- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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Now that we're nearly a quarter of the way through the season, it's relatively safe to trust the sample size. In turn, it's also time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your team.
Success in fantasy hoops is contingent upon crafting as balanced a roster as possible. This applies not only in rotisserie leagues but also in head-to-head formats. In H2H, identifying surplus and attempting to shift that value toward your weaknesses is a critical strategy; in roto, the best way to improve is to target your specific deficiencies and bolster your numbers there, since there's more points to gain in these areas. Of course, a primary way of addressing needs is through trade, as you can make mutually beneficial swaps based on each team's needs. But that's not what this column is about. Addressing needs through the waiver wire becomes paramount at this point in the season, and it's time to shift your strategy from adding the best all-around player available to the one who best complements your deficiencies.
Identifying what your team needs seems pretty simple: You look at the standings and see where you're lowest. However, there are some deeper questions to consider beyond that:
• What is your pace compared to your max limits? If you're well behind other owners in that respect, then you could naturally make up ground in counting stats, and your deficiencies might not be as glaring as they appear, especially when you consider which players will make up those games and what categories they provide.
• Which players on your roster are significantly underperforming or injured? If you can safely expect more from players that are already on your roster, then you should be able to make up some ground. Conversely, if you have anybody clearly outperforming expectations, or just lost a player to injury, then your strengths aren't as strong as they seem.
• Finally, what positions are you going to fill with free agent additions? If you're maxed out on guards and can't insert another into your lineup without sacrificing a starting role for a superior player, then attempting to address your needs by adding another guard won't help you in the standings.
There is also the strategy of searching for players who fill needs beyond simply sorting by the leaders in those categories. I'll get to those next week, along with the categories I don't touch upon this week.
Here are some barely owned players (in ESPN standard leagues) who are not providing all-around production, but they can help in specific categories as you attempt to bolster your team's weaknesses:
Jodie Meeks, SG, Los Angeles Lakers (0.8 percent owned): As soon as Mike D'Antoni was hired, Meeks was the first player whose value I envisioned rising as D'Antoni's system was implemented. Players who can hit 3s thrive under D'Antoni, especially those who excel in catch-and-shoot situations. I'm reminded of when Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa and Quentin Richardson each had career 3-point shooting years under D'Antoni. Combine that offense with Meeks' success in stints last season -- he averaged 10.2 points and 2.3 3s in 17 January games -- and you have someone worth fantasy consideration. He's averaging 2.4 3s per game over his past five on 4.8 attempts, so he's gunning freely despite his limited minutes. Meeks can nail the open shot, and as the offensive system takes hold, he should see plenty of them. He could average two per game coming off the bench.
Jerry Stackhouse, SG, Brooklyn Nets (0.4 percent owned): It's thrilling to be highlighting somebody significantly older than me as a fantasy option; that doesn't happen too often anymore. Anyway, Stack loves his corner 3s and he's thriving as a long-range specialist in Brooklyn, averaging 1.5 3s per game in just 17.7 minutes, including 2.8 per game over his past five. As we've seen in many cases, 3-point shooting is a skill that often gets finer with age. With Stack embracing this well-defined role, he should continue knocking down treys with consistency, especially considering the fact that hitting from downtown is his primary objective whenever he gets the ball on the offensive end.
Reggie Evans, PF, Nets (1.7 percent owned): Evans is fourth in the league with 20.7 rebounds per 48 minutes, and has been in the top 10 in rebounding rate each of the past three seasons, including in 2010-2011, when he led the league. He's relentless on the glass, focusing on hustling and gaining leverage, which makes him arguably the best rebounder in the league "pound-for-pound." His constant activity on the court also translates to decent steals numbers, as he's averaging 0.7 per game this year and for his career. He might be the only player in the league capable of providing rebounding help in fewer than 20 minutes per game, and he should consistently provide 7-plus boards per game in a reserve role. Evans also has a high rebounding ceiling with the capability of averaging double digits if a Nets frontcourt injury dictates that he see more minutes.
Zaza Pachulia, C, Atlanta Hawks (0.7 percent owned): Pachulia has averaged at least seven rebounds in every season in which he has played at least 20 minutes per game. That includes this year; he's averaging 7.1 per game in 24.4 minutes. When he's healthy, Zaza is good for around seven boards, a steal and half a block per game. That's worthwhile in deeper formats, and even though his ceiling is low, he's a safe bet to provide consistent boards.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF, Milwaukee Bucks (0.1 percent owned): He's worth a flier only in especially deep leagues due to the unpredictability of Scott Skiles' rotations, but Mbah a Moute is an able rebounder who will give you half a block and a steal per game to boot. He played his first game of the season Saturday and has historically been a favorite of Skiles, starting in 187 of 279 career games. Boards tend to be scarce on the wire -- the three players featured in this column are the only three averaging at least seven boards per game while being owned in fewer than 25 percent of leagues -- and if he earns more minutes now that he's healthy, Mbah a Moute's rebound rate is solid enough to boost your team's rebound totals.
Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG, Chicago Bulls (6.0 percent owned): The 3s and steals have all but disappeared, but Hinrich is averaging 10.1 assists per 48 minutes, a higher rate than Goran Dragic and Raymond Felton. That has added up to 5.8 assists per game, and he has notched at least six assists in eight of the Bulls' past 10 contests. The waiver wire is typically meager with dimes, and Hinrich's ability to run the Bulls' offense in Derrick Rose's absence allows him to contribute consistently in the category.
Chris Duhon, PG, Lakers (0.9 percent owned): It's ugly watching him play at times, but Duhon is the de facto point guard in Los Angeles with Steve Blake out until mid-to-late January and Steve Nash's return still a few weeks away. His limited value will disappear when Nash is at full strength, but right now he's helping in assists, averaging 6.2 per game over his past five, including 10 dimes in 33 minutes Wednesday. He's a short-term option, but if you're hurting for assists and want a couple-week boost, Duhon will provide them, and he's available in nearly every league.
Devin Harris, PG, Hawks (0.7 percent owned): Harris recently joined the starting lineup and averaged 4.3 assists per game over his past three contests. His career trajectory has trended downward, but he showed glimpses of life late last season, averaging 16.5 points, 5.3 assists, 2.4 3s and 1.1 steals in 12 games last April, and he's still just 29. His skill set lends itself to assists, 3s, steals and a high free throw percentage with ample attempts when he's at his best, so pay close attention to how he responds to starting for the Hawks and add him now as a speculative measure if you're in need of point guard help.
Tony Allen, SG, Memphis Grizzlies (26.3 percent owned): He has been dropped in a number of leagues due to his diminished offensive stats, which is disturbing because there wasn't much there in the first place. But if you're looking for swipes, no player nabs and creates more loose balls than Allen, who is leading the league in steals per 48 minutes (3.94). He finished third in steal rate last season and first in 2010-2011, so despite his offensive deficiencies, he's as dependable as it comes when you're specifically targeting steals. He's day-to-day with a groin injury but shouldn't be sidelined long, and once he returns, he will remain among the best one-category wonders in the league.
Ronnie Brewer, SG, New York Knicks (0.7 percent owned): He has averaged at least 1.1 steals per game in six straight seasons. Unfortunately the only other benefits of owning Brewer are that he has a nice field goal percentage, albeit with low attempts, and he doesn't turn the ball over. He's worth owning only if you're toward the bottom of your league in steals, but he is a dependable source even while playing just 22.8 minutes per game.
Next week I'll take a look at the percentage categories, blocks and points.