Out with the old, in with the new, and welcome to life in 2015.
Cole Aldrich is a legitimate NBA player on a very, very bad team, Hassan Whiteside has been brought back to life by the Miami Heat and Jodie Meeks is starting to show that his free-agent contract may have not been so outlandish after all (OK, it’s still an overpay).
Jason Kidd’s rotations are still up for discussion (this will be true in 2020, too), and Victor Oladipo is starting to emerge a lot faster than a lot of people thought he might in terms of being a multi-category contributor.
Let’s warm up your first Monday back at work with the inaugural 2015 specialists.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $150,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Tuesday's NBA games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $20,000. Starts at 8:00pm ET on Tuesday. Here's the FanDuel link.
Hassan Whiteside, C Miami Heat
When the Miami Heat invest in a player’s potential, it’s worth taking notice. Whiteside isn’t just some D-League call up or Miami attempting to catch lightning in a bottle. With a real need for size and shot-blocking down low, and no real in-house options to fill that role (Birdman has left the nest having declined in significant and rapid fashion), Whiteside is someone who could fill a real role for a Heat team that needs to put a greater emphasis on developing talent from within.
After a two-season hiatus where he didn’t sniff an NBA roster, Whiteside has blocked 17 total shots in just 11 games with the Heat. More impressively than that is the fact that Whiteside has done his damage in just 12.5 minutes per game, but that number has a good chance to shoot straight upward moving forward. If recent evidence is an indication of what’s coming, and Erik Spoelstra is notorious for working players into his rotation slowly, Whiteside’s potential to contribute may be greater than expected. He’s seen at least 18 minutes in each of his last four contests, including right about 20 (or more) in his last three. Over his last two games, Whiteside is averaging 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks while shooting 11-of-15 (73.3 percent) from the field. Not bad.
Obviously it’s a tiny sample size with Whiteside, but there are positive signs supporting an upward trend, and it’s not like Miami’s roster is stacked with talent along the frontline outside of Chris Bosh. Whiteside is a recommended gamble for owners in need of blocks, and he has the potential to help in other areas (rebounds, field goal percentage) as well.
Cole Aldrich, C New York Knicks
Averaging 11.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.4 blocks on 56.7 percent shooting: Allow me to introduce you to Cole Aldrich’s seven-game sample as the starting center for the New York Knicks, and that does not include his 12-point, 19-rebound outburst in a game where he started at power forward.
With Amar’e Stoudemire (knee) shelved, Jason Smith underwhelming, Andrea Bargnani (calf) smattered in bubble wrap for protection and Samuel Dalembert once again finding his way into and out of another starting lineup, Aldrich has emerged as the sole option for New York inside. While Aldrich’s roster spot has been a running joke since the start of last season, he’s actually one of the only bright spots currently on the Knicks’ roster. Over his last two games, Aldrich has amassed 23 points, 21 rebounds, three steals and three blocks. On a per-game basis, that’s 11.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks on a tick under 50 percent from the floor.
Look, Aldrich isn’t going to be some kind of savior, and it’s almost surreal to see him winding up on this list, but what he can do is provide help in areas of need, and his opportunity to impress is never going to be as clear-cut as it is right now. If you’ve been wanting to cut someone, there are far worse short-term upside plays than Aldrich.
Jodie Meeks, SG Detroit Pistons
Since Jodie Meeks’ return to the Pistons, Detroit is 5-1. His additional floor spacing doesn’t quite sell a headline like Josh Smith’s departure does, but Meeks’ return has been a welcomed one for what Stan Van Gundy is trying to do with his newest team. And while the results haven’t been earth-shattering by any means with the exception of Meeks’ 34-point, nine-triple blowup game on Dec. 30, Meeks’ steady progression and consistent role leaves a lot of room for optimism.
Taking out his nine triples in a single contest, Meeks has splashed eight in his other five games. That number is going to rise if Meeks continues to hit at above 40 percent like he did last season, and while his current 48.8 percent mark is unsustainable, it’s another indication of Meeks’ improvement and evolution. He’s taken 12-plus shots in all three of his most recent games, and it hasn’t even taken him 10 games to establish a clear-cut role in the offense.
The downside with Meeks is that he won’t do much more than score and add triples to the squad, but he’s just the man desired if that’s what the team needs. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s hold on the starting shooting guard spot tenuous at best, Meeks is someone who could be staring at an even larger role as the Pistons continue to improve as a team.
Victor Oladipo, G, Orlando Magic
We knew Victor Oladipo was a thief on the basketball court after we saw him compile 129 steals during his rookie season, but the sophomore seems determined to take it to an unforeseen level this season if his recent performance is an indication of what we can expect during the 2015 calendar year. With 11 steals over his last four contests, and having registered at least one steal in eight straight games, Oladipo’s displaying a determined focus on the defensive end of the floor.
The great thing about Oladipo’s game right now is that he’s also put an increased onus on scoring the rock. Since being paired with Elfrid Payton in Orlando’s starting frontcourt, Oladipo seems to be a bit more aggressive in looking for his own offense versus setting up his teammates. With better efficiency from the field (45.6 percent) and three-point range (40.6 percent), Oladipo’s game is growing quickly. Although he got a late start to the season, Oladipo has wasted no time re-establishing his concrete fantasy value.
Oladipo’s usage should go up as the season moves on, and Orlando should be emphasizing his development as a priority. That’s a winning fantasy formula, even if the losses may pile up for the Magic in another rebuilding season.
Khris Middleton, SG/SF Milwaukee Bucks
Despite its immense potential to be a fantasy funhouse, the Milwaukee Bucks are a maddening fantasy factory under Jason Kidd. The only stable entities appear to be Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Knight, and so while recommending any Bucks player is like juggling flaming bowling pins, it’s Khris Middleton’s turn on the wheel this week.
With Jared Dudley having seen his role reduced over the last few games, it’s been Middleton who has stepped up in his place. Without Jabari Parker (knee) for the season, the Bucks are going to take it from wherever they can get it, and right now it’s from Middleton. Over his last three games, the swingman has seven steals. So can he sustain it? Middleton logged at least 30 minutes in four straight games prior to Sunday’s win over the Knicks (22 minutes), but it does appear he’s going to get the longest leash of the reserve swingmen right now.
Middleton has a solid enough floor when he’s getting minutes that it shouldn’t fall out from under him, but his ceiling would be significantly higher if we knew he was getting the consistent PT without the threat of the plug being pulled at any second.
Kidd's fantasy basketball troll-game remains strong.