J.J. Barea (Owned 40 percent on Yahoo!/19.5 percent on ESPN) has returned for the Dallas Mavericks after a 17-game absence, but most Fantasy owners haven’t realized yet based on his ownership percentage. Barea helps across the board offensively in category/rotisserie formats but will not contribute much in the defense statistics. Barea has been much more aggressive this season, averaging 15.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. His aggressiveness hasn’t hindered his efficiency all that much either, considering his career-high 18.8 PER currently leads the Dallas Mavericks. His 42.4 percent shooting percentage isn’t ideal but his career-high 54.7 percent true shooting percentage reveals that Barea is helping in other areas. He’s shooting a robust 96.4 percent from the free-throw line and 38.8 percent from beyond the arc, both career-highs at the moment.
Those treys are especially helpful, as Barea is burying 1.9 3-pointers per game this season. Treys and assists are usually harder to find on the waiver wire but Barea should be able to contribute those two categories consistently moving forward. I haven’t even mentioned yet that he backs up Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews, players who have constantly battled injuries over the past few seasons. Deron is nearly a guarantee to miss time in the future, which will make Barea a Top-15 point guard when it happens. Even with both of them healthy, Barea will still play 25 minutes per game, which is enough for him to be a must-own player in 12-team leagues or deeper.
Austin Rivers (Owned 6 percent on Yahoo!/4 percent on ESPN) must be washing the dishes and doing his chores at home because Head Coach/Father Doc Rivers has been playing him more lately. As much as it pains me to say, Rivers has actually earned the minutes and has played well this season. Over the last six games he’s appeared in, Rivers is averaging 14.3 points on 55 percent shooting with 2.8 3-pointers and one steal per night.
A lack of quality depth is a perennial problem for the Clippers, so if Rivers keeps this up, he’s going to play close to 25 minutes per game. Speaking of quality, Rivers has improved his efficiency across the board. He’s posting career-high marks in both field goal and 3-point shooting percentage, which has led to an impressive 55-percent true shooting percentage. While defense remains an issue, his 110-offensive rating on NBA Reference also stands as a career-best. It might be too early to tell but Blake Griffin’s injury may also open up more playing time. Griffin will miss the next 4-6 weeks and if Doc chose to, he could play small ball with Luc Mbah a Moute at power forward, freeing up more time at the two guard for Austin Rivers. Either way, he’s going to keep playing his son whether we like it or not. As long as Rivers is on the court this much, he’s worth owning in 14-team leagues or deeper.
T.J. McConnell (Owned 4 percent on Yahoo!/2.6 percent on ESPN) has been splitting time with Sergio Rodriguez recently because of his ability to get everybody involved. McConnell’s game is very limited offensively but he is a great passer who finds ways set up his teammates. In fact, his 37.6 percent assist percentage ranks seventh in the NBA. That mark is better than the likes of Rajon Rondo, Mike Conley, and Kyle Lowry. He’s currently averaging 4.8 assists per game despite playing less than 20 minutes per night.
On a per 36-minute basis, he would be averaging 8.9 dimes per game. Over the last two weeks, however, McConnell’s minutes have been on the rise. During that span, he’s averaging 6.8 points on 50 percent shooting with 6.8 assists, two steals and 2.3 turnovers in nearly 24 minutes per game. While Ben Simmons is out, this team will need a true point guard and that is exactly what McConnell is. That’s exactly what he did in college and that’s exactly what he did in rookie season last year as well. Often I’ll mention how hard it is to find the assists category on waiver wires but if you’re in need, McConnell is your guy in 12-team leagues or deeper.
Luol Deng (Owned 52 percent on Yahoo!/30.2 percent on ESPN) got off to a very slow start with the Los Angeles Lakers but he’s been heating up lately. To put it in perspective, Deng played just 23.1 minutes per night, averaging just 6.6 points and not even one 3-pointer in 17 November games. Over the last two weeks, however, which encompasses eight games, Deng has been back to his old self. During that span, he’s averaging 11.3 points on 50 percent shooting with 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 treys and 1.3 steals in over 31 minutes per game. I thought it was an interesting fit during the offseason, when the Lakers opted to sign a veteran like Deng to mesh with the youngsters, but it’s starting to make sense.
Deng is a hard-working player who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty on both ends of the court, and he’s a solid role model to players like Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo Russell. Not only that, he offers this team a ton of versatility. At 6’9”, 220 pounds and an 84-inch wingspan, Deng can play both forward positions. The Lakers don’t have the best front court depth, but Deng’s versatility allows Luke Walton to play smaller lineups with Nick Young or Jordan Clarkson at small forward. Deng won’t wow you any one category but he will help across the board with points, rebounds and the elusive 3-pointers and steals categories.
Montrezl Harrell/Nene Hilario (Less than 10 percent for both on both sites) should both be owned in deeper leagues while Clint Capela is out. Capela fractured a bone in his left fibula and is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks. Like most teams, the Rockets aren’t blessed with a ton of front court depth, so that leaves Montrezl Harrell and Nene Hilario to pick up the slack. Harrell is an athletic, defensive-minded freak similar to DeAndre Jordan. Harrell is a guy who averaged over nine rebounds with a block and a steal per game during his Junior season at Louisville two years ago. The only problem is he doesn’t hover around seven feet tall like a prototypical center. He only stands at 6’8” but is averaging 8.7 rebounds on a per 36-minute basis, so he has been rebounding well.
Nene is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum in terms of career. Nene is 34 years old (with gray in his beard), and he will be on a minute limit and skip some back-to-backs because of his age. When he does play, however, he’s very efficient. In his first game without Capela, Nene dropped 10 points with seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal. The upside for both players is capped since they will split minutes evenly but Harrell does have more potential of the two. Also, Mike D’Antoni has proven he will use Ryan Anderson at center in smaller lineups, which also throws a wrench. If you were a Capela owner or are in desperate need of rebounds, take a flier on Harrell first and if he’s not available, Nene.
Joakim Noah (Owned in 41 percent on Yahoo!/27.1 percent on ESPN) is off to a terrible start with the New York Knicks due to injury and underperformance. At this very moment, he’s averaging 4.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and is shooting 35 percent from the free-throw line in just 21.5 minutes per game. As a result, head coach Jeff Hornacek has played Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez more often recently, and threatened that Noah may be pulled as the starting center. Basically, anything that could have gone wrong for Noah did . . . until the Knicks’ latest game with the Pacers.
It seems like Hornacek’s recent comments about pulling Noah from the starting lineup lit a fire underneath him; at least, let’s hope so. Noah notched a double-double for just the second time this season, scoring 11 points while grabbing 11 rebounds in 30 minutes of action. He also added two assists and two blocks while shooting 3 of 4 from the free-throw line! The minutes could fluctuate but this is the type of player Noah could be. That’s the type of player the Knicks were hoping for when they signed him. He should hover around a double-double, while providing defensive statistics and high assist numbers for a center. He isn’t necessarily a must-add, but keep an eye on Noah to see if he builds on this performance.