- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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When executing targeted waiver-wire acquisitions early in the season, your objective is to create as balanced a roster as possible. At this point, however, we're often forced to address statistical deficiencies by eschewing some of that balance and overloading in certain categories. Especially in roto formats, where making up ground means digging your team out of a statistical hole; in head-to-head leagues, roster moves address needs going forward with more immediacy. That's why questions like "should I add Player X or Y?" are impossible to address accurately without complete understanding of team needs and league standings.
This week I'll focus on players contributing in specific categories. If you don't need these categories, several of these players aren't meant for your team, as most of them lack well-rounded value. But when trying to improve that last-place standing in a category, addressing that dearth aggressively is crucial. Consequently, if you have a surplus in another category, you don't have to be as mindful of it when evaluating waiver wire options, and can focus on those who can replenish your team's statistical shortcomings.
Here are some widely available players contributing in rebounds, 3-pointers and steals. Next week I'll focus on points, assists and blocks.
Emeka Okafor, C, Washington Wizards (35.5 percent owned): It's surprising that Okafor isn't owned in more leagues, considering he's nearly averaging a double-double this month (9.8 points, 10.5 rebounds). He has notched double-digit boards in six of his past eight games (including 17 rebounds Wednesday night), at least seven in every game since Dec. 18, and perhaps most importantly, he has seen his playing time increase in each month of the season. His 18.7 rebounds per 48 minutes ranks sixth among all players averaging at least 20 minutes per game in January, and the Wizards are sticking to their offseason plan of developing a mature frontcourt. Okafor and Nenê are earning most of the minutes, leaving Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker sad and lonely. Okafor is a must-own for anyone in need of rebounds.
Earl Clark, PF, Los Angeles Lakers (14.1 percent owned): Clark retained the starting power forward spot in Los Angeles upon Pau Gasol's return from concussion, primarily due to the energy he provides this aging team on both ends of the floor, as well as his defensive versatility. He fits ideally in a Mike D'Antoni system, given his ability to stretch the floor and defend multiple positions. He's averaging 8.8 rebounds per game this month and continues seeing minutes in the 30s despite the fact that Gasol and Dwight Howard are both healthy enough to play. The icing on the cake is that he'll drain the occasional 3-pointer, something he did in college and is encouraged by D'Antoni for frontcourt players. Clark ranks 38th on the Player Rater over the past 15 days and is undoubtedly worth a roster spot as long as he remains a starter.
Kendrick Perkins, C, Oklahoma City Thunder (1.1 percent owned): Perkins looks clumsy and seemingly has a negative impact for the Thunder when he's on the court -- his minus-5.7 plus/minus is by far the lowest of any player on the team getting significant minutes -- but he has put up solid stats recently, averaging 7.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 steals per game over the past three weeks. Perkins has a season of 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game (in 2008-09 with the Celtics) already under his belt, and is a career 54.6 percent shooter from the floor, so there's some statistical ability here for those in deep leagues.
Marreese Speights, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers (0.3 percent owned): Speights likely will see a bump in minutes now that he's in Cleveland with Anderson Varejao out for the season, which should result in nice rebound totals. His total rebound rate (percentage of total rebounds grabbed by a player during his time on the court) of 19.8 ranks 12th in the league, higher than Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard and Kenneth Faried, and he has demonstrated competency when given extended minutes, such as last February, when he averaged 9.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in 14 contests. His offensive, defensive and total rebounding rate are the highest of his career, and the unfavorable reputation he gained in Philly has been shed since he moved to Memphis and should hopefully carry over to a Cleveland team in desperate need for some frontcourt help. He'll frustrate Cavs fans with his penchant for missing midrange jumpers and his suspect defense, but in fantasy, he has the tools to put up respectable numbers with increased playing time.
Steve Novak, SF/PF, New York Knicks (9.5 percent owned): This one is pretty obvious; Novak drains 3s (2.1 per game). He does little else, but he's dependable from beyond the arc. Add him if you're desperate for 3-pointers, especially in leagues that count turnovers, since his impact is nonexistent in that category.
Devin Harris, PG/SG, Atlanta Hawks (5.7 percent owned): I would feature him for assists next week, but he'll likely be gobbled up in a considerable amount of leagues by then with Lou Williams out for the season and Harris looking to benefit considerably. Harris is currently sidelined by a sprained ankle but should return soon and see significant statistical improvement. As his quickness and scoring have declined throughout his career, his 3-point shooting has improved, and he's averaging 1.3 3-pointers per game in just 23.4 minutes this season, and 1.7 per game this month. He could easily see his minutes hit 30-plus, and he'll be an excellent source of 3s, with a respectable free throw percentage and decent assists and steals totals given the increased opportunity. I especially love his shooting guard eligibility, as it allows you to get some of the typical stats from that slot (3s, steals) while also accruing assists, since Harris runs the offense at times as well. As soon as he returns, his ownership percentage will skyrocket, so it might be wise to pre-emptively roster him.
Luke Babbitt, SF, Portland Trail Blazers (0.1 percent owned): This one is only for those super-deep leagues, as Babbitt simply doesn't get enough playing time for traditional formats. But when he's on the court, he launches with epic frequency, averaging 3.2 3-point attempts in just 12.9 minutes per game, or 11.9 attempts per 48 minutes, a higher rate than gunners such as Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick. The Blazers' roster is as deep as a kiddie pool, so any major injury to a wing player could open up considerable minutes for Babbitt, who obviously has high 3-point upside if he gets more run and is capable of providing them now despite his lack of opportunity.
Alonzo Gee, SG/SF, Cleveland Cavaliers (26.8 percent owned): His scoring and minutes per game have decreased marginally in January, but he remains a stout defensive presence and maintains high steal totals, averaging 1.4 per game this month. He's also averaging 1.0 3s during that span with just 1.3 turnovers, so his value increases in leagues that add the ninth category. He's steady in the steals department, registering at least one in eight of the past nine Cavs contests. Gee's decrease in overall productivity has caused him to be dropped in many leagues, but his defensive prowess and versatility makes him invaluable for the Cavs, so he should continue to play significant minutes despite the additions of Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby. If you're in a league in which he was dropped and you need steals, scoop him up.
Courtney Lee, SG, Boston Celtics (4.5 percent owned): Lee's minutes have taken a hit with the return of Avery Bradley, but he consistently has been an excellent source of steals throughout his career and is averaging 1.9 steals to go along with 1.3 3s in his past eight contests. He's dependable for swipes -- he has at least one steal in 11 of his past 13 games -- and although his upside is low with a healthy Boston backcourt, he'll help you chip away at a steals deficit in deep formats.
Darrell Arthur, PF, Memphis Grizzlies (0.1 percent owned): With the Grizzlies streamlining their roster and jettisoning Speights, Arthur is now the primary backup in the Memphis frontcourt. And early returns are positive, as indicated by his 20 points, nine rebounds, one steal and one block in 28 minutes Wednesday night. He provides decent scoring, rebounding and blocks, but his 0.6 steals per game in 18.6 minutes for his career indicates that he could be around a steal per game in his new role. New Grizzlies exec John Hollinger is a fan, which bodes well for his future with the franchise and playing time going forward. Only 21 power forward-eligible players average at least one steal per game, and 17 of them are owned in more than 50 percent of leagues. I've harped on getting atypical production from roster spots to make up ground in certain categories, and given the bump in minutes Arthur is poised to receive, he should be a lucrative source of steals from the power forward position.
4hMichael C. Wright