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Answering free-agent questions

1/21/2014 - NBA

Twitter can be a great place to rap about fantasy hoops, but the nature of 140-character responses to questions about whether an owner should drop this guy or pick up that guy limits answers to little more than a "yes" or a "no." In general, that's fine, but just about any time that you make a free-agent move, there should be a number of other factors involved in your decision-making process.

Here are a few questions you should consider before you make a waiver-wire transaction.

How long can a particular free agent keep making an impact?
We can't dismiss the value of riding the latest free-agent hot hand, especially in deeper leagues, where waiver-wire options aren't that great. It's an important practice if you want to remain competitive in nearly any format. The ideal free-agent addition, though, will be someone who can make a significant impact for the long haul. With that in mind, if a really good player is expected to miss a month of action, I would prefer to keep the injured player (or add him, if someone else drops him) rather than add the average player on his team who will benefit from his absence. Either way, though, how long a player can stay hot should always be a consideration when making a waiver claim.

Is there a free agent whom you can add via a 2-for-1 or 3-for-2 trade?
I love the nature of trades where I give up more players than my opponent. Typically, I end up with the best player in such trades, which is why I've given up an extra player, but it also allows me to hit the waiver wire to fill that empty roster spot. Quite often I'll pull the trigger on a trade, simply because I want to add Player X off the wire.

Roto leagues

Where are you ranked, and how many games have you played?
How you approach the waiver wire in rotisserie leagues should depend heavily on how you answer those questions. A team at the top of the rankings should be eyeballing different players than a team at the bottom of the heap. Granted, we all should be looking for studs, but if your team is in cruising along in the top three and are on pace in games played, you can be patient and target high-end players who might contribute later (e.g., Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Nikola Vucevic, Nerlens Noel). If your team is way behind in games played and scraping the bottom as we approach the midway point of the season, you don't have much time to be patient, because you are going to have make up those games over the next couple of months in order to make a push to the top. That means that you may have to simply stream the latest short-term hot free agent each day, rather than patiently waiting for an injured player to return and save the day.

Head-to-head category leagues

Which categories are your strongest/weakest?
The answer to that question may be impacted by your scoring system. If you are in a league which awards your team a weekly "win" or "loss," based on whether you or your opponent won the most H2H categories, you may handle waivers differently than you would in a league that totals up each weekly categorical win or loss over the course of an entire season.

The next question to ask yourself is whether you think you can fix any of those categories via the waiver wire. Let's say you find yourself losing your steals battle by only a few swipes each week. You could add someone like Jimmy Butler, Mario Chalmers or DeMarre Carroll and make up the difference right there. If you can't fit a new guard into your lineup, then maybe you take a flier on someone likes James Johnson (see below), a forward who has been swiping more balls lately than most backcourt ballers.

Head-to-head points

Are there any significant positional holes in your lineup?
Specific categories don't matter in points leagues; only how well each player is performing overall, based on your league's scoring system. So you aren't going to add or drop a player because he does or does not, say, block enough shots. However, if you have a particularly weak position, like shooting guard, then you should stock up on that position to see if you can find a long-term solution for the second half of the season.

I'm also more prone to hanging on to injured players in H2H points leagues, because if you can limp yourself into the playoffs, and a couple of guys get healthy, you could make a run through the playoffs. I'd much rather hold on to Jrue Holiday (66 percent ESPN ownership) and Eric Bledsoe (48.8 percent) for the next four to six weeks in a points league, rather than pick up the flavor of the week in the meantime, even if it costs me a win along the way. The playoff payoff would be worth it.

After you've given those questions some thought, you should take a look at the following players, who are available in far too many leagues at the moment:

James Johnson (owned in 14.8 percent of leagues), Memphis Grizzlies: Sure, the scoring isn't there, which is why he's still available in nearly every ESPN league. On the other hand, beggars can't be choosers if you need peripheral stats. You can use him at SF or PF, and he has hit one 3-pointer in five of his past six games, and he is averaging 2.1 BPG and 1.3 SPG this month. If he were averaging 15 PPG on top of those stats, he'd be the talk of the fantasy world. The scoring isn't going to come, but he can be a difference-maker in those peripheral stats for at least the short term.

J.R. Smith (68 percent), New York Knicks: Don't forget that Smith's shot is as streaky as his mood, so there are big ups and big downs. We've seen it over and over for years. Go back and take at last season's splits. Smith averaged 16.2 PPG and shot 40 percent from the field before the All-Star break before averaging 21.3 PPG and 45.5 FG% after the break. He's been showing signs of life recently, including six 3s and 34.5 minutes over his past two games. Pick him up now before he actually gets revved up.

Ramon Sessions (10.8 percent), Charlotte Bobcats: Kemba Walker could miss a couple of weeks due to his sprained ankle, which means Sessions will be running with the starters in the meantime. Sessions will come with a poor FG% and provide little or nothing in the way of 3s or steals, but he has proved in the past that he is capable scoring and dishing out a handful of assists in short bursts. He's also sneaky-good at the charity stripe (e.g., 10-for-11 FT on Monday).

Randy Foye (46.1 percent), Denver Nuggets: I'm not sure whether it's more stunning that Foye has been red-hot this month or that he is owned in only half of all ESPN leagues. He's teased us before, so I don't really believe in him as a long-term solution. On the other hand, if someone is averaging 17.0 PPG, 3.2 APG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 3s, 50 FG% and 84.2 FT% over any 10-game stretch, you can skip the aforementioned questions and get him onto your roster before he cools off.