Though Christmas has come and gone, it’s never too late to bestow a gift upon your fantasy basketball squad. Thanks to injuries, trade rumors and a somewhat surprising Christmas Eve trade, the waiver wire is suddenly replenished with high-quality free-agent targets.
Here’s a look at five such potential pickups, all of who are owned in fewer than 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Ish Smith, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (35.4% owned)
A few weeks ago, Ish Smith made it into the “Falling” section of my Stock Report column, as the return of Tyreke Evans relegated him to spot minutes off the New Orleans Pelicans’ bench. If you followed my advice to drop him then, it’s time to scoop him back up, as the Philadelphia 76ers sent two second-round draft picks to New Orleans in exchange for him on Christmas Eve.
During Smith’s 25 games with the Sixers last season, he averaged 12.0 points, 6.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.7 triples in just 27.1 minutes per game. Seeing as he played 31 minutes in his first game back with Philly on Saturday — meanwhile, Kendall Marshall played 15 and T.J. McConnell played just two — it’s worth grabbing him now in case he seizes permanent control of the Sixers’ starting point-guard job.
Jordan Hill, PF/C, Indiana Pacers (35.4% owned)
Jordan Hill has been a resounding fantasy disappointment for much of the season, especially since rookie Myles Turner suffered a fractured thumb in mid-November. In theory, Turner’s injury opened the door for Hill to seize a significant role in Indiana’s frontcourt, but instead, he’s struggled to earn more than 20 minutes per game, giving him negligible fantasy value.
Lately, however, Hill has come alive, averaging 13.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.3 blocks in 25.1 minutes per game over his past seven contests. Though Turner is reportedly targeting a return in early January, per Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star, Hill should at least have fantasy appeal for leagues of all sizes until the rookie big man does make his way back onto the court.
Taj Gibson, PF/C, Chicago Bulls (25.8%)
In this week’s Stock Report column, I briefly touched upon how Joakim Noah’s left shoulder sprain should increase the short-term value of Pau Gasol, as he’s the Bulls’ lone healthy true center until Noah returns. Taj Gibson should likewise experience an uptick in fantasy value, as he now has one fewer big man to contend with for minutes over the next few weeks.
Gibson hasn’t exactly set the world ablaze since moving into the starting lineup 10 games ago, as he’s averaging just 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.6 blocks and 0.4 steals in 27.0 minutes a night. That said, if his playing time inches up with Noah out — he’s played at least 32 minutes in each of Chicago’s past three games, for what it’s worth — he’ll be worth picking up and trotting out for the next few weeks.
Nikola Jokic, PF/C, Denver Nuggets (22.0% owned)
Nikola Jokic made an appearance in the deeper-league adds section of this column last month, but his fantasy stock fell as quickly as it rose once Joffrey Lauvergne overtook him as Denver’s starting center. While he’s come off the bench for each of the Nuggets’ past nine games, it appears as though he’s finally beginning to grow more comfortable with that role.
In his past five games, Jokic averaged 14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 triples, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks in 24.3 minutes, putting up at least 13 points in each of the past four. Though Jusuf Nurkic’s impending return figures to once again juggle the Nuggets’ frontcourt rotation, Jokic is worth scooping up in case he manages to retain a significant role even after Nurkic comes back.
Jameer Nelson, PG, Denver Nuggets (20.0% owned)
Jameer Nelson earned a nod in the deeper-league adds of last week’s Waiver Wire Watch, but he’s graduated to a full-blown pickup in all leagues with the news that rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay isn’t expected to return from his sprained right ankle any time soon, per Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. Head coach Mike Malone referred to it as “an injury he sustained while in China, and it’s kind of come back a little bit.”
Malone added, “We want to make sure it’s not something where he plays a game then misses two games.” Seeing as Nelson has averaged 9.8 points, 5.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 treys and 0.5 steals in his six starts since Mudiay suffered the ankle injury, he’s a viable pickup if you’re in need of short-term help at the point-guard position, although his rest-of-season value figures to be somewhat negligible for those in 1o- or 12-team leagues once Mudiay returns.
Mentioned in previous weeks:
Omri Casspi, SF, Sacramento Kings (46.1% owned)
Jeremy Lin, PG/SG, Charlotte Hornets (43.5% owned)
Matt Barnes, SF, Memphis Grizzlies (43.1% owned)
Bismack Biyombo, C, Toronto Raptors (41.6% owned)
Jeff Green, SF/PF, Memphis Grizzlies (31.3% owned)
Deep-League Special: Bobby Portis, PF, Chicago Bulls (8.8% owned)
Taj Gibson isn’t the only Chicago frontcourt member who stands to benefit fantasy-wise from Noah’s absence. Rookie big man Bobby Portis was already beginning to work his way into the Bulls’ rotation, but with Noah sidelined, he’s going to become a 20-minute-per-game fixture, making him playable in deeper leagues and worth a speculative pickup in shallow leagues.
The real appeal with Portis isn’t his short-term value; it’s what could happen if (when?) the Bulls decide to detonate their frontcourt rotation. According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski (via NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin), the Bulls are willing to move either Gibson or Noah for a wing player, which would open significantly more playing time for Portis. Scoop him up now in case Chicago does start making moves.
Other deeper-league adds:
Terrence Ross, SG, Toronto Raptors (8.9% owned)
Jared Dudley, SF/PF, Washington Wizards (8.4% owned)
Lance Thomas, SF, New York Knicks (8.1% owned)
J.J. Barea, PG, Dallas Mavericks (5.9% owned)
Paul Pierce, SF, Los Angeles Clippers (5.2% owned)
All Player Rater data and ownership percentages via ESPN.com and are current through Saturday, Dec. 26.