When looking at the team has put together this season, you really have to applaud Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's 'Moneyball' approach to roster construction. Despite being in the thick of a playoff hunt, Morey made a move for the future prior to the trade deadline, shipping solid starting power forward Patrick Patterson to Sacramento for Thomas Robinson, the No. 5 pick in last year's draft.
Most assumed that the trade would hurt Houston in the short term, putting them in a precarious position with as they hold on to the eighth seed in the Western Conference after not making the playoffs in any of the previous three seasons. As usual, however, Morey was ahead of the curve. He saved long-term money, got a recent lottery pick, and may end not missing a beat down the stretch anyways.
Morey made the trade because knew he had a replacement for Patterson ready and waiting to be unleashed, in the form of Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas was a draft-and-stash prospect from the 2011 draft, and he came to the NBA with a pretty polished game, after spending five years playing professionally in Europe.
The Rockets kept Motiejunas under wraps for most of the first half of the season, but finally unleashed him post trade, and he has looked more than capable of filling a key role. In five games since the trade, Motiejunas has averaged 10.4 points per game in just 18.0 minutes, while displaying an advanced offensive game.
Motiejunas is a true stretch power forward for the Rockets, averaging 1.0 three-pointers per game over the last five while shooting 38.5 percent from long range. As he gets more comfortable in the offense and sees his role increase, his production has followed – he has scored 11, 13 and 17 points in the last three games. His continued improvement and a solid schedule on the way has earned Motiejunas the nod as my Start of the Week for Week 19 (March 4-10).
Motiejunas still has some work to do to get used to the Rockets' fast-paced style of play, as he seems to run out of gas when playing long stretches. However, he has already emerged as the team's top option at power forward in traditional lineups, while also seeing time in smaller lineups at center. The Rockets face three of the worst defenses in the league in Week 19, as the Rockets head to Dallas, Golden State and Phoenix. Each team ranks in the bottom-11 overall in points allowed per game, so Fantasy owners should not be surprised if Motiejunas keeps making his impact felt.
Mike Dunleavy, Bucks (UTA, @LAC, @GSW, @SAC): The Bucks' acquisition of J.J. Redick crowded the back court and threatened to push a holdover out of their usual role. Dunleavy was one of the players to see his role shift, but is has not necessarily been in a negative way. Dunleavy has been able to maintain his usual 25 minute per night role despite the trade, and he has increased his scoring to 12.7 points per game in three games since the trade. The Bucks as a team have been scoring more since the trade, and face three subpar defenses in Week 19, including the league-worst Kings. Dunleavy has long been a useful Fantasy option when hot, so get him in the lineup.
Luke Ridnour, Timberwolves (MIA, WAS, @DEN, DAL): Ridnour got off to a slow start to he season that scared some Fantasy owners off, but Ricky Rubio's return to prominence has helped Ridnour level off. He averaged 13.6 points per game in January and 12.9 in February, right around what we have come to expect from him. His shooting still leaves plenty to be desired, though that has consistently been a team-wide issue, as Eye On Basketball's Zach Harper has been chronicling in his aptly-named “Infinite Sorrow” series at AWolfAmongWolves.com. (http://www.awolfamongwolves.com/tag/infinite-sorrow/) Ridnour could get hot in Week 19, as the Wolves face three of the 10-worst defenses in the NBA at defending the three-point line.
Sleeper Alert: Patrick Beverley, Rockets (@DAL, @GSW, @PHX): Beverley is another unheralded player who has been quietly contributing for the Rockets recently. Beverley took three years to make his NBA debut after being a second-round pick in 2009, but he very quickly usurped Toney Douglas' backup point guard role. His role is limited for the Rockets on most nights, but he is starting to figure more into their plans, playing close to 20 minutes per game for the Rockets over the last 10 games. Beverley has gotten hot recently, entering Week 9 averaging 10.0 points, 3.3 assists and 2.5 three-pointers per game over the team's previous four games. With a solid schedule on the way against some of the worst defenses in the league, Beverley could fill in a pinch in deeper Fantasy formats.
Manu Ginobili, Spurs (CHI, POR): We received news of Tony Parker's diagnosis Saturday and it was not good; the dominant point guard will miss up to four weeks with a left ankle sprain. That news casts plenty of doubt on the well-oiled machine that is the Spurs' offense, as Parker has emerged as the main cog that moves things along. The Spurs will need to find some way to pick up he slack in Parker's absence, and Ginobili seems as good a bet as any. Despite being well past his prime and looking pretty rickety this season, Ginobili ran the offense perfectly Friday after Parker suffered the injury, dishing out 15 assists in just 23 minutes. Moving forward, Ginobili looks like a good bet to pick up his play, but Week 19 would not be when I want to rely on him. The Spurs play just twice this week, and one of the games comes against a dominant Bulls' defense. Fantasy owners are likely going to plug Ginobili into the starting lineup this week anyways, but you could be in for a disappointing showing.
Ramon Sessions, Bobcats (@POR, BKN, OKC, @WAS): For a while there, Sessions was playing consistently well, averaging 15.9 points per game in the month of January and 14.1 in February. Unfortunately, as with most things Bobcats related, the good times would not last. Sessions began slumping towards the end of February, averaging just 10.8 points per game over six games since the All-Star break. Sessions' Fantasy value is derived almost exclusively from his ability to score the ball, so when things are going poorly, it makes relying on him tough. The Bobcats face three above-average defenses in Week 19, so Sessions' slide could continue.
Bust Alert: Brandon Jennings, Bucks (UTA, @LAC, @GSW, @SAC): This is an incredibly risky call, but Jennings' value has taken a hit since the Bucks' acquisition of Redick. Jennings, who had posted consecutive 30-plus point games prior to he trade, has totaled just 38 points over the team's first four games, while playing just the third-most minutes on the team. Jennings has been one of the best Fantasy guards all season long and has kept his assist totals up in this stretch, even if he is a bit unreliable on a nightly basis, so it would take a very brave Fantasy owner to sit him. His recent play might be enough to force your hand, if you have better options.
Gordon Hayward, Jazz (@MIL, @CLE, @CHI, @NYK): In what is proving to be a trend in his career, Hayward is peaking yet again late in the season. He dealt with injuries in the weeks before the All-Star break, but has been phenomenal since, averaging 18.2 points per game on just 12.0 field-goal attempts over the last five games. The Jazz have been hit hard by injuries in recent days, so much so that Hayward was actually forced to act as the team's second-team center in practice recently. I don't expect Hayward to start banging down low with he likes of Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler anytime this week, but it speaks to his unique physical gifts, at the very least. With Hayward playing a big role in the team's plans and four games on the way, Hayward deserves to be in your starting lineup this week.
Derrick Williams, Timberwolves (MIA, WAS, @DEN, DAL): There have been reports that Kevin Love is starting to make some progress in his recovery from a broken hand, but he remains a few weeks away, most likely. That means that Williams will remain the man at power forward for the Timberwolves, and he should keep carrying a big load on offense due to the numerous injuries in the front court. Even though he is a work in progress on both sides of the ball, coach Rick Adelman has been forced to rely heavily on the second-year man. The Timberwolves are so depleted by injury that they have been unable to practice or even have full shoot arounds before games in recent days, and things don't look to be getting any better. Williams is averaging 17.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game over the last five, and with a pair of bottom-five defenses on the way and four games overall he should be starting in Week 19.
Sleeper Alert: Tobias Harris, Magic (@NOH, @MIA, IND, PHI): Fantasy owners have definitely taken note of Harris' performance since being traded to Orlando, so “sleeper” might not be the best choice of words. Harris has been the most-added player in CBSSports.com leagues over the last week and will almost certainly get a full write-up in my upcoming waiver-wire analysis column. Prior to that, however, Fantasy owners who have already snagged Harris probably have to get him in the lineup for Week 19, with four matchups on the way. He is averaging 20.0 points and 7.3 assists per game since joining the Magic. While he almost certainly will not continue to shoot 69.6 percent from the field, Harris has already become a big part of the rotation, averaging 29.5 minutes per game. At this point, he deserves to be active if you've got him.
Danny Granger, Pacers (BOS, @ORL, @MIL): Granger has shown brief flashes of life in four games since returning from a season-long knee injury, but he has been much more bad than good so far. Granger had a solid 12 points in just 19 minutes against the Clippers Thursday, but was able to play just 10 minutes the next night. Granger looks extremely tentative coming off knee tendinosis, and he will almost certain continue to be eased in. Granger is still owned in 96 percent of all leagues, but he is clearly not worth starting yet, especially with just three games this week.
Martell Webster, Wizards (@MIN, @BKN, CHA): Webster has played well for the Wizards this season, finally living up to some of the potential he has long shown. Webster has been an excellent three-point shooter for a team that has badly need offense, and has remained pretty consistent overall. Unfortunately, things are getting crowded on the perimeter now that Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza are healthy, meaning Webster is finding consistent touches a bit tougher to come by. He has failed to reach double figures in scoring in four of his last eight games, as the team has struggled to juggle some similar players. With just three games on the schedule in Week 19, Webster is tough to rely on.
Bust Alert: Luis Scola, Suns (TOR, @SAC, HOU): Making sense of the Suns' season has been a chore for Fantasy owners, as the team can barely decide on a weekly basis whether they are trying to win now or going with a youth movement. Lately, the pendulum has swung away from the veterans, with Scola a main loser. Scola is averaging just 19.6 minutes per game over the last five, as his spot in the rotation has been given over to other players. Scola is still averaging 10.4 points per game in that span, but his rebounding has cratered to 4.6 per game, and he has not scored more than 15 in any game. Scola is clearly no longer the player he once was, and is simply hanging on as a volume scorer with dwindling opportunities. Even with some solid matchups, I would not rely on him.
Robin Lopez, Hornets (ORL, LAL, @MEM, POR): The Hornets were hit with a double whammy of injury news this week, as big men Jason Smith and Anthony Davis both went down with shoulder injuries. Davis' is less serious than Smith's, who will miss the remainder of the season, but both injuries should open up a bigger role for Lopez. The Hornets now have just three healthy big men, so Lopez should be able to play as long as he stays out of foul trouble. The team's schedule in Week 19 is hit or miss, with the Grizzlies representing the top defense in the league, but also the only opponent not ranking among the10 worst defenses. Lopez has been a worthy Fantasy option at times this season, and he has the opportunity to play big minutes this week. He is averaging 11.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game over the last 10.
Sleeper Alert: Enes Kanter, Jazz (@MIL, @CLE, @CHI, @NYK): Kanter's dominance of the Bobcats Friday just served to underscore how puzzling the Jazz's trade deadline inactivity was. They have a pair of young studs ready to be unleashed in bigger roles, with Derrick Favors also around, but they only get the chance to show off when injury strikes. Kanter played 44 minutes and had 23 points and 22 rebounds with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap out Friday, and it looks like Jefferson's injury might linger, as he was spotted in a walking boot after the game. If Jefferson sits out, Kanter can be a worthy replacement.
Byron Mullens, Bobcats (@POR, BKN, OKC, @WAS): Mullens' season has been incredibly inconsistent, which is to be expected when a reserve-level talent is forced into big minutes and a big role on a bad team. Mullens is averaging 12.5 points per game on the season and 14.6 per game over the last 10 games, but just 9.2 over the last five. He has fallen into a deep funk since the All-Star break. Mullen is shooting just 31.7 percent from the field over the last five games, and might struggle to get going as well in Week 19, with three of the 13 best scoring defenses in the league on the way. Mullens is going to try to shoot himself out of this slump regardless of whether the shots are falling, and he could kill your chances of winning as he does.
Bust Alert: Chris Kaman, Mavericks (HOU, @DET, @MIN): I have spent much of the season at odds with a lot of the Fantasy owners I come in contact with about Chris Kaman's value. He has had some solid stretches of play, but I was never a fan of his potential to help you. Kaman missed quiet a bit of time over the last few weeks while dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion, but he has been back in the starting lineup since his return. Fantasy owners might be inclined to get him in their own starting lineups, but he has put up just 14 points and eight rebounds in his first two starts since returning. I would not advise getting Kaman active until he proves he is worth it; he has not at this point.