Late risers on the Player Rater
With the fantasy trade deadline just passed in most ESPN leagues, and only one real trade -- Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors, and Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown to the Milwaukee Bucks -- we fantasy players are still sadly lacking in the information department. Without a doubt, this year's NBA trade deadline may just end up being a quiet one, but certainly at least a few important fantasy pieces will be in motion over the next day, and we simply can't know exactly which they are quite yet.
That said, where there is a difficult situation, there is always opportunity. Making shrewd moves on the waiver wire -- taking risks where risks are most appropriate -- could yield some pretty happy results, especially since things are about to get pretty loud on the waiver wire over the coming days. As I discussed last week in this column, once the trade deadline passes, the waiver wire will be your only means of making roster improvements, and considering the fact that some teams have already played two-thirds of their entire schedule, the time for taking risks if you own a middling fantasy squad is now. It is to your benefit, if you have one or two questionable players on your roster, to take a shot at replacing them with players with more upside now, before the inevitable rush of activity that will follow the trade deadline.
Bearing that in mind, and continuing last week's theme, here are some players you might want to consider picking up while you can.
Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors: Thompson is a great 3-point shooter already, and over his past five games he's averaging 14.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.0 3-pointers in just 26 minutes per game. The reason to pick him up, though, is the fact that Monta Ellis is no longer on the Warriors. Thompson should have absolutely no problem locking up the starting shooting guard job in Oakland even after Stephen Curry returns to the lineup, and traditionally, that position has been a pretty good one where fantasy production is concerned. I am particularly encouraged by the fact that he had a team-high five assists in the Warriors' blowout win over the Sacramento Kings with a depleted roster on Tuesday night; it shows that Thompson has some play-making ability, and that probably means he also has some staying-power. He's not making waves on the Player Rater quite yet, but he's about to; he could be one of the most important pickups in fantasy for the rest of the season (and might not be a bad guy to have in keeper leagues, too) so get him while he's still available.
James Johnson, SF/PF, Toronto Raptors: Johnson is owned in 38 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, and while I try to target players owned in fewer leagues than that for columns like this, it's also true that he's been dropped in some leagues over the past few days, and might be newly available. The reason he's been dropped is that his minutes -- and, therefore, his production -- have dropped a bit since the return of Andrea Bargnani to the Raptors' lineup. Still, Johnson has managed to be a top-50 guy on the Player Rater over the past two weeks. I might point out that Johnson also remains in the starting lineup, and the Raptors are a losing team that should be making every effort to see what they have in a guy like him. Most importantly, however, is the fact that it's not every day that a player averaging 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game for the season shows up on the waiver wire. Even if he doesn't do much else, Johnson is going to retain value just by being able to help you rack up numbers in those defensive categories. If those are areas where you have ground to gain, Johnson might really make sense for you.
Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets: This one comes with a bit of volatility, because it seems like the Rockets are involved in every trade rumor under the sun, and Parsons is the kind of player other teams might look at, given the chance. That's because he's really good, and that's why you should be picking him up in fantasy. Over the past seven days, he's 23rd on the Player Rater, because over the past five games, Parsons has been carving out a greater portion of the offense. That's increased his value; he's averaging 15.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 3-pointers, and 64 percent shooting from the floor. Yes, he's an atrocious free throw shooter (he's at 45.5 percent this season, and while that's probably a bit unlucky, he also was only a 61 percent shooter from the line in his four years at Florida), but the good things he does definitely offset that. If he can keep shooting better than 50 percent from the floor for the rest of the season, he'll be a valuable player in just about all fantasy leagues, just as long as he avoids getting traded to a team that doesn't need him as much as the Rockets do.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings: Thomas has been dropped in a ton of leagues over the past week as his production has dipped a little with the return of John Salmons to the Kings' lineup. That means that even though he's owned in 45.7 percent of leagues, he's also newly available in quite a few of them, and I think that is a mistake. For one thing, he's actually 33rd on the Player Rater over the past week, and even with the drop in minutes, Thomas is still shooting the lights out of late, hitting 51.5 percent from the floor over his past five games. He's making 2.2 3s and 1.6 steals in just 23.2 minutes over that stretch too, so he should continue to be a good source of 3s and steals without hurting your percentages much. Those numbers alone are reason enough to get him off the waiver wire. Consider, too, that Thomas played 29 minutes on Tuesday against the Warriors while Salmons played just 19, and that Thomas is probably the closest thing to a true point guard that the Kings have on their roster. Yes, he could flame out a bit over the coming weeks, but this is a case where the possible rewards are well worth the risk if you can drop a player with less upside for Thomas.
Ramon Sessions, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: Forget the fact that Sessions is putting up decent numbers in pretty limited minutes lately, averaging 12.2 points, 4.4 assists, and 46.7 percent shooting from the floor in just 22.6 minutes over his past five games. The reason to pick up Sessions right now is the possibility that he gets traded to a team that needs a point guard. Even if it's probably not a great idea to pick up a player solely on the hope that he gets traded to a team that needs him, Sessions is good enough that if you need some help in assists, he's worth having on your roster anyway. Still, the real upside is in the hope that he gets traded, because if he's playing 30 minutes per game, his numbers will be stellar. Remember, you can always drop him later if he doesn't end up playing any better than he is right now.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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