And so it begins. Hello and welcome to the first Waiver Wired of the 2019-20 NBA season! With opening night upon us within two days, this is the time of the year when the waiver wire is stocked with so much talent and upside that your average fantasy manager may not be able to identify. Injuries, rotation tweaks and trades are going to create fantasy value throughout the season, but today’s column is going to highlight some players that probably should’ve been drafted in the late rounds that are there for the taking.
As a general rule, the players on this list MUST be owned in less than 40% of Yahoo Leagues. And yes, if a player like Zach Collins (64%) is sitting on your wire it’s time to quit that Taco League and look for some real competition. And real quick, I just want to wish all my readers the best of luck of this season. I ended up with a few Anthony Davis shares, so I don’t expect to sleep for six months with every trip to the locker room putting me at risk for a heart attack.
For fantasy advice, questions or comments, find me on Twitter right here!
Darius Garland (39%)- The rookie PG out of Vanderbilt will have solid fantasy value at some point this season, but will begin the season as a combo guard off the bench. He did hit some speed bumps in training camp by tweaking his foot soon after he recovered from the knee injury that limited him to five games as a college freshman, but he’s said to be 100% and can start playing his way into a larger role.
He looked really good in his three preseason outings, averaging 9.0 points, 2.7 dimes and 1.0 triples in just 16.8 minutes with a 64.7% true shooting and a 22.8% usage rate. Expand those over 36 minutes and you can see some serious upside with 19.3 points, 5.7 dimes, 0.7 steals and 2.1 triples. The Cavs are willing to use him alongside Collin Sexton, and it’s inevitable that one or both of Brandon Knight’s and Jordan Clarkson’s expiring contracts will be moved to make more room for the rookie.
Recommendation: He’s a luxury stash in standard 12-team leagues until his workload surpasses 24+ minutes.
Landry Shamet (36%)- If you missed out on a 3-point specialist at the end of your draft such as Joe Harris or Davis Bertans, Shamet is another option. Plus, he plays on opening night if you’re simply in the market for a streamer. Paul George (shoulder) will miss at least the first 10 games for the Clippers, and Kawhi Leonard is going to miss a handful of games because of the load management plague sweeping across the NBA. Shamet didn’t have the strongest preseason, but averaged 10.9 points, 2.3 dimes, 2.2 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 2.7 triples in 27 minutes with the Clippers last season.
Coach Doc Rivers has also shown a willingness to let him run the point for the second unit, something he’s more than capable of doing — he was in the 90th percentile for pick-and-roll ball handlers last season, so he could be close to 3.0 dimes per game.
Recommendation: Solid 3-point specialist in 12-team category leagues, but not enough upside for points formats.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (15%)- NAW has been electrifying in both the Summer League and preseason and has played himself into the regular-season rotation. Rewind a couple months and you can hear Pelicans GM David Griffin talking about he doesn’t anticipate NAW having a big role, but the rookie has been too good to take off the floor. In just 18.5 minutes per game in the preseason, he averaged 15.4 points, 4.0 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 2.8 triples with an absurd 31.4% usage rate. For context, that puts him 9th in the preseason ahead of guys like Russell Westbrook (30.4%) and Trae Young (30%). Translation: The Pelicans are going to let him run the show for the second unit.
The Pelicans will have to play smaller to begin the year with Zion Williamson (knee) sidelined, allowing NAW to likely be the first guard off the bench with minutes at both backcourt slots. If he approaches 25 minutes, and I think he will sooner rather than later, there will be a lot of fantasy value to be had here. He’s on most of my rosters, but some patience will be needed to open the year as the reality is that he’s playing behind a starting backcourt of MVP candidate Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball.
Recommendation: Must-own stash with some standalone value in 12-team leagues. Doubles as one of the best handcuffs in fantasy basketball for anyone with Jrue Holiday shares.
Ish Smith: (26%)
Washington’s roster is a dumpster fire outside of Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant, but we can still extract some value from a guy like Ish Smith with John Wall (Achilles) expected to sit out the season and Isaiah Thomas (thumb) still waiting for the Brinks Truck. All signs point to Smith starting on opening night, and while a youth movement is inevitable at some point around the new year, Smith will have two to three months of numbers that might be comparable to a guy like Ricky Rubio. His stat set is pretty boring with a shaky 3-point jumper, but two things we can know he can do is facilitate and come up with steals — he averages 7.0 dimes and 1.3 steals for his career. It will take a lot of willpower to log in every day to see Ish Smith looking back at you in your lineup, but you could do worse with your last roster spot if you’re not one of those managers who likes to stash upside.
Recommendation: Low-end asset in 12-14 team leagues.
Jarrett Culver (32%)- I have a lot of NAW and Culver shares, two rookies that look like top-5 players in this class. The latter has flown completely under the radar after skipping Summer League, but the secret is finally out. Like we heard all summer, the Wolves used him all over the floor during the preseason and that includes some reps as the backup PG. The thing I like about Culver is that he doesn’t have any holes in his game and has the potential to be a serious stat stuffer with 18.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.0 dimes, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.1 triples per 36 minutes.
The Wolves are leaning towards starting Jake Layman this season, but that will allow Culver to run the show for the second unit. Besides, the more minutes he plays without Andrew Wiggins on the floor the better. Culver will begin the season with minutes in the low 20s, but by January I think there’s some top-75 upside here as his minutes start trending towards 30. And who knows, maybe the Wolves throw the towel on Wiggins since he hasn’t lived up to all the manufactured hype from the offseason. Sorry Minnesota, if you want to move Wiggins you’re going to have to attach draft compensation.
Recommendation: Must-own stash with standalone value in +/- 20 minutes to begin the year.
Kent Bazemore (35%)- People are quick to forget that Bazemore was on pace for some serious value in Atlanta last season before the Hawks pulled the rug from under him in favor of a youth movement. Now he’s in Portland on a team that has playoff aspirations in the wide-open West, so minutes should be aplenty. Early indications are that Rodney Hood will start at small forward, something that probably won’t stick since that’s a recipe for disaster on the defensive end — Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum aren’t exactly plus defenders.
Throwing Bazemore in there instead of Hood makes too much sense because he’s a low-usage player and cover a lot of ground on defense as evidenced by his steal and deflection rates. In short, if Bazemore can carve out a role with minutes in the high 20s I think he’ll be a top-100 player in category leagues. In his 35 starts last season, Bazemore averaged a respectable 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 dimes, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.7 triples in 28.4 minutes. He could be a poor man’s Robert Covington if the minutes are there.
Recommendation: Worth a roster spot in 12-team leagues
Dwayne Bacon (18%)- I live in the Charlotte area and I can’t explain to you just how much buzz there is in the air as fans wait in anticipation of watching Bacon, Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller. Ok maybe that’s mean, but often times fantasy basketball is more about opportunity than talent and that’s the case with Bacon. This is a player who is allergic to defensive stats apparently, but the Hornets have talked him up as their No. 2 option on offense and he’s going to have some playmaking opportunities too.
His preseason was nothing to write home about with 13.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 dimes and 0.8 triples in 25 minutes, but keep in mind that he’s projected to easily eclipse 30+ minutes. Based on sheer volume alone, he should crack the top-150.
Recommendation: Low-end asset in 12-14 team leagues.
Derrick Jones Jr. (4%): Here’s a guy that was essentially free in fantasy drafts and a favorite last-round option of mine. DJJ has generated more offseason hype than any Heat player not named Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo, and coach Erik Spoelstra can’t stop talking him up. James Johnson is in the doghouse for showing up to camp out of shape, so DJJ has run away with his job as the first forward off the bench for Miami. He’s looking at minutes in the mid-20s to begin the year, and that should be enough for him to churn out value as a steals and blocks specialist with some untapped upside to go with it — for the first time in his career he has a respectable jumper after taking so many shots that his wrist was sore this summer.
If the Heat are active in the trade market like they are rumored to be, they could free up more playing time for DJJ. If that happens, look out — he had per-36 averages of 13.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 dimes, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks and 0.9 triples in a low-usage role last season.
Recommendation: Solid glue guy for 12-team category leagues.
Norman Powell (15%)- In Toronto’s final preseason game the Raptors gave us a glimpse of their regular-season rotation and it’s very clear that Powell is going to be a big part of their plans. He’s expected to come off the bench behind Fred VanVleet most nights, but there will be matchups in which he likely starts too. Powell has had a couple rocky seasons after his standout rookie year, but he has found the same momentum that he showed us in the playoffs last season. In just 20.1 minutes this preseason, Powell has averaged 15.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.3 dimes and 3.0 triples. He also offers some upside in defensive stats too with 1.3 steals and 0.4 blocks per 36 minutes for his career. Kawhi Leonard’s departure has opened up so much value in Toronto, and OG Anunoby and FVV aren’t the only beneficiaries.
Recommendation: Worth owning in 12-team leagues unless he stumbles out of the gate.
Matisse Thybulle (3%)- I could tell you that the 76ers are already calling him their next Robert Covington and that would be enough reason to pick him up. Thybulle has left Zhaire Smith in the dust this preseason and is now the first wing off the bench for Philly. His historic steal/block rates in college (4.5 steals and 2.9 blocks per 40 minutes) are translating seamlessly, as he averaged 7.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.4 dimes, 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks in just 19.1 minutes this preseason. The thing about Roto leagues is that every category counts the same, so if a guy is going to flirt with 2-3 steals a night it will carry the same weight as a guy who can get you 25-30 points. On the back of his steal and block totals alone, Thybulle could have some serious value this season and he’s widely available.
Recommendation: Must-own player in category leagues, but not enough counting stat upside for points formats.
Mo Bamba (29%)- I wasn’t expecting much from Mo Bamba this season with Orlando throwing a pile of cash at Nikola Vucevic this summer, but the No. 6 pick in the 2018 Draft is making up for lost time after a stress reaction in his leg cut his rookie season short. Bamba has had some “general soreness” in his leg which makes me wonder if he could handle a full workload if Vucevic gets hurt, but he’s projected to get 18-20 minutes compared to 28-30 for Vucevic and that’s enough for Bamba to flirt with top-100 numbers on the back of his elite block rate and improving 3-point shot.
In 17.6 minutes across six preseason games, Bamba put up 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.5 triples, numbers that nearly cracked the top-50 for the preseason (h/t Basketball Monster). If any player is going to break out in Mitchell Robinson-like fashion, Bamba and Robert Williams come to mind.
Recommendation: Worth owning in 12-team leagues.
Richaun Holmes (3%)- I’ve been on #TeamHolmes since his Philly days and there’s a chance he’s about to get the largest opportunity of his career. I’m legitimately concerned about the health of Harry Giles’ knee, and based on coach Luke Walton’s comments, I’d be shocked if he played before December. That means Dewayne Dedmon and his glass ankles are the only things standing in Holmes’ way. Despite being signed at a fraction of the cost of Dedmon, Holmes looks like the superior talent and better fit with the team and he’s drawn praise from the players, coaching staff and media. Holmes was churning out mid-round value for several stretches last season with just 18 minutes per game, so imagine what he could do if he flirts with 25. I’m taking a flier on him in a lot of spots and think you should too.
And since I’ll never pass up an opportunity to point out someone’s per 36 stats, here’s Holmes numbers this preseason: 15.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks. Give the people what they want, Sacramento.
Robert Williams (7%)- The “Time Lord” has lost a lot of steam with Daniel Theis winning the starting center job in Boston, and he was recently placed in the concussion protocol as well. Once cleared, he’s going to be part of a three-headed monster at center, and it sounds like Enes Kanter may still get the bulk of the center minutes. That makes Williams more of a stash to begin the year, at least until teams pick-and-roll Kanter to death and force coach Brad Stevens to change things up.
If you’re wondering why anyone would stash a player that is part of a 3-man committee, it’s because his 5.4 blocks per 36 minutes would’ve comfortably led the NBA last season if he saw enough minutes to qualify. Plus, he’s a better playmaker than he’s given credit for with Al Horford taking him under his wing last year (he had a couple dimes per game during Summer League).
Recommendation: Luxury stash in 12-team leagues if you can coast into fantasy playoffs.
Daniel Theis (3%)- Let’s stick around in Boston a bit longer and talk about Theis. He’s an undersized center but he knows the system and coach Brad Stevens says he trusts him on both ends of the court. I don’t think the Celtics can throw him out there against the Joel Embiid’s of the NBA, so his starting spot probably isn’t matchup proof. He also has some legitimate health concerns with his knee, leading me to believe he can only handle a small workload. That said, if he’s going to hold onto the job you have to respect his all-around fantasy game. He averaged 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 dimes, 2.0 blocks, 1.0 steals and 1.0 triples in his two starts last season, so if you’re in need of a big he could be a sneaky pickup.
Recommendation: Worth owning in 12-14 team leagues to see if he can hold onto job.
Nerlens Noel (27%)- If you’re in the mood to stash a lottery ticket on the end of your bench, then look no further. Steven Adams is obviously a huge roadblock right now, but he’s also the latest name on OKC’s trade block as they continue their rebuild. The market for Adams doesn’t appear to be too big for Adams right now given OKC’s demands, but maybe that changes once the deadline gets closer. Noel will be limited to minutes in the teens unless a trade goes down, but offers league-winning upside if he’s finally freed for his upside in rebounds, FG%, blocks and steals (11.1 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.2 steals per 36 minutes and that’s not a typo).
Recommendation: Lottery-ticket stash for 12-team leagues.
PJ Washington (12%)- Just a little over a month ago the Hornets were already planning Washington’s trips to the G League, but after a monster training camp and preseason showing, the rookie is the clear favorite to start at PF on opening night. He has some Paul Millsap to his game as a do-it-all PF, and it helps that he plays for the most talent-starved team in the NBA. He averaged 12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 dimes, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.6 triples in just 25 minutes in the preseason, and his path to value is as good as it can get. There’s a real chance he has the third most fantasy value on this team behind Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges.
Kendrick Nunn: (7%)- Any time a player casually drops 40 points you have to give it attention, preseason or not. Dion Waiters is Breaking Bad and can’t stay out of trouble or in shape, and Nunn’s emergence may speed up Miami’s incentive to dump Goran Dragic. There may not be enough minutes for standalone value initially, but he has the talent to make noise this year and just needs the opportunity. As Mike Gallagher would say, the Summer League matters and Nunn’s momentum is not stopping.
Anfernee Simons (6%)- When your team president calls you the most gifted player he’s ever drafted, you can’t ignore that. Plus, Damian Lillard has already called him the future of the Blazers. He didn’t get much time next to Dame or CJ McCollum in the preseason, so at least initially it looks like he’s going to be limited to minutes in the teens. He always produces when he gets an opportunity and I’m not just talking about the Summer League or preseason — don’t forget his 37-point gem in the season finale.
Christian Wood (2%)- My Twitter doubles as a Jaren Jackson Jr. and Christian Wood fan account, so I was hyped to hear that Wood made Detroit’s final roster. He made Thon Maker look like a G League player this preseason and if coach Dwane Casey is smart he’ll give Wood the backup center job. What I’ll be looking for is whether or not the Pistons give him any burn next to Andre Drummond, as that’s his ticket to solid fantasy value this season.