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Week 21 Start 'Em and Sit 'Em

Fantasy Writer
  •  

When putting together an ideal basketball team, you probably want to start with a five-man lineup you can rely on for big minutes at the start and end of every game. You want five players who compliment each other's skill sets, filling in the gaps in each other's game and lessening the burden every other player is forced to carry on a nightly basis.

The Wizards had a starting lineup like this when Nene was healthy, as their starting lineup was beating opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. This group was pretty much carrying the Wizards back to the playoffs, logging a team-high 482 minutes together.

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That is all well and good for the Wizards' chance to return to the playoffs, but Fantasy owners don't really care if their players are on a winning team or not. So, while the loss of Nene might not be the best news for the Wizards -- though they are keeping their heads above water -- Fantasy owners with Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat on their roster certainly aren't complaining. And in Week 21 (March 17-23), both should be among the must-start Fantasy options for the Wizards.

The Wizards have a dream schedule on the way in Week 21, as they play four of the league's seven worst defenses in a row. While John Wall and Bradley Beal have been starting-caliber Fantasy options pretty much all season, Ariza and Gortat in particular have stepped up in a big way since Nene went down.

Ariza is averaging 28.8 Fantasy points per game since the Nene injury, while Gortat has bested him by putting up 32.4 per game as the team's focal point in the middle. Both players might even be able to best those averages against the feeble schedule staring them down, so Fantasy owners shouldn't have any qualms about starting them alongside Wall and Beal this week.

(All stats up to date through March 13 games)

Atlanta Hawks

Paul Millsap hasn't really been eased back into action upon his return from a knee injury, and that is good news for Fantasy owners. Though we weren't even sure he would be playing this time last week, Millsap is averaging 17.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game since his return, and is once again a must-start option in all formats. Unfortunately, his return, combined with Pero Antic's, has taken the shine off reserve power forward Mike Scott, who is averaging just 7.4 points in 20.2 minutes per game over the last five. He is probably no longer relevant for Fantasy purposes.

Schedule: @CHA, TOR, NO, @TOR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 27th
10-team starters: Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap
12-to-14-team starters: Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll
Deep-league fliers: Pero Antic, Mike Scott, Shelvin Mack, Lou Williams, Elton Brand

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are developing their own particular brand of frustrating by relying on going-nowhere veterans like Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass while their last two first-round picks struggle to find playing time off the bench. This team has struggled to find a consistent rotation, but it is more than a little surprising to see guys like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk ceding playing time to veterans who may not even be here next season. While Humphries is providing solid production recently (25.6 Fantasy points per game over the last five), this is hardly a trend we can really expect to sustain itself. Unfortunately, as long as the veterans take precedent, Fantasy owners have to be cautious about relying too much on their more promising understudies. With only three games on the way, everyone but Jeff Green is a bit of a risk; Rajon Rondo has not been cleared to play in back-to-backs yet, and the Celtics' first game of the week is the second half of such a set.

Schedule: @DAL, MIA, @BKN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 25th
10-team starters: Jeff Green
12-to-14-team starters: Kris Humphries, Jared Sullinger, Rajon Rondo
Deep-league fliers: Jerryd Bayless, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass

Brooklyn Nets

Guards we like for Week 21
Player Own/Start
1. Dion Waiters, Cavaliers 72/28
2. D.J. Augustin, Bulls 83/50
3. Arron Afflalo, Magic 99/63
4. Victor Oladipo, Magic 98/50
5. Tim Hardaway Jr., Knicks 34/10
6. Jarrett Jack, Cavaliers 34/11
7. Ray Allen, Heat 21/8
8. Jose Calderon, Mavericks 84/54
9. James Anderson, 76ers 31/11
10. Gary Neal, Bobcats 6/2

The Nets aren't bereft of talent at the center position, so it has been a surprise to see nobody step up in Kevin Garnett's absence. Part of the reason for that is also why the Nets have been such a frustrating team for Fantasy purposes all season, as coach Jason Kidd has yet to develop a real comfort level in relying on any one player too much. Despite having obvious offensive abilities, Andray Blatche's flaws continue to prevent him from playing a full time role even when minutes are available. Blatche is averaging just 24.1 minutes per game over the last five, with rookie Mason Plumlee taking on 19.9 of his own. With neither player stepping up into a starring role, Fantasy owners probably have to ignore the center position in Brooklyn for Week 21.

Schedule: PHO, CHA, BOS, @DAL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 11th
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

A new third option has emerged for the Bobcats in the unlikely form of Gary Neal. Neal barely played after signing as a free agent with the Bucks earlier in the season, but he has become the Bobcats' best option off the bench recently, averaging 13.8 points and 2.3 assists per game over the last five. Though he won't blow you away, Neal is the closest thing this team has to a third Fantasy option, as long as Gerald Henderson continues to struggle to make an impact. Neal still has little value outside of deeper Fantasy leagues.

Schedule: ATL, @BKN, POR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 13th
10-team starters: Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker
12-to-14-team starters:
None
Deep-league fliers:
Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts, Luke Ridnour, Anthony Tolliver, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Cody Zeller

Chicago Bulls

D.J. Augustin went through a rough stretch at the end of February, averaging just 6.0 points per game over the final four games of the month. It seemed for at least a little while like his miraculous return to Fantasy relevance might be over, but he has pulled out of that nosedive well since the calendar changed. In the first seven games of March, Augustin reached double figures in scoring in each game, averaging 19.7 points and 28.4 Fantasy points per game. The Bulls have a bit of a mixed schedule in Week 21, but the good definitely outweighs the bad thanks to a pair of matchups against the lowly 76ers. Expect Augustin to continue his strong play this week, and keep him active in all Fantasy formats.

Schedule: OKC, @PHI, @IND, @PHI
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 6th
10-team starters: Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, D.J. Augustin
12-to-14-team starters: Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy
Deep-league fliers: Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell

Cleveland Cavaliers

This statement would have seemed laughable a year ago, but right now, it is true: Spencer Hawes is playing so well, he is rendering Anderson Varejao Fantasy irrelevant. Oh sure, Varejao's recent return from a back injury probably isn't helping things, but it is awfully hard to see how Varejao would find playing time even if he was cleared for a larger role. Hawes is playing that well right now, averaging 19.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game over the last five while serving as an offensive fulcrum. At this point, Hawes is the only Cavaliers big man I would feel comfortable relying on for Week 21, even with four games on the way. He might play an even larger role than usual too, with Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng's statuses up in the air following late injuries Sunday night. At this point, there isn't much we can definitively say about the extent of their injuries, but guys like Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters would be worth starting with four games on the schedule if evaluations Monday show significant issues.

Schedule: MIA, OKC, HOU, @NYK
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 18th
10-team starters: Kyrie Irving, Spencer Hawes
12-to-14-team starters: Dion Waiters, Luol Deng
Deep-league fliers: Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks have something of a reputation as a fast-paced offensive team, but they have actually been pretty middle of the road when it comes to possessions per game. They rank eighth in the league not because they get a bunch of shots up, but because they are incredibly efficient offensively. Usually a high-scoring team is a good place to find Fantasy value, but the Mavericks remain among the most top-heavy teams in the league, a fact that hasn't changed much all season long. All season long, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis have been the only easy calls for Fantasy owners, with the schedule dictating who else might be worth using. Jose Calderon is the only Mavericks role player likely to reach 100 Fantasy points for Week 21, so consider him a solid starting option above the rest of his peers.

Schedule: BOS, MIN, DEN, BKN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 7th
10-team starters: Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis
12-to-14-team starters: Jose Calderon
Deep-league fliers: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair

Denver Nuggets

The return of Ty Lawson has been beneficial for everyone on Denver's roster, but nobody has seen quiet as much of a boost as power forward Kenneth Faried. Once one of the most frustrating and disappointing Fantasy options in the league, Faried is putting together one of the best stretches of his career. In the first eight games of March, Faried is averaging 21.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, numbers that obviously vault him back into must-start Fantasy status. Given his limited skill set, Faried can't really weather a subpar performance from Lawson, but luckily those types of games haven't been happening much recently.

Schedule: LAC, DET, @DAL, WAS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 4th
10-team starters: Wilson Chandler, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried
12-to-14-team starters: JJ Hickson
Deep-league fliers: Randy Foye, Aaron Brooks, Evan Fournier, Timofey Mozgov

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons may have received a massive blow Saturday, as center Andre Drummond went down with a potentially serious head or neck injury. At the time of writing, the extent of the injury is not yet known, but it appears likely to linger into Week 21 at the veer least. If Drummond is forced to miss extensive time, the Pistons would likely move Josh Smith and Greg Monroe one spot up in the lineup, which would only be good news for either's Fantasy value. We might also see reserves like Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva play a bit more, though neither is likely to have any Fantasy value whatsoever on a three-game schedule.

Schedule: @DEN, @PHO, @LAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 7th
10-team starters: Josh Smith, Greg Monroe
12-to-14-team starters: Brandon Jennings
Deep-league fliers: Andre Drummond, Will Bynum, Rodney Stuckey, Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have been leaning much less on their starting lineup recently, and that is coming at the absolute worst possible time for Fantasy owners. Stephen Curry has been one of the 10 best Fantasy options all season, but is averaging just 30.2 Fantasy points per game over the last five, nearly 10 below his season average. The Warriors have had the luxury to spread the ball around more often recently, and Fantasy owners fighting for a playoff spot cannot be happy about that. Curry is still obviously a must-start Fantasy option, but this situation puts you in an odd position for Week 21, since any team in the playoffs with Curry is obviously built around him. With two games to open the week that look like blowouts in the making, Curry and the rest of the Warriors' starters could once again disappoint Fantasy owners.

Schedule: ORL, MIL, SA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 15th
10-team starters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee
12-to-14-team starters: Andre Iguodala
Deep-league fliers: Steve Blake, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Jordan Crawford, Draymond Green, Jermaine O'Neal

Houston Rockets

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I wasn't ready to write Terrence Jones, especially after a three-game stretch that saw him score 19.3 points per game along with three triple-doubles. Unfortunately, in four games since he has not reached double figures in rebounds or points once, and has seen his role largely disappear as a result of his struggles. There was a time this season where Jones looked like a solid starting option in any Fantasy league, but that is clearly the outlier; he averaged 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the month of January, but has not been above 11.0 points per game in any other month. With just three games on the way in Week 21, Jones should be held in reserve in all Fantasy formats; he might even be droppable with so little of the season remaining.

Schedule: UTA, MIN, @CLE
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 14th
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

Though they have made some high-profile mid-season additions this season, the Pacers remain a remarkably similar team from the start of the season from a Fantasy perspective. Though Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner remain names everyone knows, they haven't provided anything like the kind of production Fantasy owners need to consider them worth starting, even with four games on the schedule in Week 21. The one major change for the Pacers this season has been just how far Roy Hibbert has fallen over the last few months, a tailspin that has continued recently. Hibbert is averaging just 7.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 30.3 minutes over his last five games, and probably isn't worth starting until he turns things around.

Schedule: PHI, @NYK, CHI, @MEM
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 15th
10-team starters: Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West
12-to-14-team starters: George Hill
Deep-league fliers: Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Evan Turner

Los Angeles Clippers

Danny Granger has showed real signed of life since joining the Clippers, shooting 50.0 percent from the field and scoring in double figures in three of his first five games. Of course, the problem is that, even during this solid run he hasn't been much of a Fantasy contributor, averaging just 14.2 Fantasy points per game in that span. He is a flashy name who nonetheless won't be worth the time Fantasy owners invest in having him on the roster down the stretch. With Jamal Crawford's return expected imminently, Granger might not even see the modest playing time he has so far. Crawford's return could also hurt the value of another Clippers wing who is thriving recently, as Matt Barnes could see a minutes crunch when Crawford gets back from a calf injury. As the only team with two games on the schedule for Week 21, Fantasy owners should steer clear of the Clippers named here.

Schedule: @DEN, DET
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 23rd
10-team starters:, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Danny Granger, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley

Los Angeles Lakers

Forwards we like for Week 21
Player Own/Start
1. Amir Johnson, Raptors 87/54
2. Taj Gibson, Bulls 90/60
3. Tyreke Evans, Pelicans 97/70
4. Tobias Harris, Magic 96/60
5. Mike Dunleavy, Bulls 57/31
6. Kris Humphries, Celtics 44/22
7. Dorell Wright, Trail Blazers 6/1
8. Marcus Morris, Suns 21/11
9. Kyle Singler, Pistons 31/11
10. Kyle O'Quinn, Magic 18/8

The Lakers have been and will continue to be the most interesting team in the league for Fantasy purposes. Of course, what makes them so interesting is also what makes them a disaster for predictive purposes. Unlike, say, the Bucks, you can’t ignore the Lakers. They play at a frantic place and go nine or 10 players deep with offensive-minded guys, meaning someone different is going to look Fantasy relevant on a game-to-game basis. The problem with an "Any player can go off at any time" philosophy is it doesn't mean every player will go off when you need them to. Unless you've got a crystal ball, figuring out who will live up to your expectations each week is a nearly impossible chore. Any one of the team's glut of replaceable wings can be worth a role of the dice, but you have to consider any player not named Pau Gasol to be a risk at this point.

Schedule: SA, WAS, ORL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 23rd
10-team starters: Pau Gasol
12-to-14-team starters: Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar
Deep-league fliers: Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore, Wesley Johnson, MarShon Brooks, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre

Memphis Grizzlies

There really isn't much to say about the Grizzlies at this point, with Marc Gasol having re-established himself as the team's true focal point on both sides of the floor. They play at a glacial pace and try to grind out wins with a stout defense, just like always. Over the last five games, Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley are the only players averaging more than 9.8 points or 7.8 field-goal attempts per game, and they remain the only Fantasy starters on a roster with few standards.

Schedule:UTA, @MIA, IND
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 28th
10-team starters: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Courtney Lee, James Johnson, Nick Calathes, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Mike Miller

Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade has been a source of constant frustration for Fantasy owners, missing 17 games and counting this season due to the team's constant maintenance program designed to keep him healthy. That has mostly meant keeping him out of back-to-back sets of games, something he has not done since early January. Despite his strong recent play (22.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game in six March games, Fantasy owners have to be wary of relying on Wade in Week 21, with the Heat staring at a pair of back-to-back sets. Wade has appeared to be in better shape over the last few weeks than at any other point this season, but it would be a downright shock to see him play in both pairs of back to backs. He is still a solid starter, but Wade is not a must-start option given the risk involved for Week 21.

Schedule: @CLE, @BOS, MEM, @NOR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 15th
10-team starters: LeBron James, Chris Bosh
12-to-14-team starters: Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers
Deep-league fliers: Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley, Shane Battier

Milwaukee Bucks

You got five games out of whatever Bucks you had lying around in Week 20, which had to be a nice bonus. If you didn't take advantage of that you might not get another opportunity, as Week 21 is one of three three-game weeks in the final four. A this point, it looks like the Bucks have just three players worth starting in Week 21, and only one who can be counted on as a sure thing to produce. Brandon Knight has been a strong Fantasy option for months and remains so even with three games on the schedule. Ersan Ilyasova and Khris Middleton are a bit riskier but make sense as well, especially since 16 other NBA teams play three or fewer games as well. There really isn't much else here otherwise.

Schedule: @POR, @GS, @SAC
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 12th
10-team starters: Brandon Knight
12-to-14-team starters: Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova
Deep-league fliers: John Henson, Nate Wolters, Ramon Sessions, Giannis Antetokounmpo, O.J. Mayo

Minnesota Timberwolves

Ever since Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin's returns from injuries at the start of the month, the Timberwolves have been pretty much back to where they began the season. They have four players worth starting in nearly all formats, with Corey Brewer remaining more of a situational alternative as the fifth offensive option. Though each game represents a solid matchup, the Timberwolves play just three times in Week 21, so Brewer is probably best left out of your plans at this point.

Schedule: @DAL, @HOU, PHO
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 10th
10-team starters: Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Corey Brewer, Jose Barea, Alexey Shved

New Orleans Pelicans

Fantasy owners relying on Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon were bit last week as both missed time due to an illness. Despite this, neither player’s Fantasy outlook has changed much since we last looked at them, as the Pelicans play three times yet again this week. At this point, Evans has to be considered a must-start Fantasy option at this point, averaging 39.9 Fantasy points per game since joining the starting lineup late in February, while Gordon is right behind him and Anthony Davis.

Schedule: TOR, @ATL, MIA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 26th
10-team starters: Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans
12-to-14-team starters: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon
Deep-league fliers: Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow, Greg Stiemsma, Al-Farouq Aminu

New York Knicks

Just as I warned last week, Amar'e Stoudemire had to take a night off to rest this week. That is smart management of an oft-injured player's minutes, but it illustrates just how difficult it is to rely on the fragile big man for Fantasy purposes. Fortunately, he should be able to play in each game in Week 21, with the Knicks set to play just three times without a back-to-back. He might struggle against the oversized frontcourt of the Pacers to open the season, but the potential for a couple of big games to close out the week. Since his time off last week was just precautionary, Stoudemire makes for a decent gamble this week.

Schedule: IND, @PHI, CLE
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 19th
10-team starters: Carmelo Anthony
12-to-14-team starters: Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler
Deep-league fliers: Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert, Beno Udrih, Amar'e Stoudemire

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have been swapping guys in and out of the lineup while searching for Thabo Sefolosha's replacement in the starting five, but this isn't really a situation Fantasy owners should be paying attention to. Whether it is Perry Jones or Andre Roberson stepping in, it shouldn't make much of a difference for Fantasy purposes; this is always going to be a top-heavy team, with the role players getting few chances to contribute. With a poor schedule on the way in Week 21, only Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are worth your time.

Schedule: @CHI, @CLE, @TOR
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 29th
10-team starters: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Caron Butler

Orlando Magic

Orlando has made some strange lineup decisions recently, including the relegation of Tobias Harris to a bench role recently. As of Friday, he had appeared in four games in a row off the bench, averaging just 25.8 minutes per game after averaging 31.8 in his previous 15 games. He has still kept his double-digit scoring streak intact during this time, but has seen a predictable dip in his Fantasy appeal as a result. The Magic probably won't stick with this lineup all season, but it does kind of spoil Harris' chances for a big Week 21, as the team has one of the best schedules in the league on the way. Harris should still be starting most Fantasy formats this week, but it isn't the slam dunk it might be if not for this curious lineup decision.

Schedule: @GS, @PHO, @UTA, @LAL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 2nd
10-team starters: Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson
12-to-14-team starters: Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless
Deep-league fliers: E'Twaun Moore, Kyle O'Quinn

Philadelphia 76ers

A pleasant surprise has emerged from the depths of the 76ers' tank job, in the form of 23-year-old center. Sims was considered a throw-in in the Spencer Hawes trade, but he has stepped up as the team's starting center and is putting up decent numbers in the team's hectic offense. He is averaging 11.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while generally looking like a decent option in the shallow center position. His track record of success is still pretty limited, but Sims is at least someone worth a look in deeper leagues for Week 21, even with an atrocious schedule.

Schedule: @IND, CHI, NY, @CHI
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, Henry Sims

Phoenix Suns

This is going to be a telling week for the Fantasy prospects of a few Suns, particularly Gerald Green. Green absolutely thrived with Eric Bledsoe out of the lineup, ranking second on the team with 17.8 points per game in 34 games. Bledsoe returned to the lineup Wednesday, however, and moved Green back to a reserve role Friday, so we need to see how he responds to the benching. Fortunately, Week 21 should provide a pretty soft landing, with one of the league's most favorable schedules on the way. Bledsoe should be active in all formats, but I'm not giving up on Green just yet. There are still enough minutes and possessions available for Green to remain a solid starter.

Schedule: @BKN, ORL, DET, @MIN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 3rd
10-team starters: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe
12-to-14-team starters: Gerald Green, Markieff Morris
Deep-league fliers: Marcus Morris, Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, P.J. Tucker

Portland Trail Blazers

Fantasy owners have already had to deal with one absence from LaMarcus Aldridge in the last month, and now we're in the midst of another layoff. He might be back from a lower back contusion in time for Week 21, but that simply isn't known as of Friday night. Fortunately, we might know by the time lineups lock Monday, because the Blazers are off before their first game Tuesday. If Aldridge isn't cleared to play by then, he might not be worth the risk, with just three games on the way. If you have healthier options with a better schedule on the way, you probably want to lean on them, especially since you probably won't find Aldridge's replacement on the Blazers' roster. When Aldridge missed five games in February, backup power forward Thomas Robinson averaged just 7.0 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, hardly numbers worth getting excited over.

Schedule: MIL, WAS, @CHA
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 21st
10-team starters: Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews
12-to-14-team starters: LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez
Deep-league fliers: CJ McCollum, Thomas Robinson

Sacramento Kings

Centers we like for Week 21
Player Own/Start
1. Robin Lopez, Trail Blazers 90/70
2. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors 85/46
3. Henry Sims, 76ers 19/7
4. JJ Hickson, Nuggets 94/69
5. Pero Antic, Hawks 20/11

Ben McLemore has had a tough go of it this season, which is something he has in common with all but about two members of his draft class. Things have been going a bit better recently, however, as the No. 7 overall pick is in the midst of his best month yet. After failing to make even 40 percent of his shots in any month prior, he is up to 51.1 percent from the field in seven March games. Unfortunately, he is averaging just 9.6 points and 11.8 Fantasy points per game in that span, as the Kings' rigid hierarchy allows little room for him to do much. With only three games on the schedule, he is still not a worthy Fantasy option for Week 21.

Schedule:WAS, SA, MIL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 20th
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

One upside to blowing nearly everyone opponent you face out is there's always room to get the role players involved. The Spurs have nine players averaging at least 19 minutes per game over the last five, while posting an average margin of victory of 15.2 points per game in that span. While Tony Parker and Tim Duncan's owners might like to see them playing a bit more in the fourth quarter of close games, owners in deeper leagues have to like seeing guys like Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli staying relevant. With games against the woeful Kings and Lakers on the way in Week 21, you might be able to sneak those lower-end Spurs into the lineup yet again this week.

Schedule: @LAL, @SAC, @GS
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 9th
10-team starters: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard
12-to-14-team starters: Manu Ginobili
Deep-league fliers: Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Cory Joseph

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are another team with some positional redundancy issues that have been cleared up recently due to injuries. Specifically, the sprained elbow Patrick Patterson is dealing with has freed Amir Johnson from rotational purgatory, as he is averaging 33.7 minutes per game since Patterson went down with injury. In that span, Johnson is averaging 17.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game, vaulting himself right back into Fantasy relevance. With a strong schedule on the way and a clear role carved out, Johnson makes for a solid starting option in most Fantasy formats in Week 21.

Schedule: @ATL, @NO, OKC, ATL
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 5th
10-team starters: DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry
12-to-14-team starters: Amir Johnson
Deep-league fliers: Greivis Vasquez, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, John Salmons

Utah Jazz

This was supposed to be Derrick Favors' big breakout season, but the pedestrian numbers he has put up of late are leaving Fantasy owners pretty frustrated. Since returning from a hip injury, Favors has been held to single digits in scoring in four of nine games, and is averaging 22.2 Fantasy points per game, a total that ranks just 48th among forwards over the last 21 days. I've had some owners ask me via twitter if Favors is worth dropping, which is a step too far in my opinion. His upside and athleticism alone make him worth owning, even if his production isn't blowing you away right now. However, with just three games on the way in Week 21, highlighted by a very tough matchup against the Grizzlies, Fantasy owners can probably keep Favors out of the starting lineup this week.

Schedule: @HOU, @MEM, ORL
Strength-of-schedule ranking:22nd
10-team starters: Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks
12-to-14-team starters: Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter
Deep-league fliers: Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, Jeremy Evans

Washington Wizards

See the intro to this column.

Schedule: @SAC, @POR, @LAL, @DEN
Strength-of-schedule ranking: 1st
10-team starters: John Wall, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal
12-to-14-team starters: None
Deep-league fliers: Martell Webster, Al Harrington, Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, Andre Miller

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Player News
Omer Asik ready to clean up in return to starting role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Last season was a rough one for Omer Asik, who had to deal with returning to a reserve role after really shining as a starter the previous year. He should be much happier with his role this season, as the Pelicans acquired him this offseason with the intention of installing him as the starting center.

The Pelicans should have a fearsome frontcourt with Asik starting next to Anthony Davis, and Davis' presence should free Asik up to do the kind of work he excels at. Asik isn't a great offensive player, but he can be a dominant offensive rebounder, and should have many chances to clean up the boards with teams keying in on Davis offensively. Among players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the NBA, Asik is 22nd all-time in offensive rebounding percentage.

Asik had trouble staying healthy last season, but that was the first time he had ever missed a regular-season game in his career, so we can probably write that off as a fluke. He averaged a double-double with 1.1 blocks per game in 30.0 minutes per game two years ago, and should be capable of similar production as he returns to a starting role.

Asik should be viewed as a starting Fantasy option this season, though he may not have the upside of some other younger centers at this point. 


Tobias Harris' Fantasy value a mystery at this point
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Perception is a funny thing. Just ask Magic forward Tobias Harris, who enjoyed by far the most productive season of his career in 2013-14 but was somehow viewed as a Fantasy disappointment.

Part of that stemmed from Harris' issues with availability, as he missed 20 games and got off to a slow start to the season as a result. It really took until January for Harris to find his stride, but he averaged 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game from Jan. 1 on, without missing a contest.

Harris was probably better than the general perception of him a year ago, but the power of expectations hurt him. And now he enters his fourth season as something of a career crossroads, and it is hard to say just how Fantasy owners should approach him this season.

The Magic added Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon to the roster this season, further confusing what was already one of the most crowded frontcourts in the league. Harris can play both forward spots, but he is probably best used as a small-ball power forward; the presence of Frye, one of the league's elite stretch-fours certainly complicates matters for Harris, then.

At just 22, Harris still has a world of potential ahead of him. However, he probably profiles best as a reserve Fantasy option heading into the season, given concerns about his role.   


Hype may be too high for Giannis Antetokounmpo
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) No matter what he accomplishes in his second NBA season, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to be a historical outlier, given his age. The question is, how much of a leap can the now-20-year-old take next season.

Only 15 players in NBA history have logged as many minutes in a single season as a teenager as Antetokounmpo's 1,897, so he is occupying fairly rarified air already. His age is a big part of why he is considered a big-time breakout prospect for Fantasy purposes, but he has a long way to go from a statistical standpoint.

Antetokounmpo was good for a 19-year-old rookie, but his season averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game left a lot to be desired. It is easy to dream about a Antetokounmpo taking a big step forward, but that next step is never guaranteed -- for every Anthony Davis there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist whose development follows a slower, less linear path. 

Antetokounmpo was very good -- for a 19-year-old. However, Fantasy owners don't get extra points, rebounds or assists if the degree of difficulty is higher, so you are betting on Giannis taking a huge step forward at the age of 20. Antetokounmpo has become something of an internet darling, and his play in Summer League and the FIBA World Cup dominated much of the offseason discussion, which only helped build the hype to potentially unsustainable levels. 

He is a lottery ticket, for sure, but he is one that might not be worth the cost at this point. 


Improved jump shot all Jimmy Butler needs
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Bulls guard Jimmy Butler had the breakout season many expected from him a year ago, but there were still plenty of flaws apparent in his game as he finished his third NBA season. With a better team around him, Butler just might have enough help to vault him to stardom.

Butler's jump shot abandoned him last season, especially after a toe injury forced him to miss 11 games in November and December. He was shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range prior to the injury, but connected on just 39.3 percent of his shots overall and 27.1 percent from three-point range from that point on.

We can blame Butler's season-long shooting slump on the injury or his increased offensive role, but he should have neither excuse available for him this season. Butler should be healthy, and the Bulls added plenty of offensive firepower this offseason, in the form of Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott, not to mention a hopefully healthy Derrick Rose. Butler took 154 shots off the dribble last season, per Stats.NBA.com, and made just 30.7 percent of them. With a better team around him, Butler should get many more opportunities to shoot with his feet set.

Butler has the skill set to be a tremendously efficient offensive player, given how often he bullies his way to the free-throw line. Last season, Butler filled up the box score extremely well, but his poor shooting limited his Fantasy value somewhat. If a new role helps his efficiency, he could be one of the very best guards in the league in category-based formats. 


Lance Stephenson set for bigger role in new setting
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Though there were fits and starts, Lance Stephenson finally began to live up to his considerable promise last season. Now in a new home in Charlotte, will Stephenson take another step forward in 2014-15?

By the end of last season, the Pacers were a mess, and Stephenson caught plenty of the blame for that. Still, he might have been arguably the team's most consistent player throughout the season, averaging between 25.8 and 29.7 Fantasy points per game from before and after the All-Star break as well as the playoffs. For as much of a mess as that team was, Stephenson emerged as something of a rock, at least for Fantasy purposes.

The Hornets are actually built in a somewhat similar way to the Pacers, so there wont' be much of a stylistic shift for Stephenson to get used to. Per MySynergySports.com, 11.8 percent of the then-Bobcats' possessions ended in post-ups, actually down from the 13.2 percent mark the Pacers' posted. Stephenson struggled at times with his post-entry passing, though his off-target feeds might find their mark more often when being lobbed in to the soft hands of Al Jefferson, as opposed to Roy Hibbert.

The Hornets might lean even more heavily on Stephenson than the Pacers did, since Indiana liked to spread the ball around with their starting five. The Hornets, on the other hand, look to be extremely top-heavy, and Stephenson will get plenty of chances to be the second or third option. We have him projected for 29.1 Fantasy points per game, and consider Stephenson a borderline top-50 Fantasy option for this season.  


Move to Houston won't alter Trevor Ariza's trajectory
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Trevor Ariza parlayed a career-year into a lucrative free-agency contract with the Rockets this offseason -- stop me if you've heard this story before.

Ariza was largely a disappointment in his first stint with the Rockets, though it did lead him to the best per-game numbers of his career. Still, Ariza was obviously miscast as a primary offensive option the last time he was in Houston, and that won't be a problem this time around.

Ariza joins a Rockets team with two established stars, and will likely spend much of his time trying to fill the departed Chandler Parsons' role. That should suit him nicely, as Ariza has just enough of an off-the-bounce game to serve as the team's third ballhandler when the shot clock gets deep. Ariza attempted 11.1 field-goal attempts per game last season, and should see a boost given Parsons' role; he attempted 13.3 shots per game.

Ariza's improved three-point shot seems legitimate, as he is shooting 38.6 percent from long range over 738 attempts since 2012. However, he will no longer have John Wall feeding him for juicy corner 3-pointers; Wall to Ariza was the league's most productive corner-three combination last season. His shooting numbers may take a hit with his move.

Even acknowledging the loss of Wall's help, we know the Houston offense is set up to get every player the most efficient shots possible, so Ariza shouldn't see much of a dip in his efficiency. His ability to fill up the box score makes him a perfect No. 2 option at forward in category-based leagues, especially now that he is a high-volume shooter. 


Despite new role, don't write off Isaiah Thomas entirely
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Suns guard Isaiah Thomas might see one of the biggest dropoffs in his Fantasy value from last season to this, as he joins the crowded Suns' backcourt.

The Suns might have three All-Star caliber guards in the backcourt now, with Thomas likely to backup Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe this season. That should put a serious dent in Thomas' value; Thomas finished 13th in Fantasy scoring among guards a year ago, but is projected to finish just 43rd this season.

Still, Thomas is definitely someone you'll want to add to your team when drafting, and almost certainly before the rest of the No. 4-type guards he is grouped with. Thomas is likely to see his numbers fall off from the 20.3 points and 6.3 assists he averaged a year ago, at least at first. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up starting upwards of 25 games throughout the year, given Bledsoe's injury-proneness. Bledsoe has missed at least 25 games in two of the last three seasons for knee issues.

Thomas probably profiles as more of a bench option for Fantasy purposes next season, but you'll be targeting him much earlier than nearly any other reserve. His upside as a handcuff option for either Bledsoe or Dragic is sky-high, and will make him well worth your attention on Draft Day. 


Eric Gordon cleared for contact
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Eric Gordon has been cleared to take part in full-contact offseason drills ahead of training camp, The Times-Picayune reports.

Gordon underwent season-ending knee surgery last April, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. 


Jrue Holiday cleared for contact ahead of camp
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was able to participate in full-contact offseason drills last week, the first time he has done so since undergoing season-ending surgery last January.

"Getting out playing has been a joy," Holiday told The Times-Picayune. "I've been running and jumping and stuff, but getting my rhythm back on the court is definitely a big thing right now for me."

The Pelicans open training camp Sept. 30, and Holiday is not expected to have any limitations as the team prepares for the start of the season. Holiday averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season prior to the injury.


Kent Bazemore focused on conditioning in recovery
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Newly signed Hawks guard Kent Bazemore did not pick up a basketball until August, preferring to focus on conditioning in his recovery from foot surgery in April.

"I think the injury was definitely a blessing," he told the Daily Press, "because I was able to step away from the game of basketball. I took myself out of my element all summer. I did stuff I'm not used to doing."

Bazemore signed a two-year deal with the Hawks this offseason, and is expected to compete for playing time on the wing immediately, as he is fully recovered from the surgery. 


 
 
 
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