As the season nears its end, more and more players are getting shut down, due to injury, tanking, or both. Every downed man creates opportunities, many of whom are highlighted below.
By Alex Rikleen
Special to Yahoo Sports
Richaun Holmes, PF/C, Philadelphia 76ers, 54% owned
Holmes already owned in more than 50 percent of leagues, but he’s playing too well to leave out. Over the past month, Holmes has been a top-30 player in 9-category settings, and a top-40 player in 8-category. Getting a player that good for free off the wire – or leaving him for an opponent – can be a season-defining move. At this level of production, it doesn’t matter who you have to drop to get him, since your team is probably not made up exclusively of players drafted in the first three rounds.
Nerlens Noel is a good comparison point for understanding how good Holmes has been, and not just because it was the Noel trade that opened up big minutes for Holmes. Both have similar stat profiles – players who score and rebound, and have the unusual ability to add a steal and a block every night. Noel was a top-60 player last season, and entered this season injured and facing a logjam at center, but still had an average draft position of 65th. That means just the chance at reproducing Noel’s 2015-16 campaign was valued as a sixth round pick. Holmes has been very good since the All-Star break, but he’s really stepped in up over the past few games. He played only 16 minutes due to foul trouble Wednesday, but his five games before that were excellent. Lest you accuse me of cherrypicking numbers to prove a point, Holmes’ numbers for all 15 games since the All-Star break are also listed. They aren’t as good, but they still hold up against Noel’s campaign.
Nerlens Noel, 2015-16 – 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, 0 threes, 2.4 turnovers, 52.1% FG, 59% FT
Richaun Holmes, March 12-20 – 14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.6 blocks, 0.6 threes, 1.2 turnovers, 61.5% FG, 75% FT
Richaun Holmes, post-All-Star break – 13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.4 blocks, 0.6 threes, 0.8 turnovers, 62.5% FG, 71.4% FT.
Next week’s games: at Bkn, Atl, at Cle, at Tor
Frank Kaminsky, PF/C, Charlotte Hornets, 47% owned
Kaminsky stepped into the starting lineup while Cody Zeller was injured, but then lost his starting spot by getting hurt himself. Kaminsky is now back, and though he isn’t starting, he has still averaged 32.5 minutes over his past four games. The Hornets are 3-1 with their current rotation, in which Kaminsky and starters Marvin Williams and Zeller eat up almost all of the team’s big man minutes. Kaminsky is averaging 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.5 threes during that stretch. The Hornets are only 2.5 games out of the last playoff spot, and two of those last three wins were against Eastern Conference playoff teams – so they seem unlikely to fiddle with a rotation that is working.
Next week’s games: Mil, at Tor, Den, at OKC
Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Denver Nuggets, 35% owned
Murray’s numbers have improved over the past six games, but that’s not the only reason he’s worth paying attention to. Murray is generating a lot more excitement amongst Nuggets twitter and reddit over the past few games, especially during Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers, when he scored 15 points with three threes in 20 minutes. His minutes have increased to 23.5 over his past six games, but that still leaves a lot of room for further expansion. The blossoming enthusiasm online isn’t just fanboy optimism, it is a reaction to the growth in Murray’s game that’s occurred throughout the season. During that same six game stretch, Murray is shooting 42.4 percent from behind the arc – he shot 24.6 percent during December, and has gradually increased each month since then. Other stats from his last six games include 14.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.3 threes per game.
Next week’s games: at Por, at Cha, at Mia
Ivica Zubac, C, Los Angeles Lakers, 35% owned
Zubac was featured in this column last week, but he’s still one of the best options available. Since entering the starting lineup six games ago, he is averaging a modest 13.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks while shooting 65.5 percent from the field in 24.0 minutes. However, those numbers are depressed by an 11-minute outing where he was limited by foul trouble. Removing that game from the calculus, his averages as a starter jump to 16.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks on 64.9 percent from the field in 26.6 minutes – a solid haul for a waiver pickup. Two of his best games have come in his past three games, an indication that the 20-year-old rookie’s play is continuing to improve. He has still only appeared in 34 games, playing 10 or fewer minutes in 11 of those. Added experience and familiarity with his new role should only help further his development.
Next week’s games: Was, at Min, at LAC, Mem
Skal Labissiere, PF/C, Sacramento Kings, 26% owned
We now live in a world where calling someone “a poor man’s Willie Cauley-Stein” can be meant as a compliment. As odd as sounds, if Holmes and Cauley-Stein are unavailable, Labissiere is a reasonably suitable surrogate. Labissiere is far worse defensively than those two, but, like them, has about as many blocks as steals. Labissiere has barely played 300 minutes this season, but his per-36 stats are strong, at 19.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks. He’s started seeing more minutes after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last month, and he’s seen an even bigger role over the past two weeks. Labissiere’s last six games are all among his top eight for minutes, and he reached 30 minutes twice in the last four.
Next week’s games: Mem, Uta, at NO, at Min
Denzel Valentine, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls, 19% owned
The Bulls recently shut down Dwyane Wade, and Valentine is one of the biggest beneficiaries of that decision. Paul Zipser, who is also worth waiver consideration, has also benefited after entering the starting lineup for Wade, and has averaged 13.5 points in 35.0 minutes in his new role. While Zipser may have seen the biggest boost, Valentine remains the better fantasy option. Valentine stared seeing extra work earlier this month, and is now averaging 28.7 minutes over his last six games. His low scoring and inefficient field goal shooting may be a problem for some managers, but he is making a ton of threes. He’s averaging 2.3 threes in his last six games, while also adding 9.3 points and 2.3 assists.
Net week’s games: Cle, Atl, at NO
Mindaugus Kuzminskas, SF/PF, New York Knicks, 1% owned
Carmelo Anthony (knee) and Lance Thomas (hip) sat out Thursday, opening the door for Kuzminskas to enter the starting lineup. He put up a productive 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and one steal while going 2-5 from behind the arc and 6-6 from the free-throw line. Nothing about Anthony’s injury sounds like he would require multiple days off, but the Knicks announced Tuesday that they were planning on limiting Anthony’s minutes for the remainder of the season. If they do that by giving him a couple of DNPs, then each missed game will be a big opportunity for Kuzminskas, even if Thomas is active. When Anthony is active, even in limited minutes, Kuzminski is far less desirable. Kuzminskas is a 27-year old rookie, but he has been a bright spot for the Knicks this season.
Next week’s games: Det, Mia, at Mia, Bos
Ownership and stats are accurate as of the end of Thursday’s games
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