Given the rumors flying around the league, this looks like it could be a busy year for trades. The trade season unofficially opens Sunday, as players signed to free-agent contracts this offseason are finally eligible to be traded, and already a number of big names are being bandied about.
ESPN.com reported last week the Rockets have imposed a Dec. 19 deadline to trade center Omer Asik, likely bringing an end to a saga that has been five months in the making. The most obvious trade options for Houston are stretch power forwards to play next to Dwight Howard, as the Rockets appear less enthused about Terrence Jones than Fantasy owners do. Jones is owned in 85 percent of CBSSports.com leagues, a number that could go down if a trade is made. Conversely, Asik's 51 percent ownership rate should shoot up whenever he is moved, but I wouldn't recommend speculative adds just yet.
The rumor with the biggest momentum at this point is Kyle Lowry to one of the floundering New York teams. The biggest possible Fantasy impact would be derived from Lowry moving to the Knicks, as it would leave Lowry in a starting role, while freeing up Greivis Vasquez to run the pick and roll to his heart's content with Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Vasquez has done absolutely nothing since the trade to Toronto last week, but if I had a free spot on my roster or was carrying dead weight like Raymond Felton, I would definitely consider a speculative add for Vasquez in one of the 21-percent of leagues where he is a free agent..
The new collective bargaining agreement has made teams covet young assets and first round picks more than ever in recent seasons, but those factors don't seem likely to suppress movement at this point. There are plenty of teams desperate to dig themselves out of early season holes or get into position for a high draft pick. The Fantasy landscape could look significantly different in a few weeks, and Fantasy owners savvy enough to take advantage are going to be the ones that benefit.
Terrence Ross, G, Raptors: Ross was absolutely buried in the rotation as a rookie, and things weren't looking great to start this season. The Rudy Gay trade may prove to be fateful for Ross, who has played 25-plus minutes in three of the last four games; he topped that mark in just two of the first 18 games of the season. Ross hasn't shown a consistent ability to do much beyond score in the NBA, and his college track record doesn't suggest that a big boost in playmaking is looming with a larger role. Ross does have an intriguing skill set as a scoring option, however, as he takes a ton of 3-pointers and should be able to leverage his athleticism into shots at the rim as he develops. Ross is averaging just 20.0 Fantasy points per game since the trade, and his lack of contributions in multiple categories limits his Fantasy impact in both scoring formats. Still, I think he is worth snagging in any league with more than 12 teams at this point. (33 percent owned; +26 percent)
Jon Leuer, F, Grizzlies: With the presence of former lottery pick Ed Davis, it comes as something of a surprise that the unheralded Leuer has emerged as the Grizzlies' third big man. However, it makes some sense when you consider the makeup of the team. Even with Marc Gasol healthy, the Grizzlies are an offensively challenged bunch, and replacing Gasol with Kosta Koufos only exacerbates the issue. Davis has his uses, but he isn't a particularly skilled offensive player, and his limited range only further mucks the floor up. Leuer's ability to stretch the floor makes the best of a bad situation for the Grizzlies, as he at least provides some semblance of an offensive threat outside of 10 feet. Fantasy owners are obviously hesitant to buy into such an unheralded player, but Leuer ranks 30th among forwards in Fantasy scoring at 26.7 points per game over the last two weeks, and is nearly matching Zach Randolph in production. His role seems pretty consistent at this point, and seems more worth owning than someone like Luis Scola (34 percent) or Wesley Johnson (31 percent) at this point. (26 percent owned; +23 percent)
Mike Dunleavy, F, Bulls: Dunleavy's Fantasy appeal is based almost entirely on his ability to score. He is averaging 17.2 points per game over the last five games, a period that not coincidentally overlapped with the absences of Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler from injuries. The Bulls badly need Dunleavy's offense, but I'm still not sure there's much worth looking at here. It took his recent hot streak just to get to 10.4 points per game on the season, and I would expect his role to return to his previous levels once Butler and Deng get back to full speed. I would rather have the upside of each of the two players listed above than Dunleavy. (33 percent owned; +19 percent)
Amir Johnson, F, Raptors: After disappointing for much of the season's first month, Johnson has absolutely exploded since a benching last week. In his last six games, Johnson is averaging 20.0 points per game, albeit fueled by an entirely unsustainable 70.6 percent shooting mark from the field. Johnson will obviously not continue making nearly three of every four shots, but he might keep taking 10 per game, which will be enough to keep him productive. Johnson attempted at least 10 shots in just one of the first 16 games, but has reached that mark in each of the last six. Johnson is able to fill up the stat sheet whether he is scoring or not, but the possibility that he will settle in as a 15-point-per-game scorer is enticing enough to make him a must-add in the few leagues in which he remains available. (92 percent owned; +18 percent)
Amar'e Stoudemire, C, Knicks: Earlier in the season, Amar'e told reporters he wanted to be more involved in the offense, as he blamed his sluggish start on a lack of touches. Desperate, the Knicks went out and exhumed Stoudemire's body, feeding nearly eight field-goal attempts per game so far in December. Astonishingly, the perpetually injured big man has responded with a string of solid games, scoring in double figures in five of seven games in the month, while shooting 68.5 percent from the field. He is still playing just 23 minutes per game, but he did show last season he can be productive in a small role, as long as the Knicks make a point of utilizing him; he averaged 14.2 points in just 23.5 minutes per game before injuries ended his season. Given the fragile state of Stoudemire's body, relying on him to consistently help you is a mistake. But, as a reserve option in a 12-team league, he is worth a roster spot. (41 percent owned; +18 percent)
Steve Blake, G, Lakers: Talk about bad luck. Steve Blake was enjoying arguably the best season of his career and has been thriving in Mike D'Antoni's offense. He had double-digit assists in nine of his last 13 games before tearing a ligament in his elbow, an injury that will cost him six weeks of action. A big part of Blake's recent success was dependent on the Lakers' lack of other options, as both Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash were sidelined by their own injuries. You might be inclined to just stash Blake given how well he was playing, but he is likely to return to a much different roster than the one that allowed him to thrive. With Nash and Farmar likely to be back before Blake, and Kobe Bryant taking on play-making duties, it is probably fine to part ways with Blake. (55 percent owned; -28 percent)
Channing Frye, F, Gerald Green, G, Suns: The Suns have been an ongoing problem for Fantasy owners, with Green and Frye being joined by Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris as parts in the Suns' offense. For nearly a month, Green was a big part of the Suns' offense, scoring 15.7 points per game and reaching double figures in 14 of 15 games. In five games since, he has a high-point total of just 10 points. Frye has seen a similar drop off, going from a 15.0 point average over a span of nine games to just 9.2 per game over the last five. At this point, the Suns are just going to ride the hot hand with their role players, which makes Frye and Green, along with the Morris twins, essentially interchangeable. All four players should be waiver wire fodder all season long, so don't make the mistake of growing attached. (58 percent owned; -11 percent [Frye]; 29 percent owned; -11 percent)
Flavors of Next Week
-- by Joe Polito (@JoePo89)
But those guys aren't the only promising Fantasy options to watch out for. Brandan Wright (30 percent) made his season debut Saturday and should play his way into major minutes at center for the Mavericks, as he represents everything they are missing in the frontcourt. Wright was shelved in the preseason after undergoing shoulder surgery, but wasted no time in his first game back, scoring a team-high 19 points on 9 of 10 shooting in just 19 minutes of game time.
Dallas' other big men are either too slow and uncoordinated (Samuel Dalembert) or quite simply not big enough (DeJuan Blair). Wright might only stand 6-foot-10, but his 7-foot-5 wingspan and 40 inch vertical render Dalembert and Blair obsolete when it comes to what the Mavericks need down low. No longer will Monta Ellis have to dump off what should be easy dunk opportunities to the unsure hands of Dalembert or the unathletic frame of Blair.
We warned you before the season started about John Henson's sleeper potential, so consider us the authority on the upside of long-armed former Tar Heels. Wright isn't as wiry as Henson, but he too uses his unique body type to block shots and get the ball up on the rim quickly. He averaged 8.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting a hair under 60 percent from the field in just 18 minutes per game last year. His ownership saw a 24 percent increase since last week based on just one game, so pick him up now if you want to enjoy an efficient big man, whose youth and athleticism will likely have him logging major minutes as the season goes on. Monta Ellis has gotten off to a great start when it comes to distracting the opposing defense and setting up Dallas' many jump shooters. Now he'll be able to do the same thing for Wright -- except in the paint, leading to many plays like this.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, G, Bucks, (23 percent): This guy has more letters in his name than years on this earth, but don't let the fear of having to pronounce his full moniker scare you away from adding him. What we've got here is a 19-year-old, Kevin Durant-sized guard known to Bucks fans as "The Greek Freak." Right now, he's only averaging 6.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18 minutes per game, but lately, injuries and a lack of better options has provided Antetokounmpo some nice opportunities. In Milwaukee's last three outings, he's averaging 12.0 points and 8.7 rebounds while logging 30 minutes a night. If you want a glimpse at how excited the Bucks are about him, just look at their official twitter account, which practically exists to celebrate Antetokounmpo's every move. This is still a deep-league lottery ticket, but "The Greek Freak" gets the Philly bump in Week 8, so don't be surprised if his playing time and production stay on the rise. One more thing: Apparently this guy isn't done growing. By the end of the season, you could be the proud Fantasy owner of a seven-foot, guard eligible rookie. Now isn't that exciting.
Andray Blatche, C, Nets, (53 percent): Blatche is pretty much the equivalent to a 6-foot-10 J.R. Smith, which is definitely scary on many levels. But Brook Lopez's chronic ankle problems and Kevin Garnett's landslide decline have left the Nets with little other choice. Blatche does things that would probably get any other starting center in the league a spot on the bench, such as isolation dribble moves out on the perimeter that lead to awesome fade away jump shots. But for whatever reason, it works for him and more than half of his field goal attempts this year have come right around the rim, meaning, for the most part, he knows his place on this team. Blatche has averaged a double-double over his last three games and it's safe to say he's going to keep up that production with the 76ers appearing twice on Brooklyn's Week 8 schedule. He's a streaming option for now, but he's a must-add for any Brook Lopez owner, being the sole beneficiary of all that missed time. Lopez is poised to come back this week, but who knows how long he'll stick around this time.
Alec Burks, G, Jazz, (54 percent): We wrote about Burks as a sleeper heading into the season, but Trey Burke's injury forced Burks into an unfitting point guard role to start the year. Now he's back at his natural position and seems to be thriving with less playmaking responsibility. He went for a career-high 31 points Monday against the Heat, adding seven assists, three rebounds and four steals to boot. Burks is a gifted athlete with a relentless motor and sound fundamentals. He's a natural at the rim, and even when he's not shooting well, he'll hustle his way into other stats to salvage his night. He's only 22, so if Burks can build on his big game against Miami, he possesses the kind of all-around skill set Fantasy owners crave from their guards. He can get you the same production as Rodney Stuckey and Corey Brewer, but the potential is there to break into the Eric Gordon/Manu Ginobili range by the end of the year.