- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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The events of the past couple of days have started to firm up the playoff picture for several squads. You've got the Indiana Pacers tightening their grip on the 8-seed in the East. You've got the Lakers falling short in their pursuit of the 1-seed in the West.
So, as of this writing, here are the teams that still have something to play for beyond "pride" or "the amount of pingpong balls we'll be getting come June":
If you're keeping score, that leaves only 10 teams, which means two-thirds of the NBA is now susceptible to sudden, seismic rotational shifts.
The positive aspect to all this is that you can never really count yourself out in a fantasy playoff situation or in a roto category in which you're trying to make a move. New contributors are creeping out of the woodwork every night. Some are even producing at elite levels.
But while you're sifting through the rapidly rising and falling players on your league's waiver wire, keep in mind that most late adds are going to fall into the high-risk/high-reward category. You're not going to be able to truly count on most of these guys on a night-in, night-out basis. Instead, you're going to be faced with a lot of peaks and valleys.
Take Anthony Randolph, for example. As Kevin Pelton underscored in yet another one of his fine columns last week, if you give Randolph 30-plus minutes a night, the numbers soon will follow. But Randolph, like so many young, late-season fantasy stars, has been riding the bench for a reason -- inconsistency. Randolph's point totals from the past 10 games: 0, 14, 31, 24, 3, 15, 4, 1, 20, 19.
Your waiver wire features several players like Randolph, players with sudden, impressive averages during a five- or 10-game period but who have the capability to lay an egg on any given evening.
When adding a player for your final push, it's good to make sure you're not acquiring a player who could shoot you out of house and home in the percentage categories.
Let's look at some newer names on the fantasy radar that bear watching closely in championship situations.
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG, Toronto Raptors: The No. 2 point guard slot in Toronto has long been fertile ground for out-of-the-blue fantasy relevance. Backing up Jose Calderon's barking hamstrings (and knees and ankles) usually spells starter's minutes for at least 10 to 15 games during the course of an NBA season. Bayless has been the latest Calderon backup to go on a tear, averaging 24 points in his past four games.
Bayless displayed some upside in the past, so it's possible the Raptors could keep him above 30 minutes per game (mpg) down the stretch. He is a cheaper, younger, less injury-prone alternative to Calderon and is still on his rookie contract. Bayless also is on the best shooting tear of his career, with a field goal percentage of .530 in his past five games.
With Calderon coming back, Bayless is returning to the bench, which means he'll have to pack his production into less time and without the rhythm that starting provides. It worked Wednesday night (10-for-18 from the floor for 28 points in 30 minutes), but keep in mind that Bayless (a career 41 percent shooter) probably has at least one 4-for-15 night left in him.
Gerald Henderson, SG, Charlotte Bobcats: Unlike Bayless, there's no hidden reservoir of upside lurking in Henderson's makeup. He's not getting his numbers (16 points per game in his past 10 games) due to a preponderance of high-volume minutes, courtesy of Stephen Jackson's shutdown.
So don't be fooled by the scoring spike. We're still looking at a 44 percent career shooter, whose percentage drops to less than 20 when placed behind the arc. Henderson is decent at the line (79 percent in 2010-11) and can contribute in the defensive categories, but he's a player to avoid if you're clinging to a small lead in field goal percentage, especially if he's called upon to try to hit 3-pointers.
Carlos Delfino, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks: I can't think of a waiver-wire player I've dedicated more pixels to during the past couple of seasons. I've long been obsessed by his multipositional, highly skilled mix of 3s, steals, assists and boards. Delfino was one of the hottest players in the NBA just a couple of weeks ago, throwing up back-to-back 30-point lines against the Knicks and Kings. Unfortunately, Delfino fell prey (yet again) to the injury bug that seems to strike every time he is about to cement a starting spot.
Delfino is tough (he probably tried to come back too soon from his early-season concussion issues) and is trying to play through his current rib injury, but in playing hurt, his field goal percentage has dropped through the floorboards (.250 from the field during the past seven days).
Delfino is a good bet for another monster line -- one of those 20-point, 3 3-pointer, 4-steal, 4-assist kind of lines he's so good at -- but he's a shaky play until he gets healthy.
Francisco Garcia, SG/SF, Sacramento Kings: I've been plugging in Garcia for the past month due to a late-season need for blocks and steals from the guard position. If you're in a blocks-only battle, I can't recommend Garcia highly enough. Even when his minutes drop into the low 20s, he still finds a way to chip in with a swat, a steal and a 3-pointer.
But for all his strengths, Garcia has a little Antoine Walker in him -- a sort of morally casual attitude regarding his fantasy owners' field goal percentage. And like Walker, Garcia is inordinately streaky. This streakiness is mitigated somewhat by his high volume of 3-point attempts, of which he's hitting 37 percent this season. But when placed within a small sample size, Garcia can have a chilling effect on a fantasy team's shooting. In his past five games alone, he's thrown up a 1-for-7, a 1-for-8 and a 4-for-11.
Don't get me wrong, blocks from the guard slot are in short supply, which makes Garcia a great situational add. Just make sure you're not in a position in which a sudden 1-for-8 line could mess with your chances at a championship.
Travis Outlaw, SF/PF, New Jersey Nets: I won't regurgitate my disappointment at Outlaw's fantasy performance this campaign. But yet again, ye fantasy gods have decided to give Outlaw a shot at relevance, shutting down Kris Humphries with a balky ankle.
Like Garcia, Outlaw's low shooting percentage (.376 this season) is offset by the fact that almost half his attempts are from behind the arc. But the difference with Outlaw is that he's totally lost his touch from downtown, hitting less than 30 percent of his 3s in 2010-11.
He's been tabbed as a head case, and many of Outlaw's problems seem to be confidence-related. But now, with no one else to turn to at forward, the Nets have placed Outlaw in a perfect low-expectations situation. Outlaw can hit 3s in bunches, and there's a chance he could have a bounce-back game or two as he attempts to move beyond a forgettable season.
Matt Bonner, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs: With the Spurs having locked up the No. 1 seed in the West, look for Gregg Popovich to give Bonner some extended court time during the final week of the season. When Bonner is on, he provides one of the rarest of fantasy commodities: 3s from the center spot. And this season, he's been incredibly, ineffably on, canning 46 percent of his 3-point attempts.
The problem with Bonner is that he's been frighteningly off during the past couple of weeks. Like the rest of the Spurs, the wheels seem to have been removed from Bonner's game, and Bonner's game really consists of only one thing: coming off the bench and chucking 3s. Throw out one hot night against the Suns, and Bonner is 4-for-24 this month.
On paper, Bonner should be a good end-of-the-season add as the Spurs look to rest their starters. And I love the 3s from the center slot. But Bonner is as one-dimensional as they come, and when his shot isn't falling, he's of no use to fantasy owners.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.