- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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The last player picked for kickball at recess might not have much athletic prowess, but he or she still gets to play and might even be the difference-maker that boots in the winning run. The dregs at the bottom of the barrel might appear unappetizing but still get the job done if you're famished and they're the only option available.
These sappy analogies apply to unheralded fantasy players typically worth considering only in deep or ultracompetitive formats. They might not carry the name recognition of fantasy mainstays, but it's important to stay diligent on the waiver wire and sort through the best available options in order to maximize team value, especially since the trade deadline has passed and the pickings are slim. League winners and losers are often separated by a couple of steals or a handful of points, so doing everything possible to mine the waiver wire for potentially beneficial players for the stretch run is a critical late-season fantasy hoops strategy.
This week, I'll identify a wide variety of players worth monitoring in all types of formats, in order to provide insight about who might tip the scales in your fantasy league. Many of these widely available players are worth considering only in deep leagues, but each has upped his game or been bestowed with better opportunity as of late.
Marcus Thornton, SG, Sacramento Kings (47.3 percent owned): Thornton's ownership hasn't sunk to deep-league levels, but he's owned in far fewer leagues than he was when drafted 68th on average and counted on to be a fantasy starter this season. Though he has been disappointing coming off the bench for the Kings, he erupted for a season-high 36 points Tuesday, dropped 20 points with eight boards Wednesday and is averaging 13.8 points and 2.4 3s per game in February, with at least 12 points in six of his past eight contests. His stats have plummeted this season, his Player Efficiency Rating is the lowest of his career, and his field goal percentage sits at a harmful 41.2 percent, partly due to the fact he is hitting just 27 percent of his jumpers between 16-23 feet. However, he has improved in February and is still a legitimate 3-point threat, nailing 1.9 3s per game on 36.8 percent shooting from behind the arc for the season. He undoubtedly has the tools to help fantasy teams if he's getting opportunities, as illustrated by his averages of 18.4 points and 3.6 3s per game over his past five contests. Act now, as his ownership has risen 12.1 percent over the past seven days and will continue to do so if he keeps balling off the bench for the Kings.
Tobias Harris, SF, Orlando Magic (5.4 percent owned): Widely viewed as the best asset Orlando received in the J.J. Redick trade, Harris has intriguing length, skill and versatility. He has seen a considerable spike in value since the trade, averaging 17.7 points, 6.3 rebounds,1.3 blocks, 1.0 steals and 0.7 3s per game in his first three contests with the Magic. Per 40 minutes, Harris is averaging 16.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks and 0.9 3s, flashing the ability to contribute modestly in multiple categories. His 3s/steals/blocks potential is exciting, especially considering he's just 20 years old. If early returns in Orlando are any indication of what we can expect going forward, Harris is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of trade deadline deals and has surfaced as a fantasy option beyond deep leagues.
C.J. Watson, PG, Brooklyn Nets (2.7 percent owned): With Joe Johnson sidelined, Watson has started in the Nets' backcourt alongside Deron Williams the past three contests, notched double-digit scoring in each of his past six games and is averaging 15.2 points, 3.8 assists, 2.8 3s and
1.2 steals per game over the past 15 days. He shined at times last season while filling in for Derrick Rose, has shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc in each of the previous two seasons and is hitting 38.7 percent of his treys this season. His strong play began before Johnson went down, and his ability to play both guard positions has allowed him to carve out a steady reserve role coming off the bench for Brooklyn. Averaging 1.1 3s and 0.8 steals in just 19 minutes per game, he's effective when on the court and provides enough scoring, 3s and steals to warrant deep-league consideration, especially when Williams or Johnson (expected to return Friday) is hurt.
Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls (2.7 percent owned): Butler was a popular addition earlier in the season when Luol Deng went down, and now that Taj Gibson is sidelined for a few weeks with a sprained MCL, Butler should see more run in the short term as the primary forward off the bench for the Bulls. He demonstrated scoring ability in January and early February, rattling off double-digit scoring in 10 of 11 games. Perhaps the most enticing aspect of his game is his efficiency, as he's shooting 48 percent from the floor and 86 percent from the line. His per-40-minute averages of 13.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks and just 0.9 turnovers illustrate a well-rounded skill set, and his scoring binge earlier this season shows that he can get buckets when given the opportunity. The opportunity has come with Gibson out, so don't be surprised if he ups his play significantly over the next several weeks and once again finds himself fantasy-relevant.
Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Houston Rockets (0.8 percent owned): This talented rookie from basketball-hotbed Lithuania is the biggest winner in the trade that sent Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris out of Houston. He played 23 minutes Saturday, posting 11 points, 6 rebounds and 2 3-pointers, and started his first game of the season Wednesday, piling up 13 points, 7 boards and 5 assists in 26 minutes. His willingness to shoot 3s (0.9 attempts per game in just 6.4 minutes) should lead to some propitious games from long range now that he's starting. Also, he should amass a handful of steals and blocks given his length, although he's not a great rebounder for a 7-footer and I'd primarily view him as a 3-point option from the power forward position. Motiejunas should average more than one 3-pointer per game going forward, a feat only 17 power forward-eligible players have achieved this season. If your team has a shortage of 3s, Motiejunas will provide them from an atypical position and is worth a deep-league add given his favorable swing in playing time.
Jason Smith, PF/C, New Orleans Hornets (0.2 percent owned): Smith isn't flashy, but he's efficient (49 percent from the field, 84 percent from the line) and gets consistent backup minutes for the Hornets. He lives off his jumper, which he is hitting in the upper-40 percent range from every area of the court, and his 0.9 blocks per game are just enough to warrant consideration in deep, two-center leagues for fantasy owners who can't take a hit in any percentage category but need about a block per game from their second center. Of the 42 centers averaging at least one block per game over the past month, Smith is one of three players, along with Tim Duncan and Chris Bosh, shooting at least 49 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the stripe for the season. He's a damage-control type player (for deep leagues) who can contribute the occasional double-digit scoring night and provide a handful of blocks.
Alec Burks, SG, Utah Jazz (0.2 percent owned): Anytime a lottery pick gets significant minutes for the first time, I take notice, and Burks is averaging 27.1 minutes per game in February along with 9.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.9 3s and 0.9 steals while shooting 45 percent from the field. His ability to create off the dribble and finish at the rim should eventually help his field goal percentage rise above its season mark of 40 percent, and his size allows him to rebound well at the position, as he averaged 6.8 boards per game in his final season at Colorado. This equates to a nice, out-of-position statistical opportunity, as his 5.4 rebounds per game over the past 15 days ranks 10th among shooting guard-eligible players. Plus, Burks' value has nowhere to go but up, given his prototypical size for an NBA 2, ability to put the ball on the floor and high athletic upside.
Patrick Beverley, PG, Houston Rockets (0.0 percent owned): Beverley was drafted by the Lakers in 2009 but never found his way onto an NBA court and honed his game in Europe, winning Eurocup MVP last season for Spartak St. Petersburg, averaging 15.0 points, 4.9 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.2 3s in 22 games. He scored a season-high 15 points Saturday and is posting impressive per-minute stats, including 0.9 3s, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks and 2.6 assists in just 14.5 minutes per game this season. His playmaking ability is underrated, as his 35.03 assist rate ranks 15th in the league. Plus, he is athletic, provides energy off the bench and is often a more effective defensive stopper than both James Harden and Jeremy Lin. Beverley's shooting is streaky, but he likes shooting 3s and has been effective from downtown in February, averaging 1.1 3s in just 17.9 minutes per game. With his long wingspan, he accrues impressive steal and block numbers for his size. If you're looking for some hustle stats and 3s from a deep-league guard, Beverley has gone from balling in Russia to being a blip on the NBA fantasy radar.
Josh Whitling lists unheralded, widely available players worth picking up or trading for in the hopes of quality contributions in the final two months of the NBA season.