Working the waiver wire is pivotal to succeeding in fantasy basketball. With so many games, injuries and endless shifts in rotations throughout the marathon campaign, we’ll need to source stats from free agency to maximize imaginary rosters. A willingness to entertain competition for the last few spots on your fantasy hoops roster can prove rewarding. When curating this fluid collective of statistical contributors, it helps to consider your end-of-bench players in direct competition with the talent floating around in free agency.
The goal of this weekly series is to identify players at each position widely available in free agency in ESPN leagues. Some nominations are specialists capable of helping in one or two categories, while others deliver more diverse and important statistical offerings. In the breakdowns below, I’ve ordered players at each position with the priority of acquisition in mind, rather than roster percentage in ESPN leagues.
Dennis Schroder, Toronto Raptors (Rostered in 51.2% of ESPN leagues): The market is catching up to the reality that Schroder is a valuable fantasy contributor now that he’s the starting point guard for the Raptors. With 27 dimes through three games and with assists proving so difficult to source as the season matures, he’s a top addition to consider.
De’Anthony Melton, Philadelphia 76ers (18.1%): Until, or unless, James Harden rejoins this rotation, Melton figures to start for the Sixers as a valuable two-way contributor. An elite steal rate and what should be improved scoring outcomes define his value.
Max Strus, Cleveland Cavaliers (43.8%): A new deal brought Strus to Ohio, but his heat-check style honed in Miami remains; he’s averaging nearly 19 PPG while also showing up on the glass and as a secondary playmaker. It’s tough to tell if this early success is sustainable, but the start has been stellar. Teammate Caris LeVert has started well, also, but Strus seems to have more statistical diversity in his favor.
Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors (22.6%): A return to starting status combined with his awesome penchant for swiping the ball (he has at least one steal in each game thus far) drives interest in Trent’s embodiment of the 3-and-D archetype.
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks (63.3%): We often focus on players more widely available than this, but Barrett’s sizable bump in scoring and overall confidence is worthy of mention for those in shallower formats. We know the Knicks will give him every chance to succeed.
Jalen Johnson, Atlanta Hawks (22.4%): I was of the belief that one of these young forwards for the Hawks would make a leap this season, only I was mostly focused on AJ Griffin. Turns out, it’s another Duke product, as Johnson has been a revelation as an energy asset for Atlanta. A nice blend of scoring efficiency and defense (2.7 steals-plus-blocks per game) signals sustainable success for Johnson.
Xavier Tillman, Memphis Grizzlies (38.6%): With Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke sidelined by respective serious injuries, Tillman gets plenty of time to work the paint for the Grizzlies. After all, he’s approaching a double-double average and should be able to sustain big minutes most nights.
Zach Collins, San Antonio Spurs (21.9%): There is a Kelly Olynyk-like value with Collins. Which is to say, he does a bit of everything without being so dominant in any single category. An atypically high assist rate is an important part of the package.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks (31.1%): The Knickerbockers rely on Robinson’s rim protection to make up for defensive issues in other areas. There is also more reliance on Robinson to work the glass, as he’s collected 28 boards in his past two games entering the new week.
Dereck Lively II, Dallas Mavericks (16.7%): The Mavericks have been in need of a reliable lob threat for a while now, especially given the passing acumen of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Lively fits the bill and should continue to see minutes as the team’s vertical scorer and glass-cleaner.
This section focuses on specialists; players who flash in a singular category and can provide specific value to those in category and roto formats. Nominations are based on which category such players are helpful in and will rotate throughout the season.
Steals: Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls (14.2%) The Bulls still lean on Caruso as their point-of-attack bulldog. After all, he’s produced eight swipes through three outings. Washington’s Delon Wright also comes to mind.
Blocks: Ivica Zubac, LA Clippers (47.3%) Even without big minutes, Zubac sees a good deal of rim-protection moments in his time; he’s up to seven swats in three games. Washington’s Daniel Gafford, when healthy, is also a nice target for blocks.
Assists: Look to the aforementioned Schroder for help in this category. Deep league managers can consider Indiana’s Andrew Nembhard.
3-pointers: Strus is lighting it up from beyond, while Detroit’s Alec Burks is a good option amid an early-season hot stretch.
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