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For the third time in three seasons, it looks like Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is going to have his season brought to an early and abrupt end by a serious injury. Two years ago, it was a ruptured Achilles that brought things crashing down in April, and the effects of that are still being felt.
He played in just six games after returning from that injury in December of 2012-13, before a knee fracture brought him down again. This season, he was clearly not the same player from before the injuries, and his inflexible will couldn't overcome the stress those injuries had put on his 36-year-old body. Bryant had basically become a part-time player over the last month, before his body let him down yet again, this time in the form of a torn rotator cuff that will almost certainly require season-ending surgery.
Even in his diminished state, Bryant was having a huge impact on the Lakers' offense, for better or worse. Though he played just eight of 16 games from Dec. 23 until his injury, Bryant was still averaging 13.5 field-goal attempts and 8.1 assists per game, enough to sustain a 28.5 usage rate in the month of January. Even though he isn't the player he once was, Bryant still couldn't help but exert a massive influence on his team, and his absence is going to leave a vacuum the Lakers will have to figure out how to fill.
The Lakers are a team in flux right now, especially with Jordan Clarkson's surprise elevation into the starting lineup Friday. Jeremy Lin didn't even see the floor in that game, while little-used reserves Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly joined Clarkson in a starting lineup that had never played even a second together before that game. Lakers coach Byron Scott is probably going to spend the next few weeks experimenting with different lineup combinations to see if he has anything to work with here, both for the rest of the season and next.
For that reason alone, you probably want to stay away from the Lakers in Fantasy Week 14 (Jan. 26-Feb. 1). This team isn't exactly overflowing with talent right now, and though someone will probably emerge from the muck as a useful Fantasy option, there isn't anyone obvious among the team's perimeter options, especially with the Lakers playing just three times this week.
The most obvious long-term fit would be Nick Young, who thrived as the team's primary scoring option last season in Mike D'Antoni's free-flowing offense. He has had much less success for Scott, even when Bryant hasn't been around. In nine games without Bryant in the lineup, Young is averaging 14.0 points per game, but doing little else. He has just 10 assists and 21 rebounds in those nine games, and is shooting just 33.7 percent from the field. If Young isn't scoring or shooting the ball well, he really isn't giving you much, so don't go crazy running out to add him. Even in 2013-14, for all of his scoring, Young finished just 118th overall in category-based formats.
Lin probably has the most upside of anyone on the roster from a Fantasy perspective, as his 14.7 points and 6.3 assists per-36 minutes average shows this season. However, Scott has made his displeasure with Lin's game pretty well known, and it's hard to see him earning a big role down the stretch, even if the Lakers probably need to boost his trade value if they want to get anything from him. If the team does decide to give him 30 minutes per game, Lin is a solid fourth Fantasy guard, but you shouldn't be optimistic after watching Scott bench him.
Wayne Ellington is another natural fit to replace Bryant, as he's been the guy to step into the starting lineup each time a spot has freed up. However, his averages as a starter are pretty pedestrian -- 10.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists -- and why would that change. The same mostly goes for Wesley Johnson, who was surprisingly pulled from the starting five for the first time Friday. He has a bit more utility as a forward in category-based formats, but he's not a high-volume scorer, so it's hard to see him getting much of a boost, if any, from Bryant's absence.
Clarkson is the lone wild card here. On a roster of retreads and lost causes, Clarkson might be the only reason for optimism. The combo guard was just the 46th pick in this year's draft, so it's fair to ask how much upside he actually has, but he is at least young enough to dream on. If the Lakers opt to develop him moving forward, Fantasy owners should at least take note. You know what guys like Johnson, Ellington and Ronnie Price can do, and it isn't much. At least Clarkson provides the possibility of developing into something useful. If you're in a deep league, Clarkson is at least worth a flier to see what he might become.
There isn't a whole lot to get excited about here. The frontcourt options are collectively underwhelming and redundant, and the perimeter options are either unproven or mediocre. Someone has to emerge from the rubble of this Lakers' season, but I don't think I want to tie my Fantasy team's fortunes to anyone.
Eric Gordon, Pelicans (49 percent started)
All right, I'm on board with this Gordon thing. I was skeptical as recently as a week ago, mostly because I didn't think Gordon could sustain Fantasy relevance in a role as the third ball-handler for the Pelicans. However, with Jrue Holiday dealing with a leg injury that could keep him out for up to a month, I'll gladly stick Gordon in my starting lineup at this point. The Pelicans have a solid three-game schedule on the way, and Gordon is averaging 16.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over six games with Holiday out, while making 37.0 percent of his 3-pointers at 1.7 makes per game. As long as Holiday is out and the schedule allows it, Gordon should make for a solid option in all formats. I would start Gordon over ... Joe Johnson, Elfrid Payton, Kemba Walker
D.J. Augustin, Pistons (17 percent started)
Early in the season, there was some debate in the Fantasy community as to whether Augustin would be able to press Brandon Jennings for playing time, and possibly even surpass him. That was based mostly on the perception that Stan Van Gundy would tire of Jennings' poor decision making before long, but I always thought it was totally overblown; for as frustrating as Jennings has been in his career, he's been better than Augustin almost without exception. Jennings ended up fitting in perfectly in Van Gundy's offense and was playing like a top-five Fantasy guard over the last month and put those concerns to rest, at least until he suffered what appears to be a very serious leg injury Saturday. Augustin has played well since the Pistons' decision to waive Josh Smith too, but his per-game numbers haven't exactly showed that. Still, he is averaging 14.7 points and 9.5 assists per-36 minutes over the last 16 games, and might be able to sustain something like that as a starter. The Pistons' schedule for Week 14 is just OK, but Augustin is worth starting if you happen to have him on your roster while we wait for a prognosis on Jennings' injury. I would start Augustin over ... Isaiah Thomas, Jarrett Jack, Elfrid Payton
J.R. Smith, Cavaliers (54 percent started)
The general perception of Smith is very similar to what it is with Dion Waiters, but reality shows there are some key differences in their games. Both players are wildly overconfident in their own abilities, and both shoot far too often for a team that features Lebron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving; these things are true. It is the nature of those shots, and how they come about that differentiates them, and makes Smith such a better option for this roster. Smith has taken 61.9 percent of his shots from 3-point range with the Cavaliers, and has taken 52.5% of his shots without taking a dribble first; just 25.1 percent of Waiters' attempts with the Cavs was a 3-pointer, and only 29.8 percent of his shots came without a dribble attempt before them. Smith simply fits in better with what this team needs, and if your Fantasy team needs high-volume shooting and scoring, he fits yours too. I would start Smith over ... Dion Waiters, Trey Burke, Ben McLemore
Tony Parker, Spurs (53 percent started)
Parker is starting to find his way, scoring at least 17 points in three of the last five games, while adding seven assists in two of those games. Fantasy owners who were patient with Parker -- or who wisely scooped him up off waivers if someone else wasn't -- should be rewarded before long, but Week 14 probably isn't the time. The Spurs play just twice in Week 14, and Parker just isn't at the point where you can pencil him into the lineup no matter what the schedule looks like. He's never going to be a huge volume contributor, so on a week where he has just two games, look for better options. You're bound to find one at the guard position, as deep as it is.
Brandon Bass, Celtics (17 percent started)
I'm not sure what there is to be gained from deciding to insert Brandon Bass into the starting lineup in the middle of January, when your team is 11 games under .500 and you have three recent first-round picks in your front court under the age of 26 who probably deserve minutes, but then, I'm not an NBA coach. Bass has played well of late, however, and the Celtics appear intent on getting him minutes while he is rolling. He has scored in double figures in four straight games after Friday's 17-point showing against the Nuggets, and has logged 30-plus minutes in two in a row. The Celtics will be without Kelly Olynyk through the All-Star break, so Bass should see plenty of run in Week 14, when the Celtics play four times. As a plug-and-play option, you can do a lot worse. I would start Bass over ... Ersan Ilyasova, Channing Frye, Cody Zeller
Gerald Henderson, Hornets (14 percent started)
The Hornets play just two times in Week 14, so Henderson certainly isn't a great start this week, but there is room for him to find success if you are desperate for help. Henderson is likely to be the first or second offensive option for the Hornets this week, with Kemba Walker's availability very much in doubt and the word "surgery" being thrown around as a result of his ongoing knee troubles. This is a very good schedule for Henderson as well, with the woeful Nuggets defense coming up right after the opening game against the Spurs. If you play in an average-based league, where counting stats are less important, Henderson could be a very good option this week, given the likely workload he could be looking at. I would start Henderson over ... Wilson Chandler, Channing Frye, Marcus Morris
Dorell Wright, Trail Blazers (32 percent started)
With Nicolas Batum dealing with a torn ligament in his wrist, Wright could be in line for a pretty sizeable roll this week. He has been used sparingly this season, but has the flexibility to shift between both forward spots for the Blazers, a good ability to have when both the small and power forwards on the roster are dealing with hand injuries that could put them down for a long time if they fall the wrong way. Wright has scored in double figures in two of the last three games, and could be a cheap source of 3-pointers while providing a little help across the board, assuming Batum misses time. I would start Wright over ... James Johnson, Solomon Hill, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Ryan Anderson, Pelicans (51 percent started)
Anderson's ankle injury is not serious enough that it is expected to keep him out multiple games, but I might still stay away this week. The Pelicans have some great matchups on the way, including games against the Nuggets and 76ers, but I'm not sure if you can rely on him right now. Anderson is shooting just 35.9 percent from the field over 10 January games. He is still adding 2.1 3-pointers per game, but his poor shooting from the field and mediocre results otherwise should be enough to keep you away at this point. I would still hang on to him, because Anderson is too skilled offensively to keep slumping like this, but it's hard to trust him right now.
Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors (71 percent started)
Valanciunas is a frustrating player to own. He can go from dominating a game to not playing in the fourth quarter without much warning, and he tends to disappear for stretches even when he's on the floor. However, he is riding a three-game double-digit scoring streak and has a great schedule on the way in Week 14, with four games on the schedule. He's the kind of perfect borderline candidate who goes from your bench to the starting lineup almost exclusively due to the schedule. With four games on the way -- including a couple against mediocre defensive teams in Sacramento and Brooklyn -- you should have Valanciunas in there this week. I would start Valanciunas over ... Timofey Mozgov, Marcin Gortat, Zaza Pachulia
Nikola Pekovic, Timberwolves (29 percent started)
This is a risky call to make with Pekovic playing limited minutes since his return from injury, and it only really applies to H2H Fantasy scoring formats. Pekovic doesn't get enough secondary numbers beyond points and rebounds to justify relying on in category-based formats, but he is still a nightly double-double threat, as he showed by posting a 13-9 in just 21 minutes against the Pelicans Friday. He averaged 20.0 Fantasy points per game in his first two games, and that would be enough to justify starting him with four games on the way. I would start Pekovic over ... Andrew Bogut, Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez
Al Jefferson, Hornets (46 percent started)
Given how rusty he looks, the Hornets are wisely working Jefferson back into things slowly as he returns from a groin injury. Jefferson is averaging 24.5 minutes per game in four since returning, and has more field-goal attempts (52) than points (51), a very bad sign for someone who takes most of his shots within 10 feet of the rim. He should get better as he gets his feet back under him, but it's tough to rely on Jefferson when he is struggling like this and only has two games to prove his worth.
(A higher strength-of-schedule ranking is a good thing, based on points allowed)
Hawks: Three games, 23rd in strength of schedule
Celtics: Four games, 14th in strength of schedule
Nets: Three games, 30th in strength of schedule
Hornets: Two games, 24th in strength of schedule
Bulls: Three games, 6th in strength of schedule
Cavaliers: Four games, 2nd in strength of schedule
Mavericks: Four games, 21st in strength of schedule
Nuggets: Four games, 19th in strength of schedule
Pistons: Three games, 14th in strength of schedule
Warriors: Three games, 17th in strength of schedule
Rockets: Three games, 8th in strength of schedule
Pacers: Three games, 7th in strength of schedule
Clippers: Four games, 11th in strength of schedule
Lakers: Three games, 22nd in strength of schedule
Grizzlies: Four games, 1st in strength of schedule
Heat: Three games, 18th in strength of schedule
Bucks: Three games, 28th in strength of schedule
Timberwolves: Four games, 2nd in strength of schedule
Pelicans: Three games, 11th in strength of schedule
Knicks: Four games, 5th in strength of schedule
Thunder: Three games, 13th in strength of schedule
Magic: Three games, 25th in strength of schedule
76ers: Four games, 9th in strength of schedule
Suns: Three games, 25th in strength of schedule
Trail Blazers: Four games, 25th in strength of schedule
Kings: Four games, 10th in strength of schedule
Spurs: Two games, 29th in strength of schedule
Raptors: Four games, 20th in strength of schedule
Jazz: Three games, 14th in strength of schedule
Wizards: Three games, 4th in strength of schedule
Add these players
D.J. Augustin, Pistons (52 percent owned), worth $15 FAAB bid
This was mostly covered earlier, so there isn't much more to say. Basically, if you have anyone on your roster that you can't see yourself starting with confidence most weeks, you need Augustin on your roster. With Jennings out 6-9 months, Augustin should have no competition for playing time at point guard in an offense that is designed for point guards to put up big numbers. I would use first waiver-wire priority for Augustin, even if I don't need a guard, because there will always be time to trade him down the stretch. He could be a true impact player, and those really are rare on waivers. As you'll see with the next two names, most of the time you're just hoping to get lucky with a pickup. Augustin would require bad luck not to be a starter for you.
Dante Exum, Jazz (34 percent owned), worth $5 FAAB bid
Exum impressed in his first two starts for the Jazz, but he did it in surprising ways. Exum's shooting was never considered his strongest skill, but he has set the nets on fire as a starter, nailing eight 3-pointers in two games, while taking 15 of his 19 shots from downtown. He has also dished out 4.5 assists per game to 2.5 turnovers in 32.3 minutes, and is showing the potential that made him a top-5 pick despite little experience against high-level competition. Still, he was supposed to be a dynamic athlete with a questionable jump shot, so it seems unlikely he will be able to keep this kind of success up. Still, his upside is tantalizing enough that it is worth taking a flier on him to see if he can live up to it in the second half of the season.
Jordan Clarkson, Lakers (8 percent owned), worth $2 FAAB
You're basically taking a shot in the dark on Clarkson. His college numbers are pretty underwhelming, but he's an impressive physical specimen, with a 6'8" wingspan and 38.5" vertical leap, and that's what you're betting on here more than anything. He did averaging 22.6 points and 7.8 assists in five D-League games, but showed little 3-point shooting or ability to get to the free-throw line, two skills you'll need to see from him if he is going to make an impact. If you've got a streaming spot and don't need help right now, why not take a chance here while the Lakers are giving him a shot to start.
Kelly Olynyk, C, Celtics (69 percent owned)
Few players can match Olynyk's unique skill set at the center position, given his rare ability to dish out a decent number of assists while hitting 3-pointers. However, his production has been maddeningly inconsistent even at the best of times, and these are certainly not the best of times. Olynyk missed three weeks with an injury to his right ankle last season, and is now expected to be out until the All-Star break with an injury to the same one suffered this week. With an extra-long All-Star break this season, Olynyk may not be back until Feb. 20, nearly four weeks from now. Olynyk is not good enough that you have to stash him if he's out for that long.
Jusuf Nurkic, C, Nuggets (67 percent owned)
Nurkic was the hot commodity in Fantasy hoops just a few weeks ago, when he was dominating opposing second units and posting massive per-minute lines off the bench, and forcing the Nuggets' hand on a Timofey Mozgov trade. However, there was always one major red flag in his numbers, and that was his foul rate. Part of his huge per-minute numbers was his foul rate, which has remained above 7.0 per-36 minutes for most of the season. Nurkic simply can't stay on the floor long enough to live up to his potential when he is fouling like that. And, now that he's no longer facing bench units that haven't scouted him, Nurkic is finding life in the NBA to be much more difficult, as he is shooting just 42.9 percent from the field over the last 10 games. Nurkic is still a must-own for dynasty and keeper leagues, but if you were snagging him in a 10-or 12-team league, it is probably safe to part ways at this point.