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With just a few weeks left until the Fantasy playoffs start, the margin for error is very small. Every game, week, and roster spot is vitally important, especially if you are fighting for a playoff spot.
And, of course, the irony of that for Fantasy owners is that we probably have more players dealing with significant injuries than at any other time all season. Chances are, you've got at least one or two players taking up a spot on your bench who you are just hoping can turn into a difference maker down the stretch when they get healthy.
And it isn't just injuries weighing Fantasy players down right now. In addition to the bevy of sidelined stars, there are plenty of players projected as Fantasy contributors who have struggled to live up to expectations who are probably sitting there at the end of your bench as well.
Figuring out who you want to hang on to and who isn't worth your time is of paramount importance heading into Week 19 (March 2-8), so here are some of the key names on Fantasy owners' minds as stash candidates. They are rated on a scale from 1-3, with 1 being "droppable," 2 being "worth owning" and 3 being "essential."
Kevin Durant - 3
Durant's ongoing foot troubles make him a very risky option, but you almost have to hang on to him and hope he returns soon enough to carry you. The only way I am moving Durant is if I can get a forward like Rudy Gay who can make an impact in the short and long-term in his stead.
Anthony Davis - 3
Can't even think about moving on from Brow, who could be back as soon as the end of this week, based on his initial timetable.
Kemba Walker - 3
There are concerns about his usage with Al Jefferson back, but I would bet the Hornets are going to lean heavily on Walker given the way Mo Williams has been used of late. Jefferson hasn't been quite as good this season, so Walker's mid-March return could vault him back into the top-15 among guards
Paul George - 2
If you're stashing George expecting the 2013-14 model, you are delusional. The Pacers will almost certainly limit his playing time at first, and his target date of March 14 doesn't leave much time for him to make an impact. The Pacers will have 18 games left from the 14th on, including four back-to-back sets. Assuming he sits half of those out, you are looking at just 14 games, including the time George will need to get back up to speed. And yet, even if he is just a 13-4-2 player with a steal and 3-pointer per game, that is a solid starter at forward this season.
Dwight Howard - 1
This is low, but it's hard to expect much of anything from Howard. Best-case scenario, he returns in mid-March, but the lack of updates on his recovery makes that seem unlikely. If he isn't back by the first week of the Fantasy playoffs, that might as well be a wasted roster spot, especially since you don't really know how effective Howard will be when he gets back.
Blake Griffin - 3
Unlike some of the other players listed here, Griffin isn't dealing with a structural issue. There's no question about the strength or structural integrity of the elbow once he gets back, it is just a question of how long it takes to heal. He had the stitches removed in his elbow last week and is no longer using a brace, so he could be back in time for the playoffs.
Steven Adams - 1
Adams has been a useful Fantasy option at times this season, but it's hard to see him being relevant even when he gets back from this injury. The Thunder's acquisition of Enes Kanter is only going to limit Adams' already limited Fantasy appeal, which makes stashing him a low-reward move.
Ryan Anderson - 2
If his return is closer to two weeks than four, it will make all of the difference, but you can't exactly rely on that. The inexact nature of Anderson's timetable makes him hard to trust, especially given the limited nature of his contributions this season; his numbers across the board are down, and now he has to get back up to speed from a knee injury.
Kenneth Faried - 2
Tempted to go "1" here, but Faried was so good after the All-Star break, I don't want to write him off. However, he and coach Brian Shaw clearly aren't on the same page, and has seen his playing time fall from 30.5 to 23.9 minutes per game from January to February.
Rajon Rondo - 1
Everyone is saying the right things, but it is clear Rondo isn't a fit in Dallas in any sense. His ball-stopping has bogged the offense down, and his attitude seems to have rubbed Rick Carlisle the wrong way. The days of Rondo as a nightly double-double threat are gone, and he might not even be a starting-caliber player at this point.
Lance Stephenson - 1
Stephenson is still owned in 78 percent of CBSSports.com leagues, though I can't figure out why. He is averaging just 16.0 Fantasy points per game over the last five, and is basically a one-category contributor in Rotisserie leagues. It's been time to give up on him for more than a few weeks now.
Tobias Harris - 2
A knee injury has slowed Harris down over the last couple of weeks, though he was doing very well just before the All-Star break and this injury. His production in January left much to be desired, and might have coupled with the injury to lead his owner to drop him. If that was the case in your league, scoop him up; Harris' scoring jumped 2.1 points per game after last year's break.
Danilo Gallinari - 2
It took a long time, but it looks like Gallinari is finally starting to get back to full strength following a season-ending knee injury back in 2012-13. He is averaging 16.2 points per game since the All-Star break, despite shooting just 39.4 percent from the field. He isn't really doing much for Fantasy players besides shoot and score, but that might be enough to make him a starter down the stretch. At the very least, his track record makes him worth a look.
Mo Williams, Hornets (67 percent started)
The Hornets have leaned heavily on Williams since acquiring him before the deadline, and he has responded with fantastic production overall. Williams is averaging 23.5 points, 6.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and a whopping 3.8 3-pointers per game as the Hornets point guard, and should continue to see a similar role for at least the next few weeks with Kemba Walker out. The fact that the Hornets have the easiest schedule in the league on the way should only help matters in Week 19, as they get to go up against three teams in the bottom half of the league in points allowed, with the Nets the only team in the top-15; they are 14th. Williams' time as a Fantasy starter has a deadline, but he should be in your lineup as long as Walker is out.
I would start Williams over ... Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Knight, Eric Gordon
Elfrid Payton, Magic (56 percent started)
Payton has just seven points combined in two games leading up to Sunday's matchup against the Hornets, but that hasn't really impacted his Fantasy appeal much. Sure, his shooting can be a drag, but you're not starting Payton for his scoring anyways; it's the rest of his game that makes Payton so interesting, and he has been rolling lately. He is averaging 8.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals while turning the ball over just 1.5 times per game in four contests since the All-Star break, and has one of the best schedules in the league on the horizon. Payton's limitations make him a borderline starter, but you have to like the way he is playing right now.
I would start Payton over ... Isaiah Canaan, Avery Bradley, Aaron Brooks
Devin Harris, Mavericks (12 percent started)
Harris didn't really see as much of a hit to his production as you might have expected upon the Mavericks' acquisition of Rajon Rondo, mostly because he was being used as a backup even before Rondo arrived. However, he has seen his role increase of late even with Rondo around, largely because he seems to fit better than Rondo, who has to dominate the ball and can't really do much when he doesn't have it in his hands. Harris can run the offense if he needs to, but is just as adept at spacing and running the floor when someone else has it. He is averaging 11.6 points, 4.6 assists, 1.4 3-pointers and 2.2 steals per game over the last five, and is a worthwhile option as a low-end starter in category-based leagues in his current role.
I would start Harris over ... Mario Chalmers, Marcus Smart, Nick Young
Bradley Beal, Wizards (28 percent started)
Beal looked rusty in his return to action Saturday, but that is to be expected. However, though he struggled with his shot, he managed to make an impact in other ways, contributing six rebounds, five assists and three steals in 33 minutes to his line. If I believed he could keep that kind of well-rounded play up, I think Beal could be a top-10 overall guard for Fantasy purposes. However, his peripheral production has often left much to be desired, and Beal doesn't shoot nearly as many 3-pointers as you would hope for someone with his ability. He is a relatively low-volume contributor, which makes it awfully hard to rely on him in Week 19, with the league's toughest schedule on the way. The Wizards played just three times this week, and that includes a back-to-back set, which offers its own set of complications for Beal, who could be at risk of sitting out or having his minutes limited in one half, given the nature of his ongoing injuries. With the depth at guard, you should have a safer play than Beal for the week.
Luol Deng, Heat (73 percent started)
Saturday's game was an abject disaster for Deng, as he finished with just eight points on 2 of 7 shooting, with just four rebounds and one assists, to go with eight turnovers. That's about as bad as you can possibly play over a 40-minute stretch. And yet, Deng is still putting up terrific overall numbers since the All-Star break, averaging 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 3-pointers per game in that time. He is getting to the free-throw line a bunch and thriving as a smallball power forward in Chris Bosh's absence, and that is a role I like quite a bit for him. Miami has a favorable schedule in Week 19, and you have to like the way he is playing in his new role.
I would start Deng over ... Thaddeus Young, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Tobias Harris
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Hornets (46 percent started)
It hasn't really been talked about much, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has really taken a solid step forward in his third season. He is still largely a non-factor away from the hoop, and it limits his offensive upside as a result. However, he has learned how to leverage his considerable athleticism in unique ways, drawing free throws at a high rate and becoming an elite rebounder for his position. He is averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game since the All-Star break, and will look to keep rolling in Week 19, when the Hornets face the best schedule in the league for Fantasy purposes. Whether this is just a hot streak or a true breakout for Kidd-Gilchrist, he should be worth starting either way this week.
I would start Kidd-Gilchrist over ... Tobias Harris, Chandler Parsons, Jeff Green
Nikola Mirotic, Bulls (8 percent started)
Mirotic has played 20-plus minutes in 19 games this season, and is averaging 11.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.6 3-pointers and 1.8 combined blocks and steals in those 19 contests. When he gets the minutes, Mirotic has proven he can be a difference maker, and the minutes should be there in Week 19 with Taj Gibson dealing with an ankle injury. As a fourth forward in category-based formats, Mirotic could be a big-time contributor this season.
I would start Mirotic over ... Trevor Ariza, Marcus Morris, James Johnson
Kyle Korver, Hawks (54 percent started)
Korver shoots so effortlessly that it's hard to imagine him ever slumping when things are going well. However, he has struggled to find his shot of late, connecting on just 34.0 percent of his shots overall and only 33.3 percent from 3-point range over the last five. Few players have as much of their Fantasy value tied up in their efficiency as Korver, so any shooting slump is going to impact him more. He is still taking and making a lot of 3-pointers, but the hit to your field-goal percentage probably isn't worth it. With just three games on the way in Week 19, see if you have better options before putting Korver in your lineup.
Enes Kanter, Jazz (65 percent started)
You'll have to keep a close eye on the injury reports before committing to Kanter for Week 19, but he could be a huge contributor if his thigh injury doesn't keep him on the sideline. Kanter averaged 15.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in his first four games with the Thunder, and could be the team's offensive focal point this week if Russell Westbrook's facial fracture keeps him out. There are, of course, a lot of moving parts here, but Kanter looks like a solid starting option as long as he is healthy.
I would start Kanter over ... Jonas Valanciunas, Omer Asik, Robin Lopez
Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves (52 percent started)
This is exactly why you never should have dropped Dieng, if you did. He hasn't been more than a borderline starting-caliber player since moving to the bench in late January, averaging 7.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and less than a block per game in 25.1 minutes per game in February. However, recent history has taught us that you simply cannot rely on Nikola Pekovic to stay healthy. He tweaked his ankle Saturday, and Dieng responded with 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Dieng can fill up the box score with the best of them when he gets the minutes, and the possibility of him getting an expanded role makes it tough to look past him this week, even with just three games on the schedule.
I would start Dieng over ... Nikola Pekovic, Marcin Gortat, John Henson
Marcin Gortat, Wizards (74 percent started)
Other players might grab the headlines, but Gortat has quietly been one of the bigger disappointments in Fantasy this season. Though he has perked up a bit since the All-Star break, he has consistently lost playing time late in games to seemingly lesser options, and hasn't averaged 12.0 points in a month since November. Gortat is averaging a double-double in 12 February games, so he hasn't been useless, but it is still hard to trust him, especially in Week 19. The Wizards face the toughest schedule in the league this week, with two of their three games coming against teams in the top five in points allowed per game.
(A higher strength-of-schedule ranking is a good thing, based on points allowed last season)
Hawks: Three games, 22nd in strength of schedule
Celtics: Four games, 15th in strength of schedule
Nets: Four games, 12th in strength of schedule
Hornets: Four games, 1st in strength of schedule
Bulls: Four games, 27th in strength of schedule
Cavaliers: Four games, 3rd in strength of schedule
Mavericks: Four games, 5th in strength of schedule
Nuggets: Four games, 24th in strength of schedule
Pistons: Three games, 28th in strength of schedule
Warriors: Four games, 12th in strength of schedule
Rockets: Four games, 23rd in strength of schedule
Pacers: Three games, 12th in strength of schedule
Clippers: Three games, 15th in strength of schedule
Lakers: Four games, 29th in strength of schedule
Grizzlies: Four games, 7th in strength of schedule
Heat: Four games, 3rd in strength of schedule
Bucks: Three games, 17th in strength of schedule
Timberwolves: Three games, 17th in strength of schedule
Pelicans: Four games, 8th in strength of schedule
Knicks: Three games, 25th in strength of schedule
Thunder: Three games, 20th in strength of schedule
Magic: Three games, 2nd in strength of schedule
76ers: Four games, 26th in strength of schedule
Suns: Four games, 19th in strength of schedule
Trail Blazers: Three games, 6th in strength of schedule
Kings: Four games, 11th in strength of schedule
Spurs: Three games, 8th in strength of schedule
Raptors: Four games, 20th in strength of schedule
Jazz: Four games, 10th in strength of schedule
Wizards: Three games, 30th in strength of schedule
Add these players
Andrea Bargnani, C, Knicks (51 percent owned), worth $10
When you are trolling the waiver wires looking for someone to add, it is generally best to steer clear of known commodities with little upside. At least someone like Jordan Clarkson or Isaiah Canaan has some mystery in his development; maybe they will end up being mediocre anyways, but the whiff of upside makes them a priority. However, sometimes you just want a sure thing, and that's what this week's waiver-wire segment is all about. Bargnani is about as known a quantity as you can get, even if some still cling to the vague notion of upside based on his draft status from nearly a decade ago. We know what Bargnani can and cannot do; he's an inefficient scorer, mediocre passer, disinterested defender and rebounder, and he hasn't shot better than 30.9 percent from 3-point range in five years. However, we also know he can put up numbers on a bad team, and this current iteration of the Knicks is a very, very bad team. Bargnani has a 25.8 percent usage rate with the Knicks, and is averaging 16.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game since the All-Star break. Bargnani is an extremely unappetizing option, and really only helps in two or three categories even in good times, but he should be a starting-caliber Fantasy option down the stretch if he stays healthy.
Jeremy Lin, G, Lakers (65 percent owned), worth $5 FAAB
Burying Lin before the trade deadline only to increase his role just as Jordan Clarkson is starting to hit his stride would be a very curious thing to do. Of course, little the Lakers have done this season makes much sense to outside observers, so why question this one? Lin actually played very well early in the season, shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from 3-point range in November, before being inexplicably benched in favor of Ronnie Price. That actually happened. In four games since the All-Star break, Lin has played at least 24 minutes in each, something he had not done in four straight before the break. There should be little question as to whether Lin can be productive if given the chance, so an increased role is only a good thing for Fantasy owners -- at least those not hoping for a big breakout from Jordan Clarkson.
Jonas Jerebko, F, Celtics (10 percent owned), worth $2 FAAB
Jerebko is one of those players I have long had an affinity for beyond his actual on-court contributions. Call me a spacing fetishist, but anyone with Jerebko's size and shooting ability is going to have a place in my heart. He has fit nicely in Brad Stevens' offense in Boston with his shooting, nailing seven 3-pointers in Wednesday and Friday's games, and averaging 18.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in just 22.5 minutes over those two games. He can't sustain that kind of shooting, but Stevens is going to give him a green light, just as he has Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. Given how weak the forward position, anyone with a pulse is worth a look. Jerebko is just 27 and could thrive in this offense, so he is worth a flier in deeper category-based leagues.
Nick Young, G, Lakers (41 percent owned)
Young put together the best season of his career in 2013-14, and parlayed that into a big contract with the Lakers this offseason. In light of that, this season has been nothing short of a disaster for him, and things aren't looking up lately. Young has shot better than 40.0 percent from the field in just one month this season -- a robust 40.3 mark in December standing as his best showing -- and hasn't made up for it much in any other way. He is averaging just 9.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 3-pointers per game in the month of February, and really doesn't provide any Fantasy value if he isn't scoring and hitting 3's at a high rate. With Wayne Ellington and Jeremy Lin pushing him for playing time, hanging on to Young just isn't worth it.
Patrick Beverley, G, Rockets (61 percent owned)
Some players are worth hanging on to during a slump. Someone like Korver might be worth benching when his shot abandons him, but you know he's going to turn it around before long, and will be useful in a pinch even while he works things out. Beverley isn't really one of these players. He is averaging just 6.9 points per game in the month of February, and has seen his scoring average drop in each consecutive month of the season. His 3-pointers made average has also fallen from 3.4 in November to 2.4 in December to 1.3 in February, and he hasn't done much to make up for it elsewhere. Beverley can be a decent source of assists and steals, but that doesn't really make up for three months of sub-40.0 percent shooting, capped off my a 28.8 percent mark in February. With how many guards are out there, I would rather take a chance on Jordan Clarkson; Beverley is still owned in more CBSSports.com leagues than Clarkson.