Fantasy owners have been waiting for months for Pau Gasol to come back from his torn plantar fascia and starting making up for what has been a very disappointing season. It looks like there is a great chance for that to happen in Week 21 (March 18-24), as Gasol has been able to participate in shootaround in recent days and could make his debut as early as Monday against the Suns.
Gasol was a major disappointment even before his injury, largely because most Fantasy owners who had him on their rosters had invested a draft pick in the early rounds expecting him to continue his run as one of the most dependable Fantasy options around. His numbers were still incredibly solid for most NBA players, as he was putting up 13.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, with 1.3 blocks and 3.6 assists per game as well.
Given his actual production, independent of expectations, Gasol still looks like someone who can provide a boost down the stretch for those Fantasy owners who were either patient enough to stash him or quick enough to grab him off waivers when his prognosis began improving. Gasol looks likely to be worth getting in your lineup very soon, but I am not sure Week 21 will be that time, even if he does return.
The Lakers play just twice in Week 21, and it looks like Gasol's expected Monday return might have to be pushed back a few days, after he complained of soreness Saturday after working out. If the Lakers opt to not have Gasol play Monday, his next opportunity to return to the floor would not come until Friday, leaving him with just one chance to put up numbers.
I highly recommend snagging Gasol in the eight percent of CBSports.com Fantasy leagues he is still available, but I have to slap him with a rare "Sit of the Week" tag for the coming scoring period. He could provide you with three weeks of production to end the season, but you will want to continue being patient and keep him out of the starting lineup this week.
Mo Williams, Jazz (NYK, @HOU, @SAS, @DAL): Admittedly, this is a bit of a speculative addition to the list, as Williams has been downright dreadful since returning from a thumb injury. In five games heading into Saturday's tilt with the Grizzlies' league-best defense, Williams was averaging just 8.6 points per game, with only four more assists than turnovers overall. It was not the softest landing for Williams, who faced four above average defensive teams in his first six games, so I think Week 21 provides a good opportunity for him to bounce back. The Jazz face a much simpler task this week, as two of the leagues' five worst scoring defenses pop up this week. Williams was playing very well prior to the injury, and I think the matchups make him worth getting active this week.
Ray Allen, Heat (@BOS, @CLE, DET, CHA): Allen has been up and down this season for the Heat, which was to be expected in his first season as a true role player. Allen has been doing well recently, scoring in double figures in 13 of the last 16 games. Allen should be able to keep rolling in Week 21, against a slate of teams that he has had success against this season. Allen is averaging 13.6 points per game in seven games against his upcoming foes so far, a good sign for him moving forward. Allen could be particularly useful against his former mates in Boston Monday, as he has 40 points in two games, while averaging 34.5 minutes per game.
Sleeper Alert: Eric Maynor, Trail Blazers @PHI, @MIL, @CHI, @ATL, @OKC): In 37 games with the Thunder earlier in the season, Maynor totaled just 104 points and 73 assists. He has been much better since the trade, averaging 8.6 points and 4.2 assists per game total, while playing a much larger role. Maynor is still a borderline Fantasy option overall, but the Blazers play five times this week, including a pair of back to backs. The Blazers are severely lacking in depth, which might lead to them leaning on Maynor more off the bench with so many games in so few nights. I like Maynor as a fill in option this week, especially with the
Jarrett Jack, Warriors (@NOR, @SAS, WAS): Jack has fallen off recently, averaging 11.3 points on 11.7 field goal attempts per game over the last 10 games. He has just six more assists than turnovers, as he has gone from surprisingly effective to pretty dreadful in fairly short order. Warriors coach Mark Jackson gave Jack a vote of confidence Saturday when asked whether Jack might see a reduced role moving forward but Fantasy owners should be less confident at this point. Jack is suffering through his worst month since November, and is now much more of a borderline Fantasy option. With just three games on the schedule, I would not rely on Jack at this point in the season.
Mike Dunleavy, Bucks (POR, @ATL, @IND, ATL): For the most part, Dunleavy has been able to hold on to his role since the team's backcourt-crowding trade deadline deal for J.J. Redick. Unfortunately, he has been slipping a bit recently, posting consecutive scoreless games Wednesday and Friday of last week, with his minutes shrinking in each game. The Bucks open with a solid matchup against the Blazers' vulnerable defense, but face a trio of above-average defensive teams after that. Dunleavy might end up as the odd man out if the Bucks begin to shorten their rotation for the postseason, and he looks like a bad play this week.
Bust Alert: Brandon Knight, Pistons (BKN, @MIA, @CHA): The last week has not been kind to Knight, who suffered an ankle injury after being the victim of a devastating dunk by DeAndre Jordan. Knight was averaging 15.0 points per game in 10 appearances prior to the injury, and really appeared to be taking well to the off guard role. At this point, it looks like he might end up missing Monday's game against the Nets, and his status for the rest of the week is not at all guaranteed, so Fantasy owners might consider him a risky option.
Martell Webster, Wizards (@CHA, @PHX, @LAL, @GSW): I picked Webster for this column before his 34-point outburst against the Suns Saturday, but that performance certainly helps bolster my case. Webster has been able to take advantage of injuries in the Wizards backcourt rotation, first to Bradley Beal and then Trevor Ariza, and has been playing a huge role recently. Webster is averaging 21.8 points per game over the last five games, and has one of the best schedules of the season on the way. The best defense the Wizards face in Week 21 is Phoenix, who ranks just 21st in the league in points allowed. With four games on the way and Webster playing at he top of his game, get him active.
Metta World Peace, Lakers (@PHX, WAS): I felt pretty confident that World Peace would see a downturn in his Fantasy value in the second half of the season, but he has so far proven me wrong. World Peace's shot has returned after an extended cold streak, and he is now shooting 43.4 percent in the month of March. That is not great, but it has led to 14.3 points per game in eight games so far thanks to the plentiful opportunities the Lakers' offense provides him. The Lakers only play twice this week, but they may be forced to rely on him more than normal with Kobe Bryant nursing an ankle injury, so MWP might not be a bad play.
Sleeper Alert: Patrick Patterson, Kings (LAC, MIN, @DEN, PHI): The trade to Sacramento really hurt Patterson's Fantasy value, as he has dropped from 11.6 points with the Rockets to just 7.3 per game since the trade. Still, his role has slowly been increasing recently, as he is averaging 20.2 minutes per game over the last five. Patterson's skill set has not changed since joining the Kings, so it should be no surprise that he has bumped his scoring to 9.4 per game in this new role. With DeMarcus Cousins possible dealing with an injury that could limit him, Patterson should continue to see opportunities to score.
Luis Scola, Suns (LAL, WAS, MIN, BKN): I had Scola as my Start of the Week a week ago, as I expected the veteran to see a larger role in light of a slew of injuries to the Suns' frontcourt. Unfortunately for my reputation, that ended up being an unmitigated disaster, as Scola appears to have been robbed of his basketball abilities recently. Scola has been in a steepening decline, and the Suns appear to have moves on from using him as a primary option. Scola was benched this week and has not played more than 14 minutes in any of the team's last three games. He has a decent schedule in Week 21, but at this point, I think Scola might be done as a useful Fantasy option.
Andrei Kirilenko, Timberwolves (@MEM, @SAC, @PHX, CHI): The Timberwolves have just nine healthy players right now, which is causing some problems for the guys who are trying to get healthy. Kirilenko appears to be close to returning to the floor, but there appears to be a snag; the Timberwolves do not appear comfortable getting Kirilenko into a game without a practice, and the Wolves just don't have enough bodies to run a practice with their current schedule. The team plays back to back games Sunday and Monday, before having two days off. Kirilenko might get a chance to practice Wednesday, but that might not be enough to convince the team that he is ready to get back on the floor following a nine-game absence with a calf injury. He is too risky to put in your lineup at the beginning of the week.
Bust Alert: Maurice Harkless, Magic (@IND, @NYK, OKC): Harkless' development has hit some bumps in the road, as Tobias Harris has become the youngster du jour in Orlando recently. Harkless is still averaging 10.0 points per game in the month of March, but he has also topped out at 12 points in his last five games. Harkless looks like a solid long-term piece, but the touches are going to Harris, not Harkless right now. With all three of his Week 21 opponents ranking above the league average in scoring defense, Harkless could disappoint the Fantasy owners who have come to rely on him.
Jermaine O'Neal, Suns (LAL, WAS, MIN, BKN): The only thing that has stopped O'Neal's return to prominence was a four-game absence due to family issues. O'Neal returned this week and picked up right where he left off, earning a starting role at Scola's expense to boot. O'Neal has scored in double figures in three straight games, averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in that span. The Suns open the week with a vulnerable Lakers defense that O'Neal is averaging 12.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game against this season. O'Neal should probably be in your starting line with four games on the way.
Sleeper Alert: Greg Stiemsma (@MEM, @SAC, @PHX, CHI): Stiemsma has been little more than a defensive specialist in his season-plus in the league, but the Timberwolves' injuries have forced him into a larger role recently. And, surprisingly, he has answered the call well, reaching double figures in scoring in three of the last five games. Stiemsma is averaging 30.2 minutes per game in that stretch, but is also shooting 54.8 percent and averaging 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game as well. Stiemsma is taking advantage of his chances, and looks like a worthwhile injury replacement in the shallow center position.
Robin Lopez, Hornets (GSW, BOS, MEM): Lopez remains the very definition of a borderline starting Fantasy option, as he ranks right near the end of the No. 2 centers list. Given the right matchup (like last Tuesday's game against the slow-footed Nets), he can be a useful Fantasy option. Unfortunately, he sandwiched a 15-point, eight-rebound performance last week between two six-point efforts. Lopez faces two of the tougher defensive frontcourts in the league in Week 21, after a warmup outing against the soft Warriors. I would say this is one of those weeks where Lopez will not be the guy you want in your lineup.
Bust Alert: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings (LAC, MIN, @DEN, PHI): We expected Cousins to take a step forward this season, and on the surface he has. His scoring average is down a bit from last season, but he has been more efficient overall, including keeping his foul rate at an all-time low. Unfortunately, Cousins remains as unreliable as ever, falling to score in double figures in three of six games in the month of March, while also posting back to back 20-point games prior to suffering a thigh injury. The thigh kept him out of the team's last game Wednesday, and it could continue to bother him. Sitting Cousins could be risky given his immense talent and ability to go off for a huge line at any point, but there are plenty of question marks around him right now.