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Tuesday, January 19, 2010
High-risk, high-reward pickups

By Adam Madison
Special to ESPN.com

Now that we're about halfway into the season, you likely have a strong idea of how good your team is. If you're stuck in the middle of the pack, now is a great time to reassess and determine your plan of attack. The good thing about basketball is that things can change quickly; target the right players and you can make great gains in categories such as assists, 3-pointers, steals and blocks. If you're struggling in categories that are tough to make up ground in, such as field goal and free throw percentage, or maybe points, don't fret, it's likely that at least half your league is fighting to gain ground in those categories, so even if you aren't doing so well, you can mortgage the few players you have who are contributing in those categories to your opponents to help yourself make up ground in the categories in which you do have a fighting chance.

There is only one winner in every fantasy league, and as a result you should not shy away from risks. Remember, fortune favors the brave, and it's better to go out firing than to leave a few bullets in reserve and fall short. Often, everything must break just right for you to go from the middle of the pack at midseason to the top of the standings at season's end. For teams at the top of your league, it's a bit of a different story: They are naturally going to be a bit more risk averse, since any steep dropoffs in a player's production could have them regretting not selling him back when he still had some value. It's a tricky situation, but if you want to win, you often don't have much of a choice.

To that end, it's time to present a handful of players who may be risky buys now, but who have the potential to perform as top-50 players from this point forward. They won't necessarily come cheap, but they could represent a huge gain relative to what you would have to give up. Or they could go down as massive busts.

Vince Carter
There's still time for the vintage Vince Carter to show up in Orlando.

Vince Carter, Orlando Magic: There is no doubt that anyone who has owned Carter this season is at least a little annoyed at his off-season. No one enjoys having to put up with a field goal percentage killer, which Carter has been thanks to his uncharacteristic 38.9 percent this season. But that is exactly why he makes a great target: His career statistics say it has been a total fluke, as he entered the season shooting about 45 percent from the field for his career. Consider that he is still averaging 17.1 points and 1.4 3-pointers per game, implying that there is much room for growth when his shot finally does start to fall. He contributes across the board, too, and despite the fact that he has been banged up this season, his track record for staying healthy belies his soft reputation: he has played in 394 of a possible 410 games over the past five campaigns. In other words, his owner might think he's trading away a percentage-killing injury risk, but in reality he's trading away a guy who could be one of the game's most versatile and valuable swingmen in the second half.

Tyrus Thomas, Chicago Bulls: I talked a fair bit about Thomas last week, but the main reason his name is worth repeating is that his value couldn't possibly be lower than it is right now; he hasn't scored in double-digits or logged at least 30 minutes in any game this month. Despite that, he still delivers major contributions in steals and blocks, averaging 1.9 swipes and 1.4 rejections this month despite just 22 minutes of playing time. And while he does kill your percentages, that could make him an ideal target if you're already treading water in those two categories. He won't make you that much worse in those categories, yet could single-handedly carry you in two of the scarcest categories in fantasy. And if you acquire him and then the Bulls trade to another team, he could blow up and potentially lead you to the title.

Corey Maggette, Golden State Warriors: Maggette has been a top-15 producer the past 15 days, and while that may scream "Sell high!" to you, I did mention that you sometimes need to take risks to catapult into contention. There is a good chance his owner is looking to trade him for a reasonable price, and while Maggette is definitely an injury risk, there are very few players who can carry you in points, field goal and free throw percentage without costing you an arm and a leg, so you may want to inquire about him. Keep in mind that the Warriors have been banged up all season, so the normal playing time fluctuations of Don Nelson don't loom as large. What better team to post inflated statistics than the high-tempo Warriors.

Andre Miller, Portland Trail Blazers: Don't look now but Miller is blowing up in January, averaging 18 points and eight assists while shooting more than 50 percent from the field. The production is well-timed, as Miller could be showcased for a trade, which likely would solidify his playing time and his value. Even if Miller isn't dealt, I am willing to buy into his torrid play, and while you might think his recent production will make him hard to acquire, it could be your chance to get a top-50 commodity at a discount. He can help you make up ground quickly in assists, free throw and field goal percentage, categories that are normally much more expensive to acquire, so you may want to look into acquiring him now before he gets outside of your price range.

Devin Harris, New Jersey Nets: Harris finished in the top 40 of our player rater last season, but has dropped more than 100 spots off that pace this season. It's tough to know whether last season may end up as a career best, or if he's due for a major rebound. He carries a lot of risk, because even at his best he won't contribute much in field goal percentage, but he can give you a major impact in steals and free throw percentage and provides an above-average amount of assists. He's the epitome of a boom-or-bust player, as he could just as easily get injured or hoist up dozens of ill-advised shots, or he could give your team a fighting chance. His owner will undoubtedly be wary about selling too low, so you will have to give up something of quality to net him, but sometimes you have to swing for the stars.

Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mr.adam.madison@gmail.com.