The players who cause the most damage to your team's chances are the ones who produce just enough to stay on your roster but struggle to separate themselves from the pack. You have them in every league: guys you could drop for a player who better fits your needs, but whose overall value is greater than what you would normally find on the waiver wire, and you're reluctant to let another owner benefit from your mistake.
So far this season, there has been an influx of production from the waiver wire, much of it due to the inordinate number of rookies who have carved out value. In general, though, the beginning of the season is always busy when it comes to marginal players. The fliers people drafted in the later rounds get dropped as owners lose patience, and there is little perspective on out-of-the-blue performances since the sample size is so small. You'll usually have your fair number of players to sort through, but the trick is deciding who is a keeper and who is not. But sometimes being a good fantasy manager is hedging your bets until the proper situation presents itself.
At season's end, Al Thornton may end up more valuable than Anthony Morrow, but right now, I wouldn't hesitate to drop the former for the latter. If Morrow doesn't work out, you just drop him for the next guy with some decent long-term potential or short-term value -- eventually, with so many players coming and going, you'll grab onto a player who will end up with better value than Thornton. This is the portion of the season where the goal is just accumulating as much production as you can now; we can sort it out later, and there's no time to settle for mediocrity in the process. Here are some useful, but limited, players you should be looking to discard or ship off as part of a two-for-one deal:
Mickael Pietrus, SG/SF, Magic: Pietrus is owned in 88.9 percent of leagues, but honestly, why? He's averaging 14.5 points in 26 minutes, which seems decent at first. But he's shooting nearly 90 percent from the free-throw line, 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc -- hot shooting that is sure to level off. He's averaging three fouls per game for the third season in a row, which is the primary reason he's never averaged even 27 minutes in his career. He's going to remain a positive contributor in 3-pointers (1.9 per game), but those guys are all over the fantasy wire. Pietrus is a decent stopgap, but it's about time we stop projecting this mythical upside on him every year; it's just not going to happen.
Udonis Haslem, PF/C, Heat: Haslem averaged 12 points and nine boards last season, and is at 12.0 points and 8.8 rebounds so far this season -- pretty consistent. But it's consistently mediocre when you consider the utter lack of blocks (0.4 per game in his career). The field goal percentage doesn't harm you, but that's what a big man is supposed to do; he's really just another guy. His value is maxed out, too, since his minutes can't go much further north than his current 35 minute-per-game clip.
Wilson Chandler, SF, Knicks: Tweeners are my least favorite guys in fantasy, as it takes a lot of athleticism to overcome it, and players of that type are usually poor defenders, making coaches reluctant to play them. Chandler isn't a bad option because it's rare to find players who can approach averaging one block, steal and 3-pointer per game, but it's tough to give him a boost for playing on an up-tempo team because fouls just become more of a problem. Chandler is averaging 3.6 fouls in 29 minutes this season after averaging 2.4 in 19 minutes last season, and with Quentin Richardson, David Lee and soon-to-be Jared Jeffries around, it's going to be nearly impossible for Chandler to see more playing time than he's currently getting. Sell the dream of Chandler's production to someone before reality catches up.
Cuttino Mobley, SG, Clippers: Mobley was done about three seasons ago, to the point that I am shocked he was drafted at all this season. He's a shooting guard who is limited in all categories, a guy who allows you to tread water if you're lucky. The steals (1.4) are nice, and maybe 1.2 or so per game is sustainable, considering he has such great shot-blockers in Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman behind him. But outside of that, he is barely average or below average in every other category, his production has been in steady decline since 2004-05, and Eric Gordon will eat into his minutes in the second half of the season.
Comings and goings
Larry Hughes returned last Thursday from his shoulder injury but had a pretty quiet week, coming off the bench and averaging minutes in the teens. He started Wednesday with Luol Deng out but got just 21 minutes in a blowout. As long as Derrick Rose keeps averaging minutes in the high 30s, it looks like there's no room for Hughes to be productive in all but the deepest of leagues. Jason Thompson has started six games in a row, averaging a decent 11.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals. It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out when the Kings have all their players healthy, as Thompson has been seeing minutes at small forward, a position that will become redundant when Francisco Garcia returns. The only palatable situation for fantasy would be the exile of Mikki Moore (22 minutes per game), who at this stage in his career is just taking developmental time away from the other Kings. According to the New York Post, there's a decent chance that Mike D'Antoni will use Jared Jeffries as his starting center when he returns from his broken leg within two weeks. With all the extra possessions going around in New York, it wouldn't be too far-fetched for Jeffries to average close to a steal and block per game and carve out some value for himself.
Brook Lopez, C, Nets: Lopez has strung together a couple of good games with Josh Boone out (sprained ankle), enough to warrant some attention even in shallower mixed leagues. He's averaging 15.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.0 steals in three games the past week, logging 31.6 minutes in the process. On the downside, he fouled out once and had 12 fouls overall in three games, something that should be a recurring theme this season. But Lopez is a legitimate 7-footer, which carries a lot of weight in today's game, and as the 10th overall pick, there's a distinct possibility Lopez could keep the starting job even when Boone returns. Lopez is also sixth in steals among centers, averaging 0.9 in 22 minutes. Whether he remains a starter upon Boone's return or not, a big man who rebounds and blocks shots while having a bit of an offensive game is not going to remain dormant for long, especially on a team that has lacked a major frontcourt presence since Kenyon Martin left five years ago.
Rasho Nesterovic, C, Pacers: Though he doesn't officially qualify, Nesterovic's 2.8 assists per game ranks second among centers, behind Brad Miller (who also has yet to qualify). Nesterovic is shooting a would-be career-high 55.7 percent, averaging over 27 minutes per game, his most since 2003-04, and swatting 1.5 shots. He's beneficial in turnover leagues, too, averaging just 1.2 per contest, and even chips in more in the steals department than your average center (0.6). Haslem is averaging 12 points and nine rebounds and is owned in 57 percent of leagues; maybe I'm silly, but one point and three rebounds isn't worth 1.5-2 more assists and one more block per game.
Michael Finley, SG/SF and Matt Bonner, PF, Spurs: In six games since Tony Parker injured his ankle, Finley has averaged just a hair under 30 minutes per game and is averaging 15.1 points and two 3s while shooting 51 percent from the field. To help make up for the loss of Parker's offense, Matt Bonner has seen his minutes increase, too, averaging 22.5 minutes, 9.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. Those numbers aren't very impressive, but he has nailed seven 3s in four games, and both players are useful as cheap options for points (especially 3s) as long as Parker is out.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.