- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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I prefer carrying an expendable player on my fantasy team. It may sound strange, because many owners attempt to stockpile depth, but with the volatile nature of the waiver wire it's important to have the freedom to readily pounce on current "hot hands." Additionally, impressive bench depth isn't especially beneficial, unless your team becomes ravaged by injuries, and you're better off exchanging depth to upgrade your starting rotation. If nobody on your bench is droppable, you're prone to miss out on gems that surface on the waiver wire, and if they are undroppable they're probably worth starting on somebody's team -- so pursue a trade.
Below are some widely available players whose numbers have recently improved. If you analyze your roster and deem nobody worth dropping, I strongly suggest pursuing a 2-for-1 type trade that frees up a roster spot for a waiver wire addition and upgrades your starting rotation.
Tiago Splitter, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs (33.7 percent owned): Splitter's ownership has jumped significantly after five consecutive double-digit scoring efforts in which he's averaged 14.6 points on 72.5 percent shooting and 7.4 rebounds. He was a star in the Spanish ACB league, averaging 22.4 points on 58.3 percent shooting with 9.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in his final season, and although he's capable of helping in points, rebounds and blocks, his highest value category is field goal percentage. He's shooting 63.2 percent from the floor this season, the third-highest of any player with 20-plus minutes per game (behind DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler) and highest of anybody with at least five attempts per game. He's shot at least 50 percent from the floor in all but two games this season. He's also averaging 0.9 blocks in 20.9 minutes, and beginning to see increased run as Tim Duncan sees regular rest due to his age and the condensed season. Splitter's not getting enough minutes to be an unquestioned starter in most fantasy leagues, but he's got a high ceiling and will only see more playing time as his NBA career evolves.
James Johnson, SF, Toronto Raptors (18.7 percent owned): Johnson became a favorite of fantasy enthusiasts after averaging 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals in 25 games with the Raptors last season, boasting a rare combination in those categories. His offensive game is underwhelming, although he's shown some flashes of competency recently, with games of 18 and 23 points in the past week. He's the type that is regularly added and dropped due to his penchant for posting strings of single-digit scoring efforts, but if you plug him in and don't pay too much attention to the nightly contributions, the high steal and block totals will average out to be fantastic overall. He's averaging 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game in just 24.6 minutes and has 13 blocks in his past four contests. There are bound to be some bumps as his game develops, but if your team is in need of defensive stats, Johnson is already one of the best contributors in the league in his limited playing time.
C.J. Miles, SG/SF, Utah Jazz (12.0 percent owned): Miles proved he has scoring chops last season after averaging 17.1 points, 1.6 3s and 0.9 steals per game in March. He's emerging as the Jazz's primary wing scorer off the bench, with double-digit scoring efforts in his past four games, and averages of 13.8 points, 1.0 3s and 1.6 steals per game in his past five. His peripheral stats are mediocre, but points are difficult to find on the waiver wire, and Miles can score -- his 24.7 points per 48 minutes ranks 29th in the league, ahead of guys like Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay and Danny Granger. After notching at least 21 minutes in each of his past four contests, his PT seem to be on the rise, and he should see more and more floor time, as long as he keeps putting up double digits on the regular.
Drew Gooden, PF, Milwaukee Bucks (11.2 percent owned): Gooden's value skyrockets with Andrew Bogut sidelined indefinitely with a fractured left ankle, as he's already proved capable of producing in five starts this season, averaging 15.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 0.8 steals in 28.0 minutes of play. In 18 starts for the Bucks last season, he averaged 11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 0.7 steals, and he should be able to replicate those numbers now that the team has a huge hole in the middle. Fantasy value is heavily determined by opportunity, and Gooden's got a golden one now, making him worth a roster spot in most formats.
Ronnie Brewer, SG, Chicago Bulls (8.4 percent owned): Pounce on opportunity. That's what Brewer has done with Luol Deng sidelined, and in his second start in place of Deng on Wednesday, he put up 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in 42 minutes. The Bulls need somebody to replace Deng's perimeter defense, and although Brewer has holes in his game, his D is sound. And 42 minutes? Any player who's seeing that type of PT will have a semblance of fantasy relevance. I wouldn't expect amazing production, but he's averaged 1.4 steals per game in his career, along with shooting 51.1 percent from the field. If you need help in either category, Brewer is in line for major minutes with Deng sidelined.
Grant Hill, SF, Phoenix Suns (3.5 percent owned): Early-season knee issues caused the 16-year vet to come out of the gate sputtering, but he's turning it on lately, with double-digit scoring efforts in three of his past four contests. Despite his slow start, he's averaging a respectable 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game this season, and in his past five, he's averaging 12.2 points, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.4 3s per game in 30.0 minutes. Hill is reliable for excellent percentages, perennially flirting with 50 percent from the floor with a free throw percentage in the 80s. He's still got some life left in his game, and as long as he's on the court for decent minutes, Hill is nice filler for unbalanced fantasy rosters.
Linas Kleiza, SF/PF, Toronto Raptors (2.5 percent owned): Kleiza missed the first 10 games of the season recovering from knee surgery, and has slowly worked himself into game shape and into Dwane Casey's rotation. He's averaged at least 1.0 3-pointer per game in each of the past four seasons, and last season, in just 26.5 minutes per game, he put up 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 3s and 0.5 steals per game. With minimal competition at small forward and a need for scoring with Andrea Bargnani out indefinitely after reinjuring his calf, Kleiza has an opportunity to produce. He put up 25 points on Wednesday, going 4-for-9 from downtown, in a season-high 33 minutes. Now that his knee can seemingly handle it, Kleiza has become an option for scoring and 3s.
Jason Smith, PF, New Orleans Hornets (1.1 percent owned): He's an option only if you need blocks in very deep formats, but he's grabbed the starting gig in New Orleans and is averaging 1.7 blocks per game in six starts this season. His 3.0 blocks per 48 minutes is ahead of players like Spencer Hawes and Marcus Camby, so even though his game is about as exciting as his name, he should be able to put up respectable block totals while starting for the Hornets.
Rodrigue Beaubois, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks (0.2 percent owned): This one's all about potential over actual production, as Beaubois' 0.6 3s, 0.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game in just 14.3 minutes is tantalizing. He's at 0.8 3s, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game for the past five, and if your starting lineup is so rock solid that it's logical to stock your bench with potential, Beaubois is an intriguing high-upside player.
Francisco Garcia, SG/SF, Sacramento Kings (0.1 percent owned): Garcia has been mired amid the slew of swingmen in Sacramento, battling Jimmer Fredette for minutes off the bench behind Marcus Thornton and John Salmons. With Thornton sidelined for the next 1-2 weeks with a bruised left thigh, he's got an opportunity to let his well-rounded fantasy game shine and is one of the few shooting guards who can block shots at a reasonable clip. In 2008-09, he averaged 12.7 points, 1.4 3-pointers, 1.0 blocks and 1.2 steals per game, flashing a combination of 3s/steals/blocks that is coveted in fantasy circles. His 3s should improve as he gets more PT, as he's shooting just 27.5 percent from beyond the arc but is a career 36.5 percent shooter from downtown. Garcia's skill set makes him always worth a roster spot if he's getting the minutes.
Donte Greene, SF, Sacramento Kings (0.0 percent owned): Although his ownership is listed at 0.0 percent, I figure there's someone out there who owns him in a superdeep league after he put up 19 points with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 3-pointer and 1 steal on Saturday against the Grizzlies. Like Garcia, Greene should benefit from the absence of the aforementioned Thornton and has a nice set of fantasy tools, with career averages of 0.7 3s, 0.4 blocks and 0.4 steals per game in just 17.2 minutes per game. He's an option in only the deepest of formats, but his impressive per-minute combo of 3s, blocks and steals makes him worth a flier while Thornton is sidelined.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.