With the All-Star Game over and only two months left in the NBA regular season, fantasy owners are looking to make their final preparations for the season's stretch run.
Every season we see some massive movements in player value over the last two months of the campaign as teams either tank for a better lottery selection, make a final playoff push or rest aging stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs. Needless to say, the post-All-Star break is a roller coaster for fantasy owners.
Here's a look into some of the storylines that may impact your rosters the rest of the way:
The Nuggets are struggling with just two wins in their past 10 games and now sit 8.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Given their struggles, it's likely that we'll see some changes in Denver in the near future. It seemed impossible to think that Kenneth Faried would be the subject of trade rumors at the start of the season, but a change of scenery might do the Manimal some good after his inconsistent first half. I also wouldn't be surprised to see either Wilson Chandler or Aaron Afflalo moved to a contender. Jusuf Nurkic might be the big winner of Denver's slumping ways, whether they make trades or not. The 20-year-old has shown glimpses of brilliance with 7.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 18 games as a starter and makes for a great high-upside pickup (owned in just 11.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues) or trade candidate for the stretch run.
I have no idea why Carmelo Anthony would risk damage to his knee in the All-Star Game while at the same time saying that it's "very likely" he'll have surgery on his ailing knee at some point after the game. Either way, Melo owners need to start preparing to be without him in the very near future. The Knicks haven't offered much from a fantasy perspective, but Tim Hardaway Jr. and Langston Galloway come to mind as second-half sleepers. Galloway has posted 11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.4 3-pointers in 12 starts, while Hardaway has posted 14.6 points and 2.1 3-pointers in 20 starts on the season. Outside of them, there's not much to see here from a fantasy perspective, although I suppose both Jason Smith and Jose Calderon could offer some low-end value once Melo shuts it down.
Yes, he's lost playing time to Nikola Pekovic and, yes, his numbers have suffered, but I'm still optimistic about Gorgui Dieng for the stretch run. Consider Pekovic's lengthy injury history and the fact that the 11-42 Wolves will want to get the 25-year-old Dieng as much experience as they can to prepare for the future. Dieng, who was terrific with averages of 10.5 points, 9.2 boards, 1.1 steals and 1.9 blocks in 38 starts this season, has managed just 6.0 points, 7.0 boards, 0.5 steals and 1.0 blocks over his past five games (with Pekovic stealing his thunder). Can you say, "buy low"?
Tyreke Evans has been brilliant as a fill-in option at point guard for Jrue Holiday. Evans has averaged 16.6 points, 5.2 boards, 7.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 3-pointers over his past 16 games, but with Holiday getting close to return, Evans will relinquish the point and return to small forward for the Pelicans. Tyreke has had a nice season at SF, posting 16.9 points, 5.4 boards, 6.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 3-pointers per game, so his value won't fall off as much as one might think -- though he won't be dishing out as many assists. Eric Gordon, who averaged 15.3 points and 2.2 3-pointers in the month of January, may see fewer looks on the offensive end once Holiday is back to full strength.
I still don't trust Josh Smith one bit, but he's playing very well with 14.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.6 blocks and 1.9 3-pointers over his past 10 games with Dwight Howard out of action. Plus, Smith has shot a respectable 47.9 percent from the floor during the stretch! The shooting percentage won't last, but he should continue to post great across-the-board stats for as long as Howard is out. Trevor Ariza, meanwhile, has also upped his game with Howard out, averaging 15.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.6 3-pointers over his past five games.
It could be the presence of Hassan Whiteside, or the mid-December calf strain that kept him out for eight games, but Chris Bosh has offered some unusually empty stat lines as of late. Sure, he's still scoring at a 20-ppg clip, and he's hitting 1.4 3-pointers per game, but he's averaged just 5.6 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks in his past 19 games. To make matters worse, with his newfound 3-point shooting ability, Bosh's field goal percentage has hovered in the 43 to 44 percent range during that span. Essentially, his numbers look like a slightly less-efficient Dirk Nowitzki (who has been offering empty stat lines himself). Nowitzki has averaging 18.3 points, 6.0 boards, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers on the season but remains a quality fantasy play thanks to his percentages.
As you can see by his ranking at No. 130 overall, I'm not rushing out to add Paul George in fantasy leagues after hearing that he'll attempt to make his return in mid-March. However, I do think he's a good stash candidate for anyone who has roster space. George suffered a gruesome leg injury last summer and was considered a long shot to return this season. It's amazing that he's even talking about returning, and one has to wonder just how effective he'll be if he's able to suit up. Of course, George is a top-20 fantasy player when healthy so he's certainly worth the risk in head-to-head leagues if your team has a nice cushion.
Fantasy Basketball Top 130
Brian McKitish's top 130 players are ranked for their value for the rest of the 2014-15 NBA season, independent of the value accrued to this point. For a ranking of players' value to this point, please refer to the Player Rater.