Lopez, West worth picking up
Hayes, Gooden, Anderson also offer up non-traditional defensive help
Welcome to Week 2 of a monthlong "Working the Wire" special event. This miniseries features players from a wider pool of waiver-wire options than usual, to appeal to more casual fantasy hoops players. It also appeals to seasoned owners who are mired in a league with low overall competition but are slugging it out with enough teams to make it a competition. So, for a month, I'm expanding my pool to include those available in two-thirds of leagues or more, while still hitting some deep-league targets. Last week was rebounds and assists; this week, it's blocks and steals.
Intriguing block candidates regularly appear on the wire. However, they're typically athletic and unpolished springy forwards/centers, and we've all had our fun with guys like Andray Blatche and Sean Williams. Unfortunately, these types of players don't contribute in other categories significantly or they hurt your free throw percentage. Apparently, freakish athleticism and mammoth hands aren't the best for the delicate, repeatable motion of shooting free throws. Additionally, if you're really trying to make up ground, most are power forwards and centers, so it's hard to fill your roster with blocks across the board. So, this week's blocks candidates must have positive standard deviations in two other Player Rater categories over the past 30 days or have guard eligibility to ensure they provide some peripheral benefits other than helping you in one category.
Robin Lopez, C, Phoenix Suns (8.2 percent owned): Wow. The 3.3 blocks per game since Jan. 15 isn't too surprising, as he's always had high block-per-minute numbers and is finally getting playing time. But 14 points and six boards as well? That sounds like a player ready to contribute in more than one category after languishing on the bench for a season and a half. The novelty of a big man shooting 3s without providing a post presence (Channing Frye) has seemingly worn off in Phoenix, as Lopez has apparently decided to climb out of the shadow of his twin brother to establish a name for himself among contributors on the professional level. Add him in all formats if you need blocks.
Brandon Rush, SG, Indiana Pacers (1.3 percent owned): This shooting guard averaged 0.5 blocks per game as a rookie, and even though he's struggled this year, his 0.7 rejections per game puts him atop the list of guard-eligible players in the blocks category. He's also one of only 14 players averaging 0.7 blocks and at least a 3-pointer per game, so even though he hasn't exploded on an overall level this season, he's providing a unique combo of stats that makes him worth adding if what he gives is what you're looking for. If you want blocks from a guard with upside, Rush is worth adding despite his overall disappointing season.
Delonte West, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers (6.6 percent owned): With Mo Williams out 4-6 weeks, West will see plenty of run for the Cavs for the foreseeable future. This will translate into a bump in his typically awesome per-minute stats, but perhaps his coolest statistical trait is his ability to block shots on a consistent basis from the backcourt. He's averaged at least 0.5 blocks per game in four of his six seasons in the NBA, regularly demonstrating the rare ability to swat shots as a perimeter player. This emerged in his start for the Cavs on Thursday, as West notched two blocks in 44 minutes of play, to go along with three assists, four rebounds and a 3. He won't score in gobs, but this is the type of across-the-board numbers you can expect from West, with those wonderful blocks thrown in. He's tied for eighth in the league among guard-eligible players in blocks, despite averaging fewer minutes per game than every player ahead of him on the list. Now that we're introducing more minutes into the equation, West should go off and provide 3s, steals, assists and blocks, a rare quartet of contributions. He's worth an immediate add in all formats due to Williams' injury, especially if you really need blocks, as the rest of his multi-categorical contribution (2.9 assists, 1.1 steals per game, with 1.1 3-pointer per game this month) is icing on the cake.
Unlike blocks, most players who get playing time notch a steal here and there, especially perimeter players. Typically, guard-eligibility plus minutes equal about a steal per game, regardless of a player's actual thieving acumen, although it's hard to find a frontcourt player who gets "garbage" steals that typically come from defending the player with the ball in his hands. Thus, finding a power forward or center who helps you in steals is a nice way to catch up, as just five players in the top 40 in steals last season qualified at power forward (Gerald Wallace, Josh Smith, Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko and Kenyon Martin), and none at center. So, this week's players to target for steals must have PF/C eligibility in order to give you a boost from an atypical roster spot.
Drew Gooden, PF/C, Dallas Mavericks (5.4 percent owned): Gooden has been a solid-yet-unspectacular frontcourt presence for the Mavs, contributing above-average numbers in free throws, steals, blocks and boards for the season despite his limited minutes. His blocks have garnered more attention throughout the season, although he accrues steals with the best of the bigs, including 1.3 per game this month in just 21 minutes per game. The nice thing about Gooden is that he really doesn't hurt you anywhere (45 percent field goal percentage, 76 percent free throws percentage, 1.2 turnovers). And even though he's a power forward, he helps in defensive stats beyond just blocks and boards (1.1 steals per game over the past 30 days ranks him tied at eighth among power-forward eligible players). He's a great add if you need steals and blocks, although his performances will be modest, so don't look at him as a huge difference-maker, but rather as a nice player to fill out a roster if you need steals from somewhere other than your guard spots.
Ryan Gomes, SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves (3.3 percent owned): Gomes' quickness has allowed him to average a steal per game this month, as well as a consistent 0.9 per game for both the past 30 days and for the season. The nice thing about Gomes is he contributes in other categories, as he's above average on the Player Rater in free throws, points, rebounds, 3s and steals for the season. Temper your expectations regarding dominant performances, but expect consistency and excellent free throw shooting from a frontcourt player (he's ranked 15th on the Player Rater in free throw percentage for the season among PF-eligible players).
Ryan Anderson, PF, Orlando Magic (1.1 percent owned): His minutes are regularly in the mid-teens, so don't expect regular dominance from Anderson. He does, however, provide a unique combination of steals and 3s from the power forward position, ranking in the top 30 in steals (0.8) and top 10 in 3s (1.5) among PF-eligible players over the past month. He's a great player to add if you need steals and 3s, but don't have another starting spot for a quick-handed guard.
Chuck Hayes, SF/PF/C, Houston Rockets (1.1 percent owned): Gotta love Hayes' triple eligibility, and as a unique player at his position (he's easily the shortest starting center in the league, listed at 6-foot-6) he also provides a unique combination of stats. His average of 0.8 steals per game in just 18 minutes for his career is impressive, and this season he's one of seven center-eligible players averaging a steal per game (and the most widely available on the waiver wire), and with 0.9 blocks per game this month, he's expanding his repertoire in his first year as an every-day starter. He's in line to put up his best stats going forward, averaging nearly 25 minutes per game this month, his highest total of any month this season. His triple eligibility provides flexibility, as you'll get atypical steals if you start him at power forward or center, or top-15 performance in rebounds and top-30 numbers in blocks if you start him at small forward.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks (0.9 percent owned): He's all hustle and defense, which translates well into both steals (0.7 per game this season) and blocks (0.6 per game since Dec. 4). It appears as if the arrival of Jerry Stackhouse will cut into Hakim Warrick's stats more than Mbah a Moute's (in Stack's first game, Luc notched 31 minutes, Stack played 17 and Warrick was limited to four), meaning that he should continue to earn minutes in the upper 20s. Based upon his 1.1 steals per game last season and 0.7 per game this season, he can contribute in this category while most at his position can't. However, you must forget about his contributing in any category other than steals, blocks, and maybe rebounds, and consider him only in deep formats. His defense is legit and should continue to improve, as he's averaging 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks and 4.6 boards as a starter.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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