When things go bad, every fan base has a player or two they will look to as a scapegoat. Raptors fans seem to have spent the entire season heaping the majority of the blame for their woeful start onto the shoulders of forward Andrea Bargnani, while calling for more playing time for under-used players, such as third-year big man Ed Davis. Bargnani's inattentive defense and inefficient offense has sunk the Raptors on both sides of the floor, they claim, and Davis' skill set fits in better with coach Dwane Casey's defense-first philosophy.
Those fans are about to have their hypothesis put to the test and the situation could end up giving smart Fantasy owners a boost. The Raptors will be without Bargnani for an as-yet-undetermined amount of time after he suffered a torn ligament in his elbow as well as a wrist sprain. Davis has taken Bargnani's spot in the rotation since he suffered the injury and he has done well in that role thus far, making him our Start of the Week for Week 8 (Dec. 17-23).
Davis is averaging 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in three games since Bargnani suffered the injury, and he has found himself in the starting lineup over the last two games. It is not clear how large of a role Davis is going to get, but it looks like the former lottery pick is going to get his first extended playing time of the season moving forward.
The Raptors play three times in Week 8, against the Cavaliers, Pistons and Magic. Cleveland and Detroit rank below the league average in defensive rating this season, and none of these teams boasts particularly stout defensive front courts. If Davis sees the playing time expected, he could flirt with a couple of double-doubles this week.
Nick Young, 76ers (@DAL, @HOU, ATL, @BKN): Injuries have bothered Young recently, but they may also have earned him a spot in the starting lineup. At least for the time being, Young is among the Sixers' first five, as Jrue Holiday is out with a knee sprain. Young started Friday's game against the Pacers, playing 37 minutes and scoring eight points. Young can be a big-time scorer when given the opportunity and Philadelphia may have to rely on him a bit more heavily this week if Holiday is forced to miss some time. The first two games in particular should provide Young with an opportunity to thrive, as Houston and Dallas are pacing the league in the speed of their games this season.
Alexey Shved, Timberwolves (@ORL, @MIA, OKC, @NYK): The impending return of Ricky Rubio is certainly going to shake up the Timberwolves' rotation, especially with regards to the multitude of combo-guard options on their roster. Luckily for Shved, he currently stands as their best option at the shooting guard spot, as he possesses the requisite size and shooting ability. Shved has seen his production tail off some recently, but he stands a good shot at remaining in the starting lineup upon Rubio's return, due to a recent knee injury to Malcolm Lee. It will be interesting to see how Shved adapts to playing off the ball more consistently with Rubio on the floor, but it should help his shooting efficiency to get more spot-up opportunities. During the week, the Wolves face one team that defends the three-point line well in Orlando, before taking on three teams that rank in the bottom 11 in three-pointers allowed. He has a good chance to put a lock on the shooting guard position.
Sleeper Alert: Austin Rivers, Hornets (@GSW, @LAC, @SAS, IND): After a slow start that made him look more like a D-League washout than a lottery-level talent, Rivers has started to show some of the potential that made him such an attractive prospect coming out of college. Over the last five games, Rivers has reached double figures in scoring in four games in a row, including a masterful performance Friday against the Timberwolves in which he scored 19 points on just seven shot attempts in the first half before finishing with 27 points. Rivers is starting to catch up to the speed of the NBA game, averaging 14.0 points, 2.4 assists and just 1.2 turnovers per game over the last five. The Hornets have some tough matchups on the way for Week 8, but Rivers' recent play makes him worth taking a flier on.
Chris Duhon, Lakers (CHA, @GSW): Last week, Duhon was listed as a possible starting option, due to his role as the Lakers' starting point guard. He has not put up big numbers, averaging just 3.8 points and 3.8 assists per game through the first three games of Week 7. He looked like he might be finding success in the Mike D'Antoni offensive system again, but it appears to have been fool's gold. With just two games on the schedule, Duhon is unlikely to put up the kinds of numbers you are looking for from a starting option.
Marcus Thornton, Kings (@PHO, GSW, @LAC, POR): In the past, Thornton has been a solid option for points, as one of the better score-first (and score-only) guards around. Unfortunately, he has seen his role crater, averaging just 12.1 field-goal attempts per game, his lowest total since leaving New Orleans in 2010-11. Thornton has been a total non-entity since the calendar turned to December, averaging 8.8 points per game in five contests. He has not been with the team over the last two games while dealing with family issues, which may explain why his performance has been subpar. Either way, at this point he is a risky Fantasy option for the scoring period.
Bust Alert: Luke Ridnour, Timberwolves (@ORL, @MIA, OKC, @NYK): Last season, Ridnour thrived playing the off-guard role next to Ricky Rubio, but that may not be a role he fits this season. The Wolves had almost no options at the shooting guard position, which pressed the under-sized Ridnour into service in a lot of dual-point-guard lineups. With Shved's move into the starting lineup at shooting guard, however, it may be Ridnour who is moved to a bench role. At this point, it is not clear how much Ridnour's role will take a hit, given his recent strong play. Still, the uncertainty regarding his usage makes him a risk to rely on this week.
Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks (IND, @MEM, @BOS, CLE): After a slow start that had him branded as an early bust, Ilyasova is starting to figure things out. Since the calendar turned to December, Ilyasova has scored in double figures in six of seven games, with a pair of double-doubles on his record. He is averaging 15.0 points and 8.2 rebounds over the last five games, and he has found the three-point shot that made him a breakout player a year ago. Ilyasova does not have the best matchups in Week 8, but his recent play makes him worth getting back in the starting lineup.
C.J. Miles, Cavaliers (TOR, @BOS, IND, @MIL): Miles was invisible through the first month of the season, as he earned twice as many '"DNP -- coach's decisions" (six) as he had double-figure scoring games (three). Since Dion Waiters went down with an ankle injury, however, Miles has come into his own, scoring in double figures in six consecutive games as of Friday. Miles has likely earned a consistent role moving forward, even once Waiters gets back, especially with Waiters' struggles with consistency. Miles has faced two of his Week 8 opponents during his scoring streak, putting up 45 points in back-to-back games against the Bucks and Pacers.
Sleeper Alert: Andrew Nicholson, Magic (MIN, @WAS, @TOR, UTA): Nicholson, a first-round pick out of St. Bonaventure, has found his stride and is moving up the depth chart after a string of solid performances. Nicholson contributed intermittently during the first month of the season, scoring in double figures in five games while averaging 6.9 points per game in 13 contests. He has seen his role grow over the last few weeks, and he is averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game over the last five while stealing minutes from more-establishing front court players. The Magic face a pair of below-average defensive teams in Week 8, and none of them really have strong defensive front courts. He could remain productive moving forward.
Kris Humphries, Nets (NOH, @SAC, CHA, LAL): Humphries has been a major disappointment this season, and things keep getting worse for him. He has been taken out of the starting lineup over the last four games, and his production has seen a predictable tumble as a result. Humphries has received 20-plus minutes off the bench just once in the last four games and is averaging just 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in that span. The Nets seem unhappy with Humphries' play on the defensive side of the floor, and until he improves on that end he remains unworthy of your Fantasy consideration.
Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers (TOR, @BOS, IND, @MIL): The 2010 lottery pick continues to disappoint, and it appears as if his offensive development has completely stalled at this point. Thompson has been held under double digits in scoring in five games in a row, and his shooting percentage has now dipped under 45.0 percent on the season, a horrendous rate for a big man. He can still provide decent rebounding totals, but his lacking offensive game is beginning to cost him playing time. Thompson has topped 30 minutes just once in the last five games, so he is tough to rely on in his current role.
Bust Alert: Antawn Jamison, Lakers (CHA, @GSW): Jamison seemed to greatly enjoy the Mike D'Antoni era at the beginning, but he has come crashing back to earth recently. He has failed to reach double figures in scoring in any of the last five games, and he was only on the floor for six minutes as the Lakers snapped a four-game losing streak against the Wizards Friday. Apparently even Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced style of play only has so much room for defensive sieves. If Jamison's shot is not falling -- and it hasn't been recently -- there really is not any reason to get him on the floor. He has been useful for stretches this season, but Fantasy owners will want to avoid him with just two chances to play in Week 8.
Spencer Hawes, 76ers (@DAL, @HOU, ATL, @BKN): As recently as last week, Hawes looked like a total non-entity in the Fantasy world, as he endured a stretch of eight games in a row without reaching double figures in scoring. He has been turning things around recently, however, averaging 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game over the last five contests. Hawes has long been a skilled offensive big man, but his shortcomings on the defensive end have made it tough for coach Doug Collins to rely on him. If Collins is giving him consistent minutes in the high 20's, Hawes should be a useful Fantasy option this week, especially with matchups against Dallas and Houston, two of the five worst defenses in the league.
Sleeper Alert: Tiago Splitter, Spurs (@OKC, @DEN, NOH, DAL): Splitter has scored in double figures in seven games in a row and after Saturday's game against the Celtics was told that he would be entering the starting lineup moving forward. That might not mean a big boost in playing time, but it should give him a consistent role for the time being. His play recently has certainly deserved that much, as he is averaging 11.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over the last five. The Spurs don't face a single top-10 defense during the course of the week and only Oklahoma City on Monday ranks above the league average in points scored. Splitter has shown he can be a very productive player when given the chance and he should have the opportunity in Week 8.
Emeka Okafor, Wizards (ATL, @ORL, @DET, DET): After a disappointing final season in New Orleans, we hoped that Okafor would be able to bounce back for a Washington team in desperate need of a steadying presence in the middle. Hypothetically, he would provide a rebounding and defensive presence they have been lacking, and would form a solid tandem with Nene in the front court. Unfortunately for Okafor, the Wizards' defense has not been the problem this season, so his services have not been required. Washington surprisingly ranks 12th in the NBA in points allowed, while sporting a league-worst offense. That combination has led to him seeing just 21.7 minutes per game, the lowest of his career. Okafor has scored in double figures just once in the last five games, so it does not look like things are getting better. Don't expect the veteran to get going this week.
Bust Alert: Andray Blatche, Nets (UTA, @NYK, PHI): We've all enjoyed Blatche's resurgence as a Fantasy contributor this season -- he has helped carry two of my Fantasy teams over the last few weeks while averaging 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in Brook Lopez's absence. Unfortunately, Lopez was able to return to the floor in a limited manner Friday, which means Blatche's wild ride is likely coming to an end. Blatche was averaging just 8.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game prior to Lopez's injury. If he is limited to 20-25 minutes per game with Lopez in the lineup, that will make it tough to rely on Blatche, especially with just three games on the schedule.