In basketball news, reigning MVP Kevin Durant should return to action in 1-2 weeks, completely changing Oklahoma City's game plan. The Durant-less Thunder have been riding Russell Westbrook during his incredible hot streak, so implementing him back into their offense could be quite difficult.
Since Durant began to miss time due to a foot injury, the team has gone 7-4 and is currently tied for 8th in the Western Conference with the New Orleans Pelicans. Russell Westbrook has stepped up in his absence and questions have surfaced about their ability to be truly effective when playing together. Moves made before the trade deadline completely changed the look of the Thunder team, and it may be possible that they are now better suited for Westbrook, but not Durant.
Westbrook has been playing better than ever before, and Durant may be what was limiting his potential. They both need the ball in their hands to be at their best and maybe it's about time that they move on. For now, Durant will be back and they will have to work on their team chemistry, but he could be gone in the offseason.
Rumors have surfaced that Durant could be on the move to avoid having him walk into free agency after next season, leaving them with nothing. As far as his outlook for the rest of the season, Durant should be considered a top fantasy NBA option as he provides owners with points, threes, rebounds, assists, FG% and FT%. He should be considered one of the best fantasy NBA players in leagues across the board and can be unleashed the second he returns to the court.
Keep reading ASL for the best fantasy basketball news!
Owners looking for fantasy baseball sleepers would do well to pick up Houston Astros starter Collin McHugh. He was arguably the American League's best rookie starting pitcher last season, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting with a 2.72 ERA and 11-9 record.
His 1.02 WHIP was good for sixth-best in the league, and a variety of peripheral statistics suggest the breakout year wasn't exactly a fluke either. He posted a 3.11 FIP, struck out just over a batter per inning, and worked a very strong 3.83 K/BB ratio. Simply put, McHugh was great last year and had he played in a higher-profile market more people would likely have noticed.
His relative anonymity, however, makes McHugh a prime late-round target to fortify the back-end of your fantasy pitching staff. Though it will be difficult to reach the very high bar he set last season, there is still much to like about his talent and repertoire. His breaking pitches ranked among the game's best; he threw his curveball and slider over 50% of the time last year and he threw them for strikes.
Support from an improved offense and bullpen might net him a few extra wins in 2015 as well. Even with some presumed regression, McHugh should continue to do good things this season and be a legitimate SP4/5. Aim to draft him around the 180th pick.
Yu Darvish - Texas Rangers
In MLB fantasy news, it appears that the 2015 season will close on Yu Darvish before it ever begins. Barring a miracle, Darvish will be shut down for the season to have reconstructive surgery elbow surgery. It’s been almost a week since Darvish felt tightness in his arm and two doctors have already advised him to undergo Tommy John surgery as soon as possible. If the 28-year-old were to have surgery today, he would miss not only this season, but probably the beginning of next season as well. Time to go to Plan B and look for other options.
Drew Smyly - Tampa Bay Rays
Spring Training has not been a good time for Drew Smyly so far. The left-hander was behind in his training program after a strained tendon in his left middle finger. To make matters worse, Smyly is now dealing with tendinitis in his left shoulder. Smyly will most likely not be ready for the start of the regular season for the Rays while dealing with these issues. Smyly was the key piece in last year’s trade of David Price and had a good few months with the Rays. This will hurt Smyly’s draft position, especially if his health continues to be a lingering issue. Smyly is still a good choice to make late in your draft as either your 4th or 5th starter.
Chris Sale - Chicago White Sox
Sale is dealing with a fracture in his right foot as well as a sprained ankle early in spring training. With the start of the season just four weeks away, Sale’s participation looks gloomy. After his fracture, the initial diagnosis was three weeks, but now with conflicting reports of his injury, Sale might not be ready to pitch on opening day. Even if Sale isn’t ready by opening day, he should not miss more than 2 starts. When healthy, Sale is one of the best starting pitchers in the game today. He will still go high in the draft, based on straight talent. If you can grab Sale as one of your top 2 starting pitcher spots, he’s worth taking.
Homer Bailey - Cincinnati Reds
After offseason arm surgery, Homer Bailey is a question mark to start the 2015 season. Bailey broke out in 2013, but struggled at times during the 2014 season. Bailey will try to bounce back from a disappointing 2014 season and try meet the expectations that come with the six-year, $105 million contract that he signed last offseason. Bailey will likely miss a few starts to start the season but his draft stock will stay consistent. In most leagues, he is being drafted as a third starting pitcher.
Being a standout college football coach rarely translates into success at the professional level. There are notable exceptions of course, but it’s highly unlikely that Chip Kelly will ever be recognized with the likes of Jimmy Johnson or Pete Carroll. The Philadelphia Eagles are suddenly an organization in crisis and no amount of coaching genius (real or imagined) is going to help them recover. Maybe coach Kelly’s next masterstroke will be calling on the Phillies to send over Cliff Lee to join his island of “Misfit Toys.”
There is no question that Kelly is doing things “his way,” even though each move seems to put Philly deeper into a hole that seemingly no coach could possibly dig his way out of. He’s scooping up players with serious injury issues (many of them former Oregon Ducks) and tossing away his best players without a second thought. The only ex-factor that changes the entire equation is DeMarco Murray. If he becomes a member of the Eagles - Kelly actually is a genius.
In NFL player news, LeSean McCoy is inexplicably in Buffalo, Jeremy Maclin is on his way to Kansas City and Nick Foles suddenly finds himself in a Rams uniform.
It all started when the Eagles sent all-star running back LeSean McCoy packing to Buffalo, so they could grab linebacker Kiko Alonso, a player who is still recovering from a torn ACL.
Then the Birds chased QB Nick Foles out of town to bring in Sam Bradford, a player who’s had two reconstructive knee surgeries on the same leg in successive seasons. Bradford, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since October of 2013, is now reunited with his offensive coordinator from the Rams, Pat Shurmur.
There is rampant speculation that this is nothing more than a move by Kelly to help Philadelphia trade up and grab Marcus Mariota, a kid with a lot of NFL fantasy potential, but the odds are stacked against the Eagles whether they land the former Ducks quarterback or not.
However, if the Eagles land fantasy football stud running back DeMarco Murray from the Dallas Cowboys - I take it all back!
Phillies former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee is struggling with a torn flexor tendon in his elbow that has been troubling him since last season and which lands him in our fantasy injury updates list. The fact that his elbow is flaring up during spring training is a red flag that can be seen for miles.
A recent MRI shows that nothing has changed or worsened in the elbow, but Lee says that if he feels any discomfort, he won’t take to the mound. This leaves fantasy owners in a very perilous position with some big decisions to make.
There are several factors working against Lee including the fact that he will turn 37 this summer and managed only 13 starts last year because of his elbow issues. Lee even admits that surgery to repair the elbow will likely close the book on his career once and for all. It seems that any risk on drafting Lee this season is much higher than the possible reward. Even if he forgoes surgery, he’ll likely encounter more discomfort at some point during the lengthy season.
Even if Lee struggles past his elbow issues, his advanced age is impossible to look past. Risks are necessary to win a fantasy baseball title, but the most educated and bigger payoff risks are the better ones. Fantasy owners need to look for another solution in this year’s fantasy draft, one that won't be parked on the injury updates list.
Check back for the latest MLB and NFL injury updates!
Justin Verlander - Detroit Tigers:
It would have been hard to imagine Verlander as a bounce-back candidate just three years ago when he captured both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards. He uncharacteristically struggled in 2014, posting a bloated 4.54 ERA and seeing his once lofty K/9 rate fall to 6.9. The realities of age and declining velocity make it unlikely he will reclaim his status as one of the game's premier aces, but a 3.74 FIP suggests he may have been the victim of some poor defense and bad luck last season. It's not like Verlander is on the list of fantasy baseball sleepers, he's not going to sneak up on anyone. But the former ace could enjoy a markedly improved 2015 and is a valid middle round draft pick.
Brandon McCarthy - Los Angeles Dodgers:
2014 was a tale of two seasons for McCarthy, as his performances before and after a July trade to the Yankees were like night and day. After pitching to a 5.01 ERA in 18 starts for Arizona, a renewed emphasis on his cut-fastball and a sterling 6.31 K/BB rate helped McCarthy turn things around in a big way in New York. While expecting him to duplicate his second-half numbers is unrealistic, playing in front of the Dodgers' strong infield defense should allow the groundball-inducing McCarthy continued success. Draft him somewhere around pick 200.
Homer Bailey - Cincinnati Reds:
A slow start and ailing elbow saw Bailey underachieve last season. He sported a 5.04 ERA after his first 11 starts, hurt by an inflated home run rate. He steadily improved throughout June and July, trimming that ERA to 3.71 with six quality starts in his last seven appearances before being shut down in early August. His status for Opening Day is questionable but he is not expected to miss much time, giving MLB fantasy owners prime opportunity to nab him around pick 175.
Clay Buchholz - Boston Red Sox:
Buchholz endured a painful 2014 in more ways than one, putting up a 5.34 ERA before undergoing knee surgery in September. Health issues are nothing new for the right-hander, who has never reached 30 starts in a season. There are reasons for optimism, however. Still just 30, Buchholz is not far removed from an outstanding (though abbreviated) 2013 campaign in which he went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA. If he can strand more runners and improve his overall consistency, it should not be difficult to have a much better year supported by an enhanced Red Sox lineup. Pick him up with one of your final selections.
Nathan Eovaldi - New York Yankees:
The Yankees hope to be acquiring a young pitcher on the rise in Eovaldi, and fantasy owners might consider doing the same. The 25-year old flamethrower has been hamstrung by lack of control, surrendering a National League-leading 223 hits in just under 200 IP for the Marlins last year. However, his opponents' .323 BABIP should drop closer to league average this season, and increased use of his splitter to go along with a 97 MPH fastball might help Eovaldi miss more bats. Consider taking a flyer on him towards the end of the draft.
Hunter Pence - San Francisco Giants
During his first Spring Training game, Hunter Pence was hit by a pitch and broke his forearm. He is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. With that timetable, Pence would likely return in early May. Pence’s value has dropped significantly in many fantasy leagues. You can still draft Pence in the middle rounds, maybe around the 100th pick in your draft. He can still be a huge asset for your team, but you will need to show a great deal of patience. Pence scores plenty of runs and is great at getting on base. If you can find cheap replacements until Pence returns, he’s definitely worth a post on your roster.
Matt Wieters - Baltimore Orioles
Wieters lasted only 22 games last year before his season ended with Tommy john surgery on his elbow. As Wieters has started to gain strength, he’s participated in intrasqaud games and is participating in workouts. Before Wieters went down last season, he was having a magnificent season. Wieters may miss a few games to start the season, but is scheduled to play most of the season. When healthy, Wieters is one of the best catchers in the league and will still be an asset to your fantasy team. The catcher position is not that deep, so grab Wieters if you can.
Miguel Cabrera - Detroit Tigers
Cabrera finished his past two seasons with nagging injuries and just has not been the same. He’s battled bone spurs in his ankle and a stress fracture in his foot. Last year, Cabrera finished batting .313 with 25 HR and 109 RBI, in what was considered a down year. Cabrera is still top round talent even with the injuries. The man is simply too good to pass up. If he is giving you those stats, imagine him being healthy. Even if he misses a few games to start the year, take Cabrera in the opening rounds of your draft.
Jayson Werth - Washington Nationals
Werth had shoulder surgery on January 9th and is trying to make a recovery in time for Opening Day. Werth had a solid 2014 season batting .292 with 16 HR and 82 RBI. Werth is doing all he can to try and be ready for Opening Day, but the Nationals are not trying to speed up the process. They want to make sure that he is fully healthy before he makes his return. Try to take Werth in the middle rounds of your draft. He has upside and has the ability to make a difference for your fantasy team.
RB Fantasy Football News
The New Orleans Saints could be playing with fire after the team released ex-fantasy RB great Pierre Thomas earlier this week. The Saints have NO CAP SPACE and have no chance of keeping 25-year-old Mark Ingram unless he agrees to a pay cut. The Philadelphia Eagles are already showing interest in Ingram after they traded away Shady McCoy and wouldn't have any trouble outbidding the Saints. This would leave Khiry Robinson to shoulder the load in New Orleans and he may not be up to the task.
As for the now 30-year-old Thomas, it's not exactly new RB fantasy news that he now joins a cluttered list of free agent running backs who will be looking for a new home for the 2015 season. Wherever Thomas ends up, he's a long shot to ever be fantasy relevant again. The 8-year NFL veteran only managed 90 touches last year and will end up finding a home with a team that needs some third down help and production out of the passing game.
The Saints top two running backs are now Robinson and Travaris Cadet. The Saints will be looking to add some firepower to their backfield and would have some decent options if the had any money to spend. With their cap issues, the Saints won't be able to land a back like C.J. Spiller or Demarco Murray, but might be able to land the likes of Ryan Mathews, Justin Forsett or maybe even Knowshon Moreno.
The Saints have plenty of needs and cap issues to deal with, so it will be interesting to see what pieces they add to their backfield to help Drew Brees and company. I see them adding a back or two late in the draft and one back in free agency.
Keep reading ASL RB news for more RB related information!
Buster Posey - San Francisco Giants
Posey recently committed to playing at least 120 games at catcher for the Giants this season. This shouldn’t affect his hitting very much and he's obviously still the best fantasy catcher in the game. Like last season, his average will likely be around the .300 range, and he’ll hit over 20 home runs. With Pablo Sandoval’s departure the Giants will be looking for more production from their remaining players, and Posey will likely be the first to step up and help fill the void.
Devin Mesoraco - Cincinnati Reds
Beginning the season on the DL, Mesoraco saw a shortened season last year, but was still a top fantasy catcher. In just 384 at bats last year Mesoraco hit 25 home runs and knocked in 80 RBI. This year the young catcher will likely see upwards of 500 at bats. With the increased time and a healthy Reds supporting cast, Mesoraco could easily hit 30 home runs and is poised for a huge year.
Jonathan Lucroy - Milwaukee Brewers
Lucroy seems to always put in a solid seasons work behind home plate for the Brewers. A solid 66 walks last season helped his OBP reach .373, tied for second highest among catchers last season. Lucroy can also hit for average, finishing 2014 at .301. Lucroy’s health has recently been in question, with a hamstring strain, but the Brewers are optimistic about his chances of playing on opening day. A heavy workload and young legs should allow Lucroy to continue his dominance at the catcher position.
Salvador Perez - Kansas City Royals
Fresh off of a World Series appearance somehow the Royals still seem to be an afterthought. But one thing is for sure: Perez should be at the front of fantasy owners’ thoughts and draft boards at the catching position. Perez is a workhorse, playing nearly everyday. With 17 home runs last year in 578 at bats, I still believe he has the ability to hit over 20. Coming off a slight down year, Perez should also see the majority of his numbers increase, including his .260 average. He is also coming off two consecutive Gold Glove winning seasons. If you are an MLB general manager, Perez is a guy you love to have on your team—and the same goes for us fantasy owners.
Yoenis Cespedes - Detroit Tigers
For the past three years, the Cuban slugger's MLB fantasy reputation has basically exceeded his on-field performance. Despite a pair of electrifying showings in the Home Run Derby, Cespedes' career high came in 2013 with a solid, yet unspectacular 26 round-trippers. His OPS has dipped from .861 during his debut season to .751 last year. Cespedes doesn't set himself apart enough in any area to make him worthy of one of your earlier draft selections. Consider Starling Marte instead. The young Pirates outfielder posted a .356 OBP last year in his second full season, has stolen 30+ bases the last two campaigns, and is a good bet to continue improving.
Troy Tulowitzki - Colorado Rockies
Is Tulo the best shortstop in baseball? Absolutely... when he's on the field. And unfortunately, that's been all too rare an occurrence for the Rockies star. He put up a career-best .432 OBP last season but missed 71 games in the process. Tulowitzki has only played an average of 106 games over the last five seasons. In two of the last three seasons, he has failed to exceed 100 games. The MVP-level talent is undeniable, but it's hard to justify such a gamble with a prime draft selection. Someone in your league will use their first pick on him. Make sure that isn't you. Turn to Ian Desmond or Starlin Castro instead if you want an upper-tier shortstop. An Erick Aybar type would also make a serviceable value choice in the later rounds.
Dee Gordon - Miami Marlins
The speedy second baseman intensified his fantasy buzz with a breakout 2014, leading both leagues with 12 triples and a staggering 64 stolen bases. Traded to Miami in December, Gordon will hope to score plenty of runs leading off the Marlins' improved lineup. However, he struck out in over 16% of his plate appearances last year and seemed to run out of steam, his OBP dropping to .300 in the second half. He'll be hard-pressed to repeat last season's tremendous numbers on the base paths unless he exhibits improved plate discipline. At one of the thinner positions, you might be better off waiting and taking a capable alternative with some upside like Kolten Wong rather than jumping early on Gordon.
Jose Abreu - Chicago White Sox
The reigning AL Rookie of the Year more than earned that distinction in 2014, swatting 36 home runs and driving in 107 runs with a .314 average for the White Sox. He'll likely be a strong fantasy performer once again, but some projections have him ranked as high as a top 10 pick, which may be a bit overeager for a player who is still beginning only his second MLB season. Just seven of his homers came after the All-Star break, which might suggest to fantasy owners that he could come back down to earth somewhat in 2015. Paul Goldschmidt and Edwin Encarnacion should be taken before him, and you'll have a variety of solid options at 1B throughout the draft.