- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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The NBA trade deadline is a distant memory, and rosters and rotations have essentially settled. The same is going to be the case with your fantasy roster soon, especially once your league's trade deadline passes (if it hasn't already), so it's crucial to add the finishing touches to your roster in the next couple of weeks to gear up for your run. Very few surprise players will surface as waiver-wire gems this late in the season, as the coaches' time to tinker with lineups is dwindling and the window is closing on any player whose value was significantly improved due to a trade. This leaves injuries and players returning from injuries as the primary ways value can still be changed.
Other minor factors that can still alter player value:
* Teams that are out of it looking ahead and giving their youngsters increased run in order to evaluate future prospects (Jrue Holiday should get plenty of run, especially in an Allen Iverson-less backcourt)
* Coaching changes, suspensions, locker room or coach-player drama, contract-year players trying to pad stats, organizations trying to pad player stats and other similar unpredictable possibilities.
Set aside the time for one last box score roundup of the teams that made significant moves at the deadline and see whether anybody whose value increased is available, because soon you'll have to rely on circumstance. Monitor the injury report and box scores meticulously, and make daily roster adjustments and spot-starts based on each day's injuries. If a major injury occurs and opens value for a current scrub, be quick to pounce, as time is limited and cheap opportunities to improve your team will be rare. Here are some widely available players to target as you finalize your squad for the stretch run.
Courtney Lee, SG, New Jersey Nets (13.0 percent owned): Based on his 1.1 3s and 1.0 steals in 25 minutes per game as a rookie and the prospect for increased playing time and offensive responsibility for the Nets, I didn't expect Lee to be a regular topic in Working the Wire this season. But he's struggled to establish consistent value, and he shot a painful 42 percent from the floor in December and January combined. He's played well alongside a healthy Devin Harris recently, though, and he's shooting a much better 48 percent from the floor this month, good for per-game averages of 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 3s and 1.3 steals. He's 19th in the league in steals per 48 minutes at 2.16, up from his impressive 1.88 mark as a rookie. This per-minute improvement is encouraging, as is his recent overall improvement (21 or more points in three of his past seven contests, at least one steal in 12 of 13). Lee is finally finding the value I was hoping he'd have in November. Target him if your priorities are steals, 3s and efficient scoring with few turnovers.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks (2.2 percent owned): The rangy forward's athleticism on defense has kept him on the court for more than 29 minutes per game in February. With those minutes, about eight boards and nearly a steal and a block per game is a reasonable expectation -- nothing flashy, but solid filler defensive numbers for deep leagues. He appears to be a critical piece of the Bucks' lineup for the upcoming playoff run, and with John Salmons providing offense from the backcourt and Hakim Warrick out of the picture, there's a nice place for a hustling forward who will provide a pleasant combo of defensive statistics (9.2 rebounds and nearly a steal and a block per game in his past nine contests).
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls (3.8 percent owned): After slumping to start the month, Gibson is scorching of late, averaging 14.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 0.6 steals in his past five contests, to the tune of a No. 39 ranking on the Player Rater over the past 15 days. Joakim Noah's foot continues to bother him and Tyrus Thomas is out of the picture, so Gibson should continue getting big minutes and, as long as he's doing so, is a nightly double-double threat worth owning in all formats.
Thabo Sefolosha, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder (1.1 percent owned): Sefolosha's defensive prowess translates to the box score better than that of most defensive stoppers, especially in the steals category, where he's emerged as a rare widely available steals specialist. If you need swipes, he's a sure thing -- he has averaged at least one per game in each month of the season, including 1.6 in February, and has at least one swipe in 12 consecutive contests. His multipositional eligibility provides flexibility and the ability to decide whether you want those steals (and nice blocks -- 0.6 per game, sixth-best among guard-eligible players) from your guard or forward slot, a nice luxury when attempting to utilize every start to its fullest in your games-played limit.
Anthony Tolliver, C, Golden State Warriors (0.8 percent owned): This undrafted journeyman of the D-League and Europe is averaging 10.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 0.7 blocks in 10 February contests. His D-League career stats of 14.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.1 steals per contest, along with decent percentages, in 55 games over three seasons demonstrate his ability to post legit big-man stats against decent competition. He's improved as a player on a consistent, tangible basis by getting regular professional minutes instead of riding a bench, and this season he was torching the D-League for 21.4 points and 11.4 rebounds before he got the call up to the show. His plus-1.0 versus Andris Biedrins' minus-6.5 indicates the Warriors play better with Tolliver on the floor, which could indicate an increase in minutes, and his No. 83 ranking on the Player Rater over the past 15 days demonstrates his value. He's already carved out regular playing time that will allow him to continue providing a handful of points, boards, blocks and steals for super cheap, with the potential for continued improvement.
Dorell Wright, SF, Miami Heat (0.4 percent owned): Tuesday's delicious 26 points (6-for-7 on 3-pointers), 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals were a glimpse of what Wright can do when he puts it all together. The problem throughout his career, however, has been his inability to do so with consistency. He's become a legitimate 3-point threat this season, which helps make up for the fact he's not where we wanted him to be three years ago during his career season of 2007-08, when he posted 0.7 steals and 0.9 blocks per game with just 0.7 turnovers and fantastic percentages (49 percent field goals, 83 percent free throws). Check it:
This season: 37-for-90 on 3-pointers (41.1 percent)
First five seasons: 14-for-55 on 3-pointers (25.4 percent)
This stat means "putting it all together" for Wright now means a steal, block and a 3-pointer per game along with fantastic percentages and few turnovers. Wright should flirt with nearly two 3s and 1.5 combined steals/blocks with regular minutes from this point forward. Sounds like my kind of cheap turnover-league player whose multicategorical upside qualifies him as worthy of a gamble.
James Singleton, PF, Washington Wizards (0.3 percent owned): Singleton turned heads with 22 rebounds and seven blocks combined in Monday's and Wednesday's contests, and it's looking as if he is a mainstay in the rotation and will play significant minutes from here on out. His career averages of 0.4 steals and blocks per game in just 11.5 minutes indicate he can flirt with 1.0 in each category when given starter's minutes. He provides stability to a team in disarray, and will be a sneaky source of steals and blocks with modest rebounds as a key reserve in D.C.
Amir Johnson, PF, Toronto Raptors (0.3 percent owned): I've had a strange affinity for Johnson for several years. Perhaps it's his career 1.1 blocks per game in less than 15 minutes, or his 58 percent career shooting, or his 13.2 boards per 48 minutes this season -- a better rate than Andrew Bogut, Chris Kaman and Gerald Wallace. His playing time is still limited but has increased a bit lately (21.3 minutes per game in his past three contests versus 17.3 for the season), as has his production (1.3 blocks, 64 percent shooting in February). You can expect the boards and blocks when he does see the floor, and his scoring has improved as well (nine double-digit games since Jan. 17). I wish he got more playing time; the fact that he has enough value for deeper leagues in such limited minutes is an indication of how awesome he'd be if he could manage 30 minutes per game. For now, he's a decent deep league get for blocks, rebounds and high-efficiency scoring.
Hamed Haddadi, C, Memphis Grizzlies (0.2 percent owned): With news of Hasheem Thabeet's banishment to the D-League, the backup center minutes behind Marc Gasol are Haddadi's, and he's responded with 5.3 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in the past three games, playing 15, 12 and 15 minutes in the three games. It's not much of a sample size, but his 0.5 blocks in just six minutes per game in 37 career NBA games averages out to 2.5 blocks per 30 minutes, and in deep two-center leagues, Haddadi is on the radar.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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