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Key early-season waiver targets

10/30/2009

You should totally freak out right now.

I mean, like, marry a backup dancer, shave your head and drop your third-round pick freak out. Replace the milk in your cereal with five or six of those extreme energy-drink shots, then finally tell your mom how you really feel via Twitter. Highlight your hair, get hoop earrings and form a boy band -- oh wait, that was me in high school in the '90s. I had to share a tidbit of personal information in lieu of a formal introduction, so there you go. Basically, what I'm saying is now is the time to take risks on choices that will shape the rest of your life.

Extreme? Yes, but if you replace "rest of your life" with "2009-10 fantasy NBA season" and apply the level of impact such choices would have in the context of real life to your roster decisions, it's totally applicable. But don't freak out about your current roster; it's both too late (you can't redraft) and too early for that. Focus your panic on quickly determining which player is holding down your team's 13th and final roster spot. It is undoubtedly premature to make rash decisions about players you drafted in the first 10 rounds, because anybody can have an off night or two, especially shooters. Don't freak out about the core of your team, and hone all of that energy toward capitalizing on what is likely the most important week or two (depending on the level of involvement in your league) of free agency during the fantasy hoops season.

To illustrate the fact that choice could make or break your entire season, look at the players Brian McKitish highlighted in the first Working the Wire of the past two NBA seasons:

2008-09: Tyrus Thomas, Wilson Chandler, Rudy Fernandez, Mario Chalmers, Kelenna Azubuike, Darrell Arthur, Spencer Hawes

2007-08: Ronnie Brewer, Andray Blatche, Francisco Garcia, Travis Outlaw, John Salmons, Jason Smith

Get the picture? Every one of those guys was forgotten on draft day, and now more than half of them are household names in fantasy hoops, with Smith being the only completely irrelevant one. McKitish didn't choose flavors of the week to highlight, but players who had potential in some way or another, and once the potential circumstances became actual circumstances, the time to pounce arrived. Players available this early in the season can have a monumental impact on your roster but typically don't come from absolutely nowhere, so if you already had your eye on one of the strong starters listed below, pull the trigger.

Who to drop? Unless you had an incredible draft from top to bottom, you likely have at least one player who was a safe pick, didn't suit team needs or was already on the bubble and early signs indicate the opportunity is not there. Cut bait. Cast these question marks aside for a once-in-a-lifetime (season) chance to alter the course of your (fantasy basketball) destiny. Liberally replace them with early-season movers such as those listed below, and continue to meticulously comb the box scores during this crucial moment in time.

Martell Webster, SF, Trail Blazers (2.2 percent owned): The entire world has forgotten that this kid has game after he missed all but five minutes of the 2008-09 season with a foot injury and spent his first few years in the league learning how to play basketball instead of stuffing the stat sheet. And that he's just 22, three years younger than fellow Northwest native Brandon Roy, a last vestige of the straight-from-high-school era, the modern-day last unicorn. I am extremely jealous of Webster since he has one of those nicknames that is both awesome and clever, while my nickname of "Snake Master Flex" is solely awesome. "The Definition" will see his minutes fluctuate, and there are several uncertainties surrounding his potential value, primarily a muddled swingman situation in Portland, and lingering injury concerns (he missed his junior season of high school with a foot injury as well). But I'd count on 1.5 3s per game if he's healthy, and his sneaky 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks from his last healthy season are just enough to matter.

Marreese Speights, PF/C, 76ers (10.2 percent owned): Speights scored 26 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the Sixers' first contest, playing 26 minutes to Samuel Dalembert's foul-troubled 16. Dalembert, despite his flaws, still will get around 25 minutes per game, and Elton Brand will get 30ish if he stays alive, so temper your expectations for Speights as far as immediate impact, but don't hesitate to add him if you need center help. He probably will play around 20 minutes per night with improved per-minute stats compared to those from his rookie season. To me, that looks like about 13 points, seven rebounds and 1.2 blocks with 50 percent from the field in limited minutes, with the potential to mimic his stats from his final college season at Florida -- 14.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks. Speights is a must-add if you have a spot and need a center or blocks, and he'll shoot up the most-added list all week.

Yi Jianlian, SF/PF, Nets (9.4 percent owned): Will he average 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, his numbers from his first game of the season? No, but he's a candidate for the one 3-pointer/steal/block club, with big-time potential in the free throw department. When I was looking at his first game more closely, the number that caught my eye most was the 37 minutes played, second most on the team. If we simply extended Yi's career stats to per-35-minute averages, he'd be worth owning, so if he takes a step forward production-wise, he could be in line for a fun fantasy season.

Travis Outlaw, SF/PF, Trail Blazers (14.2 percent owned): There's really not much I can write about Outlaw that McKitish didn't write in the first edition of this column two seasons ago, other than the fact that a full season of play always makes him eligible for this column again at the beginning of the next season. Next …

Andray Blatche, PF/C, Wizards (9.8 percent owned): Another talented player who chose to forego college for the pros, Blatche regularly has tempted fantasy owners with his one block per game in less than 18 minutes for his career. But injuries, inexperience, inconsistency and off-court issues have limited his overall productivity. With Antawn Jamison out, Brendan Haywood fragile and the minutes his to lose, Blatche is a worthy add because of his athleticism and swatting ability. The concerns are still there, Jamison will eventually return, and both Javale McGee and Dominic McGuire are talented youngsters ready to capitalize on any misstep, but Blatche's ability to alter shots is undeniable and he's a no-brainer if you need more blocks.

Rasual Butler, SG/SF, Clippers (0.8 percent owned): Like Webster, Butler could average a 3-pointer per game with his eyes closed (OK, maybe partially closed), and he helped fantasy teams in deep leagues last season, averaging 1.7 3s, 0.6 blocks and 0.7 steals for the Hornets. He'll have the opportunity to put up similar numbers backing up Eric Gordon and Al Thornton as the Clippers' sixth man. At first glance, Butler appears to be a one-trick pony who provides a cheap source of 3s, but his steal and block combo is just enough to make his lack of contribution in points, rebounds and assists palatable, and provides intrigue since he could legitimately flirt with two 3s, one steal and one block, something exactly zero players did last season. He might not have a cool nickname like Webster does yet, but if he accomplishes that feat or marries a "celebreality" starlet now that he's in L.A., he'll earn one. May I suggest "Business Rasual"? No, but I can suggest adding him if you need 3s.

Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies (30.3 percent owned): Gasol was basically an afterthought on draft day, despite posting an impressive rookie campaign in which he averaged 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 53 percent from the floor. The additions of Zach Randolph, Hasheem Thabeet and Steven Hunter made improvement seem difficult for Gasol since his chance for minutes took a hit. But he is the clear starter at center and will receive the bulk of the minutes there, aiding fantasy teams in boards and blocks with efficient scoring. Nine boards and 1.5 blocks are attainable averages for Gasol this season, and even though he's still eons away from being the all-around fantasy darling his brother is, it appears he was much more worth drafting than we thought.

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