In the week after Christmas, all of the retail stores are looking to cash in before the New Year with various huge deals and discounts. It's not out of the ordinary to see signs for 80 percent off or special deals like five items for $5. Well, the Fantasy Lab has its own special this week as we near 2009: Nine players under nine percent owned. The following article profiles nine players who are not owned in more than 90 percent of Yahoo! and/or Sportsline leagues who are likely to help your fantasy team at some point in '09, if not as soon as next week in certain situations.
The Birdman is back in the NBA after a two-year hiatus and is flying high once again. Only he's doing it better than he ever did before his banishment, particularly so in the blocks department. Andersen is third in the league in blocks with 2.24 per game, yet he's doing it in a mere 17.1 minutes a night. That translates to a ridiculous pace of 6.2 blocks per 48 minutes. As the Nuggets' only legit backup 4 or 5 (until they possibly make a move for a warm body about 7-feet tall), Andersen figures to be in line for a big boost in minutes as the wear and tear slows down Nenê and Kenyon Martin -- two players who have rarely been healthy to begin with. Considering Andersen's rebound rate is better than both already, swoop in on the Birdman before he flies the coop with another owner.
These past two weeks have shown us that Jack is a fantasy game-changer when he's starting. T.J. Ford has only missed a couple of games so far, but he's known as much for his major injuries as he is for his quickness. We wish Ford all the best, but if he were to go down, Jack can run the show on this run-and-gun offense any day. Check out his stats from his three starts this year: 19.0 ppg on 50 percent shooting and 93.3 percent from the line (5.0 FTA), 3.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.0 spg and 1.0 3pg. Factor in his MPE (multi-position eligibility), and your team will truly have a jack of all trades.
Continuing the injury theme with this one -- a unifying characteristic for the vast majority of the recommendations in this edition of the Lab -- it wouldn't surprise anyone if Yao Ming couldn't make it through the year. In addition to being 7-foot-5 and 350 pounds, Yao has had one of, if not the most, hectic and heavy schedules of anyone since the moment he joined the NBA in '02. That likely is a major contributing factor to the stress fracture in his foot and the leg problems he's endured over the past couple of years. So while one can expect the best, he also must prepare for the worst, which means it's smart to have Landry firmly cemented onto your watch list. He's a 20 and 10 guy per 48 minutes, connects on more than 60 percent of his career FG attempts and is constantly improving in his second year in the league. One pick removed from the first round's guaranteed contract, Landry not only plays with a chip on his shoulder, this is also his contract year. If analogies are your thing: Yao is to Carlos Boozer as Landry is to Paul Millsap.
Power forwards who hit threes are few and far between -- aside from the other players on the Knicks roster. Still, Thomas is a rare bird in that he's capable of so much, yet chooses only to focus on the peculiar and less talented parts of his skill set. But Mike D'Antoni doesn't really seem to care about Thomas' love affair with the trifecta; in fact, his offense relishes it, and as long as he's part of the strict eight-man rotation, heavy minutes are his to play with. Thomas can be the difference for your squad as a PF with his 1.7 3pg average since becoming a Knickerbocker again. If he ever gets to 30 mpg, as he did last year with the Clippers, you can expect better numbers than the 12.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 2.7 apg averages he posted in the old, slower-paced system.
The second Pacer on this list, Rasho can be a decent third center when he's holding down the starting spot in Indy. Late last year in Toronto, and earlier this year, the Yugoslavian native was downright serviceable with scoring outputs of 20-plus points and dime sprees of up to 8 in an evening, aiding his sweet average (for a center) of 3.0 apg this season. Split stats from when he started of about 10 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg and 1 bpg, with strong FG and FT percentages, demonstrate he's capable of helping the tail end of your roster. If it wasn't for a six-turnover game that led to his benching, he'd probably be starting today. Rookie Roy Hibbert could throw a wrench into Rasho's starting plans, but Rasho could be on the move to a new team considering the Pacers' terrible record and probable eventual rebuilding efforts.
The prize of the free agent market, Elton Brand, is sidelined for at least a month with a fractured humeral head and torn labrum in his shoulder. Surgery can't be ruled out at this time, nor should it be with the way the injury looked when it happened. Enter M-A-Double R-Double E-S-E Speights. The Sixers' first-round pick this year out of Florida has quickly shown that he's not afraid to score and rebound at this level. Though he may run the floor with his arms dangling like a T-Rex, he uncoils those same long limbs for blocks in bunches on defense. He's had games of 2, 3 and 4 blocks in three of his last four outings and has scored 12-plus points in five straight. Enjoy the increasing production now, and if Brand's injury is slow to heal or surgery is required, Speights will have to assume the low-post scoring weight longer.
After starting the first seven games of the year, Johnson was demoted to the bench and then banished with five straight DNP-CDs in mid-December. Undaunted, the 21-year-old worked hard and stayed ready, allowing him to excel on Saturday in his temporary return to the starting role due to a Rip Hamilton ailment. Johnson racked up 8 points, 11 boards, 1 steal and the oh-so-important 4 blocked shots. Joe Dumars banked on Johnson, contributing greatly this season, but then he decided to blow up his squad with the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson deal, leaving Michael Curry to fit the scattered pieces together. Johnson can re-emerge with strong defensive efforts and buoy your blocks, rebounding and shooting categories in the process. Nearly two blocks per game out of the SF spot is invaluable.
The Lab considered profiling SF/PF Brandan Wright of the Warriors and Robin Lopez of the Suns here, but Haywood seems more appropriate for the bill because his presence doesn't require a trade or a major injury to clear playing time. Haywood is still out indefinitely due to wrist surgery, but he should be back sometime in '09. Chances are he'll be out of shape, but the Wizards are desperate for coordinated big men, and youngsters Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee make too many mistakes to be trusted. Granted, the Wizards aren't playoff bound, but Haywood will play minutes upon his return and will perform his usual duties of blocking a couple of shots and gobbling up rebounds. Watch for injury updates as they become available and consider Haywood for your fourth center spot at the appropriate time.
Saved by Zero!
And as a special bonus, inspired by those annoyingly catchy car commercial jingles stolen from terrible '80s music, the following is a player owned in 0 percent of leagues who could be very valuable sometime soon in the New Year ... if the theme of the article continues and a certain someone gets bit by the bug.
The diminutive Michigan native is Chris Duhon's backup at PG, a spot that warrants only limited minutes at best, and several DNP-CD's on an average day. D'Antoni rides Duhon like a thoroughbred coming down the stretch at the Belmont Stakes for the final jewel in the Triple Crown, which is to say that he's riding him hard. Duhon has played all 48 minutes twice already in December and is second in the league in minutes at 39.7 mpg. At the pace the Knicks run, and considering he's averaged only 22 and 24 mpg over his last two years, Duhon is bound to wear down soon. Enter Roberson, or Peep, as his friends call him. He's more of a scorer than a distributor, which isn't a bad thing in this offense, but if he's going to be playing big minutes, the numbers will follow. Just stash his name away for a rainy day.
That's it for this week's rendition of the Fantasy Lab. Have a safe and happy New Year and remember: Fantasy Ball Above All.