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Thursday, January 3, 2013
Improving those bench options

By Josh Whitling
Special to ESPN.com

As the new year commences, resolve to avoid the primary culprit of fantasy hoops mediocrity that seeps into leagues this time of year: complacency.

Now that the luster of a new season has dimmed and the novelty of your team has worn off, many fantasy owners stop paying their teams the daily attention needed to ensure the best chance of victory. This applies to daily roster moves and especially waiver-wire acquisitions. It's easy to look at your starting roster and be lazy about cultivating the best bench possible, but boosting that team depth is the best way to maximize your team's overall value and prospects of winning down the stretch.

Analyze the players with the lowest value on your team and compare them directly to the options available on the waiver wire. Even if you haven't needed to change up your bench for quite some time, making sure the 13th player on your roster is the best 13th player possible helps in a variety of ways. With trades, it allows you to ship off more players than you receive and compensate for the loss of depth effectively. It also safeguards against injuries, provides options if you're attempting to make up ground in a specific category and allows high-upside players to incubate until their opportunity comes.

As such, here are some widely available players who could be better options than the worst player on your team:

John Salmons
The Kings' John Salmons ranks 36th overall on the Player Rater over the past 15 days.

John Salmons, SG/SF, Sacramento Kings (19.1 percent owned): It would have been difficult for Salmons not to improve upon the disaster that was his 2011-12 season, when he posted a career-low 3-point percentage and the worst per-minute numbers he has had since he broke out for the Kings in 2006-2007. But he has stepped in and performed admirably in Tyreke Evans' absence, scoring in double figures in four of the past six games. He is averaging 13.9 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the floor and 82.4 percent from the stripe with 4.7 assists, 1.6 3-pointers and 1.0 steals per game over the past 15 days. He has decreased his attempts on long 2-pointers and increased his attempts at the rim, which are positive signs in the field goal percentage department. Evans is expected to return sometime during the Kings' next homestand, but there's enough ambiguity there and overall instability surrounding this team that it's worth it to ride Salmons while he's hot.

Mike Dunleavy, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks (15.4 percent owned): Dunleavy has shined recently in a bench role for the Bucks after missing six games because of a knee injury, averaging 15.8 points and 2.8 3-pointers per game over his past four contests. He has become more of a catch-and-shoot option than he was a few years ago, when he was one of the better all-around offensive options in the game, but he is still a major threat from beyond the arc, averaging 1.8 3s per game on 41 percent shooting from downtown. Dunleavy should continue to see significant minutes, as his +8.1 plus/minus is the best on his team, according to 82games.com, and should remain an excellent source of 3s as a primary scoring option off the bench for the Bucks.

Will Bynum, PG, Detroit Pistons (8 percent owned): Bynum has displayed flashes of brilliance in the past, such as November 2009, when he averaged 15 points, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game in 14 contests while playing almost 30 minutes per night. But the Detroit backcourt has been bogged down by Rodney Stuckey and now-former Pistons Ben Gordon and Richard Hamilton, so he never has gotten the consistent run he seemingly deserves, not to mention he struggled with injury and personal problems last season. But he has been scorching of late with Stuckey sidelined, averaging 19.8 points, 5.8 assists and 2.0 3s per game over his past four games. Stuckey should be back soon, but this stretch could earn Bynum more playing time, as he is capable of playing alongside Stuckey and Brandon Knight. Don't expect the 20-plus scoring nights to continue with regularity, but he is capable of providing modest points, assists and 3s as a spark plug off the bench.

Charlie Villanueva, SF/PF, Pistons (1 percent owned): Back in the day, I was enthralled with Villanueva's fantasy potential, because as a talented stretch power forward who shoots 3s, he has multicategory glory written all over him. Unfortunately, he fell hopelessly in love with the long ball and forgot there are other aspects to basketball, resulting in a considerable decline in minutes in each of the past three seasons. This was also spurred by poor conditioning and ankle problems, both of which are improved this season, as exhibited by his sparkling 19.87 player efficiency rating. He is still enamored with the trey, but he is getting enough playing time and draining them at an exorbitant enough rate that he is worth a flier as a 3-point specialist from the power forward position. Villanueva is averaging 14.2 points, 3.4 3s, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in his past five contests, and if he continues earning minutes in the mid-20s, he'll be an unexpected (given his position) source of 3-pointers.

Garrett Temple, SG, Washington Wizards (1 percent owned): Boasting impressive size and versatility for a guard, Temple has bounced around the league but posted enticing per-minute statistics in his limited time, averaging 0.4 3s, 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks in 12.6 minutes per game for his career. He averaged 1.2 3s, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks per game as a senior at LSU and has developed his limited offensive game a bit, but he excels most on the defensive end. He is worth deep-league consideration if you need a glue-type player who has some value in multiple categories, at least until John Wall returns.

Hakim Warrick, PF, Charlotte Bobcats (0.7 percent owned): This mediocre journeyman with solid scoring ability is doing what he does when given more playing time: provide above average scoring numbers and below average everything else on a per-minute basis. Warrick is not exciting unless you need scoring in a deep league, but he has four seasons of averaging double digits in points per game under his belt and has at least 12 points in three of the past four contests with Byron Mullens sidelined. He should provide 10-12 points with 4-5 boards per game with this increased playing time.

Sullinger
Jared Sullinger has averaged 23.6 minutes per game over his past five contests.

Jared Sullinger, PF, Boston Celtics (0.6 percent owned): The primary question surrounding Sullinger on draft day was the health of his back, not his ability to be productive. Well, he has been healthy, and relatively productive, averaging 8.8 points on 57.1 percent shooting with 6.2 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game in his past five contests. It took until the end of November for him to notch his third double-digit scoring effort, and now he has done it in three of his past five games as he's becoming an increasingly important part of the Celtics' bench rotation. Right now, his rebounding is his best trait; his 13.8 rebound rate per 48 minutes ranks 24th in the league, ahead of guys like Greg Monroe and Blake Griffin. His ceiling in relatively low, as his subpar athleticism will make it difficult for him to dominate in any category, but he should eventually score efficiently, rebound and provide just enough steals and blocks to be consistently fantasy worthy if his health holds up.

Terrence Ross, SG, Toronto Raptors (0.5 percent owned): The Raptors surprised many by drafting Ross eighth overall, but he has the type of game that translates nicely at the NBA level and we're starting to get glimpses of his potential. He posted 26 points with six 3s, five rebounds and two steals Wednesday night and is averaging 14 points with 2.8 3s and 1.2 steals in his past five contests. He is raw, but he has ample upside and is capable of contributing in points and 3s for a team that is currently starting Mickael Pietrus at the 2. Don't be surprised if that changes shortly, as Ross is proving to be ready to have an impact at this level.

Shelvin Mack, PG, Wizards (0.4 percent owned): Mack's defense will earn him enough court time to warrant a deep-league pickup if you're desperate for assists, as he battles fellow no-name defensive hustler Temple for run. Neither is worth a spot in standard leagues, but Mack is worth grabbing if you want assists in deep formats, and Temple is if you want a little of everything. Mack is averaging five assists per game in his past three games, and like Temple, he'll have some value until Wall returns.

John Jenkins, SG, Atlanta Hawks (0 percent owned): This is my super-deep special of the week. Widely regarded as the best shooter in the 2012 NBA draft, Jenkins looks to do one thing when given playing time: drain from long range. He averaged 3.8 3s per game at Vanderbilt last season, and although he is poor at creating his own shot, he thrives in catch-and-shoot situations. He is proving that his skill translates to the NBA 3-point line, as he is nailing 47.6 percent of his 3-point attempts and averaging 0.7 3s in just 8.2 minutes per game. He is averaging 10.7 points and 1.7 3s in 20 minutes per game in his past three contests with Anthony Morrow sidelined, and if he is capable of sustaining increased playing time and supplants Morrow as the team's 3-point specialist, he'll be a legitimate one-category wonder.