I wanted to focus on waiver-wire candidates in this league's column after getting several e-mails about unearthing "hidden gems" from readers over the last several weeks. The truth with manipulating the wire is that it's a lot easier than it's made out to be: Don't just go after the best performer. Don't just chase stats. Don't just look in the rear-view mirror when searching for and forecasting future production. You're building a team here, not just the best collection of names.
So what if all Jodie Meeks does is score and hit triples if that's what your team is needing? Not every guy has to be the most versatile contributor, and if you're willfully ignoring specialists, especially in areas of need, you're sabotaging your own chances of taking home the crown.
To get the New Year started in proper fashion, let's bring in 2015 with some fresh faces led by one familiar veteran who has seemingly found a home in Milwaukee.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $175,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Monday's NBA games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $15,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Monday. Here's the FanDuel link.
Jared Dudley, SF Milwaukee Bucks
Did you know Jared Dudley is averaging more than two triples per game over his last five? If you did, there are only two plausible options: You’re an avid Rotoworld junkie, or you’re lying to yourself and to me while reading this column. Regardless, now you know Dudley actually has a pulse in Milwaukee, unlike he did while in Los Angeles with the Clippers, and appears to have carved out a real and sustainable role in the wake of his team losing Jabari Parker too soon to a torn ACL in his rookie campaign.
A recipient of at least 24.5 minutes in all five of those games, including four in which he’s exceeded 28.5 minutes and two where he’s gone for more than 32.0, Dudley is getting a real opportunity to contribute off the bench. He’s not going to explode for 20-plus points like he did when he went for 24 on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting on December 26, but the mid-to-low-end production is certainly sustainable.
The other added bonus benefit with Dudley is his ability to contribute in the steals department. Over the same five-game stretch, the veteran Boston College product is also averaging two steals per contest. Dudley’s averages over his last five games: 15.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.2 triples. Those numbers should not be sitting on any waiver wire.
Nikola Mirotic, F Chicago Bulls
The damage Nikola Mirotic is managing to do in under 20 minutes per game is more than just impressive. He’s forced Tom Thibodeau’s hand by plowing his way into the rotation, and now he’s about to make his head coach’s job even harder by coaxing him to figure out how to create more playing time for him going forward—he’s earned it, and the Bulls would be better off for it.
The rookie has played a combined 32 minutes over his last two games, and he’s got a combined 23 points, 13 rebounds and five triples. Translated, Mirotic is averaging 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 triples despite hovering right around 16 minutes per contest. That’s an incredible per-minute production, and it highlights the appeal that would ooze out of Mirotic had he been placed into a more favorable fantasy situation.
The issue with Mirotic isn’t production, it’s playing time, and those are always my favorite types of stashes. I’m also not a believer that Joakim Noah’s (knee) health will hold up all season, and if the Bulls want to be playing in June, they’d be smart to rest him before that regardless. As Mirotic gets more familiar with the NBA, Tom Thibodeau and Mirotic’s Bulls teammates are getting more familiar with him. It’s a recipe that smells like success.
Tony Wroten, G Philadelphia 76ers
A lot of folks gave up on Tony Wroten when Michael Carter-Williams returned from his shoulder injury, and then a knee sprain saw shortsighted owners cut bait with the gunner before a large enough sample size was out with MCW on the court to draw any kind of conclusion. Remember, these are the Sixers we’re talking about, and it’s not as if the roster is brimming with potent weaponry to contribute points in mass quantities. Someone has to score.
Wroten has scored 20-plus in each of his last two games, and he’s a run off a nice stretch of seven steals over his last three contests as well. A good, not great, short-term spark for any roster in need of one, Wroten’s volatile game can hurt you (when his shot isn’t going in), but considering what he brings to the table and how badly his team needs him to excel in the role, it makes sense to find a space for him on your roster if it costs you a mere free-agent pickup.
Philadelphia has to get more from its second unit, and that has to begin with Wroten as its anchor. It’s a frightening but enticing thought all in the same breath.
Steals and Blocks
Jusuf Nurkic, C Denver Nuggets
Remember when a lot of folks were quick to brush off Alex Len this season because he was still struggling with fouls? That sure looks like a foolish move now. And while I’m not suggesting Nurkic will be the next Len (who is averaging 9.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 2.7 blocks, 56.5 percent shooting in seven games as a starter), there’s a lot to like about what he brings to the table, and there’s even more to like about head coach Brian Shaw endorsing his rookie big.
“He’s a guy that I have confidence throwing the ball inside to. He can post, and he can score. And if he doesn’t have that, he’s shown the propensity to make plays for his teammates when they cut off him. “ That’s what Shaw had to say about his 20-year-old center, and now it’s up to Nurkic to turn his oozing potential into tangible production.
Nurkic has been limited with his minutes as he continues to learn the NBA game and attempts to stay out of foul trouble (averaging 3.1 in under 11.5 minutes per game), but there have been a few signs of progress over the last couple of weeks, and Shaw’s endorsement is the most promising part of this longer-term recommendation. Nurkic has a different skillset than Len as he’s not the same type of shot-blocker, but he is able to contribute on the defensive end in impressive fashion. He’s averaging career-best marks in minutes (14), steals (0.9) and blocks (0.7) during the month of December to pair with 6.6 points and 5.2 rebounds, so if he can keep the momentum moving in the right direction, it’s not going to be much longer until another owner curses your name because you had the foresight to stash Nurkic before his real breakout.
Steven Adams, C Oklahoma City Thunder
The mustachioed Kiwi has taken a big step forward over his last five games. Now finding a sense of consistency during his sophomore season, Adam is flashing the ability to be more than just a low-end center for owners who gambled on him before the season began.
Over the aforementioned stretch, Adams is averaging 10.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Combine that with the fact that he’s also holding opponents to under 50 percent at the rim this season, and the Thunder might finally be able to claim they were actually victorious in the James Harden trade...or nah. But Adams is a real player, and he’s improving at a more rapid pace than almost everyone expected.
I’ve received a lot of “should I drop Steven Adams for X?” questions throughout the season, and in case his placement on this list isn’t clear enough, let me make it a no-brainer: He’s one of the better short-term rides right now, and a favorite longer-term stash among bigs who won’t cost the house to acquire.