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Week 18 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Fantasy Writer
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The trade deadline came and went without much of the movement we expected -- and hoped for -- so we head into the final six weeks of the season with a very similar league as the one we had before. Potential late-season breakout candidates like Eric Bledsoe and Derrick Favors will instead spend the final months of the season stuck in their reserve roles.

One team that was relatively busy was the Magic, as they shipped out a handful of rotation players in their continued rebuilding attempt. Those moves opened up some room in the rotation for younger players to continue their development, and forward Andrew Nicholson could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of their dealings. Nicholson has already been playing a larger role in Glen Davis' absence, and the additional burden he is set to take on is enough to earn him my Start of the Week for Week 18 (Feb. 25-March 3).

Nicholson plays a completely different position than J.J. Redick, the biggest piece the Magic shipped away, and he should see an increased offensive role with Redick out of the way. Redick, a floor-spacing and ball-handling wing, brings an entirely different set of skills than Nicholson, but Nicholson seems to be a pretty big part of the Magic's plans, averaging 26.7 minutes per game since Davis went down with an injury.

In that span, Nicholson is doing much of his work close to the basket, with 45 of 85 shot attempts coming within nine feet while shooting 60.0 percent on those attempts. However, he has been effective all over the floor, shooting 45.0 percent on all other attempts, showing a varied offensive game that should prove useful moving forward.

The Magic have a decent schedule coming this week, as they face just one top-five defense in Memphis, while also taking on the two worst scoring defenses in the league -- Houston and Sacramento. The fourth game on the schedule takes place in Philadelphia, against a 76ers team that allowed Nicholson to score 11 points with six rebounds in a previous game. With those matchups on the way, and his recent success, Nicholson is worth getting into your starting lineup.

Guards

Start 'Em

Vince Carter, Mavericks (MIL, @MEM, @BKN, @HOU): Carter continues his fine season, and has even stepped his performance up recently, showing he still has plenty left in the tank at 36 years old. Carter has been on fire from three-point range in the month of February, nailing 20 three-pointers in six games, while shooting 55.6 percent from distance. Carter has transitioned nicely from superstar to role player, and the Mavericks have relied heavily on his particular set of skills. Carter is averaging 15.7 points, 2.8 assists and 3.3 three-pointers in 24.3 minutes per game in six February games. The Mavericks don't have the best matchups in Week 18, however two of their four opponents do rank below the league average in points allowed, so expect him to keep his recent strong play up.

E'Twaun Moore, Magic (@PHI, SAC, HOU, MEM): Another Magic player who might be in line for a big increase in his role in Orlando is Moore, however the trade is not the only reason for this. The Magic, whose depth was decimated by the trade, might head into Week 18 without the services of starting point guard Jameer Nelson, leaving them with just three healthy guards with any NBA experience. When Moore has been pressed into starting duty this season, he is averaging 12.5 points and 4.4 assists per game in 10 games. With the Magic likely to lean on him, Moore might be a sneaky-good start.

Sleeper Alert: Will Bynum, Pistons (ATL, @WAS, @NOH, @SAS): Bynum has been a decent enough sparkplug for the Pistons this season, and his role has not diminished as much as we might have expected since the acquisition of Jose Calderon. Bynum is still playing his usual role off the bench, and is averaging 11.1 points and 5.3 assists in just 21.8 minutes per game over the last 10 contests. Bynum could see an increased role in Week 18, with Brandon Knight expected to undergo an MRI on his right knee after being diagnosed with a hyperextension. An extra minutes load could help make up for a somewhat underwhelming four-game schedule.

Sit 'Em

Jordan Crawford, Celtics (@UTA, GSW): Crawford has been a popular choice for a post-trade breakout, having emerged as the fifth-most added player in all CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues in the days after his trade to Boston. Crawford had fallen completely out of favor with the Wizards before the trade, appearing in just six of their previous 10 games, so he probably has nowhere to go but up with his Fantasy value at this time. Still, Crawford is an inefficient chucker, and a pretty redundant one for the Celtics, who have a number of combo guards currently on the roster. He had some success earlier in the season when asked to run the point for the Wizards, averaging 16.3 points and 5.8 assists per game in 12 starts, however the Wizards were also absolutely dreadful during that stretch. I do not expect a Celtics team fighting desperately to make the playoffs to risk relying too heavily on Crawford. With just two games on the schedule, Fantasy owners will want to avoid being too overzealous.

Eric Maynor, Trail Blazers (DEN, MIN): As with Crawford, there might be a desire by some Fantasy owners to take a flier on Maynor, as he gets removed from beneath the pile in Oklahoma City and joins arguably he league's shallowest bench unit. Maynor has shown flashes of being a solid point guard in the past, and the Blazers have hinted that he will spend some time playing next to Damian Lillard. It is not inconceivable that Maynor could emerge as a somewhat useful, albeit low-end, Fantasy option down he road. However, with limited practice time to get comfortable and only two games on the schedule for Week 18, Fantasy owners should continue to avoid him.

Bust Alert: Eric Gordon, Hornets (BKN, @OKC, DET): Gordon is technically scheduled to play three times this week, however it looks like he will only take to the court twice due to lingering concerns about his knee. Gordon has yet to be cleared to play in back to backs this season, so he will probably sit out either Tuesday or Wednesday's game. Generally, Gordon is a useful Fantasy option, however with just two games in the coming week to put up numbers, Fantasy owners might be disappointed with his production. As long as he remains limited by the injury, Fantasy might need to keep a close eye on the Hornets' schedule.

Forwards

Start 'Em

Carlos Delfino, Rockets (MIL, @ORL, DAL): The Rockets have experimented with some smaller lineups at times this season, and it looks like those experiments are going to get much more run in the coming games. The biggest beneficiary of that will likely be Delfino, who started at small forward Wednesday and Friday, with Chandler Parsons moving to the big forward spot. This lineup configuration helps the Rockets spread the floor incredibly well, which has proved fruitful for Delfino, as he nailed nine three-pointers in his first two games as a starter. The Rockets have defeated a pair of playoff-bound teams in those games, so they should be keen to keep using them, so feel confident in Delfino.

Carl Landry, Warriors (@IND, @NYK, @BOS, @PHI): Warriors center Andrew Bogut is out “indefinitely” with back spasms as of Friday, which should be music to the ears of owners who still have Landry. While Bogut was out with an ankle injury from Nov. 9 through Jan. 26, Landry played a much larger role for the team, averaging 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. The Warriors have a very tough schedule for the week, facing three top-10 defenses, however that might actually be a blessing in disguise for Landry, a somewhat weak rebounder who should have tons of opportunities to clean up the glass. With a likely expansion in his role in score, Fantasy owners should like what Landry brings this week.

Sleeper Alert: Corey Brewer, Nuggets (LAL, @POR, OKC): Brewer remains a sparkplug for the Nuggets off the bench, using his impressive athleticism to get out on the break, keying the team's killer transition game. He can be an inconsistent scorer, and his jump shot has finally abandoned him after a hot start, but he is averaging 11.2 points per game over the last five anyways. He is not the most efficient scorer in the league, but there is no indication that the team is souring on him as a result. Brewer has a solid three-game schedule in Week 18, facing a pair of bottom-10 defenses. He has torched these three teams for 14.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in seven matchups this season, which bodes very well for him.

Sit 'Em

Tayshaun Prince, Grizzlies (DAL, @MIA, @ORL): Prince had some big shoes to fill for the Grizzlies when they acquired him in the Rudy Gay trade, but he has not yet been able to live up to that yet. Prince is averaging 30.3 minutes per game with the Grizzlies, just 2.1 less than he was in Detroit, but his role in the offense has been greatly reduced. Prince has improved his shooting to 46.3 percent from the field, but he is averaging just 9.2 points per game. His rebounding has also fallen off, a predictable result given the monstrous big men the Grizzlies feature down low. Prince has scored in double figures just twice since doing so in his first two games with the team, and is not worth using this week with just three games on the schedule.

Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks (GSW, @WAS, MIA): The Knicks were riding high when Stoudemire returned from his knee injury, a far cry from the downright dysfunctional unit they look like right now. The team is playing just .500 ball in 22 games with Stoudemire, and while it may be unfair to say that he is the reason for their slide, he hasn't helped. Stoudemire is still the same slow-footed defender as always, and the team is so desperate for big man help that they added Kenyon Martin in recent days. Stoudemire might not lose too much of his role to Martin, but the presence of a player who actually tries on defense might give coach Mike Woodson reason to pause when he goes to Stoudemire on his bench. With a possible reduction in his role coming, Stoudemire is hard to rely on. Especially given how pedestrian his production has been; Stoudemire is averaging just 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game over the last five, while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. Three games is not enough on the schedule to justify getting Stoudemire active.

Bust Alert: Patrick Patterson, Kings (@MIA, @ORL, @SAS, CHA): As a stretch-four with an improving long-range game, Patterson might not have had a better possible situation than the one he just left in Houston. That he is going to Sacramento after last week's trade almost seems unfair, as the Kings are deep in the frontcourt and dysfunctional all over the organization. Sacramento has not been the place for big men to flourish in recent years, as DeMarcus Cousins and his lagging development can attest. A year ago, J.J. Hickson floundered in Sacramento as well, a victim of their nonsensical rotations and nonexistent scheme; now he is a nightly double-double threat. Patterson might have the talent to buck this trend and prove reliable even in Sacramento, but I would not stake my hopes on that happening during an important week leading up the playoffs.

Centers

Start 'Em

Jermaine O'Neal, Suns (MIN, @SAS, ATL): O'Neal legitimately looked finished as an NBA player over the last few seasons, as injuries and the miles of 900-plus NBA games seemed to catch up to him quickly. The wizards on the Suns' training staff have helped O'Neal stay on the floor for long stretches this season, and he has rewarded the team with some solid production. Recently, he has been able to take minutes from Marcin Gortat, who remains one of the most disappointing players in the league so far. O'Neal is averaging 21.6 minutes per game since returning from a heart issue, and is putting up 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The center position does not have many options out there, so O'Neal is worth taking a flier on, even with three games on the schedule.

Sleeper Alert: Tyler Zeller, Cavaliers (@CHI, TOR, LAC): Zeller has been entrusted with a big role for the Cavs as a rookie, but his production has been difficult for Fantasy owners to rely on. He fluctuates between useful and useless seemingly every other week. He is on the upswing right now, and Fantasy owners who need a center to fill in this week could do worse; he is averaging 14.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game over the last three. The Cavaliers have some tough matchups on the way, but Zeller might be worth a risk.

Sit 'Em

Samuel Dalembert, Bucks (@DAL, @HOU, TOR): For a few games there, it really looked like Dalembert was enjoying a renaissance. Clearly, that was just an illusion, caused by the absence of breakout star Larry Sanders, who is now back from his back injury. In three games since Sanders returned the floor, Dalembert has totaled just 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Bucks have an excellent three-game schedule on the way this week, as they get set to face two of the four worst defenses in the league, but Dalembert is no longer worth owning, let alone starting.

Bust Alert: Lavoy Allen, 76ers (ORL, @CHI, GSW, @WAS): Similarly to Dalembert, Allen enjoyed a brief flirtation with relevance in recent weeks, due to an injury to Sixers forward Thaddeus Young. That is coming to an end this week, putting an end to Allen's low-end Fantasy utility. He was averaging 9.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in the team's five games prior to Saturday, but Young has told reporters he plans to return Sunday or Tuesday from his hamstring injury. Even with four games on the schedule, Allen in a reserve role is unworthy of your time.

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Player News
Andray Blatche heading to China
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Free-agent center Andray Blatche has signed a one-year deal with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers in China. Blatche's deal with pay him almost $2.5 million, and he'll be able to rejoin an NBA team in March, Yahoo! Sports reports.

Report: Kings add Ramon Sessions
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:04 pm ET) The Kings have agreed to a two-year, $4.2-million deal with free-agent guard Ramon Sessions , Yahoo! Sports reports.

The team is reportedly using its bi-annual exception provision to sign Sessions, who averaged 12.3 points, 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 83 games between two teams last season.


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. 


 
 
 
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