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Week 9 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Fantasy Writer
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Coming back from an injury is a rough process for any NBA player, and it is usually best to avoid using them right away in your Fantasy lineups. Some players, like Blake Griffin, can undergo two separate knee operations and never miss a beat, while others need time to get back into the swing of things.

With that caveat noted, I am going to go ahead and tap Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard as the Start of the Week for Week 9 (Dec.24-30), despite having watched him play just one game in about a month due to quad tendinitis. Leonard made his return to the floor Friday against the Hornets, scoring eight points and filling up the box score in just 20 minutes off the bench.

Prior to his injury, Leonard was filling the stat sheet every night, averaging 10.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.0 three-pointers per game, while building off an already solid rookie season. The Spurs have the luxury of easing Leonard back into the rotation thanks to their depth, but they will not keep the franchise's supposed future centerpiece in the awnings for long. San Antonio has a nice schedule for Leonard in his first full week back from injury, as they face Toronto, Houston and Dallas on alternating days. Each of those three teams ranks in the bottom 10 in the NBA in points allowed per game, with Toronto setting the pace at 100.7 points per game, the seventh-highest mark in the league.

Leonard's youth (he is just 21) and the nature of the injury bode well for him making a return to full-time minutes quickly, as he was not dealing with a joint issue or something that might prove to be degenerative if he takes too much of a pounding. The Spurs have no back-to-backs this week, so the temptation to rest him is not great. He could return to being a viable starting Fantasy option.

Guards

Start 'Em

Marco Belinelli, Bulls (HOU, @IND, WAS): Belinelli has played a solid role for the offense-starved Bulls, scoring 15.9 points per game in his first nine games in the starting lineup since Richard Hamilton's injury. Belinelli does not give much else in the box score beyond his scoring, but he has reached the point where he is certainly worth starting in more than the 35 percent of CBSSports.com leagues he is starting in. The Bulls play against the league's second-worst scoring defense to begin Week 9, so Belinelli should have no problem keeping his strong production up.

Jason Kidd, Knicks (@LAL, @PHX, @SAC): Kidd's shooting stroke has been nonexistent in recent games, and yet he has still managed to not be a total non-factor for Fantasy owners. He is playing at the kind of level where, even if he shoots just 22.9 percent and averages 5.2 points per game over a five-game stretch, he still has plenty of value. That is because Kidd is also adding 6.2 points, 4.8 assists, 1.4 three-pointers and 1.6 steals per game in that time. Kidd can really hurt you in Rotisserie formats right now with his shooting, but his overall production remains useful. Especially heading into a week against three teams that rank in the bottom 11 in the NBA in points allowed per game.

Sleeper Alert: Isaiah Thomas, Kings (@POR, NYK, BOS): Thomas has been a major disappointment this season, as he has fallen victim to coach Keith Smart's questionable lineup decisions. The diminutive second-year guard might be forcing the issue for Smart with his recent play however, as he has scored in double figures in three of the last four games heading into Friday's game against the Clippers. Thomas' play last season should have earned him a longer leash than the eight starts Smart gave him, but he is averaging 13.8 points in just 19.0 minutes per game over the last five, and is making it harder for Smart to leave him on the bench. The upside in starting Thomas is considerable, as his back-to-back 20-point games last Friday and Sunday showed, however there is considerable risk involved due to Smart's rotations. However, two of the Kings' Week 9 opponents rank below the league average in points allowed per game, so take the risk on him.

Sit 'Em

Danny Green, Spurs (TOR, HOU, @DAL): Green has struggled recently, scoring in double figures just once in the last four games entering Friday's play, while averaging 8.9 points per game overall in the month of December. He is unlikely to see his play improve moving forward, as the Spurs welcomed Leonard back Friday. Green will likely remain in the starting lineup upon Leonard's return, but he will likely see a reduced role, as Leonard remains the better long-term bet for the team at small forward. The Spurs have some nice matchups in Week 9, but implementing Leonard back into the starting lineup may end up proving costly for Green, at least in the short term.

Jerryd Bayless, Grizzlies (PHI, DEN): Bayless continues to be a disappointment, as his production has completely cratered in the month of December. Instead of playing the combo-guard role many envisioned of him in his first year in Memphis, Bayless has been relegated almost exclusively to a backup point-guard role. He is averaging just 3.8 points and 3.7 assists in 16.2 minutes in the month of December. With just two games on the schedule for the Grizzlies, Bayless should be taken out of the starting lineup in all formats for Week 9.

Bust Alert: Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves (HOU, PHX): Rubio dazzled in his first game back from knee surgery, but reality set in shortly after. Rubio's court vision remains unparalleled despite the extensive layoff while recovering from a torn ACL, however he is clearly not 100 percent physically. The Timberwolves have stagnated on offense with Rubio on the floor, and he has just seven assists in his last two games, while shooting just 10.0 percent from the field. He should still be able to show flashes of the ability that made him such an exciting player before the injury as a rookie, but the road to being a consistently-reliably Fantasy option looks like it still may be a long one. With just two games on the schedule, Rubio's upside is not enough to make him worth starting for the upcoming period.

Forwards

Start 'Em

Amir Johnson, Raptors (@SAS, @NOH, @ORL): The Raptors are riding a five-game winning streak despite losing their opening day front court pairing of Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani to injuries. The play of Johnson has helped them roll through the injuries, as he has played at least 25 minutes in four of the last five games, all wins. Johnson's production in those games has not been stellar, averaging 8.8 points and 7.4 rebounds, however he is filling up the box score with 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals. With some more minutes opening up, Johnson has a chance to cement himself as a major part of the rotation. The Raptors don't have great matchups in Week 9, as none of their opponents rank in the bottom 10 in points allowed this season. Still, if he keeps seeing around 30 minutes per game, Johnson could be a useful Fantasy option.

Marcus Morris, Rockets (@CHI, @MIN, @SAS, OKC): Morris has also benefited from an injury to the starter ahead of him in the rotation, as he has started three games in a row since Patrick Patterson went down with a foot injury. Morris has scored in double figures in each of those three games, averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in that span while playing 32.3 minutes per game. The Rockets have one of the league's best offenses, and they have been able to plug pieces in and out whenever the need has arisen. Houston plays at by far the fastest pace in the league, averaging 96.4 possessions per game, which gives Morris plenty of opportunities to put up solid numbers all around. Morris has put in the work to make himself a strong offensive option this season, shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 38.9 percent on 3.0 three-point attempts per game, so Fantasy owners should consider him a decent start why Patterson remains out.

Sleeper Alert: Gustavo Ayon, Magic (NOH, @WAS, TOR): It will be interesting to see what the Magic do without Glen Davis for the next month-plus, as Davis provided volume scoring at the power forward position, while ending up as a negative on the glass and defensive side of the ball. After the first game without Davis, who suffered a left shoulder strain and will likely miss at least a month of playing time, it looks like Gustavo Ayon would take on Davis' minutes, as he played 28 minutes against the Raptors Friday. The fact that Ayon had a double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) in the game probably helped keep him on the floor, but it has been surprising that he has not been able to find more playing time this season. Ayon averaged 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game a year ago as a rookie with the Hornets, despite playing just 20 minutes per game. If Ayon can get close to 30 minutes per game, he might be able to get close to a double-double on a nightly basis, while adding solid totals on the defensive end. With three solid matchups, Ayon has some value as a desperation play for Davis owners.

Sit 'Em

Gordon Hayward, Jazz (GSW, LAC, @LAC): Hayward has improved his game this season, but he has not taken the big leap we were expecting. The third-year player out of Butler has seen his production fall in the month of December, as he is averaging just 12.1 points in 23.9 minutes per game. The Jazz are going with more big lineups this season, with Hayward ending up as the odd man out when Paul Millsap shifts to small forward. Hayward has scored in double figures just once in the last four games, with a high of 11 on 3 of 8 shooting last Saturday against the Grizzlies. He is an incredibly talented offensive player, but the 22-year-old is still looking for consistency in his game. While Golden State, Utah's first opponent, ranks in the bottom 10 in points allowed this season, the No. 4 Clippers' defense looms in back to back games. Hayward is useful when he is rolling, but don't plan on putting him to use this week.

Elton Brand, Mavericks (@OKC, DEN, SAS): Brand has fallen on hard times in a big way, as he seems to have completely tumbled off the cliff in his 14th NBA season. Brand is averaging just 6.8 points per game on the season, and he might be looking at a reduced role this week, as Dirk Nowitzki gets ready to return from knee surgery. Chris Kaman will likely remain in the starting lineup at center upon Nowitzki's return, which could push Brand to a full-time bench role. Brand is dealing with a groin injury heading into Week 9 as well, so keep him out of the starting lineup in all formats.

Bust Alert: Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks (BKN, MIA, @DET): The bad Ilyasova is back, as his Jekyll-and-Hyde act continues. Ilyasova was a breakout Fantasy star a year ago for his ability to mix three-point proficiency with strong rebounding on both sides of the floor, however he has been just as big a disappointment this season as he was a surprise a year ago. Ilyasova is has failed to score in double figures in four games in a row as of Friday night, after topping double figures in five consecutive games prior. We were hoping Ilyasova would be able to build on his breakout performance from a year ago, but he has struggled with consistency all season long. At this point, he has become a player you only want to rely on during his hot streaks.

Centers

Start 'Em

Ed Davis, Raptors (@SAS, @NOH, @ORL): Davis was featured here last week as a forward, but his production is much more fitting at the center position, where he maintains dual eligibility. Davis is averaging 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game over the last 10 games, production more befitting a starting center than a forward. He has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games, and has seen at least 23 minutes of playing time in each of those games. He and Amir Johnson figure to make up the starting frontcourt for the Raptors for the time being, and both should be worth using this week, as detailed above. Toronto does not have many great matchups in Week 9, but the team's lack of depth should create opportunities for Davis' production to make up for that.

Sleeper Alert: Tyler Zeller, Cavaliers (@WAS, ATL, @BKN): Zeller has found himself in the starting lineup over the last two games, and, while he obviously cannot make up for Anderson Varejao's absence, the rookie has held his own. He has scored 32 points on 14 of 28 shooting over the two games, while snagging 10 rebounds. Varejao might be back in time for Week 9 from a knee injury that has cost him the last two games, however the floundering Cavaliers might not be in any hurry to bring him back until he is 100-percent healthy. If Varejao is forced to miss time during the week, Zeller has the ability to provide decent numbers as a desperation fill in.

Sit 'Em

Kevin Seraphin, Wizards (CLE, ORL, @CHI): Seraphin has been useful in stretches this season, however he seems to be taking a back seat in the team's offensive plans as Nene has gotten closer to full strength. The fact that Seraphin is mired in a slump recently has not helped his cause, as he is shooting just 38.2 percent over the last five games. As a result, he is scoring just 8.4 points on 11.0 shots per game, as his inability to get to the free-throw line continues to keep him from reaching his full offensive potential. The Wizards face a pair of top-six defenses in Week 9, so don't expect a matchup against the Cavaliers to prop his numbers up. Seraphin could struggle this week.

Bust Alert: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings (@POR, NYK, BOS): Cousins' attitude finally seemed to get the better of him this weekend, as he spent the entirety of the second half of a loss to the Clippers Friday in the locker room. Coach Keith Smart told reporters that he benched Cousins for "conduct detrimental to the team" and would not commit to played Cousins in the team's upcoming games despite Cousins' official apologies. Even if Cousins does play, it would not be a surprise to see Cousins keep him on a tight leash, as his play recently has not demanded big minutes anyways. Cousins is shooting just 31.6 percent from the field over the last five games, despite averaging 14.2 points per game. Cousins' considerable talent has trouble shining through due to his personality, and if the situation devolves, it might be time to keep him on the bench and avoid the risk.

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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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