Fantasy Basketball: Pick Up Golden State Warriors Ekpe Udoh at Center

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Fantasy Basketball: Pick Up Golden State Warriors Ekpe Udoh at Center
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Phew! The abbreviated NBA season is almost halfway done. Like they say, time flies when you’re having fun.

For fans, the season has been a whirlwind of thrilling events, compressed into a short period, providing high-level basketball hoopla on a daily basis. For fantasy basketball fans, it’s been even more exciting—team managers have been rewarded with nightly scoring and point accumulation at an accelerated rate.

Instead of sometimes two or three games in a week during a standard 82-game season, teams can play maybe five contests per week. This allows players to rack up a ton of stats for their fantasy owners.

Unfortunately, any fantasy owner who has a member of the Golden State Warriors on his or her team is not as thrilled this season—especially in comparison to last year’s performances. Monta Ellis is scoring at a high level again, but this season has seen his shooting percentages take a dive, and he still turns the ball over at a high rate.

Stephen Curry has been injured for parts of the season, and he hasn’t put together consistency scoring-wise, usually following good games with bad ones, or vice versa.

Last season’s league-leader in three-pointers made, Dorell Wright, has been wrong all year. The only Warrior to be of dependable value for fantasy owners has been David Lee, who is posting solid numbers (19.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) despite the team’s disappointing 14-18 record.

But fantasy owners may start to show interest in a surprising bench player who the Warriors drafted in 2010. No, not Jeremy Lin. Ekpe Udoh.

The second-year forward/center had a breakout game two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Clippers—his first career start. Udoh was filling in for center Andris Biedrins, who was sitting out because he was not feeling well.

After Udoh’s performance (19 points, eight rebounds), Biedrins may feel even more ill, as fans and critics speculate whether his starting job is now in jeopardy.

It should be, even though Biedrins has so far been inserted back into the starting lineup. But this has to be a temporary move, and Udoh will imminently start at center as long as the Warriors continue to lose with Biedrins’ lack of productivity. Which is great news for fantasy owners.

Udoh is a strong defensive presence in the paint—he ranks fifth in the league with 3.99 blocks per 48 minutes. It’s evident he can amass a bunch of defensive stats with extended minutes.

And though he still is a bit green on the offensive end (42.9 field-goal percentage), he has shown in stretches that he can be a solid contributor when given ample opportunity. Certainly, he provides better fantasy scoring than some of the other centers out there.

At the beginning of the NBA season, Udoh came in at No. 177 on Brian McKitish’s ranking of the top 200 players, on ESPN.com. Incidentally, Biedrins is ranked 181st on same list. But that was under the impression that Udoh would be more of a role player off the bench.

It’s safe to say that Udoh as a starter would project higher than Darco Milicic (No. 175), Troy Murphy (158), Josh McRoberts (150) and Ed Davis (111). And so far this season, Udoh is indeed a better player than other candidates at the center/power forward spot. Especially if Warriors head coach Mark Jackson opts to give Udoh more playing time during the second half of the season.

So far, Udoh has averaged over 20 minutes per game as the backup center—more playing time than Biedrins is seeing this season. If Jackson seriously envisions his Warriors meeting his own playoff aspirations, then Udoh is likely to see even more playing time down the stretch. Especially since he is the team’s best defender.

This has helped contribute to his team-leading plus-117 plus-minus rating, nearly 70 points higher than that of Stephen Curry. This is remarkable when considering that a) the Warriors have a losing record, and b) Udoh is not a starter.

Who would you rather have at center?

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Aside from his defensive prowess, Udoh brings some energy to the offensive end, too. His ability to score in isolation is something the Warriors lack down low. Golden State is a team that shoots a lot of jump shots; but Udoh is able to offer some scoring in the paint to diversify the predictable offense attack.

For those fantasy owners who are searching for someone to fill the bench while the likes of Lamar Odom, Andray Blatche, Andrea Bargnani and Anderson Varejao all remain indefinitely sidelined with various injuries, Udoh is a legitimate candidate to tally a few blocks, rebounds and steals for your team.

Given significant playing time, Udoh could match the numbers of Dallas Mavericks center Brendan Haywood (currently averaging 5.8 points and 6.9 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game).

Though Udoh’s player efficiency rating is only 7.7 for the season, consider that he is playing the majority of his time with the Warriors’ second unit. Given more time with the starting unit, his numbers can only improve. Even if the team does start to plummet in the standings and falls out of contention, Jackson will end up playing the sophomore center even more.

He may not be an obvious choice to fill your center/power forward position, but if you do pick him up, you’ll be gladly rewarded down the stretch.


Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue

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