Our new weekly fantasy column -- Risers and Fallers -- is back, taking a look at players you should be targeting, as well as players you should think about moving.
Let's take a trip around the league, beginning in Detroit with a young center making a lot of noise.
Duren made this list last week, but just barely. This week he's on the cover after returning Top 5 value over the past two weeks, after returning Top 40 value in the two weeks prior. Yes, he's played just two games recently due to a trip to Paris but his value arrow is pointing straight up. Duren dominated the Bucks for 23 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and two blocks on 9-of-13 shooting on Monday and then got the Nets for 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block on 7-of-8 shooting on Thursday. He's averaging a double-double in January, the Pistons are tanking, he's 19 years old and the only thing holding him back is the Pistons' shaky 16-game playoff schedule Weeks 20-24. The best news is he's still rostered in just 18.1% of ESPN leagues (up from 9.7% a week ago). This is the last call on Duren.
VanVleet has been a Top 10 player over the last two weeks and has been on a five-game tear for the Raptors, who have won their last two games. After struggling for a week in early January, FVV is hot again, averaging 28.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 4.2 3-pointers over his last five games. The downside is that the Raptors, like the Pistons, only have 16 games in playoff Weeks 20-24 (3-3-4-3-3), but are also the only team sitting on that number that doesn't have any two-game weeks, which is nice.
Bridges has been incredibly reliable an a stabilizing force for a team destroyed by injuries for much of the season. And he should continue to roll for the foreseeable future, as Devin Booker is expected to miss at least another week due to his groin injury. But Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and Cameron Johnson are all finally healthy, the Suns had won four straight games going into Thursday's game and Bridges has been on fire since a 3-of-10 shooting, seven-point dud on Jan. 11. He scored at least 21 points in his next five games and is at 22.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.3 3-pointers over his last six. Even when Booker's back, Bridges has become a force in Phoenix. The Suns have 16 games in Weeks 20-24 (3-2-4-3-4) which isn't ideal, but works well if your playoffs start in Week 22.
Claxton has been a Top 40 player over the last couple of weeks and unlike the aforementioned players, actually has a great playoff schedule, playing 18 games from Week 20-24 (4-4-3-4-3). He went off on Thursday night for a season-high 27 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks on 11-of-13 shooting against the Pistons and has scored at least 20 points in five straight games, double-doubling in four of them. In fact, he's double-doubled in six of his last seven and is playing as well as any center in the league not named Nikola Jokic right now. Since Jan. 15 he's averaging a whopping 21.1 points, 11.3 boards and 3.1 blocks while shooting lights out over his last seven games. He's unchallenged for center minutes for the Nets and while he'll take a slight hit once Kevin Durant (knee) eventually comes back, the great playoff schedule should offset it. He won't come cheap, but Claxton has become a fantasy force.
Do I trust Joe? Not really. But we're talking about a guy who is rostered in just 0.8% of ESPN fantasy leagues. Joe blew up for 23 and 21 points in back-to-back games last week and is averaging 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.75 steals and 4.8 3-pointers over his last four games. If the Thunder decide to give him more consistent minutes down the stretch he could end up being a fantasy steal. But if you're in a deep league and need some 3-point shooting, Joe is probably sitting on your waiver wire. He's been worth a fifth-round fantasy pick over his last five games.
I wish I was putting TJM in the risers, as he's been a second-round player over his last eight games. He's had a triple-double and two double-doubles over his last seven games and has been a bit of a fantasy monster since Tyrese Haliburton went down with an elbow and knee injury a couple weeks ago. Over his last nine games, McConnell is at 15.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 3-pointers. I've been asked if McConnell is worth holding once Haliburton is back and, sadly, the answer is no. Haliburton will be re-evaluated next week and while McConnell is a must-have player as long as Haliburton is out, those days are numbered. He really wasn't doing much of anything when Haliburton was healthy so just ride him until Tyrese is back and then be prepared to drop him. If you picked McConnell up when Haliburton went down (which I advised), you haven't missed a beat and got a very solid fantasy option off the waiver wire.
Paul George, SG/SF, Los Angeles Clippers
George is suffering a bit from the Clippers getting healthy and while he's playing well, he's also playing second fiddle to a suddenly healthy Kawhi Leonard. George missed about 10 days in the middle of the month and had a string of three mediocre games before tallying 21 and 27 points in his last two. He's been worth only a sixth-round fantasy pick over the last two weeks and while he's not a player you should be looking to dump, his trade value is not where it needs to be if you're thinking about moving him. Additionally, the Clippers got 4-2-3-3-4 for 16 games in Weeks 20-24 and his next missed game is always just around the corner.
Bryant is another player who has been playing at a high level and had been a riser while Anthony Davis was out with his bad foot. But a funny thing happened on Wednesday, as in AD played and had 21 points, 12 boards and four blocks off the bench in 26 minutes against the Spurs. Bryant had just eight points, five boards, a steal and a block in that one and he's only been worth a late seventh-round player over the last two weeks. And if AD can stay healthy, when you add Rui Hachimura to the mix for the Lakers, Bryant simply has to take a hit. He's not a player you have to get off of your roster and Davis' next injury is always just around the corner. Just don't expect him to be a stud as long as Davis is playing.
Mobley has only been an eighth-round fantasy player over his last two weeks but it's mainly due to his lack of 3-pointers, assists, steals and poor free throw percentage. He stopped the slide on Thursday with 21 points, 10 rebounds, a steal, two blocks and 9-of-10 free throws, but also hit just 6-of-17 shots in that game. He has just two double-doubles in his last 20 games and while he was great on Thursday, his name value might be better than his game value right now. He's not a player I'd be looking to move but if you want to try to trade for him, his value might not be lower than it is right now. Additionally, the Cavaliers have the worst playoff schedule in the league. They go 2-4-3-3-3 in Weeks 20-24 so savvy owners planning ahead for the fantasy playoffs might be wise to try to make a deal in the near future. If you can trade Mobley for Alperen Sengun, who goes 4-3-4-4-4 in Weeks 20-24, do it.
Damian Lillard has been killing it and is healthy, meaning Simons has taken a back seat to his teammate recently. Simons has been a 10th-round value over the past two weeks while Lillard has been running circles around him. Simons' scoring has been fine and he had 16 points and nine dimes on Wednesday, but he's generally not doing enough in the peripheral categories lately. In January, Simons is averaging just 2.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 0.5 steals. Portland has a nice playoff schedule, going 4-4-3-3-4 for 18 games in Weeks 20-24, but outside of scoring and solid percentages, he's just not getting it done with Lillard healthy.