Ekpe Udoh emerging as usable option

February, 21, 2012
Is Ekpe Udoh poised for a Jeremy Lin-type breakout? Or at least a Nikola Pekovic-type breakout?

The second-year pro sparkled in his first start of the season, producing 19 points (9-of-14 shooting) and eight rebounds as the Golden State Warriors topped the Los Angeles Clippers. Playing a season-high 38 minutes, Udoh added a pair of blocks and a steal, and was formidable enough offensively to get Blake Griffin into foul trouble.

While it's beyond obvious to point out that Udoh shouldn't be counted on for scoring -- in 87 career games, Monday marked the ninth time he scored in double digits -- fantasy owners shouldn't discount this performance either. Per 36 minutes, Udoh is averaging a shade more than 3.0 blocks this season. Another beyond-obvious point: That rate of rejections is tough to come by in fantasy.

The other factor in the case for Udoh is that he does seem to have an opportunity. The center he replaced Monday, Andris Biedrins (illness), has been averaging only 17 minutes per game and is three years removed from his last impactful season. And Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who was on Udoh over his inconsistent play in the early going, has been gushing about him to the local press of late.

Perhaps Udoh can play like a slightly less polished Serge Ibaka or JaVale McGee the rest of the way. Of course, his starting spot is nowhere near assured either. But for fantasy owners seeking blocks, Udoh is an intriguing risk.

Looking back

• Finally, the New York Knicks were at full strength on Monday … and the result was a home-court drubbing from the New Jersey Nets. Perhaps Carmelo Anthony (11 points, six turnovers) was rusty in his first game since Feb. 6. Maybe he was too accommodating (six assists). But it was definitely ugly for him and some of his teammates, including Amare Stoudemire (7-of-17 with just four rebounds), J.R. Smith (0-of-5 from downtown) and Baron Davis (a minus-12 in 10 minutes in his Knicks debut). Incidentally, the Nets were without Brook Lopez, who was apparently rested after making his season debut Sunday. Lopez (foot) should play in the Nets' final pre-break game Wednesday.

• The Chicago Bulls enjoyed a happier return in their win over the Atlanta Hawks. Derrick Rose (23 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) certainly looked healthy after missing five games because of back spasms.

• It was a wild contest in the Mile High City, where each team lost a key player. In the case of the decimated Denver Nuggets, Ty Lawson didn't return after spraining his left ankle in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves played the second half without Pekovic. Pek actually sprained his ankle in the first quarter but stayed in until halftime, when the ankle stiffened during the break. Both players are considered day-to-day.

• The Nuggets, by the way, would love to get Wilson Chandler on the court, and it may happen soon. Chandler, who was allowed to leave the Chinese league at the end of the regular season, watched the Nuggets-Wolves contest after meeting with team officials Monday. His agent has already said the restricted free agent will return to the Nuggets this season. Chandler is available in about 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues and is a must-add if you have any dead weight on your roster.

• One more thing about the Nuggets: This Wolves fan got his first look at Kenneth Faried (10 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals). Wow, that kid is a dynamo. I'm not sure how much he'll play once the Nuggets finally get healthy, but they have two more games ahead of the break (Wednesday and Thursday). I'd definitely take Faried as a fill-in.

• Playing without two starters, the Boston Celtics didn't have much of a chance against the Dallas Mavericks. Rajon Rondo sat out the first of his two-game suspension. He'll return just after the All-Star break. Kevin Garnett (personal) also missed his second straight game. No word yet on his availability for Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Another question mark for that game is the Thunder's James Harden (ankle), who also missed Monday's action.

• A night after his absurd 29-point, 25-rebound performance against the Nets, Ersan Ilyasova (15 points, 15 rebounds) had a fine follow-up outing against the Orlando Magic on Monday. However, it was Larry Sanders' line (13 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) that stood out for the Milwaukee Bucks. The seldom-used Sanders was called on to battle Dwight Howard, and odds are you won't see much more from him going forward. But with Drew Gooden (wrist) still sidelined, it's possible Sanders earned himself more playing time.

Looking ahead

Isaiah Thomas has been added in a good number of ESPN.com leagues already, but if you can get the Sacramento Kings' new starting point guard, he should be worth multiple treys against the Miami Heat on Tuesday. Heat opponents are second in the league in buckets from downtown.

• The San Antonio Spurs offer a couple of decent fill-in plays for owners in leagues of at least 12 teams. After posting 20 points and five 3s Monday against the Utah Jazz, Matt Bonner has reached double figures in four straight games and played 30-plus minutes in the past two. And for the entire month of February, he's quietly averaging 2.2 3-pointers per game. With Tiago Splitter (calf) sidelined for the next two weeks or so, Bonner could continue to see ample playing time. In a very deep league, I also like Gary Neal, who added 14 points and three treys against the Jazz. Neal figures to play regularly with Manu Ginobili (oblique) again out of the lineup.



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