Early Season Must-Add Fantasy Basketball Waiver Pickups
Frank Stampfl of RotoExperts.com dishes out his best Fantasy Basketball waiver wire pickups for the early NBA season.
Now that the World Series is over, everybody can go back to focusing on basketball everyday throughout the week and football on Sundays. What makes the NBA so great is the fact that it’s unpredictable in both good ways and bad. Not even a week into the season there’s already been a trade, starting players are hurt, and other teams are adopting the Gregg Popovich style of coaching.
“What style would that be, Frank?” Glad you asked. In the THIRD game of the season, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson opted to rest Brook Lopez. Now, Lopez has been injury-prone over his career but last I checked, he’s a grown man making over $21 million to play basketball. It is mind-boggling but perhaps that’s what gave him the strength to posterize Andre Drummond. Nevertheless, with everything going on, there are waiver wire additions to be had!
Tyler Johnson (Owned in 34 percent on Yahoo!/15 percent on ESPN) is beginning to look like he might earn that four-year, $50 million contract the Heat awarded him during the offseason. It’s only been four games but Johnson’s PER is up to an impressive 19.5, while his usage rate has also jumped to 19.1 percent so far this season. Johnson has acted as the backup point guard to Goran Dragic, although, he’s more of a combo guard. He’s been thrust into this role while playing a robust 30 minutes per night because of the Heat’s lack of depth in the backcourt. When the team cut Beno Udrih, they proved they were all in on Johnson and trusted him to handle those duties. So far, it’s paid off. Johnson is averaging 15.3 points on 53.5 percent shooting with four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a 3-pointer per game. Perhaps the points will come down a tad but the rest seems attainable and is on par with his career per-36 numbers. Johnson is a must-own player in 12-team leagues or deeper because of his playing time and usage when he’s on the floor.
J.J. Barea (Owned in 33 percent on Yahoo!/14.6 percent on ESPN) has never averaged more than 25.2 minutes per game, but the Mavericks may have no choice but to exceed that this season. Similar to the Miami Heat, the Mavs don’t have much depth in the backcourt, and what makes matters worse for them is that their starters are injury-prone. Deron Williams hasn’t played more than 68 games in any season over the past three years, and Wesley Matthews has missed 26 games over the past two seasons. Barea isn’t your typical combo guard but he does have an uncanny ability to score, rebound and make plays despite being just 6’0” tall. Through four games, Barea is averaging 14.8 points with five assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 3-pointers, and one steal in 31.5 minutes per game. The only knock on Barea’s Fantasy game from a rotisserie/category perspective is that he will hurt your field-goal percentage, as he shoots just 42.3-percent on average over his career. Besides the shooting percentage, this situation just sets up perfectly for Barea considering the potential for injury to teammates, the opportunity for minutes and his skill set. He’s a must-own player because he will see 26-30 minutes per game and could fill up the stat sheet in a hurry.
Looking Deeper: The reason we love players on bad teams is because of the lack of talent, the players who have a concrete role in the rotation will have the opportunity for massive usage. This holds true for Sean Kilpatrick who is sporting a 24.6 percent usage rate this season and posted a 25.2 percent usage in 23 games with the Nets last year as well. In his latest game, Kilpatrick double-doubled with 24 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a whopping four 3-pointers made. Owners shouldn’t expect rebound numbers like this on a nightly basis, but he is a legitimate scorer who can average 12-15 points per game with nearly two 3-pointers for the rest of the season.
Amir Johnson (Owned in 17 percent on Yahoo!/9.6 percent on ESPN) has always been a gritty player who can provide rebounding, high field-goal percentage, and defensive statistics, which are so hard to come by. It’s hard to trust Brad Stevens’ allocation of minutes but the injury to Jae Crowder means Johnson could get more run over the next few weeks. Crowder left the game Wednesday night with an ankle injury, and Stevens revealed he doesn’t expect Crowder to be back soon. Not to change sports but we’ve seen position players in the NFL miss multiple weeks due to ankle sprains and similar injuries. Johnson made the most of his opportunity against the Bulls, scoring 23 points with six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Now, that’s an absolutely massive game, which owners shouldn’t expect on a nightly basis, but if he plays 25-plus minutes moving forward, he can help in those tougher categories like rebounds, blocks, and steals. He isn’t necessarily a must-own in 12-team leagues but could be streamed for a few weeks while the Celtics are banged up.
Looking Deeper: Similar to Amir Johnson, Larry Nance is considered more of a Fantasy garbage man, doing the dirty work that others don’t necessarily want to. Nance’s first three games were not great but over his past two, he’s averaged 12.5 points, six rebounds, four steals and a block per night. Those four steals per game were helped by a six-steal performance against the Pacers, which is an obvious outlier but really impressive, nonetheless. Nance is a solid defender and he averaged over a steal per game in college as well. Johnson is more of a short-term addition but Nance has more potential throughout the course of the season if he can earn 20-25 minutes per game. He’s worth a speculative add in deeper leagues.
The trade that was mentioned earlier saw Ersan Ilyasova end up with the 76ers, while Jerami Grant was shipped to the Thunder. The value here lies with Ilyasova who could end up having a legitimate role in Philly. The 76ers were desperate for a veteran (it doesn’t hurt that they received a first round pick as well) who can stretch the floor and that’s exactly what they received. In Ilyasova’s first game with the team, he scored 14 points with three rebounds, two assists, and two 3-pointers in 23 minutes of action. With Ben Simmons missing most the season and Robert Covington struggling, Ilyasova could see 25 minutes per game. He’s worth a look for owners who need a forward that can provide 3-point shooting.
Mike Muscala (22 percent owned on Yahoo!/4.2 percent owned on ESPN) has never played more than 12.6 minutes per game but now finds himself as the backup center in Atlanta, which has led to more opportunity. It’s hard to predict minutes for bench players because it will fluctuate based on starters being in foul trouble and injuries, but Muscala has made the most of his time thus far. Through four games he’s averaging 10 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and he could even step out and hit the occasional 3-pointer. What makes Muscala an even more interesting add is the fact that he backs up Dwight Howard, who’s been riddled with injuries over the past few seasons. Over the last two years, Howard has missed a total of 52 games and while we aren’t cheering for him to get hurt, it’s a very serious possibility that he will at some point. Muscala isn’t a must-add but in deeper formats in which owners are desperate at center, he’s a name owners could look at.
Looking Deeper: It feels like Nene has been around forever but he’s just 34 years old and has proved early on that he can still be productive for Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets. Nene doesn’t offer much defensively but he can score in bursts with decent rebounds and assists on a per-minute basis. He’s scored in double-digits his last two games and is shooting 61.5-percent from the field. Nene won’t play every night, as D’Antoni does his best Popovich impression, but when he does, he will be decently productive.
Image via Getty
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