By Emry DowningHall

Remember the 2001-2002 season when Jermaine O’Neal was, without question, the most underrated young superstar in the NBA? That was the year he truly broke out, averaging 19 points, and nearly 11 rebounds, while swatting 2 shots a night for the Pacers. For his efforts he was awarded the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, his first All-Star appearance, as well as a slot on the All-NBA Third team.

The All-Star birth as well as the All-NBA selection seemed like they were about to become themes of J.O.’s career, and in many ways they still are, however, injuries are also becoming a subplot and that story wrote a new chapter on Monday.

An injury to the left knee of the prep-to-pros stud has him considering sitting out the remainder of the season to rest and rehab. O’Neal had surgery on that same knee in April of 2007, and although he has undergone treatment, he still isn’t 100%.

When the report first broke it looked like a 2 week absence. Then as details came in it appeared missing the entire season was likely, and now O’Neal is calling that option the, “worst-case scenario.” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said before the Sixers game on Monday that he, and his medical staff, fully expect O’Neal back this season… certainly nothing confusing about that report.

Listen, if you drafted O’Neal you were likely bumping “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers as you clicked the mouse, and you had to expect an issue at some point. Depending on who you believe this is either a catastrophe, or a 2 week setback. Usually when reports conflict like this the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Owners should hold onto Jermaine and see what type of reports come out of Indian in the next few days.

In the meantime Mike Dunleavy should get a bump in value to his already spectacular season. Kareem Rush will also benefit from O’Neal’s absence and has been shooting the ball very well lately. He deserves a look in all leagues and is a must-own for owners in need of three balls. Troy Murphy, Shawne Williams, Ike Diogu and Jeff Foster will all see increased tick and would like an opportunity to solidify your teams front line.

While Murphy is likely owned in your league Foster, Williams and Diogu are probably available. I think Williams has the most upside from this group but Foster will do the most work on the glass. If you’re in need of rebounds, pick him up while Jermaine rehabs.

Brendan Haywood was a popular pickup this season because his usual time share with Etan Thomas wasn’t going down while Thomas was sidelined for medical reasons. We all got a bit of good new Monday when Etan was cleared to practice with the Wizards. While he wont have any fantasy value this season, Haywood owners need to be aware of Thomas’s presence because it could cut into his minutes. If you can move him, it might be a good time to market his services to an owner in need of a second or third center. No one’s going to be thrilled about Haywood’s points or rebounds, but if you stress his blocked shots, you may be able to get something of value.

Throughout the season I’ve gotten a few emails from readers wondering where I go for fantasy information, and which fantasy writers I read. I quickly explain to them that I go nowhere because I’m all knowing and pretty much a fantasy guru, then I quickly delete the message and all traces of their existence from my inbox.

Hopefully you caught the sarcasm in that paragraph. The truth is, I think the key to being up on the fantasy tip is reading as much as possible, so there are a number of sites I checkout multiple times daily. Of those sites, only one is specific to fantasy basketball. If you’re familiar with Rotoworld, you know the name Steve Alexander. “Dr. A”, in my opinion, sets the bar for fantasy hoops and on top of all that, he’s also a very cool guy.

One of the reasons his stuff resonates with me is because he put me down with the “games played strategy.” It’s something I have touched on a number of times in this column but, as the season progresses it becomes more and more important. Take this week for example. Typically, Charlie Villanueva, Charlie Bell, and Royal Ivey are borderline value players at best. In week #13 the Bucks play 5 games and a player like Andrew Bogut is going to produce more than any center in the league. If you’re in a daily, head to head league, this information can get you a few more starts and more chances for your guys to get busy.

I recommend you take a look at each teams remaining games played by week schedule. Guys like Dwight Howard, Baron Davis, Carlos Boozer, and Chris Bosh will help get you into the playoffs, but Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette, Josh Smith and Tim Duncan will bring home more fantasy titles. Dr. A has broken it all down for you, right here.

There’s some value to be had on the waiver wire for owners in deeper leagues. Check out these niche players to sure up your bench.

Kareem Rush – For whatever reason, Rush plays much better when Jermaine O’Neal is sidelined. That’s odd considering a shooter like Rush should benefit from the attention O’Neal demands from the defense, but it’s not the case. Last night he had 25 points, 5 treys and 5 rebounds. If you’re in need of threes he’s a no-brainer.

Thabo Sefolosha – Even though Hinrich, Gordon, and Duhon are all likely more talented than Thabo he is going to get tick simply because he provides a different look for the struggling Bulls. Right now Duhon is day to day and last week Hinrich missed time with back spasms. Thabo isn’t a guy you need to run out and grab, but he is worth keeping an eye on and will have value the minute any member of the Bulls back court misses extended time with injury.

Ryan Gomes – If you want to ride Gomes after his 35 point, 11 rebound night against the Warriors feel free. Just keep in mind numbers tend to inflate against Nelly and company (Dorrell Wright) and Gomes was 11 of 15 from the field, which wont happen often. Either way he has played very well lately and deserves a look in all formats.

Linas Kleiza – I realize making light of guys medical issues isn’t cool but honestly, what’s really good with the Denver front line? First Nene goes down with a tumor in his testicles and then Kenyon Martin misses time with a staph infection on his butt. No joke here, I’m just saying, it’s a tough time to be a forward on the Nuggets. Picking up the slack has been Linas Kleiza who dropped 41 points on Thursday. Edwardo Najera is also banged up so Kleiza is going to get plenty of tick. After Melo went down last night with an ankle injury Kleiza’s value will be only extended. He scores, hits threes, and rebounds, excellent short term pickup.

If Elton Brand is floating around your waiver wire it’s time to think about snagging him. I wouldn’t pick him up in daily leagues but weekly formats where you can stash him on your bench, it’s time. His next examination is coming up at the end of January and if the news is good, he’ll instantly become a hot pickup throughout fantasy leagues.

Brand had originally targeted late February for a return but doctors have cautioned that projection was a best-case scenario and it actually coming to fruition is less than likely. If Brand does return this season the Clippers will be extremely cautious with their franchise big man. However, as I said earlier the Clip show have the best late schedule in the league so if he does come back, it could be a HUGE pickup for your squad. If you’re in good standing right now, look at him as an insurance policy.