By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The All-Star break is over. Two-thirds of the season is in the rear view, and teams have between 24 (Pistons) and 29 (Lakers, Timberwolves, Wizards) games remaining. As we return from the break, it’s a good time to zoom out a little and focus on which waiver prospects can be major difference-makers through the stretch run.
For this week’s article, we’re taking the long view instead of just focusing on short-term injuries or riding the current waves.
Jerami Grant, Denver Nuggets (49 percent rostered)
Daniel Theis, Boston Celtics (40 percent rostered)
De’Anthony Melton, Memphis Grizzlies (10 percent rostered)
Every season, there are a few massive, post-ASB breakouts who become season-defining fantasy adds. There are always exceptions, but I generally think of two primary archetypes that those post-ASB breakout players fit in. Grant, Theis, and Melton strike me as the players most likely to emerge from the first of those archetypes.
All three players have important real-basketball roles on playoff-bound or playoff-hopeful teams. At a point in the season when some teams start to engage in hanky-panky — the Lakers and Bucks may start resting players, the bottom-dwellers lean into the tank — the Nuggets, Celtics, and Grizzlies are all trying to win every game.
All three players have steady roles but could reasonably see their workloads increase. Grant averages just 22.9 minutes when Paul Millsap is healthy, Theis averages 22.9 minutes on the season, and Melton has averaged 20.7 minutes since joining the regular rotation at the start of December.
All three have multiple possible avenues to increased minutes. Though Millsap and Grant play rarely together, the Nuggets are +56.3 points per 100 possessions with them together. Also, Millsap could get hurt again, or the Nuggets could lean on Grant more to preserve Millsap’s health for the postseason. Theis plays more when Enes Kanter is hurt, but Kanter can’t keep up with some teams, so Theis could earn a bigger load even with a healthy Kanter (this happened in the last few games before the break). The Grizzlies’ net rating is double-digit-positive in all of their most frequent lineups that feature Melton, and as a combo guard, he can benefit from injuries to multiple different players.
And, probably most importantly, all three have a demonstrated history of fantasy viability, albeit for limited timeframes. Grant was a top-80 player overall last season and put up top-40 play for a month from early January to early February. For three weeks last month, Theis was a top-40 player (Kanter missed five of those 11 games). Melton reached the top-90 in his first 20 games after entering the rotation, despite scoring less than 10 points per game and averaging less than 20 minutes.
If you want to swing on a high-risk, high-reward potential breakout, the following three are my top targets:
Damion Lee, Golden State Warriors (19%)
Kevin Porter Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers (19%)
Bruce Brown, Detroit Pistons (20%)
The second common archetype of the post-ASB breakout is the young player on a tanking team. As with the first archetype, one of the big things we’re looking for is some track record of fantasy success, even if only for a short period.
Though it is weird to say, the Warriors have virtually clinched a bottom-two record — the Cavs are the only team with a chance of catching them in the loss column. My favorite Warriors pickup right now is Marquese Chriss (58%), but he’s too widely rostered for our purposes. Lee was one of the big trade deadline winners, with the Warriors shipping out most of their wing depth just two weeks after signing Lee to a three-year deal. Lee is starting and averaging 30.2 minutes per game since getting his new contract. While his production is inconsistent, his ceiling is massive. He has at least 18 points in four of his last 14 games, and he can go off as a passer, rebounder, or three-point shooter at any time. His minutes could continue to rise.
Meanwhile, Porter has been a revelation since returning from an ankle injury, averaging 16.1 points in just 27.7 minutes over his last seven games. There is probably an upper limit to how much the Cavs will play their 19-year-old rookie, but he has proven he can contribute. With the season over and a new coach down the stretch, they’re probably going to give Porter as many opportunities as they can without risking injury.
The Pistons gave up on Reggie Jackson, and they’re going to throw in the towel on the whole season soon. That should free up a ton of minutes for Bruce Brown, a 23 year old sophomore who has had a few promising runs when other guards were injured. He’s played at least 30 minutes in 24 games this season, averaging 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.6 steals in those. His role should now stabilize, allowing more consistent minutes going forward.
Other Top Adds:
Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors (29%)
Powell will miss at least a few more games as he recovers from a broken left finger, but the most recent reports indicate that he is getting close. He shoots with his right hand, so I’m not worried about the injury harming his ability to produce once he returns. He’s averaging 15.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.0 threes, and 1.3 steals in 28.2 minutes with a 50-40-84 shooting split this season. That’s excellent production, good for the top-65 per game this season. He’s been dropped in most leagues after missing 17 of the last 28 games, and a pair of bad games right before the finger injury depressed many managers’ enthusiasm about his eventual return.
But we’re talking about a guy who could provide all-leagues auto-start production the rest of the way and who seems likely to play at least 80% of his team’s remaining games. He became a consistent part of the Raptors rotation by New Year’s Eve, and he hasn’t taken a game off since — he had two multi-game injuries, but has no rest games or one-off injuries.
Dewayne Dedmon, Atlanta Hawks (47%)
Dedmon has limited appeal, but his next few weeks could literally determine some fantasy championships. Dedmon is best for roto managers who need help in blocks, and there are a few circumstances in which he’s not even worth a short-term add. That said, Clint Capela (foot) will miss several weeks, leaving Dedmon with a starting role and a significant minutes load for at least the next six games (a two-week absence; 24% of the Hawks remaining schedule) and possibly a lot longer (the Hawks have 16 games over their next five weeks, 64% of their remaining schedule).
Here’s a rough breakdown of who should and should not add Dedmon right now:
DO add Dedmon if you are a playoff bubble team in a head-to-head league
DO NOT add Dedmon if you’re H2H playoff spot is already safe
DO add Dedmon if you’re in a roto league and need help in blocks, rebounds, and/or free throw percentage
DO NOT add Dedmon if you are in a roto league and don’t need blocks
DO NOT add Dedmon if you are in a roto league and you are vulnerable in points
Other recommendations: Trevor Ariza, Trail Blazers (27 percent rostered); Harry Giles, Kings (1 percent rostered)