Blake Griffin's fantasy improvement
Blake Griffin scored 22 points on 11-for-15 shooting with 10 rebounds and two blocks in the Clippers' drubbing of the Lakers Thursday night. He has scored at least 17 points in all but one February contest. A quick glance at his numbers indicates that he's taken a step back, with overall decreases in points, rebounds and blocks. But on a per-minute basis, his scoring is nearly identical to last season, his jumper has improved significantly, he's posting twice as many steals and he has improved his free throw shooting to 65.7 percent from 52.1 percent last season. Most importantly, he's a much better fantasy player, with a No. 23 ranking on the Player Rater compared to last season's 62nd.
I avoided him on draft day because he was the third-most harmful player in free throw percentage last season, but now he's not even among the 10 worst, and he is third-best among power forwards in steals and fourth overall in field goal percentage. If Griffin's owner is frustrated by his reduction in some of the counting stats, he might be worth looking into buying, as his value should be higher than it was on draft day based upon his improved fantasy performance. Take advantage of the fact that, in many leagues, the perception is that he's regressed.
• Kevin Durant failed to sink his first field goal until there were four minutes left in the first half, and he was 0-for-7 from the floor up to that point. But he finished with 40 points on 12-for-24 shooting, playing all 48 minutes. Grit like that is what makes him the best fantasy basketball player alive, and he should carry that crown throughout the second half of the season.
• Reggie Jackson has hit his career high in points (12) twice in the past five games, and is locked in as Russell Westbrook's backup. This doesn't mean much for standard leagues, as Westbrook has never missed a game due to injury in his life -- including high school and college -- but for very deep leagues Jackson has some potential in assists, steals and 3-pointers. He's averaging 3.5 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 3-pointer per game this month, and the fact that his Player Efficiency Rating has improved by nearly four points, despite averaging the same amount of minutes per game as last season, indicates that his progression as a player is quantifiable.
• Chauncey Billups went bananas in just 16 minutes, scoring 21 points with 5 3-pointers, 4 steals and 3 assists. He's rolled off his two best games of the season heading into the All-Star break, averaging 20 points per game in those games, and is primed to actually be a fantasy factor in the second half. He's averaging 11.0 points and 2.3 3s per game in his seven games this season, and although he'll play limited minutes given the Clippers' depth and the fact he's been dinged-up all season, he'll provide 3s with some assists, steals and sparkling free throw percentage.
• The schedule kicks back up on Tuesday, with nine games on the docket, including potential returns for day-to-day players such as Gordon Hayward, Jarrett Jack, Quincy Pondexter and Larry Sanders. Hayward is a player I'm keeping my eye on closely for the second half; his ownership has dropped to 52.4 percent, although I still like his fantasy skill set and see an improved second half from him. Last season, he averaged 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 3s, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game after the All-Star break, including 16.1 points, 3.5 assists, 1.8 3s and 0.9 steals per game in 13 April contests. He's hard-working, versatile, talented, and on a team that could look markedly different after the break, which means more offensive responsibilities could fall upon him and his minutes could increase from his current mark of 26.6 per game. I like him to hit in the second half, and still see him worthy of a roster spot, especially in roto formats.
• Wesley Matthews suffered a high-ankle sprain in Wednesday's contest, but at least he has the All-Star break to rest it, and given his reputation as someone who plays through injuries, he should be back earlier than most. Still, many miss several weeks with this injury, so monitor his situation going into Tuesday's games and expect increased contributions from Victor Claver and Will Barton if Matthews misses time.
• Danny Granger should return next Wednesday, as he went through full-court action with no issues Tuesday and apparently didn't play Wednesday due to illness rather than issues with his knee. He'll come off the bench at first, but should eventually supplant Lance Stephenson in the starting lineup. He won't supplant Paul George as the new star of the team, however, but Granger will undoubtedly have fantasy value, as he's averaged at least two 3s and one steal per game in each of the past five seasons. It's easy to undervalue him since he's declined in each of the past four seasons, and he's a shard of the top-10 player he once was, but he's still valuable and should be owned in every format.
• Andrew Bynum's return by the end of the month is still questionable, as he's participating in workouts but still limited by pain. Despite his disappointing season, he should also be universally rostered now that he's nearing a return, especially by teams who need a winning lottery ticket-type of player to bolster them in the standings in the second half. He's going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will likely want to post enough productive games to keep his value at the max level, so I'd expect some production from Bynum in the second half and view him as worthy of a bench spot in all formats.