By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
With the NBA trade deadline just a matter of hours away, it’s time for fantasy managers to prepare for one of the most important waiver wire periods of the entire season. While it remains to be seen how many names will ultimately be on the move, the deadline is an annual indication of which path certain teams will take, as well as an opportunity for meaningful roster and rotation shake-ups.
With that in mind, fantasy managers in competitive leagues should be focusing on flexibility ahead of the deadline. Even if you’re satisfied with your current roster, the deadline could unlock opportunity for a number of players who haven’t necessarily been on the fantasy radar through the first half of the season.
Ensuring that your roster is versatile enough to make an addition or two is key, so here are a handful of players to consider dropping should a waiver wire prize or two become available in your league.
Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers (52% rostered)
Dating back to late-December, Mathurin has been on a solid run of efficient scoring, putting up 16.4 points per game on 49/39/81 shooting. If you’re in need of scoring, Mathurin is a justifiable hold, but Tyrese Haliburton is back and starting to see more minutes, which could limit Mathurin’s opportunities going forward. Haliburton jumped up to 29 minutes Tuesday night vs. Houston, while Mathurin sat out with an illness. We know Mathurin will still have his boom nights as a scorer, but he provides little else in terms of fantasy value, adding just 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game with negligible defensive stats. In points leagues, that places him as a borderline-top-150 fantasy option.
Saddiq Bey, Atlanta Hawks (50% rostered)
Bey is in the midst of a decent scoring run, so he’s by no means a must-drop, especially in deeper leagues, but the Hawks are a team that could see a roster shake-up at the deadline. Beyond that, Bey’s fantasy value is extremely scoring and three-point-dependent, and he’s been mired in a prolonged slump from deep, hitting just 26.3% of his attempts (6.2 per game) over the last 25 games. I don’t mind holding Bey as a spot starter on a four-game week, but I would also be fine dropping him in favor of a post-deadline gem with top-100 upside.
Obi Toppin, Indiana Pacers (37% rostered)
Many fantasy managers have already cut bait with Toppin, but if you’re not a part of that group, now is the time. Toppin was a borderline-roster player as a starter earlier in the season, but he’s since moved to the bench and is averaging just 9.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 0.8 combined blocks/steals since Christmas. The Pacers have already made their big splash in Pascal Siakam, so it’s unlikely that anything transpires at the deadline to dramatically improve Toppin’s fantasy upside.
Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans (53% rostered)
As a card-carrying Herb Jones supporter, this is a difficult section for me to write. Early on, Jones lived up to his billing as one of the best defensive stat producers in the NBA, approaching 3.0 blocks/steals per game through mid-December. However, those numbers have slowed down significantly over the last month-and-a-half, as Jones is providing just 0.5 steals and 0.7 blocks per game (26.1 MPG) over his last 20 appearances.
Since Dec. 13, he’s recorded multiple blocks or multiple steals only four times. Jones still offers efficient three-point shooting and a nice FG% bump, but if he’s not providing borderline-elite defensive stats, he becomes a much less appealing fantasy option.
Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic (51% rostered)
After missing nearly two months early in the season, Fultz is back in the mix but only recently returned to the starting lineup. Despite the promotion, he’s still hovering around 25 minutes per game as the Magic attempt to ease the strain on his knee. While Fultz is providing plenty of value in steals, he’s not scoring at a high rate, and his assists production has tumbled. On the year, Fultz holds a 22.4% assist rate — down from 29.8% last season and an average of 32.1% over the previous three seasons.
It’s possible that Orlando could gradually extend Fultz’s workload as the season goes on, but his lack of floor spacing for the NBA’s worst three-point shooting team is a problem. For the time being I’m OK with dropping him to grab a hotter name post-deadline.
Al Horford, Boston Celtics (51% rostered)
The veteran continues to be a valuable rotation piece for the Celtics, but he’s ultimately a borderline-top-150 player who doesn’t present a ton of upside. At his best, Horford can provide a double-double with a block or two, but those performances have been few and far between of late.
Over his last 12 games (27.7 MPG), Horford is posting 8.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 combined blocks/steals. That may be good enough to occupy a bench spot in a competitive league, but there’s little reason to believe there’s more upside coming down the stretch. While there’s always the fear that Kristaps Porziņģis could go down at any point, Horford is averaging only 8.9 points, 7.8 boards, 3.3 assists and 1.3 blocks/steals in his 12 highest-minute games of the season (34.3 MPG).
He’s also a lock to sit one half of back-to-backs, which limits his viability during the most important stretch of the fantasy season. Looking ahead, Boston has five more back-to-backs remaining on its schedule — three of those fall during the fantasy playoffs in many leagues.
Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves (45% rostered)
One of my overused phrases on radio and podcasts is I like the idea of Player X. That’s exactly how I feel about McDaniels. I like the idea of what he brings to a fantasy roster, but ultimately he’s a much more effective real-life player. Functioning as the fourth or fifth option on a talented Wolves team, McDaniels’ scoring tends to fade in and out. And while he’s an excellent wing defender, it typically hasn’t translated to elite blocks/steals numbers. Over his last 15 games, McDaniels is posting only 11.2 points, 3.1 boards, 1.7 assists and 1.2 blocks/steals per game. In most leagues, you should be able to lock down a higher-upside player on the waiver wire.