This week’s column is dedicated to those owners with the dead roster spot in leagues out there. Still got Jeremy Lin on your team? I’m talking to you. Still holding out hope that your preseason super-sleeper isn’t going to find himself glued to the bench one day here soon? I’m talking to you, too. How about the owner who is still holding onto Nikola Pekovic with the idea he’ll be a difference-maker when he finally returns from his injury absence? I’m definitely looking at you. Don’t be the owner I’m talking about throughout this paragraph, because even a short-term paragraph can be the difference between a postseason berth & going home early. This is a season-long race to the finish line, and there’s little room to overlook current production for a future “maybe.”
This is the point of the season to really critically examine depth charts and opportunities. Don’t get attached to the name on your roster. Throw preseason hunches and prognostications out the window that haven’t come to fruition, and stop playing for the future while your team stays losing in the present. Don’t be afraid to manipulate the waiver wire in pursuit of finding your hidden gem.
Sit down, buckle up, click the follow button and let’s ride.
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Steals & 3-Pointers
Matt Barnes, SF Los Angeles Clippers
You know what has to happen for owners to find value in Matt Barnes on the Los Angeles Clippers’ roster? As long as Barnes shows up for work, that’s about all that we have to worry about right now. After the Clippers foolishly gave up on Reggie Bullock and sent Chris Douglas-Roberts to Boston all in an effort to accommodate Austin Rivers’ arrival, the Clippers have absolutely nothing behind the enigmatic veteran.
Barnes has played 30-plus minutes in six straight games, including at least 36.5 minutes over his last three, and during that stretch of time, Barnes has responded to the increased responsibility that has been tossed his way with averages of 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 3.0 triples. It’s not like Barnes is undergoing a career revelation at this point in the game, but he’s getting a ton of opportunities without having to look over his shoulder, and sometimes that can do wonders for a player’s game.
Barnes has the benefit of being an afterthought on the opposition’s scouting report, and that’s a situation ripe for the picking.
Channing Frye, PF/C Orlando Magic
There’s no question that Channing Frye has seen his role inflated without cousin Tobias Harris (ankle) active, but Harris’ return should still leave ample room for Frye to produce for owners. Frye has launched a whopping 26 triples over his last three games, and he’s impressively made 11 of them. That’s good for a 42.3 percent connection rate, and it seems that the veteran should be able to keep launching them so long as he remains in the lineup.
Frye has seen at least 31.5 minutes in his last five games without Harris available to play, and although Tobias is making progress, he remains without an official return date. It’s hard to project exactly how long Frye’s value will remain this high, but owners in need of help from distance could find far worse gambles on the wire. In this role, Frye has the upside to be a difference-maker, and you want as many of those on your roster at any given time as possible.
With the green light from downtown, Frye is the type of low-risk gamble owners should feel good about rolling the dice on in the short-term. Continued contributions at this rate after Harris gets back would be money in the bank, and I’d rather jump on the bandwagon too soon than miss the ride entirely.
Taj Gibson, PF/C Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah’s health has been the worst kept secret around the NBA this season. Ask anyone within earshot of the Chicago Bulls, and they’ll tell you that Noah has been playing at less than 100 percent since long before the season began. Although it was a knee procedure that had Noah managing his way through the action, it’s now an ankle injury that’s knocked him out of action for the time being. The Bulls are a little desperate as losers of five of their last seven, but they should also be smart enough to know that an extended absence from Noah would torpedo their chances of contending. For that reason, it would not surprise me to see Noah take several games off in order to get right and come back with full force when he’s able to get back on the floor—even if it’s being brushed off as a minor concern.
If Noah does take a midseason vacation, Gibson is going to be the prime and undisputed beneficiary. He’ll get extended run in the Bulls’ starting lineup, and it’s not like Gibson even needs major minutes to make his presence felt. With per-36 minute averages of 14.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 50.9 percent shooting, the potential here is clear. But because some are not a believer in per-36 context (and I can understand that in certain situations), Gibson’s averages as a starter this season support the notion of him faring well in an extended role: In 11 games, the USC product is averaging 13.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.5 blocks on 50.4 percent shooting.
Gibson isn’t someone I’d cut a slam dunk for with Noah’s uncertain timetable at this point, but that one spot that’s been dead weight on your roster for a while now? Yeah, let’s get Gibson in his place.
Khris Middleton, F Milwaukee Bucks
This isn’t Middleton’s first appearance on this list, and based on the pace at which he’s been added to rosters, it might not be his last, either. I’m not sure what’s unappealing about Middleton having 18 steals through just seven games in 2015, but these stats shouldn’t be just floating in space on the waiver wire. That’s difference-making potential in the steals department, and as we discussed above, those are the gems we’re attempting to collect when building our teams.
On top of Middleton’s thievery, he’s also contributing from behind the 3-point line. Although his 10 triples through those same seven games won’t make headlines, that’s a contribution that can’t be ignored. Now averaging 12.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.4 triples on 49.2 percent shooting through January, Middleton’s understated value really shouldn’t be understated at all—it should be quite obvious.
Although Jason Kidd’s rotations have been known to be in flux from time-to-time, Middleton’s minutes should remain consistent. Without Jabari Parker (knee) available, and with Kendall Marshall (knee) also being lost for the season in Milwaukee’s lost game, Middleton’s versatility will come in even handier than it did previously for Kidd, the young Bucks and fantasy owners who want to Fear The Deer.