Jared Sullinger's back surgery thrusts Brandon Bass into the starting PF job for Boston and I'm hoping that unchallenged playing time will breed greater confidence and consistency. Bass averaged 10.7 shot attempts per game last season, but he's taken 10+ shots just once in the past two months and remains a wait-and-see player in most leagues. Jeff Green had 17 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and three blocks in Friday's win, and he's even more intriguing than Bass. He has three-point range (33.5 percent for his career) and the potential to average 12+ points with a steal and a block per game. He may not quite get there, but given 30 minutes a night (realistic given Boston's injury woes) I'd expect him to post 10th-round value on the strength of his versatility. And if the Celtics wind up trading Paul Pierce, Green could even find himself with a plump role in the starting lineup.
- Deron Williams tweaked his ankle in Friday's game but said that he'll be fine.
- Kevin Martin (hip) is expected to play on Saturday and his status was never in doubt. He's averaging 14.5 points, 2.2 threes and 1.1 steals in the past month, with typically strong percentages.
- Eric Gordon has a sore back, but he played on Friday and is probable for Saturday's game, potentially his first back-to-back action of the season. He's battling random soreness as his body adjusts to playing after such a long layoff, and thankfully this doesn't seem like a lasting concern.
- Raymond Felton (pinkie) aggravated his injury on Friday and was in "a lot of pain," but he's not expected to miss any games.
- Stephen Curry (ankle) remains questionable to face the Suns on Saturday. We should have an update soon enough, but I wouldn't bet on his availability.
Glen Davis (foot surgery) is more than likely done for the season and rookie Andrew Nicholson has some upside as a fantasy replacement, assuming he gets sufficient playing time. Nicholson has started 10 games this year, averaging 10.3 points with 4.6 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks in just 20 minutes. He shoots above-average percentages and only has to fend off Josh McRoberts, Gustavo Ayon and possibly Al Harrington (knee) for playing time, so keep an eye on him.
Speaking of Al Harrington...I recently received a question from RW reader Joseph Moreno, who asked whether he should consider picking up Al, who is nearing a return after multiple knee surgeries but still has no firm return date. My answer is a simple 'no.' Big Baby's surgery has opened up significant opportunities, but guys like Nicholson and Ayon are more likely to fill the void than Harrington, who is in the final guaranteed year of his contract. McBob is also playing in the final year of his deal, something to keep in mind when you're parsing Jacque Vaughn's potential lineups.
Eric Bledsoe’s numbers as a starter in place of Chris Paul (bruised kneecap) do have the asterisk I usually append to players' per-36-minute stats – there is no guarantee that a player can extrapolate his statistical rates and efficiency with an increased role, due to improved competition, foul trouble (typically afflicting big men), conditioning, chemistry with teammates, and more.
In 18 minutes per game off the bench: 8.4 points on 47.1 percent FGs, 2.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks.
In 33 minutes per game as a starter: 11.6 points on 37.1 percent FGs, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks.
Generally speaking these numbers are excellent, and I'm not suggesting that an eight-game sample proves that Bledsoe isn't a solid starting PG – he is. The Clippers are 5-3 in Chris Paul's absence and Bledsoe's scoring is the only area that has notably suffered, and even that could be dismissed as a mere slump independent of his adjustments as a starter. Some players go the opposite direction, too, erupting with sufficient playing time after struggling in a reserve role, having been unable to find an elusive 'rhythm' for reasons physical, mental or both. Ersan Ilyasova, for instance, was lousy for much of this season in a limited role before Scott Skiles' departure, yet he's thriving in an expanded role under Jim Boylan. It’s an exciting and inexact pastime, guessing how players will fare in different roles, but one thing I’m certain of – Bledsoe will be an above-average starting PG in the near future, and the low FG percentage is only disguising his true value.
David West scored 30 points in a convincing win vs. the Heat, making 12-of-15 FGs and 6-of-6 FTs, with seven rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers, and zero personal fouls. That might be the first time I've ever listed 'fouls' in a stat line unless the guy fouled out, but West deserves some notice for averaging just 1.9 fouls in 34 minutes per game this season. He's committing fewer fouls than any season since his rookie year, while playing underrated defense as the starting PF on the league's stingiest defense (gauged by points allowed per 100 possessions). The Pacers took a leap of faith by signing him to a sizable contract while he was recovering from knee surgery and it's paying huge dividends.
Danny Granger went through a half-court scrimmage on Thursday but he hasn’t been cleared for contact and there is no clear return date. I field tons of questions about how Granger will affect Paul George (15 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals on Friday). George is an elite player and he has established himself as the future of the franchise, a process sped up by Granger's injury and Roy Hibbert's uninspiring play. However, in re-draft leagues, I do view this as a sell-high moment. Granger's return, possibly in late February, seems like an inevitable knock on George's fantasy value. His real-world value and importance to the Pacers is unchanged, but he may see a decrease in his career-high 15.2 shot attempts per game, as well as his career-high 37 minutes per game (16th-most in the NBA).
In other Indy-injury news, George Hill exited Friday's game with a bruised left shoulder and he's listed as day-to-day. I am very fond of Hill's understated averages this season, which give him fifth-round value in nine-cat leagues: 14.5 points, 1.7 three-pointers, 4.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks, with 43.5 percent FGs and 84 percent FTs. He's also been playing through injuries for most of the season, an unquantified yet critical component of his appeal, and I'm subtly moved by the fact that the Spurs' braintrust was reluctant to part with him even to acquire Kawhi Leonard, whom they coveted. The point guard of the NBA's third-least-efficient offense surely doesn't earn or deserve many plaudits, but Indiana isn't exactly stacked with options. According to data from Synergy Sports, the Pacers rely heavily on their post game (where David West is propping up the below-average Roy Hibbert), as well as spot-up opportunities (where Paul George and Gerald Green dominate the touches with poor results). Hill, meanwhile, is holding up his end by knocking down a career-best 65 percent of his chances at the rim and 36 percent of his 3-pointers. The shoulder injury isn’t serious, and fantasy owners shouldn’t sleep on him.