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Week 7 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Fantasy Writer
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The key to improving your team in the middle of the season is finding those players who seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. Whether due to a hot streak or an increased opportunity to play, these are the players who end up putting your team over the top when the season comes to an end. Fantasy owners who picked up Andray Blatche over the last week are definitely reaping the rewards of that move, for example.

The latest player who seems to be following that trend is Bulls guard Marco Belinelli, who has taken advantage of Richard Hamilton's foot injury to vault back to Fantasy relevance -- a situation that has him in line for the Start of the Week nod for Week 7 (Dec. 10-16). After playing a limited role on the team for much of the first month, Belinelli has played 40 minutes in back-to-back games in Hamilton's absence, as coach Tom Thibodeau has basically refused to open his rotation despite the injury.

Thibodeau is well-known for riding his good players and relying on a short bench, so as long as Belinelli plays well the minutes will be there. His play since Hamilton went down helps make Thibodeau's decision easier, as Belinelli has connected on 13 of 28 shots for 39 points in two games, including two three-pointers in each game. He does not do much else besides score, but his shooting ability helps open up a Chicago offense that is dependent on space in the paint so he should keep playing.

The Bulls have a tough Week 7 schedule, with three potential slugfests against the Clippers, 76ers and Nets on the way. However, it looks like Belinelli has worked his way into a big chunk of playing time and should be worth getting active for the week.

Guards

Start 'Em

Jared Dudley, Suns (MEM, UTA): After a couple of solid seasons in which he proved himself as a very solid shooter and scorer, Dudley seemed to fall out of favor over much of the season's first month. With a handful of new, shiny offseason additions to play with, coach Alvin Gentry relegated Dudley to a secondary role, even removing him from the starting lineup after the season's first 11 games. As he has done his entire career, Dudley simply kept plugging away, and we are starting to see him re-assert himself over the last few weeks. Dudley has scored in double figures five times in the last six games, after reaching that mark just five times in the first 14 games of the season. Gentry hinted that lineup and rotation changes would be coming, and it would make sense to see Dudley earn a larger role. Phoenix plays just twice, so he is a bit of a risk, but his play is worth getting into the lineup right now.

Gerald Henderson, Bobcats (GSW, LAC, @ATL, ORL): A foot injury cost Henderson a full month of play, and left us wondering what he his role would be in an offense that seemed to have moved on without him. He did much to quell any worries in his second game back, scoring 18 points despite playing just 25 minutes off the bench against the Knicks. Henderson does not give you much beyond scoring, but he has proven himself to be a very good producer when healthy and given the chance. The Bobcats don't have the best matchups in Week 7, but I think he will start to get rolling as he gets more comfortable in the offense.

Sleeper Alert: Chris Duhon, Lakers (@CLE, @NYK, @WAS, @PHI): I know what you're thinking -- "Chris Duhon? Really?" Duhon has become something of a non-entity in the league in recent years, ever since he posted a couple of solid seasons in New York. He did that in Mike D'Antoni's point-guard heavy offensive system, where he once again finds himself with the ball in his hands. Duhon's numbers for the season are nothing to write home about, but he has been in the lineup recently with both Steve Blake and Steve Nash out, and he is averaging 6.2 assists per game over the last five. Owners in desperate need of a point guard can turn to him with a decent schedule on the way.

Sit 'Em

Ramon Sessions, Bobcats (GSW, LAC, @ATL, ORL): With Henderson returning to the fold, one of Charlotte's guards is going to have to give up his share of the minutes and the early returns suggest it's going to be Sessions. That decision makes sense. Neither Sessions nor Henderson is a comfortable three-point shooter, so their presence on the floor along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could cause serious spacing issues for the Bobcats on offense. Sessions is averaging 15.2 points per game on the season, but has seen his minutes fall with Henderson healthy. Sessions can still be a healthy source of assists, but I expect him to take a back seat with Henderson back.

Mike Dunleavy, Bucks (SAC, @CLE, LAC): Dunleavy has been limited by a knee injury recently, which is unfortunate as he is a favorite in this column. He has been a sneaky-good Fantasy option over the last two seasons, but the knee injury has clearly bothered him recently. Dunleavy has missed three of the last four games as of Friday and has not scored in double-figures since Nov. 21 against the Heat. The Bucks have some good matchups in Week 7, but until he gets back to full health Fantasy owners might want to steer clear of Dunleavy.

Bust Alert: Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves (DEN, @NOH, DAL): We're all excited about Rubio's impending return, which is rumored to be coming sometime in Week 7. His return makes the Timberwolves a more intriguing team and should improve the level of play for everyone in the offense -- eventually. For now, Rubio is probably going to be pretty pedestrian, coming off the first major knee surgery of his career. Rubio is expected to be limited to 15 to 18 minutes per game, and he might not be able to play on back-to-back nights right away. That could limit him to just two games in Week 7, even if he returns Wednesday, which seems to be the current expectation. Fantasy owners should temper expectations for his first few games back.

Forwards

Start 'Em

Carlos Delfino, Rockets (SAS, WAS, BOS, @TOR): A groin injury exasperated a slow start for the 30-year-old Argentine, but he seems to be figuring things out. As of Friday, Delfino had scored in double figures in each of his first two games since returning from the groin injury and he shot 6 of 15 from three-point range in those two games. Delfino is the kind of player who can get hot off the bench and pour in points from long range. Houston's offense can be frustrating for Fantasy owners, as they have a handful of guys who seem to contribute inconsistently, including Delfino. However, when he gets going he is certainly worth getting active.

Jeff Green, Celtics (DAL, @HOU, @SAS): I have not been high on Green's Fantasy value this season, but his recent play is giving me pause. Green has now scored in double figures in three of Boston's last four games. He is averaging 16.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in that span, and seems to be living up to at least some of the preseason expectations the Celtics put on him with that big contract. I'm not convinced that Green has turned the corner, as his scoring is buoyed by an unsustainable 53.8 percent mark from three-point range, but he is clearly stepping up. Each of Boston's opponents in Week 7 rank in the top five in pace, which should help Green get going, as a player who relies heavily on his athleticism.

Sleeper Alert: John Salmons, Kings (@DAL, @MIL, @OKC, DEN): It has been a while since Salmons was a Fantasy contributor, but he seems to be finding his way back to relevance. Salmons has been inserted into the team's rotation over the last few weeks, and he slowly is figuring out how to contribute. The 32-year-old has is averaging 8.6 points per game over the last five, while adding a solid 3.4 assists. Those aren't great numbers, but at least he is starting to trend upward. The Kings' four opponents in Week 7 each rank above the league average in pace, so they should be in line for some track meets. That bodes well for Salmons' continued improvement.

Sit 'Em

Mickael Pietrus, Raptors (@POR, BKN, DAL, HOU): Pietrus scored a loud 21 points Wednesday in just his third game since joining the Raptors, which might lead Fantasy owners to think maybe he will have a new life in Toronto. Given his recent track record, that seems unlikely -- the 21 points he scored were his highest single-game total since December, 2010. Pietrus is getting big minutes in the thin wing rotation for the Raptors, but he is unlikely to fill up the box score moving forward, so don't be fooled by the big breakout.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Hornets (WAS, @OKC, MIN, @POR): A season that started with a ton of promise for the former lottery pick seems to be coming off the rails recently. Aminu begin the season with double-figure scoring in five of the first six games, and he ended the first month averaging 10.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Unfortunately, Aminu seems to be falling out of favor with coach Monty Williams, who benched him Friday. Williams told reporters that he wanted "guys who are going to play with a passion." It sounds like Aminu's effort has not been up to par as of late, which gibes with his recent poor play. The Hornets play four times this week, but It is not a certainty that Aminu is going to be able to get out of the doghouse, so sit him on the bench.

Bust Alert: Michael Beasley, Suns (MEM, UTA): Admittedly, we bought wholeheartedly into the "Michael Beasley Bounceback Campaign" talk here at CBSSports.com. Beasley has always been a solid scorer, as evidenced by his 19.2 points-per-game average in 2010-11 with Minnesota. He was used as more of a primary option in that season, a role we expected him to fill for Phoenix after they invested a three-year contract in him. Instead, the wheels have completely come off for the 24-year-old, as he is averaging career lows almost across the board. It looks like he is going to be taken out of the starting lineup moving forward, at least until he can figure things out. With just two games on the schedule, leave him on the bench while he tries to get his issues sorted out.

Centers

Start 'Em

Lavoy Allen, 76ers (DET, CHI, @IND, LAL): It took a while, but the 76ers finally seems to realize that, of all of their disparate options at the pivot with Andrew Bynum out, Allen gives them to best chance to win. Allen has started the last seven games, and is starting to provide consistent production. Allen has scored in double figures three times in the last six games, averaging 8.4 points per game, while also contributing 7.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. At this point, Allen is worth getting active with four games on the schedule.

Sleeper Alert: Greg Smith, Rockets (SAS, WAS, BOS, @TOR): Smith brings to the table many of the same issues as Delfino, as his production has been inconsistent at times this season. Still, the raw second-year big man is enjoying a pretty solid run as the team's backup center, averaging 9.0 points per game over the last five. Granted, much of his scoring has come over the course of two games, but at the thin center position there aren't a ton of options. With four games on the schedule, including only one against a top-10 defensive team, Smith has the chance to give you decent production this week if you need an emergency starter.

Sit 'Em

Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors (@POR, @BKN, DAL, HOU): 20 games into his career, nobody seems to have cooled on Valanciunas' long-term potential. The early part of his career has exposed some flaws in his game, which is to be expected from a 20-year-old seeing his first NBA action. The Raptors are reportedly on the verge of getting Valanciunas out of the starting lineup, as his production has run into a wall recently. He has not scored in double figures in any of the last five games. The Raptors are on the verge of a lineup change, as they have won just once in the last 11 games, and Valanciunas looks like he may be the victim. Valanciunas has plenty of value in keeper leagues, but he is doing more harm than good in the starting lineup right now.

Bust Alert: Byron Mullens, Bobcats (GSW, LAC, @ATL, ORL): After being a key part of their hot start, Mullens is starting to see his role on the team reduced. Mullens has played fewer than 20 minutes in each of the last two games, after seeing at least 25 minutes in each of the first 16 games of the season. His inefficiency shooting the ball seems to have finally caught up with him, as he has crossed the threshold of more field-goal attempts than points scored on the season. Mullens has been a pleasant surprise this season, but it looks as if he is going to have to fight to get his place in the rotation back, so steer clear of him with three above-average defensive teams on the slate.

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Player News
Omer Asik ready to clean up in return to starting role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Last season was a rough one for Omer Asik, who had to deal with returning to a reserve role after really shining as a starter the previous year. He should be much happier with his role this season, as the Pelicans acquired him this offseason with the intention of installing him as the starting center.

The Pelicans should have a fearsome frontcourt with Asik starting next to Anthony Davis, and Davis' presence should free Asik up to do the kind of work he excels at. Asik isn't a great offensive player, but he can be a dominant offensive rebounder, and should have many chances to clean up the boards with teams keying in on Davis offensively. Among players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the NBA, Asik is 22nd all-time in offensive rebounding percentage.

Asik had trouble staying healthy last season, but that was the first time he had ever missed a regular-season game in his career, so we can probably write that off as a fluke. He averaged a double-double with 1.1 blocks per game in 30.0 minutes per game two years ago, and should be capable of similar production as he returns to a starting role.

Asik should be viewed as a starting Fantasy option this season, though he may not have the upside of some other younger centers at this point. 


Tobias Harris' Fantasy value a mystery at this point
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Perception is a funny thing. Just ask Magic forward Tobias Harris, who enjoyed by far the most productive season of his career in 2013-14 but was somehow viewed as a Fantasy disappointment.

Part of that stemmed from Harris' issues with availability, as he missed 20 games and got off to a slow start to the season as a result. It really took until January for Harris to find his stride, but he averaged 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game from Jan. 1 on, without missing a contest.

Harris was probably better than the general perception of him a year ago, but the power of expectations hurt him. And now he enters his fourth season as something of a career crossroads, and it is hard to say just how Fantasy owners should approach him this season.

The Magic added Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon to the roster this season, further confusing what was already one of the most crowded frontcourts in the league. Harris can play both forward spots, but he is probably best used as a small-ball power forward; the presence of Frye, one of the league's elite stretch-fours certainly complicates matters for Harris, then.

At just 22, Harris still has a world of potential ahead of him. However, he probably profiles best as a reserve Fantasy option heading into the season, given concerns about his role.   


Hype may be too high for Giannis Antetokounmpo
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) No matter what he accomplishes in his second NBA season, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to be a historical outlier, given his age. The question is, how much of a leap can the now-20-year-old take next season.

Only 15 players in NBA history have logged as many minutes in a single season as a teenager as Antetokounmpo's 1,897, so he is occupying fairly rarified air already. His age is a big part of why he is considered a big-time breakout prospect for Fantasy purposes, but he has a long way to go from a statistical standpoint.

Antetokounmpo was good for a 19-year-old rookie, but his season averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game left a lot to be desired. It is easy to dream about a Antetokounmpo taking a big step forward, but that next step is never guaranteed -- for every Anthony Davis there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist whose development follows a slower, less linear path. 

Antetokounmpo was very good -- for a 19-year-old. However, Fantasy owners don't get extra points, rebounds or assists if the degree of difficulty is higher, so you are betting on Giannis taking a huge step forward at the age of 20. Antetokounmpo has become something of an internet darling, and his play in Summer League and the FIBA World Cup dominated much of the offseason discussion, which only helped build the hype to potentially unsustainable levels. 

He is a lottery ticket, for sure, but he is one that might not be worth the cost at this point. 


Improved jump shot all Jimmy Butler needs
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Bulls guard Jimmy Butler had the breakout season many expected from him a year ago, but there were still plenty of flaws apparent in his game as he finished his third NBA season. With a better team around him, Butler just might have enough help to vault him to stardom.

Butler's jump shot abandoned him last season, especially after a toe injury forced him to miss 11 games in November and December. He was shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range prior to the injury, but connected on just 39.3 percent of his shots overall and 27.1 percent from three-point range from that point on.

We can blame Butler's season-long shooting slump on the injury or his increased offensive role, but he should have neither excuse available for him this season. Butler should be healthy, and the Bulls added plenty of offensive firepower this offseason, in the form of Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott, not to mention a hopefully healthy Derrick Rose. Butler took 154 shots off the dribble last season, per Stats.NBA.com, and made just 30.7 percent of them. With a better team around him, Butler should get many more opportunities to shoot with his feet set.

Butler has the skill set to be a tremendously efficient offensive player, given how often he bullies his way to the free-throw line. Last season, Butler filled up the box score extremely well, but his poor shooting limited his Fantasy value somewhat. If a new role helps his efficiency, he could be one of the very best guards in the league in category-based formats. 


Lance Stephenson set for bigger role in new setting
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Though there were fits and starts, Lance Stephenson finally began to live up to his considerable promise last season. Now in a new home in Charlotte, will Stephenson take another step forward in 2014-15?

By the end of last season, the Pacers were a mess, and Stephenson caught plenty of the blame for that. Still, he might have been arguably the team's most consistent player throughout the season, averaging between 25.8 and 29.7 Fantasy points per game from before and after the All-Star break as well as the playoffs. For as much of a mess as that team was, Stephenson emerged as something of a rock, at least for Fantasy purposes.

The Hornets are actually built in a somewhat similar way to the Pacers, so there wont' be much of a stylistic shift for Stephenson to get used to. Per MySynergySports.com, 11.8 percent of the then-Bobcats' possessions ended in post-ups, actually down from the 13.2 percent mark the Pacers' posted. Stephenson struggled at times with his post-entry passing, though his off-target feeds might find their mark more often when being lobbed in to the soft hands of Al Jefferson, as opposed to Roy Hibbert.

The Hornets might lean even more heavily on Stephenson than the Pacers did, since Indiana liked to spread the ball around with their starting five. The Hornets, on the other hand, look to be extremely top-heavy, and Stephenson will get plenty of chances to be the second or third option. We have him projected for 29.1 Fantasy points per game, and consider Stephenson a borderline top-50 Fantasy option for this season.  


Move to Houston won't alter Trevor Ariza's trajectory
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Trevor Ariza parlayed a career-year into a lucrative free-agency contract with the Rockets this offseason -- stop me if you've heard this story before.

Ariza was largely a disappointment in his first stint with the Rockets, though it did lead him to the best per-game numbers of his career. Still, Ariza was obviously miscast as a primary offensive option the last time he was in Houston, and that won't be a problem this time around.

Ariza joins a Rockets team with two established stars, and will likely spend much of his time trying to fill the departed Chandler Parsons' role. That should suit him nicely, as Ariza has just enough of an off-the-bounce game to serve as the team's third ballhandler when the shot clock gets deep. Ariza attempted 11.1 field-goal attempts per game last season, and should see a boost given Parsons' role; he attempted 13.3 shots per game.

Ariza's improved three-point shot seems legitimate, as he is shooting 38.6 percent from long range over 738 attempts since 2012. However, he will no longer have John Wall feeding him for juicy corner 3-pointers; Wall to Ariza was the league's most productive corner-three combination last season. His shooting numbers may take a hit with his move.

Even acknowledging the loss of Wall's help, we know the Houston offense is set up to get every player the most efficient shots possible, so Ariza shouldn't see much of a dip in his efficiency. His ability to fill up the box score makes him a perfect No. 2 option at forward in category-based leagues, especially now that he is a high-volume shooter. 


Despite new role, don't write off Isaiah Thomas entirely
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Suns guard Isaiah Thomas might see one of the biggest dropoffs in his Fantasy value from last season to this, as he joins the crowded Suns' backcourt.

The Suns might have three All-Star caliber guards in the backcourt now, with Thomas likely to backup Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe this season. That should put a serious dent in Thomas' value; Thomas finished 13th in Fantasy scoring among guards a year ago, but is projected to finish just 43rd this season.

Still, Thomas is definitely someone you'll want to add to your team when drafting, and almost certainly before the rest of the No. 4-type guards he is grouped with. Thomas is likely to see his numbers fall off from the 20.3 points and 6.3 assists he averaged a year ago, at least at first. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up starting upwards of 25 games throughout the year, given Bledsoe's injury-proneness. Bledsoe has missed at least 25 games in two of the last three seasons for knee issues.

Thomas probably profiles as more of a bench option for Fantasy purposes next season, but you'll be targeting him much earlier than nearly any other reserve. His upside as a handcuff option for either Bledsoe or Dragic is sky-high, and will make him well worth your attention on Draft Day. 


Eric Gordon cleared for contact
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Eric Gordon has been cleared to take part in full-contact offseason drills ahead of training camp, The Times-Picayune reports.

Gordon underwent season-ending knee surgery last April, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. 


Jrue Holiday cleared for contact ahead of camp
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was able to participate in full-contact offseason drills last week, the first time he has done so since undergoing season-ending surgery last January.

"Getting out playing has been a joy," Holiday told The Times-Picayune. "I've been running and jumping and stuff, but getting my rhythm back on the court is definitely a big thing right now for me."

The Pelicans open training camp Sept. 30, and Holiday is not expected to have any limitations as the team prepares for the start of the season. Holiday averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season prior to the injury.


Kent Bazemore focused on conditioning in recovery
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Newly signed Hawks guard Kent Bazemore did not pick up a basketball until August, preferring to focus on conditioning in his recovery from foot surgery in April.

"I think the injury was definitely a blessing," he told the Daily Press, "because I was able to step away from the game of basketball. I took myself out of my element all summer. I did stuff I'm not used to doing."

Bazemore signed a two-year deal with the Hawks this offseason, and is expected to compete for playing time on the wing immediately, as he is fully recovered from the surgery. 


 
 
 
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