The NBA season has finally started, and that means that your fantasy team is ready to begin accumulating stats and working its way towards the title. The draft will certainly play a huge role in your ultimate success or failure, but it won’t be the only determining factor.
Many leagues will be won by the team that makes the best decisions on the waiver wire, where every year someone breaks out and turns the fantasy world upside down. Last year, it was under-the-radar players like Gorgui Dieng, Jae Crowder, and Marvin Williams who helped their fantasy teams bring home the title.
While astute waiver pickups can be made all year long, right now is a great time to snag a hot pickup off the wire. Coaches spend preseason tinkering with their lineups and trying new things, but now that the games count, they will go with what they are most comfortable with and players will settle into more defined roles.
Here are some things to look for when assessing potential waiver-wire additions:
More Minutes, More Stats
Per-minute efficiency is a fantastic thing, and that 7th or 8th man that comes in and gives their team a boost can make a world of difference in real life, but for fantasy purposes, a player generally needs to be getting solid minutes in order to be relevant (with the exception of super deep leagues).
You can’t rack up stats on the bench, after all. However, this is the time of year when we see players minutes shift. Some players, like Jusuf Nurkic of the Denver Nuggets Nuggets, will almost certainly see more minutes now that he is a starter, and that should put him firmly on everyone’s radar.
Others, like Jose Calderon, will see a reduction in minutes as he transitions into a bench role with the Los Angeles Lakers. Calderon’s value was already shaky last season, but now it’s virtually non-existent since he is playing behind D’Angelo Russell.
Early season stats can be deceiving due to the small sample size, but keep an eye on minutes played. If a historically productive player is consistently seeing an uptick in their time on the court, he may be one to pounce on.
The Times Are A’ Changing
Similar to seeing a minutes increase, it’s early in the season that we will often see a player’s role shift, which can positively or negatively impact their stats.
Jeremy Lin is a great example of this. Last year with the Charlotte Hornets he put up solid, if unspectacular numbers. His minutes were solid at 26.3 per game, but as Kemba Walker’s backup and sometimes running mate, Lin wasn’t asked to create as much for teammates as he traditionally would, leading to just three assists per game.
Now, with the talent-starved Brooklyn Nets, Lin will not only play more minutes, but the entire offense will run through him (and Brook Lopez). Ca-ching! That’s fantasy gold.
It’s doubtful that Lin is sitting on your league’s waiver wire, but keep an eye out for players like him, who will be asked to do more this season than they have previously (fellow Net Trevor Booker would fit this category as well). You may just find a diamond in the rough.
Time To Grow
Players evolve as they age, and most all spend their summers looking to add a new wrinkle to their games. You never know when someone will see an improvement in a surprising category. Last season, Al Horford added the three-point shot to his repertoire, hitting 1.1 per game after barely making any in his previous eight seasons. In the end, it didn’t change Horford’s overall value too much because his field goal percentage slipped as he added shots from farther out, but getting those threes does change the equation when constructing a roster.
When watching the waiver wire, look out for guys who suddenly see an uptick in a category. For example, I’ll be watching Dante Exum closely. He isn’t on the fantasy radar because he missed all of last season with an injury and was a non-factor on offense the year before that. At just 21 years old, he will get better and did look more polished at times in the preseason. If he can earn some minutes playing next to George Hill he could become fantasy relevant.
I wrote about Robert Covington last week, but he is another guy to keep tabs on, and already started the season with a strong game one performance.
Coaches can make a big difference in fantasy basketball. While they don’t rack up the stats themselves, the offense, defense, and even more importantly, the pace the game is played at makes a huge difference in the statistical output of players.
Teams that play at a fast pace, like the Houston Rockets under Mike D’Antoni, have more possessions and therefore more opportunities to accumulate stats. When browsing the waiver wire, you have to take those extra possessions into account. Minutes are important, but they don’t tell the whole story about a player’s opportunities to put up fantasy stats.
Nothing sends people racing to the waiver wire faster than an injury. After all, someone has to play the minutes vacated by the tragically injured, and you might as well be the fantasy team to benefit from the resulting increased production.
However, the key is that you have to identify candidates early, so when news of an injury breaks you know exactly who you are going to pick up. In this day and age, with Basketball Twitter providing info in real time, the minute it takes to sneak a peak at a depth chart could be the difference between snagging the suddenly-valuable free agent and missing out on a guy who could lead you to a title.
What you are looking for is players with plenty of talent who could put up big numbers if given the opportunity. Tim Frazier of the New Orleans Pelicans is a great example. Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans’ starting point guard, is out indefinitely tending to his wife, who just had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. Understandably, Holiday won’t be playing to start the season, and Frazier is going to rack up tons of assists while he is out. Sure, Frazier’s stock will plummet as soon as Holiday returns, but by then he can give you a nice stack of dimes to add to your total.
Put all of these strategies together and you will be picking up the hottest free agents on the market in no time.