More than a month into the 2015-16 NBA season, the fantasy basketball waiver wire isn’t overflowing with top-tier pickups anymore. Early-season surprises like Evan Fournier or Kristaps Porzingis are long gone from most free-agent pools, but owners in need of some fresh blood still have some tantalizing options from which to choose.
In particular, injuries have begun to inflate the short-term value of some possible pickups. Similar to how Wilson Chandler’s season-ending hip surgery elevated Will Barton into fantasy relevance, the temporary absence of Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart and Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas will help boost a few of their teammates’ fantasy value.
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.
Gorgui Dieng, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves (37.3% owned)
Gorgui Dieng had the looks of a mid-round value pick heading into drafts this fall, as he finished the 2014-15 season as the 41st-ranked player on ESPN’s Player Rater. Throughout his first 11 games of this campaign, however, he cracked the 25-minute threshold just once, averaging 6.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.4 assists in 18.6 minutes a night. A majority of his owners cut bait accordingly.
If his past five games are any indication, Dieng finally may be living up to his lofty draft-day expectations. The Louisville product averaged 9.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.8 steals and 1.2 assists over that span, and he topped the 25-minute mark in each of his past three games, too. With Minnesota head coach Sam Mitchell having inexplicably begun to bench Karl-Anthony Towns in favor of Dieng late in games, he’s worth picking up in case his role continues to expand as the year goes on.
Jerryd Bayless, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (34.0% owned)
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd shook up his starting lineup Sunday, replacing Michael Carter-Williams and Jabari Parker with Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo. Though it didn’t lead to a win, Mayo and Bayless wound up playing a team-high 44 and 43 minutes, respectively, with the latter putting up 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, six assists, two treys and one steal in the 87-82 loss.
Though it’s too early to tell whether MCW’s benching was temporary or permanent, fantasy owners would be wise to pick up Bayless in case it winds up being the latter. He won’t fill up the assists category like a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, but he’s averaging a career-high 2.3 treys and 1.4 steals per game for Milwaukee this year, giving him sneaky top-75 value on the year.
Jeremy Lamb, SG, Charlotte Hornets (29.1% owned)
Waiting for Jeremy Lamb to return to Earth before picking him up? It might finally be time to bite the bullet, as he’s shown no signs of slowing down in his reserve role with the Charlotte Hornets. Even before going off for 14 points (on 50.0 percent shooting), nine rebounds, three treys and two assists against Milwaukee on Sunday, he averaged 12.7 points, 4.8 boards, 1.5 dimes, 1.3 triples, 0.6 blocks and 0.5 steals in just 24.5 minutes per game off the bench in his first 15 contests.
Charlotte has one of the league’s highest-scoring benches, per HoopsStats.com, and Lamb is a big reason why. Though he struggled to string together consistent performances during his time with the Thunder, he’s adapted well to his new role with Charlotte. He isn’t likely to singlehandedly win you a matchup, but he’ll help you out in multiple categories, making him well worth a pickup.
Evan Turner, SG/SF, Boston Celtics (27.1% owned)
Earlier this week, Today’s Fastbreak’s Haddon Anderson touched upon how Smart’s leg injury will help turn Evan Turner into a “Nicolas Batum-lite” for the next few weeks, but it’s worth stressing here once more. According to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Smart’s original two-week timeline to return is “very optimistic,” as he was on crutches and wearing a leg brace on Wednesday.
In the five games since Smart’s injury, Turner is averaging 8.6 points (on 34.0 percent shooting), 5.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks in 27.2 minutes per game, which includes Friday’s contest in which he left in the third quarter after getting poked in the eye. Though he doesn’t project to have considerable long-term value, Turner figures to provide well-rounded contributions (outside of treys) until Smart returns.
T.J. Warren, SF, Phoenix Suns (18.7% owned)
Of the players featured here, T.J. Warren is easily the most speculative pickup, as his playing time has fluctuated wildly over the first month of the season. He’s caught fire in his past few games, however, erupting for a career-high 28 points (on 12-of-16 shooting), six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two treys in 35 minutes against Golden State on Friday and following up with 15 points, 11 boards, three blocks and a steal in Phoenix’s 107-102 win over Toronto on Sunday.
After cracking the 25-minute mark just twice in his first 12 games, he’s surpassed that in each of his past four contests, perhaps suggesting he’s carving out a bigger spot in Phoenix’s rotation. Though there’s always a chance this winds up being a short-term fluke and he falls back to earth relatively soon, it’s worth gambling on a second-year player with upside if you have the roster space.
Mentioned in previous weeks:
Jae Crowder, SF, Boston Celtics (45.7% owned)
Kent Bazemore, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks (45.7% owned)
Jeff Green, SF/PF, Memphis Grizzlies (35.9% owned)
Luis Scola, PF, Toronto Raptors (22.1% owned)
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Brooklyn Nets (18.9% owned)
Omri Casspi, SF, Sacramento Kings (15.6% owned)
Nikola Jokic, PF, Denver Nuggets (12.0% owned)
Meyers Leonard, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (11.8% owned)
All Player Rater data and ownership percentages via ESPN.com and are current through Sunday, Nov. 29.