The semi-official word is that Kobe Bryant has suffered a complete tear in his left Achilles tendon. If so, a very rough estimate puts him out 6-8 months following surgery. The Black Mamba consistently defies expectations when it comes to his effectiveness, durability, or anything else, but at I'm not expecting to see the 34-year-old on opening day in 2013. To say it's a disappointment is wildly understating the situation -- Kobe said "the frustration is unbearable," and the Lakers' ability to cling to the No. 8 seed now seems like a cruel joke as they gear up for a beating from the top-seed Thunder. Kobe, by the way, is just 675 points behind Michael Jordan for third place among the all-time NBA scoring leaders, and he trails Kareem-Abdul Jabbar by 122 points for second place in career playoff scoring. (Update: Following surgery on Saturday, Kobe is expected to miss "a minimum of 6-9 months.")
Kobe vented his frustration on Facebook soon after the early diagnosis. "This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I've done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I'm supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??" He followed that up with some more measured words, fortunately, which indicate that he isn't done yet. "One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence," he wrote. "Today is NOT that day." It's somewhat fitting that Kobe hurt his Achilles -- like that famed Myrmidon hero, Kobe is a resolute warrior who would sacrifice anything for the greater glory.
Metta Cyborg World Peace is active, having played 12 days after knee surgery, but he's probably not well enough to assume many more minutes in Kobe's absence. Anyone still scraping the barrel for fantasy juice can go for Jodie Meeks (likely to start the rest of the way), Earl Clark, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison. Pau Gasol initiating the offense in the high post will be even more critical than it has been lately with Steve Nash (hamstring) sidelined. Pau triple-doubled with 29-11-10 vs. the Warriors on Friday and there's a decent chance he'll do it again in the final few games.
Gasol's huge night helped L.A. to a two-point victory, preserving their one-game lead over the Jazz for the No. 8 seed, even though Utah tamed the Wolves on Friday behind Al Jefferson's 40 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Big Al had five turnovers without any steals or blocks, flaws overshadowed by his 19-of-27 shooting. It certainly helped that Nikola Pekovic (calf) wasn't available to fend off Jefferson, who torched Greg Stiemsma's scarecrow defense all night.
Randy Foye also hit five 3-pointers for 16 points in 38 minutes, with one assist and two steals. Need a perimeter specialist? Your boy Foye is hitting 3.4 triples in the past seven games. The bad news, predictably, is that there are only two games left for Utah and one of them is against Memphis.
Nazr Mohammed had 16 points, 13 rebounds, one steal and one block in a ridiculous 43 minutes vs. the Raptors on Friday, an effort that was squandered in an 88-97 road loss. If you need rebounds bad enough to be considering Nazr in fantasy leagues, go ahead and pick him up. But I wouldn't touch him on principle.
Toronto won behind huge efforts from Kyle Lowry (who nearly triple-doubled with 13 points, nine rebounds, 11 dimes), Rudy Gay (23 points, but also five steals, three blocks), and Amir Johnson's efficient 24 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. For a short-handed team dribbling out the end of a disappointing season, the Raptors are still playing admirably hard. As a result they may end the season with a twinkle of hope -- they've won four of four of their past five games, and Rudy Gay (back) has quickly gone from being a prime shutdown candidate to a savior for many fantasy owners. He's mixed in a few single-digit, low-minute duds in the process, but he's shooting 45.7 percent in April (a season-best) and he's returned fourth-round value (nine-cat) in the past two weeks.
Speaking of the past two weeks....here is a quick list of *unexpected* players who are blowing up down the stretch, accompanied by their April averages. Few of them are probably available in competitive leagues at this juncture, but it doesn't hurt to reflect on the performances for 1) consideration on draft day in 2013-14, 2) to file away for silly-season next year, 3) to build an argument against playing fantasy leagues this late in the year, or 4) merely for idle contemplation.
Nikola Vucevic, first of all, has cemented his candidacy for Most Improved Player awards with a beastly April -- 18.7 points, 16.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. That's top-10 production in virtually any fantasy league worth playing in. Larry Sanders is probably the nearest competition for the MIP award, and the Bucks have gone all-out promoting his candidacy. O.J. Mayo was an early-season candidate but he's faded since Dirk Nowitzki returned to control the offense.
Anthony Davis is another obvious breakout player who shouldn't be overlooked. He's finally getting sufficient minutes in his past six games (33 per game), and he's responded with 16.3 points, 10.2 boards, 1.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, with stellar FG and FT percentages. He'll probably fall into the second round next season, where I'd be happy to scoop him up.
Wilson Chandler, predictably, has shot up the charts with an expanded role after Danilo Gallinari's terribly disappointing knee injury. Chandler is hitting for 17.2 points, 2.2 threes, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks, despite logging just over 30 minutes per game. This is no late-season fluke, either, as Chandler has always had a remarkably fantasy-friendly game. He's under contract for at least the next two seasons, and with Gallo returning from major surgery he'll be a sneaky upside pick on draft day.
Nuggets teammate Corey Brewer also deserves special notice. He's been phenomenal all season, really, giving the Nuggets a habanero kick off the bench, but he's stepped up with Danilo out recently. Thus far in April he's averaging 21.0 points, 1.8 threes, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.0 steals in 32 minutes per game.
All season we've seen Omer Asik justify the Rockets' faith in him, playing up to and beyond his $8 million annual salary while helping Houston secure a playoff berth. What has grabbed my attention enough to include him here? He's a combined 14-of-17 from the free throw line in April, an 82.4 percent mark that stands out for a career 52.6 percent FT shooter. It's overwhelmingly likely that his is a temporary fluke, but any improvement at the stripe would work wonders for Asik's roto value (per BasketballMonster.com, Asik has been a top-40 option in nine-cat leagues for the past two weeks, a far cry from his season-long rank, No. 168, which is heavily weighted by his FT shooting).
Beno Udrih's surge is easy to write off since he's only starting because of Jameer Nelson's sprained ankle (which could keep Jameer shelved until the end of the season). Udrih, however, is an impending free agent who has been clamoring for a bigger role for years. Here are his averages in 40 minutes per game in April -- 16.8 points, 1.8 threes, 3.4 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.0 steals and 3.2 turnovers. Given that level of production, and his ability to cherry-pick a team that will give him solid playing time, the veteran Udrih should not to be overlooked on draft day next season.
Magic forward Tobias Harris has also been playing 42 minutes per game for his short-handed team in April, scoring 18.0 points with 0.8 triples, 11.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 blocks. The only knocks on his value are 40.9 percent FGs and 72.2 percent FTs, but you won't hear his owners complaining. Nor is his role likely to drop off much next season. Glen Davis' return will complicate the frontcourt rotation, but Orlando may very well jettison Hedo Turkoglu (whose $12 million salary is only guaranteed for $6 million) and Al Harrington (owed $14.7 million over the next two years, only 50 percent of which is guaranteed). And we initially thought the trade deadline didn't produce any clear winners...
Tom Thibodeau's obvious appreciation of Jimmy Butler's versatility, coupled with a rash of Bulls' injuries, has led to routine 40+ minute games for the second-year swingman. He's turned all those minutes into 14.7 points, 1.3 threes, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per game, stellar numbers which would vault him into the first few rounds if he could improve on his 65.0 percent FT shooting. Guys who aren't under contract for Chicago next season include Marco Bellinelli, Nate Robinson, and possibly Rip Hamilton (owed a guaranteed $1 million on a $4 million option).
If you're trolling for value late in the draft next season, be sure you're targeting the right M. Morris. Marcus Morris deserves a nod of appreciation for his play in the past two weeks. Wait...no, it's Markieff who has played well, averaging 11.3 points, 1.3 threes, 6.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in just under 30 minutes per game. Brother Marcus, meanwhile, has two DNP-CDs and other two scoreless games in April.
John Jenkins is scoring 16.0 points with 2.0 threes in the past three games, but the Hawks' backcourt rotations have been messy all season and Friday's game was chastening for anyone who scooped Jenkins off the wire -- he scored four points with one rebound and no other stats in 17 minutes, as Larry Drew abruptly switched gears and played Devin Harris 33 minutes (the hot-and-cold veteran had 19 points, three 3s, five assists and three steals). Jenkins deserves close scrutiny this summer, though, as the Hawks could lose Devin Harris, Kyle Korver and Dahntay Jones to unrestricted free agency, not to mention Jeff Teague's restricted free agency. Jenkins is one of three players with a guaranteed deal for the Hawks next year, joining Al Horford and Lou Williams, so anything could happen with their rotations.
Shawn Marion doesn't make 3-pointers like he used to in Phoenix, but it's impossible to discount his numbers in the Mavs' past seven games -- 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 75.0 percent from the FT line. He took the red pill this season, and we're still finding out how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Evan Fournier has attracted some attention lately but he's not a recommended option even if you're scraping for value, as his averages in the past five games show -- 9.2 points, 0.8 threes, 2.6 assists, and 1.2 steals. He's doing it in just 18 minutes per game, though, per-minute numbers that give him deep-sleeper appeal in the coming years.
Terrence Jones is another guy whose surprising burn late in the season doesn't necessarily correspond to fantasy value -- he's averaging 9.0 points, 7.4 boards, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks in 25 minutes in April, with 1.6 turnovers and lousy 57.1 percent FT shooting. Though underwhelming as a whole, those per-minute splits for points/boards/steals/blocks are very intriguing.
Interesting fact: Of the four NBA teams with the fewest assists per game this season, three are going to the playoffs. Can you name them? The answers can be found on the next page.