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By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The word of the week, finally, is “normal.” This week’s waiver wire features all types of pickups — injury replacements, reliable end-of-roster guys, high-upside risky pickups. Some options are great, some good, some “meh.” After a month dominated by either light weeks or weeks that almost exclusively featured high-variance options, it’s nice to see some normalcy return.
The schedule is wildly imbalanced this week, and the Bucks and the Hornets take a huge value hit as a result. Those two teams play only two games this week, while 20 teams play four times. In weekly leagues, that gap is huge and highly damaging to players on both teams.
To make matters worse for the Bucks and Hornets, they both play on Monday and Friday, days when there are 14 games and 11 games, respectively. Those days are so busy that daily league managers will probably be forced to leave some active players on the bench, meaning waiver wire targets might not make starting lineups.
The league is very busy on Monday (14 games), Wednesday (12), and Friday (11), and very quiet on Tuesday (1) and Thursday (3). The Mavericks are the only team with a game on both Tuesday and Thursday, making them a high-value target in daily lineups leagues.
The players below are listed in the order I’d recommend adding them.
As always, this article will focus on players available in at least 50 percent of leagues.
Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors (52 percent rostered)
Breaking the rules a little here, but Powell is close enough to 50% that I wanted to call him out. In his first two games since returning after a three-week absence, he’s averaging 21.5 points, 3.5 threes, and 2.5 rebounds in 29.0 minutes. That kind of production simply shouldn’t be available on waivers. He’s been a top-80 player per game this season.
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets (35 percent)
Rostering Porter has been frustrating — there’s no denying it. But there is also no denying that this dude can play. He’s scored at least 18 points every time he’s played more than 21 minutes. Per-36, he’s averaging 20.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.1 threes, and 1.2 blocks, and he’s finally played enough minutes that we can take those per-36 averages somewhat seriously. He’s averaging 54% from the field and 41% from behind the arc. He’s really good, and the early returns indicate that his game is very fantasy-friendly.
There are just two problems. First, coach Mike Malone keeps toying with his minutes. Porter was barely in the rotation at all until the last three weeks. He’s seen an uptick since then, but he’s also had games with 11, 12, 14 and three minutes since New Year’s Eve.
Second, though Porter is personally capable of putting up some good defensive stats for fantasy, the team defense clearly suffers when he plays. Looking at the Nuggets’ on/off stats, the team’s defensive rating is worse when Porter plays. And the team’s stats are even worse when Porter plays alongside Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets’ defensive rating when they play together would be second-worst in the NBA. Coach Malone said on Thursday that Porter will play every night moving forward but he notably did not specify whether Porter’s workload would have any kind of consistency.
Nonetheless, Porter is making it harder and harder to justify keeping him on the bench. Back-to-back games of at least 28 minutes are a great sign. The upside is so high that it’s time to add him in pretty much all leagues, even though it might be a bumpy ride for a bit longer.
Luke Kornet, Chicago Bulls (8%)
Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle) is out at least three more weeks. Daniel Gafford (thumb) — who was my top recommended pickup when Carter went first went down — is out for at least the next two weeks. Lauri Markkanen (ankle) is banged up, though he’s not expected to miss any time. Kornet (thumb) is also playing through a minor injury, but he saw 35 minutes despite the same injury designation in their last game. With so much of the Bulls frontcourt injured, Kornet should have a huge role for the next two weeks. Kornet isn’t the best player (for fantasy or for reality) but his workload during this stretch is likely to be so high that his ability almost doesn’t matter. He’ll probably provide solid points and rebounds, above-average assists for a big, and very good blocks and threes numbers.
Jarrett Culver (41%) and Shabazz Napier (17%), Minnesota Timberwolves
Culver and Napier are the big winners of Thursday’s blockbuster Jeff Teague trade. Ok, maybe it was more like a Red Box trade. Either way, the Timberwolves shipped out Teague and Treveon Graham, who were averaging a combined 48.8 minutes per game, and got basically squadoosh in return.
In addition to the vacated minutes, Teague and Graham combined for 18.2 points, 7.0 assists, 14.8 shots and 5.1 three-point attempts per game. Allen Crabbe, who comes back to Minnesota in the deal, probably soaks up some of those minutes and three-point attempts, but he has virtually no passing skills and will probably see only limited (read: less than 20, maybe less than 15) minutes off the bench. If you’re going to argue that this trade makes any sense for the Timberwolves — which, I’d recommend you don’t — then a hefty part of your case will have to rely on the idea that the trade opens up a bigger role for Culver and Napier, and that it allows Andrew Wiggins to reclaim some of his early season distribution responsibilities.
Culver is a massive drain in field-goal and free-throw percentage, averaging 40% and 44%, respectively. But he’s putting up decent numbers, averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks since entering the starting lineup just after Christmas. He’s best for a team that is already punting one or both percentage category, but he still has a lot of value and upside, especially in keeper or dynasty leagues. He’s also averaged 31.7 minutes over the last nine games, so there isn’t much upward mobility left in that department.
That’s why Napier also warrants attention here. Napier was also starting for most of the last month, but he was only playing 26.4 minutes, so there’s still room for improvement there. He’s more of a traditional PG — a very good passer, good three-point shooter, bad FG% and good FT%. Napier scores in bunches, which is a blessing and a curse. He had four-straight games of at least 20 points two weeks ago and then followed that up with single-digit outings in his next three. Assuming he gets more court time following this trade, that should elevate his points floor.
Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies (45%)
Brooks has shown up in this column a few times this season, but it’s been a while since he got a full blurb. Brooks has been so steady this season, and that’s likely to continue, even as De’Anthony Melton earns a larger role. Brooks is averaging 28.0 minutes this season, and that workload has slowly increased with time — he’s seen more court time with every passing month, and he’s up to 29.3 in January. He has his off games, but a player averaging 15.1 points and 2.1 threes with a reliable workload is worth rostering.
Other recommendations: Jordan McRae, Wizards (40 percent rostered); Tim Hardaway Jr., Mavericks (38 percent rostered); Thaddeus Young, Bulls (44 percent rostered); Darius Garland, Cavaliers (49 percent rostered); Eric Gordon, Rockets (44 percent rostered); Sekou Doumbouya, Pistons (35 percent rostered); Cedi Osman, Cavaliers (28 percent rostered); Mike Muscala, Thunder (5 percent rostered); Glenn Robinson III, Warriors (30 percent rostered); Nerlens Noel, Thunder (36 percent rostered); JaVale McGee, Lakers (44 percent rostered); Duncan Robinson, Heat (38 percent rostered); Maxi Kleber, Mavericks (41 percent rostered)