If there’s ever a time to be active on the waiver wire in fantasy basketball, it’s at the beginning of the season. While you shouldn’t rush to cut any underachiever on your rosters — see Hayward, Gordon as an example of a slow starter who’s caught fire of late — but it’s fair to cut bait on a late-round pick who hasn’t worked his way into his team’s rotation as expected. (Gorgui Dieng is rapidly approaching that territory, unfortunately.)
Now that we have more than a handful of games’ worth of data to sift through, it’s becoming easier to identify each team’s typical rotation. Whereas one or two overtime games can artificially inflate a player’s number, it’s worth noting if a player on your league’s waiver wire is receiving 30-plus minutes a night. Fantasy production is all about opportunity, which means those players should be rostered whenever possible.
Here’s a look at five such potential waiver-wire pickups, all of who are owned in fewer than 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues. If you’re in one of these leagues, make sure to take advantage before your leaguemates wake up and smell the fantasy roses.
Kent Bazemore, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks (45.3% owned)
Whoever wound up winning the Hawks’ starting small-forward gig was bound to have a modicum of fantasy intrigue, and it appears as though Kent Bazemore is the lucky beneficiary. He’s quickly settled into DeMarre Carroll’s old role of stuffing the stat sheet despite getting his number rarely getting called offensively. After a scorching start to the season, his ownership percentage has begun soaring, but he somehow remains unowned in more than 50 percent of leagues.
Through the Hawks’ first seven games, Bazemore averaged 10.3 points on 45.3 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.6 triples and 0.6 blocks, clocking in as the 23rd-ranked player on ESPN’s Player Rater, before erupting for 25 points, four boards, three dimes and two steals against the Wizards on Saturday. Though owners shouldn’t continue to expect top 25 production out of him, Carroll did manage to finish 68th last year despite Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Kyle Korver all posting top 30 seasons. Owners in all formats should rush to scoop Bazemore up, but his well-rounded contributions can especially help in roto leagues.
Wilson Chandler, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets (42.5% owned)
Last week, we highlighted Robert Covington as a free-agent pickup who too many frustrated owners dropped because of an early-season injury. This week, Wilson Chandler earns that distinction, as his ownership percentage has plummeted by 14 percentage points in recent days after he suffered a right hip strain late in the preseason. Though he remains a week or so away from returning to action, per Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post, he needs to be owned in all leagues regardless.
Last season, after all, Chandler finished 69th on ESPN’s Player Rater, having averaged 13.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 treys, 1.7 assists and 0.7 steals per game. Though he may see slightly fewer minutes this year with Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried all playing well, he should still receive somewhere in the high 20s, giving him top 100 upside at worst. If head coach Mike Malone gets frisky and starts experimenting with ultra-small-ball lineups featuring a frontcourt of Chandler, Gallo and Faried, the former’s fantasy value would only rise further.
Jerian Grant, PG, New York Knicks (27.9% owned)
Want to be ahead of the curve? Pick up Jerian Grant, as it’s only a matter of time before he supplants Jose Calderon as the Knicks’ starting point guard. With Calderon and Sasha Vujacic unsurprisingly struggling as New York’s starting backcourt, head coach Derek Fisher is already considering shaking up his starting five, per ESPN.com’s Ian Begley, which could bode well for Grant’s fantasy stock.
The Notre Dame product isn’t exactly lighting things up just yet — he’s averaging 8.0 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 22.8 minutes per game — but he’s clearly the Knicks’ best option at the point. Though it may take a few more games before Grant’s role dramatically increases, his fantasy value should only grow stronger as the season progresses, particularly once Arron Afflalo returns from his strained hamstring to provide some additional floor spacing.
Marcus Thornton, SG, Houston Rockets (27.7% owned)
If you’re looking for a long-term contributor to add to your fantasy squad, skip over Marcus Thornton and head straight down to the next players on this list. If you’re desperate for some prolific short-term production, though, you could do far worse than the LSU product, who has been electric since sliding into the starting lineup in place of the injured Terrence Jones.
After being inactive for the Rockets’ first two games, Thornton has erupted for 16.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 treys, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals in 35.4 minutes per game over his past five contests. The seventh-year swingman is bound to head back to the bench once Jones recovers from his lacerated eyelid, but he’s perhaps shown head coach Kevin McHale enough to remain a regular part of the rotation even after Jones returns. Thornton won’t keep providing top 25 value like he has this past week, but owners in need of short-term help in three-pointers should scoop him up regardless.
T.J. McConnell, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (22.0% owned)
Nik Stauskas, SG, Philadelphia 76ers (18.5% owned)
T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas are being lumped together for one main reason: They’ve emerged as the Sixers’ backcourt starters, at least for the time being. After Isaiah Canaan started at the point for Philly’s first three games, McConnell supplanted him in each of the past three, while Stauskas has started all but one contest. Thus far, the early returns are promising for both players’ fantasy value, although McConnell’s could be somewhat short-lived.
Save for a relative clunker against Cleveland on Friday, McConnell has been simply electric over the past week, averaging 6.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, a whopping 9.3 assists and 1.3 steals in just under 30 minutes per game. Stauskas, meanwhile, hasn’t scored fewer than 12 points or hit fewer than two treys in any of his five contests thus far, averaging 14.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.6 triples in 31.8 minutes per game. Though McConnell will likely lose his starting job once Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall return, Stauskas figures to retain his gig all season, making him one of the sneakiest waiver-wire pickups of the week based on current ownership percentage.
Top priorities if unowned:
Kristaps Porzingis, PF, New York Knicks (75.9% owned)
Evan Fournier, SG/SF, Orlando Magic (75.7% owned)
Al-Farouq Aminu, SG/SF, Portland Trail Blazers (75.3% owned)
Deeper league adds:
Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Orlando Magic (26.8% owned)
Jeremy Lamb, SG, Charlotte Hornets (20.2% owned)
Will Barton, SG, Denver Nuggets (13.2% owned)
Dwight Powell, PF, Dallas Mavericks (12.2% owned)
Nemanja Bjelica, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (4.7% owned)
All Player Rater data and ownership percentages via ESPN.com and are current through Saturday, Nov. 7.