Jerami Grant shows his upside, while injuries force others into action that deserve a look on the Waiver Wire
Jordan Clarkson, G Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers have won 12 games this season. Steve Nash has been ruled out since before the action tipped off, and now Kobe Bryant (shoulder) is out for the remainder of the season. Jeremy Lin has failed to impress, Ronnie Price is a third-string point guard, and the Lakers paid to have the opportunity to draft Clarkson in the second round of the 2014 draft. This is a lost season, and the Lakers are realizing the clear choice ahead: It’s time to evaluate the future.
Enter Jordan Clarkson. With just Lin and Price “battling” him for minutes on the point guard depth chart, the rookie has the look of someone who doesn’t plan to relinquish the starting job for the remainder of the season. In his short tenure as a starter (three games), Clarkson is averaging 12.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.7 steals on 40.5 percent shooting. Those aren’t numbers that jump out the page at first glance, but the good news here is that the rookie is averaging a whopping 31.5 minutes per game in his new role.
No longer is Clarkson playing out of control and at a million miles per hour, but there will still be bumps and bruises like there are with any rookie thrown into the fire. The Lakers are extremely high on Clarkson’s potential, and Los Angeles wants to evaluate what they have in a season that’s already lost. That means Clarkson is going to get a lot of minutes moving forward, and he’s already shown enough to suggest he’ll improve as he continues to gain valuable learning experience. Pick him up and stick with him.
Jerami Grant, F Philadelphia 76ers
It’s tough to assess the Philadelphia 76ers or their players from any perspective because of how truly awful this team is. Let me be clear: That’s not a dig at the organization or the chosen path for its rebuild, but it is providing a dose of reality into the situation. That being said, the latest to to emerge from the tire fire has been rookie Jerami Grant. Drafted in the second round (where else, right Sam Hinkie?) in the 2014 draft, Grant is finally getting a chance to have a consistent role. It’s long overdue, and his recent performance just validates that claim.
Over his last four games, Grant has 12 blocks. Now, that’s because he broke out for eight (!) in one game before racking up four more a few nights later, so that hasn’t been a consistent effort. However, over the last two games, Grant is earning a larger role on offense, and that’s what’s going to get him plucked from the waiver wire if he isn’t gone already. After taking more than eight shots just once all season before his last two games, Grant has taken 18 shots over his last two. With season-highs in minutes in both of those games as well (just over 26 minutes in each), it sure seems as if Grant is establishing himself as a key component of Brett Brown’s ever-changing rotation.
When the head coach gives a public endorsement of a rookie, it’s worth taking notice. Following Grant’s eight-block breakout game, Brown said Jerami Grant “makes me want to hug Sam (Hinkie) because he got it right,” (via Tom Moore of Calkins Media). Since that time, Grant’s role has increased, his confidence has risen and he’s finding multiple methods to leave his imprint on the box score.
I’m partial to gambling on high-upside youngsters who can contribute in the defensive categories. Grant fits the bill, and then some. It’s not like he’s got a ton of talent to beat out for meaningful minutes on this roster.
Khris Middleton, G/F Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton remains floating on far too many waiver wires, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps it’s because some folks still think of him as a former second-round pick the Detroit Pistons gave up on. Perhaps it’s because most people still don’t pay enough attention to what Jason Kidd is cooking in Milwaukee with his Young Bucks. Perhaps it’s because a lot of owners are still hesitant to give up on their preseason “sleepers,” those same under-the-radar candidates who have done nothing for your team but waste a roster space for more than half of the season. There could be a lot of reasons, but none of them are good enough. Middleton should be owned in all formats.
Over his last three games, Middleton is averaging 18.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.7 triples. Middleton has also seen between 28.5 and 30.5 minutes in each of those contests, but that’s nothing new for him as he’s held a sizable role in the rotation since the end of December. What is new, however, is Middleton taking consistent advantage of the opportunities he’s earned under head coach Jason Kidd. Over that same three-game stretch, Middleton is shooting a blistering 23-of-32 from the floor—that’s 71.9 percent.
He’s not going to keep shooting the lights out at that pace, but he is gaining confidence, finding his role and beginning to blossom under the proper guidance. Middleton is yet another young Buck who has found his footing under Kidd, and it’s about time all fantasy owners began to take notice.
Brian Roberts, PG, Charlotte Hornets
As you may have (definitely) heard, Kemba Walker’s knee surgery will cost him at least the next six weeks of action. That timeline might not seem like such a big deal at first glance considering how long the NBA season is, but Walker’s procedure comes at the worst possible time for fantasy owners who have been relying on his production. Even if Walker is back in six weeks, that means he’d be out until mid-March. Given the timetable of Walker missing at least six weeks (an important distinction), it’s possible that Charlotte is without their floor general for an even longer amount of time—and perhaps the remainder of the season.
I’m not attempting to paint a doom and gloom scenario that has Walker missing the rest of the campaign, but the point I’m making is obvious: There is no reason to hold Walker at this point unless in an insanely deep league where there is literally nothing on the waiver wire. I’m talking about those 20-plus team leagues, so that’s a very small percentage of fantasy players out there. I understand cutting Kemba is going to hurt far worse than ripping a Band-Aid off that’s been on for too long, but it would be even worse to have him occupy a valuable roster spot for almost two months while he’s sitting on the sidelines. The reward simply isn’t worth the risk, and fantasy owners who play for the future by discounting the present often find themselves on the outside looking in when it’s time for the postseason.
Roberts is not a world-beater by any stretch, but he’s going to get an extended look as the Hornets’ starting point guard. Roberts isn’t going to be a Kemba replacement for owners who just lost Walker, but he’s got a clear chance at production in front of him, and the UConn product won’t be returning to the court any time soon.