- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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If ever a window exists in which you're provided the opportunity to separate yourself from the other fantasy owners in your league, this last six weeks of the season is it. In many leagues, activity has dwindled among owners not in close races. Regardless of whether you view your team as a championship contender, there are multiple benefits to remaining voracious on the waiver wire and granting diligent attention to your roster.
First, you can upset the equilibrium of battles between other owners by outperforming what the league expects from your team. Playing the spoiler builds self-esteem. Additionally, lack of activity from other owners often makes sizable leaps in the standings more realistic than you'd think, because the teams you're facing are often less competitive than they were before the All-Star break. And finally, paying close attention to box scores and late-season player trends in these final weeks of the season helps you cultivate an understanding of players and their value going into next season's draft.
On top of all that, Mike Tyson once said "champions don't quit." And Mike Tyson is spectacular.
Here are eight widely available players who have performed notably as of late. One or more of them are more than likely better than the worst player on your roster at this point in the season.
Jason Kidd, PG, New York Knicks (42.6 percent owned): Kidd is coming off an abominable February in which he shot 19.6 percent from the field and had just 0.6 3-pointers in 24.2 minutes per game, the worst month in his Hall of Fame career. The encouraging part of his slump, however, is that he continued logging considerable minutes. Plus, in the past few seasons, Kidd has reinvented himself as a player who can provide 3s, assists and steals without starter's minutes, something he should continue this season. He's seemingly snapped out of his shooting slump, shooting 50 percent from the floor in his first three March contests, and is still averaging 1.7 3s and 1.7 steals per game this season, one of just five players to accomplish that feat. Even with Wednesday's six-point performance, he still posted six assists, three steals and two 3s, and he is a consistent provider in those three categories and worth a roster spot on any fantasy team that needs them.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Bobcats (40.2 percent owned): The second overall pick's offensive game is rough around the edges, and after suffering a concussion in early February, he struggled statistically upon his return, averaging just 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in 10 contests. This off-month, as well as his middling 9.2 points per game for the season, justifiably caused his ownership to plummet. The exciting facet of his work-in-progress offensive game, however, is the fact that he's willing to put in work, and his fantasy prospects are looking up.
On Monday, Kidd-Gilchrist posted his first double-double since December, dropping 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting along with 10 rebounds, followed it up with another 17-point game on Wednesday and has scored in double digits in six of his past eight games. He entered his rookie season as the youngest player in the league, and if you watch Kidd-Gilchrist play consistently, it's hard to imagine him not blossoming into a stout fantasy force. Plus, there are some encouraging underlying stats: He takes 54.4 percent of his shots at the rim, has averaged at least 1.2 blocks per game in every month this season (besides January) and his total rebound rate (percentage of total rebounds grabbed by a player during his time on the court) of 12.7 ranks fifth among small forwards averaging at least 25 minutes per game. He's learning more with every game and has the tools and opportunity to be an impact fantasy player in multiple categories for the stretch run.
Corey Brewer, SF, Denver Nuggets (15.4 percent owned): Brewer's game is on point this season, but the Nuggets are deep and George Karl can be fickle, so his scoring comes in waves. Right now he's posting double digits on the regular, achieving that feat in 11 of the past 15 games, and the fact that he's capable of doing it with regularity has allowed Brewer to become a consistent fantasy player for the first time in his career. He's most valuable in turnover formats, where his ability to provide points, steals and 3s with very few miscues is especially helpful. Brewer is one of three players, along with Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Korver, averaging at least 10 points, a 3-pointer and a steal with 1.1 or fewer turnovers per game. He ranks No. 86 on the player rater over the past 15 days (if you include turnovers) and sees his value increase significantly if you add the ninth category.
Kosta Koufos, C, Denver Nuggets (14.9 percent owned): Take a passing glance at Koufos' numbers and they don't stand out -- 8.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game won't dazzle anybody. But it's his peripherals where he shines, especially in field goal percentage, where his 59.8 percent on 6.2 shots per game carries a 2.88 ranking on the player rater, good for 10th best in the league. Throw in his 1.6 blocks per game (16th on the player rater) and 0.6 steals per game (31st among center-eligible players) and Koufos helps fantasy teams much more than his surface-level stats indicate. The field goal percentage is legitimate, buoyed by the fact that he can finish with both hands around the rim, catches passes from the perimeter well and displays a skilled touch around the basket. He's part of the Nuggets' most effective and common five-man unit, which boasts a plus-88 according to 82games.com [http://www.82games.com/1213/1213DEN2.HTM]. Even though JaVale McGee impedes his ability to log 30-plus minutes per night, he should continue getting the lion's share of center minutes for the Nuggets and remain an unheralded fantasy contributor.
Enes Kanter, C, Utah Jazz (12.9 percent owned): It's important to temper your expectations for Kanter despite his monstrous 23-point, 22-rebound performance on Friday, as both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson were sidelined and because the Jazz frontcourt is still overcrowded since they didn't make a deadline deal. But Kanter has demonstrated measurable improvements in his offensive game in his second season, nailing jumpers between 10 and 23 feet at a 46 percent rate while still attempting 55.1 percent of his shots at the rim. Per 40 minutes, Kanter is averaging 17.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals per game and has the potential to be a future fantasy cornerstone in field goal percentage. He's scored at least 17 points in three straight games and will continue to be worth starting in every format while Al Jefferson is out with a sore ankle. Expect big things from Kanter until the Jazz field a fully healthy frontcourt, and even once he's relegated to his typical duties, he'll put up excellent per-minute stats with the occasional monstrous performance.
Devin Harris, PG/SG, Atlanta Hawks (6.4 percent owned): I expected Harris to step up when Lou Williams went down in mid-January, but he averaged just 9.9 points per game in February and didn't turn it on until late in the month, when he rattled off a streak of seven straight games in double figures. March has been even better thus far, as he didn't have six assists in any February contest and has already done so twice this month. Plus, Harris is averaging 11.4 points, 3.6 assists, 1.2 3s and 1.6 steals per game over his last five contests. An advantageous aspect of Harris in a fantasy sense is his shooting guard eligibility, as this allows you to amass some assists from a non-point guard slot if you're trying to make up ground in a category typically dominated by point guards.
Meyers Leonard, C, Portland Trail Blazers (0.3 percent owned): Leonard is skilled for his size (he played guard in high school before a growth spurt), and given the Blazers' lack of depth, it's surprising that he previously hasn't had any mini-breakouts like his recent three-game spree in which he averaged 13.3 points on 72.7 percent shooting with 6.3 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game. He lacks the bulk to bang inside right now but has some face-up game and should be able to provide some scoring and rebounding for deep leagues if he continues earning around 20 minutes per game. He averaged 13.6 points on 58.4 percent shooting with 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game last year at Illinois, and even though the boards and blocks won't immediately translate, he should post the occasional efficient, double-digit scoring night for deep, two-center leagues.
Cory Joseph, PG, San Antonio Spurs (0.1 percent owned): Most expected either Nandi de Colo or Patty Mills to step into Tony Parker's starting spot when he injured his ankle, but Joseph was called up from the D-League and has played the most minutes of the three in each of the past two games. Joseph possesses upside, as he was a one-and-done at Texas and was averaging 19.4 points, 5.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.3 3s per game in 26 games for the Austin Toros before getting called up. This experience was invaluable, as his playmaking needs continued development to complement his natural ability to score and create off the dribble. Unfortunately, there seems to be a megaplatoon among Joseph, Mills and de Colo, so we won't see what he could do with full rein of the offense. For deep leagues, though, his D-League stats indicate a well-rounded fantasy skill set, with the ability to get points, assists, steals, 3s and solid boards for a point guard. He'll have to separate himself from the pack to have consistent value, but his fantasy potential is legit.
Josh Whitling outlines eight widely available fantasy players who, due to their recent hot play, are worth picking up or trading for in the hopes of quality contributions in the final stretch of the NBA season.