Endgame category help
When executing waiver-wire moves this late in the season, there are two prevailing types of additions fantasy owners are making. First, if you're saddled with an injured player or underperforming starter, grabbing the best-available player to fill his role is a keen choice, especially if you don't have any glaring weaknesses on your roster category-wise.
But oftentimes in order to make the most substantial impact on the standings or upcoming fantasy playoff games, it's judicious to target players that address needs or potential close categorical battles against future opponents. These category-specific moves are the other type of additions fantasy owners are making.
In head-to-head formats, it's savvy to analyze the strengths and flaws of the team you'll likely play next and craft a starting roster that is best suited to conquer your opponent. This might not even mean putting together the most balanced or best overall roster, but rather one that ensures you win as many categories against one specific team as possible.
In roto leagues, it's no longer about addressing your worst category, but rather stockpiling in the areas where you have the best chance of gaining points. For example, if rebounds are your weakest category and you're 200 behind the next player in the standings, making up that deficit in two weeks is unrealistic. But if you're entrenched in a close race in another area and every steal or block counts, then loading up on those is the best way to make a late-season surge in the standings.
In order to help with this effort, here are some widely available players capable of bolstering your output in specific categories and elevating your chances of winning a fantasy championship:
Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns (8.1 percent owned): He'll diminish your field goal percentage, but the former fourth overall pick who has been a disappointment up to this point is finally exhibiting the ability to be a rotation player in this league. His college stats implied a sparkling fantasy skill set, especially when Johnson transferred from Iowa State to Syracuse before his junior season. While wearing the orange, he averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.7 steals and 1.5 3-pointers per game, one of the most impressive across-the-board combinations in the past decade. Well he's wearing orange again, and clicking offensively with the Suns, averaging 13.5 points, 1.7 3s, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks per game over the past month, and has scored in double figures in seven of his past eight contests, including Wednesday's 20-point effort. The all-around game he exhibited in college isn't there, especially in the rebounding department, but he can score in a variety of ways, including from 3-point range, and provides some steals and blocks to help offset his painful field goal percentage. Of the 56 players averaging at least 15.5 points per game over the past 15 days, Johnson is the only one owned in fewer than 10 percent of leagues, illustrating the fact that impact players in the points category are difficult to find through free agency.
Greg Smith, C, Houston Rockets (0.1 percent owned): I highlighted Smith earlier in the season when he came out of nowhere after playing in Mexico and the D-League to establish himself as a rotation big man for the Rockets. Well, now he's seized a starting job and should provide healthy rebounding totals, as his 14.3 rebounds per-48 minutes ranks 18th in the league and his total rebounding rate (percentage of total rebounds grabbed by a player during his time on the court) of 17.2 percent is ahead of players like Carlos Boozer and David Lee. He's averaging 8.1 rebounds per game over his past 15 days, and has games of 19, 13 and 12 boards over the course of the past month. Now that he's starting, his minutes will fluctuate based on matchups, as he's in a time-share with Donatas Motiejunas, Thomas Robinson and Terrence Jones, but with 20-25 minutes per night on a regular basis Smith could average 7-8 boards per game down the stretch.[+] EnlargeSam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesEric Maynor is a true one-category helper, but he's put up nice assist numbers in a reserve role.
Eric Maynor, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (0.4 percent owned): Maynor has settled in nicely as the backup to Damian Lillard in Portland, and although he won't provide much else he's been a consistent source of dimes over the past month. He's averaging 5.4 assists per game over the past 15 days, and that's not skewed because of one or two big games the way Kendall Marshall and Brian Roberts' recent assist averages have been. Maynor has at least four assists in each of his past seven games, including Wednesday's 10-assist effort, and should steadily provide them to fantasy owners in need of assistance in a category that's typically difficult to find on the waiver wire.
Randy Foye, PG/SG, Utah Jazz (16.3 percent owned): He fell off the map in early March, scoring in double figures just once from March 1-22, including two goose eggs in 20-plus minutes of play. But now he's notched double digits in five of his past seven games, and is averaging 2.9 3s per game in his past 10 contests. Despite his cold stint, he ranks ninth in the league in 3-pointers made this season, and he and Carlos Delfino are the only players in the top 20 in 3s made who are owned in 20 percent of leagues or fewer. Now that he's found his shot again, and Mo Williams is playing better and taking some pressure off him in the backcourt, Foye should be rostered by any fantasy owners in search of assistance from downtown.
Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls (39.5 percent owned): Qualitatively, it's his dunks and energy that leap off the screen when watching Butler play, but from a statistical standpoint his steal totals are where he has set himself apart lately. He's seen an uptick in minutes with Marco Belinelli sidelined, and is averaging 42.4 minutes per game over his past five contests, with 2.4 steals per game in that span. He's a superior player to Belinelli, so I wouldn't be surprised if his big minutes continue, which bodes well for his steal totals; in the 20 games in which he's played 30-plus minutes this season, he's averaging 1.6 steals per game. Based on his recent stretch, coach Tom Thibodeau clearly feels comfortable giving Butler plenty of minutes, so I'd expect a strong finish from the second-year player out of Marquette.
Field goal percentage
Wilson Chandler, SF, Denver Nuggets (30.4 percent owned): He recently missed a couple of contests with a bum shoulder, but since returning has averaged 13.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 steals per game in four contests. Of the 105 players averaging 10 or more field goal attempts per game over the past 15 days, Chandler and Damien Wilkins are the only players owned in fewer than 35 percent of leagues who are shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, which makes it clear that finding players who can contribute in both quantity and quality in this category are hard to find on waivers. His field goal percentage has risen from an abysmal 39.2 percent last season to 44.7 percent this season, including 49.0 percent since the All-Star break. This is primarily due to the fact he's attempting a higher percentage of his shots at the rim (34.4 percent compared to last season's 30.3 percent) and a much smaller percentage of his shots from between 16-23 feet (34.3 percent last season compared to just 14.0 percent this season). Formerly a liability in this category, Chandler is taking smarter shots and it's showing in his numbers, as he can now be counted as an asset in the category while still contributing impressive across-the-board production in the counting stats of points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
Free throw percentage
Devin Harris, PG/SG, Atlanta Hawks (10.6 percent owned): This one is high risk/high reward, since Harris hasn't been an asset in free throw percentage so far this season. But in his glory days, Harris was exceptional at getting to the line with frequency and knocking down his freebies with accuracy. Back in 2008-09, he shot 82.0 percent from the stripe on a whopping 8.8 attempts per game, but as he's shifted teams multiple times and his role, health and confidence have diminished in recent years, his free throw attempts per-48 minutes and free throw percentage have dipped to a career low. But the ability is somewhere in there, and the need is present for the Hawks -- the fact they were waffling between DeShawn Stevenson, Kyle Korver and Dahntay Jones at the 2 with Harris sidelined illustrates the fact they're screaming for some dynamism in their backcourt to pair with Jeff Teague. Harris was dynamite in his first two games since returning from a foot injury, averaging 21.0 points, 6.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 3s per game, and on Monday went 8-for-8 from the stripe, flashing some of his former skills in this area. He did rest his foot for Wednesday's game against the Knicks, but it appeared to be a precautionary move and he should return shortly. He hasn't helped teams in free throws so far this season, but is the one widely available player with the skill set and opportunity to make a major impact in the category. Harris is a gamble, but one that could pay off significantly if he can remain healthy for the final weeks of the season.
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