By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As the NBA season winds down and some struggling teams deal with injuries, deeper bench players have been seeing more run. That puts fantasy owners in some difficult spots, where it may be best to drop a consistent veteran in favor of a surging young player for the fantasy playoffs. Below, I’ll outline four options to help you bolster your roster for playoff success.
Alex Len, Suns (15 percent owned)
News broke Wednesday that Suns starting center Tyson Chandler could miss the remainder of the season as a result of lingering pain in his neck and shoulders — an issue that’s plagued him since early February. Assuming Phoenix gives the veteran the remainder of the season off to recover (likely), Len is in great position to step into the starting role.
Len is no stranger to starting, having been in that role on 11 occasions this season. In those contests, coach Jay Triano has handed him 25.7 minutes per game. Len has responded with averages of 9.7 points (60 percent from the field), 9.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Len can sometimes play minutes in the low 20s even when starting — either due to foul trouble or specific matchups — but there’s little doubt that he can put up productive lines no matter the workload.
Arguably his best game of the season came just recently on March 20, when he dropped 19 points (9-11 FG, 1-1 FT), 12 rebounds, three blocks and one assist on the Pistons in only 25 minutes. He’s privy to duds here and there, though it’s tough to find someone on the waiver wire at this stage of the season who’s both in line for a consistent role and capable of that sort of production.
Cameron Payne, Bulls (14 percent owned)
Starting point guard Kris Dunn suffered a setback with his toe injury and has been placed in a walking boot. So if you were on the fence about picking up Payne, now is the time to commit.
Payne struggled during his first two years in the league. He was a poor three-point shooter, had a lengthy injury absence and was stuck behind Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City before essentially being dumped to Chicago. He wasn’t expected to be a significant part of the rotation in Chicago this season, especially given the development of Dunn.
However, with the likes of Dunn, and to some extent Zach LaVine (knee), sidelined, Payne has been thrust into a starting role. He’s played above most expectations in his three starts, averaging 9.3 points, 7.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 27.9 minutes. He’s also shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc on 3.4 attempts per game this season after making just 32.0 percent of his threes over his first two years in the league.
Overall, it’s fair to assume he can maintain a similar level of play if given the minutes, with his primary attribute being his passing — something than shined through during the draft process and is finally starting to come around.
Greg Monroe, Celtics (45 percent owned)
Monroe has played 20-plus minutes in each of the Celtics’ past four contests in a role that’s opened up for him since Daniel Theis (knee) went down for the season. Injuries to other key contributors have resulted in Brad Stevens looking for secondary sources of offense, leading to Monroe having the ball in his hands more often — something he was used to during his time as a sixth-man in Milwaukee.
Over the past four games, Monroe is averaging 15.5 points (61.9 percent from the field), 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and a combined 2.6 steals/blocks in 23.5 minutes. He’s also gone 10-for-13 (76.9 percent) on free-throws over that stretch, an excellent mark for a bruising big man. All in all, his recent surge has made him the 72nd-ranked fantasy player over the past week, compared to his season-long mark of 140th. He’s not available in too many leagues, but if for some reason Monroe is still out there in yours, he’s certainly worth strong consideration as a waiver add.
Cheick Diallo, Pelicans (5 percent owned)
Diallo showed some encouraging flashes as a rookie, garnering extended run when Anthony Davis and/or DeMarcus Cousins missed time and averaging 13.4 points and 10.6 rebounds in the five games in which he saw more than 20 minutes. However, with Davis and Cousins healthy and seeing huge minutes until the latter tore his Achilles, Diallo hasn’t had too many opportunities to build on that potential.
Things have shifted over the last few weeks, however, and Diallo may be putting himself in position to usurp Emeka Okafor’s role down the stretch. With the Pelicans jostling for playoff seeding, coach Alvin Gentry will look to play whoever is hot — for the moment, that’s been Diallo.
Despite Okafor remaining the Pelicans’ starting center, he’s seen his role diminish in favor of Diallo over the past three games. During that span, Okafor has been deployed for just 10.3 minutes per game, less than half of Diallo’s 22.7 minutes. In those minutes, Diallo has averaged 12.0 points and 10.0 rebounds while shooting 65.0 percent from the field. It’s hard to imagine Gentry moving away from that, especially since we’ve seen Diallo put up this kind of production in relatively limited action before.
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