- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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The season is still so young, it's important not to read too much into the small sample sizes or freak out too much about your team's deficiencies. It's like it's the second week of school, and you might have neglected to turn in the first homework assignment, but you have all semester to bring up that F. Don't panic too much about your grades.
Problem is, all the hot transfer students have already been spoken for.
OK, enough with the awkward simile. At this point, the best free agents, the no-brainers, have already been snagged off the waiver wire, and most of the players you pick up aren't going to immediately crack your starting lineup and be game-changers for the season. But there are still quality options available on the waiver wire, players who likely rival or surpass the quality of your current bench players. It's all about amassing overall roster value so if an injury hits, you have the best possible substitute, and it's also about picking up players with upside who might eventually inch their way into your starting lineup. Here are some widely available players who have played well early in the season. They might not be start-worthy yet in standard leagues, but if they continue playing this well, they are worth consideration:
DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto Raptors (12.7 percent owned): DeRozan's athleticism is freaky, and he's morphing into a better all-around player in his sophomore campaign, especially in the scoring department, where he's averaging 18 points per game in his past three contests. He isn't a shooter, so don't look for much help in the 3-point department, but he provides solid defensive statistics, with 0.5 steals and blocks per game in 28.3 minutes per contest, and career averages of 0.6 and 0.3, respectively, in less than 22 minutes per game. It's hard to find blocks from a guard, and with his leaping ability and defensive-mindedness, DeRozan could flirt with one per game as he continues to improve. He'll put up some clunkers as he develops, although he is laden with upside.
Glen Davis, PF, Boston Celtics (12.6 percent owned): "Big Baby" is getting big minutes off the bench and providing significant assistance in percentages, shooting 60.9 percent from the floor and 91.7 percent from the stripe to go with 13.4 points per game. He has been consistent, scoring in double-digits in each of the Celtics' games, and hasn't played less than 24 minutes in a contest. He doesn't boast very impressive peripherals, with just 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks per game, although high percentages with decent attempts are hard to come by on the waiver wire. If you've got a roster filled with gunners who hurt your field goal percentage, Davis is a widely available option who will help balance that damage.
Al Thornton, SF, Washington Wizards (9.5 percent owned): Thornton is starting at small forward for the Wizards and getting big minutes again, as he did two years ago with the Clippers when he averaged 16.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.9 blocks in nearly 38 minutes per night. He has been attacking the boards, averaging 6.6 per game, something the Wizards desperately need, and has a historically helpful combination of steals and blocks. Even though he's been unsuccessful thus far from behind the arc, he's upped his attempts to 2.0 per game, so he should be between 0.5 and 1 per game in 3s, while flirting with a steal and a block. There's not insane upside here, but he's a proven player who has had fantasy value in the past and appears to have recaptured it.
Reggie Evans, PF, Raptors (8.4 percent owned): Evans historically has ranked among the best rebounders in the league on a per-minute basis, but the problem with his overall value typically has been his lack of playing time. Well, this season he's averaging more than 31 minutes per game with Chris Bosh out of the picture in Toronto, and even if that dwindles to around 25 minutes per game, he should have no problem averaging double-digit boards. He also provides a few steals, which adds to his overall value, making him slightly more than a one-dimensional player. If your team needs boards, there likely isn't a better option out there, and don't be swayed by his low percentages, as his attempts are so nonexistent he won't have much of a negative impact.
Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG, Wizards (7.6 percent owned): Even though the Wizards are already John Wall's team, Hinrich is providing a steadying hand, and playing a monster 39 minutes per game with Gilbert Arenas and Josh Howard sidelined. He is not much of a scorer anymore but has always provided a nice combination of assists, steals and 3s, and is still doing so sharing the backcourt with the rookie dynamo. Even when Arenas was in the picture, which was primarily in preseason play, the Wizards were rolling with a three-guard starting lineup, and Hinrich likely has been too stable and complementary to Wall for him to see a big cut in playing time. He's become deferential as a scorer, so his historically low shooting percentage has less impact while he's still contributing in the typical point guard categories of assists, steals and especially 3s, averaging two 3s per game.
Daniel Gibson, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (7.1 percent owned): It was clear that several players would need to pick up the slack left in LeBron James' wake, and even though he's not in the starting lineup, Gibson is helping fill that void on the scoring and distributing end. He's had fantasy value in the past, when he averaged two 3s per game and shot 44 percent from downtown in 2007-08, but his minutes declined in each of the following two seasons and he averaged just 19 minutes per game last season. He seems to have taken that time to work on his all-around game, and now that he's averaging 28 minutes per game as a key player off the Cavs' bench, he's once again draining 3s (1.5 per game) but also averaging 12.8 points, 5 assists and 1 steal.
Udonis Haslem, PF, Miami Heat (6.2 percent owned): Even though he's seen a decrease in minutes with the addition of Chris Bosh, Haslem is hitting the boards with tenacity, averaging 8.8 rebounds in just 22.8 minutes per game. There's no questioning Haslem's rebounding acumen, and his midrange jumper is solid enough to make sure he's not a complete bust in the points department. His percentages should hover around 50 and 80, and his minutes have nowhere to go but up. He's ranked ninth in the league with 18.5 rebounds per 48 minutes, and if Evans has already been taken and you're hurting for boards, he's likely the best option available.
Omri Casspi, SF/PF, Sacramento Kings (4.5 percent owned): Casspi had an up-and-down rookie season, with high points such as averages of 14.1 points, 5 rebounds and 1.6 3s in December, and 5.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.4 3s in March. He's been a catalyst behind the Kings' surprising start, averaging 10.8 points, 2 3s and 0.8 steals in 27.6 minutes per game off the bench. He'll still be inconsistent, battling Francisco Garcia for minutes, although his increased penchant for attempting 3s -- his attempts are up to 4.2 per game from 2.6 as a rookie -- as well as a decent 0.8 steals per game bestow him with some value. Plus, with Tyreke Evans and Beno Udrih around to handle the ball in Sacto, he's averaging just 1.2 turnovers per game, a bonus if your league counts them. He won't be a nightly option for most leagues unless an injury occurs in Sacramento, although in deeper leagues his 3-point totals give him value, and he should continue his overall improvement, as he's in just his second year in the league.
Toney Douglas, PG, New York Knicks (2.2 percent owned): He's been a successful backup at both point and shooting guard this season, scoring in double-digits in every contest, including Thursday night's 30-point, 4-steal, 4-assist, 5 3-pointer performance. Douglas' success Thursday came in a game in which Raymond Felton had a 20-10-5 night, and they shared the court for significant stretches, so even though he's not starting, Douglas will provide help especially in points, 3s and steals, averaging 15.8, 2.0 and 1.8 for the season, respectively. He's yet to play fewer than 25 minutes in a game, so he's solidified himself as a nightly option for the run-and-gun Knicks, which typically means impressive offensive stats follow.
Hakim Warrick, PF, Phoenix Suns (2.0 percent owned): Warrick is a solid scoring option off the bench for the Suns, averaging 12.3 points per game in slightly more than 23 minutes. He's a career 49.7 percent shooter from the floor, so even if he doesn't boast the all-around game of a fantasy superstar, he offers scoring punch that'll help you in the percentage categories as well. He's scored in double-digits in three of the Suns' four contests, including 19- and 18-point efforts, and more big games should follow.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.