By Brian Spencer
You’d probably have better luck, say, placing a bet on college basketball back in November than predicting which NBA players would come out of nowhere in the season’s final month or two to become fantasy relevant. It happens every year: teams fall out of contention, look towards the future, and give as much burn to youngsters who’d previously been wallowing at the end of the bench in obscurity as they can handle. Throw in injuries to key regulars on said teams, and even more minutes open up for even more obscure players.
It doesn’t always pan out like this, but there’s a pretty simple formula that applies to these situations: minutes = stats. Some players, no matter how many minutes they’re getting, simply do not produce, but every year a number of these “nobodies” successfully translate their extended garbage time into a level of production that warrants fantasy attention. There’s a reason they weren’t playing earlier this year–they can often kill your percentages and turnovers–but they can provide a nice boost to the raw number cats (points, rebounds, steals, blocks).
As we go further down the rabbit hole these next few weeks, more players who fall into this distinguished category will surely emerge. Here’s just seven of them who are already there and are likely to be snatched up on waivers as speculative adds at some point, if they haven’t been already.
Samardo Samuels, F, Cleveland Cavaliers: With Antawn Jamison out for the season and the Cavs just trying to get through the remaining schedule while saving as much face as possible, this undrafted rookie from Louisville has recently found himself in the starting lineup after logging a total of 18 minutes through January 6. He made quite a splash, too, in that first start: 23 points (10-18 FG), 10 boards, and 3 assists. The 6-9 Samuels is likely in line for 25 – 32 minutes a night from here on out.
James Johnson, F, Toronto Raptors: The 16th overall pick of the draft just 2 years ago by the Chicago Bulls, Johnson was never able to make much of an impression in the Windy City and was sent to the Raptors in a trade deadline deal for a future second-round pick. The 17-45 Raptors have wasted no time seeing what they have in the 6-9 forward: he’s in the starting lineup, and in 5 games has averaged just under 27 minutes per. Fantasy wise, he’s chipping in modest (but useful) multi-category numbers: 9 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.8 blocks on 46% shooting.
Gerald Henderson, G, Charlotte Bobcats: A 2009 lottery pick out of Duke, the 6-5 Henderson struggled through spotty minutes in his rookie season, and looked to continue down that path this season, too, until trades and injuries forced him into a bigger role. His per-game minutes have been upped from about 13 the first few months to over 31 per in 8 games as the Cat’s starting shooting guard. He still hasn’t found his shooting touch (39%), though, and is averaging 10 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. For now, Henderson has the look of a mediocre career backup.
Shawne Williams, F, New York Knicks: After being cast off by the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, Williams’ uneventful 3-year NBA career has taken at least some root in New York. He started the season with 17 consecutive DNP – CDs, but has played in every game but 1 since, including 5 as a starter. Williams is still little more than streaming fodder, but that’s an upgrade in his case. Heading into the Knicks’ second-consecutive loss to the Cavs Friday night (ouch), Williams had logged nearly 30 minutes per in his last 2, averaging 12 points (58% FG), 5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, and 1 block.
Anthony Randolph, F, Minnesota Timberwolves: Randolph looked like one of the prime breakout candidates coming into the season, a too-perfect fit for Mike D’Antoni’s “score, then score some more” offensive system. Turns out this match was anything but perfect, with Randolph having just slightly more impact than teammate Eddy Curry before being traded to Minnesota.
After lounging on waivers for most of the season, Randolph was a hot speculative add in this, his first full week with the T’Wolves: with Darko Milicic out, he’s posted two solid games in a row, averaging 15.5 points, 6 boards, 1 steal, and 1 block. A few more efforts like this, and he’s a near-lock for 20 – 25 minutes per for the rest of the season.
Austin Daye, F, Detroit Pistons: The slinky second-year forward is another guy who, like Randolph, was likely taken late in your fantasy draft, then dropped after he flopped in the season’s first few weeks and spent the next few months in and out of the lineup. With the Pistons’ season in the toilet and many of the veterans acting like children, Daye has emerged from the fray, playing nearly 35 minutes per and averaging 15.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2 triples in the team’s last three games. His shooting (41%) remains a drag.
Damion James, GF, New Jersey Nets: After no floor time since December 9, the rookie from Texas is suddenly back in the starting lineup, putting up some useful stats, and given the arrival of Deron Williams just might be worth taking a flier on. In 4 games as a starter, James is pitching in some across-the-board production, averaging 9.2 points (67% FG), 5.5 boards, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.7 blocks.
Gerald Henderson Photo Credit: Icon SMI