Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Andrei Kirilenko

The 14-13 Minnesota Timberwolves have played 11 games without their do-everything All-Star Kevin Love. And Ricky Rubio, the exciting sophomore PG who finished second in last year’s ROY voting, has missed all but five of the Wolves’ contests so far this season.

First-year Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko has stepped up nicely for coach Rick Adelman to help keep the Minnesota squad competitive even with their roster injuries.

After spending his first 10 seasons with the Utah Jazz, the one time NBA All-Star (2004) and First Team All-Defensive member (2006) returned to his native Russia last year to play for his former European team CSKA Moscow. At the end of the season, Kirilenko was named the 2011-2012 Euroleague MVP.

This past summer the 6’9 combo forward signed with the Timberwolves. Many fantasy GMs were skeptical of how much Kirilenko had left in his NBA basketball tank. Prior to this season, his average fantasy draft position was somewhere near 110 overall. After starting and playing effectively in 23 of the Wolves first 27 contests, his fantasy ranking has soared.

Kirilenko is averaging 35.1 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.7 spg and 1.4 bpg while shooting 52% from the floor. He has season highs of 26 points, 12 boards (2X), 6 dimes (4X), 4 steals (2X) and 4 blocks (2X). Bottom line: This savvy veteran can fill up a stat sheet and is capable in stretches of leading the team at both ends of the floor.

As the long season progresses and he becomes more familiar with his coach and new teammates, look for Kirilenko’s numbers to rise in all categories. He is a value fantasy pick-up right now.

Gameday Dish: Cavaliers vs. Nets

The 15-14 Brooklyn Nets welcome the 7-24 Cleveland Cavaliers to the Kings County this evening.

After starting 11-4 in November, the Nets dropped 10 of their first 13 games in December. Head coach Avery Johnson, who had been in the lead chair since the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, was fired on Thursday and replaced by interim veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has stated that he has a lot of trust in Carlesimo but wouldn’t rule out a coaching search in the near future. The names Phil Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy have been mentioned as possible candidates.

Brooklyn won last night at home against the woeful Charlotte Bobcats, 97-81. The Nets Big 3 Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez combined for 61 points to help deliver Charlotte their 17th straight defeat. Lopez led the team with 26 points, 11 boards and 3 blocks.

The Cavaliers also played last night, losing to the Atlanta Hawks in Cleveland,102-94. Second-year PG Kyrie Irving had 28 points, 5 dimes, 6 boards and 4 steals in the defeat. Coach Byron Scott’s best big man C Anderson Varejao sat out his fifth straight 48 with a bruised right knee and has been ruled out of tonight’s contest as well.

The Nets topped the Cavs 114-101 at home in their previous meeting on November 13th. NJ native and childhood Nets fan Irving put up 34 points ,and Varejao had a career-high 35 points and 18 boards in the defeat.

Tune in to the YES Network tonight at 7:30 PM ET to see if Brooklyn can pick up another W under new head coach Carlesimo before heading off on a difficult road trip with stops in San Antonio and OKC.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Tyler Zeller

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe 6-23 Cleveland Cavaliers posses a talented core of young players led by 2012 ROY PG Kyrie Irving. However, as is proven year in and year out, it takes time- and battle-tested veterans to win consistently in the NBA.

Ninth-year center Anderson Varejao is that type of veteran. He’s having a monster season so far, leading the league in rebounding to go along with 14.1 ppg. There’s been a smattering of chatter in the hoops world that several premiere squads are interested in acquiring the fiery Brazilian to bolster their rosters. And with the Cavs in deep rebuilding mode, they may decide to trade away their most productive player for a few younger guys and/or draft picks.

Whether this particular scenario plays out or not, Cleveland has a solid big man in 7’ rookie Tyler Zeller. For the past three games, Zeller has filled in at the starting 5-spot for Varejao, who’s nursing a knee injury. During this stint, Zeller has averaged 35 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 7 rpg, .66 bpg and .66 spg.

Zeller, who was taken 17th in last spring’s draft, is a fleet-footed workhorse who spent four seasons at UNC and competed in 117 pressure-packed contests for Roy Williams. Zeller was named 2012 ACC Player of the Year.

Zeller is tough as nails. In Cleveland’s fourth game he suffered a concussion and fractured his orbital bone. Instead of missing several weeks, Zeller sat out only four games. This injury set back Zeller’s early development. But in recent weeks coach Byron Scott’s confidence in his young center has grown, along with Zeller’s minutes and FG attempts.

So far in his freshman year, Zeller is averaging 23.7 mpg, 7.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg.  He has season highs of 20 points, 10 boards (2X) and 3 blocks. Zeller’s role on the Cavs should continue to increase this season, regardless of Varejao’s status.

On the Road with Mike

The Brooklyn Nets will host the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays on the eve of Christmas Eve.

The Nets need to snap a three-game losing streak and get some momentum going as they head into the new year. The Sixers are coming off a big win over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. They will soon enter seven-game stretch on the West Coast where they will face tough competition. So Philly needs every win they can get to stay in the playoff picture.

I’m disappointed I didn’t get a reindeer tie from Ryan Ruocco for Christmas. Was hoping to wear it in today’s broadcast: Sixers vs. Nets is coming up at 3:00 PM ET on YES.



What do you get for the guys who have everything? I gave Ernie, Kenny, Chuck and Shaq supersized Czar Bars at the Inside the NBA holiday gift swap on Thursday night. I had these antioxidant-rich chocolate bars custom made for my friends using 72% cocoa solids so that they could enjoy a sweet holiday treat with health benefits. Of course, I don’t recommend eating the entire bar in one sitting!