Fantasy Basketball Waiver-Wire Adds You Need to Jump on Immediately
If you're lucky, your fantasy basketball team features LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins and a bunch of other superstars.
But it probably doesn't.
Unless you're playing in a one-man league, no roster is ever perfect. Maintenance is always needed, and the waiver wire is there, waiting to provide you with boosted production and more victories from resources other owners have overlooked. In this case, we're only focused on those players written off so frequently that they're owned in fewer than 30 percent of standard ESPN leagues.
Some of these gentlemen may already have been snapped up by savvy owners. If they're still free, go change that.
We aren't chasing after any specific category. Sometimes, teams need to find scoring off the waiver. Maybe they're lacking steals or blocks. Perhaps Andre Drummond a bad free-throw shooter is dragging down their squad's cumulative percentage from the stripe.
Production in any form reigns supreme here, as you can tell by looking at how few players have matched each suggested add's overall per-game line.
Bojan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.4 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 25.3 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 51 other men have matched or exceeded Bojan Bogdanovic's per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
That number might be smaller if the 28-year-old small forward blocked any shots or consistently ripped the ball away from opponents. But that's just not his game, and he'll rarely contribute much in any of the non-scoring counting stats. You can't expect him to rack up rebounds or assists since the Indiana Pacers are almost exclusively paying him to shoot and space the floor.
And that's fine.
Bogdanovic rarely turns the ball over, which is beneficial in and of itself. He's also scoring with efficiency, knocking down 51.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, 40.9 percent of his triples (while taking four attempts per game) and 84.0 percent of his shots from the charity stripe. That ability to avoid doing damage in any of the rate statistics is a huge boon to any fantasy team, especially when it comes with this type of mid-level volume.
But the real reason you should pick Bogdanovic up off the waiver? His role won't diminish at any point. The Pacers are counting on him for offense now, and that's not going to change anytime soon. His corner threes are vital, as is his growing work in the transition game.
Raw points are typically easy to find in any league. But it's tougher to come by sustained scoring production that doesn't hurt you anywhere else.
Allen Crabbe, SG, Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 0.9 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 11.7 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 41 other men have matched or exceeded Allen Crabbe's per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
Of course, that says nothing about his three-point shooting—the real reason you want to own this 25-year-old wing.
Crabbe is a tremendous marksman, coming off a season with the Portland Trail Blazers in which the abhorrent nature of his contract shielded him from receiving recognition for taking 3.8 triples per game and connecting at a 44.4 percent clip. Throughout all of NBA history, only 19 other players have matched those marks, and the group dwindles by two if we remove Glen Rice and Dana Barros, both of whom produced such numbers while the league was operating with a shortened arc.
Now, he's set up for even more success.
Crabbe is taking an additional 1.8 three-point attempts during his average appearance with the Brooklyn Nets, and that's the product of both a changing role and a quickened pace. Not only are they motivated to maximize his production after moving to acquire him this offseason, but head coach Kenny Atkinson has his troops play an uptempo game that requires plenty of treys from shooting guards and small forwards.
Portland used 96.7 possessions per 48 minutes last year. Brooklyn is currently sitting in the league's No. 1 spot with 106.7 possessions over the same average stretch. That's an extra 10 offensive trips per contest, and that adds up in the fantasy world, which often prioritizes volume over everything else.
Already, Crabbe has been valuable, and he's connecting at just a 37.1 percent clip from beyond the arc. Imagine what might happen if he regresses to his career mean of 40.8 percent—or, better still, what could come to pass if he replicates last year's efficiency level.
James Ennis III, SF, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.7 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 6.9 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 34 other men have matched or exceeded James Ennis III's per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
Strange, right? Ennis isn't the type of player you typically think of as a fantasy contributor. He's a quaternary option for the Memphis Grizzlies specializing in defense and the little things that don't typically show up in the stat sheet. Barely outpacing Dillon Brooks and Mario Chalmers, his scoring average lags well behind that of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tyreke Evans.
Fortunately, you aren't picking up Ennis for his scoring potential.
"James is huge. I told him 'You're like the new T.A. [Tony Allen]. You're doing everything it takes to win.' He knows his importance to this team and it's showing," Conley revealed in late October, per Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal. "He had a great summer. He's in great shape. We needed this from him and he's going to continue to do it."
That type of importance locks Ennis into minutes, and he can use that run to consistently produce in every single category. He's going to get the occasional steal and block. He's going to find a few open teammates every game while contributing on the glass. And most importantly, he's always willing to play within his role, never forcing the action so he can maximize his opportunities and minimize his mistakes.
Ennis is actually on the verge of joining the 50/40/90 club, even if he might not shoot frequently enough to stack up against the players typically applying for admission. But what fantasy team wouldn't like to have a back-end player notching 56.1 percent of his field-goal attempts, 39.1 percent of his triples and 87.0 percent of his looks at the stripe?
Dewayne Dedmon, C, Atlanta Hawks
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.4 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 15.1 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 18 other men have matched or exceeded Dewayne Dedmon's per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
And yet, that's by no means the most impressive way in which we can pare down this Atlanta Hawks' contributions.
Even in today's NBA, centers have trouble blending together top-tier production on the glass with a legitimate jump-shooting game. Dedmon spends plenty of time controlling the interior for the Highlight Factory, but he's stepping out to the perimeter for long twos and three-point bombs with increased frequency. Already, he's one of only 25 qualified players averaging at least seven rebounds and 0.5 triples per game.
That's still not the true key.
Fantasy is about finding ways of maximizing your team's numbers, and one of the best methods for doing so is acquiring non-traditional producers. If you have a big man who's shooting threes and still rebounding, you can afford to chase after other types of players at smaller spots in the lineup. You can place increased value on point guards with limited range, just as one of many examples.
So, of those aforementioned 25, who joins Dedmon with center eligibility in standard ESPN leagues? DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Draymond Green, Al Horford, Kevin Love, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Vucevic.
With the exception of Pau Gasol (79.3 percent), they're all owned in at least 93 percent of leagues. Good luck picking one of those bigs up off your waiver wire.
Tyler Johnson, PG/SG, Miami Heat
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.2 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 17.7 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 17 other men have matched or exceeded Tyler Johnson's per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
What's particularly amazing is that the versatile combo guard is putting up these types of numbers even while so much is going wrong.
If he took just as many shots per game from the field and from beyond the arc while returning to last year's percentages, he'd be averaging 12.1 points per game. If the Miami Heat were shooting 46.4 percent off his potential assists like they did last year, rather than the 39.1 percent in 2017-18, he'd be up to 2.1 dimes per contest. These may seem like small discrepancies, but they indicate an uptick in future value.
Strike before the iron is hot.
After all, just 13 players are averaging at least 12.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks. Fewer still are doing so while coughing the ball up just 1.2 times per game. Actually, not a single member of the NBA fraternity has done that, since putting up so much offensive production typically requires involvement, and cough-ups stem from involvement.
That's what makes Johnson more unique than his surname. He's been even more heavily used by head coach Erik Spoelstra in previous seasons, but he's never averaged more than 1.3 turnovers per game. He knows how to minimize mistakes, and these early returns—in this area, at least—aren't fluky.
Devalue him if your league doesn't look at turnovers. But if it does, you won't be able to find this much across-the-board production without a corresponding uptick in mistakes, thereby ensuring Johnson's value even if he continues to struggle in his ongoing quest to find twine.
Kelly Oubre Jr., SF, Washington Wizards
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 23.7 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 15 other men have matched or exceeded Kelly Oubre Jr.'s per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
"Oubre's skills are catching up to his mentality, and he's gradually turning into a player who can change a game in several ways. His jumper is better. The lefty is starting to dribble and finish with his right hand. He's in the proper position more often, so you're seeing his athleticism translate into winning plays," Jerry Brewer wrote for the Washington Post.
Those winning plays are what you're looking for.
Oubre won't continue shooting 49 percent from beyond the rainbow, and his scoring average will fall as that number declines. If he maintains the exact same shooting distribution but hits only a league-average 35.9 percent of his threes—still a massive uptick after last year's 28.7 percent clip—he'd be averaging just 11.1 points per game. But points aren't the driving force behind the 21-year-old's appeal.
Averaging a combined 1.7 steals and blocks does the trick. Only 73 players can top that number in 2017-18 while appearing in at least five games, and the vast majority of them are universally owned. Just 17 are listed as primary small forwards by Basketball Reference, and Oubre stands out as an exception in that group because he's also contributing in other areas.
Even if it's not the primary reason for rostering him, the scoring average doesn't hurt. Nor does the willingness to crash the boards. Ditto for the ability to keep his turnovers in check at all times, since the confidence with which he plays still doesn't lead him into many traps on the offensive end.
If you haven't caught on in this constant search for versatility, you need to pay more attention. Oubre qualifies as yet another one of those well-rounded contributors for whom we're always looking.
Donovan Mitchell, SG, Utah Jazz
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, 2.2 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 23.2 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 13 other men have matched or exceeded Donovan Mitchell's per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
Fantasy is ultimately about opportunity, and the Utah Jazz aren't going to stop feeding their prized rookie. They're desperately seeking players capable of taking on alpha-dog scoring responsibilities in an attempt to drag their offensive rating above its current No. 27 placement, and no roster member has more upside on that end.
Mitchell is already getting chances; he just isn't knocking down the looks that result.
Taking every single qualified option into account, only 12 players have a higher usage rate than this Louisville product. He's tied with LeBron James and directly behind Victor Oladipo on that leaderboard. Similarly, just 44 players are taking more field-goal attempts per game, leaving the 21-year-old sandwiched between Tim Hardaway Jr., Dennis Smith Jr., Robin Lopez and Tyreke Evans.
Again, the opportunities are presenting themselves.
Mitchell is being forced into taking too many shots off the bounce through sheer necessity, but he's held his own in catch-and-shoot situations. As a spot-up marksman, he's averaging 1.06 points per possession, which leaves him in the 62.9 percentile. The talent is there, even if an early slump is depressing his initial shooting percentages into becoming eyesores.
Don't expect him to stop racking up steals and blocks. Keep counting on slightly more than two assists per game—beneficial from someone you can slot in at the 2. But expect the scoring numbers to spike as he gains confidence and comfort within an NBA offense that's prematurely asking him to serve as a featured option.
Marcus Morris, PF, Boston Celtics
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 24.5 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 11 other men have matched or exceeded Marcus Morris' per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
Then again, these numbers aren't exactly representative of what you can expect going forward. Thanks to a delayed start to his 2017-18 campaign, he's suited up in only a pair of games (excluding Wednesday night's performance), and the first two outings with a new organization are hardly indicative of future performance.
Fortunately, the small forward is healthy now, fully recovered from the right knee soreness that delayed his Boston Celtics debut. He still might not play in both halves of back-to-backs for a while longer, but he should begin producing like he did during his final season with the Detroit Pistons, in which he averaged 14.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks.
Morris won't blow you away in any one category, but his well-rounded production can go a long way at power forward. He'll make at least one three per game, shoot the ball proficiently from all over the floor, avoid turnovers like the plague and chip in with a bit of everything.
Lest we forget, Morris finished at No. 125 on ESPN.com's player rater last year, and Boston head coach Brad Stevens has a knack for milking even more production out of talented players.
Mike James, PG, Phoenix Suns
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.6 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 14 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only 10 other men have matched or exceeded Mike James' per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
Remember how fantasy is about opportunity?
Well, with Eric Bledsoe gone to the Milwaukee Bucks and no point guard returning to the Phoenix Suns, James will receive every chance under, well, the sun to prove he can make an impact at the NBA level. He'll endure plenty of growing pains and have the occasional struggles with his shooting efficiency, but he'll also put up bevies of raw numbers while competing with only Tyler Ulis for major minutes.
James already has four putrid scoring performances during the young season—a 1-of-10 outing against Ricky Rubio's Jazz, a 2-of-8 showing against Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers, a 1-of-10 brickfest against John Wall's Wizards and an 0-of-9 affair with [insert point guard here]'s New York Knicks. Obviously, that's not the type of information you want to hear about someone you should be picking up.
But here's the encouraging part: The Suns played him more than 20 minutes in each of the follow-up outings. His leash is that long since interim head coach Jay Triano is allowing James to shoot his way through slumps and continue fighting to provide offensive production.
The 27-year-old rookie has shown flashes of excellence as a creative and explosive scorer, as well as a confident table-setter who can drop off dimes for his teammates. He'll have big performances in the desert, and those will make it far easier to stomach the forgettable nights.
This type of upside is well worth the roller-coaster ride.
Taj Gibson, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.5 turnovers
Percentage Owned: 28 percent
In your standard 10-team fantasy-basketball league, 130 players are owned. But excluding turnovers, only seven other men have matched or exceeded Taj Gibson's per-game line. He belongs on a roster.
Yes, that's the smallest number of comparable lines yet. You may also have noticed that Gibson is averaging fewer points per contest than all other featured members of this fantasy-advice segment. Funny how that works.
Gibson doesn't need to take shots in order to have value since you can find offensive production in so many other places. Far more important is his guaranteed role as a big-minute power forward for uber-loyal head coach Tom Thibodeau, who presumably won't ever let go of their mutual time spent together with the Chicago Bulls. And so long as this 32-year-old is getting run in Minnesota while serving as one of its most important defensive presences, he's going to put up some valuable numbers.
Not only does his preference for sticking in or near the paint help boost his rebounding figures, but Gibson also has the luxury of being permitted to jump passing lanes. He's encouraged to use his quick hands to deflect interior feeds or poke away at unsuspecting ball-handlers, and the result is the No. 13 steal-per-game figure among all qualified players 6'9" or taller.
Of course, Gibson does still take shots.
He's already made two triples in six attempts, which offers hope of some production in three-point categories from a player whose career high in a single season is three treys. He's also letting offense come to him rather than forcing the action, and his talented teammates draw away enough defensive attention that he's been able to hit 54.8 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Gibson won't be a star. He won't single-handedly swing any categories. But the sum total of his production still makes him well worth rostering.