K-Mart, Ridnour most helpful on wire
I'm a retired high school teacher. I know, by the looks of my sweet profile pic I'm seemingly still in high school, but I was actually almost born in the '70s. Almost. Anyway, when teaching writing, I encouraged my students to analyze their audience and purpose when selecting their content and style, and to adapt their choices appropriately. Despite the fact I'm retired, I apply those principles when crafting fantasy analysis, but the audience part can be the hardest for me to pinpoint.
I typically identify my readers as serious fantasy hoops players -- fantasy junkies -- and tend to highlight deep-league options available in a small percentage of leagues. But by consistently identifying these players that owners have to "dig deep" for, I'm neglecting an important audience: those in less-intense leagues selecting from players who are unavailable in many other leagues. These owners range from fantasy hoops rookies, to casual players, to expert-level owners in a non-competitive league. The latter is common, as a handful of active owners are often embroiled in a battle atop a lame league's standings, despite the inactivity and/or ineptitude of the rest of the owners.
To expand the player pool, the guys spotlighted are available in at least two-thirds of ESPN leagues. This week's players either assist your team in rebounds or help your team rebound in the assist category if it's dime-deprived. Next week, I'll feature steals and blocks, followed by 3-pointers and points, culminating with percentages in the final week of this epic "Working the Wire" miniseries.
Alas, deep-leaguers need not fret. I'll list several players owned in fewer than 3 percent of leagues who have recently improved their performance or stumbled upon better circumstances. I can't allocate words for blurbs about each, but at least it provides a list to reference when determining which deep-league waiver-wire option best addresses your team's deficiencies.
Luke Ridnour, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (6.5 percent owned): With Michael Redd out for the season, Ridnour should consistently play around 30 minutes as a critical cog in the Bucks' backcourt, and take more of the ballhandling duties from Brandon Jennings as the dynamic rook often shifts to off-guard to compensate for losing Redd's scoring punch. Ridnour's skill set is ideal for the fantasy game: he provides great assists, good steals and decent 3s. Luke's 9.4 assists per 48 minutes in January ranks ahead of marquee point guards like Devin Harris and Tony Parker, and his 2.92 assists per turnover mark ranks 10th in the league. Ridnour's value is augmented in turnover formats, as he's finished in the top 20 in assist-to-turnover ratio in five of the past six seasons, including 13th last season and fifth overall in 2005-06. Of all the players on this list, Ridnour's value took the most specific jump this week, and I think the increase is underestimated; Ridnour will be ranked much higher than No. 16 on the most-added list in no time.
Rafer Alston, PG, Miami Heat (3.4 percent owned): Skip's been pedestrian for the Heat thus far (3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 3s in four games), although over the course of his career Alston has blossomed from streetballer to competent distributor, and consistent source of assists, 3s and steals with relatively low turnovers. Alston will play significant minutes amidst the dysfunction surrounding the point guard position in Miami this season; Carlos Arroyo was starting, but now is third-string, Chris Quinn was traded to the Nets, and most notably Mario Chalmers' performance this season has been a monumental disappointment, especially given his promising rookie stats. Coach Erik Spoelstra says Alston will continue starting for now, although his reasoning was more because he liked Chalmers' leadership and defense while manning the second unit. I actually view Chalmers as a buy-low candidate, but for now Alston is an ideal handcuff if you're waiting for the sophomore to overcome his slump. If he's getting minutes in the upper 20s, expect assists in the fours with about 1.5 3s and a steal.
Earl Watson, PG, Indiana Pacers (1.1 percent owned): Watson continues to man the point in Indiana, and his dimes have soared since Danny Granger returned (33 assists in those four games). He's more a product of a fruitful situation than anything else, as he's proven to be consistently mediocre for years. But he's racked up the assists recently, averaging 6.3 assists per game this month (10.1 per 48 minutes), to accompany 4.2 on the season and 5.7 in 13 starts. Even though he won't produce the 3s and steals you covet from a guard, Watson is averaging more assists during the past month than Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Jameer Nelson, Tyreke Evans and Mo Williams, and if he keeps starting, the dimes will keep rolling in.
Deep leagues: Jose Juan Barea, PG, Dallas Mavericks (2.6 percent owned); Jason Williams, PG, Orlando Magic (1.8 percent owned); Jamaal Tinsley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies (0.3 percent owned); Willie Green, SG, Philadelphia 76ers (0.5 percent owned); Marcus Williams, PG, Grizzlies (0.1 percent owned); Sebastian Telfair, PG, Los Angeles Clippers (0.4 percent owned); Keyon Dooling, PG, New Jersey Nets (0.4 percent owned); Anthony Carter, PG, Denver Nuggets (0.3 percent owned)
Kyle Lowry, PG, Houston Rockets (2.6 percent owned): I have a strange love for Lowry. Perhaps here's why: 12.0 points, 6.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.8 3s with just two turnovers per game. Those would be his numbers with his current per-minute stats for the season if given 35 minutes per game! We're talking about a 6-foot-nothing guard who could average six boards per game if given serious PT. He's third among point-guard-eligible players in rebounds over the past 30 days and first over the past 15. Starting Lowry at utility or guard doesn't provide the same value as it does by starting him at point, where he dominates nearly all others. He also provides excellent dimes and steals in his limited minutes, and his across-the-board type of production makes him worth owning in all formats.
Matt Barnes, SF, Magic (3.6 percent owned): Barnes went off for 28 points with 9 boards, 3 3-pointers, 3 steals and a block Wednesday night, and has excelled since entering the starting lineup Dec. 30, averaging 15 points, seven boards, one steal and 1.6 3s in that span while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor. He's averaging 7.4 rebounds as a starter this season, and his 6.8 per game over the past 15 days ranks 10th among small-forward-eligible players. If you're pressing for rebounds, starting him at forward or utility over a PF/C type isn't a wise allocation of resources, as small forwards who board on the cheap like Barnes are rare. Like Lowry, Barnes helps you make up ground by providing significantly in a category that's not typically counted on from his position, not to mention the contributions in 3s, steals and even blocks (0.4 per game in fewer than 24 minutes, the 12th-highest per-minute block rate for small forwards in the NBA).
Deep Leagues: Chuck Hayes, SF/PF/C, Rockets (1.0 percent owned), Nick Collison, PF/C, Oklahoma City Thunder (1.3 percent owned), Thabo Sefolosha, SG/SF, Thunder (1.3 percent owned), Jamaal Magloire, C. Heat (0.1 percent owned), Jon Brockman, PF, Sacramento Kings (0.4 percent owned), Jared Jeffries, SF/PF, New York Knicks (0.7 percent owned), DeAndre Jordan, C, Clippers (0.4 percent owned), Jason Maxiell, PF, Detroit Pistons (0.3 percent owned), Juwan Howard, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (1.0 percent owned), Glen Davis, PF, Boston Celtics (1.0 percent owned), Ian Mahinmi, C, San Antonio Spurs (0.4 percent owned), Chris Wilcox, PF, Pistons (0.3 percent owned), Dan Gadzuric, C, Bucks (0.1 percent owned)
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.