The Celtics' season seemingly went down in flames last weekend, with the news that guard Rajon Rondo suffered a torn ACL against the Hawks Friday. That news might have taken down plenty of Fantasy owners' seasons with it, as one of the league's most uniquely gifted stat sheet stuffers will be out of commission until at least the 2013-14 season.
Fantasy owners who were relying on Rondo are now left searching for options. And, like a weary wanderer stuck in the desert, some might see a mirage in the distance in the form of Rondo's teammate, Avery Bradley. From a distance, Bradley might look like a possible season-saving pickup to the owners in 48 percent of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues who nabbed him over the last week. But what appears to be a quenching oasis will almost certainly prove to be a trick of the eyes upon further inspection.
Yes, Bradley is likely to see 25-plus minutes per game moving forward, however that was likely to occur whether Rondo was there or not. Bradley's defense on the perimeter has proven to be a big plus for Boston over the last season-plus. What Fantasy owners are hoping for from Bradley is that he will take on an added ball-handling role in Rondo's absence. Upon initial inspection, Bradley seems to be the most natural fit on the Celtics' roster to take on a bigger role, as he is undersized to play the off-guard spot and seems to be more natural a fit at point guard.
Unfortunately, Bradley is particularly ill-suited for the task of taking on play-making duties in Rondo's stead, as his NBA career has clearly shown. The 22-year-old has just nine more assists than turnovers -- total -- over 108 career games, with an average of just 1.0 assists per game. Last season, Bradley spent plenty of time as the team's backup point guard, a role that did not lead to positive outcomes for him or the team as a whole. According to 82games.com, Bradley averaged just 4.1 assists per 48 minutes last season while playing point guard. In his time running the point, the Celtics were held to just 87.0 points per-100 possessions, a mark that would put them a full 10 points behind the Wizards' league-worst pace this season.
In the first full game without Rondo Sunday, Bradley failed to record an assists in 28 minutes, and he has multiple assists in just one game since returning from a shoulder injury. The Celtics will certainly need some players to step up in Rondo's absence, but Bradley does not seem like a likely choice to do so. He is now owned in 60 percent of leagues, but I expect Fantasy owners to realize Bradley is no season-salvaging oasis before long.
Most Added Guards
Courtney Lee, Celtics: Fantasy owners might be hedging their bets a bit with regards to Bradley, as Lee comes in as the third-most added player, and I think he has a chance to provide more return on investment than Bradley. Bradley has been a player who gets minutes because of his shut down defense and cutting ability, two traits that do not lend themselves to big Fantasy production. Lee, on the other hand, has proven his ability to knock down jumpers over the years, and he has shown the ability to run an offense, at least more so than Bradley. Lee is averaging just 1.8 assists per game over the past 10 games, despite averaging just 20.3 minutes. He will not be mistaken for Rondo in any way, but his ability to bring more to the table than Bradley might prove useful for a Boston team that is going to badly require some offensive creativity moving forward. Even having said all of that, I do not expect big things from Lee, who has been little more than a role player in the past. Of the Celtics' guards, Jason Terry strikes me as the one most likely to break out in Rondo's absence, given his proven ability to run an offense. I'm not sure I would pick up any of them in most formats, though.(28 percent owned; +21 percent)
Jerryd Bayless, Grizzlies: Bayless has seen his role grow over the last few games, with the biggest boost coming due to an ankle injury to Mike Conley. It might be easy to write that off as a result of Memphis' lack of depth behind Conley, however he was starting to play a bigger part in the team's plans even before Conley left Sunday's game with the injury. Bayless played 30 minutes off the bench Friday, despite Conley being active; his value might be improving even if Conley is able to make a quick return. Bayless is averaging 14.0 points and 5.8 assists per game over the last four games, with Conley sitting out two of them. Bayless has proven himself to be a playmaker in the past, and Memphis' moribund offense could certainly use an injection of off-dribble creativity, so it has been a surprise to see his role shrink so much this season. Expect him to continue improving. (32 percent owned; +19 percent)
Nick Young, 76ers: Young has been playing a much bigger role in the Sixers plans recently, due to a lingering knee injury hobbling Jason Richardson. He has taken advantage of Richardson's absence to put together his best stretch of the season, averaging 14.8 points per game over the last five. He has taken on much of Richardson's role as primary floor-spacer in the first-team offense, averaging 5.0 three-point attempts per game in that span, while making 36.0 percent of those attempts. Young has a tendency to hijack the offense, but seems to be making strides to correct that flaw in his game this season. 26.5 percent of his possessions come in spot-up situations, with another 25.3 percent coming off screens or on hand offs, according to MySynergySports.com's play-tracking data. Young will never be an efficient scorer, but Sixers coach Doug Collins seems to be getting through to him, and it is paying dividends recently. As long as Richardson is out, Young appears to be a decent waiver-wire pickup. (30 percent owned; +16 percent)
Most Added Forwards
Jimmy Butler, Bulls: Butler played a big part for the Bulls without Luol Deng around, and it will be interesting to see how his role evolves with Deng back from the hamstring issue that limited him last week. In Deng's first game back Monday, Butler still played 31 minutes, as he forced coach Tom Thibodeau to roll with him on a 19-point night. The Bulls use a short rotation as it is, but the key to determining Butler's Fantasy utility moving forward will be how Thibodeau uses him on a night when the shot is not falling. Deng has been a security blanket for Thibodeau, ranking in the top-five in minutes per game across the league over the last three seasons, so the Bulls will have to juggle the rotation to keep them both out there. Butler has been on the floor for 1,676 offensive possessions this season, according to NBAWowy.com, and only 39.7 percent of them have been shared with Deng. If Deng is back to monopolizing minutes, it would spell trouble for Butler, so keep a close eye on the rotations in Chicago. (38 percent owned; +33 percent)
Marreese Speights, Cavaliers: Speights has seen his Fantasy value improve since the trade from Memphis to Cleveland, an outcome that makes perfect sense. Memphis had a pair of All-Star caliber franchise big men blocking Speights from playing time, while Cleveland ... well, doesn't. Cleveland has been leaning heavily on a young frontcourt of Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller that they hope is long on potential, if not present-day production at times. Speights has a perfect opportunity to put up some solid production in the last half of the season as he possibly heads into free agency (he holds a $4.5 million player option for next season). He has reached double figures in each of his first three games as a Cavalier, and could end up pushing both Thompson and Zeller for playing time at the big positions. The Cavaliers may choose to flip Speights for an additional draft pick before the deadlin, given his looming free agency, but they will almost certainly showcase him before doing so. Consider him a solid pickup in deeper formats. (34 percent owned; +18 percent)
Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks: Writing about Ersan Ilyasova is a fool's deed this season, I have come to realize. After breaking out for 16.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game after the All-Star break a year ago -- and earning a big multi-year contract for his troubles -- Ilyasova promptly fell right on his face to begin this season. Over the first 36 games of the year, Ilyasova averaged just 8.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while showing very few signs of life. I will admit, at that point, I was ready to give up on him as a significant Fantasy contributor. So, of course, he bounced back with one of the best four-game stretches of his career last week, averaging 25.5 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. Was that a last-gasp attempt to avoid Fantasy irrelevance (and keep his spot in the rotation), or has Ilyasova finally turned the corner after a rough start? His career path falls more in line with the production he showed to begin the season, but he has shown the ability to sustain something resembling this in the past. In the end, Fantasy owners have to bet on his potential, which is why he is deservedly owned in 97 percent of leagues right now. (97 percent owned; +12 percent)
Most Added Centers
Andrew Bogut, Warriors: Bogut's somewhat surprising return to the floor Monday led to a mini rush to add him this week, but Fantasy owners will need to make sure they don't expect too much from the one-time star. The center position is exceedingly thin, so even the chance that Bogut will live up to his former heights makes him worth at least a speculative pickup, however Fantasy owners will certainly need to keep expectations low for now. Bogut already sat out the second night of a back to back Tuesday, a pattern that will almost certainly continue moving forward. Bogut is not four seasons removed from his career campaign of 2009-10, when he averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, and he has not consistently shown that kind of high-end ability since. The Warriors are surprisingly poised to make a long run in the Western Conference playoffs, so expect them to take it easy with Bogut, who has played just 17 games over the last two seasons. Bogut might not be the answer you are looking for at center right now. (83 percent owned; +17 percent)
Tiago Splitter, Spurs: Making the move from a per-minute specialist to a bona fide NBA starter is one of the most challenging jumps a developing NBA player has to make. Putting up solid numbers second units or in blow outs is a completely different assignment than doing it against the best players each opponent can throw at you. It is a testament to the 28-year-old's development as a player that he has been able to make that jump this season, and he seems to be improving more and more as the season has gone. Splitter is averaging career highs across the board for the season as a whole, and has maintained a steady rate of improvement through the season. Over the last 10 games, Splitter has taken on a larger role in the team's offense, averaging 14.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, while shooting an absurd 68.2 percent from the field. According to MySynergySports.com, Splitter ranks second in the league in points per possession as the roll man in pick and roll players, and it is little surprise that a plurality of his possessions come in that play time. The Spurs know exactly how to put each of their players in the best position to succeed. The biggest issue for Splitter moving forward might just be his conditioning, as he has not played extensive minutes like this before. As long as he is up to the task, however, I would snatch Splitter in whatever leagues he remains available in, given his eligibility as center. (76 percent owned; +15 percent)