It's crunch time, and those of us in Hardcore-land are intensifying our search for the little things that could give us the edge as our seasons head down to the wire. And by that, I mean "waiver wire."
Some of you are in the playoffs. Some are in rotisserie leagues that could turn on the thinnest of statistical margins; a single 3-pointer, a missed free throw, a bad Stephen Jackson shooting night.
This is the stage of the season where the little differences are magnified, simply because we're running out of runway. If you've been reading this space lately, you've probably noticed that I've been focusing on team-wide trends. This is because I know that it's fertile territory for those of you still showing an intense interest in your fantasy hoops squads.
Starting next Monday, we have only two full weeks left. Every NBA team plays only 8-10 games, and then I can shut down the fantasy hoops portions of my brain for a couple of weeks (until the lottery). If you're still engaged with your fantasy teams' fortunes, accept my congratulations, because it means you're probably playing for something worthwhile. And you're also -- as you have been since the trade deadline -- living heavily in Waiver Wire Land.
One of the major factors that should now play a role in your waiver-wire decisions is how many games an individual player's team has remaining on its schedule. The difference between 8 and 10 games is huge; you could be missing out on 30-40 points, 10-20 rebounds, 3-4 blocks, 3-6 3-pointers and 2-5 steals. If I had an extra 1,000 words of space, I could list tons of stories I've been told about fantasy championships decided by these types of margins. If you catch a hot fringe contributor at the right time, with a favorable slate of games, it could give your team the right far-turn burst it needs.
So for this week, I went through the remaining schedule for every team and broke down which teams with 10 games remaining had the best schedules and most fantasy opportunity. Beyond the sheer number of remaining games, I've taken these other factors into account: home/road splits, pace and player availability (the number of possible fantasy contributors a team may have available in mid-sized fantasy leagues).
(WAS, @SA, @BOS, @IND, @MEM, UTA, CHA, @PHO, @SAC, NO)
Pace: 96.3 (7th in NBA)
Home/Road PPG: 103.5/99.9
Until he hurt his ankle, Jordan Hill had been on the verge of opening some eyes in late-season fantasyland. His 11-point, 7-rebound, 5-block performance versus the Boston Celtics last week should have been more than enough to land Hill on the radar of deeper teams on the lookout for center help. The Rockets are banged up to the point where Hill may try to play through the injury, so don't drop him off your radar. Kyle Lowry has gone for double digits three games in a row and is capable of helping teams in need of 3s and steals.
Chase Budinger (the new Pat Garrity) is a one-trick pony, but is a threat to can 3-pointers in bunches any given night. Finally, with so many injuries in the Rockets' frontcourt, either Chuck Hayes or Mike Harris could start pulling down 25 minutes per game during the final two weeks. Harris is so new to Houston that he was still listed as a Washington Wizard until yesterday, when he played 26 minutes and collected 6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block in his Rockets debut.
(@UTAH, @POR, @GS, @LAC, BOS, @IND, @ORL, MIA, WAS, @TOR)
Pace: 96.1 (8th in NBA)
Home/Road PPG: 103.4/99.8
I'm assuming here that Toney Douglas (42 points, 11 assists, 8 3-pointers in his past two games) is unavailable in your league, which basically leaves Bill Walker as the only semi-available Knick capable of providing immediate aid to fantasy teams. Walker had a brief coming-out party in early March when he cracked the 20-point barrier on consecutive nights, then did it again two weeks later.
Anyone averaging more than 25 minutes a night in Mike D'Antoni's system (unless his name is Jared Jeffries) is going to prove tantalizing, but Walker is especially intriguing due to athletic upside and his across-the-board production. Numerically speaking, he sort of reminds one of a sharper-shooting Corey Brewer. Walker suffers from a propensity to get in foul trouble -- a common problem for younger players -- but he has the tools to be an interesting contributor in the right system.
(@CHA, LAC, @PHI, GS, @CLE, BOS, @ATL, CHI, @DET, NY)
Pace: 95.6 (12th in NBA)
Home/Road PPG: 104.0/103.1
Jarrett Jack might be stuck in a time-share with Jose Calderon, but he's still providing readily available access to assists, that most precious of waiver-wire commodities. If you're trolling for dimes, Jack's a nice plug-in, but don't expect anything other than five points and five assists a game. The fact he qualifies at both guard positions makes him a little more appealing, but the Raptor I'm really high on presently is shooting guard Antoine Wright. He's gone for double digits in three straight games and is chipping in a steal, a block and a 3-pointer per night. Nothing flashy, but his minutes are on the rise along with his 3-point percentage (.331 this season versus .302 last season), and he's proven rather unafraid to keep shooting whenever given an opportunity.
DeMar DeRozan's still very inconsistent, and will disappear for weeks at a time (even while averaging 24.6 minutes per game in March), but he's got more upside than anyone else in this column. He's also capable of getting hot enough to make him roster-worthy in deeper leagues, but he needs to expand his statistical repertoire beyond points scored.
(LAC, @CLE, @CHA, PHO, @CHI, NJ, @PHI, BOS, ATL, @BOS)
Pace: 94.6 (18th in NBA)
Home/Road PPG: 100.2/95.8
The Bucks have been one of my favorite fantasy teams this season, if not my favorite when it comes to instant waiver-wire help. Scott Skiles may not win coach of the year, but he'd get my vote due to the solid wire production I've been getting all year from his squad. I made the mistake of dropping Carlos Delfino a few weeks back, and he's been making me regret it about 75 percent of the ensuing time. Three-pointers, steals, points, rebounds and he qualifies at shooting guard and small forward; not bad for a guy still available in almost 80 percent of leagues.
Ersan Ilyasova has almost the exact same statistical portfolio as Delfino, but about twice the inconsistency. Still, he's got length, upside, double-double potential, chips in a 3-pointer a night and is heating up (35 points and 36 rebounds in his past four games). Keep an eye on him.
(@HOU, @NO, CHI, NJ, GS, @ORL, @BOS, ATL, @NY, IND)
Pace: 94.1 (20th in NBA)
Home/Road PPG: 98.1/93.8
I'm the only person in America still watching these games (and Andray Blatche rewards me at nearly every turn for sheer entertainment value), and I'm ever-so-slightly-biased, but mark my words: the amount of turmoil and unabashed existential drain on this team is going to beget some unlikely fantasy contributors during the final 10 games. Also, look at their matchups. They've got more high-paced opponents at home than any other team on this list. Games versus Houston, Golden State, New York and Indiana should all yield fantasy opportunity for somebody, the question is "who?"
With Blatche threatening to go off the reservation at any moment, James Singleton is quickly garnering favor simply by virtue of not being a total, epic head case. He's the anti-Blatche in that he's known for his motor and willingness to play defense. He also went for 19 points and 21 rebounds on Wednesday night. Give him a shot if you need boards and blocks. If you're in a dogfight in blocks, there's no other player on the wire with as much shot-altering potential as JaVale McGee. He's immaculately inconsistent, but the one thing he'll get you night-in and night-out is blocks. Just think of the points and rebounds as gravy.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.