- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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If you're still entrenched in your league's first-place race, you're likely remaining active and poring over the box scores and analysis to get any sort of advantage in the season's waning days. But what if you aren't at this point? Do it for pride! It's still important to try to put the best possible team forward in order to validate the integrity of your league. Play the spoiler. Maybe you won't be able to get first place, but you can upset somebody vying for the championship and have a moral victory all your own.
Don't allow your excitement for the commencement of fantasy baseball to divert your attention from fielding the best fantasy hoops team possible. Why allow the handful of owners engaged in the race to hand-pick the best of the waiver wire? Grab up the choice morsels, even if you're in 10th place, and make them work for it. Find pleasure in disappointing others; it's an unhealthy habit outside the realm of fantasy leagues, but within these confines it's all gravy. Here are some widely available options that have increased their value as the regular season winds down and emerged as roster-worthy fantasy helpers.
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls (11.5 percent owned): Gibson isn't a scoring machine, but is a solid rebounder and shot-blocker who provides the Bulls with a viable alternative when Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer is sidelined. Noah is considered day-to-day with a sprained ankle, meaning that Gibson should see some increased run down the stretch, as the Bulls will want to ensure that their bigs are healthy and primed for the playoffs. Gibson is averaging a decent 7.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in his past 10 contests, including 1.4 blocks per game in his past five. If Noah misses time, Gibson should be able to capitalize and post nice rebound and block numbers, as he's averaged 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 19 starts this season. He played very well in limited time in March, as his 5.8 rebounds per game was his highest mark since November, despite the fact that he averaged just 19.7 minutes per game. Don't be surprised if that number jumps up into the mid-20s considering Noah's ailment, which should allow Gibson to hover around 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He's not a multifaceted player, although he's consistent in what he does do. If your team needs those categories, snatch him up before he has a big game in Noah's likely impending absence.
Brandon Bass, PF, Orlando Magic (6.3 percent owned): Bass has had an up-and-down season marred by a significant injury and the emergence of Ryan Anderson as a minute-stealer and time-share partner. But he's picked up his scoring recently, and been doing it with consistency, with double-digit points in six straight contests. He's getting the bulk of the playing time at power forward, averaging 31.2 minutes per game in his past five contests, good for 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks while shooting 67.4 percent from the floor. He's a consistently efficient scorer, shooting 51.5 percent from the floor for the season, and has been regularly putting the ball in the basket as of late, averaging 12.8 points per game for his past 10 contests. If you need some scoring punch for your team, but can't handle any sort of hit in field goal percentage, Bass is an ideal pickup. He's in the starting lineup, where he's averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.5 steals in 44 contests this season. If efficiency is your goal down the stretch, Bass is a fantastic option.
Marvin Williams, SF, Atlanta Hawks (3.3 percent owned): Williams' inconsistency is frustrating to fantasy owners, although he's been scoring with some regularity as of late, notching double-digit points in seven of his past nine contests. He's averaging 13.3 points in his past 10 games, including 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.8 3-pointers, 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks per game in his past five while shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 91.3 percent from the stripe. His 11.0 points per game in March marked his second-best number this season (he averaged 12.1 points per game in December). Williams provides a little bit across the board, with the ability to hit some 3s while picking up some rebounds, blocks and steals, all while scoring efficiently. If you're not looking for a player to address a specific category but want someone who will act as glue, perhaps filling in for a recently injured player, Williams is capable of doing so nicely as the season winds down. He won't hurt you anywhere, and is regularly scoring in double figures as of late, making him a viable fantasy option in deeper leagues.
Reggie Williams, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors (2.5 percent owned): This is a more speculative pick, although one that could pay huge dividends if Monta Ellis misses significant time due to the sprained right ankle suffered in Wednesday's contest. Ellis is considered day-to-day, which could give Williams the start on Saturday, a role he's performed admirably in this season when given the chance. In seven starts, Williams is averaging 16.3 points, 2.1 3s and 0.9 steals per game this season, and he also boasts nice positional versatility with his guard/forward eligibility. Ellis' status is unclear, although there's a chance the Warriors will shut him down for the season to avoid risk, since they're out of the playoff hunt. This would bestow huge value upon Williams, who is undoubtedly worth a roster spot if he's getting starter's minutes. If Ellis misses little or no time, Williams won't be worth much, although the upside in points and 3s makes him worth a gamble.
Gary Neal, PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs (1.9 percent owned): Neal has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, providing deadeye shooting for the Spurs and stepping up to the plate in a major way whenever given the opportunity. It's been difficult for him to establish any sort of consistent value, however, due to the presence of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and George Hill also on the roster. Even though both Parker and Ginobili returned to action Thursday night, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will almost surely be conservative with their minutes in the season's final days, wanting his studs to be fresh for the playoff run. Neal doesn't need huge minutes to be effective, since his primary strength lies in his ability to knock down 3s, he basically just needs the opportunity to hoist up four or five from long range during a contest to be fantasy-worthy, as he's shooting 41.1 percent from downtown on the season. He should play a slightly increased role for the Spurs down the stretch, and could easily average 2.0 3s per game in the final handful of games. He's averaging 2.4 3s per game in the past five contests, so if his hot shooting continues he'll be on the court and gunning away while Parker and Ginobili take it easy. George Hill is the first option here, but has been added in most competitive leagues at this point, so if you're looking for 3-point help down the stretch, Neal should be a reliable source.
Jason Thompson, PF, Sacramento Kings (1.9 percent owned): Despite playing behind both Samuel Dalembert and DeMarcus Cousins, Thompson has received an uptick in minutes recently, averaging 35.5 minutes per game in the past two contests. When the Kings want to go small, he provides them with a nice option off the bench, and he's been performing admirably as of late, averaging 10.0 points and 8.8 rebounds with 62.9 percent shooting from the field in the past five contests. Thompson has had lengthy stints of fantasy-worthiness in the past, and boasts a skill set that allows him to put up solid scoring and rebounding numbers when things are clicking for him. He seems primed to finish the season strong, so in deep leagues he has surfaced as an option based upon his recent play. He could be worth some spot-starts against smaller teams, as those contests are where he shines the most, so if used strategically Thompson has the tools to give deep-league rosters a boost in these final days of the season.
Maurice Evans, SG/SF, Washington Wizards (0.6 percent owned): The Wizards have been ravaged by injuries all season, and the recent rash has opened up significant playing time for Evans, who is capitalizing upon the opportunity. With averages of 15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 3s, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in 33.8 minutes in his past five games, Evans is putting up numbers worthy of more than just deep leagues recently. He's averaging 12.1 points per game in his past 10 contests, and his 10.9 points per game in March was by far his highest mark of the season. Throw in the fact he also averaged 1.2 3s and 0.9 steals in 28.8 minutes last month and Evans is putting up numbers that make him worth rostering. He's an career 36.4 percent 3-point shooter, a trait that has made him worth owning in years past when he's getting the minutes. Evans is getting big minutes right now, which is translating into consistent 3s, with respectable scoring and steals numbers to boot. His 3s aren't a fluke, so if your team is desperate for a consistent source from long range for the remainder of the season, Evans is a sound option who should continue draining.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
7hDianna Russini and Adam Schefter
2dESPN Fantasy staff
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6dDavid M. Hale