Monday, March 30, 2009

Above the Rim: Central Division Injury Watch

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons are both experiencing fluid rosters due to injuries as they make their playoff pushes; the Cavs are going for the league’s best record while the Pistons are trying to hold onto a playoff spot.

Cavaliers- even though the Cavs won a franchise record 12th straight game on Sunday, when Ben Wallace returns, look for Coach Mike Brown to return to his normal starting lineup with Wallace at power forward and Anderson Varejao coming off the bench. For fantasy owners, this means a few things. First, if you own Wallace, expect similar production from him when he returns around his current averages of 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Don’t expect too much else because Wallace did not magically learn to shoot while he was out.
As for the rest of the Cavs’ bigs, Varejao is going to take the biggest hit from a fantasy perspective. In 16 starts in March, Varejao was 10.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1 steal and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting 58.6% from the floor. The most encouraging sign for Cavs’ fans and Varejao owners was his increased chemistry with MVP candidate LeBron James. Varejao received a good deal of his shots on pick-and-rolls and backdoor cuts in which LeBron would thread the needle with a pass that Varejao would finish. Whether Varejao starts or not, he should be on the court with The King as much as possible. With Varejao most likely coming off the bench, his numbers will settle back towards the 7-8 points and 6-7 rebounds he averaged when coming off the bench this season. One thing to be careful of, however, is that when Wallace returns, the Cavs will have Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Varejao, and Joe Smith all healthy and on the roster for the first time this season. This will mean further reduction in playing time for Varejao and Smith. While Varejao can still be productive, do not rely on him as heavily as you may have been this month because he will not maintain his near double-double production for much longer.
As for Smith, he has averaged 7.1 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting over 55% since signing with the Cavs. Sunday’s 12 point, 13 rebound effort fueled a Cavs comeback over the Mavericks and moved the Cavs to 12-1 since picking up Smith. However, like with Varejao, his fantasy production is going to decrease with Wallace’s return signaling less playing time. While he will still be effective and productive, he may settle around closer to 6 points and 4 rebounds and may have played out his fantasy value. For both Varejao and Smith, this decrease is not due to declining performance, just the potential for less playing time and opportunities. Keep an eye on the situation in Cleveland as both may continue to produce at this level although it cannot be expected.

Pistons- Detroit was hurting earlier this month with Richard Hamilton, Allen Iverson, and Rasheed Wallace all injured, but Hamilton and Iverson have since returned. This means that those of you playing Walter Herrmann for his 5.3 points (above his 3.7 season average) and 2.2 rebounds in March will need another source of potential scoring off the bench. The first place to look is probably to Herrmann’s Pistons’ teammate Will Bynum. In the month of March, Bynum has been averaging 11.4 points (nearly twice his average of 6.1), 4.1 assists (2.5 on the season) and 2.1 rebounds (1.1 for the season) off the bench. Bynum has also contributed 1.1 steals and is shooting 49% from the floor. Included in this month, Bynum has 3 20-point games and another of 19. Pick up Bynum for the stretch run in your league if you need points, assists, and a little rebounding. The only thing he has not been doing well is shooting from 3-point range where he has yet to hit a shot this month.
With Wallace still out, look to current starter Kwame Brown for inside production. While not all that productive, Brown is averaging a season best 4.9 points in March to go with 5.8 rebounds. In seven starts, Brown has reached double digit points twice and double digit rebounds twice while playing around 25 minutes per game. If he continues to start, expect him to average closer to 7 points and 7 rebounds while occasionally coming close to double-doubles. Wallace is expected to return on Tuesday, but Brown could still get big minutes off the bench and stay productive down the stretch.

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