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Full Court Press: NBA Fantasy Spotlights

With so many players now returning to the court from the barrage of injuries we saw in December and January, and no games to watch for the next few days, now is the perfect time to evaluate your roster and make some moves to put you over the edge.

If you’re in a rotisserie league, check out each category and see just how close people are to you. Maybe you can put yourself in position to leapfrog two other teams just by adding 20 blocks to your roster, or perhaps you didn’t realize that you’re in first place in assists by 300 or so and you can easily dump a point guard for some interior help. Head to head teams, now is the time to figure out exactly how you intend to dismantle each of your likely playoff rivals. Take a look at your team, their teams, and see where you need to improve to have a solid chance at beating anybody you might face.

Empty the Bench offers up some suggestions by position and categories:


Mark Blount

Strengths: FG%, Points
Weaknesses: Assists, TOs, Blocks

He earned Player of the Game honors as the Minnesota Timberwolves downed the Denver Nuggets 99-94 last night. Blount finished with 26 points (11-19 FGs, 2-2 FTs), 8 rebounds and one turnover. He has now put up 20+ points in four straight games and is averaging 23 points and 7.4 rebounds on a very useful 54.4% from the field over the last week. Those of you in need of some points, field goal percentage or a healthy body at center should definitely be looking his way.

Dwight Howard

Strengths: FG%, Points, Boards, Blocks
Weaknesses: FT%, TOs

Perhaps more than any other player in the NBA right now, Dwight Howard’s game is one of extremes. Single-handedly, he will make your team competitive in FG%, Boards and Blocks. At the same time, he will ruin your team in FT% and TOs. So working with Dwight has to be a strategic decision, and handled carefully. For example, on a head to head team where you haven’t won TOs in weeks and your FT% is pitiful (think LeBron James, Baron Davis, Tim Duncan, Deron Williams led squads) Dwight makes perfect sense. You’re going to get all of his strengths, and your team is nigh invulnerable to his weaknesses. And when you trade for him, his market value will be depressed due to those glaring weaknesses, but his value to you will not be.

Power Forwards:

David Lee

Strengths: FG%, Boards, FT%
Weaknesses: Points, Assists, Blocks

If you need a specialist to help you in boards and FG%, then David Lee is your man. For some reason, he’s still flying under a lot of radars, but he shouldn’t be. The guy averaged 11.9 boards and 11+ points in each of the last two months. He’s also shooting an incredible 61.2% from the field, making him first in the NBA. Lee’s prolific rebounding and FG% numbers are extremely useful, but the best part is, unlike most rebounding specialists, he doesn’t hurt you anywhere. He shoots 80.9% from the line and he’s only turning the ball over 1.5 times a game. You can add him without fear of mucking up your other categories. I expect him to continue putting up these numbers because he works so well with Eddy Curry, doing all the grunt work around the basket Curry is too lazy to do. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, because he has great hustle and an incredible knack for converting every miss around the basket into a rebound and two points. His owner in your league is bound to be wondering if his rank is for real. It is, so give them a player with a bigger name for him, and enjoy a healthy boost in FG% and consistent rebounding numbers down the stretch.

David West

Strengths: FG%, FT%, Points, Rebounds
Weaknesses: Blocks, Assists

David West a delight a lot of fantasy owners with his solid overall line last season that seemed to come out of nowhere. He was a model of efficiency (51.2% FG, 84.3% FT, 1.4 TOs). But after he missed so many games with injury, and so many projected return dates on the way back, many owners soured on him and his rank plummeted. If you can, this is a situation you need to jump on. He can play, and the Hornets are nearly back to full strength. West runs a beautiful pick-and-roll game with Chris Paul, he has a center to do the dirty work in Tyson Chandler, and there are plenty of shots to be had on that offensively challenged front line. West looks to be at full strength to me, and these extra days should ensure that he is. David is an efficiency player who can give you 50+% from the field, 80+% from the line, less than two TOs, 8-10 rebounds and will only turn it over once or twice a game. Those guys are few and far between. He’s a player you just love to plug in and forget about. His value will never be lower, so feed your fellow owner a few beers, talk about West’s injury concerns and the possibility he could be a one-year-wonder, stick the dagger in, and twist. Or just make a trade offer.

Small Forwards:

LeBron James

Weaknesses: FT%, TOs
Strengths: Everything Else

Hear me out. I know, you think LeBron should never me on a list like this, he’s more obvious than Ben Stiller. But I’m willing to bet his owner in your league is in panic mode right now. Take advantage. If you can buy LeBron James for his current value, you have to do it. I just refuse to believe the uninspired play we’ve seen from him in recent weeks will last, and his FT% seems like a mental thing that he can iron out. The only concern is that perhaps that big toe is a bigger problem than Cleveland is letting on, but a few days off should do him some good. I don’t feel like I need to remind you of the man’s fantasy contributions to points, rebounds, assists . . . well, everywhere but FT%. But I see his Yahoo! rank has dipped all the way down to 25 based on season totals, and I can’t imagine him finishing outside the top 15. That means we’re in for a correctional period. Buy low.

Rudy Gay

Strengths: Steals, Blocks
Weaknesses: FG%, FT%, Assists

Rudy Gay has remarkable physical tools to work with, and it appears as if he may now be getting the necessary minutes as well. I’ve been calling for it for a while now, what does Memphis have to lose? He’ll learn on the court, it’s not like he’s a QB or pitcher; his long-term confidence isn’t at stake. When he plays, Rudy can do a variety of things well: blocking shots, knocking down jumpers, rebounding, and playing tough D among them. Once he puts it together, he will be a fantasy mainstay for years to come. Even in his limited minutes, he has provided a rare combination of steals and blocks. I think we can expect his rebounding, scoring and three-point shooting to steadily progress from here on out, commensurate with his increased minutes. One of the most attractive things about Gay is his versatility, both in terms of categories and positions. In standard Yahoo! leagues, he can play at SG, G, SF, PF and F for you. That’s invaluable for those who have a dearth at more than one of those positions. He’s a free agent in most leagues, but maybe not for long.

Shooting Guards:

Brandon Roy

Strengths: Assists, Steals, FT%
Weaknesses: FG%

There are a lot of owners out there who don’t put the effort in to analyze stats beyond season totals. They won’t realize that Roy is averaging 1.5 steals per game the last month, 14th in the NBA. They won’t see that the kid is becoming the focal point of Portland’s perimeter offense. They won’t notice that he’s shooting 82.9% on 5.9 free throw attempts this month, after 91.5% on 3.7 last month. They won’t see that his points, assists, FT attempts and FG attempts have been on a steady increase all season. They’ll just remember being burned by his foot injury, and they’ll wonder why you want to give up ground in so many categories. And, hopefully, they’ll accept your trade proposal.

Richard ‘Rip’ Hamilton

Strengths: FT%, FG%
Weaknesses: Threes, Steals

The acquisition of Chris Webber has made the Piston’s offense significantly better all around, but I think the one guy who stands to benefit the most is Hamilton. Webber loves to post up above the block or on the elbow, keep the defender at bay with his frame and hold the ball out in one of his paws waiting for somebody to make a nice cut. Cue Hamilton, perhaps the best player in the NBA at moving without the ball. Like Reggie Miller, the man he patterned his game after, Rip runs his defender ragged by constantly cutting under the basket and running him through picks. Webber has always had a talent for finding an open teammate for a spot-up jumper, and I think Hamilton will be the main beneficiary. It also helps that Hamilton almost always nails his open shots. His 46.8% FG shooting and 86.6% FT shooting are nothing to sneeze at, nor are his 21.7 points per- especially when you expect him to improve his scoring and field goal shooting. To round out his efficient line, he averages just under four boards and four assists a game with only two TOs. Thats efficiency.

Point Guards:

Randy Foye

Strengths: FT%, Assists, Boards
Weaknesses: Steals, TOs

He made his second consecutive start in place of Mike James (Post-Contract-Season Syndrome), but wasn’t able to get into a rhythm all game. Foye did hit one of his signature floaters off the glass to help seal the deal, and the kid has all the talent in the world, so keep an eye on him. I’ve already added him in one league, and if he strings together a couple of good games, I’m buying in my others. When given minutes, he can score, dish and and rebound well for a PG. He knocked down two clutch free throws in the Denver game, and at 83.7% he can help your fantasy team there as well. Now that he’s starting and getting minutes, he has nowhere to go but up.

Monta Ellis

Strengths: Steals, Assists, Points
Weaknesses: TOs, Boards

Don Nelson loves this guy, and he has been determined to give him playing time. I myself admit, I have a sizable man-crush on Monta as well. He is a joy to watch. I think he has star potential and several All-Star games in his future. Every time I see him take the floor, he looks electric. Despite playing behind various other Warriors most of the season, Ellis is 20th in the NBA in steals. Baron Davis should miss at least two weeks coming out of the break after having his knee scoped, and I expect Monta to make the most of it. Buy now, before his numbers catch up with his talent. The one caveat that goes along with Ellis is his high TO numbers. He’s still raw, he was a second-round pick out of high school last year and didn’t get much tick in his rookie season. He piles up a lot of mistakes and offensive fouls, but you can live with them when you see what else he can do for you. He is lightning quick, great at taking the ball to the basket, he’s passing more and more and both his FG% and FT% are on the rise. Lastly, let’s face it, Baron Davis is made of glass, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Monta get a lot more chances to start as the season wears on.


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