Welcome to the latest edition of the NBA Minutes Watch column, where we’ll keep you updated on the latest rotation changes around the league. As opposed to doing the East/West alternating approach, I am going to change up the format for the stretch run. At this point, some teams are more predictable than others, and updating the teams where not much has changed seems a bit antiquated right now. Therefore, I will touch on the teams that have the most pressing updates at this point of the season.
Here's a look at the biggest rotation changes for the week of March 23rd, and how those changes could affect your NBA lineups.
The Celtics are getting healthy, and they are right in the thick of the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Marcus Smart returned from a one game suspension on Monday and should get plenty of minutes at point guard down the stretch. However, Isaiah Thomas is expected to return on Wednesday and resume his sixth man role off the bench. He should threaten for 30 minutes on a nightly basis, and he will definitely cut into some of Smart’s playing time.
Evan Turner is picking up his play of late, so he also seems to be guaranteed a solid 30-32 minutes per game. The return of Thomas will likely push Turner to the three on more occasions, which will negatively impact the playing time of Jae Crowder. In addition, the frontcourt is crowded with Brandon Bass, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and others fighting for minutes. The situation is too murky to target from a FanDuel fantasy perspective.
Along with the Celtics, the Bulls seem to be getting healthy at the right time (with the exception of Derrick Rose). As of Monday, Jimmy Butler has returned, and he will be a key piece for the Bulls in their playoff run. Obviously, his minutes are as secure as anyone in the league, and he should return to a 40+ minute role in no time as he had no minute restriction in his first game back. Taj Gibson is also healthy, and he is part of a logjam up front with the emerging Nikola Mirotic along with starters Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. On nights where all four players are active, this may actually be a situation to avoid. Aaron Brooks still has a firm grip on the starting point guard spot, though he will lose some minutes with Butler’s return as Kirk Hinrich absorbs more minutes as the backup point guard.
Charlotte remains in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, and now they have a healthy Kemba Walker. It will be interesting to see how he co-exists with Mo Williams going forward. Both played 31 minutes in a game over the weekend, so it looks like they will often play together for stretches, and that’s good news for the fantasy value of both players. Cody Zeller has missed a few games lately, which boosts the playing time for both Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Both are worth a look as cost-affordable options in 30+ minute roles as long as Zeller remains out. Al Jefferson is a steady force inside who is always a solid option in your cash games as he generally plays 33-36 minutes per contest.
Dwight Howard may return sooner rather than later, but we still do not have a definitive timetable on his return. In the interim, it will be Donatas Motiejunas and Josh Smith handling the majority of the frontcourt minutes for Houston. Both should play around 34-38 minutes per game, and they hold solid fantasy appeal. Both are significantly better options than Joey Dorsey, even though Dorsey currently has a nominal starting role. Trevor Ariza is also locked into big minutes at the small forward spot.
With the lack of depth at the forward positions, the Rockets are going small at times. That has increased the playing time for Corey Brewer, and he has been a solid contributor in around 30 minutes per game during the month of March. He will likely take a step back at some point, but he is worth a look as long as he is playing well and Patrick Beverley is banged up. Of course, James Harden remains the leader of this team and will play 38-40 minutes almost every night if the game isn’t a blowout.
Los Angeles Lakers
The changes continue in Laker-land, as it looks like Jeremy Lin will be moved into the starting lineup on Tuesday in place of Wayne Ellington. Rumors are also swirling that Ryan Kelly might grab a starting spot, too. I still don’t like targeting anyone from this team, but Lin is at least worth a mention. He has proven that he can put up sneaky-good stat lines when he gets the playing time, and it appears as though the playing time piece is going to start coming together. Keep an eye on him, and plug him in as a cheap play if he gets it going with the starting five.
The Grizzlies are close to cementing their status toward the top of the Western Conference, and that will make them a dangerous team to peg over the season’s final three weeks. Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and others could all be candidates for random days of rest down the stretch. Tony Allen has been playing very well of late, and he remains an intriguing option that is available at a very affordable price point on FanDuel. The starters are always in play here when they are active, as they all tend to play 30+ minutes. Fire them up in the right matchups, but be sure to watch out for potential days of rest as we move toward the end of the regular season.
For all the wrangling I gave to Jason Kidd at the start of the season, I must now apologize. The Bucks are one of the best stories of the 2014-2015 season, and they are actually a great team to target for daily fantasy games right now. Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams are all great targets these days. All three of them are playing 35+ minutes per game, and the production has followed suit. When the matchup is right, this is definitely a team to target now. Even Ersan Ilyasova has shown flashes of consistency in the month of March. It’s been fun to watch, and I look forward to see how the young Bucks respond come playoff time.
The tanking Timberwolves are playing with a very short rotation these days. Nikola Pekovic, Gary Neal, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Garnett and Justin Hamilton are all out right now. This puts every single active body in play from a fantasy perspective, because they all play big minutes. Gorgui Dieng is the most attractive option as a healthy big that is playing 40+ minutes night in and night out. Even Chase Budinger is pushing for 35-38 minutes on occasion. Zach LaVine has struggled with his shot but also gets significant playing time with Rubio out. Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins are the only guys who have been healthy for a long stretch, and both of them play 35-40 minutes these days, too. There are a lot of options here, especially when a good matchup presents itself.
New Orleans Pelicans
It may be too little too late for the Pelicans as they cling to faint playoff hopes in the tough Western Conference. The injury bug has simply bitten them on too many occasions, and the effects of all the injured players have finally caught up to the team. That doesn’t mean we can ignore them in our fantasy games over the next few weeks, though. Anthony Davis is back, and he went right back to his dominating ways with a big game in his return. On the flip side, now Omer Asik is battling various injuries. This has allowed Alexis Ajinca to keep a starting spot, and he’s a great daily fantasy play as long as he is starting and his price is cheap. Fouls are always a concern, but Ajinca can put up solid lines when he is able to stay on the floor for 30 minutes.
In the backcourt, Jrue Holiday remains out and Tyreke Evans has missed the last few games. This has allowed Norris Cole to take over the starting point guard spot, while Eric Gordon also handles the ball on occasion. Both players are worth a peek as long as Evans is on the sidelines. Evans will remain a solid option if and when he resumes his normal workload.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are still a walking M*A*S*H unit, as they simply cannot get to full health. Hopefully it happens before the playoffs kick in, as a Thunder/Warriors first round matchup would be amazing. Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant remain out, while Enes Kanter also missed a few games but has since returned. This has led to massive usage for Kanter and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been putting up video-game like stat lines for a while now. As for the minutes, Kanter, Westbrook, and even Dion Waiters are now locked into huge roles until Ibaka and Durant return. The rest of the rotation is a bit murky, though Steven Adams is emerging as a secondary beneficiary. Adams is never a safe option, but he’s an intriguing tournament play as long as he is getting 25+ minutes per game.
The future is bright in Orlando. With several of their guards injured, both Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo have become fantasy stars over the last four weeks. Both players are locked into big roles down the stretch for the developing Magic, and they should continue to play well. Fire them up with confidence on FanDuel despite their increasing price tags, as both are safe bets for 36-40 minutes on a nightly basis. The only other viable option here is Nikola Vucevic, who also plays around 35 minutes per game. The rest of the roster is constantly in flux, as Tobias Harris can’t stay healthy and there are three power forwards that see playing time.
Unfortunately, the Blazers just can’t seem to find much luck when it comes to injuries and playoff time. A few weeks after losing Wesley Matthews for the season, the team is now facing a few games without LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. There isn’t a clear-cut winner here, but Arron Afflalo should be asked to take a few more shots. His minutes are also the most secure of the bunch as he should play around 35-38 minutes with Batum out. Damian Lillard should also see a huge uptick in usage and play as many minutes as he can handle.
Replacing Aldridge will be tricky. Dorell Wright, Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland will likely all split minutes, while Robin Lopez will see a little more playing time than normal. Lopez is the only fantasy-worthy piece here, and he could be a viable cheap option on FanDuel as he can put up some fantasy-friendly stat lines when he gets 32-36 minutes of run.
With the playoffs approaching, the Wizards are as healthy as they have been all season. Bradley Beal is back and has no minute restriction right now, Marcin Gortat is playing much better than he was early in 2015, and even Nene Hilario looks close to 100%. For fantasy purposes, the guards are the best plays here. Both Beal and John Wall tend to approach 40 minutes of playing time in close games, and they should continue to lead the team going forward. Target these players with confidence, especially as Beal’s salary remains depressed on FanDuel.
As far as the frontcourt goes, Gortat is an intriguing option. However, his minutes are sometimes limited to the low-30s, and his price tag is now much higher than it was a month ago. It’s probably best to take a wait and see approach with him, as well as with the forwards on this team. Nene will not play more than 25 minutes a game, Kris Humphries is hurting and Drew Gooden is not a reliable option. Paul Pierce has trouble putting up solid fantasy lines as he also plays around 25 minutes a game. Again, the guard spots are the positions to target here.