Working the Wire: R. Brewer, Outlaw, C. Smith
Fantasy hoops, like many fantasy sports, has a lot more to do with in-season management than preseason preparation. Sure, drafting a star-studded lineup can bring you fantasy glory, but most teams roll to victory through savvy waiver-wire additions well after the draft has ended. Almost every year, there are a few players who rise out of relative obscurity to win over our fantasy hearts. In recent years, the fantasy free-agent market has provided us with top-notch talents such as David West, Al Jefferson and Andris Biedrins. Who will win over our hearts this year? Well, that's where I come in. Each week I'll scour the wire looking for free-agent finds and hidden gems that might be available in your league. The talent on the wire is never as heavy as it is early in the season, as there's almost always a few players who should have been drafted, but weren't for one reason or another. Let's take a look:
Ronnie Brewer, SG, Jazz (18.5 percent owned): Speaking of guys who should've been drafted, how about the starting shooting guard for the Utah Jazz? After all, Brewer did lead the Jazz in scoring in preseason action. Not only did he average 17.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals (yes that's a lot of 2.4's) on 60 percent shooting from the floor and 87.1 percent from the line, but he also clearly separated himself from the likes of Gordan Giricek, Morris Almond and C.J. Miles to earn the starting gig from coach Jerry Sloan.
Brewer didn't see much playing time last season, mostly because of Sloan's aversion to playing rookies, but that doesn't mean he can't breakout in his second season. In fact, I'm banking on just that; Brewer has earned Sloan's trust and looks to be in store for 30-plus minutes per game. With those type of minutes, he should be a major contributor in steals and field-goal percentage while adding around 14 points per game for the Jazz. He won't hit many 3-pointers or do much in terms of rebounds or assists, but his potential to create 2-plus steals per game makes him a highly attractive addition in fantasy leagues of all sizes. Think of him as a younger, more athletic version of Ruben Patterson, but with more upside.
Travis Outlaw, SF/PF, Trail Blazers (14.8 percent owned): Outlaw has been on the fantasy radar for what seems like years, but his youth, inconsistency and a lack of minutes have really prevented him from becoming a household name. Now in his fifth season as a pro at age 23, Outlaw could be ready to step up with an opportunity for increased playing time in Portland. Over the years, Outlaw has shown some serious upside, especially in two of the more scarce fantasy categories, steals and blocks. He saw just 22.9 minutes per game last season, but was still able to average 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks on the season. That's pretty impressive, but even more impressive was his play when he was able to secure extended minutes. In the month of April (nine games), Outlaw posted 18.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks in 31.1 minutes per game. Not too bad. Not too bad at all. He's continued his solid play during preseason action, putting up 13.6 points, 4.1 boards, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks in seven contests. Outlaw looks to be ready to earn about 27-30 minutes per night as the first man off the bench in Portland. And while we're on the topic of small forwards in Portland, the man starting over Outlaw right now -- Martell Webster (9.6 percent owned) -- makes for a nice addition as well.
Craig Smith, PF, Timberwolves (0.0 percent owned): Most folks are liking Corey Brewer and Rashad McCants in the wake of the "Ricky Davis trade", and I'm with them 100 percent, but I think a lot of people are forgetting the "other" Wolves player dealt in the trade -- Mark Blount. Blount's departure clears some space for yet another promising youngster in Minnesota, Craig Smith. The Wolves are pretty thin on their front line, so look to see Smith earning the majority of minutes at the power forward spot while Al Jefferson holds down the fort at center. Smith is undersized for an NBA power forward, but his lack of size doesn't hurt; the Boston College product excels at finding the loose ball and positioning his body under the glass for tough rebounds in traffic. Like many rookies, Smith didn't see much action in his first season as a pro, but he was impressive when he did finally start seeing the court for extended periods of time. In 10 April games, Smith posted 11.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and a steal in 30.6 minutes per game. Do not mistake him for a shot-blocker, but realize that Smith has the potential to be a nightly double-double threat with the ability to create about a steal per game.
I've never been a big fan of the 10-team league format for fantasy basketball. What's the fun in that? Every team is stacked, and there's always a ton of quality guys sitting out on the wire. If you really want a challenge, put yourself in a 12-, 14- or 16-team league. That's where you'll really test your fantasy mettle. Heck, Eric Karabell and I are going to duel it out in a 30-team league this season. Now that's hardcore. And for those of you who are playing in deeper leagues, this is the section for you. Every week, we'll take a quick look at a few players who might not yet be ready for prime time, but definitely offer some value for those playing in deeper fantasy formats.
Andray Blatche, PF, Wizards (0.7 percent owned): If you're looking for a high-upside gamble at the end of your draft, Blatche might be your man. I am fully convinced that it will be Blatche, not Brendan Haywood, who steps up in Etan Thomas' absence in Washington. The 21-year-old has already started to show glimpses of his potential averaging 10.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.2 blocks in 25.6 minutes during preseason action.
Francisco Garcia, SG/SF, Kings (4.4 percent owned): There aren't many players in the league who could potentially average a steal, a block and a three-pointer per game, but Garcia is one of them. In his two-year career, Garcia has averaged just 18.6 minutes, and despite the lack of playing time, he's still been able to average 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers per contest. With more minutes (he's likely to earn a bigger chunk this season, especially with Mike Bibby out for up to 10 weeks), he should be able to turn himself into one of those rare 1-1-1 guys, which would make him valuable in all fantasy formats, let alone deeper ones.
John Salmons, SG/SF, Kings (0.7 percent owned): Everyone is talking about Quincy Douby, who may start in Bibby's absence, but Douby is more of a point-scorer, while Salmons is better suited to distribute the rock. Both players will see a spike in value due to Bibby's injury, but Salmons, who has averaged 3.5 assists per game as a starter for his career, is the guy you'll want to add to your rosters in deeper leagues.
Jason Smith, SF, 76ers (0.7 percent owned): After Samuel Dalembert and Reggie Evans, there's simply not much depth in Philadelphia's frontcourt. And that means there's an opportunity for Smith to see ample minutes in his first season as a pro. Dalembert is still working his way back from a foot injury and Evans registers too many fouls to stay on the court for more than 25 minutes, so the Sixers might be forced to call on Smith early and often this season. I'm not super high on his prospects, but he's definitely worth a look given the situation in Philly.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.