injury, and with Amar'e Stoudemire out for the season, Martin has provided fantastic production for the Knicks. He is averaging 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks per game over his past five, scoring in double digits in three of those contests while shooting 73 percent from the floor. The steals and blocks are legit -- averaged 1.0 per game in each category in 42 games off the bench for the Clippers last season -- and anytime he's seeing consistent floor time, he's still a capable fantasy player.
Chandler is considered day-to-day and might return Friday. But the team will want him fresh for the playoffs, so even if Martin's playing time diminishes some when Chandler returns, he has proved to be a viable part of the big-man rotation.
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls (5.5 percent owned): I've featured him before, so you know I'm a fan of Gibson any time he is getting regular minutes. With Joakim Noah sidelined with plantar fasciitis, Gibson is worth starting and might even be worth holding on to when Noah returns if the Bulls limit the starter's minutes to keep him fresh for the playoffs. When getting increased run, Gibson can provide excellent rebounds and blocks with efficient scoring, and in his past four games since returning from injury, Gibson is averaging 10.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.5 steals per game. His output hinges upon Noah's condition, although Noah's injury is the type that will bother him for the rest of the season, so look for Gibson's production to improve.
Jannero Pargo, PG, Charlotte Bobcats (0.2 percent owned): The definition of a journeyman, Pargo is playing for his seventh team in eight years and has secured a second 10-day contract with the Bobcats, as backup Ramon Sessions has been sidelined since early March with a sprained MCL. Pargo has been a sparkplug off the bench, averaging 11 points and 2.3 3s per game with at least one 3-pointer in every game over his past six contests. If you need some points and 3s, Pargo is almost universally available and has been consistently providing 3s in Sessions' absence, although his production will be sporadic since he's in a bench role and his responsibilities will shift on a nightly basis based on game-time circumstances.
Andre Drummond, PF/C, Pistons (5.7 percent owned): Drummond might return as soon as Friday, and when he does, he is capable of providing insane per-minute rebounds, blocks and steals. He was averaging 7.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 0.9 steals in just 19.7 minutes per game before going down with a back injury, and although he'll likely be eased back into action, he has the raw tools to help fantasy teams down the stretch in need of defensive stats, especially if you can stomach his wretched free throw percentage (36.5 percent on 2.3 attempts per game).
Alec Burks, SG, Jazz (0.0 percent owned): Burks is streaky, but he can score in bursts -- as evidenced by his 11 points in eight minutes Sunday and 12 points in the fourth quarter Monday -- and is on one of his hot streaks, notching double digits in four of his past five contests and averaging 10.6 points with 1.0 3s per game in that stretch. He has played at least 20 minutes in four of those five contests and can help desperate deep-league fantasy teams in points, 3s and steals.