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By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The NBA is a guard- and forward-heavy league. Outside of Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, there aren’t many centers who grab a ton of headlines. But even as the league moves more and more toward positionless basketball, in the world of fantasy hoops, the center position is as important as ever — especially for managers in two-center leagues.
With that in mind, let’s give some love to the position and discuss the fantasy prospects of five big men moving forward. All five of the players discussed below have been productive fantasy options this season — some more than others — but it’s time to evaluate whether or not they could be potential trade or waiver wire fodder as we near the halfway point in the schedule.
Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls
With the Bulls making so many changes during the offseason, Vucevic has seen his role change, too. His usage rate has dropped to 23.2 percent, compared to 28.2 percent across 26 games with the team last season. He shot an ugly 39.5 percent from the field across the first 11 games, then missed a stretch of seven straight games with COVID-19. That left fantasy managers who drafted him with a sour taste in their mouths right out of the gate.
Vucevic was the first player on the Bulls to get COVID; however, he certainly wasn’t the last. Just about everyone on the team has come down with the virus, which left Vucevic to handle a more significant role. He averaged 18.4 points, 14.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 blocks and 2.3 three-pointers while shooting 50.5 percent from the field during a recent seven-game stretch.
As bad as things have been for the Bulls on the COVID front, they are mostly healthy now with Lonzo Ball returning to action Monday. Vucevic only scored 13 points on 13 shot attempts during that game, which is noteworthy given that he had averaged 15.6 shot attempts per game during his recent hot streak.
He can still be a valuable, higher-end fantasy option, but if you have some depth at the center spot and could use an upgrade at guard or forward, now might be a good time to sell high on Vucevic, whose upside isn’t as high as it was during his days as the No. 1 option in Orlando.
Christian Wood, Houston Rockets
Wood has actually been in the headlines lately, but not for the right reasons. He reportedly missed a mandatory COVID-19 window before Saturday’s game against the Nuggets, which resulted in him being benched. He played only eight minutes in that game, reportedly refusing to check back in. For his antics, he was suspended for Monday’s matchup against the Sixers.
This turn of events is disappointing for fantasy managers since Wood has played well, averaging 16.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 three-pointers per game. His percentages haven’t been great, however, as he’s shooting 46.9 percent from the field and a very damaging 60.5 percent from the charity stripe.
A lot of the reason why Wood has been successful is that he plays a lot on a bad team that doesn’t have a lot of great scoring options. The Rockets have promising young center Alperen Sengun behind him, who could garner more minutes as the season moves along. If Wood were to be traded before next month’s deadline, his role could diminish significantly.
Like Vucevic, now could be the time to consider dealing Wood away in your fantasy league. He’s more valuable in points leagues than nine-category formats, in which he is currently ranked 143rd overall. It might not be a crazy idea to float him out there in a deal involving Richaun Holmes, who has seen his playing time decline recently and is currently out with COVID-19.
While Holmes doesn’t have the same scoring upside as Wood does, he’s ranked 78th overall in nine-category leagues thanks to his stellar percentages. If his fantasy manager needs more scoring, there may be a deal to be made.
Nicolas Claxton, Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have made it through their COVID-19 outbreak and have a much stronger depth chart right now. If there was a silver lining to their issues, it’s that they were forced to play Claxton more. He averaged 27 minutes over his last seven games, compared to his season average of 22 minutes per game. During his recent run of added playing time, he averaged 13.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 72.4 percent from the field.
Claxton is currently available in 53 percent of Yahoo leagues, so you might not even need to make a trade to add him to your roster. With that being said, the Nets have a lot of depth at center, most of which consists of veterans with lengthy track records of playing well, like LaMarcus Aldridge. If you need blocks, he’s someone to consider adding. However, don’t be surprised if his playing time starts to regress again.
Mason Plumlee, Charlotte Hornets
After a semi-successful, one-year stint with the Pistons in which he averaged 10.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, Plumlee has seen his numbers decline as a member of the Hornets. His scoring is down to 6.7 points per game, to go along with averages of 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
The Hornets have far more viable scoring options than the Pistons did last season, which is part of the reason for Plumlee’s decline in points. That likely won’t change anytime soon. He’s also been losing minutes to P.J. Washington. If you’re in a 12-team or deeper league, dropping him might be a viable route to take. He could be dropped in favor of Claxton if you need blocks.
Or, he could be even dropped for the next player that we’re going to talk about ...
Omer Yurtseven, Miami Heat
Yurtseven isn’t as widely available as Claxton, but he’s still out there in 42 percent of leagues. He’s been a monster while filling in for Bam Adebayo (thumb) and Dewayne Dedmon (knee), averaging 10.0 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals over the last nine games. Over the last five games as a starter, he’s averaged 12.6 points, 15.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
With his recent hot streak, Yurtseven may have passed Dedmon in the pecking order at center, even when Dedmon does return. However, once Adebayo is back from thumb surgery, Yurtseven will probably struggle to see enough run to maintain relevance in standard leagues. This is a juice-the-orange situation, so ride Yurtseven’s hot hand for as long as possible. We haven’t received much in the way of an update on Adebayo, but he’s nearing the end of his initial timetable.