Here’s the thing about waiver-wire pickups in fantasy basketball: they often tend to be fickle. A few hot games from a player sends everyone scrambling to the wire to scoop him up, but more often than not, regression to the mean eventually occurs, sending his fantasy value back to where it typically belongs.
We’ve seen that happen lately with a few of the stud early-season pickups, notably Orlando’s Evan Fournier and Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore. While owners shouldn’t necessarily rush to dump either player, the days of them producing top 50 value appear to have come to an end. Unless they retake a larger share of the minutes pie, they’ve once again become fungible fantasy assets, ones who you can conceivably drop if another tantalizing free agent catches fire.
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.
Jamal Crawford, SG, Los Angeles Clippers (36.3% owned)
With both Chris Paul and J.J. Redick banged up, the Los Angeles Clippers are suddenly low on reliable backcourt depth. That makes Jamal Crawford a must-add for those in need of short-term help at the guard position, as he’s the lone reserve Clippers backcourt member capable of providing standalone value even once CP3 and Redick return from their respective ailments.
Against the Orlando Magic on Saturday, Crawford erupted for 32 points on 10-of-19 shooting, six treys, five assists and a rebound, bumping his per-game averages as a starter to 28.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 treys. Lest you’re worried about his value plummeting upon his return to the bench, note that he’s averaged 10.6 points, 1.8 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 0.9 treys and 0.6 steals in just 24.3 minutes per game as a reserve this season, giving him late-round fantasy appeal even once CP3 and Redick retake their starting gigs.
Meyers Leonard, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (24.7% owned)
Last week, I named Meyers Leonard as a deeper-league target, but he’s graduated into a full-scale pickup for leagues of all sizes since returning from a shoulder dislocation that sidelined him for seven games. He played limited minutes off the bench during his first two games back, but he erupted for a season-high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting, seven rebounds, four treys, an assist and a steal in 32 minutes during Portland’s 115-112 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.
Leonard followed that up with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, two boards, two treys, an assist and a steal in 25 minutes against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday and 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, two treys and two assists in 24 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. Assuming he wrests the starting job away from Noah Vonleh in the coming days, he’ll be one of the rare free-agent pickups at this time of year with mid-round upside.
Ian Mahinmi, C, Indiana Pacers (23.2% owned)
Ian Mahinmi made a few appearances on this list earlier in the season as a deeper-league add, but Myles Turner’s injury-related absence has turned Mahinmi into a legitimate free-agent target for any fantasy owner in need of rebounds or blocks. The eighth-year center has started every game for Indiana this season, averaging 7.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals in 24.6 minutes per game, but he’s especially come alive as of late.
In his past five games, Mahinmi averaged 10.6 points, 8.4 boards, 2.0 dimes, 1.4 rejections and 0.8 swipes in 26.2 minutes, grabbing at least seven boards in all but one of those contests. With the Pacers soaring up the Eastern Conference standings — they’ve won seven of their past nine games — the 29-year-old figures to maintain his grasp on the starting gig and a 25-minute-per-night role, giving him back-end top 100 upside moving forward.
Tony Wroten, PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers (22.0% owned)
He’s baaaaaack. That’s right, the Philadelphia 76ers have a point guard with legitimate NBA experience again, as Tony Wroten made his season debut Saturday after suffering a partially torn ACL in his right knee back in January. The Sixers plan on bringing him along slowly, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer — he played just 13 minutes Saturday against the Denver Nuggets, finishing with four points on 2-of-7 shooting, three assists and five turnovers — but one look at his early-season stats from last year demonstrates why he deserves a roster spot.
During the Sixers’ first 15 games of the 2014-15 season — seven of which came without then-reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams — Wroten averaged 17.9 points, 6.3 dimes, 3.3 boards, 1.9 steals and 1.1 treys in just 32.6 minutes a night. He’ll have a strong shot of supplanting T.J. McConnell and/or Isaiah Canaan as the team’s starting point guard once he gets his legs under him, giving him significant fantasy upside if things break in his favor.
Kosta Koufos, PF, Sacramento Kings (19.3% owned)
In the Sacramento Kings’ 114-97 loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday, rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein suffered an open dislocation of his right index finger, which is expected to sideline him for the next four-to-six weeks. Just as Kosta Koufos’s fantasy value appeared to be waning, he’s suddenly become an intriguing waiver-wire pickup once more, at least until Cauley-Stein returns.
With DeMarcus Cousins sidelined over a three-game stretch around Thanksgiving, Koufos slid into the starting lineup and averaged 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in just 29.2 minutes a night. While Koufos came off the bench against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, he finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and an assist in 31 minutes. If he keeps playing upwards of 30 minutes a night, he’ll have fantasy appeal in leagues of all sizes.
Mentioned in previous weeks:
Darren Collison, PG/SG, Sacramento Kings (43.4% owned)
Jeff Green, SF/PF, Memphis Grizzlies (33.1% owned)
Jeremy Lamb, SG, Charlotte Hornets (32.3% owned)
Joffrey Lauvergne, C, Denver Nuggets (11.1% owned)
Patrick Beverley, PG, Houston Rockets (10.7% owned)
Mirza Teletovic, PF, Phoenix Suns (10.2 owned)
Donatas Motiejunas, PF/C, Houston Rockets (6.4% owned)
Trevor Booker, PF, Utah Jazz (6.2% owned)
All Player Rater data and ownership percentages via ESPN.com and are current through Saturday, Dec. 5.