- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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When rounding out your roster in the final rounds of the draft, you're taking fliers on players who could potentially crack your starting lineup at some point during the season. Although it's clearly too early to determine whether or not they'll fulfill that promise, it's not too early to drop these late-round fillers for more enticing waiver-wire options. Never underestimate the importance of key early-season additions.
According to ESPN's spectacular research department, 21 of the top 100 players on last season's final Player Rater were owned in fewer than 50 percent of ESPN leagues on opening day 2011. Ryan Anderson: Owned in 12 percent of leagues. Paul George: 37 percent. Ersan Ilyasova: 0.3 percent. Goran Dragic: 0.18 percent. The bottom line? Game-changers are available on the waiver wire right now. One game might be too early to determine who they are, but as soon as we get an inkling, it's shrewd to add and drop liberally in these first few weeks in attempt to find this season's Anderson or Ilyasova.
When making waiver-wire acquisitions this early in the season, I lean toward adding overall value to my team instead of addressing needs. As the early-season dust settles and your needs become more apparent, then your primary goal is filling those needs. For now, you want to maximize roster value. If you add a player who becomes a clear fantasy starter but doesn't fit your team, you'll be able to make the move to accommodate. Additionally, the actual stats a player posts in their first few games are almost secondary to minutes played and role with their team. If somebody like James Johnson, who traditionally boasts superb per-minute stats (1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in 25.2 minutes last season), looks to have an opportunity to play more than was expected in Sacramento, I'll ignore his 1-for-8 shooting Wednesday night and focus on the three steals in 21 minutes from the Kings' starting lineup.
Let's examine some widely-available players who are making an early case for a roster spot:
Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets (2.6 percent owned): What's most encouraging about Parsons' performance Wednesday is the 42 minutes played. He's the type of multidimensional fantasy player who has the tools to be the ideal glue player in roto formats. As a rookie, he averaged 1.0 3-pointers, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in 28.6 minutes, and with another year of development and increased run, those numbers should balloon and further entrench him as the type of NBA player better known in fantasy circles than in the real game.
Dorell Wright, Philadelphia 76ers (2.5 percent owned): Wright was painfully disappointing last season, but he was a top-30 fantasy player two seasons ago when he averaged 16.4 points, 2.4 3s, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. He'll come off the bench and provide decent production in those four categories for the Sixers. However, while expecting him to replicate his career season is unrealistic, he is still an effective fantasy player, especially in leagues which count turnovers (1.0 turnovers per game in 25.2 minutes for his career). The Sixers like his positional versatility, and while his 3-point ability is his only above-average trait, he can do a little bit of everything, which makes him ideally suited for a complementary role and ill-suited for a starring role: the reason the wheels fell off in Golden State last season. He'll never be a fantasy star again, but he did put up 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 3s, 2 steals and a block Wednesday night.
Gerald Green, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (1.9 percent owned): With the news that Danny Granger is out indefinitely with knee soreness, Green started at small forward and earned a team-high 37 minutes Wednesday night. As mentioned, sometimes with just one game to analyze, you look past a mediocre stat line and focus on the opportunity, and it was there for Green. He was a reclamation project last season, averaging 12.9 points, 1.4 3s, 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks in 25.2 minutes per game in 31 games for the New Jersey Nets, his first NBA action since 2009. He's a four-category player with tremendous upside as a long and athletic wing who can score, nail 3s and put up defensive numbers.
Jae Crowder, SF, Dallas Mavericks (1.2 percent owned): He's averaged 21.0 minutes with two 3-pointers in the Mavs' first two contests after a preseason in which this former high school quarterback and Big East Player of the Year posted some tasty stat lines (five steals, three blocks and a 3-pointer on Oct. 17, four 3s on Oct. 15th, four steals on Oct. 20). He draws comparisons to fellow undersized forward Kenneth Faried because of his impressive physique and motor (and Predator braids), although he's not as athletic but is a better shooter. His fantasy career could take a similar trajectory, as he'll have difficulty establishing consistent value out of the gate, but he seems destined to be a fantasy favorite given the 3/steal/block skill set he boasts. If you're looking for impact right now, he won't provide it consistently, but if you're in a keeper league or a deep league with room to stash a high-upside player, Crowder is about as intriguing as it gets. Based on his versatility on both the offensive and defensive end, I predict Crowder becomes a fantasy darling regardless of whether or not he becomes a household name.
Kosta Koufos, PF/C, Denver Nuggets (0.2 percent owned): Koufos improved his strength and conditioning in the offseason, knowing he had a good chance to start in the middle for Denver, and his hard work paid off. He was fifth in the league with 8.7 rebounds per game in preseason, and his 15.6 rebounds per 48 minutes ranked ninth in the league among players who averaged at least 15 minutes per game last season. He grabbed nine boards with a steal and a block in 30 minutes on Wednesday, and will be one of the better rebounders in the league if he continues to get starter's minutes.
A.J. Price, PG, Washington Wizards (0.1 percent owned): He's a one-month rental, but his per-game statistics to this point (career 0.9 3s, 0.6 steals in just 14.9 minutes per game) indicate that he has fantasy potential, as does the fact he jacked nine 3-point attempts on opening night. He drained only two, but notched six assists, played 29 minutes and will get plenty of run the next month until John Wall returns. He isn't much, but starting point guards who shoot 3s are a premium in the fantasy game, so if you're lacking the typical point guard stats of 3s, assists and steals, Price is a legit short-term option.
Brandon Rush, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors (2.9 percent owned) seemed comfortable and got plenty of looks, and his primary value lies in turnover leagues, where he's historically fantastic in providing healthy 3-point totals with some steals and blocks without the flubs (career 1.4 3s, 0.7 blocks, 0.6 steals on just 1.1 turnovers per game). His teammate Jarrett Jack, PG, Golden State Warriors (3.5 percent owned) played alongside Stephen Curry for significant stretches of Wednesday's game and finished with 10 points, 7 assists, a steal and a block in 30 minutes. He can play off the ball or handle the point, and will likely start for stretches of the season, given Curry's constantly problematic ankle, and provide steady points, assists, 3s and steals. Aaron Brooks, PG, Sacramento Kings (1.2 percent owned) earned 23 minutes and fouled out, compared to starter Isaiah Thomas' 25 minutes on Wednesday night. He's only a few years removed from averaging 19.6 points and 2.5 3s, is just 27 years old, and will put up counting stats if he's getting minutes. J.J. Hickson, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (9.3 percent owned) is starting at center and had 13 points, 10 boards, 2 blocks and a steal on Wednesday in 25 minutes. The Blazers' bench is thin, with rookie Meyers Leonard as his primary backup, so Hickson should continue the success he had late last season when he averaged 14.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in 14 April contests. Carl Landry, PF, Golden State Warriors (1.7 percent owned) is a capable scorer with a career 53.6 percent mark from the floor, and looks to be the primary big off the bench in Golden State after he dropped 17 points and 6 rebounds in 23 minutes Wednesday. He's only worth considering if you need efficient scoring, which can be difficult to find from widely-available players. Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, New Orleans Hornets (2.5 percent owned) had 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 27 minutes Wednesday, and with sound per-minute stats for his career (0.4 3s, 0.4 blocks, 0.8 steals per game in 20 minutes) could be in line for a productive season in the starting lineup. Carlos Delfino, SG/SF, Houston Rockets (1.6 percent owned) scored 15 points with 7 rebounds and 5 3s Wednesday, and looks to be the primary scoring option off the bench for the Rockets and in line to drain plenty of 3s in that role.
I'll be tweeting more observations about early-season box scores, so follow me for further analysis.