Jim McCormickSpecial to ESPN.com
Working the waiver wire is pivotal to succeeding in fantasy basketball. With so many games, injuries and endless shifts in rotations throughout the marathon campaign, we’ll need to source stats from free agency to maximize our imaginary rosters.
A willingness to entertain competition for the last few spots on your fantasy hoops roster can prove rewarding. When curating this fluid collective of statistical contributors, it helps to consider your end-of-bench players in direct competition with the talent floating in free agency.
The goal of this weekly series is to identify players available in at least half of ESPN leagues at each position. Some nominations are specialists capable of helping in one or two categories, while others deliver more diverse and important statistical offerings. In the breakdowns below, I’ve ordered players at each position with the priority of acquisition in mind, rather than roster percentage in ESPN leagues.
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets (rostered in 34.7% of ESPN leagues): Graham has emerged as one of the best sources for assists off the wire this season; he’s tied with Damian Lillard and D.J. Augustin with 10.5 potential assists per game while averaging just one fewer pass per game than teammate Terry Rozier. Essentially, Graham is Charlotte’s best distributor, and his passing production appears entirely sustainable.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics (16.9%): The list of players averaging at least 2.2 3PG, 1.2 SPG, and 4.8 APG includes Bradley Beal, Lonzo Ball, Stephen Curry, Fred VanVleet, Luka Doncic, Lillard and Smart. While Smart clearly isn’t in the same scoring sphere with most of these names, he is among the league leaders in assists-to-turnovers ratio and his already impressive steal rate is actually due for a positive correction given his career rates. Look past the modest scoring results and instead value Smart’s dynamic overall line.
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs (43.7%): Last season saw White provide some brilliant fantasy results after the All-Star break thanks to a rare blend of blocks and 3-pointers. The backcourt can prove a bit crowded in San Antonio, but White’s scoring pop off the pine should keep him popular with coach Gregg Popovich.
Josh Hart, New Orleans Pelicans (28.3%): Ranked fifth among NBA guards with 7.7 RPG entering Sunday’s schedule, Hart is enjoying a strong start to his career in New Orleans thanks to increased freedom to crash the glass and shoot from deep (2.3 3PG). When we also consider Hart’s 1.7 stocks per game, we’re talking about a unique statistical contributor flying under the radar in ESPN leagues.
Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets (20.4%): If you can endure some quiet scoring nights and a dip in assist percentage from Harris this season, his mix of 3-point (1.8 3PG) and defensive rates (1.5 stocks) are helpful at a somewhat shallow shooting guard position.
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers (2.6%): In deeper head-to-head leagues and rotisserie formats, it’s fun to acquire the likes of Thybulle and his elite defensive rates. Despite hovering around 20 MPG, Thybulle is already among the league leaders in deflections and steals, none of which appear aberrational given his ridiculous college rates and impressive film thus far.
OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors (31.2%): With a Robert Covington-like blend of blocks and steals while also providing respectable shooting results, Anunoby is an influential fantasy force capable of immediately helping your defensive rates.
Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers (47.9%): The term “3-and-D” is likely over applied when assessing wings these days, but Green’s long pattern of atypically strong block production while also producing some of the strongest shooting efficiency results qualifies him as a legitimate inclusion in this valued archetype.
Danuel House Jr., Houston Rockets (3.7%): House is a fine option even in shallower formats given he’s going to enjoy awesome opportunity rates as a floor-spacer on the Rockets this season; he’s lofted 5.6 catch and shoot 3-pointers per game this year, which ranks 10th in the entire league. With at least one block in each of his first five appearances, House is providing dynamic value beyond single-trick specialists, such as his teammate Eric Gordon.
Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic (47.1%): Entering Sunday’s slate, the full list of NBA players this season averaging at least 1.4 3PG, 1.5 SPG, and 2.5 BPG is comprised of just Isaac. An absolute defensive dynamo now finding his way from the arc in addition to stellar efficiency at the stripe, Isaac is an awesome early-season acquisition.
PJ Tucker, Houston Rockets (44.4%): Tied for first in the NBA in catch and shoot 3-pointers made per game (3.2) with the Wizards’ Davis Bertans — who is a fine specialist for deeper leagues — Tucker provides fantasy rosters with outlier shooting and defensive rates (2.4 stocks per game). The Rockets’ duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook are always among the league leaders in assisting open catch and shoot 3-pointers, evidence this uptick in shooting volume and success for Tucker could prove relatively sustainable.
Taurean Prince, Brooklyn Nets (14.4%): A 17% bump in minutes per game since last season has served Prince well in Brooklyn thus far; he’s enjoying career bests in every category save for free throw efficiency, which can prove a bit noisy early. Thriving with more freedom to shoot from beyond the arc, Prince is tied for 10th in the league in made 3-pointers per game.
Maxi Kleber, Dallas Mavericks (5.3%): Tied with Memphis’ young defensive duo of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke at 24th in the NBA in swats per game (1.6 BPG), Kleber is also providing solid rebounding (7.8 RPG) and shooting results (1.2 3PG) worthy of more attention from fantasy managers.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets (42.6): There isn’t anything so exciting about Zeller’s game. Then again, the savvy vet is fourth in the entire league in rebounding with 12.8 per game as of Sunday thanks to ranking 12th in rebounding chances per game, which the league’s tracking site defines as being within 3.5 feet of an available rebound. Zeller’s rebounding percentage is likely to dip a bit as the sample size grows, but we are still talking about a top-10 rebounding source who is now also starting to stretch out to 3-point range on offense.
Aron Baynes, Phoenix Suns (12.7%): In five starts since Deandre Ayton was lost to a suspension, Baynes has averaged 17 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 3PG, and 1.4 stocks (steals plus blocks). The rebounding rate isn’t ideal for the position, but atypically strong assist and shooting rates have Baynes poised as a fun fantasy source akin to last season’s breakout from Brook Lopez.
Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder (1.8%): In two recent starts in place of an ailing Steven Adams, Noel amassed 17 boards and seven blocks. The minutes won’t always, or even often, be there for Noel, but whenever he’s due for increased exposure there are few better for hosting a block party.