SleepersFebruary 16, 2009

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Sleeper Watch

By Phil Londen

With the All Star Game festivities (thankfully) behind us, it’s time to try and find some production off the wire after a particularly brutal injury season this year in the NBA. Big men have been especially hard hit so finding some front court production is a priority for many fantasy squads. Two guys that may be able to help what’s left of your fantasy front line are Joakim Noah and Joel Przybilla.

Joakim Noah
Having been drafted in the vast majority of competitive fantasy leagues, Noah has been making a resurgence in the fantasy world after a disappointing beginning to the season. In what is growing to be quite the theme this season, injuries to Chicago big man Drew Gooden has opened up increased minutes for second year energy-guy Joakim Noah. Currently, Noah is owned in exactly half of Yahoo! fantasy basketball leagues and is starting to come on strong over the past four games. Over these four games, he is averaging a beastly 10.3 points on 58 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from the line, 11.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.5 blocks with 1.8 turnovers. (Add a few points to this stat line and that is the kind of production some people were expecting out of Andrew Bogut this season). Barring any changes to the Chicago front court due to trades, Noah should be set to get plenty of run for the remaining games of the season.

Joel Przybilla
You may have noticed the absence of Gred Oden from the Sophomore-Rookie game this All Star Game weekend. A recent MRI revealed that Oden has a chipped patella in his left knee and he is currently set to be reexamined on Tuesday. With the details sketchy coming out of Rip City, there is a possibility that the man-child is going to miss some time. In his absence, you can expect the Vanilla Gorilla to step in and put up dependable big man stats. In 13 games as a starter this season, Przybilla has averaged 24.2 minutes per game with 6.4 points on 86 percent shooting from the field and 86 percent from the line, with 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game, and 0.6 steals per game on about a turnover per game. Przybilla should only be added for teams looking to add rebounds, field goal percentage, and blocks with low turnovers. If you are looking to try and overcome the shock of losing Al Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum or Elton Brand, Przybilla is only currently owned in one-quarter of Yahoo! leagues.

In addition to Noah and Przybilla, the playing situations of Marreese Speights, Charlie Bell and Keith Bogans are worth monitoring over the next few games. Of these three players, Speights has shown the most fantasy production and promise this season and is worth a speculative add to see if he can build upon recent success.

Marreese Speights
Another guy that directly gains minutes and production from an injury to a premier big man is Marreese Speights. Speights has had his minutes held back this season by having to come off the bench behind Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert, and Thaddeus Young. With Elton Brand out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, Speights should see an increased role on the team. His per-36 minutes stats so far in his rookie season certainly are impressive, leading you to believe that he could have some serious fantasy potential down the line if he continues to improve and get more minutes. This season, per-36 minutes, Speights is averaging 18.9 points on 53 percent shooting from the floor and 79 percent shooting from the line, 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.0 steal and 1.9 blocks with 1.5 turnovers. His last three games before the All Star break were promising as well. What is most surprising about this rookie is that he is only owned in 14 percent of Yahoo! leagues. So if you are looking for a big man fill-in with more fantasy potential than the Vanilla Gorilla, take a look at Philadelphia’s Marreese Speights.

Charlie Bell and Keith Bogans
If you are looking for some deep league help, then take a look at a couple of Milwaukee Bucks with an opportunity to earn minutes. One of the most injury-laden teams in the NBA this season has certainly been the Bucks, who have lost two pillars of their franchise to injury in Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd. After trading their backup point guard, Tyronne Lue, to the Magic, and the immediately suffering an injury to their starting point guard, Luke Ridnour, the Bucks suddenly found themselves with a thin back court. That is where virtually unowned Bucks guards Charle Bell and Keith Bogans come on to the scene. While neither has been a particularly attractive fantasy option so far this season, both Bell (2006-07) and Bogans (2007-08) have proven that they can provide serviceable fantasy production if given the opportunity. The situation in Milwaukee is worth monitoring to see if either of these guys can carve out a productive role for themselves this season. The opportunity is certainly there, but with Scott Skiles in charge, it is hard to know which players will be able to hold a steady role.

With the future uncertain for many big men in the NBA, turn to Joakim Noah, Joel Przybilla and rookie Marreese Speights to bolster your thin fantasy front court. If you are looking for a deep league plug in at guard or for a couple of guys to throw on your watch list, monitor the shooting guard situation in Milwaukee very closely to see if either Charlie Bell or Keith Bogans can step-up and produce.

Phil Londen is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Phil in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of plonden.
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