Working the Wire: Bench stashers
In the world of adding and dropping players, it's important to shun the natural complacency that occurs when the honeymoon part of the season is over. In order to win any sort of competitive league, you must constantly improve your roster by remaining vigilant and being proactive when making moves, however minor they might be. Even if your starting lineup is set, if you have a bench player that strikes you as potentially worth dropping when assessing his numbers, there is likely a better option available on the wire. This new addition might ride your bench, but having a talent-filled bench in case of injuries, slumps or unforeseen roster shakeups is critical when attempting to ensure victory in a long fantasy season. As other players lose interest in these minor moves, you should constantly be cultivating the best possible roster.
Most of the players mentioned today aren't worth starting in traditional fantasy formats, although they likely provide better fill-ins than your current worst player. Many also have significant upside and, as they grow into their new roles or get more minutes, could be even better than they're currently playing a month or two from now. Here are widely available options that should help your overall team value.
Landry Fields, SG, Knicks (7.6 percent owned): Fields will undoubtedly have bouts of inconsistency as a rookie adjusting to the league, although he's been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, boasting an all-around game that should lend itself well to the fantasy game for years. He has demonstrated the ability to score, rebound, shoot 3-pointers and accrue steals, and boasts sound percentages. His numbers dipped at the beginning of November, when he failed to score in double-figures in four straight games, but he's bounced back to average 14.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals over his past five contests, including Tuesday's 21-point, 17-rebound spree. Don't expect that type of gem nightly, although his varied skill set should balance out to nice, round overall numbers.
Sonny Weems, SG, Raptors (7.3 percent owned): Weems played well as a rotation player to start the season, then got a window of opportunity due to a Linas Kleiza injury. He remained in the starting lineup despite Kleiza's return, playing 30 minutes to Kleiza's 20 minutes off the bench on Tuesday, and then exploding for 25 points with a team-high 42 minutes on Wednesday. It appears as if he's going to stay in the starting lineup, and has shown glimpses of fantasy value in the past, most notably last April in which he averaged 14.1 points on 51.9 percent shooting from the field and 87.5 percent from the free throw line with 4.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks in 33.1 minutes per game. He has clear scoring ability and has played himself into a role which should prove to be lucrative statistically, as the Raptors' starting backcourt of Jarrett Jack and DeMar DeRozan is inconsistent offensively. Weems should provide 15-17 points with great percentages and a few steals and 3s while in the starting lineup, and as long as he remains there is worth owning in virtually every fantasy format, even if he's riding your bench.
Kyle Korver, SG/SF, Bulls (3.1 percent owned): The formula is simple with Korver: give him minutes and 3s will follow. He's averaging 24.7 minutes per game over his past three contests, and despite the fact Keith Bogans is in the starting lineup, Korver and Ronnie Brewer get similar minutes off the bench and have recently been playing more than Bogans. Korver is solely worth considering if you're in dire need of 3s, although with his current situation he should give you between 1.5 and 2.0 per game.
Kris Humphries, PF, Nets (2.4 percent owned): He's never played enough minutes to be worth owning in most formats, although Humphries boasts solid per-minute numbers for his career, with 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks in just 13 minutes per game. He seems to have edged out Troy Murphy and Derrick Favors for the majority of power forward minutes for now, and is averaging 9.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 0.5 steals over his past four contests, all starts. He is providing energy and hustle, which has won him the favor of Avery Johnson, and has the ability to average 8-10 rebounds with a steal and a block if he continues to get big minutes. Humphries' style is well suited to the fantasy game, and despite the fact he's a journeyman, he actually has some statistical upside based upon his career per-minute stats if he can continue to get minutes.
Ben Wallace, PF/C, Pistons (2.4 percent owned): 3-pointers can be relatively easy to find on the waiver wire, but a combination of rebounds, steals and blocks? Not so much. Wallace is a low-upside but reliable option if you're looking for defensive stats, but only if you can handle his negligible contribution in points. He's a lock for better than a block per game, and provides solid rebounds and excellent steals for a big man, despite averaging just 24.1 minutes per game. If your team is hurting for defense, you can plug him in there and expect him to get his, although his contribution is limited and what he provides only works on certain rosters.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Clippers (1.7 percent owned): I figured that Aminu would be a force in the fantasy game, just not yet. But he wrested the starting small forward role for the Clippers from Ryan Gomes, and in his three starts he's averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 3s and 1.3 steals in 25.3 minutes per game. He's got the skill set to excel in the fantasy world, bestowed with the ability to contribute in multiple categories as a jack-of-all-trades. The 3s and steals are already there, and with his length and athleticism rebounds and blocks will eventually follow. He'll hit some bumps in the road as a rookie, although the fact he was able to grab a starting job this early into his career is a promising sign, and he's worth owning in most formats based on that upside alone.
Brandon Bass, PF, Magic (1.6 percent owned): Bass seems to have been largely underutilized in his NBA career, playing well when he sees floor time but never getting enough of it to put up helpful aggregate numbers. If he ever started, he'd be around 15 and 8 with a steal and a block, but we're not there yet. Where he does provide big-time help is in free throw percentage. He's always been one of the few big men to flirt with 90 percent from the stripe, but hasn't really provided enough attempts to make a big impact. This season with his increased minutes (up to 21.4 from 13.0 last season), he's nailing 3.9 of 4.3 attempts from the stripe per game, good for 90.7 percent. If you're hurting in free throw percentage and have maxed out your options at guard to help you in that department, playing Bass at your PF spot will likely give you a significant free throw boost.
Shane Battier, SF, Rockets (1.2 percent owned): He's not a man of mystery; with Battier you know exactly what you're gonna get. A pleasant combination of 3s, steals and blocks with little else, and very low scoring totals. He's so unflashy that it's hard to start him because he doesn't have big games, but then you look at his averages and they resemble this season: 1.2 blocks, 1.0 3s and 0.7 steals. If your team is loaded with contributors in the more traditional categories of points, rebounds and assists, Battier is a nice complement, and always an able fill-in if you have an injury-related hole on your roster.
Andres Nocioni, SF/PF, Sixers (0.3 percent owned): Nocioni clearly has a short-term window for increased fantasy value as Andre Iguodala rests his bum Achilles, although he's proven in the past that he's able to forge out fantasy value while getting minutes in the mid-20s and coming off the bench. Even with the Sixers' roster at full strength, Nocioni provides a more versatile game than Thaddeus Young, so should be able to match him in minutes, and keep them in that mid-20s range where he can put up 1.5 3s with about a half a block and steal per game and shoot about 80 percent from the stripe.
Gary Forbes, SF, Nuggets (0.2 percent owned): With J.R. Smith at odds with coach George Karl (I swear Smith's nickname should be "doghouse"), the undrafted rookie out of Massachusetts has seen decent playing time off the bench, and is worth monitoring in deep formats. He's averaging 1.0 3s, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks in just 16 minutes per game, numbers that indicate a nice 3/steal/block potential if his minutes are to continue to increase. He's played at least 20 minutes in three of his past four contests, and has surfaced as a super-deep league option.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com