We’re nearing the end of March, so if you’re still interested in reading an article of this nature, chances are you’re knee deep in your fantasy basketball league playoffs. Most leagues are rounding into the semifinals and championship rounds by now, and making the right free agent pickups could help secure you that coveted trophy, or gift certificate to Applebee’s or whatever you win for coming in first place in your league.
It’s important to note that certain NBA teams who have clinched playoff spots may be resting players and it’s equally important to recognize which lottery teams will be “showcasing” their young talent as a way to audition them for next season.
Here is my list of players you should be on the lookout for. As always, all players listed are under 50 percent owned in ESPN and Yahoo! leagues:
Brandon Bass- PF, C (Celtics): After signing a three-year/$19.35 million extension with Boston in the offseason, Bass had failed to produce most of the year. The man who was acquired in a trade that sent fan-favorite, Big Baby Davis to Orlando, was quickly becoming an afterthought in Coach Doc Rivers’ rotation, but an injury to Kevin Garnett has opened up a new window of opportunity. Over the last 10 games, Bass has averaged 10.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks, which is well over his career average of 0.6 blocks per game. This run was culminated by a season-high 22 points in Wednesday’s win over Cleveland. With an eye on keeping the C’s healthy for the playoffs, it looks like KG will be rested for a little while longer, and with a four-game schedule coming up next week you need to grab this guy now. (36.9% owned ESPN, 50% owned Yahoo!)
Jimmy Butler- SG, SF (Bulls): Like Bass, Butler is another player who has taken advantage of the recent injuries that have plagued his team. Starting shooting guard Marco Belinelli has missed the past two games with an abdominal strain (and was ineffective for the two games prior) and there are talks of Rip Hamilton shutting it down for the year, so Butler seems poised to continue logging heavy minutes. He brings a youthful energy to the court and Coach Tom Thibodeau has taken notice, as the Marquette product has played 33.2 minutes per game over his last five contests. In that span he is averaging 13.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 three-pointers and 1.4 steals, while shooting 51 percent from the field. Maybe the Golden Eagles’ run to the Elite 8 is inspiring him. The Bulls finish the season with a 4-4-2 weekly schedule. (2.8% ESPN, 9% Yahoo!)
Jerryd Bayless- PG, SG (Grizzlies): Bayless was one of the sleepers I touted in the preseason due to the high level of success he’s had as a starter in the NBA, but it took Rudy Gay getting traded to Toronto for this to finally come to fruition. After this week, the Grizz finish the season on a 4-3-2 weekly game schedule, and because of that Bayless is a guy that needs to be in your lineup. With Gay gone, Coach Lionel Hollins needs another wing scorer and Bayless has been fitting that mold. Over his past eight games he’s been lighting up the box scores to the tune of 18.6 points and 2.37 threes. It’s crazy to me that his ownership is still so sparse, so get him immediately before people come to their senses. (43.4% ESPN, 25% Yahoo!)
Jonas Valanciunas- C (Raptors): The Lithuanian-born center has been a project all season long, but he finally seems to be making the best of his recent uptick in playing time. Many fantasy basketball owners used some late-round picks on him hoping that they’d found a sleeper, but he soon fell out of favor, mostly due to the time he missed while injured as well as his relative ineffectiveness when Andrea Bargnani went down with his own injury. Amir Johnson has seen his minutes decline lately because of “wobbly” ankles and a leg contusion, and that has only been a boon for Valanciunas, leading to 27.8 minutes over his last 10 games played. In those games he has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds, while shooting an incredible 70 percent from the field and a very impressive 84 percent from the line. Numbers like that can be scarce on the waiver wire this late in the season, and are especially helpful because they are coming from the center position. The Raptors are going nowhere and Coach Dwane Casey wants to see what he has in the 20-year old, so those increased minutes and productivity should continue. Toronto finishes their 2012-13 campaign with weeks of 4, 3 and 2 games each. (31.1% ESPN, 25% Yahoo!)
For Fantasy Basketball advice, as well as New York Knicks and NBA coverage, you can follow me on Twitter: @SethDaSportsMan