Injuries and changing rotations were a major storyline in the NBA this week, creating a wide swath of interesting pickups. Before looking at a few dozen options, let's discuss the upcoming schedule. Fantasy free agents are a fickle lot, but we can eliminate some of the risk by maximizing games-played totals.
Three games: Hawks, Celtics, Nets, Hornets, Bulls, Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Pacers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, Wolves, Knicks, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Jazz, Wizards
Four games: Rockets, Clippers, Pelicans, Thunder, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Raptors
As you can see, every single team plays 3-4 games in Week 22. The same is true in Week 23, but it's worth highlighting the teams that play more or fewer games in that two-week span:
Six games: Celtics, Mavericks, Nuggets, Warriors, Lakers, Wolves and Wizards
Eight games: Rockets, Clippers, Pelicans, Spurs and Raptors
Keep those teams in mind as you consider whom to add or leave on the wire this week. Also, note that the 'ownership rates' below refer to official numbers from Yahoo! leagues. Obviously, they're not reflective of the reality in most competitive leagues -- ownership rates are distorted by mock drafts that never got deleted, owners who stopped paying attention in January, and other factors. Kristaps Porzingis is still owned in 55% of leagues. DeMarcus Cousins is owned in 52%. Even accounting for keeper/dynasty leagues, we can conservatively guess that 1/3 of all leagues have 'absentee owners'.
When you see Caris LeVert with 38% ownership, therefore, just tack on another 1/3 and assume that he's owned in roughly 70% of leagues. Spencer Dinwiddie (66% owned) and Larry Nance Jr. (64%) move toward near-universal ownership under this method. Ed Davis (10%) gets bumped up closer to the 50% mark, and so forth. It's a flawed approach but at least gets us closer to reality than do the raw percentages.
A quick note on Larry Nance Jr., who should already be owned in all leagues...he's been amazing in three starts for Tristan Thompson (ankle) with averages of 17.0 points (62.9% FGs, 70.0% FTs), 13.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.3 blocks and just 0.3 turnovers. Those are unrealistic averages, but even if he slows down he's still on pace for a top-75 final month in almost any format.
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Without further ado, let's look at a variety of pickups ranging from guards to centers, and from popular pickups to deep-league-only prospects:
Nemanja Bjelica (30% owned) - The Wolves forward had been mediocre as a fill-in starter for Jimmy Butler, but he erupted vs. Boston on Thursday for 30 points, 12 rebounds, six 3-pointers and two assists in 40 minutes. That probably led to a spike in his ownership, but don't be surprised if he's back on the wire over the next few days -- Minnesota plays just one game between Mon-Thurs this week. They finish with a favorable back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, however, so keep a close eye on Bjelica and don't be afraid to pounce mid-week.
Caris LeVert (38% owned) - If you're reading this, it's probably too late. For owners in shallower leagues, though, it's worth reciting LeVert's averages since last Sunday -- 19.7 points (51.1% FGs, 85.7% FTs), 2.3 triples, 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks and 1.7 turnovers. Only Jarrett Allen is under contract with Brooklyn longer than LeVert, which gives them even more incentive to play him down the stretch. There's no reason to hesitate.
Kyle O'Quinn (14% owned) - There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about O'Quinn's fantasy value, including sporadic minutes and scoring. He's also 27 years old and will likely decline a $4.3 million player option in favor of unrestricted free agency this summer. Nevertheless, KOQ only needs 18-24 minutes to hit value in roto leagues, and he's now blocked at least three shots in four consecutive games. Even before a strong game vs. Toronto on Sunday, he was averaging 8.9 points, 5.9 boards, 2.1 assists and 2.0 blocks over his previous seven games, all with stellar percentages.
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Ed Davis (10% owned) - Let's start with the fact that Jusuf Nurkic has 94% ownership in Yahoo! leagues. And yet, Davis has been the better option in most fantasy scenarios in March. Just compare these stat lines:
Davis...7.4 points (65.4% FGs, 60.0% FTs), 11.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.4 steals and 0.6 turnovers in 23.4 minutes
Nurkic...12.4 points (52.9% FGs, 61.5% FTs), 9.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.2 steals and 3.0 turnovers in 21.2 minutes
My point isn't that Nurkic has been bad, but persistent foul trouble has helped Davis match him in most statistical categories, with more minutes and far fewer turnovers. With four games on the schedule this week for Portland, Davis is an appealing pickup.
Frank Mason III (5% owned) - The Kings' rookie has stepped up admirably since De'Aaron Fox experienced back stiffness on Wednesday -- in two games he's notched 11.5 points, 6.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals. Fox is just day-to-day, of course, but his return wouldn't erase Mason's appeal entirely -- he's a candidate for 18-24 minutes and has the third-highest usage over the past few weeks, behind only Fox and Zach Randolph. Sacramento could eventually shut down Garrett Temple, too, at which point FM3 would be a red-hot pickup.
Wayne Ellington (13% owned) - Dwyane Wade (hamstring) doesn't expect to play on Monday and it's an open question when he might return -- hamstring injuries are easy to aggravate, and we're talking about a 36-year-old without much tread left on his tires. This isn't intended for points-league owners, and Ellington's appeal is diminished by the profusion of 3-point specialists available on most waiver wires. That said, Ellington is among the best of those pickups, averaging an impressive 2.9 triples this season -- that's ninth-most in the NBA, trailing guys like Steph Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson and Kyle Lowry. Although owned in most leagues, attention is due to Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson. I like them in that order, as discussed on today's schedule-centric fantasy hoops podcast!
Jonathan Isaac (5% owned) - Orlando's prized lottery pick missed the bulk of the season with a severe ankle sprain, and since his return he's been so quiet offensively that he's not on most people's radar. That's changing, however, thanks mostly to stellar defensive upside -- he's piled up 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks in just 19.2 minutes in March. Aaron Gordon is in the league's concussion protocol and Evan Fournier (knee) is out indefinitely, which just solidifies the case for Isaac.
Jonathon Simmons (31% owned) and Mario Hezonja (26% owned) - While we're discussing Orlando's injury woes, these guys deserve a mention. Both are already owned in most competitive leagues, but it can't hurt to double-check. Hezonja demonstrated mid-round upside while Gordon was out for an extended period this season, and Simmons' scoring alone makes him an unusual find on the waiver wire.
Shaq Harrison (0% owned) - The G League call-up turned in his most impressive effort vs. Charlotte on Saturday with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, four assists, two steals, two rebounds and one 3-pointer in just 21 minutes. The real draw here is his steals -- on a per-36-minute basis, he's racking up 3.6 steals with 11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.5 blocks. Even half of that would make him a viable steals specialist. Phoenix could be motivated to feed him minutes and see what happens, too. Elfrid Payton will be a restricted FA and there's no guarantee he'll remain in Phoenix, while Tyler Ulis has been a decidedly mixed bag this season -- and his $1.5 million salary is non-guaranteed.
Davon Reed (0% owned) and Troy Daniels (1% owned) - This is tied entirely to the health of Devin Booker (strained triceps), T.J. Warren (back spasms) and Josh Jackson (left knee). Those guys are day-to-day but could potentially miss time in the Suns' upcoming three-game week -- Booker was having trouble raising his arm on Saturday, back spasms can be tricky for Warren, and the Suns are likely to take every precaution with Jackson. Still, you'd need to be in a very deep league to gamble on Reed and/or Daniels, who project as streaming options at best.
Tyler Dorsey (1% owned) - Dorsey scored a career-high 18 points on Friday and he's now posted three consecutive games with 10+ points and 25+ minutes. That's reason enough to put him on your 'watch list', especially with DeAndre Bembry (abdomen/groin) ailing and Kent Bazemore subject to random DNPs.
Isaiah Taylor (1% owned) - Dennis Schroder (elbow) and Malcolm Delaney (ankle) both sat out Sunday's game, which is the only reason Taylor is worth a mention. If your league is deep and competitive enough to bother with Taylor, Jaylen Morris (0% owned) is another young Hawks guard worth keeping in mind...just in case Schroder misses extended time. It's too bad Delaney got dinged up, as I'd much prefer him for any games Schroder misses.
Frank Kaminsky (37% owned) - He's been owned in plenty of leagues, but is still worth mentioning -- a scoreless, 0-of-5 shooting dud on Thursday may have prompted owners to cut him. Cody Zeller (knee) has soreness and swelling in his left knee, the same one that was surgically repaired on Dec. 12. He said he hasn't had any setbacks, which makes zero sense -- in any case, Charlotte is unlikely to gamble with his health as they fade out of the playoff picture (currently 6.5 games behind the No. 8 seed Bucks). The Hornets should probably throw in the towel and start showing preference to young guys, which makes Malik Monk (5% owned) and Willy Hernangomez (24% owned) worth keeping in mind.
Nerlens Noel (41% owned) - Few free agents have Noel's raw per-minute upside for rebounds and defensive stats, but he's mostly been a disaster this season. He showed up vs. the Nuggets on Tuesday with eight points, 14 boards, one steal and one block in 26 minutes, only to sit out Saturday's game as a precaution during a back-to-back set. He could have limitations the rest of the way for Dallas, and it's worth mentioning that they have three more back-to-back sets this year. It's also debatable how motivated they are to play Noel -- he's headed for free agency and made the now-notorious decision to rebuff a four-year, $70 million offer last summer.
Ben McLemore (14% owned), Kobe Simmons (2% owned) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (1% owned) - Even by the very low standard of tanking NBA teams, the Grizzlies are a mess. Andrew Harrison (wrist) is vaguely expected back in late March. Tyreke Evans (ribs) is out indefinitely with cartilage damage and Memphis has no clear incentive to play him. Mario Chalmers (hamstring) will soon be re-evaluated and his return date is unclear.
That leaves the trio mentioned above as the primary guards for the Grizzlies, and McLemore in particular has taken advantage -- through five games in March, he's scoring 14.6 points on 50.0% shooting with 2.0 triples, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks. He's struggling from the FT line but the solid FG% and supporting stats are critical. They're also the reason I'm skeptical of him, since he's never shown the ability to shoot well (41.7% for his career) or contribute across-the-board stats, but he's a viable streamer until he cools off.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes is shooting terribly with the Grizzlies (combined 12-of-37), but has at least shown some upside as a source of assists and steals. That puts him on the radar in very deep leagues. Meanwhile, Kobi Simmons played a career-high 36 minutes vs. Dallas on Saturday and that playing time alone warrants attention. He's foul-prone, doesn't have much shooting range, and has yet to prove he can produce with consistency, but you could do worse for a streaming guard.
More players to keep in mind, depending upon league sizes, etc: Dwight Powell should already be owned in most leagues...Jae Crowder is surging as the de facto sixth-man in Utah, and is getting minutes at multiple positions...the Raptors have two more four-game weeks coming up, which keeps Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam in the mix...Luke Kennard has averaged 9.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 triples in 31.0 minutes over the past two games...Reggie Bullock is easily the better Pistons wing player to own, especially if you need scoring and 3-pointers, but may already be owned...Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart both get a nice boost with Jaylen Brown (concussion) out for potentially the next week...and finally, Doug McDermott is making noise with the Mavs lately, averaging 15.0 points on 60.0% shooting, 2.0 triples, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists over the past three games. Wes Matthews (hip) did return on Saturday, though, so it'll be tough for McDermott to have any appeal unless Dallas starts resting veterans like Matthews and Harrison Barnes. That's all the time I have for this week's edition of Waiver Wired...Dr. A will take back over next Sunday...and good luck this week!