- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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It's never too early to start addressing your needs. This sentence was initially the opener of my upcoming self-help book "How to be Awesome Like Me," but I decided it applied so well to fantasy hoops that I'd start this week's Working the Wire with it.
Analyzing team needs is everything, and even though it's way too early to depend completely upon a sample size of four or five games, your team's glaring deficiencies should be evident by now. The best way to make sure you're not climbing out of a hole in December is by making sure the hole isn't dug in November, so don't wait to start compensating for team weaknesses.
Unless your league is filled with slow movers, most of the monumental early-season free agents (Danilo Gallinari, Andray Blatche, Marc Gasol, Brandon Jennings) have found homes on lucky fantasy rosters. So instead of adding every flavor of the week who contributes for a stint because of circumstance, target (or monitor) those with the proven ability to provide in your weak area, keeping in mind that the fantasy hoops season is an 82-game marathon. I explicitly distinguish between add and monitor, since many highlighted in this week's column have merely exhibited the potential to significantly contribute in the category, but aren't necessarily worth adding yet in most leagues. Monitor them on a game-by-game basis, as the distribution of minutes is still settling and the following players have demonstrated the ability to fill up the stat sheet in the following categories:
Corey Brewer, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (10.6 percent owned): Brewer has been a bust since being drafted seventh overall in 2007, as many figured he's be an immediate impact defender, while a promising offensive game would eventually develop. He is finally showing he can consistently be the former, and with four straight double-digit scoring contests, he's inching toward the latter as well. His high steals-per-minute rate (about one every 20 minutes for his career) has always existed, as he averaged one per game in just 20 minutes last season, but he's transformed from benchwarmer to key piece of the Timberwolves' starting lineup. There's a bit of hope for Minnesotans, as Brewer is averaging 35 minutes per game with a whopping 2.6 steals. Brewer will continue to accrue steals in bundles, and he'll get a 3-pointer here and there -- he's attempted six this season, just hasn't connected yet. Five rebounds, 0.5 3s, 0.5 blocks and two steals are attainable for Corey, who like the other Brewer, Ronnie, specializes in an area with few specialists.
Larry Hughes, SG, New York Knicks (29.2 percent owned): Largely forgotten on draft day, L-Boogie is entrenched in Mike D'Antoni's rotation, averaging 37 minutes per game in his three contests (15 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.7 3s). A D'Antoni offense is fertile ground for a player with fantasy skills like Hughes, as he demonstrated by averaging 14 points, 1.5 steals and 1.7 3s in 20 starts for the Knicks last season. He's often injured and not especially efficient, but put up one season so fantastic (22 points, six rebounds, five assists, 2.9 steals in 2004-05) that it's worth noting anytime he's earning enough minutes to contribute. For his career, he's averaging 1.5 steals per game and should flirt with two as a starter in D'Antoni's up-tempo offense with lots of possessions. Act while you can -- Hughes might have only a couple of productive months this season, and if they're on your team, your steal totals will benefit.
Chuck Hayes, SF/PF, Houston Rockets (2.1 percent owned): He won't score or block shots, and his current 7.8 rebounds per game is about his ceiling, but Hayes plays stellar defense and is the primary beneficiary of Yao Ming's absence this season. The ability to start him at small forward means you don't have to compensate for his lack of "big man" stats, and suddenly his boards are above-average for his position. He's averaging 0.8 steals per game in just 17 minutes for his career, and he has the potential to post unreal steals numbers from the center position once he gains eligibility (five starts at center as of Nov. 6). A great way to make up ground in a deficient area is to compensate in positions that don't typically provide much there, and a center toying with two steals per game provides a helpful bump.
Roy Hibbert/Solomon Jones, C, Indiana Pacers (14.3 percent owned, 0.1 percent owned): I mention them both because they're both unproven, but have stepped up given increased responsibility and exhibit great swatting ability. Hibbert used to look like Kenan Thompson from SNL, but now he looks like Greg Oden 25 years ago. Hibbert can be absolutely dominant in the paint with his size and length. Jones averaged about 1.5 blocks per 30 minutes last season and would be around that given starter's minutes. Hibbert is obviously the first choice, as he's ahead of Jones on the depth chart and is already flexing 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game through four contests. But keep an eye on Jones, as Hibbert is far from proven and he's got the tools to be a valuable fantasy shot-blocker if his minutes increase.
Joel Anthony, C, Miami Heat (0.1 percent owned): Jermaine O'Neal is doing what he can to re-establish himself as a top-tier frontcourt player in Miami, and he blocks Anthony's chance for much relevance. At a glance, he's about as exciting as the fact there's a new Creed album on the shelves, but the Heat frontcourt is thin and he's an injury away from big-time minutes. O'Neal has been far from an iron man, and if he's injured, Anthony could average two blocks per game with increased playing time.
Udonis Haslem, PF, Miami Heat (11.5 percent owned): Haslem has long had fringe fantasy value, good for about eight boards with good percentages every year, and he's started strong with 10 boards per game through five contests. He won't dazzle whatsoever, but is a nice add in deeper leagues if you need rebounding help, because he doesn't damage you in either of the percentage categories and provides decent steals for a power forward (0.6 per game for his career).
Jason Thompson, PF, Sacramento Kings (33.8 percent owned): He averaged a competent 7.4 boards in 28 minutes per game as a rookie, but showed flashes of being an impact player on the glass, especially when he averaged 10.5 rebounds per game last April. Thompson played 40 minutes on Wednesday and his augmented playing time would translate into better numbers if he didn't take the step forward in per-minute productivity most second-year players do. Thompson should improve as he adjusts to the NBA game, and should average around 14 points and nine rebounds with a few steals and blocks. A young, talented player like Thompson is a more enticing addition than someone like Erick Dampier, who consistently provides boards and blocks but has negligible upside.
Anderson Varejao, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (9.9 percent owned): Watching him play Thursday, Varejao is all over the court, disrupting passing lanes, fighting for rebounds, and taking it to the rack (he especially loves the baseline reverse layup). He had seven rebounds in the first quarter and kept the Cavs in the game. This will earn him more minutes, and 8.5 rebounds per game with around a steal and a block is a reasonable expectation from Varejao, the type of defensive stats that make for a nice filler player, especially if you need rebounds.
Jason Williams, PG, Orlando Magic (1.8 percent owned): Williams still posts excellent per-minute assist totals and looks to have secured around 20 minutes per game as Jameer Nelson's backup. With Orlando's extraordinary assortment of offensive weapons, Williams could easily average five assists in his limited minutes, a feat only 25 players achieved last season. To put it in perspective, the 25th-ranked scorer in 2008-09 (Rudy Gay) averaged 19 points per game, and every player in the top 25 of scoring was drafted in virtually every format this season. Assists are hard to come by, and Williams provides 3s and steals (1.7 and 1.3 per game for his career, respectively) to boot, despite being an over-the-hill backup.
Will Bynum, PG, Detroit Pistons (1.4 percent owned): First he dominated the D-League; then, like Anthony Parker, Bynum found success after beginning his pro career in Europe, and now has emerged as the Pistons' sixth man. The lack of a true point guard in the starting rotation means Bynum has the ball in his hands often (his 7.1 assists-per-48 minutes bests both Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon), and he's carving a regular role for himself in the offense. Bynum should continue seeing minutes in the mid-20s, and with dimes at a premium, four per game with about a 3 and a steal are what you'll get from Bynum, especially helpful stats if your team lacks a top-tier assisting point guard.
Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns (0.1 percent owned): He's not worth adding unless Steve Nash goes down, but his 11.1 assists per-48 minutes is evidence Dragic will have immediate fantasy relevance if Nash misses time.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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