Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Even though he was drafted fourth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, Cavaliers forward Tristran Thompson seemed destined to play second fiddle to the other guy the team selected that year (Kyrie Irving).
Besides Irving, there were plenty of other players who seemingly had more fantasy value coming into this season than Thompson -- Anderson Varejao, rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles, to name four.
However, since Varejao the rebound vacuum went down with a knee injury three weeks ago, Thompson has played like a leading man. In the 10 games Varejao has missed, Thompson has scored in double figures eight times and posted seven double-doubles.
Those double-doubles haven't been all 10-10 cheapies, either; Thompson is averaging 13.3 points and 12.4 rebounds while Varejao has been absent from the lineup. The former Texas Longhorn only averaged 8.2 points and 7.6 rebounds in his first 25 games, numbers right in line with what he posted as a rookie.
The major difference has been his playing time. In the last 10 games, Thompson is playing an average of 36 minutes. He only logged an average of 29 minutes of floor time prior to Varejao's injury. The extended playing time has allowed Thompson to increase his block total from 0.6 per game over his first 25 games to 1.1 over his last 10.
Cavs coach Byron Scott expected to have Varejao back on Wednesday, but the high-energy big man was not able to practice Tuesday and is still out indefinitely. His extended absence is disconcerting since his injury has been described as only a "knee contusion." Scott denied a report out of Varajao's home country of Brazil that said the player is dealing with a torn quadriceps muscle, but perhaps there is more truth to that report than Cleveland is letting on.
In any case, fantasy owners should hit the free agent wire and add Thompson in case Varejao has to miss more time.
Thompson is not the only one currently benefiting from an injury to a teammate. Magic swingman Arron Afflalo has increased his scoring output dramatically since forward Glen Davis sprained his shoulder on Dec. 19.
In his last nine games, Afflalo has seen an uptick in shot attempts to 15.9 per game, compared to the 13.9 he took over his first 25. As a result, Afflalo is turning in 22.2 ppg in his last nine, though it has helped that he has hit 49.7 percent of his field goals in that span. Afflalo shot a solid 44.4 percent over his first 25 games and averaged 16 ppg.
Hawks guard Devin Harris' left foot injury has opened the door for Lou Williams to enter the starting lineup, and Williams is doing more with the job than Harris ever did.
Including a 28-point explosion on Saturday against the Celtics, Williams has averaged 18.3 points, 5.5 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 3.3 threes per game in eight games since entering the starting five.
He was solid in his previous 24 games, all off the bench, averaging 14.3 points, 3.1 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.6 threes, but an increase of 12 minutes and nearly 3.0 shots per game as a starter has certainly helped his fantasy value.
There's no guarantee any of these three players will hold onto their current job when the team is at full capacity. Nets forward-center Andray Blatche averaged 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals during a seven-game stretch earlier this season when the team was without starting center Brook Lopez, but Blatche has been returned to his initial bench role since Lopez came back to action.
But things can go the other way as well. Miles played so well when Waiters was out of the lineup for eight games with an ankle injury that he was the first man Scott called upon when Waiters struggled after returning from the injury.
The same goes for Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon. He averaged 13.1 points, 10.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.7 threes in the seven games Kyle Lowry missed with a triceps injury in December and has held onto the starting job following Lowry's comeback.
While things don't always work out as well as the situations did for Miles and Calderon, there is value in making a speculative move to acquire the next man up, even if the player in front of him doesn't appear to be severely injured.
Far too often a "contusion" turns into a three-week injury, and there is usually a player ready to take advantage.
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