Potential garbage-time stars

Hidden late-season fantasy gems lurking on lottery-bound teams

Updated: February 5, 2014, 11:47 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

Last week, we took a look at some "haymakers": big names who could come on late and be acquired for a discount.

This week, I want to talk about some players at the other end of the spectrum: lesser-known names who could, given the right circumstances, turn into late-season, garbage-time stars.

Fantasy hoops history is rife with late-season, garbage-time rises to statistical relevance. Some rises are temporary. Some are permanent.

I still get chills thinking back to Gilbert Arenas' 2001-02 rookie season.

Arenas was a second-round pick (30th overall) in the 2001 NBA draft. He flailed early. Buried on the Golden State Warriors' bench in January 2002, Arenas averaged just 2.6 points in 5.3 minutes per game.

Then Arenas suddenly was thrust into the starting lineup around Valentine's Day.

Getting a steady diet of minutes on a last-place, offensive-minded squad, Arenas burst into statistical prominence, becoming one of the great 11th-hour adds in fantasy hoops history. Over the final month of the 2001-02 season, Arenas was a top-30 player, averaging 16.6 points, 6.1 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 3-pointers and 3.0 steals while shooting 47 percent from the floor.

That is a chill-worthy month for a second-round pick. But my favorite garbage time bloomer has always been Mikki Moore.

[+] EnlargeKendall Marshall
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesKendall Marshall took advantage of the Lakers' injury woes to become a fantasy asset.

Who is Mikki Moore? Exactly.

Mikki Moore (pronounced "Mikey") was still active in the D-League as recently as December (when he was heartlessly waived by the Reno Bighorns right before Christmas). A rangy 7-footer, Moore was the definition of the undrafted NBA journeyman center.

But longtime fantasy enthusiasts will always remember March and April 2007, when Moore was forced into the starting lineup for the New Jersey Nets (a serious playoff team) after an injury to Nenad Krstic.

Moore blossomed with the increased, steady minutes and became a solid No. 2 fantasy center, registering periodic bouts of No. 1 center value. He led the NBA in field goal percentage. He scored 25 points in a playoff game.

Then Moore got paid, went to Sacramento and started to slide back into relative anonymity. But for March and April 2007, Moore was a night-in, night-out impact player at a thin position.

Both of these examples include the five elements I look for in a garbage-time bloomer -- or a "Mikki," as I've come to call them.

1. Available playing time due to trade and/or injury
2. Athletic upside (prevalent on moribund franchises with high lottery picks)
3. Tanking, rebuilding or low-expectations franchise
4. Offensive-friendly system and/or coach and/or great point guard
5. Playing for contract/NBA permanence

You don't need all five of these elements for another Mikki. Sometimes two to three will suffice. Look at Kendall Marshall's run over the past month.

Marshall wasn't even on an NBA roster. But he was placed in the driver's seat in a Mike D'Antoni-run system, on a team whose expectations were diminishing on a nightly basis. Not to mention that after he had gone bust in Phoenix, Marshall was playing for his NBA life.

The result? Marshall averaged a double-double last month, going for 11.9 points, 11.5 assists and 2.0 3-pointers per game while shooting 44 percent from downtown.

This is the kind of situation that could bubble up in other NBA cities over the last few weeks of the regular season.

Let's take a look at some other situations on tanking/rebuilding/disappointing teams that could produce some late, unexpected help.

[+] EnlargeJohn Henson
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonEven if the Bucks keep moving toward the No. 1 pick, they'll still have fantasy-relevant players such as John Henson.

Milwaukee Bucks

Possible Departures: Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, Larry Sanders, Caron Butler, O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal
Late-Season Risers: Khris Middleton, John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo
It always seemed like a bit of a reach when Milwaukee declared its intentions of being a playoff team in 2013-14. But no could have predicted this sort of implosion; it would take an epic reverse-tank for the Bucks to walk off the court April 16 without the biggest bag of pingpong balls.

The good news is that their roster isn't bereft of assets. They're just complimentary assets, the kinds of players who could help a playoff push elsewhere. And there is athletic upside here: John Hammond has done a good job finding big men such as Sanders and Henson. He's also found intriguing contributors such as Middleton and Ilyasova and had the foresight to draft the Greek Freak.

And it's not like Sanders has to be dealt; he could easily stay and regain his sleeper status. The problem is Pachulia and his annoying tendency to be a steady, dependably unremarkable presence in the post. As long as all three are healthy, it's going to be hard for any of them to hold consistent value.

With a stripped-down rotation minus Ilyasova, Pachulia and/or Sanders, there'd be a real opportunity for Middleton, Henson and Antetokounmpo to establish decent value. All three have already flashed fantasy potential.

Philadelphia 76ers

Possible Departures: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young
Late-Season Risers: Tony Wroten, Lavoy Allen, Elliot Williams, Arnett Moultrie
The 76ers seem committed to deal at least a couple of starters before the deadline. If Turner is indeed the most likely trade chip, then fantasy owners are going to have to move fast to snatch up Wroten. I've written about Wroten multiple times this season, and while he lacks a consistent shot, he has the type of athletic upside that can create breakout production.

Above all, the 76ers are about their system. They feature a high-paced philosophy that manufactures impact fantasy box scores. They lead the league with 103.3 possessions per 48 minutes. It's the kind of situation that can create Kendall Marshall-like dynamics. It's already made an occasional fantasy star out of Michael Carter-Williams.

A deal shipping Turner, Hawes or even Young out of town would pave the way for a Sixer to claim Mikki-type status.

Los Angeles Lakers

Possible Departures: Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Chris Kaman, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks
Late-Season Risers: Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly
The Lakers have the low expectations. They run a fantasy-friendly offense. They've already shown they can create fantasy impact players out of D-League material, having done so with Marshall.

So why is it hard to get too excited about the Lakers' late-season fantasy potential? Too many injury-prone veterans and not enough athletic upside.

D'Antoni has actually put together one of his better coaching performances this season. The Lakers remained competitive for a couple of months despite injuries to their key stars. But as opposed to the Bucks, once you remove Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol from the rotation, you're left with a bunch of inconsistent, oft-injured players logging 20 to 25 minutes a night.

For more, check out Joe Kaiser's recent post-Nash-return analysis.

[+] EnlargeKelly Olynyk
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThere's still plenty of time for Kelly Olynyk to have a successful rookie campaign.

Boston Celtics

Possible Departures: Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries, Rajon Rondo
Late-Season Risers: Kelly Olynyk, Chris Johnson, Vitor Faverani, Jerryd Bayless
It's always hard to get a read on what Danny Ainge is going to do. Which is precisely how it should be. As Chad Ford noted in a recent Tank Rank column, just because Ainge is claiming fealty to Rondo doesn't mean he isn't entertaining offers.

And while the Celtics aren't running a high-pace offense, they have a coach I'm really starting to trust from a fantasy perspective. What he's done with Jared Sullinger alone deserves a couple of third-place Coach of the Year votes.

Orlando Magic

Possible Departures: Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo
Late-Season Risers: Tobias Harris, Moe Harkless, Kyle O'Quinn, E'Twaun Moore, Andrew Nicholson
The Magic have a ton of nice young players, but it's going to take multiple deals -- and deals that only bring draft picks in return -- to free up enough minutes to produce more than one Mikki. It'll most likely just be Harris, though every other player on this list has fantasy potential.

In terms of stored-away fantasy-friendly talent, the Magic and the Bucks probably have the most upside on this list, but the minutes just aren't there at present.

Utah Jazz

Possible Departures: Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson
Late-Season Risers: Jeremy Evans, Brandon Rush
I love Evans' late-season potential. And it's tangible; this is a Wroten-esque situation, which would just require one deal to come to fruition.

Detroit Pistons

Possible Departures: Greg Monroe, Josh Smith
Late-Season Risers: Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
I had written off Singler as having hit his fantasy ceiling during his starting stint last season. But he's shown some improvement this campaign. He doesn't have the upside of Caldwell-Pope, but if Detroit should decide to switch to Tank Mode, they'd both be solid Mikki candidates.

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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