Commentary

Grand Theft Roto: Six underperformers to target

Updated: January 14, 2009, 3:44 PM ET
By Josh Whitling | Special to ESPN.com

Different varieties of "buy-low" players dwell within the fantasy landscape. There are those affected more by circumstance than by per-minute productivity, who make ideal speculative buy-low candidates based upon the assumption that more minutes seem inevitable. There are those who started cold, on the bench or injured but who have been showing signs of life and are ripe to nab before their couple-month stint of ineffectiveness is all but forgotten.

Then there are the players I'll discuss this week. They haven't been victims of much circumstance, haven't missed half the season because of injuries, and haven't been especially turning it around lately. They have simply underperformed and continue to do so. This makes for frustrated owners. Still, it's not too late for these guys to turn it around, and they are attainable at bargain-basement prices, making them perfect targets for the "waiver-wire flip." The WWF is when you're able to trade a player you picked up off the waiver wire and "flip" him for a more historically prolific performer who was selected on draft day. This is one of the best ways to increase your team's overall value if done the right way, which is obviously eschewing a sell-high guy you obtained in free agency.

Each of the players highlighted has a discrepancy of at least 50 spots between their ranking on the Player Rater and their average draft position. Examine your roster and identify waiver-wire players or late-round fliers who offer others hope for instant relief but might have trouble maintaining their pace. Catching lightning in a bottle and shipping it off for former fantasy stalwarts such as those listed below is one of the best ways to build team value; even if the players fail to achieve the overall stats expected of them from here on out, each one of these guys is likely to play better than they have thus far.

Earl Watson
D. Clarke Evans/Getty ImagesEarl Watson's shooting has made fantasy owners place their hands on their heads, too.
Earl Watson, Thunder (ADP: 122.1, PR: 174): Watson has never been an especially exciting fantasy player but has provided enough assists to have value in deeper leagues as the starting point guard for the Sonics/Thunder the past few seasons. This year, however, he's been upstaged and usurped by wunderkind Russell Westbrook, who has the starting job and likely won't relinquish it for about 10 years. But Watson is still getting significant run off the bench, especially recently, as he's averaging 29.7 minutes per game in six January contests. He's been the subject of trade rumors, and I will be shocked if he isn't shipped to a team in need of a veteran point guard in exchange for picks or expiring contracts, the types of moves Thunder general manager Sam Presti has consistently made since taking over.

Watson's 3-point shot has fallen off the table, primarily because of his horrendous shooting this season (36.5 field goal percentage, 27.3 3-point percentage), but from 2004 to 2007 he was a lock for more than one 3 per game. But things are looking up, as he's shooting 43.5 percent in January and averaging 7.2 assists -- the latter number gives him immediate value in some formats because of the scarcity of assists. Whether it's for the Thunder or a new team, Watson should play better from this point forward, as he seems to have remembered how to shoot, and he is pretty much the cheapest source of assists out there.

Leandro Barbosa, Suns (ADP: 60.3, PR: 134): Barbosa's points and 3s decreased last season, and now they've decreased again, putting him on the fringe of fantasy start-worthiness. But in January, he's averaging a solid 16.4 points and 1.8 3s on 60.4 percent shooting from the floor without missing a free throw in 21 minutes per game. His low-minute total is maddening for owners, especially since there's no indication he'll suddenly get around 30 minutes per game as he has in the past two seasons. But the Suns are still in a transitional state, adjusting to new coach Terry Porter, as well as the early-season trade that netted them Jason Richardson. With his talent, Barbosa will find his niche with the team; figure out a way to increase his productivity; and once again provide 3s aplenty, scoring and helpful percentages.

Tyson Chandler, Hornets (ADP: 76.9, PR: 198): Chandler's primary value in seasons past came from his dominant rebounding totals, but his 8.1 boards per game is his lowest average since 2004-05, his third season in the league. He's rattled off 11 and 12 rebounds in his past two games, respectively, marking just the second time this season he's hit double-digits in consecutive contests. He had ankle issues in November and neck stiffness in December but has missed just three games this season and is averaging more than 31 minutes per game. Favoring these injuries likely hurt his statistics, and even though he didn't miss significant time, that could be the primary culprit behind his icy start to the season. He's healthy and is rebounding better in the past week than he has most of the season, hopefully a sign that Chandler's biggest struggles of the season are behind him and he'll return to regularly notching double-digit boards.

Michael Beasley
Victor Baldizon/Getty ImagesMichael Beasley has endured a rocky rookie season, but is showing signs of turning the corner.
Michael Beasley, Heat (ADP: 56, PR: 154): OK, so he hasn't historically performed better than he is now unless you count college, but he's underperformed drastically compared to his preseason average draft position. While he hasn't exactly been dominating recently, his January stats are significantly better than other months this season (16.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.7 3s, 0.8 steals in 27 minutes per game, three 20-point efforts in his past four contests). He hasn't started a game since Nov. 26, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has done well schooling Beasley to the game with high expectations of him in his rookie campaign, which seems to have paid off, given his recent productivity. Beasley doesn't yet have a category in which he excels; obviously he's going to be a prolific scorer and will have a delightful combo of steals, blocks and 3s, but he's far from specializing anywhere at this point. Of all the players highlighted in this column, Beasley owners will likely be the most hesitant to part with him given his potential, although his up-and-down season likely has them searching for more consistency, especially in non-keeper formats. Despite his recent stretch, he's still ranked 121st on the Player Rater over the past 15 days -- something to point out to potential trade partners -- but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he were in double-digits before too long.

Luol Deng, Bulls (ADP: 65, PR: 173): The trajectory of Deng's career has been atypical of a young player with his talent who succeeded in the league at an early stage. But after averaging 18.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks on 51.7 percent shooting from the field in 2006-07, his stats have plummeted in the past season and a half. He's been favoring his ankle and returned to the lineup Monday after missing eight games, although he wasn't playing well before the injury. His statistics are the lowest they've been since his rookie campaign, when he averaged just 27 minutes per game compared to this season's 33. Things can't get much worse for Deng, although I think he'll turn it around and average numbers close to last season's totals as soon as he's at full strength and back in the starting lineup. With his current low value, it's not much of a risk to target him for cheap, especially since we know what Deng is capable of doing on the court when playing his best.

Mike Miller, Timberwolves (ADP: 62.1, PR: 175): Miller's got the résumé: former No. 5 overall pick, Rookie of the Year, deadly 3-point shooter and in-demand hair model. He also started peaking later in his career, averaging a career-high 18.5 points in 2006-07, which gives us reason to believe he should be putting up similar numbers, as we're just two years removed from that glory. But now he's drowning in the land of a lot of lakes: He isn't just averaging fewer points per game than last season; he's averaging the lowest total of his career. He did miss most of December but has played in every contest in January and failed to score in double digits in each game. A promising sign is that he attempted six 3s Tuesday night, his most attempts since Dec. 1. He clearly won't match his totals even from last season, which were down from the previous year, but he simply cannot remain this awful, and is still averaging a valuable 3.4 assists per game. Miller's points and 3s will be higher at the end of the year than they are now, and the fact he's the eighth most-dropped player in the past week indicates he can be had for a handful of Pokemon cards, and not even the rare ones.

We have our first Grand Theft Roto of 2009!

I think I may have just won my league with this trade. He gets Boris Diaw and Raymond Felton and I get Devin Harris and Jason Richardson. I don't see how this helps him, but I'm just glad he offered me this deal!

Joshua Dreiling

Well done, sir. There's no question you made out like a bandit. But with his clear affinity for Charlotte players, are you sure your trading partner isn't the greatest NBA player of all time, not to mention the star of "Space Jam"?

Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

Josh Whitling

Fantasy Basketball
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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