Matt Stroup

Roundball Stew

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Salmons Headed Upstream

Thursday, December 23, 2010

At a time when many of us are making last-minute decisions as to what gifts to purchase for people in our lives, Roundball Stew is adopting a different motto for the holiday season: Fleece your friends.

No, that doesn't mean you should be purchasing a lovely new Patagonia for your buddy – rather, you should be perusing said friend's fantasy roster and looking for a way to subtly rip him off. To be clear, I'm not advocating anything unethical here, but you must keep your mind finely tuned to other owners' frustrations and be prepared to strike when they're most irrationally annoyed with an otherwise valuable player.

We always give during the holidays. This year, when it comes to fantasy hoops, try taking instead.


Three on the Rise:

John Salmons: After a recent one-game absence due to back spasms, Salmons has returned to post 20.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 spg and 2.3 threes in his last three games. With Brandon Jennings out for at least the next month, I see 18-plus ppg as a very realistic Salmons expectation for the near future.

Kenyon Martin: Now that he's back (eight points, five rebounds, a steal and a block in 17 minutes on Wednesday), I'm fully on board with the notion of adding the original K-Mart in all leagues. He's always a candidate for some annoying random missed games, but players capable of averaging 11.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.2 spg and 1.1 bpg (as Martin did last season) don't surface on the waiver wire that often.

DeAndre Jordan: With Chris Kaman (ankle) expected to remain sidelined a couple more weeks (and no guarantee to stay healthy even when he does return), you could do far worse on a short-term center with upside than Jordan, who has averaged 9.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.0 spg and 1.6 bpg in his last eight. And yes, Jordan is a rotten free throw shooter, but his 9-for-18 over the last eight games isn't enough volume to sink you in that category.

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Three on the Plummet:

Jodie Meeks: Last five games – 7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.6 threes. He's still a dangerous shooter, but when he's slumping (seemingly the result of teams keying in on his jumper at the moment), Meeks is a disaster because he does nothing other than score and hit threes. I don't doubt he'll break out of this and have some good games, but he is very far from a must-own right now.

The New Jersey Nets: It's a barometer of how ghastly things have become in New Jersey that Sasha Vujacic (12.7 ppg, 2.0 threes in his last three games) has developed into the team's third-best scoring option of late. Feel free to add Vujacic in deeper leagues, and I can understand having Kris Humphries on a roster given his 8.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 0.9 bpg this month, but aside from Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, the Nets are largely a mess to avoid.

Darko Milicic: I actually mention Darko here because I think this is a good time to buy low. After missing almost all of three games due to an ankle injury, he returned on Wednesday to post six points, four boards, two steals and two blocks in 24 minutes. That's not a very exciting line, but Darko had averaged 20.5 ppg in his two games prior to the injury, and his blocks (2.5 per game) remain an underrated asset in fantasy leagues.

Three Random but Hopefully Useful Observations

1. Rashard Lewis is trending downward in a big picture sense, but his value should be on the rise somewhat with the move to Washington. True, his Wizards debut was anything but dynamic (eight points, three rebounds in 22 minutes), but Flip Saunders is talking like he wants to make Rashard one of his offensive focal points. Lewis' most productive days are definitely behind him at age 31, but he could easily average 15-plus ppg and two-plus threes per game for Washington going forward.

2. The time to shop Chauncey Billups is now. The good news is that Billups returned from his wrist injury to score 20 points (4-for-11 from the field, 0-for-4 on threes) with seven assists on Wednesday. The bad news, according to the Denver Post, is that the Nuggets PG "may not be completely out of the woods" with his wrist trouble. I'm strongly considering offering him for a soon-to-be full speed Aaron Brooks in one of my main leagues (and strongly hoping that the owner I'm making that offer to isn't reading Roundball Stew this week).

3. Let's not panic on Spencer Hawes (yet). Just last week he was the headline act of this column, and now he's averaging just 2.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 1.0 bpg in his last three after tough road matchups in Orlando, Chicago and Boston. However, despite those struggles, Hawes has still posted 9.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 1.6 bpg in December, and as you may recall from the past couple of years, inconsistency has always been something of his forte. With games against Denver, Golden State and Phoenix ahead on the schedule, I expect things to swing back in a positive direction soon.

10 Quick-Hitting Statements of Fact and/or Opinion

1) Blake Griffin (24.3 ppg, 15.2 rpg, 4.3 apg in his last six) looked completely comfortable hitting a three from the top of the key on Wednesday. I wouldn't expect him to shoot a lot (he's just 2-for-4 on the season), but it's worth noting that three of those attempts have come in his last three games.

2) His general lack of rebounds and assists is a little bit frustrating, but I am overall very encouraged by what we're seeing out of Nick Young (22.2 ppg, 2.0 threes in his last six). It's not guaranteed that Flip Saunders will stick with him, but if given consistent run, Young (19.5 ppg in December) could average 18.0 ppg easily.

3) Jrue Holiday had three ugly games in a row, but a 15-5-5 line against Boston with no turnovers on Wednesday is a very positive sign.

4) Hey may not stick in the starting five or continue to play big minutes ahead of Gilbert Arenas, but it's worth noting that J.J. Redick had averaged 15.8 ppg and 2.8 threes in his last four games entering a Thursday night matchup with the Spurs.

5) Landry Fields was the Pac-10's leading scorer last season, but scoring has actually been the least reliable asset of his game lately. Fields is averaging just 9.7 ppg in December, but has remained relevant by adding in 8.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.3 threes.

6) December has been the best all-around month of James Harden's brief career: 13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 threes. If those stats can help your squad, and you can handle the occasional dud, the bearded lefty is well worth adding.

7) Trevor Ariza has shot 32.2 percent from the field this month. A player has to do a lot in other categories to make that awful percentage digestable, and Ariza (9.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.4 threes this month) isn't doing nearly enough.

8) I normally hate when PF/C's don't get any steals or blocks, but Kevin Love's combo of points (20.9), rebounds (15.6) and threes (1.3) is outweighing his atrocious defensive stats (0.5 spg and 0.4 bpg, including one block in his last 10 games).

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9) Martell Webster through six games: 15.5 ppg, 1.7 threes. He has shown a tendency to be erratic in the past (last year he averaged 15.5 ppg in January but didn't top 9.1 ppg in any other month), so beware that this could be a limited run.

10) I know he has upside, but Amir Johnson has had six points and five rebounds or less in seven of his 12 December games. At some point it stops being worth the splitting headache.

Matt Stroup covers basketball, baseball and football for You can find him on Twitter here .
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