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Fantasy Basketball: C.J. Watson And Other Ups & Downs

Remember last season when the Golden State Warriors signed swingman Kelenna Azubuike, a former Kentucky star who went undrafted prior to the start of the season? The London-born Azubuike was tearing up the D-League at the time of his call-up, and turned in a solid line for the remainder of the season while injuries befell the Warriors. Ironically, that call-up happened in January of last year as well.

Golden State's at it again. C.J. Watson was signed to a 10-day contract by the Warriors on Tuesday. Call me biased (well, maybe I am considering the Warriors are my all-time favorite sports team), but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Watson provide relief for Don Nelson's squad similar to that which was provided by Azubuike in '06-'07. Why?

Well, aside from the similarities already mentioned, Watson and Azubuike share some other things. Watson was a star at Tennessee before entering the draft, only to go undrafted. Watson is a rookie this season, just as KA was when he was signed. Both players were also SEC rivals in college, allowing the two to share the court as opponents. Now, they'll share it as allies.

Now, I'm not saying Watson is going to be something special, nor am I saying he will provide the same offensive spark and high-energy play as Azubuike provided after his call-up. Hell, Watson might even wear out his welcome before his contract even expires. What I can guarantee, however, is that Watson will provide at least some relief to point guard Baron Davis while he remains with the team. Davis needs it, too, as he's only 24 seconds per game short of playing 40 minutes per. That doesn't bode well for the Warriors' playoff hopes, so perhaps the combo guard Watson will take the opportunity he's been granted and put up respectable numbers as the primary backup while allowing Davis to rest more than he's been doing.

Besides, does anyone really want to be watching a Davis-less Warriors squad in the playoffs? I didn't think so. Here's to Watson living up to Azubuike's precedent. And, here are fantasy basketball's current ups: ...

Mike Conley, Jr. :: PG/SG, Memphis Grizzlies
January is a new year; Conley definitely finds that to be relevant. Since returning from an injury that has lasted nearly all season, Conley played the last December game as a reserve and has started all four of the team's January games. The results are pretty for the 20-year-old out of Ohio State. His solid rebounding (4.5 per game, high for his 6'1", 180 lb. frame) and assist (6.3) totals are reminiscent of a young Jason Kidd, who posted similar (slightly higher) numbers in his rookie campaign. Conley is smaller than Kidd, but could develop into nearly as proficient a passer. Career-wise, think of a slightly larger Chris Paul with slightly less talent. There's Conley.

Joe Smith :: PF, Chicago Bulls
Rumors have it that Tyrus Thomas' sophomore attitude are causing him to lose minutes quickly. The veteran Smith has no problem with that. Thomas doesn't want the minutes? Fine. Smith has responded by stepping up his numbers across the board: 34.7 minutes, 50.8 FG%, 85.7 FT%, 8.5 rebounds, 1.0 TO, 1.0 steals, 2.3 blocks, and 19.5 points (four January games). Had he been putting up numbers like that all season, he'd be a top 25 fantasy player easy. Smith's silky-smooth mid-range jumper combines with his solid post moves to create a line suitable for any fantasy squad at this point.

Ben Gordon :: SG, Chicago Bulls
Seems like I'm taking the easy way out with Gordon here, doesn't it? Well, any time I put a player on the upswing following a "demotion" to the role of 6th-man, it can't be that easy, can it? I'll admit, this time it is. Under Jim Boylan, Gordon once again becomes perhaps the top 6th-man in the NBA. Gordon plays with a wealth of intensity and energy, often putting up some wild shots if he can't penetrate or find himself with open shots. By benching him before his number's called, Boyland finds himself with a more patient Gordon who can continue to wear down opposing defenses. His numbers as a starter (38.9 FG%, 17.6 ppg) vs. as a reserve (51.1 FG%, 27.1 ppg) reaffirm that. Nearly 10 points per game higher! It was the same story in 2006, so it's no coincidence.

Notable Mentions: Rafer Alston :: PG, Houston Rockets; Antonio Daniels :: PG, Washington Wizards; Nate Robinson :: PG/SG, New York Knicks

... and downs:

Jameer Nelson :: PG, Orlando Magic
This likely won't last long, as current replacement Carlos Arroyo is far from excellent at the point. Nelson lost the starting role to Arroyo following a long stretch of inconsistent play. This was perhaps due to his strained back, an injury that caused him to miss a game directly after. Arroyo plays some subpar defense, exacerbated by his mediocre speed (for a guard, anyway). He also tries to force passes where passes don't belong (unless you're Steve Nash or Chris Paul), so Nelson could be reinserted into the starting five any game now. However, any time a usual starter has to play his way back into the opening lineup, things are likely on the downswing.

Chris Kaman :: C, Los Angeles Clippers
Let's face it: the Clippers don't have much of a long-ball attack. This has become devestating for the Los Angeles big-man big-time. The only true threat the Clips have from deep is vet Tim Thomas, but he had been out for two weeks prior to LA's last game. Cuttino Mobley might chip in a bomb now and then, but without an additional threat, defenses have a simple way of shutting down LA's offense: double- or triple-team Kaman (the only true force they have down low). It's not a huge surprise that Kaman got back on track with Thomas playing again, but when a player's numbers are contingent on the health of one teammate (Tim Thomas here), things aren't looking up.

Zach Randolph :: PF, New York Knicks
This must be the theme of the New York Knicks: acquire and play big-men who play half as big as they actually are. Last week I made mention of Eddy Curry, who does the same thing on a nightly basis, because of his supposed demotion. It appears as though Curry finally realizes his spot isn't guaranteed, because he's actually rebounding and shooting like he should. As for Randolph, shooting at a 38.7% clip and losing 3.4 possessions a game (over the past five) won't do him any favors. Neither will his lack of defensive stats (0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks over the last five as well). His line is starting to resemble Curry's, which is poor fantasy company.

Notable Mentions: Juan Carlos Navarro :: PG/SG, Memphis Grizzlies; Andrea Bargnani :: SF/PF/C, Toronto Raptors; Kyle Lowry :: PG/SG, Memphis Grizzlies