With the trade deadline for most leagues looming over the heads of fantasy owners, savvy utilization of the free-agent wire is critical in fielding a competitive roster down the stretch. The trade deadline affects the waiver wire in a few ways. First, if an owner is able to pull off a blockbuster, multi-player deal in which he gives up more players than he receives, that leaves roster spots to fill through the wire. Second, once the deadline passes, the FA wire becomes the only way to address needs and improve a team, so there's often a mad dash to pick up legitimate players. And finally, owners must drop players in order to make room for newly acquired assets, adding fresh blood to the mix of available players. Any way you analyze it, scouring the wire on a daily basis is crucial over the next month as you craft the ideal team for the stretch run.
Let's take a look at some widely available players who have been performing well recently. This week I'm going to focus on highlighting more players, with fewer words devoted to each, in an attempt to assist fantasy owners with varying needs and league sizes:
George Hill, PG/SG, Pacers (14.8 percent owned): After missing 10 games because of a foot injury, Hill has played well as of late, averaging 14.0 points, 1.3 3-pointers, 1.0 steals and just 1.0 turnovers per game in 24.0 minutes per game over his past three contests. He's once again a key part of the Pacers' backcourt rotation, and with 1.0 3s and 1.1 steals in just 24.3 minutes per game this season, he's actually posting better per-minute numbers than he did last season in San Antonio. His value lies primarily in two categories -- 3-pointers and steals -- but he consistently provides them and does it without hurting you anywhere else, making his worth highest in turnover formats.
Josh Howard, SG/SF, Jazz (13.8 percent owned): Howard was playing well before snagging the starting job Monday, with double-digit scoring in nine straight games and averages of 12.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 30.0 minutes per game over his past five. His game is balanced, he provides nice boards from the guard slot, and now that he's starting over Gordon Hayward, Howard's stock is on the rise.
Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Jazz (11.9 percent owned): On that note, Hayward's demotion to the bench hasn't completely sapped him of value, as he scored 23 points with four rebounds, five assists, two 3s and a steal in his first game as a reserve, then followed it up by playing 30 minutes Wednesday, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists. He's inconsistent, but he provides in multiple categories, with averages of 9.7 points, 3.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 3s per game this season, so if you need some across-the-board production from a player whose NBA game is still developing, don't consider Hayward an afterthought despite his recent move to the bench.
Leandro Barbosa, SG, Raptors (10.6 percent owned): Single-digit scoring efforts are rare for Barbosa; he has notched double figures in seven of his past eight games, averaging 14.1 points and 1.4 3s per game in that span. He primarily provides points and 3s with a handful of steals (0.8 per game), but consistent scoring is difficult to find on the free-agent wire, so target Barbosa if that's your primary need, as he's the only player owned in fewer than 15 percent of ESPN leagues that averages at least 12.0 points per game.
Ekpe Udoh, PF/C, Warriors (9.3 percent owned): Warriors coach Mark Jackson has indicated that the starting center job is Udoh's for the rest of the season, and despite a raw game, Udoh has become one of the most consistent sources of blocks in the league, with at least one swat in 14 consecutive contests. In his past 20 games, he's averaging 2.1 blocks per game, and his minutes have consistently increased this season, with averages of 14.3 in December, 18.8 in January, 23.9 in February and now 27.8 per game in March. His offensive game is improving as well, with double-digit scoring in three of his past eight contests, although swats are where he makes his money, and he should be among the league leaders for the rest of the season now that he has locked down regular playing time.
Byron Mullens, C, Bobcats (8.3 percent owned): Mullens started the season hot, then floundered. But with Boris Diaw out of the picture in Charlotte, he's back in the mix, playing 25 minutes in each of his past three contests. In that span, he averaged 12.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, and although the boards and blocks are a bit of an aberration, Mullens is a competent scorer who should be able to provide double-digit scoring regularly now that he's the backup behind Bismack Biyombo. His game isn't well-rounded, but if you need decent scoring with nearly a block per game, he's a viable option unless the Bobcats are able to swap Diaw for another frontcourt piece.
Randy Foye, PG/SG, Clippers (6.1 percent owned): Foye hasn't dominated since stepping in for Chauncey Billups, but he has been solid, especially in the 3-point department. In 21 starts this season, he's averaging 11.3 points, 2.0 3s and 1.0 steals per game, and over his past five he's at 12.4 points and 2.4 3s per game. He hasn't blown us away, but those are competent stats, and if you need 3-pointers, Foye is a reliable source for fantasy teams.
Taj Gibson, PF, Bulls (5.4 percent owned): Gibson's career arc has been disappointing, as his playing time has diminished in each of his three seasons despite his respectable play from the power forward position. The depth in Chicago hurts his value, but he's a steady source of blocks and boards, with averages of 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 0.8 steals per game in his past 10 contests. There's always an outside chance his stats will pop, as both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have a history of injuries, but even as the third man in the rotation, he's worthy of a spot in deeper leagues if you're in need of consistent defensive production.
Kawhi Leonard, SG/SF/PF, Spurs (3.3 percent owned): Leonard has a bright fantasy future, as his season averages of 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks and 0.5 steals per game indicate, and the solid minutes he's seeing as a rookie bode well for his development as a player. He missed a couple games in late February because of a calf issue, but not counting those games, he's averaging 2.1 steals per game in his past 10 contests, and so far this month he's at 11.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 21.3 minutes per game. There's a lot going on in San Antonio, with Manu Ginobili back and Danny Green also emerging, but Leonard provides in multiple categories with excellent steals, so if you are in need of swipes with high upside and unusual positional versatility, Leonard is worth a roster spot.
Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Timberwolves (1.5 percent owned): An utter disappointment thus far in his NBA career, Johnson continues to see regular playing time despite his inability to flex the statistical prowess he showed in college (16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.7 steals and 1.5 3s per game at Syracuse). But he has had a nice month, averaging 10.0 points, 1.0 steal, 0.8 blocks and 1.5 3s in 22.3 minutes per game, and his 0.5 blocks, 0.5 steals and 0.7 3s per game this season demonstrate the fact that there's a multi-categorical skill set hidden somewhere in there. Don't expect consistency, but I haven't completely given up on Johnson as a fantasy player, and there's still some upside there, so in deep formats, if you have a bench spot where he can sit until he potentially puts it together, Johnson's ceiling is still high enough to warrant ownership.
Beno Udrih, PG/SG, Bucks (0.8 percent owned): Udrih's season has been miserable compared to last year, when he finished 41st on the Player Rater. But he's averaging 25.0 minutes per game in March compared to 15.9 in February, and is seeing more run as Brandon Jennings' backup than Shaun Livingston as of late. Udrih has been especially helpful in assists, averaging five per game over his past seven contests, and it's well-documented that dimes are scarce on the waiver wire. There's no chance he'll replicate last season's production, when he was an unquestioned starter in all formats, but if you're in need of assists in a deep league, Udrih is a legitimate option as long as he's getting the backup point guard minutes in Milwaukee.
Roger Mason, SG, Wizards (0.1 percent owned): Mason has barely sniffed the court most of the season, but he has come out of nowhere to etch out a role for a Wizards team desperately in need of a veteran backcourt presence. He has scored in double figures in four of his past seven games, with averages of 9.7 points and 2.4 3-pointers in 15.4 minutes per game in that span. He's worth a look only for those desperate for 3s in very deep formats, but Mason has demonstrated the ability to contribute in the past, like in 2008-2009 when he averaged 2.0 3s per game while playing all 82 games for the Spurs.