Finding short-term category help
J.R. Smith, Marreese Speights, Jose Juan Barea among best available
At this point of the season, stat-stuffers with all-around game have been plucked off most waiver wires. If you need a boost in several categories, the best, and perhaps the only, way to acquire it is through a trade in which you identify your surpluses and ship them away to address your deficits. But if you need help in just one category, the waiver wire is a prime place to find it. Players who shine in one category but are unowned in most leagues due to their inability to produce across-the-board numbers might be just what your fantasy team needs to achieve statistical equilibrium. Let's take a look at some widely available one-category contributors:
Marco Belinelli, SG, New Orleans Hornets (2.1 percent owned): Belinelli has been excellent with Jarrett Jack sidelined, scoring in double figures in eight of his past nine contests, and averaging 15.6 points, 2.6 assists, 2.4 3s and 0.8 steals in his past five games. He's back to starting at shooting guard, and when starting he's averaging 10.7 points, 1.6 3s and 0.9 steals in 25 games this season. His field goal percentage is painful (39.8 percent), but if you need 3s, he's averaging 1.5 per game for the season and 2.0 per game this month.
Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors (0.6 percent owned): People were optimistic about how Thompson's game would translate on the NBA level, due to his size, skill set and shooting ability. Many picked him to have fantasy value this season because of his ability to knock down long-range shots, a prediction that's looking to be accurate. Thompson, who averaged 21.6 points with 2.9 3-pointers, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks last season at Washington State, is seeing increased run and making the most of it, with 12.5 points, 2.5 3s and 0.8 steals per game in his past four. He isn't gun shy, averaging 4.5 3-point attempts in the same span. As we saw with Dorell Wright last season when he led the league in 3s, Golden State's system and roster pay dividends to players who can knock down the open trey. The son of Mychal Thompson has a crowd to battle at the wing in Golden State, with both Wright and Brandon Rush challenging him for minutes, but if he continues to average about 20 minutes, he should hover around two 3s per game.
Raja Bell, SG, Utah Jazz (0.3 percent owned): Bell has picked it up on the offensive end this month after averaging just 6.9 points and 1.0 3s in January. That's increased to 10.1 points and 1.9 3s in February, and we've seen in the past that Bell possesses the 3-point acumen to be helpful in the category -- he averaged more than two 3s per game for four consecutive seasons (2005-09) in Phoenix. In his past five games, he's averaging 2.0 3s, and even though he won't contribute in other categories, his percentages are excellent (.481 field goal percentage, .870 free throw percentage) and his turnovers are negligible (0.6 per game). So if you're looking for 3-point help in a deep league from someone who won't hurt you anywhere, Bell is heating up.
J.R. Smith, SG/SF, Free agent (6.9 percent owned): Smith reportedly will sign with the New York Knicks after averaging 34.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.5 steals and shooting 47.8 percent from 3-point range in China. With plenty of players to score in isolation sets, as well as a point guard adept at finding the open man, he should be gunning from the get-go in New York. Smith has averaged 1.8 3s for his career in 23.9 minutes, and had four straight seasons (2006-10) of at least two 3s per game in Denver. He's typically good for about one steal per game, and should average double figures in scoring. But the long ball is where he makes his money, and his ability to do it in bunches makes him worth owning in all formats, now that he's back from China and set to play in a Mike D'Antoni system that should fit his style nicely. Smith should average more than two 3s per game as long as he's seeing 20 or more minutes for the Knicks.
Zaza Pachulia, C, Atlanta Hawks (5.3 percent owned): When attempting to make up ground in a category, one way to do so is to get production from a roster spot that doesn't typically provide the stat you're looking for. Like getting steals from your center position, for example. Pachulia has historically been among the best centers in the league when it comes to steals; he averaged 1.1 steals in two consecutive seasons (2005-07). This month he's averaging 1.6 steals, best among all centers, and he's also contributing 0.8 blocks and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor. For the season, he's sixth among centers in steals per game with 0.8, and is seeing plenty of run now due to the depleted Hawks frontcourt, averaging 30.4 minutes in February. If you want to make up ground in blocks, no other center on the waiver wire is going to be able to provide them at the consistent rate that Pachulia does. And if you grab him now you can ride a hot streak; he's averaging 2.2 steals over his past six.
Corey Brewer, SG/SF, Denver Nuggets (1.7 percent owned): Brewer's career has been disappointing since he was drafted seventh overall in 2007, but he's a stingy defender who has consistently racked up steals despite his inability to provide overall stats. For his career, he's averaged 1.3 steals per game in just 24.4 minutes. He's come out of nowhere to grab the starting small forward spot in Denver and responded with 12.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals in 34.0 minutes per game in his past three contests. He won't give you anything else, other than the occasional 3, but his long arms and athleticism generate plenty of steals; his 3.16 steals per 48 minutes is fifth in the league among players averaging at least 15 minutes. If he keeps starting and getting 30-plus minutes, he could be among the league leaders in steals until Danilo Gallinari returns. So if you need swipes, pounce on Brewer.
Jose Juan Barea, PG/SG, Minnesota Timberwolves (3.1 percent owned): Assists are the hardest category to find on the waiver wire because the primary contributors are starting point guards, and most of them are already owned in the typical fantasy league. Barea has been providing consistent assists since his return in early February, with at least three assists in seven of his past nine games. Over his past five, he's averaging 11.4 points, 4.0 assists, 1.8 3s and 0.8 steals, and despite the presence of Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour, Barea is having his best statistical season. His career assist rate of 2.9 per game in just 17.5 minutes is impressive, and the fact he's played at least 21 minutes in seven straight contests indicates he should be able to give you 3-4 assists on a consistent basis. It doesn't seem spectacular, but aside from starting point guards few players are able to provide those numbers, especially from the waiver wire. So if you're in desperate need of dimes, Barea is a valid option.
Goran Dragic, PG, Houston Rockets (1.4 percent owned): Dragic is inconsistent, but will put up big assist nights sporadically -- in his past 10 contests, he's posted performances of 11 and nine assists. His assist rate of 8.6 per 48 minutes is solid, ranking 20th in the league, ahead of starting point guards like Kyrie Irving and Devin Harris. Like Barea, he can give you around three assists in most games. His 0.8 steals per game in just 19.8 minutes is a nice rate as well, so in deep leagues where you need assists, Dragic is an option that also provides a few steals.
Marreese Speights, PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies (10.8 percent owned): Speights was thrust into huge minutes in Memphis upon his arrival because of Zach Randolph's injury, and it's been an up-and-down journey. He's struggled at times, but has picked up his game significantly as of late, averaging 12.0 points and 11.6 rebounds in his past five games, including a huge 20-point, 18-rebound, 2-block effort Wednesday against the Nets. He's averaging 7.4 boards this month compared to 5.8 in January, and appears to be growing more accustomed to his role with the team. Randolph is expected to return in early- to mid-March if all goes well with his rehab, so you should be able to ride Speights for a few more weeks.
Kosta Koufos, PF/C, Denver Nuggets (2.9 percent owned): Koufos has seen increased playing time due to Timofey Mozgov's absence and is doing everything he can to keep those minutes even after Mozgov returns. Kuofos is averaging 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals this month, and his rebounding rate of 16.2 boards per 48 minutes is ninth best in the league among players averaging at least 15 minutes per game. He's averaging 9.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.8 steals in his past five games, and it'll be interesting to see what happens to his minutes once Mozgov is back in the lineup. He's flashed impressive tools and put up better numbers than Mozgov this season, so I'd be surprised if he went back to averaging 11.8 minutes, as he did in January. He rebounds at a stellar rate, and as long as he continues to get the opportunity to do so, he should help fantasy teams in need of boards.
Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (1.6 percent owned): With Anderson Varejao out four to six weeks with a broken wrist, Thompson will see considerable minutes in Cleveland and have a chance to prove he was worthy of the fourth overall pick in the draft. He snared 13 boards in his first game with increased minutes last Friday, and has averaged 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his past three contests. He averaged 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks last season with Texas and is undoubtedly still growing into his game. The potential is there, and the Cavs will need him to provide frontcourt support with Varejao sidelined. In very deep formats, Thompson is worth a flier if you need boards and blocks.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.