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Week 21 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Fantasy Writer
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Fantasy owners have been waiting for months for Pau Gasol to come back from his torn plantar fascia and starting making up for what has been a very disappointing season. It looks like there is a great chance for that to happen in Week 21 (March 18-24), as Gasol has been able to participate in shootaround in recent days and could make his debut as early as Monday against the Suns.

Gasol was a major disappointment even before his injury, largely because most Fantasy owners who had him on their rosters had invested a draft pick in the early rounds expecting him to continue his run as one of the most dependable Fantasy options around. His numbers were still incredibly solid for most NBA players, as he was putting up 13.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, with 1.3 blocks and 3.6 assists per game as well.

Given his actual production, independent of expectations, Gasol still looks like someone who can provide a boost down the stretch for those Fantasy owners who were either patient enough to stash him or quick enough to grab him off waivers when his prognosis began improving. Gasol looks likely to be worth getting in your lineup very soon, but I am not sure Week 21 will be that time, even if he does return.

The Lakers play just twice in Week 21, and it looks like Gasol's expected Monday return might have to be pushed back a few days, after he complained of soreness Saturday after working out. If the Lakers opt to not have Gasol play Monday, his next opportunity to return to the floor would not come until Friday, leaving him with just one chance to put up numbers.

I highly recommend snagging Gasol in the eight percent of CBSports.com Fantasy leagues he is still available, but I have to slap him with a rare "Sit of the Week" tag for the coming scoring period. He could provide you with three weeks of production to end the season, but you will want to continue being patient and keep him out of the starting lineup this week.

Guards

Start 'Em

Mo Williams, Jazz (NYK, @HOU, @SAS, @DAL): Admittedly, this is a bit of a speculative addition to the list, as Williams has been downright dreadful since returning from a thumb injury. In five games heading into Saturday's tilt with the Grizzlies' league-best defense, Williams was averaging just 8.6 points per game, with only four more assists than turnovers overall. It was not the softest landing for Williams, who faced four above average defensive teams in his first six games, so I think Week 21 provides a good opportunity for him to bounce back. The Jazz face a much simpler task this week, as two of the leagues' five worst scoring defenses pop up this week. Williams was playing very well prior to the injury, and I think the matchups make him worth getting active this week.

Ray Allen, Heat (@BOS, @CLE, DET, CHA): Allen has been up and down this season for the Heat, which was to be expected in his first season as a true role player. Allen has been doing well recently, scoring in double figures in 13 of the last 16 games. Allen should be able to keep rolling in Week 21, against a slate of teams that he has had success against this season. Allen is averaging 13.6 points per game in seven games against his upcoming foes so far, a good sign for him moving forward. Allen could be particularly useful against his former mates in Boston Monday, as he has 40 points in two games, while averaging 34.5 minutes per game.

Sleeper Alert: Eric Maynor, Trail Blazers @PHI, @MIL, @CHI, @ATL, @OKC): In 37 games with the Thunder earlier in the season, Maynor totaled just 104 points and 73 assists. He has been much better since the trade, averaging 8.6 points and 4.2 assists per game total, while playing a much larger role. Maynor is still a borderline Fantasy option overall, but the Blazers play five times this week, including a pair of back to backs. The Blazers are severely lacking in depth, which might lead to them leaning on Maynor more off the bench with so many games in so few nights. I like Maynor as a fill in option this week, especially with the

Sit 'Em

Jarrett Jack, Warriors (@NOR, @SAS, WAS): Jack has fallen off recently, averaging 11.3 points on 11.7 field goal attempts per game over the last 10 games. He has just six more assists than turnovers, as he has gone from surprisingly effective to pretty dreadful in fairly short order. Warriors coach Mark Jackson gave Jack a vote of confidence Saturday when asked whether Jack might see a reduced role moving forward but Fantasy owners should be less confident at this point. Jack is suffering through his worst month since November, and is now much more of a borderline Fantasy option. With just three games on the schedule, I would not rely on Jack at this point in the season.

Mike Dunleavy, Bucks (POR, @ATL, @IND, ATL): For the most part, Dunleavy has been able to hold on to his role since the team's backcourt-crowding trade deadline deal for J.J. Redick. Unfortunately, he has been slipping a bit recently, posting consecutive scoreless games Wednesday and Friday of last week, with his minutes shrinking in each game. The Bucks open with a solid matchup against the Blazers' vulnerable defense, but face a trio of above-average defensive teams after that. Dunleavy might end up as the odd man out if the Bucks begin to shorten their rotation for the postseason, and he looks like a bad play this week.

Bust Alert: Brandon Knight, Pistons (BKN, @MIA, @CHA): The last week has not been kind to Knight, who suffered an ankle injury after being the victim of a devastating dunk by DeAndre Jordan. Knight was averaging 15.0 points per game in 10 appearances prior to the injury, and really appeared to be taking well to the off guard role. At this point, it looks like he might end up missing Monday's game against the Nets, and his status for the rest of the week is not at all guaranteed, so Fantasy owners might consider him a risky option.

Forwards

Start 'Em

Martell Webster, Wizards (@CHA, @PHX, @LAL, @GSW): I picked Webster for this column before his 34-point outburst against the Suns Saturday, but that performance certainly helps bolster my case. Webster has been able to take advantage of injuries in the Wizards backcourt rotation, first to Bradley Beal and then Trevor Ariza, and has been playing a huge role recently. Webster is averaging 21.8 points per game over the last five games, and has one of the best schedules of the season on the way. The best defense the Wizards face in Week 21 is Phoenix, who ranks just 21st in the league in points allowed. With four games on the way and Webster playing at he top of his game, get him active.

Metta World Peace, Lakers (@PHX, WAS): I felt pretty confident that World Peace would see a downturn in his Fantasy value in the second half of the season, but he has so far proven me wrong. World Peace's shot has returned after an extended cold streak, and he is now shooting 43.4 percent in the month of March. That is not great, but it has led to 14.3 points per game in eight games so far thanks to the plentiful opportunities the Lakers' offense provides him. The Lakers only play twice this week, but they may be forced to rely on him more than normal with Kobe Bryant nursing an ankle injury, so MWP might not be a bad play.

Sleeper Alert: Patrick Patterson, Kings (LAC, MIN, @DEN, PHI): The trade to Sacramento really hurt Patterson's Fantasy value, as he has dropped from 11.6 points with the Rockets to just 7.3 per game since the trade. Still, his role has slowly been increasing recently, as he is averaging 20.2 minutes per game over the last five. Patterson's skill set has not changed since joining the Kings, so it should be no surprise that he has bumped his scoring to 9.4 per game in this new role. With DeMarcus Cousins possible dealing with an injury that could limit him, Patterson should continue to see opportunities to score.

Sit 'Em

Luis Scola, Suns (LAL, WAS, MIN, BKN): I had Scola as my Start of the Week a week ago, as I expected the veteran to see a larger role in light of a slew of injuries to the Suns' frontcourt. Unfortunately for my reputation, that ended up being an unmitigated disaster, as Scola appears to have been robbed of his basketball abilities recently. Scola has been in a steepening decline, and the Suns appear to have moves on from using him as a primary option. Scola was benched this week and has not played more than 14 minutes in any of the team's last three games. He has a decent schedule in Week 21, but at this point, I think Scola might be done as a useful Fantasy option.

Andrei Kirilenko, Timberwolves (@MEM, @SAC, @PHX, CHI): The Timberwolves have just nine healthy players right now, which is causing some problems for the guys who are trying to get healthy. Kirilenko appears to be close to returning to the floor, but there appears to be a snag; the Timberwolves do not appear comfortable getting Kirilenko into a game without a practice, and the Wolves just don't have enough bodies to run a practice with their current schedule. The team plays back to back games Sunday and Monday, before having two days off. Kirilenko might get a chance to practice Wednesday, but that might not be enough to convince the team that he is ready to get back on the floor following a nine-game absence with a calf injury. He is too risky to put in your lineup at the beginning of the week.

Bust Alert: Maurice Harkless, Magic (@IND, @NYK, OKC): Harkless' development has hit some bumps in the road, as Tobias Harris has become the youngster du jour in Orlando recently. Harkless is still averaging 10.0 points per game in the month of March, but he has also topped out at 12 points in his last five games. Harkless looks like a solid long-term piece, but the touches are going to Harris, not Harkless right now. With all three of his Week 21 opponents ranking above the league average in scoring defense, Harkless could disappoint the Fantasy owners who have come to rely on him.

Centers

Start 'Em

Jermaine O'Neal, Suns (LAL, WAS, MIN, BKN): The only thing that has stopped O'Neal's return to prominence was a four-game absence due to family issues. O'Neal returned this week and picked up right where he left off, earning a starting role at Scola's expense to boot. O'Neal has scored in double figures in three straight games, averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in that span. The Suns open the week with a vulnerable Lakers defense that O'Neal is averaging 12.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game against this season. O'Neal should probably be in your starting line with four games on the way.

Sleeper Alert: Greg Stiemsma (@MEM, @SAC, @PHX, CHI): Stiemsma has been little more than a defensive specialist in his season-plus in the league, but the Timberwolves' injuries have forced him into a larger role recently. And, surprisingly, he has answered the call well, reaching double figures in scoring in three of the last five games. Stiemsma is averaging 30.2 minutes per game in that stretch, but is also shooting 54.8 percent and averaging 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game as well. Stiemsma is taking advantage of his chances, and looks like a worthwhile injury replacement in the shallow center position.

Sit 'Em

Robin Lopez, Hornets (GSW, BOS, MEM): Lopez remains the very definition of a borderline starting Fantasy option, as he ranks right near the end of the No. 2 centers list. Given the right matchup (like last Tuesday's game against the slow-footed Nets), he can be a useful Fantasy option. Unfortunately, he sandwiched a 15-point, eight-rebound performance last week between two six-point efforts. Lopez faces two of the tougher defensive frontcourts in the league in Week 21, after a warmup outing against the soft Warriors. I would say this is one of those weeks where Lopez will not be the guy you want in your lineup.

Bust Alert: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings (LAC, MIN, @DEN, PHI): We expected Cousins to take a step forward this season, and on the surface he has. His scoring average is down a bit from last season, but he has been more efficient overall, including keeping his foul rate at an all-time low. Unfortunately, Cousins remains as unreliable as ever, falling to score in double figures in three of six games in the month of March, while also posting back to back 20-point games prior to suffering a thigh injury. The thigh kept him out of the team's last game Wednesday, and it could continue to bother him. Sitting Cousins could be risky given his immense talent and ability to go off for a huge line at any point, but there are plenty of question marks around him right now.

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Player News
Lakers sign Wayne Ellington right before training camp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/22/2014) With one week before the start of training camp, the Lakers have signed five-year veteran guard Wayne Ellington to a contract, the team announced. Ellington is now with his fourth team since June, after failing to crack the rotation with the Mavericks in 2013.

Ellington averaged 3.2 points on 43.7 percent shooting from the field over 45 games for Dallas.

Andray Blatche heading to China
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/20/2014) 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
(9/20/2014) 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. 


 
 
 
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