- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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It happens every year around this point in the season: Fantasy owners become more complacent and less active in their leagues. I get it. Distractions such as March Madness and fantasy baseball preparations abound. Plus, if you're floundering toward the bottom of your league standings, it can be difficult to remain motivated to check your team daily and make roster decisions that maximize your team's value.
But there are several reasons to remain as active in your league as possible until the end of the season. First, you can capitalize on the complacency of other owners and make more of a jump than you'd expect. Also, it's satisfying to play the role of spoiler; even if you're not going to finish first in your league, fielding the best team possible undoubtedly affects other teams' positions in the final standings. Another reason is that it increases the viability and integrity of your entire league, and every participant remaining as competitive as possible has a utilitarian impact that increases overall fantasy karma. Finally, valuable free agents appear on the wire until the final day of the regular season for myriad reasons: injuries, coaching changes, players being rested for the playoffs, young players seeing their PT increase as auditions for the future -- all reasons to remain active on the waiver wire in order to get those top free agents and make your fantasy team, as well as your fantasy league, as excellent as possible. This final point is especially true in keeper formats, where you should be looking for late-season bargains that emerge regardless of your team's standing this season.
Let's take a look at some widely available free agents who have distinguished themselves of late and can still have an impact on your team's standing.
Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans Hornets (30.2 percent owned): The other big name in the Chris Paul trade, Gordon's season has been decimated by a knee injury. He's supposed to return to practice next week, an indication that the team would like him to return this season. If you have an extra bench spot, Gordon could be a difference-maker in the final weeks of the season, and shrewd owners will add him now. Even if he's a shell of himself upon returning, he should help in points, 3-pointers and steals and is definitely worth a roster spot in all formats if he gets back on the floor.
Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz (19.7 percent owned): Favors was born in 1991. That's just a reminder of how young he is, and when he averages 11.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his past five, he's putting up fantasy-worthy numbers now, even though his game is still developing. His potential is among the highest in the league for big men, and even though the Jazz have brought him along slowly due to frontcourt depth, he could explode at any point, and I want him on my roster when he does. He's averaging 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in his past 10, numbers already worth a roster spot, and he has nowhere to go but up.
Tristan Thompson, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers (10.6 percent owned): Thompson is starting at center, as the Cavaliers are looking to develop their future pieces as much as possible. The early returns are promising -- 15.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1 block and 0.7 steals in three starts so far, an accurate indication of the type of stats he'll put up. He won't wow in any category or put up eye-popping stats, but he is well-rounded and capable of scoring, rebounding and posting balanced defensive numbers at just 21 years old. Thompson possesses nice upside and, now that he's starting, presents low risk.
Jonas Jerebko, SF/PF, Detroit Pistons (6.4 percent owned): Jerebko is streaky but capable of providing efficient scoring, flirting with double-digit points and shooting in the upper-40s from the field (46.9 percent for the season, 47.6 for his career). He's on a promising end of a streak, with double-digit scoring in six of his past eight games, and provides a handful of 3s and steals (0.5 and 0.7 per game, respectively) to go along with his efficient scoring.
Courtney Lee, SG, Houston Rockets (5.0 percent owned): Lee struggles at times, but his stats always seem to balance out to him being helpful in points, 3s and steals. Kevin Martin is sidelined, so in Lee's past five games he's seen more minutes and put up 13.2 points, 2 3s and 4.4 rebounds per game. Martin has dealt with inconsistency himself during the past couple of months, so Lee winds up being productive with or without him. For the season, Lee is at 10.1 points, 1.4 3s and 1 steal per game.
Kevin Seraphin, PF, Washington Wizards (4.6 percent owned): Seraphin, a French player who started playing basketball later than the typical AAU kid in America, has a raw and promising game that is still developing. His blocks are fantastic -- at 3.87 swats per 48 minutes, he ranks seventh among players with at least 14 minutes per game, and he's averaging 1.2 blocks a game for the season in just 14.9 minutes per game. With Andray Blatche shut down for a few weeks as he regains his conditioning and the Wizards in full-on "look to the future" mode, Seraphin should continue seeing minutes off the bench despite the presence ofNene. He's averaging 10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in his past five games, and in deeper leagues he should be a fantastic source of blocks going forward.
Gerald Green, SG/SF, New Jersey Nets (3.8 percent owned): Green went from the D-League, where he earned All-Star MVP honors, to being signed for the rest of the season by the Nets, proving the efficacy of the developmental league and how it can be wise for fantasy owners to pay attention to which players are having statistical success at that level. Green's best statistical trait is his 3-point shooting, and even with Gerald Wallace in the picture, he should still see around 20 minutes per game and drain more than one trey per contest. His length and athleticism help him accrue some steals and blocks, as he's averaging 1.2 3s, 1 block and 1.4 steals per game over his past five games, and 1.0 3s, 0.7 blocks and 0.8 steals per game for the season.
Matt Barnes, SF, Los Angeles Lakers (1.7 percent owned): Barnes has benefited from the roster shakeup in Los Angeles, flashing his "do a little of everything" skills during his past five games with averages of 11.6 points, 6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 3s. He's hit double-digit points in four of his past five after not accomplishing the feat in the prior six contests, and if you need some roster glue, Barnes provides a little in every category without hurting you anywhere.
Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG, Atlanta Hawks (1.3 percent owned): Hinrich is starting in a three-guard set in Atlanta alongside Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson, and in his 12 starts this season, the wily vet is averaging 8.8 points, 1.3 3s, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. He's still a fantastic on-the-ball defender, which helps him earn decent defensive stats, and fellow point guard Teague can play off the ball, so Hinrich still gets close to three assists per game when given the opportunity (2.8 assists per game his past 10 contests). He won't provide the type of assists, 3s and steals that he did in his heyday, but he should be a solid source of all three now that he's entrenched in the Hawks' starting lineup.
Shelden Williams, PF/C, New Jersey Nets (0.6 percent owned): Williams is quietly having his best statistical season, with 6.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.8 steals per game for the Nets, his seventh NBA team in six seasons. With Brook Lopez still sidelined with an ankle injury, Williams should provide nice defensive stats off the bench for New Jersey and is a deep-league option if you need modest rebounds, steals and blocks.
Dominic McGuire, SF/PF, Golden State Warriors (0.2 percent owned): McGuire's hustle and defense should continue earning him playing time for the Warriors, who are thin at the wing with Stephen Curry sidelined and Monta Ellis traded. The team can use the 4 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 1.1 steals per game that he's averaging over the past 10 contests. He's averaging 0.6 steals and blocks in just 15.8 minutes per game for the season, and if he continues seeing minutes in the mid-20s on a consistent basis, he could average a steal and a block per game for the rest of the season, making him an excellent find for deep-leaguers searching for defensive stats.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling highlights emerging players available in most leagues who are poised to deliver down the stretch.