Welcome to my final Waiver Wired column of the season. Jared Johnson will be here next Sunday with the finale, but by then, most championships should have already been decided. In any case, with just a week and a half left, I’m going to focus on the players with a games-played advantage. The Timberwolves play five games this week and then two in the finale, giving them the league-lead with seven games. The Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Thunder, Blazers and Spurs each have six games remaining, while most of the rest of the league has five games left on the schedule. If you’re simply looking for players to avoid, the Clippers and Suns only have four games left on the year.
7 Games – Timberwolves
6 Games – Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Thunder, Blazers, Spurs
5 Games – All the rest
4 Games – Clippers & Suns
So knowing the games-played scenario, let’s focus on the seven teams with six or seven games and the players that might be available in your league.
Kris Dunn – The guard has been playing a ton of shooting guard and racking up steals at an amazing pace. He’s averaging 8.8 points, 4.2 boards, 1.8 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 29 minutes over his last five games. He might be ready to fully blow up this week and is as must-own as they come right now. The emergence of Dunn and return of Omri Casspi has ruined Shabazz Muhammad, who has played a total of 19 minutes over his last two games. And at this point, neither of those guys look like they’re worth a shot given their low minutes each night. Brandon Rush has been starting, but isn’t doing much with his minutes, so the pickups report for Minny starts and ends with Dunn. Just make sure Gorgui Dieng isn’t somehow floating around on your waiver wire.
J.R. Smith – Smith hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 points with four rebounds, a steal and a block on Friday, and might finally be ready to step up for the Cavs. He’s impossible to trust, but with the games factored in, he should be owned down the stretch. Iman Shumpert is getting minutes, but I’d only use him if the Cavs are resting guys. And if they do give Kevin Love a day off, Channing Frye looks like a strong pickup after scoring 12 points with a couple treys in just 16 minutes on Friday. And if Tristan Thompson’s not owned in your league, it’s time to move on him.
Seth Curry’s shoulder is jacked up and the Mavs are talking about resting some of their senior citizens. Therefore, Dorian Finney-Smith, Salah Mejri, Yogi Ferrell and even J.J. Barea could be turned loose sooner than later. Ferrell is the guy I want to own here, but I wouldn’t mind taking a flier on DFS or JJB, as well. And maybe, just maybe, Dwight Powell gets some pop.
Good news: Nuggets fighting for playoff lives. Bad news: They’ve got a traffic jam at nearly every position, and if they lose a couple games, they may give up and tank. Jameer Nelson hopes to play on Sunday but is dealing with a calf injury. If he can’t go, Jamal Murray is your guy. If Nelson plays, he’ll be worth owning if the Nuggets can stay in the hunt. Maybe Kenneth Faried is available in your league, given all his injury woes. Faried played 32 minutes on Friday and hit 9-of-17 shots for 18 points, 13 boards, a steal and a block. Faried is about the last guy I expected to be hot late, but it appears to be happening. If the Nuggets are eliminated (they’re 2.0 games out, so chances of them making the playoffs are slim), Juancho Hernangomez will become a serious threat, Miles Plumlee could bust loose and even Emmanuel Mudiay might be trusted again. Hernangomez (along with Mindaugas Kuzminskas) is my pick for the “steal of Week 25” if Danilo Gallinari is shut down.
The Thunder have been the all-Russ, all-the-time team for some time now, but maybe they’ll give him a one-game break before the playoff run starts. Or maybe not. Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter should already be owned in all leagues and the only other players worth consideration are Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis, and it’s possible that Adams may have been dropped in your league. Alexis Abrines will be worth a shot if Westbrook sits, but the only must-own possibility here is Adams, if someone dropped him.
With Jusuf Nurkic’s (leg) dreamy regular season now over, the road is clear for guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh, Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard to all be worth owning. Aminu is hot and played 26 minutes on Saturday for 12 points, six boards, three steals and a 3-pointer. Vonleh bounced back from a dud with 12 points, 13 boards and two steals in 35 minutes, and Leonard started and played 22 minutes. His line would have looked better had he hit more than 1-of-5 shots and he finished with just seven points, four boards and a steal. Harkless is kind of hot right now and hit 5-of-8 shots for 13 points, four boards, two assists and a block on Saturday, but Evan Turner came off the bench for 18 points, two steals, a block and two 3-pointers in 26 minutes. That makes both Turner and Harkless tricky, but in my mind, with all the games in their future, all of them should be owned.
We haven’t been able to trust any Spurs not named Kawhi all season long and I doubt that’s going to change anytime soon. But you have to think that Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Danny Green and Pau Gasol might all be due for a day off soon. If it happens, the guys who will emerge are Jonathan Simmons, David Lee, Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson and Dewayne Dedmon will all likely have one or two big games before this is all said and done. I don’t know that I’d have the guts to pick any of them up, but Mills has played well enough all season to be given a six-game look.
Others to consider if games played don’t matter:
Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Ross, Andre Iguodala, Ish Smith, Buddy Hield, Ersan Ilyasova, Willy Hernangomez, Rajon Rondo, Taurean Prince, Larry Nance, Brandon Ingram, Thomas Robinson, David Nwaba, Timothe Luwawu-Carroll, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes, Nik Stauskas, Shawn Long.