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Waiver Wire: Time to make a title run

Fantasy Writer
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With the Fantasy playoffs beginning either this week or next for most leagues, we're just about done analyzing the waiver wires. At this point in the season, you should feel pretty comfortable in the roster you have put together, and there will likely not be many tweaks you can make that will significantly impact your bottom line.

The biggest impact over the last few weeks of the season will likely be how teams deal with injuries and rest, as teams either jockey for postseason positioning or play out the string on a trip to the lottery. So far, we have seen injuries change plenty of player's Fantasy outlook, with just one recent example being the continuing health issues with Cleveland's star point guard, Kyrie Irving.

Irving has cemented himself as a sure-fire top-10 Fantasy guard in all Fantasy formats, but he has been remarkably injury-prone in his two NBA seasons, a trend that also extends to his brief college career at Duke. Irving will miss three to four weeks with a shoulder injury, pretty much ending his Fantasy season and leaving many owners scrambling to find a replacement option. Many have naturally turned to Irving's backup, Shaun Livingston, who was the third-most added player in CBSSports.com Fantasy Basketball leagues over the last week.

Livingston had his own once promising career nearly ended thanks to injuries, but he has managed to make his way back into the league as a serviceable backup. Despite his comeback story, it is not clear how much upside he has as a Fantasy replacement for Irving down the stretch. Livingston looked good in his first start after Irving went down, putting up 12 points and six assists against the Wizards Tuesday, but there is plenty of reason to doubt whether he can be a useful option moving forward.

Livingston has now started eight games for the Cavs and has some pretty lackluster numbers, even while playing a not insignificant number of minutes. Livingston is averaging 29.4 minutes per game in his starts, and is averaging just 9.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. Those are decent numbers, but nothing that suggest Fantasy owners have any reason to run out and grab him.

Irving's injury is going to change the shape of more than a few Fantasy playoff runs, but probably not because Livingston is available on the waiver wires for the taking. Livingston is more of a game manager than anything at this point; expect the Cavs to rely heavily on rookie Dion Waiters down the stretch. Waiters has a far better chance of changing he course of the final four weeks of your Fantasy season than Livingston, though he is almost certainly not available at this point.

Most Added Guards

Marco Belinelli, Bulls The Bulls have basically had three reliable Fantasy options on the roster this season, with a motley crew of role players making sporadic contributions to fill out the rest of the roster. Belinelli has been a member of the latter group, with his utility fluctuating greatly throughout the season. His scoring averages for each month of the season are as follows: 5.2, 14.1, 8.0, 10.1. He seems to be peaking yet again in March so far, as the Bulls have been forced to rely on him heavily with Richard Hamilton dealing with injuries yet again. In five games so far, Belinelli is averaging 16.2 points and 4.6 assists per game in 40.4 minutes. The Bulls kind of remain in a holding pattern this season with Derrick Rose still trying to decide when he can return from his knee surgery, so Belinelli's Fantasy value could conceivably go a number of ways. Fantasy owners who are still considering adding him will need to keep an eye on Hamilton's availability; Belinelli averaged 15.1 points per game as a starter, and just 7.9 off the bench. (32 percent owned; +21 percent)

Eric Maynor, Trail Blazers: As a member of the Thunder, Maynor enjoyed an outsized reputation as a contributor to a budding juggernaut, but whatever impact he made failed to show up in the box score with any regularity. He was always a passable backup point guard, but rarely made much noise in Fantasy circles. Things have changed a bit in Portland, as he 25-year-old finally looks healthy and has been playing a larger role since a deadline-day trade. The Blazers already feel comfortable enough with Maynor around to throw him in dual point guard lineups next to Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard; more than half of Maynor's minutes have come next to Lillard, and he is averaging 16.7 points per-36 minutes in that time. Now that Maynor is not relegated solely to a reserve role, he is starting to look more attractive for Fantasy owners. Having said that, he remains confined to the lower rungs of the Fantasy ladder. (20 percent owned; +17 percent)

Avery Bradley, Celtics: Bradley has stepped up in Rajon Rondo's absence, however his impact does not show up in a big way for Fantasy owners. Over the 19 game since Rondo went down with a knee injury, Bradley is averaging 10.8 points per game, as compared to 8.1 per game prior to the injury. Unfortunately, despite being the starting point guard, Bradley's Fantasy appeal remains limited; he is averaging 19.6 Fantasy points per game in that stretch, a number that would rank just 65th among all guards for the season. Bradley's improvements have made him more than useful in deeper formats, but it appears as if his upside remains limited. The Celtics have opted not to have Bradley do much of their playmaking, leaving him instead to operate off the ball while focusing on defense. Despite being the starter, Bradley is unlikely to force his way onto the roster in much more than half of Fantasy leagues. (49 percent owned; +7 percent)

19.6

Most Added Forwards

Ed Davis, Grizzlies: It should not come as much of a surprise that Davis has once again thrived when minutes have come his way. Despite being extremely limited offensively, Davis averaged a double-double per 36 minutes in his first two seasons, prior to breaking out with the Raptors this season. After being traded to Memphis, he found himself buried behind a pair of All-Star big men, only playing due to an injury to Zach Randolph. Having a third big with Davis' ability is a huge boon for the Grizzlies down the stretch, but his place on the depth chart also ensures that his Fantasy value will remain tied to the health of those ahead of him. Randolph returned to the lineup Thursday from an ankle injury, so expect Davis to revert once again to a reserve role. Davis averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 13 appearances off the bench prior to Randolph's injury, so he could lose whatever Fantasy value he has left pretty quickly now that Randolph is healthy. (40 percent owned; +14 percent)

Trevor Ariza, Wizards: Ariza is enjoying a strong run of scoring recently, averaging 14.0 points per game over the last five games and 13.9 over the last 10, which has led Fantasy owners to scoop him up. Ariza has been fueled by a hot shooting run that is almost certainly not going to last, as the career 32.1 percent three-point shooter is nailing his attempts at a 43.5 percent clip. Point guard John Wall's ability to find his teammates high percentage looks has been covered in this column this season, but even he isn't the type of wizard that can magically turn Ariza into an elite long-range gunner. Slightly more of Ariza's attempts have been from the coveted corner areas than normal during this run, but that has not been enough to explain his increased value. Fantasy owners should not trust Ariza's improvement long term. (55 percent owned; +13 percent)

Dorell Wright, 76ers: As with most of the players on the list at this point, Wright's recent improvement has been the result of an injury ahead of him in the depth chart. Wright lost his spot in the rotation earlier in the season to Nick Young, who has been dealing with an ankle injury. In seven games since Young went down, Wright is averaging 13.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, reaching double figures in scoring in all but one game. The team has not given much of an indication as to when Young will be able to return, but Wright's Fantasy value will obviously depend on that. Coach Doug Collins does not seem particularly comfortable relying on Wright for big minutes if he does not have to, so he could return to irrelevancy as soon as Young is healthy enough to knock him back out of the rotation. (32 percent owned; +8 percent)

Most Added Centers

Jermaine O'Neal, Suns: O'Neal continued his forward trajectory over the last week, despite sitting out four games in a row due to a family issues. It helped that Marcin Gortat suffered what could end up being a season-ending injury during his time, as O'Neal is now he only thing resembling an NBA-caliber center on the roster. O'Neal probably is not capable of playing more than 25 or so minutes per night, but the Suns will be sure to try to get everything they can out of him, with their other options being Luis Scola and Hamed Haddadi. O'Neal averaged 11.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in he month of February while backing up Gortat, and I think he could improve on those numbers across the board as the team's primary center. (51 percent owned; +9 percent)

Byron Mullens, Bobcats: Mullens lost his starting job to Josh McRoberts. I guess I have to write more about why Mullens' Fantasy value is currently in freefall, but that sums things up about as well as any 150-word write up could. Mullens' season-long obsession with low-efficiency jump shots, along with a lingering minor knee injury, has finally cost him his place in coach Mike Dunlap's rotation, as he is averaging just 13.1 minutes per game in seven March games. The Bobcats have a miserable offense, and Mullens is far too big a part of it. The team ranks just 28th in the league in three-point attempts, and they have Mullens attempting 17.8 percent of them, despite shooting just 31.4 percent on those shots. Mullens has been given plenty of opportunities to prove his worth, but has done precious little to improve his performance as the season has gone on. Mullens has fewer points than field-goal attempts this season, a sure-fire sign that his season has been nothing short of a disaster. When Mullens was getting the opportunity, he put up decent Fantasy numbers out of the center position, but he is probably not worth hanging if you have any real championship aspirations down the stretch. (88 percent owned; -12 percent)

Miscellanea: A number of high-end Fantasy options remain out, but with the possibility that they may return to the floor still open. Here are my best guesses on what type of impact they may have. ... Derrick Rose: His has been one of the league's extended soap operas, as the Bulls and Rose often do not seem to be on the same page. The issue with Rose has been and continues to be that he has been cleared to play medically, but remains unwilling to return until he feels confident in his physical ability. He could return before you read this, but he also may not play until next season, and there is simply no way of knowing. ... Kyrie Irving: Probably could return this season, given the 3-4 week timetable, but you have to wonder whether the Cavs would risk it, given his injury history. I wouldn't bank my season on it. ... Danny Granger: Granger never looked healthy even in the five games he played, and the Pacers have no reason to push him until the playoffs. Don't expect much… Kevin Love: The rest of the injured Timberwolves appear close to returning, but we do not know when Love's target date is. Stay tuned, however, as he is expected to visit his surgeon Wednesday, with the possibility that he may get some good news. He looks likely to return before the end of the month, and could carry you through the championship round. ... Glen Davis: Davis' name still feels out of place among the rest of these titans, but he was enjoying a fine season, averaging 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a center. Unfortunately, it seems like he may not have enough time to recover from his broken foot in order to help you. ... Andrew Bynum: I don't know, neither do you, neither do the Sixers, and neither does Andrew. Not worth speculating on anymore, but don't count on seeing him. ... Pau Gasol: Took part in shoot around Tuesday, seems no more than a few weeks away. I'm not sure how he will fit in with the Lakers, but Gasol's talent is no secret. He could absolutely swing a Fantasy championship round, and is worth hanging on to or adding if available.

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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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