If you’re a habitual bad drafter like I am, you’re probably well acquainted with the power of the waiver wire. First I was a bad drafter in fantasy football and now that non-skill has transferred over to fantasy basketball. I often make too much of my hay on the wire. I have never won the championship in my fantasy football league—an indication that I haven’t had the top-end talent necessary to take home the trophy. But I have made the playoffs every year except one—an indication that timely, intelligent pick-ups on the wire are not to be taken for granted, especially in football where long injury absences are common. I also made the playoffs in my first year of fantasy basketball as an expansion team after auto-drafting. It’s a 14 team, 9-category, head-to-head Yahoo league for perspective. I tell you all this not to toot my own horn, but to lay out my strengths and weaknesses, to cement my waiver wire guru credentials.
If You’re On Time, You’re Late
Kendrick Nunn & Aaron Baynes
Unless you’re playing in a league with literal mannequins as the competition, you’re too late to the Kendrick Nunn and Aron Baynes trains (I scooped up both players off the wire). Nunn scored 40 points in a pre-season game and put James Harden in a blender, multiple times. Though it’s been bandied about that Nunn isn’t this good of a shooter, I’d argue he’s closer to a 38.4 percent three-point shooter (his percentage so far this season) than a 33.3 percent three-point shooter (his percentage in the G League last season). How can I say that? Here are Nunn’s three-point shooting numbers from college: 38.8, 36, 39.1, 39.4. Not to mention, Nunn looks like an NBA athlete even though he’s undersized. If you picked him up, you’re sitting pretty; if not, it might not be a bad idea to make an offer for him before the trade deadline. I don’t think he’ll be a star, but he’ll definitely be cheap if you’re in a keeper league. He is without a doubt, a rotation player in the NBA and his ceiling might be a quality NBA starter, which is saying a lot at the point guard position. At worst, you would think he could settle into a microwave scorer off the bench role on a loaded roster (in the event he was traded in the future). He’s young and should only get better. He’s already giving you points, threes, and steals. Better playmaking is in his future.
Aron Baynes has been a godsend for his NBA team and fantasy teams alike. Baynes hasn’t just been a solid fill-in for Deandre Ayton. He’s been one of the best NBA players in the league through the first 13 games of the season. Baynes is averaging 14.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 0.8 blocks. He’s shooting 56.1 percent from the field, 44.2 percent from three (an effective field goal percentage of 66.2 percent), and 71.9 percent from the free-throw line. The ridiculousness doesn’t stop with Baynes three-point shooting; Baynes sits at 13 in offensive win shares (right behind his teammate Devin Booker), 8 in Win Shares per 48 and 7 in box plus/minus (according to Basketball Reference).
I’m not Miss Cleo so I had no idea Baynes would turn into a Karl-Anthony Towns clone from three, but it was obvious from his stint in Boston that he was a highly competent basketball player and with added playing time could produce solid numbers. After drafting poorly, I’ve spent the early part of the season scouring the wire for value and upside. If you’re in a similar situation—at the bottom of your league and in need of keeper value—you should be doing the same. Fashion yourself in the image of Sam Hinkie instead of Scott Perry and Steve Mills under James Dolan’s iron thumb. It’s all about “The Process” baby.
If You’re Early, You’re On Time
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson & Terence Davis
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson appears to be finding his footing north of the border. As of November 20, Jefferson has scored in double digits three out of the last five games. In those games he played an average of 23 minutes. Lowry and Ibaka are injured which helps his cause, but Hollis-Jefferson should remain in the mix for some playing time according to the Athletic’s Blake Murphy, who wrote, “Even once the Raptors return to health, the rotation had a hole for a fourth big or third forward…” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a lanky springboard. He’s always lurking around the basket looking to gobble up offensive rebounds or finish a dump-off pass from one of his more skilled teammates. He’s only played in six games, so the sample size is even smaller than the norm at this point in the season, but he’s mostly the same player he’s always been. He’s going to effort his way into random buckets and play good defense. For the season he’s averaging 9.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. He’s shooting 58.5 percent from the field and 84.6 percent from the free-throw line. He hasn’t taken a three this season, which is smart since his career three-point percentage is 22.3. His free-throw percentage is likely to fall more in line with his career percentage of 74.1 percent. Prior to this season his best free-throw shooting season came in 2017-18 when he shot 78.8 percent.
Terence Davis is caught between watchlist and immediate add purgatory. He’s benefiting greatly from Lowry’s injury and I doubt there will be consistent playing time for him once Lowry returns, but his efficient play in the interim is a good sign for his longterm prospects. Davis’ numbers should be taken with a large grain of salt given his very limited playing time, but he has strong percentages across the board. Davis is averaging 5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, while shooting 44.9 percent from the field (22 for 49), 46.4 percent from three (13 for 28), and 100 percent from the line (8-for-8). Davis had a career night on November 18 against the Charlotte Hornets, scoring 16 points with 4 threes and adding 7 assists.
Nassir Little & Carmelo Anthony
Let’s all stay mellow after a disappointing opening night for Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo is past his prime and lacks the lateral quickness to be an effective defensive player in the modern NBA. He doesn’t have the leaping ability of years past, either. His underrated offensive rebounding, patented elbow extended face up, and roll game have all been neutered by age. But after years of being one of the best scorers in the league Carmelo Anthony remains a wily, hyper-skilled veteran. If the Portland Trail Blazers plan on featuring Carmelo like they did on November 19 against the New Orleans Pelicans, he might be back out of the league sooner rather than later. Melo was a team worst minus-20 in 24 minutes. BUT!, until the Blazers part ways with him you can expect Melo to get shots up. Terry Stotts has said that Carmelo will start and should play around 20 minutes. The sad news for the Blazers is that they need Carmelo to be good. Sad for the Blazers, great for fantasy owners. Carmelo is mostly a points and threes player at this point in his career, although he may grab a few rebounds as well.
Nassir Little had a rough year at North Carolina and followed it up with an ugly Summer League. He mostly looked lost and lethargic (at times) in both situations. He was more dirty diaper than diaper dandy and the worry was that he’d continue sticking it up in the NBA. It’s taken up to this point, but he appears to be turning a corner. He has played at least 23 minutes in the Blazers last four contest and in Carmelo Anthony’s debut, Little outplayed him handily. Little had 12 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 2 blocks against the Pelicans. With Zach Collins injured and Anthony Tolliver ineffective, Little should have plenty of opportunity at the power forward position. He should get the majority of the non-Melo power forward minutes unless the Blazers downsize tremendously.
Gafford has only played in five games and is averaging 6.4 minutes a game, but he did come off the bench and play 20 minutes on November 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks. In those 20 minutes Gafford scored 21 points (10-of-12 shooting), grabbed 5 rebounds, had 1 assist, and 2 blocked shots. That’s impressive per minute production. Furthermore, Luke Kornet is out for the next 7 to 10 days after undergoing sinus surgery. Trying to figure out Jim Boylan’s rotations is a near impossible task, but it feels like Gafford has a real opportunity right now. He’s much less of an immediate add than guys like Jefferson, Anthony, and Little, but remember, you want to be early to the waiver wire party, not fashionably late.
Add To Your Watchlist:
Michael Porter Jr.: He hasn’t looked great to start the season. He’s still moving a bit rigidly by my eye and he hasn’t shown or been allowed to show much creativity with the ball in his hands. On the plus side, he’s got tremendous length and that size is already helping him grab offensive rebounds, finish with dunks inside, and block the occasional shot. Plus, you know, the whole consensus number one pick before the injuries thing. If you’re even thinking about tanking he should be on your roster.
Juancho Hernangomez: Hernangomez will likely never get consistent minutes, but he’s a locker room favorite and he plays with great energy. He played 19 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets on November 14 and 29 minutes against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 17. He’s taken Malik Beasley’s minutes the last two games so if you have Beasley you should definitely be paying attention to Juancho.
Mohamed Bamba: He’s still not very good and his numbers pretty plainly indicate that. He’s averaging 3.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, and 0.9 blocks. He’s playing 13.3 minutes a game and shooting a woeful 34 percent from the field, 25 percent from three, and 25 percent from the foul line. It’s early, but that’s rough. The one positive sign for Bamba is that the Magic look committed to developing him—he’s getting the playing time ahead of Khem Birch. Birch has only played in four games compared to Bamba’s 11. This might be more of a dynasty league consideration, but it doesn’t hurt to periodically check-in on Bamba.
Lonnie Walker: Walker’s problem, in part, is that he plays for the Spurs. The Spurs roster is overrun with talented guards (Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, and Patty Mills). Walker is a really good athlete, but he lacks the feel for the game and general polish that Gregg Popovich demands. Unfortunately for us, he’s not going to acquire that polish sitting on the bench so we have ourselves a conundrum. Walker lit up Summer League. DeMar DeRozan could be traded or the Spurs could choose not to extend him. It feels like the log-jam at the guard spot in San Antonio has to get sorted out soon. We should get a clearer picture of Walker’s NBA prospects in the near future.
Cam Reddish: Reddish has been very bad to start the season. He’s a rookie and it shows. He often leaves his feet unnecessarily, leading to turnovers. He tried a double spin layup move for reasons only the gods and the ancients can comprehend. He’s also shooting poorly, which is disheartening because that was the skill talent evaluators had the fewest doubts about. It’s year one for Reddish and although Trae Young looks to have taken a leap, the Hawks still have a ways to go in their rebuild. Reddish should continue to get opportunities this year and next.
Nicolas Claxton: When he plays he seems to play well. He’s played at least 12 minutes in six of the last seven games for the Nets. The coaching staff likes him. He’s helped by the fact that DeAndre Jordan looks like he’s lost all the steps. I don’t know how else to say it, Jordan looks old. Jarret Allen is obviously better than both Claxton and Jordan, but he’s had his struggles finding his rhythm this year as well. Rodions Kurucs is also struggling. There isn’t much size on this roster. Keep your eyes wide for Claxton.