James Harden, SG, Houston – In the absence of Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard, nearly the whole offense is being run through James Harden. With an average draft position (ADP) of nearly four this season, it’s hard for him to definitively move up any further. Still, the numbers suggest his ceiling is at least momentarily on the rise. Harden registered a 27.8 percent usage rate (USG) last season, which ranked 16th among players with at least 300 minutes played. So far this season, Harden has a 31 percent USG overall and an even more ridiculous 35.2 percent USG with Jones and Howard off the court. Harden’s rebounds (REB), assists (AST), steals (STL) and blocks (BLK) are all up slightly this season because the team needs him even more than usual with the injuries. Naturally, with more forced shot attempts has come a lower field goal percentage (FGP), as he’s averaging a career-low 40.1 percent. As long as your team can stomach the volume shooting, Harden’s line will continue to stay at the higher plateau sans the two big men. Howard should be back sooner than Jones, which will only help Harden pick and choose his spots and cause his FGP to return to the norm. He’s locked in as a Top-4 overall player and can be even more useful than that on a head-to-head team designed to punt FGP.
Lou Williams, SG, Toronto – Your Eastern Conference player of the week last week was none other than……Lou Williams? In four games, Williams scored 13, 22, 36 (!) and 17 PTS. He has only registered a negative plus/minus in three of the 14 games he has played in this season. Williams’ hot play has been the boost Toronto has needed to catapult from the three seed in the Eastern Conference last season to currently sitting in first. Williams is both their best player and scorer off of the bench and is part of the reason Kyle Lowry’s minutes have decreased by nearly three minutes per game (MPG) from last season. Lowry has been nicked up throughout the course of his career so this is exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of keeping him healthy. The recent spike is due to hot play so do not be surprised if the minutes return to around 24 when the streak ends. He’s worth a speculative add because the points are legit (has averaged over 13.5 PPG four times in career) but he feels like one of those flash in the pan players that will not hold consistent value.
Darius Miller, SG/SF, New Orleans – Surprise, surprise; Eric Gordon is hurt once again. While Gordon exits stage left with what has been confirmed to be a fully torn labrum, Darius Miller will enter the starting lineup. Miller was a part of that incredible Kentucky class in the 2012 NBA Draft. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Miller were all drafted within the first 46 picks that year. Playing on that All-Star college team seems so far gone, as Miller has only played 1446 minutes since joining the league in 2012. Now, Miller should theoretically get his first extended chance with the team, although, there are warning signs. The 29 minutes played so far this season, is an incredibly small sample size but Miller currently ranks in the bottom 16 of offensive rating (an estimate of points produced in 100 possessions) in the NBA. Also, Coach Monty Williams has consistently looked to Austin Rivers as the first guard off the bench when Gordon was healthy. With him injured, expect Williams to just keep Rivers coming off the bench because it’s the role he has become comfortable with. With more playing time should come better success for Miller as role stability usually helps a player’s confidence. Besides, his offensive rating for his career sits at 107 even with this season’s rough start. Miller is worth an add in only the deepest of leagues (16 plus teams) while Rivers becomes worth watching in 12 teamers.
Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota – The timetable is out: Kevin Martin and his 20.4 PPG will miss the next six to eight weeks. This now puts both of the Timberwolves’ opening day starting guards on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
Ricky Rubio’s absence left the team hungry to find a ball handler while Martin’s will mean others need to step up in the scoring department. It’s time for Andrew Wiggins to grow up in a hurry because this is a golden opportunity to become “the man.” Mind you, Thaddeus Young will return Wednesday from the death of his mother, which has held him out since November 13. Young will happily take the responsibility of the offense’s number one scorer but Wiggins has a legit shot at number two. In 28.8 MPG, Wiggins is averaging 12.5 PPG on 42.6 percent FG. Remember he’s only one year removed from 17.1 PPG in 32.8 MPG at Kansas (44.8 percent FG and 26.2 percent USG). The upside spans well beyond his current numbers especially considering his 20.8 points per-40 minutes in college (a college game is four minutes longer than the pros) and his USG is only at 21.7 percent. Do not be surprised to see a spike in Wiggins’ scoring as more of the offense goes through the talented rookie. Mo Williams should also see an uptick in scoring from the PG spot. If an owner has been getting frustrated due to the lack of Wiggins’ early progression, now is the time to pounce.
Stock Holding Steady
Anderson Varejao, C, Cleveland – Bring three superstars to town and they’ll be the only ones that get theirs, right? Wrong. Anderson Varejao’s numbers have predictably decreased since last season but he certainly isn’t fading into oblivion. Field goal percentage, with all the defensive attention elsewhere, has increased to a career high for Varejao (59.2 percent). He’s averaging a career-high 14.9 points per-36 minutes because of the efficiency increase. The boards are way down but it had to be expected with the addition of an elite rebounder like Kevin Love. You drafted Varejao as a mediocre upside C3 in Fantasy and that’s exactly what he is giving you. He won’t win a league single-handedly but he can be a contributor on a championship winning team.
Carmelo Anthony, SF/PF, New York – Melo’s stock is holding steady contingent on his diagnosis. He left yesterday’s game with back spasms and didn’t practice today. He reportedly was “in a lot of pain” Monday night and left without speaking to the media. Phil Jackson’s triangle offense has not been incredibly kind to Carmelo as he’s averaging the least points he has since 2011-12. 31.3 is still a healthy USG percentage and his FG percentage would be a seven year high. Still, you drafted Melo with a Top 15 pick due to his elite scoring, which is more average than usual, and because the health was expected. Since the diagnosis, all owners should not have changed their opinion and should be in a holding pattern. If this ailment keeps him out for a while, which owners should be expecting, he’s worth selling a little bit low on. If another owner wants to swap him for a different top 20 overall option, it’s worth taking. Carmelo has not played a full season since his rookie year so owners should have expected this.
Alec Burks, SG, Utah – Burks, who was as automatic as anyone in the NBA at producing points in double-digits last year, nearly missed double-digits for the third consecutive game Monday (10 PTS). During that same stretch, Trey Burke has stepped up his scoring and has scored at least 18 PTS in back-to-back games. Burke had only been shooting 36.4 percent on the year so this hot streak is a breath of fresh air to owners. This surge could be forcing Burks down the pecking order and declining the impact of his one true strength in Fantasy: scoring. Burks still isn’t quite droppable as he should get back to his double-digit scoring ways but he’s not Fantasy stud either. The lack of 3PM, AST, STL and BLK dictate Burks is a borderline roster at this point for Fantasy teams unless he gets back up near 15 PPG.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami – His legs are simply done for. Between knee and hamstring injuries, Wade has not been able to avoid injury for the past three seasons. There’s not much left to see about Wade as he likely will be held out of game occasionally even after he is healthy enough to return. He’s frustrating to own and just isn’t the superstar he once was. Players I would gladly take for Wade right now: Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten and Wesley Matthews just to give an idea.
Nene, PF/C, Wizards – Plantar fasciitis is not a pleasant injury. Once diagnosed, a Fantasy owner can expect the player to be in pain on and off for the entirety of the season. The only cure for the ailment is rest. Missing a game here and there will not suffice so Nene will need to eventually sit out an extended period in order to have a chance of finality for the treatment. For that reason, he is droppable in most leagues due to what will likely be a frustrating string of DNPs ahead this season. Kris Humphries is worth adding in daily leagues.
*Stats are accurate as of Nov. 25.