With the fantasy trading deadline fast approaching -- next Wednesday at noon ET -- a lot of people are focusing on getting whatever value they can in the trading market, but around this time of the season, I'm always reminded of the importance of finding players on the waiver wire. While it's true that guys like Jeremy Lin don't often show up, it is very possible to find guys on the waiver wire who will be solid fantasy options down the stretch.
The big thing to remember at this point in the season if you are in a standard non-keeper fantasy league is that you need to be bolder than you think in your trades. If you are sitting in the middle of the pack at this point in the season, with teams having played somewhere between 35 and 40 of their 66 games, you are not going to make a significant jump by sitting pat, and if you're not going to win your league, there's not much difference between coming in sixth and coming in ninth. It's time to take a risk. More importantly, you're not going to make a jump unless you somehow replace an inferior player with a superior one. The only way to do that is to find value where other people aren't seeing it.
So, here are some players who have been slowly climbing on the Player Rater recently and are available on the waiver wire in many ESPN leagues. These five players can help you pick up fantasy points in specific areas quickly, and should continue their ascension over the final third of the season.
Rodrigue Beaubois, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks: Beaubois missed a huge chunk of time in February, but since he's come back, he's been an important part of the Mavs' rotation. So much so, in fact, that he has a top-50 ranking on the Player Rater over the past 15 days. Much of that ranking comes from the fact he's averaging 2.0 steals per game in that six-game stretch, a number that would put him fifth overall in the league were he able to do it for the entire season. He's so quick, and has long arms and good hands, so it makes sense that he'd be able to rack up steals, and the fact he's not playing starter's minutes might actually be a benefit in this area, since he doesn't have to fret too much about picking up fouls. He'll help you in other areas, too -- he gets up lots of shots while he's on the floor, and is making better than one 3-pointer per game during that stretch, as well. He's been picked up in a few leagues recently, but is still owned in just 16.9 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so he's there to be had, and can definitely help you out in the stretch run.
Metta World Peace, SF, Los Angeles Lakers: Try not to pay too much attention to the numbers World Peace has been putting up this season. Instead, focus on what he's been doing lately. For one thing, while he's averaging just 23.8 minutes per game on the season as a whole, he's up to 31.4 over the Lakers' past five games. That bump in minutes alone -- given his ability to grab steals -- is significant, but he's also playing much better basketball when he's out there. Over that same five-game stretch, he's shooting 46.3 percent from the floor, and while that's probably a little much to expect from a guy who is a career 41.8 percent shooter, it's also true that World Peace should be getting easier looks when you consider the caliber of guys, like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who are getting him his open looks. He's making 1.4 3s and shooting 88.9 percent from the line in those five games -- great numbers considering the way he struggled in those areas to start the season -- but the thing I'm most excited about is the 3.4 assists per game he's piled up during this stretch. That number would be fifth among small forwards if he could do it over the whole season. It's just part of his strong across-the-board fantasy numbers of late. Chances are he's an upgrade over at least one player on your roster.
Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets: Faried has been a beast lately, averaging 12.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 0.8 steals and shooting 65 percent from the floor in his past five games. Obviously, those numbers are great, and it doesn't take an expert to point that out; over the past 15 days, he's just outside of the top 50 on the Player Rater. He's been picked up in a lot of leagues over the past few days, but is still available in 57.5 percent of them, so it's certainly possible he's available in yours and should be picked up as soon as possible. Nene just returned from injury, and might cut into Faried's minutes (especially since Faried's recent numbers look a whole lot like Nene's usual production), but my guess would be that most of Nene's minutes come out of the minutes Timofey Mozgov has been playing. The way George Karl likes to play lots of guys means Faried's likely to keep getting somewhere in the vicinity of the 26.9 minutes per game he's been playing during this recent span. If you can replace a low field goal percentage player with Faried, you could definitely gain a couple of fantasy points over the remainder of the season in roto formats.
Steve Novak, PF, New York Knicks: Despite all the attention Novak's been getting lately as the sidekick to the whole Jeremy Lin phenomenon, he's still owned in just 27.7 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues. I realize, of course, that he does only one thing, but that one thing is important, and it means he's a pretty valuable fantasy player, but get this: he's actually been the most valuable fantasy guy on the Knicks over the past 15 days on the Player Rater. He's been more valuable than Lin himself, and far more valuable than Tyson Chandler or Amare Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony. Obviously, that's not going to continue for the rest of the season, but I would maintain that it's because those other guys are likely to play better. Novak, meanwhile, continues to play more and more minutes while continuing to knock down a ton of 3s. It's significant to point out, as I've done before, that shooting 3s is all Novak does, so when you see that he's shooting 54.5 percent from the floor over his past five games, remember that that number is actually even more important than it originally seems because he's getting so much value out of every shot he takes. Clearly, if you're already dominating in 3s, you don't need a guy like Novak, but if you have any ground to cover in that category whatsoever, there's no fantasy player out there who can help you more than Novak.
Gustavo Ayon, PF, New Orleans Hornets: Ayon, strangely, has actually been dropped in quite a few leagues in recent days, and is currently owned in just 5.6 percent of them. Yes, his post All-Star break numbers have been a bit of a drop-off for him -- he's averaging 9.2 points and 3.6 rebounds over a five-game stretch, and those are the stats we probably pay the most attention to -- but really, he's still been quite good in the fantasy game. He's averaging 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks during that same span, and that combination is a tough one to match for anyone, not just for players on the waiver wire in most leagues. He's also shooting 54 percent from the floor during that stretch, and while that's actually a decline from his pre-All-Star break level, it's still a pretty great number. To me, however, the important thing to consider is the fact Ayon has been playing nearly 30 minutes per game recently, and that's a major leap from the 19.7 minutes per game he's averaging on the season overall. The Hornets are going to continue to play him, because he's one of the most promising players they have, and pretty soon he should start rebounding again with the fervor he's displayed on many occasions already this season. Pick him up while you still have the chance.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.