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By Dan O'Shea
Yao Ming and Greg Oden don't have much in common - other than being storybook giants come to life, of course. Though Yao and Oden both play center, they play vastly different games, Yao being an artist with a shooting touch and Oden following the more typical recent model of bringing rebound and shot-block thunder from above.
Yet, when all is said and done, both may be remembered for having that particular star-crossed quality: Incredibly talented, frequently injured. Yao is out this year after foot surgery, and for all his notoriety hasn't played a full season in the last six years. Oden just suffered a likely season-ending knee injury after a very promising first month in which he led the NBA in blocks. His career games-played tally reads like this:
Season 1: 0 GP
Season 2: 61 GP (out of an 82-game season)
Season 3: 21 GP
In those 21 games, Oden mostly showed us what we thought in pre-season; that he would play well above his late-round ranking. But, another season is lost. I don't know where Yao will end up being ranked next pre-season, but Oden is sure to fall back again into 10th or 11th round territory. Everything about him will tell you to take the leap of faith, but you may have to do it expecting only a half season of returns.
The injuries to Yao and Oden, and a decline in performance by other supposed star centers like Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson may have left your fantasy team middling without an effective man in the middle. Here's a few hot performers who have been picking up the slack - and what you should do with them - in this week's Fantasy Fix Action Ratings:
Player: Marcus Camby, PF/C
Comment: He's now the top-ranked center in many fantasy leagues, playing at a top-10 ranking at least 30 spots ahead of where you would have found him in pre-season. However, he tends to cool off as the season progresses, and never has scored quite enough to warrant superstar status.
Player: Nene Hilario, PF/C
Comment: Yet another star-crossed big man, Nene is finally staying healthy and delivers a pretty well-rounded stat sheet that includes more assists and fewer turnovers than your average center.
Player: Marc Gasol, C
Comment: I don't think he will continue to be the better Gasol all season, but seems to be part of a suddenly strong core in Memphis, and probably will end up averaging a double-double.
Player: Channing Frye, PF/C
FFAR: PICK UP
Comment: He's not as widely owned as the others, yet, 56 three-pointers from the center position make him one of the best picks on the board.
Player: Ben Wallace, PF/C
Comment: You read that right. Big Ben, whose career decline seems to have been limited to his time with the Bulls, is a defensive machine once again. He's averaging almost 10 rebounds per game, but little scoring and horrendous free throw shooting make him a liability.
* In his Yahoo! Court Report, Matt Buser mentions the single player who has the most to gain from Oden's injury, fellow Portland center Joel Pryzbilla. He's another option whose scoring totals are just too low (3.6 PPG), but he'll mostly make up for the blocks lost from Oden.
* Rotowire notes the dreaded plantar fascia injury to top 10 fantasy stud Danny Granger, which will leave Granger out for up to six weeks. That's bad enough because Granger is one of those guys you just can't drop despite the long layoff, but PF foot injuries are so unpredictable. Granger may return and play through pain, or this could be the first of many fits and starts.
It's playoff time and, at this point, it might just be best to stick with who got you there. But if you have starters who are candidates to earn rest in Weeks 14 though 17 of the NFL slate while the fantasy post-season plays out, here are the next best things (or maybe the only things) still available on the waiver wire at key positions:
Player: Alex Smith, QB
FFAR: PICK UP
Comment: Drew Brees or Peyton Manning won't be sitting unless their teams finally lose, but if you need a filler, you could do much worse than Smith at this point. He has come on strong with coach's confidence and a new offensive game plan in hand, and he faces soft pass defenses the rest of the way, especially Weeks 16 and 17 against Detroit and St. Louis.
Player: Justin Fargas, RB
Comment: The most widely available RB who has scored considerable points lately is part of a backfield-by-committee in Oakland. Fargas seems to finish strong every year, but Michael Bush has seniority in this committee, and Darren McFadden is in the mix, too.
Player: Eddie Royal, WR
FFAR: PICK UP
Comment: He has been a decent contributor in leagues that count return yards, but also has finally gotten his hands on a few passes in recent weeks. Denver, which started strong and then began to fade, has righted again, so maybe Royal will continue to get chances.
Player: Todd Heap, TE
FFAR: PICK UP
Comment: A tough call on a former star gone to seed, but Baltimore has tried to get the ball in his hands more often as sophomore QB Joe Flacco has struggled.
* Yahoo! Pickups of the Week has RBs Jerome Harrison and Shonn Greene as strong buys. I guess I haven't noticed because both have been owned in my leagues for awhile, but Harrison is a bona fide starter now and for the remaining games this season, and definitely worth a pick-up if he's somehow available. Green may get the benefit of the Jets taking the ball out of QB Mark Sanchez's hands more often, but don't expect too much.
Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. Comments welcome. You can also read his about his split sports fan personality at SwingsBothWays, which isn't about what it sounds like It's about.
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