Two rookie guards have already been thrust into their starting lineups. Find out why they should be owned in almost all leagues.
The Outlook goes around the league, team by team, and examines which players are hot and cold, and which players you should keep an eye on. The outlook for Week 6 suggests 100 players who are safe starts and 37 players who are borderline, so if your league is much smaller or larger, adjust accordingly. As always, let's start with a look at the schedules for the coming week. Listed first are the number of games played for each team, followed by five teams with poor and favorable schedules.
Four games: BOS, CHA, IND, LAC, LAL, MIN, NY, PHI, POR, UTA, WAS Three games: ATL, CHI, CLE, DAL, DEN, DET, GS, MEM, MIA, MIL, NJ, OKC, ORL, PHO, SA, TOR Two games: HOU, NO, SAC
1. Sacramento Kings (2 games: Utah, Denver) 2. Golden State Warriors (3 games: Miami, @Houston, @San Antonio) 3. Oklahoma City Thunder (3 games: @Charlotte, @Orlando, @Miami) 4. Toronto Raptors (3 games: @Denver, @Utah, Portland) 5. Indiana Pacers (4 games: LA Lakers, @Boston, @Cleveland, Boston)
1. Los Angeles Lakers (4 games: @Indiana, @Philadelphia, @Washington, Milwaukee) 2. Utah Jazz (4 games: @Sacramento, Miami, Toronto, @Phoenix) 3. Charlotte Bobcats (4 games: Minnesota, Oklahoma City, @Milwaukee, Cleveland) 4. Miami Heat (3 games: @Golden State, @Utah, Oklahoma City) 5. Chicago Bulls (3 games: Philadelphia, @Milwaukee, Washington)
1. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
At first I didn't consider Westbrook to be a top pickup, but then I saw that the rookie is currently owned in just 19.9 percent of ESPN leagues. The rookie point guard was considered somewhat raw coming out of college, but rookie coach Scott Brooks must like what he's seen, because he inserted Westbrook into the starting lineup on Saturday and gave him 38 minutes of playing time. Russell scored just 12 points, but he pulled down 5 offensive rebounds, dished out 4 assists, grabbed 2 steals and led his team to a victory. Considering it was just the Thunder's second win of the year, the latter fact is key. In his last 5 games, Westbrook is averaging 12.8 points, 6.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals, and he's shooting over 80 percent from the line for the season. Like most rookies he'll be somewhat inconsistent, but if he continues to dish out that many assists, he'll be a better-shooting version of Rajon Rondo. If he's still available in your league, pick him up ASAP!
2. Eric Gordon, Clippers
I mentioned Gordon as a "Fill-in" pickup last week, but he's clearly going to be much more than that. With Ricky Davis ailing, Gordon was placed into the starting lineup last Wednesday and responded with tw0 monster games in a row, combining for 49 points, 8 steals, 8 threes and 7 assists. Gordon struggled on Saturday and left with a strained hamstring, but the injury is minor and he should be back soon. Since the Clippers likely won't be contending for a playoff spot this year, they have plenty of reasons to give the rookie more playing time. He's an explosive scorer, and he's going to learn a lot playing with Baron Davis. He's currently owned in just 18 percent of ESPN leagues, so swoop him up before his next big game.
3. Tim Thomas, Knicks
Mike D'Antoni recently said that Thomas isn't in good enough shape to play in his offense, but he's still given him an average of 27.7 minutes of playing time in three games since the trade. In those contests, Thomas averaged 14.3 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 2.3 treys per game, making him a solid pickup for the time being. One reason he's gotten extra playing time is the absence of Cuttino Mobley. If Mobley's heart condition forces him to miss an extended period of time, Thomas could have very good long-term value, because the Knicks just aren't very deep right now. If you need outside shooting help, you should definitely consider picking him up.
Even in deep leagues, most of these players will usually fly under the radar, but they could fill-in quite nicely.
For steals and assists:Antonio Daniels, Wizards and Rodney Stuckey, Pistons
Daniels averaged just 24 minutes in Washington's first four games before sitting out six of their next eight games with knee soreness. However, he returned last week and played 38 minutes on Saturday, scoring a season-high 10 points. The Wizards are desperate for solid point guard play, so if Daniels' knee can handle it, he'll continue to get big minutes. In 63 starts last season, he averaged 5.1 dimes and 1.1 steals, which are solid numbers for a guy who's available in almost all leagues.
Many people were high on Stuckey entering this season (I said to be careful of him), but he got off to a poor start and was likely dropped in almost all leagues. However, his playing time has increased recently and he's been much more aggressive offensively, averaging 13.3 points, 7 assists and 2 steals over his last three games. If you're looking for a point guard with upside, and Westbrook is already gone, consider taking a flier on Rodney.
For assists and threes:Anthony Johnson, Magic and Luther Head, Rockets
Johnson was signed by Orlando to be Jameer Nelson's backup, but he's been thrust into the starter role due to Nelson's strained hip flexor. Johnson has responded with 31 points, 20 assists, 2 steals and 6 threes in his last three games, making him a nice short-term pickup. After all, any PG playing with Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu is bound to rack up some assists.
After barely playing at all in Houston's first 16 games, Luther Head was suddenly placed in the starting lineup and given 41 minutes of action on Saturday. He responded with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 threes and 2 steals, showing that he didn't need any time to shake off the rust. Head has always been a superb shooter and scorer when he gets enough minutes, and Houston has enough weapons for him to dish out some dimes as well. He shot just 1-for-7 on Sunday, but he started once again and still had 4 boards and 4 assists. With both Tracy McGrady and Brent Barry ailing, and Shane Battier not 100 percent just yet, Head could be a decent short-term pickup.
For points and threes:Courtney Lee, Magic
What does Lee have in common with Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Michael Beasley and Brook Lopez? All five youngsters were 2008 Orlando Summer League First Team selections. In those five summer league contests, Lee averaged 28.4 points, 1.7 steals, 1.6 threes and 1.1 blocks, so he's clearly a big-time scorer with some athleticism. With Mickael Pietrus out for up to five weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb, extra minutes are available at the shooting guard shot. J.J. Redick has been starting, but he hasn't done much of anything, so keep an eye on Lee and pick him up if he has a big game.
Atlanta Hawks (3 games)
Josh Smith had his first full workout in nearly three weeks on Thanksgiving morning, and is planning on playing in Atlanta's next game, so don't forget to activate him. After going 0-for-6 from beyond the arc in the season opener, Mike Bibby made 40 threes and shot 47 percent from beyond the arc in November. Mo Evans had been putting up solid numbers lately, but he'll go back to being an inconsistent option due to J-Smoov's return.
Start: Joe Johnson, J-Smoov, Bibby, Al Horford, Marvin Williams
Boston Celtics (4 games)
In Boston's last two games, Kevin Garnett has totaled 26 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks, while Kendrick Perkins has racked up 23 points, 19 boards and 6 blocks. What is wrong with this picture? Rajon Rondo has nabbed 2-plus steals in nine straight games, and now ranks fourth in that category. After a very slow start, Tony Allen has now scored in double figures in five of his last six games and grabbed 9 steals in the same time span. Keep an eye on him in case his minutes increase.
Start: Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rondo, Perkins Watch: T. Allen
Charlotte Bobcats (4 games)
The Bobcats have struggled thus far, but Jason Richardson returned to action last week and looks like a safe start for week 6. D.J. Augustin has moved back to the bench, but he's still getting lots of playing time and putting up solid stats. How inconsistent has Raymond Felton been? In his last three games, he's scored 4 points, 31 points (a career-high) and 4 points.
Start: J-Rich, Gerald Wallace, Felton, Emeka Okafor, Augustin
Chicago Bulls (3 games)
In Derrick Rose's first full month in the NBA, he averaged 18.9 points, 6.1 assists, and 2.6 turnovers on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 85.4 percent from the line. Not bad, but things will likely get tougher from here on out. Drew Gooden is red hot, averaging 19.4 points and 10.6 rebounds in his last five games. Luol Deng's stats should improve soon, but I can't say the same for Joakim Noah or Tyrus Thomas, as coach Vinny Del Negro has effectively killed both of their fantasy values. I just dropped Noah, and Thomas isn't far behind.
Start: D. Rose, Ben Gordon, Gooden Borderline: Deng Bench: Ty Thomas, Larry Hughes, Andres NocioniDrop: Noah
Cleveland Cavaliers (3 games)
The Cavs are rolling right now, as they've beaten their last five opponents by an average margin of 18.8 points. As a result, LeBron James only had to play 31.2 minutes in those five games, and is averaging a career-low 35.7 mpg this season. With only three games the week ahead, Delonte West and Ben Wallace are borderline starters, while Anderson Varejao should be benched.
Start: LeBron, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo WilliamsBorderline: D. West, B. Wallace Bench: Varejao
Dallas Mavericks (3 games)
We all know that Dirk Nowitzki can score, but now he's hitting the glass hard: the soft 7-footer is averaging 11.1 boards in his last seven games. JasonTerry has been phenomenal this season, but it's hard to imagine him keeping this pace up. Is there a more frustrating player to own than Josh Howard? It seems like his health is "questionable" half the time, and I don't suggest starting him until he actually plays.
Start: Dirk, Jason Kidd, Terry Bench: J. Howard, Erick Dampier
Denver Nuggets (3 games)
To answer my previous question, YES, there is a more frustrating player to own than Josh Howard, and that man is J.R. Smith. On Wednesday, Smith didn't play at all because he was late for practice. On Thursday, he busted loose for 32 points, 5 threes, 4 assists and 2 steals against his former team. On Saturday, he played just 7 minutes and did nothing. Then on Sunday, he scored 19 points and had 5 treys and 4 assists again. Of course, he got extra playing time on Sunday because Carmelo Anthony left the game early. It was finally revealed that 'Melo's shooting elbow has been bothering him since training camp, which helps explain his poor shooting thus far. Check back on Monday afternoon for an injury update, and if Anthony can't play on Tuesday, roll the dice with Junior.
Start: Chauncey Billups, Nene, Kenyon MartinBorderline: Anthony, J.R. SmithBench: Linas KleizaWatch: Chris Andersen
Detroit Pistons (3 games)
Allen Iverson is already clashing with his new team, and he's scored 20-plus points just once in his last seven games. Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace have fallen back to Earth recently, but both are still solid starts. Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson have been alternating nice games, so it's tough to rely on either one at this point.
Start: Iverson, Rip Hamilton, Prince, R. Wallace Borderline: Rodney Stuckey Watch: Maxiell, Amir
Golden St. Warriors (3 games)
I know that the Warriors don't like to play defense, but allowing an average of 123.3 points to their last four opponents is beyond awful. Andris Biedrins has cooled down a bit from his stellar start, but you obviously can't complain if you own him. Stephen Jackson missed Saturday's game with a sprained wrist, and his status for Monday's game is currently up in the air. Kelenna Azubuike might still have value if Jackson's injury lingers, but I dropped him last week and you should look to replace him. Brandan Wright and Anthony Morrow can safely be dropped for the time being, but all of the Warriors rookies should be watched closely.
Start: Biedrins, Jamal Crawford, Corey MaggetteBorderline: S. Jackson Bench: C.J. Watson, AzubuikeWatch: A. Randolph, B. Wright, Morrow
Houston Rockets (2 games)
The inevitable finally happened, as T-Mac has now missed three games in a row with his knee injury. He's going to meet with the world-renowned Dr. James Andrews on Monday, so stay tuned for more information. Ron Artest shot a miserable 32.7 percent from the field in November, and the Rockets play just twice in Week 6, but you still might want to start him because their opponents are the Clippers and Warriors. Shane Battier is back, but I don't suggest starting him just yet.
Start: Yao Borderline: Artest Bench: T-Mac, Rafer Alston, Battier, Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, Luther Head
Indiana Pacers (4 games)
T.J. Ford is averaging a career-high 14.6 points, but a career-low 5.3 assists per game. I'm sure his owners would love to see less shooting and more passing. Troy Murphy is officially back to being a double-double guy, as he's one of just four players averaging 10.5-plus rebounds and points (Dwight Howard, Biedrins, and Chris Bosh are the others). Marquis Daniels continues to play well, but the Pacers have a horrific schedule this week, so consider benching him. Brandon Rush has been getting a lot of burn recently, so keep an eye on the rookie.
Start: Danny Granger, Ford, Murphy Borderline: M. Daniels Bench: Mike Dunleavy, Rasho Nesterovic, Jeff Foster, Jarrett JackWatch: B. Rush
L.A. Clippers (4 games)
The Clippers had a gutsy win on Saturday, but they remain at the bottom of the Pacific Division. Chris Kaman is sidelined with a foot injury, so get him on your bench. Zach Randolph exploded for 27 points and 13 boards in his absence, and both he and Marcus Camby will be excellent starters while Kaman's out. Eric Gordon didn't practice on Sunday, so he's a borderline start this week. Ricky Davis is out with a knee injury, so the struggling veteran is no longer worth owning.
Start: Baron Davis, Z. Randolph, Camby, Al ThorntonBorderline: E. Gordon Bench: Kaman DDrop: R. Davis L
L.A. Lakers (4 games)
The Lakers have a very favorable schedule this week, so I recommend starting almost all of them. After failing to score 15 points in his first eight games, Andrew Bynum has scored 15-plus in his last four games now. Despite playing a career-low 25.4 minutes, Lamar Odom is averaging a career-high 1.4 steals per game.
Start: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Trevor Ariza, Derek FisherBorderline: Vlad RadmanovicWatch: Jordan Farmar
Memphis Grizzlies (3 games)
O.J. Mayo is averaging 26.6 points in his last five games, and he's raised his field-goal shooting to a very solid 46.4 percent. Darrell Arthur picked up 4 fouls in just 8 minutes on Saturday, so he can safely be dropped. Darko Milicic actually had a couple of decent games last week, but he's got to show a lot more before I suggest picking him up.
Start: Rudy Gay, Mayo Borderline: Marc GasolBench: Mike Conley Drop: Arthur, Hakim Warrick
Miami Heat (3 games)
Dwyane Wade has made 53.8 percent of his 2-point shots and continues to dominate. It looked like Shawn Marion was starting to turn things around, but his line on Saturday was terrible (5 points, 1-6 FG, 5 turnovers). Michael Beasley followed up a 0-point performance on Friday with 24 points and 3 treys on Saturday. The Heat get to face the Warriors and Thunder this week, so I suggest starting Beasley and Mario Chalmers. Chris Quinn's minutes have plummeted, so feel free to drop him.
Start: Wade, Marion, Udonis Haslem, Beasley, Chalmers Borderline: Daequan CookDrop: Quinn
Milwaukee Bucks (3 games)
Michael Redd finally returned on Saturday, so get him back in your lineup. Unfortunately, Andrew Bogut has missed three games in a row and doesn't know when he'll return. Even if Redd's return pushes Ramon Sessions to the bench, Ramon will be more reliable than Luke Ridnour for the time being. Charlie Villanueva's playing time has been limited lately, but he's averaging a surprising 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in just 20.3 minutes over his last six games.
Start: Redd, Richard Jefferson, Sessions Borderline: Villanueva, Ridnour Bench: Bogut, Luc Mbah a Moute
Minnesota Timberwolves (4 games)
I don't want to jinx him, but Al Jefferson is currently shooting 80 percent from the line, which has solidified his status as a top 15 fantasy player. I thought that it was a mirage, but Mike Miller has scored in double digits just once in his last five games. Be more selfish Mike! Kevin Love finally had a solid game on Saturday (18 points and 12 boards), but he's still a risky start.
Start: A. Jefferson, M. Miller, Randy FoyeBorderline:Ryan Gomes, Love Bench: Sebastian Telfair
New Jersey Nets (3 games)
The Nets have won seven of their last nine games, and Devin Harris is dominating. The emerging superstar dropped 47 points and 8 assists on Sunday, and is now averaging a whopping 29.2 points and 6.6 assists in his last 10 games. Brook Lopez is averaging a solid 13 points, 8.6 boards, and 2.2 blocks in his last 5 games, almost ensuring that he'll keep his starting job when Josh Boone returns.
Start: Harris, Vince CarterBorderline: B. Lopez, Yi JianlianBench: Bobby SimmonsDrop: Boone
New Orleans Hornets (2 games)
Friday's game at Portland was a microcosm of the Hornets' season thus far. They played well in the first half, but were flat in the second half and lost by 15 points. They made 50 percent of their three-pointers as a team, but David West and Tyson Chandler COMBINED for just 15 points and 9 rebounds in 63 minutes. With just two games this week, Chris Paul is the only must-start player for New Orleans.
Start: Paul Borderline: D. West, Peja StojakovicBench: T. Chandler, James Posey
New York Knicks (4 games)
In case you missed the Knicks' 138-point performance vs. the Warriors on Saturday, the numbers were absurd. David Lee posted a Dwight Howard-esque 37 points and 21 rebounds, Al Harrington dropped 36 points and 5 threes, and Chris Duhon dished out a franchise-record 22 assists. With Cuttino Mobley out indefinitely, that trio is going to be relied on heavily. If Nate Robinson misses more games with a groin injury, Tim Thomas will also be a solid starter this week.
Start: Duhon, D. Lee, Harrington, Wilson ChandlerBorderline: Robinson, T. Thomas, Quentin RichardsonBench: Mobley
Oklahoma City Thunder (3 games)
Congrats if you drafted Russell Westbrook and hung onto him after his shaky start. He's now the starting PG, so you can safely start him. Earl Watson played 30 minutes off the bench, but he'll be very unreliable now that he's no longer starting. Chris Wilcox has picked up his play recently, but don't start him just yet. Nick Collison played just 7 minutes on Saturday, so drop him if you still have him.
Start: Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Westbrook Bench: Watson, Wilcox Drop: Collison Watch: Wilkins
Orlando Magic (3 games)
Injuries have hit the Magic hard, as Mickael Pietrus is now out 3-5 weeks with a thumb injury, and Jameer Nelson and Keith Bogans are still shelved. Consider starting Anthony Johnson while Nelson is out, and keep an eye on J.J. Redick and Courtney Lee to see if either emerges. In the meantime, expect Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu to put up better stats.
Start: D. Howard, Lewis, Turkoglu Borderline: A. Johnson Bench: Nelson, Pietrus Watch: Redick, C. Lee
Philadelphia 76ers (4 games)
You'd expect Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand to help each other's games, but both men are shooting career-lows from the field, and the 76ers have lost four games in a row. Samuel Dalembert has been extremely quiet lately, so start him at your own risk. Louis Williams and Marreese Speights are starting to get more playing time, so keep an eye on them.
Start: Brand, Iguodala, Andre Miller, Thaddeus YoungBorderline: Dalembert Watch: L. Williams, Speights
Phoenix Suns (3 games)
After voicing his frustrations with Terry Porter's new offense, Amare Stoudemire responded with 25 points, 12 boards, 2 steals and 2 blocks on Sunday before being ejected with two technicals. Let's hope he gets more touches going forward. Matt Barnes is averaging 12.6 points, 5.4 boards, 3.4 assists, 2.6 threes, .8 steals and .8 blocks in his last five games, and it looks like he's finally comfortable with his new team. As a result, Boris Diaw and Grant Hill should be dropped if you're still hanging onto them.
Start: Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Shaq, Barnes Borderline: Raja BellBench:Leandro BarbosaDrop: Diaw, G. Hill
Portland Trail Blazers (4 games)
After going 11 straight games without scoring 20-plus points, LaMarcus Aldridge dropped 27 against Rasheed Wallace, a player that many people are comparing him favorably to ('Sheed included). Greg Oden's minutes have increased and he's recorded two double-doubles in his last three games, so he looks like a safe start with four games thsi week. Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw have been pretty quiet recently, which isn't a good sign since Martell Webster is scheduled to return soon. I dropped Outlaw today, and suggest you start looking for a replacement if you have him.
Start: Brandon Roy, Aldridge, Steve Blake, Oden Borderline: Joel Przybilla, Fernandez Bench: Outlaw
Sacramento Kings (2 games)
The Kings have just 2 games this week, so John Salmons is the only solid starter. Francisco Garcia finally made his season debut last week, but he'll likely be rusty for awhile. Kevin Martin could also return soon, but you should probably bench him until you see him play.
Start: Salmons Borderline: Brad Miller, Beno Udrih, Spencer HawesBench:Kevin Martin, Garcia, Jason Thompson
San Antonio Spurs (3 games)
Both Manu Ginobili AND Tony Parker returned to action last week, so get them in your lineups. Roger Mason's value takes a big hit and he'll likely be very inconsistent now, but he's still starting, so you might want to hang onto him a little while longer. The rookie George Hill played well in Parker's absence, but he and Michael Finley can safely be dropped now.
Start: Tim Duncan, T. Parker, Ginobili Bench: R. Mason Drop: G. Hill, Finley
Toronto Raptors (3 games)
Chris Bosh finally came back to Earth on Sunday, scoring just 12 points. Of course, he was due for a subpar performance, especially against the Lakers. Jermaine O'Neal missed his third straight game, so check his status on Monday afternoon. Andrea Bargnani isn't shooting as well as he was before, but he's rebounding and blocking shots well.
Start: Bosh, Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Bargnani Borderline: J. O'Neal Bench: Jamario Moon
Utah Jazz (4 games)
Carlos Boozer is still out, but Deron Williams finally returned, dishing out 43 assists in three games. Andrei Kirilenko left Saturday's game with an ankle injury, making him a borderline start this week. With all of Utah's injuries, Paul Millsap has been superb lately. Make sure you start him this week. If Boozer and AK-47 are declared out for a couple more games, you may want to consider starting CJ Miles as well.
Start: D. Williams, Mehmet Okur, Millsap, Ronnie BrewerBorderline: Kirilenko, CJ Miles Bench: Boozer
Washington Wizards (4 games)
Caron Butler was sensational last week, averaging 27 points, 6.7 boards, 5.7 dimes, 2.7 steals, and 1.7 threes per game. After a slow start, he's close to being a top 10 player. Antawn Jamison has also been spectacular, but those are the only 2 Wizards that you can rely on right now. Antonio Daniels returned from injury and had a decent game on Saturday, so consider replacing Nick Young with him. Andray Blatche had a monster game vs. the Warriors (who doesn't these days?) and appears to be earning more minutes, so keep an eye on him.
Start: C. Butler, Jamison Borderline: A. Daniels, DeShawn StevensonBench: Gilbert Arenas, JaVale McGeeDrop: N. Young WATCH: Blatche