Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Philadelphia – Since returning from shoulder surgery, Carter-Williams has played 30, 27, 30 and 32 minutes respectively in the four games. In his rookie season (last year), Carter-Williams played 34.5 minutes per game (MPG) or almost five minutes more than he’s averaged per game so far in 2014-15. Sitting at 0-11, Philadelphia has no reason to push him for any more minutes than he currently is playing. Plus, by slightly limiting his minutes, the team is allowing Tony Wroten to play additional minutes at point guard (his natural position) because he’s currently starting at shooting guard. Carter-Williams’ shooting percentage is way down this season, even from a bad percentage last season (40.5), and currently sits at 36.2 percent. However, before MCW owners starting panicking, realize his usage rate is up from 25.7 percent to 30.5 percent so far this season. Wroten has been moved to the bench for time being but coach Brett Brown wants to play the two together more often. Even starting next to Wroten should not affect his usage rate more than the five percentage points it has increased this season, so there’s little reason to worry. Plus his per-36 minute numbers haven’t changed much, so he should be nearly the same player he was last season (if not better) once he figures out his shooting woes.
Bradley Beal, SG, Washington – Well, that didn’t take long. In just his first game back after a fractured wrist, Beal dropped 21 points (PTS) in 26 minutes. Followers were asking me on Twitter whether or not to use him in his debut and I
figured they wouldn’t rush him back. That certainly was not the case and his minutes should only skyrocket from here on. Beal averaged 34.7 MPG in his sophomore season, which was a 3.5 minute increase from his 2012-13 rookie season. Washington made the playoffs for the first time in Beal’s career last season and he broke out in a big way with 19.2 points per game (PPG), 5.0 rebounds per game (RPG), 4.5 assists per game (APG), 1.6 steals per game (SPG) and 0.6 blocks per game (BPG). The craziest part was the minutes: 41.6 per game. This kid is a star in the making and all the evidence points to his minutes increasing this season. Eclipsing the 20 PPG plateau is absolutely possible, as he could produce numbers similar to Joe Johnson in his prime very soon.
Nick Young, SG, Los Angeles Lakers – Swaggy P is exactly the magic elixir this Lakers team needed! Crazily enough, even with Kobe Bryant active, Swaggy has been able to launch nearly as many shots per game (12.5) in his two games back as he did last season (13.9). With Kobe active, there was concern he might dip into the single digits in shot attempts and revert back to his 2012-13 numbers with the Philadelphia 76ers (9.2 shot attempts per game, 10.6 PPG). It appears Young has no intention of going back to being a role scorer, as he loves to be the main attraction. The 28.0 MPG are nearly identical to last year’s total. Beware that his usage rate is down over five percentage points from last season (26.8 to 21.6) and really is closer to his Philadelphia numbers. A career 42.9 percent shooter, Young has made 48 percent of his shots in an incredibly small sample size. The shots are down enough that if the minutes stay consistent his numbers should see a drop off from last season. If another owner is buying the fact that Swaggy will score close to last season’s amount of PPG, trade him and make a profit. He likely will not crack the 16.0 PPG mark when all said and done.
Chris Copeland, SF/PF, Indiana – Unfortunately, it is time for Chris Copeland to take a back seat. Rodney Stuckey returned on Wednesday, which led to just six points in 27 minutes from Copeland. Although Stuckey has been back for just one game, Copeland has now scored less than seven points in two of his last three games and three of his last five. At one point, Copeland led the NBA in three point attempts (3PA) per game but has since dipped to fifth. He hasn’t attempted more than five shots from beyond the arc since Nov. 11. If he isn’t launching at an elite rate, and his minutes are about to consistently decrease with one of the team’s best scorers active, he is not worth owning in shallower formats. Feel free to cut bait if a free agent emerges that you must have.
Kostas Papanikolaou, SF/PF, Houston – Houston’s big man rotation is in shambles at the moment. Terrence Jones may miss another month and Dwight Howard is out with a “strained right knee” but is also embroiled in a child abuse scandal. Regardless of what the issue actually is, there are minutes to be had by the bigs left standing. Papanikolaou, Donatas Motiejunas and Tarik Black have been the main beneficiaries. Coming off of a game in which he played 34 minutes, Papanikolaou is the most intriguing to me. If you’ve read my columns before, you know all about the “Fantasy goodies”: three-pointers (3PM), steals (STL) and blocks (BLK). On a per-36 minute basis, Papanikolaou offers a healthy amount of each category. He showed his multi-category potential in that last game by scoring 19 PTS including four of seven from three, six REB, two AST and a steal. He has played more minutes on a per-game basis than both Motiejunas and Black, and his stat line is more Fantasy-friendly. Therefore, as long as Jones and Howard are out, he is my Houston big man of choice.
Nikola Mirotic, PF, Chicago – The injury to Pau Gasol has created extra minutes for the ex-MVP of the Spanish League. Like Papanikolaou, Mirotic has some serious range and statistical balance. On a per-36 minute basis, Mirotic averages 1.7 3PM, 0.7 STL and 1.4 BLK along with nearly a double-double (only 9.3 REB). Even with a recent increase in minutes, he hasn’t eclipsed 19 minutes since Nov. 4, so there’s limited upside here. Taj Gibson is the true benefactor and needs to be owned everywhere. However, Mirotic makes for a nice category league fill-in until Gasol returns to the court. He will continue to be useful every time either Gibson or Gasol miss time. Keep an eye on him because he’s extremely talented and is reminiscent of a Channing Frye type with more upside.