By now, early-season surprises such as Evan Fournier, Al-Farouq Aminu and Kent Bazemore are likely long gone from your league’s waiver wire. Fret not, though: There’s always another hot free-agent pickup just around the corner, as injuries, trades and shuffling rotations create unforeseen opportunities for currently unheralded players.
Even if you’re not regularly streaming an end-of-the-bench player for the waiver wire’s next hot thing, you should keep a close eye on your league’s transactions. After all, your fellow leaguemates could grow impatient with an injured player or slow starter and decide to drop them for some instant gratification. That’s where you swoop in, turn their trash into your treasure, and laugh your way to the bank.
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.
Zaza Pachulia, C, Dallas Mavericks (48.8% owned)
When DeAndre Jordan left the Dallas Mavericks high and dry in free agency, they were left to plug their starting center gap with a handful of uninspiring veteran options. With JaVale McGee yet to see the court due to his ongoing recovery from a left leg injury, Zaza Pachulia has established a firm grip on the starting job, averaging 10.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks in just 26.7 minutes per game through Dallas’ first 10 contests.
With double-digit boards in six of his 10 games to date, Pachulia is a must-add for any team in need of rebounding help. He isn’t likely to provide much in the shot-blocking department — he’s gone six games without swatting a single shot through this early portion of the season — but given Dallas’ dearth of reliable big man depth, his role isn’t likely to be reduced significantly even when (if?) McGee does return.
Jae Crowder, SF, Boston Celtics (32.2% owned)
In fantasy basketball, certain categories — steals, threes and blocks, most notably — are far more difficult to fill than others (points, rebounds and assists). That’s what makes Boston Celtics swingman Jae Crowder a must-add this week, as he’s averaging a league-high 3.5 steals per game to go with 10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 treys and 0.5 blocks in 31.4 minutes.
Crowder’s contributions in other categories will likely fluctuate somewhat wildly as the season progresses, but he has yet to record fewer than two swipes in a game through Boston’s first eight contests. That preposterous tendency to generate turnovers has him ranked 64th on ESPN’s Player Rater at the moment, and while he’s likely to swoon somewhat, he appears to be a lock to return top 100 value.
Robert Covington, PF, Philadelphia 76ers (31.7% owned)
Robert Covington made an appearance on this list two weeks ago, as an early-season MCL sprain caused numerous owners to cut bait on him far too quickly. Fast forward two weeks, and an aggravation of said injury caused his ownership percentage to plummet even further, falling 16.2 percentage points in ESPN.com leagues over the past 14 days. Those owners will soon regret their decision.
According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, RoCo is set to make his long-awaited return to the lineup on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks, so his ownership percentage should soon begin to rise rather rapidly. Get ahead of the curve and drop your least productive player for him, as he ranked 65th on ESPN’s Player Rater last season and could conceivably replicate that production this year.
Nemanja Bjelica, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (28.4% owned)
Last week, I mentioned Nemanja Bjelica as a potential deeper-league add, as he was fresh off a 17-point, 11-rebound eruption against the Chicago Bulls. My lone hesitation in recommending him as a top five waiver-wire pickup was the ongoing concern about Minnesota’s inconsistent frontcourt rotation, already having been burned by Gorgui Dieng heading into the year.
As it turns out, however, Bjelica appears to be a legitimate factor for Minnesota, relegating Dieng to an afterthought. Over his past five games, the big man is averaging 11.8 points, 6.4 boards, 3.4 assists, 2.2 treys, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks, which has him just outside of top 100 value at the moment. So long as he maintains a constant presence in the Timberwolves’ big man rotation, he’ll be well worth a roster spot in leagues of all sizes.
Will Barton, SG, Denver Nuggets (25.4% owned)
In the wake of Wilson Chandler’s season-ending hip surgery, I mentioned Will Barton as a possible deeper-league pickup earlier in the week. He proceeded to reward my faith in him by erupting for a career-high 26 points (on 57.1 percent shooting), five rebounds, four treys, two steals and an assist in Denver’s 107-98 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday.
Barton won’t always top the 30-minute mark like he did against Houston — as BSN Denver’s Harrison Wind reported, head coach Mike Malone deliberately altered his rotation to combat the small-ball Rockets — but Chandler’s season-ending injury should ensure he remains a consistent presence regardless. Like Crowder, he’s likely to regress somewhat (he’s 35th on ESPN’s Player Rater at the moment), but owners can reasonably expect top 100 value moving forward.
Mentioned in previous weeks:
T.J. McConnell, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (33.1% owned)
Nik Stauskas, SG, Philadelphia 76ers (21.2% owned)
Rodney Hood, SG/SF, Utah Jazz (20.5% owned)
Deeper league adds:
Jeremy Lamb, SG, Charlotte Hornets (20.6% owned)
Steven Adams, C, Oklahoma City Thunder (9.2% owned)
Marco Belinelli, SG, Sacramento Kings (9.1% owned)
Ian Mahinmi, C, Indiana Pacers (8.4% owned)
Cory Joseph, PG, Toronto Raptors (4.5% owned)
Injured players who may be nearing a return (worth an IR stash):
Brandon Jennings, PG, Detroit Pistons (22.8% owned)
Jusuf Nurkic, C, Denver Nuggets (20.1% owned)
Tony Wroten, PG/SG Philadelphia 76ers (9.2% owned)
Donatas Motiejunas, PF/C, Houston Rockets (6.2% owned)
Kendall Marshall, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (1.6% owned)
All Player Rater data and ownership percentages via ESPN.com and are current through Saturday, Nov. 14.