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Week 19 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Fantasy Writer

The stream of injuries has slowed a bit recently, though you wouldn't be able to tell by judging just a few of the NBA's rosters. The league can attempt to legislate some semblance of competitive balance with a salary cap or restrictive penalties for high spenders, but there is no accounting for bad luck.

Looking at the injury report, some teams are completely clean when it comes to injuries. The Mavericks and Heat for instance, have dealt with mostly day-to-day injuries to role players for much of the season.

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Some teams have just been killed by injuries, with the Lakers leading the way with 212 games missed due to injury, according to the Los Angeles Times. From a Fantasy perspective, the Bucks' injury woes have left that team almost entirely barren, and the Nuggets have seemingly reached that point recently.

Once one of the league's best teams for Fantasy purposes, the Nuggets have become a wasteland, with only three players -- Ty Lawson, JJ Hickson and Timofey Mozgov -- ranking among the top 30 in Fantasy points at their positions. And Fantasy owners are hardly happy about any of those players right now, with Lawson out indefinitely with fractured ribs and Hickson and Mozgov proving unreliable on a nightly basis.

Lawson's injury in particular has devastated the Nuggets for Fantasy owners, with only Randy Foye squeezing past the 25-Fantasy-points-per-game mark that generally serves as the dividing line between starters and reserves. Lawson has transformed into one of those players who makes everyone around him better, and the Nuggets have been aimless without him.

This is all pointed out to show what a waste Week 19 (March 3-9) is for the Nuggets. They have four games against below average NBA defenses on the way, and a schedule that adds up to the third best for Fantasy purposes. Unfortunately, I'm not sure there is anyone here worth relying on, even with Lawson's potential return looming.

This is a case where even a strong schedule cannot save a dreadful team from drowning.

(All stats up to date through Feb. 28 games)

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have been hit as hard by injuries as anyone recently, with practically their entire frontcourt sidelined by a variety of injuries. Paul Millsap will have missed four games due to a knee contusion by the time Week 19 starts, and it is not yet clear when he will be able to play. The upside to all of the injuries is they have re-ignited Jeff Teague, who is averaging 26.7 points and 5.0 assists per game since Millsap's last appearance. Given he uncertainty surrounding the roster at this point, Teague is one player you can probably rely on for Week 19. DeMarre Carroll also looks like a strong start, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in Millsap's absence.

Schedule: Schedule: @POR, @GS, @LAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 16th
10-team starters: Jeff Teague
12-to-14-team starters: Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott
Deep-league fliers: Shelvin Mack, Lou Williams, Elton Brand

Boston Celtics

Guards we like for Week 19
Player Own/Start
1. Jeff Teague, Hawks 96/75
2. Kirk Hinrich, Bulls 27/16
3. Kent Bazemore, Lakers 47/28
4. Gary Neal, Bobcats 5/1
5. Lou Williams, Hawks 34/14
6. Ramon Sessions, Bucks 40/16
7. Kendall Marshall, Lakers 87/54
8. Devin Harris, Mavericks 5/2
9. Darren Collison, Clippers 50/10
10. Brian Roberts, Pelicans 41/23

Jared Sullinger should be back from his concussion-related absence by the start of Week 19, after being cleared to practice without limitation Friday. He put together the best month of his career prior to the injury, averaging 15.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in February prior to the injury. With Kelly Olynyk dealing with a toe injury and Gerald Wallace now out for the year, the Celtics will likely be content to lean heavily on him, which should lead to good results. Even with just three games on the schedule, Sullinger is a strong starting Fantasy option for Week 19, barring some sort of unforeseen setback.

Schedule: GS, BKN, DET
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 18th
10-team starters: Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green
12-to-14-team starters: Jeff Green
Deep-league fliers: Jerryd Bayless, Phil Pressey, Chris Johnson, Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass

Brooklyn Nets

Deron Williams' post-All-Star-game rejuvenation might just become a yearly trend. At least, as long as his ankles remain brittle and in need of constant care and rest. The NBA schedule does not provide many chances for rest, but the All-Star break is one of those opportunities. He is averaging 18.0 points and 5.6 assists per game since the break, and that is without his usual solid three-point shooting, which should come around. The Nets have been tough to rely on this season for Fantasy purposes, but Williams gives you at least one solid option for Week 19.

Schedule: CHI, MEM, @BOS, SAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 22nd
10-team starters: Deron Williams
12-to-14-team starters: Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson,
Deep-league fliers: Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Garnett, Marcus Thornton, Alan Anderson, Andrei Kirilenko

Charlotte Bobcats

Gerald Henderson's recent slide has been surprising, since the team is not exactly flush with options to squeeze him out of the rotation, and yet he just struggled through his least productive month of the season. For whatever reason, Henderson sort of lost the ability to get to the free-throw line, leaving him with few ways of scoring efficiently enough to maintain his Fantasy relevance. He went to the free-throw line just 2.6 times per game in February despite attempting 10.7 field goals per game; that is his lowest free-throw total of the season by a pretty healthy margin. Henderson has always been someone who needs to score in the mid-teens to be worth starting, so any dip in his efficiency is a bad sign. With three of the league's stingiest defenses on the way in Week 19, you probably shouldn't expect him to snap out of it.

Schedule: @MIA, IND, CLE, @MEM
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 27th
10-team starters: Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts, Gary Neal, Anthony Tolliver, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler returned after a two-game absence and picked up right where he left off in his first two games back, so don't worry about any lingering effects from his rib injury. His return also hasn't hurt Mike Dunleavy too much, as he topped 25 Fantasy points in each of Butler's first two games back. Both should be considered solid starting options for Week 19, though the same cannot necessarily be said for guard D.J. Augustin. Augustin has been a pleasant surprise for Fantasy owners since joining the Bulls, but is stuck in a massive cold spell that has seen him shoot just 20.0 percent from the field over the last four games. His role has fluctuated in that time, and Fantasy owners probably shouldn't be relying on him until he turns things around.

Schedule: @BKN, @DET, MEM, MIA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 17th
10-team starters: Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler
12-to-14-team starters: D.J. Augustin, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich,
Deep-league fliers: Tony Snell

Cleveland Cavaliers

Though the eventual return of Anderson Varejao will change the dynamic, Spencer Hawes has remained as productive as ever in Cleveland. This makes a certain kind of sense, since his skillset is unique on the Cavaliers roster. Though he moved on from the fertile Fantasy ground of the 76ers, he has remained a big part of what the Cavaliers are doing, averaging 14.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game since his trade. With how hard reliable centers are to find, he remains a strong starting option for Week 19, even with a less than stellar schedule.

Schedule: SA, @CHA, NY
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 29th
10-team starters: Kyrie Irving, Spencer Hawes, Tristan Thompson
12-to-14-team starters: Luol Deng
Deep-league fliers: Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller

Dallas Mavericks

Vince Carter's willingness to transition from one of the best players in the league to a sixth man has been impressive to watch over the last few years. Every once in a while, though, he still likes to remind us that, at 37, he hasn't entirely lost his game. He is averaging 15.8 points per game over the last five while shooting 49.0 percent from the field, including a blistering 55.2 percent from three-point range. Carter is by no means a slam dunk Fantasy option anymore, but he makes for a very solid play in category-based formats for Week 19, with two very good matchups on the way.

Schedule: @DEN, POR, IND
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 14th
10-team starters: Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis
12-to-14-team starters: Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Vince Carter
Deep-league fliers: Shawn Marion, Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair

Denver Nuggets

Covered in the intro. What a mess.

Schedule: MIN, DAL, LAL, @NO
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 3rd
10-team starters: JJ Hickson
12-to-14-team starters: Wilson Chandler, Randy Foye, Ty Lawson
Deep-league fliers: Aaron Brooks, Evan Fournier, Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, Anthony Randolph

Detroit Pistons

Kyle Singler is one of those players who is tough to recommend for Fantasy because his production is so boring, even when things are going well. His recently play, however, is enough to make him worthy of consideration for category-based formats for Week 19. Singler finished the month of February averaging 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game, pedestrian numbers overall, but not the only places he can help. He proved extremely useful in those peripheral stats, racking up 1.6 steals while shooting 78.1 percent from the free-throw line and 47.5 percent from the field, while turning the ball over just 1.0 times per game.

Schedule: NY, CHI, @MIN, @BOS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 20th
10-team starters: Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Jennings
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Will Bynum, Rodney Stuckey, Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Golden State Warriors

Andrew Bogut returned to action this week, though he averaged just 6.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in his first three games back from a shoulder injury. Of course, he played just 21 minutes per game in those contests, two of which were blowouts, so it is hard to take too much out of them. With a solid schedule on the way, Bogut should be able to get back on track, and has value as a No. 2 center, just as he did prior to his injury.

Schedule: @IND, @BOS, ATL, PHO
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 11th
10-team starters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee
12-to-14-team starters: Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut
Deep-league fliers: Harrison Barnes, Jordan Crawford, Draymond Green, Jermaine O'Neal, Steve Blake

Houston Rockets

With Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley finishing the month of February averaging fewer than 21 Fantasy points each and Terrence Jones back to earth after a strong January, the Rockets have become one of those top-heavy teams without much Fantasy value down the roster. The one wild card right now appears to be newly acquired forward Jordan Hamilton, who is averaging 14.0 points per game since being acquired from the Nuggets. Of course, that is just a two-game stretch of hot shooting, so don't overreact and slot him into your starting lineup for Week 19. Hamilton still has to prove himself, and remaining productive against a solid slew of opponents this week would be a good way to start.

Schedule: MIA, @ORL, IND, POR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 15th
10-team starters: James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejuanas, Jordan Hamilton, Omri Casspi

Indiana Pacers

As expected, Evan Turner was an afterthought in his first two games for the Pacers, scoring just 21 points combined while averaging 23 minutes per game. There simply won't be enough minutes or shots for Turner to produce the way he needs to for Fantasy owners, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Though George Hill is dealing with a shoulder injury that might limit him, Fantasy owners shouldn't expect Turner to step into a larger role as a result. In Week 19 and beyond, Turner is doomed to be largely irrelevant for Fantasy purposes.

Schedule: GS, @CHA, @HOU, @DAL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 12th
10-team starters: Paul George, Lance Stephenson
12-to-14-team starters: David West, Roy Hibbert
Deep-league fliers: George Hill, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Evan Turner

Los Angeles Clippers

Forwards we like for Week 19
Player Own/Start
1. Tobias Harris, Magic 95/55
2. DeMarre Carroll, Hawks 71/39
3. Vince Carter, Mavericks 51/28
4. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs 93/45
5. Markieff Morris, Suns 86/54
6. Tyreke Evans, Pelicans 91/58
7. Mike Scott, Hawks 26/11
8. Kyle Singler, Pistons 37/24
9. Wesley Johnson, Lakers 57/38
10. Jordan Hamilton, Rockets 6/2

With Jamal Crawford possibly sidelined by a calf injury during Week 19, it will be interesting to see what the Clippers do. It could lead to Darren Collison being pushed back into a prominent role, as it did Wednesday after Crawford went down. Fantasy owners looking for a guard might want to sneak Collison into the lineup, unless we get some news that indicates Crawford will be back in time. As far as the big names the Clippers added following the deadline; neither Danny Granger nor Glen Davis is going to be someone you want to rely on for Fantasy purposes, despite both being owned in over 50 percent of leagues.

Schedule: @PHO, @LAL, ATL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 8th
10-team starters: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Chris Paul
12-to-14-team starters:None
Deep-league fliers: Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes

Los Angeles Lakers

I'm jumping onto the Kent Bazemore bandwagon with all of my weight; that is how impressive he has been since joining the Lakers. Oh sure, the looming returns of Nick Young and Xavier Henry could push him back into irrelevance, but I'm all about Bazemore right now. He seems like exactly the kind of hyperactive athletic wing who can find himself playing in Mike D'Antoni's system, and he should be considered a very strong starting option in Week 19, with the Lakers set to play five times. In fact, with five games on the schedule, this might be the perfect time to play all of those borderline Lakers players littering your roster. You cannot rely on guys like Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Farmar on a game-to-game basis, but they can produce when given the opportunity.

Schedule: @POR, NO, LAC, @DEN, CHA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 2nd
10-team starters: Kendall Marshall, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Kent Bazemore
12-to-14-team starters: Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, MarShon Brooks
Deep-league fliers: Ryan Kelly, Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre

Memphis Grizzlies

Tony Allen has returned from injury playing well, averaging 11.7 points per game in his first three contests. Of course, Allen probably didn't discover how to play offense while recovering from his wrist injury, so let's assume he will not continue shooting 66.7 percent from the field moving forward. He remains a Fantasy afterthought for the most part, especially with Courtney Lee still providing much-needed shooting in a larger role. With a series of tough matchups on the way, expect Allen to come crashing back to earth, so don't lean on him in Week 19.

Schedule:@WAS, @BKN, @CHI, CHA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 26th
10-team starters: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley
12-to-14-team starters: Courtney Lee
Deep-league fliers: James Johnson, Nick Calathes, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Mike Miller

Miami Heat

The Heat play four times in Week 19, but are staring down a tough schedule featuring three top-10 defenses and four playoff teams. That might only matter for Mario Chalmers, who is averaging 24.0 Fantasy points per game over the last five but might struggle against such stout defenses. He remains a marginal Fantasy option, well below the team's trio of stars.

Schedule: CHA, @HOU, @SA, @CHI
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 25th
10-team starters: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade
12-to-14-team starters: Mario Chalmers
Deep-league fliers: Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley, Shane Battier

Milwaukee Bucks

After spending most of the season as a nonfactor, Bucks guard O.J. Mayo is showing some signs of life in the post-deadline days. He is averaging 14.5 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting since returning from a lengthy absence due to an illness, and he could be the team's second option offensively moving forward. Of course, even this stretch of decent play has seen him top 20 Fantasy points just once, so Fantasy owners shouldn't be rushing out to get him in the starting lineup for Week 19, even with a solid set of games. But, with the Bucks remaining an absolute mess, you will want to keep an eye on how he plays in the next few games to see if he is someone you might be able to get on the cheap for a stretch run.

Schedule: UTA, SAC, @NO, WAS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 10th
10-team starters: Brandon Knight
12-to-14-team starters: John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova
Deep-league fliers: Nate Wolters, Ramon Sessions, Giannis Antetokounmpo, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton

Minnesota Timberwolves

Nikola Pekovic was supposed to worked back into the rotation slowly after making his return from ankle bursitis Saturday. That would have made him a risky option for Week 19 even if he remained healthy enough to play in all of the team's games. Fortunately, Pekovic dominated the Kings in limited minutes Saturday, scoring 16 points and adding eight rebounds in just 24 minutes, proving he didn't need much time to knock the rust off. The Timberwolves don't have any back-to-backs on the way during their four-game week, so Pekovic could end up working his way back into the rotation while playing in each game. Pekovic should be approached with caution, but he plays such a big role in the team's offense, he could put up solid Fantasy numbers even while working his way back. No such concerns need be expressed about Kevin Martin, who looked like he didn't miss a beat in his return Saturday. He topped the 30-minute mark in his first game back and should be considered a solid option for all formats for Week 19.

Schedule: @DEN, NY, DET, TOR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 9th
10-team starters: Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio
12-to-14-team starters: Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic
Deep-league fliers: Corey Brewer, Jose Barea, Alexey Shved

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans dodged a big bullet as Anthony Davis was able to return from a shoulder injury without even missing a full game. He was limited by foul trouble in his second game back Saturday, but proved himself healthy Friday by putting up 32 points and nine rebounds against the Suns. He can be started without hesitation in Week 19, which is good considering the Pelicans feature one of the best schedules in the league. He is the only play you should feel confident in at this point given the team's overall struggles, though the schedule should give guys like Brian Roberts, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon enough margin for error to be worth your time. I would not buy into Alexis Ajinca despite scoring in double figures in three out of four games, especially considering two of those saw Davis play limited minutes.

Schedule: @SAC, @LAL, MIL, DEN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 1st
10-team starters: Anthony Davis
12-to-14-team starters: Brian Roberts, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon
Deep-league fliers: Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow, Greg Stiemsma, Al-Farouq Aminu

New York Knicks

He might not be happy there, but Carmelo Anthony is doing everything he can to keep the Knicks relevant. Since the All-Star break, Anthony's numbers are completely absurd; 38.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 5.0 3-pointers per game. At this point, his dominance is pushing everyone else out of the frame, which probably isn't the worst outcome, given how badly everyone on this roster has regressed this season. One promising trend has been the improved recent play of Tyson Chandler, who is averaging 31.6 Fantasy points per game since the deadline. Beyond Anthony, Chandler is the only player you shouldn't think twice about starting with a strong four-game schedule on the way..

Schedule: @DET, @MIN, UTA, @CLE
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 6th
10-team starters: Carmelo Anthony
12-to-14-team starters: J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler
Deep-league fliers: Raymond Felton, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert, Amar'e Stoudemire

Oklahoma City Thunder

Reggie Jackson is still playing plenty of minutes since Russell Westbrook's return from injury, but he is clearly struggling to adapt to playing a lesser role again. He is averaging just 8.7 points and 4.0 assists per game since Westbrook's return, and will probably need to prove himself worthy to Fantasy owners before they feel comfortable relying on him again. Even with one of the league's most favorable three-game schedules on the way in Week 19, the Thunder are back to being just a three-man crew.

Schedule: PHI, @PHO, @LAL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 4th
10-team starters: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb

Orlando Magic

The Magic have been without Arron Afflalo for all but one game since the trade deadline, making it difficult to tell exactly how the decision to part ways with Glen Davis has impacted their rotation. Is Maurice Harkless averaging 30.6 minutes per game over the last four because Davis' departure opened up minutes, or is he filling in for Afflalo? I would bet on the latter at this point, since I'm not quite ready to rely on the disappointing second-year pro just yet. With Afflalo possibly returning some time in Week 19, Harkless should not be relied on for Fantasy purposes. In fact, with just two games on the way, I wouldn't feel comfortable relying on anyone beyond Nikola Vucevic this week.

Schedule: HOU, @SA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 28th
10-team starters: Nikola Vucevic
12-to-14-team starters: Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Jameer Nelson, Victor Oladipo
Deep-league fliers: Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn, Maurice Harkless

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers have played three games since the trade deadline as of Friday, and things have gone about as expected. Thaddeus Young, the only player with anything resembling an NBA track record, has emerged as the unquestioned focal point of the offense, averaging a robust 40.6 Fantasy points per game. He probably cannot sustain quiet that level of production, but Young is clearly a must-start option through the remainder of the season. One player who also seems helped by the change is Tony Wroten, who is averaging 25.3 Fantasy points per game since the deadline. He might not be too useful with just two games on the way in Week 19, but Wroten should be a borderline starter for the rest of the season.

Schedule: @OKC, UTA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 30th
10-team starters: Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Arnett Moultrie, Byron Mullens

Phoenix Suns

Though there isn't any sort of concrete timetable, the Suns could receive a massive boost in Week 19, with the potential return of Eric Bledsoe looming. Bledsoe has been out nearly two months due to surgery on his right knee, but has made great progress in his recovery over the last few days. He is on the verge of taking part in 5-on-5 drills, which could be the final hurdle for his return to game action. Bledsoe's return will completely shake up the Suns' rotation, but you shouldn't worry about that until it actually happens. Unless we get concrete information indication Bledsoe will return for Week 19, keep him in reserves. But, if you play in one of the eight percent of leagues where Bledsoe is available, you will want to add him right now..

Schedule: LAC, OKC, @GS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 24th
10-team starters: Goran Dragic
12-to-14-team starters: Gerald Green, Markieff Morris
Deep-league fliers: Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, Marcus Morris, Ish Smith, P.J. Tucker

Portland Trail Blazers

Centers we like for Week 19
Player Own/Start
1. Jared Sullinger, Celtics 96/43
2. Nikola Pekovic, Timberwolves 100/56
3. Tyson Chandler, Knicks 94/76
4. Alexis Ajinca, Pelicans 20/10
5. Robin Lopez, Kings 95/74

With LaMarcus Aldridge's return, the Trail Blazers' rotation should return to normal in Week 19. Aldridge's absence left a big hole, but nobody really stepped up to fill it while he was gone. With a great schedule on the way and their rotation settling down with Aldridge's return, expect a return to normalcy in Portland.

Schedule: LAL, ATL, @DAL, @HOU
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 2nd
10-team starters: Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews
12-to-14-team starters: Robin Lopez
Deep-league fliers: Mo Williams

Sacramento Kings

The Kings have one or two young players with some upside who might potentially flourish down the stretch, but the makeup of the team seems to hinder their development. Unless something drastic changes, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas are still the only players you want in your lineup for Week 19.

Schedule:NO, @MIL, @TOR, @BKN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 13th
10-team starters: DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Isaiah Thomas
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Derrick Williams, Ben McLemore, Jason Thompson, Aaron Gray

San Antonio Spurs

Barring an unforeseen setback, Tony Parker is expected back in time for Week 19. Of course, with the Spurs, expectations rarely match up to reality. That isn't a criticism, mind you; they are a tremendously well-run organization that thrives by zigging when everyone else zags. So, while Parker's return from a variety of maladies is expected to come Sunday, that doesn't mean Parker will play in all three games this week. Still, his presence should be enough to push Patty Mills back into irrelevance, at the very least. It will be interesting to see what happens to Marco Belinenelli's value, as he has been hot recently, averaging 29.2 Fantasy points per game over the last five. Belinelli isn't a must-start player with three games on the way and the rotation in flux, but he could still be be a solid starting option.

Schedule: @CLE, MIA, ORL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 21st
10-team starters: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker
12-to-14-team starters: Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Kawhi Leonard
Deep-league fliers: Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Cory Joseph

Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry was able to play through an ankle injury late Thursday night, but that doesn't mean he is going to be good to go moving forward. Obviously if he is healthy, there is no question that Lowry is a must-start Fantasy option at this point; the only question is whether he will be ready to play in Week 19. If he isn't, that opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities for Fantasy owners, especially with the twin news of Terrence Ross going down with an ankle injury the same night. Greivis Vasquez could see a bump in playing time in Week 19 if Lowry plays, as long as Ross is out, but he would obviously have more value running the offense by himself rather than working off the ball. In 452 minutes played without Lowry since joining the Raptors, Vasquez is averaging 15.8 points and 7.0 assists per-36 minutes. If Lowry is not cleared to play by the time lineups lock Monday, consider Vasquez a solid roll of the dice; he is averaging 13.2 points and 3.2 assists per game over the last five even with Lowry playing.

Schedule: SAC, @MIN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 19th
10-team starters: DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Greivis Vasquez, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons

Utah Jazz

Though he is probably the least celebrated of the team's core of recent lottery picks, third year guard Alec Burks has been arguably the most consistent Fantasy option recently. With Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward stuck in month-long shooting slumps and Enes Kanter's value tied directly to the health of Derrick Favors, Burks was probably the most reliable option in the month of February as he led the team in scoring. He averaged 15.6 points per game in February to lead the team, though that led to just 21.4 Fantasy points per game since he doesn't do too much else. With four games on the way, Burks is worth using for Fantasy purposes, but his production isn't as valuable as his sometimes lofty scoring totals might suggest.

Schedule: @MIL, @WAS, @NY, @PHI
Strength-of-schedule ranking:7th
10-team starters: Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks
12-to-14-team starters: Trey Burke, Marvin Williams, Enes Kanter
Deep-league fliers: Richard Jefferson, Jeremy Evans

Washington Wizards

With Nene essentially done for the regular season, the Wizards are left with a massive hole to fill in the rotation. The biggest winner from the team's first post-Nene game was Marcin Gortat, who played a more central role in the team's offense than usual, scoring 31 points in 51 minutes in the triple-overtime win. Though Trevor Booker will be in the starting lineup moving forward, he probably isn't someone you need to be paying much attention to for Fantasy purposes; if anything, the team is likely to go small more often rather than play with a less effective big man. Trevor Ariza played much of the fourth quarter and all three overtimes as the De factor power forward, a role he could thrive in despite being undersized, thanks to his much improved three-point shot. The Wizards don't have the best schedule in Week 19, but Ariza is worth rolling with.

Schedule: MEM, UTA, @MIL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 23rd
10-team starters: John Wall, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza
12-to-14-team starters: Bradley Beal
Deep-league fliers: Martell Webster, Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, Andre Miller

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Omer Asik ready to clean up in return to starting role
by Chris Towers |
(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 |
(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 |
(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 |
(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, 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 |
(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, 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 |
(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 |
(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 |
(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 |
(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 |
(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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