Happy New Year! I’ve been away for a few weeks tending to matters of the holidays. While visiting family I sat down to write a column, but just when I’d begin typing everyone would enter the room and commence an intervention. It turns out I have the type of family that doesn’t appreciate me checking my phone every seven seconds for Andris Biedrins injury updates. Since I love spending time with my family, and also since they ended the intervention by placing me in an iron maiden, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to fantasy basketball as I would have liked. You’ll be glad to know that I’ve broken free of all familial obligations, however, and am back with a laser focus on fantasy hoops. The intervention worked only temporarily. Turns out I can’t do without those Biedrins updates. I NEED them Biedrins updates. Do you know a guy?
In all seriousness, I’m glad to be back. There’s nothing like the turn of a calendar year to make you take stock of yourself, by which I mean your fantasy team. Is there anything else? A man who spends more time scouring the waiver wire than grooming is a man who obviously has the rest of his life figured out. I must admit, though, that fantasy basketball often has me puzzled. Just when I think I’m out-smarting the competition, I drop a DeMarcus Cousins hours before he embarks on the best three-game stretch of his career. Ouch. This game forces you into tough decisions and tests your patience daily.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bring on 2011.
This week, I’m damned about the following players who’ve been the unsung heroes of 2010, steady and reliable uncovered gems that make up the backbone of championship roto teams. After I pay homage, I’ll look ahead at some players to keep an eye on for 2011 who have a chance to fill that role in the future.
Dorell Wright – The 21st-ranked player in Yahoo! and 28th by ESPN, Wright has been manna from heaven for fantasy owners. We kept waiting all year for him to tail off. We sold high. We stared in disbelief as he filled up box score after box score. It is early January, and Wright is for real. I’m a tad concerned about him tiring, as his minutes are regularly over 40 a game, but he is thriving. In December he averaged a 16.2-7.6-3.1 with 2.6 threes and 1.7 steals – and it seemed like he was way better than that.
James Harden – Harden, despite still coming off the bench for Oklahoma City, has scored in double figures in 11 straight games and is the 34th-ranked player in Yahoo! over the last 30 days (45th by ESPN). Harden gives you threes, steals and steady percentages and has earned bigger minutes for the rest of the year. He’s a solid yet unspectacular pickup for the tail end of your starting lineup in 2011.
Ray Allen – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Walter Ray Allen. It is hard to call him unsung as he has been extremely sung over his career, but in the last few years most of us have held a virtual vigil for him each preseason as if he was going to keel over at any minute. Well, he keeps producing, and at a level well above his draft value. How’s No. 28 by Yahoo! and No. 34 by ESPN? Two threes a game? Magnificent percentages? Minimal turnovers? Durability? For someone who was going in the sixth round or later in drafts, Jesus has been a savior.
Shane Battier – Battier always flies under the radar in fantasy, since he doesn’t score. Indeed, the 46th-ranked player in Yahoo! leagues is owned in just 58 percent of them. But think about this: Battier’s percentages this year are awful. He is shooting 42.8 percent from the floor and 69.6 percent from the line. Imagine how high he’d be ranked if he just shot the league norm for each category? While everyone else sleeps, enjoy Battier’s 1.6 threes and 1.4 blocks, a combination the likes of which only one other player in the entire league can match (Wilson Chandler).
Luke Ridnour – Ridnour’s been rock-solid and isn’t interested in giving up his starting point guard spot to Jonny Flynn. He averages over a three and steal a game, gives you decent assists, keeps his turnovers down for a point guard (1.9) and shoots very strong percentages (47.4/91.2). It is tempting to trade Ridnour now since Flynn could erode his playing time, but you better deal with a savvy owner who understands just how good Ridnour’s been.
Wes Johnson – Ridnour’s teammate continues to impress quietly, putting up numbers that on the surface make him look like waiver wire fodder. Upon closer inspection, Johnson is starting to capitalize on his upside and playing time. In December he averaged 1.6 threes and also shot 51.7 percent from the field, an enticing combination. With 10 points, three boards, two-plus assists and close to a block, he is approaching standard-league must-own status. He should only get better as the season continues.
Shawn Marion – Marion is a hot commodity this week as Caron Butler has a knee injury that could sideline him for some time, possibly the rest of the season. Marion should receive the bulk of the available minutes and improve his numbers across the board. He isn’t the threat he once was, but he can do a decent little Andrei Kirilenko imitation the rest of the way.
J.R. Smith/Chris Andersen – The two tattooed teases. Smith stands to benefit if he stays and Carmelo Anthony goes, and Andersen is just starting to get back in the swing of things after an injury. Smith oozes talent but squanders it on nearly every possession. But when he’s hot, he’s unstoppable. Andersen is one of the league’s best per-minute shot blockers when healthy, and I don’t need to tell you how important that can be in fantasy.
Al-Farouq Aminu – Aminu has had some nice stretches this season but has mostly suffered from the typical inconsistencies of a rookie. He’s coming on lately, though, and brings an intriguing combination of threes, steals and rebounds to the table.
Marcin Gortat – How often does a big man who can block shots appear on a platter to fantasy owners mid-season? Gortat is looking like the guy to own in Phoenix’s frontcourt, and if he can wrest the most minutes out of himself, Robin Lopez and Channing Frye, he will benefit greatly from the Steve Nash factor.
DeMarcus Cousins – He isn’t flying under anyone’s radar, but he’s still someone with an immense amount of room to grow. Cousins has been piss-poor at best this season but seems to be getting his footing lately. He is averaging 21.7 points and 10.7 boards in his last three games, and if he can bring his ugly percentages up and provide occasional assists and blocks you are looking at a major second-half boon to any fantasy squad.
Rashard Lewis – Uh huh. Really. Lewis is going to get plenty of run with the Wizards, and his 13.3-7.0-3.2 line with Washington so far is promising. He’ll still get plenty of threes with John Wall driving and dishing, and there are simply more rebounds to go around now that he’s not playing with Dwight Howard.
Did Jeff really just recommend Rashard Lewis? Is he on other drugs besides fantasy basketball news items? Email him your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us at the top of the page, or follow him on Twitter.