Taj Gibson a steady early pickup
The first week of waiver pickups is perhaps most important of the season, as it provides the opportunity to snatch the gems that slipped through the cracks in the draft, or to capitalize on an early-season surprise who will be a season-long delight. When making moves, be sure not to be too rash and drop a slow-starting player who is undoubtedly worth owning. At the same time, feel free to cut bait on your late-round fliers who fizzled early if what appears to be a more intriguing option presents itself. Let's examine some widely available options for first-week addition:
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls (6.5 percent owned): Had the Bulls not acquired Carlos Boozer, Gibson would be a lock for a productive fantasy season after averaging 9.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 0.6 steals and 49.4 percent shooting as a rookie in 27.0 minutes per game. He's in line for serious run until Boozer returns in mid-to-late November, and showed what he can do with the opportunity in the opener, scoring 16 points with 11 rebounds and two steals while shooting 8-for-12 from the floor. Many are quick to assume his minutes will disappear once Boozer's back in the mix, but he should still get respectable playing time in a three-man frontcourt rotation with Joakim Noah and Boozer, and have value in deeper leagues all season. Boozer's injury risk gives him significant upside, and he'll at least be an excellent value for the next few weeks, so if there isn't a better option now, ride him and then drop him for one when the time is right.
Arron Afflalo, SG, Denver Nuggets (5.9 percent owned): Afflalo was a fantastic college player at UCLA and was spectacular this preseason, but it was difficult to tell if his success would translate into the regular season. He's off to a great start after scoring 22 points with three 3-pointers and two steals in 35 minutes in his first game, and most importantly he started at the 2. He averaged nearly 17 points and fewer than two turnovers in his final college season, draining 87 3s in 36 contests. He's finally found an opportunity to exhibit his scoring abilities in Denver, and looks primed to be a unexpected source of scoring and 3s.
Anthony Tolliver, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (4.7 percent owned): Tolliver was impressive down the stretch for the Warriors last season, averaging 15.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in eight April contests. He's now in the mix for the Timberwolves, who lost Al Jefferson and are relying upon Darko Milicic for nightly production, a risk that could bode well for Tolliver. He scored 14 points with 7 rebounds and 4 blocks in his first game of the season in 28 minutes, and if he maintains minutes in the upper-20s, he'll put up serviceable point, rebound and block totals from the center position. It's important to see how Kevin Love's numbers shake out, although the two of them could easily see significant floor time together with Darko as the odd man out. It seems clear that Kurt Rambis' philosophy is to go with who is playing best, and Tolliver has an early advantage in that department. His late-season stats from last season indicate his upside, and even though Darko is a solid source of blocks, he lacks the all-around game and scoring/rebounding ability to truly block Tolliver from getting significant minutes if his solid play continues.
Marco Belinelli, SG, New Orleans Hornets (3.1 percent owned): Marcus Thornton had a breakout season in 2009-10, and was drafted by many to be a fantasy starter at shooting guard. Problem is, he's not the starting shooting guard on his own team; that role has fallen to Belinelli. The Italian has proven to be deadly from long range during the course of his career, averaging 0.9 3s in just 16.0 minutes per game, and has a fan in new head coach Monty Williams. He's in line to dwarf his minutes from seasons past, which should translate into helpful contributions in the scoring department, especially from downtown, where he could easily average 1.5 3s per game.
James Jones, SF, Miami Heat (1.1 percent owned): His game isn't multifaceted, but Jones can drain it from downtown. He averaged 1.0 3s per game last season in just 14.1 minutes per contest, and looks to have his workload increased significantly this season. Jones fits the definition of a cheap 3-point specialist.
Rasual Butler, SG/SF, Los Angeles Clippers (1.1 percent owned): OK, so maybe this is the definition of a cheap 3-point specialist. My team name in my home league is "Business Rasual," a nickname I'm still trying to force upon Butler, so here's the obligatory mention of the lanky sharpshooter. He should have no problem doing what he did last season, which was be a valuable 3-point threat to many a fantasy team by flirting with two 3s per game.
Anthony Parker, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers (1.0 percent owned): Parker was once a legitimate fantasy-glue guard for the Raptors, where he averaged 1.5 3s, 1.1 steals, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game from 2006-09. His first season with the Cavs was disappointing, as he struggled to find minutes in a backcourt with LeBron James, but he did play nearly 35 minutes in the opener, and had 10 points, 6 assists and 2 3s. He has the ability to be above average from downtown, with just enough in the rest of the categories and sturdy percentages (career .453 and .811 from the field and stripe, respectively) and low turnovers (1.0 per game for his career) to be a helpful fantasy addition. He's one of those players who doesn't wow you anywhere, but then ends up ranked higher than expected on the Player Rater.
Zaza Pachulia, C, Atlanta Hawks (0.6 percent owned): Pachulia had a couple of seasons as a decent fantasy contributor for the Hawks from 2005-07, when he averaged about 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in two seasons. Those numbers were just good enough, especially the excellent steals from the center position, to make him worth starting in many two-center formats. He looks to be the first big man off the Hawks' bench, and should eclipse the measly 14.0 minutes per game he averaged last season.
Josh McRoberts, PF, Indiana Pacers (0.2 percent owned): Peep this old-school high school dunk contest of McRoberts, C.J. Miles, Gerald Green and others. Love that one. Anyway, back then and then at Duke, McRoberts was primed to be an NBA star, but things haven't worked out that way. He finally has a shot at some significant minutes due to the putridity of the Pacers' frontcourt, and he actually has the tools to put up some intriguing fantasy numbers. He averaged 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks last season in just 12.5 minutes of action, and looks to see those minutes at least doubled this season. He put up two blocks, a steal and a 3 in the season opener, and is starting at power forward with little competition for those minutes. Don't expect monster rebounding totals, but the 3s/steals/blocks combo will be interesting.
Shelden Williams, PF, Nuggets (0.2 percent owned): Williams was an absolute beast on the boards in the preseason, and that voracity carried over into the opener, in which he snared 16 rebounds in 28 minutes. He isn't strong in other categories, although his offense should pick up a bit, as he did attempt 11 shots from the field. Plus, he's averaged 0.4 blocks per game in just 14.0 minutes on his career, so he should be good for around one swat per game given more minutes. He's also got a solid steal rate for his career, so could put up some sneaky numbers there if he continues to remain in George Karl's favor. But what you're really drafting Williams for is his boards, and he appears ready to be a Reggie Evans-style contributor in that category.
Keith Bogans, SG, Bulls (0.1 percent owned): Bogans has been a nice player for his career, but has simply been a 20 minutes-per-game guy no matter where he's landed. He's posted respectable per-minute numbers in his career, with 1.1 3s and 0.7 steals in just 22.9 minutes per game in seven seasons, as well as a decent 3.1 assists per game in his limited role. Bogans' minutes dwarfed those of both Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, who were expected to be duking it out for the shooting guard minutes in Chicago, and if he continues to see 30-plus minutes per game, Bogans should give you around 1.5 3s and 1.0 steals per game, numbers worth owning in deeper formats.
Darrell Arthur, PF, Memphis Grizzlies (0.1 percent owned): With Marc Gasol nursing a bum ankle and Zach Randolph leaving the Grizzlies' first game with back problems, Arthur started and played 31 minutes, scoring 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the floor. He's got some scoring ability, and has averaged 0.6 blocks and steals for his career in just 17.9 minutes per game. If he's set to see increased playing time, he could put up double-digit points with seven or eight boards, a steal and a block, but only if there's a longer-term injury in the Grizzlies' frontcourt.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.