The recurring theme through the first third of the 2013-14 NBA season has been the startlingly high rate of injuries to star players. While people who are paid to think about the league wonder why this sudden rash of injuries is occurring, Fantasy owners have no time for such intellectual exercises. You have holes in your roster to fill yet again this week, and none bigger than that left by Thunder star Russell Westbrook.
Savvy Fantasy owners already had Reggie Jackson on their rosters, though he was owned in just 61 percent of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues at the time of the announcement of Westbrook's surgery. That number is already up to 88 percent as of Monday, and it should continue to creep higher as Jackson steps into an even bigger role.
In his first two starts since Westbrook's injury, Jackson is averaging 13.0 points and 5.5 assists per game, though those numbers are deflated a bit by playing just 26 minutes in a blowout win over the Rockets. Jackson isn't nearly as good as Westbrook, but he plays the game in a similar way, thriving off drives to the basket to set up scoring chances for himself and his teammates. He averaged 14.3 points per game in the month of December, and it is not at all unreasonable to think he can sustain that while improving on his paltry 3.5 assists average as a full-time starter.
Jackson has looked uncomfortable at times working with the first-team offense this season, which is to be expected for such a young player. He will never be the playmaker Westbrook is, but he should have no problem emerging as a useful starting Fantasy option in the seven weeks Westbrook is expected to be on the sidelines while recovering. He should be owned in all Fantasy formats for his upside alone.
Khris Middleton, F, Bucks: Middleton has mostly come out of nowhere this season, but his ascension to relevance has been a steady climb. The Bucks don't have a ton of talent and Middleton has stepped up and grabbed a big role in the offense solely based on the strength of his play. Middleton has strung together an entire month of solid play, averaging 15.3 points per game in December. He ranked 35th among forwards in Fantasy scoring for that month and has only gotten better as the games have gone on, averaging 17.3 points per game over the last eight, after seeing his role dip for a few games in the middle of the month. Middleton has a limited track record of success, so I understand being hesitant to buy in. However, he absolutely looks like a starting Fantasy option and his role on this bad team makes him someone worth adding in the 19 percent of leagues in which he remains available. (81 percent owned; +30 percent)
James Johnson, F, Grizzlies: Johnson has found some success recently, with back-to-back double-figure scoring games Thursday and Saturday. Of course, the big jump in his ownership is less a result of him suddenly becoming Fantasy relevant, and more due to just how irrelevant he was before. He had been playing more with Tayshaun Prince sidelined by a knee injury, but it's not like Prince is playing well enough to leave anyone tied to the bench if they show they are worthy. My guess with Johnson is he will likely return to irrelevance soon enough, as he has never really shown an ability to perform consistently. He's worth a look in a deeper league, but don't be afraid to have a quick trigger finger when it comes to dropping him. (23 percent owned; +21 percent)
Mirza Teletovic, F, Nets: The Nets' disastrous season has been a blessing for Teletovic, who has surprisingly moved into a marquee role on what looked like one of the most talent-laden rosters in the league at the outset of the season. Teletovic's floor-spacing is what makes him so valuable to the Nets, and it will also be what endears him to Fantasy owners, as his recent run of strong play is almost entirely fueled by long-range success. Teletovic has been given the green light to chuck up threes and his success shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as this was supposed to be his main skill coming into the NBA. He likely won't continue to hit three-plus 3-pointers per game, but I like him quite a bit in category-based Fantasy formats at this point. (40 percent owned; +19 percent)
Jordan Farmar/Jodie Meeks, G, Lakers: Injuries continue to be a huge problem for the Lakers, as Farmar is the lone healthy point guard on the roster, with the exception of the un-proven -- and likely not NBA-ready -- Kendall Marshall. A bruised knee that will keep Xavier Henry out for at least a week only exacerbates the issue, as Henry was serving as a De facto point guard with Farmar off the floor. Henry's absence should push more of a playmaking role onto Meeks, who is third on the team with 2.8 assists per game over the last five games -- actually higher than Henry's. Of these two, I would much rather have Farmar, who gets to indulge in the Fantasy steroid that is the point guard role in Mike D'Antoni's offense. But Meeks makes a lot of sense as a waiver-wire addition in many 14-team-or-deeper leagues for the next few weeks.(Farmer: 47 percent owned; +18 percent; Meeks: 46 percent owned; +16 percent)
Al Horford, C, Hawks: Sometimes, as with Westbrook's injury, a natural in-house replacement exists to at least step up in the absence of a star. The Hawks are not one of those teams. The guys who are going to step into larger roles at the center and, occasionally, power forward spot in Horford's absence are not at all equipped to replace any part of Horford's production for Fantasy purposes. Oh, they might be able to stitch together a simulacrum of Horford's game with Elton Brand's defense and Pero Antic's floor spreading, but neither is likely to become a Fantasy contributor for anything more than stretches. The best outcome for Fantasy owners might be snagging Lou Williams (42 percent owned) and hoping the Hawks opt to shift the scoring burden his way now that he is further removed from his initial return from knee surgery. (73 percent owned; -27 percent)
Jon Leuer, F, Grizzlies: Just two weeks ago, Leuer was featured in this space as one of the most-added players in the league. That he is now being dropped en masse doesn't come as a huge surprise, however, as he was always destined to be a fringy option, one destined to be waiver-wire fodder throughout the season. His role in the Grizzlies' plans has all but disappeared in recent days, as he is averaging just 12.2 minutes per game over the last five. Leuer's upside isn't so great that he is worth hanging on to during the bad times, so cut him without fear. 35 percent owned; -18 percent)
Andrew Bynum, C, Cavaliers: Frankly, the number of people owning Bynum all season long has been too high. The appeal was obvious: Bynum used to be one of the three best centers in Fantasy. And, at least early in the season, there was ample room for optimism as the Cavaliers quickly started him, featuring him even in a lineup that already had shot-happy guards. Unfortunately, Bynum has shown only brief flashes of NBA-level athleticism this season and he was unable to string more than a few good games together in a row -- four of his nine double-digit scoring games came in one four-game stretch in early December. The Cavaliers might have been willing to put up with Bynum's attitude issues were he producing like an All-Star, but his recent indefinite suspension is a clear sign that he hasn't been worth the trouble. Fantasy owners should follow their lead and drop him in droves. I can't think of a single Fantasy format he is worth owning in after being suspended. (68 percent owned; -17 percent)
Flavors of Next Week
-- by Joe Polito @JoePo89
"Groaaaaaan" ... "Ugghhhhhh." ... "Oh, come on ... " These are the noises you've probably made through the first 10 weeks of Fantasy Basketball, as star after star has gone down with injury. Bummers abound.
The Thunder estimate Westbrook will be out at least until the All-Star break, meaning Reggie Jackson is due for an uptick until he returns. Chris already wrote about Jackson, who should be universally owned once people realize just how good he is. The other guy to take a look at on the Thunder is Jeremy Lamb. We expected a lot from Lamb and Jackson coming into the season, and slowly but surely they're both much closer to meeting that potential. Jackson becoming a starter means Lamb will likely be tasked with running the offense for the second unit. He responded well in his first stint of increased responsibility, scoring a career-high 22 points to go along with five rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block in 26 minutes.
Lamb and Jackson have both grown into better players as the season's progressed, meaning you shouldn't value Lamb the same way you did after his slow start. At 30 percent owned, he's not quite ready for most 12-team leagues, as guard is the deepest position in Fantasy. But if you're in a league where you were counting on Westbrook and you missed out on Jackson, you might consider dropping a Danny Granger or Harrison Barnes-type bench player to add a speculative Lamb.
Lou Williams, G, Hawks, (41 percent): Just because the Hawks starting center went down doesn't mean one of their other big men will inherit his shots. Lou Williams hasn't been anything to write home about since returning from injury, but his last few games would indicate he's ready to step up and score in place of Horford. Williams scored 28 against Charlotte and 18 against Orlando, so if he gets a good chunk of the 15 field goal attempts per game Horford's absence leaves out on the floor, he's capable of Nick Young-like Fantasy production as a 20-point-a-night scorer. Because he doesn't do much else, Williams is a gamble in 12-team leagues, but his reputation as a scorer makes him worth the risk.
Kyle Korver, G, Hawks, (78 percent): Again, the Hawks will likely disperse Horford's shot attempts among their already proven role players. Korver has been brilliant from beyond the arc, hitting 50 percent of his threes, averaging three makes per game. If your best player goes down and you have a guy who converts threes with the same likelihood of a coin coming up heads, you start drawing up more plays to get him open. I expect Korver to be up around 85-90 percent owned the rest of the season, so if you want a piece of the no-Horford pie, grab him now.
Avery Bradley, G, Celtics, (59 percent): I've been avoiding Bradley in these columns for the simple fact that the man can't shoot, but he's been scoring consistently enough to warrant some waiver wire love. So here it is. Avery Bradley, you still can't shoot, but you're making it work. He's averaging 18.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game over the last two weeks, while hitting 52.6 percent of his field goals in that span. He's starting to settle in with a left corner three-pointer (53 percent from that spot on the season) -- a staple of any defense-first player. If he can be at least adequate scoring the basketball, Bradley has the athleticism to come up with rebounds and steals that will help round out his Fantasy value. I'm not sure if he'll keep this up when Rondo returns, so grab Bradley now while his value is peaking.
Andrei Kirilenko, F, Nets (12 percent): Only one thing is for certain in Brooklyn: The Nets need help. Kirilenko is older, yes, but he's also versatile, and Brooklyn has enough one-trick ponies to need even a rusty Swiss Army knife. We're not sure what to expect out of the 32-year-old Russian, but you shouldn't necessarily use his early season stats to judge him. He'll be playing more minutes out of necessity and taking more than the 3.5 field goal attempts per game he averaged in his only four games this year. He holds more value in Roto, where his efficiency (50 percent from the field last year) and defense (1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks per game for his career) carry more weight.