• Hey Hoop Ballers! Welcome back to another edition of Deep League Digging – my weekly column scouring the darkest reaches of the fantasy NBA landscape in search of diamonds in the rough for deep league owners.

    It has been awhile since we embarked on a good old fashion dive into waiver wire, so that is exactly where we are headed today. There have been a multitude of injuries (it feels worse than normal this season) that have made some pretty serious waves across standard leagues. Of course, those standard league waves percolate down and shift the deep-league landscape as well.

    It wasn’t long ago that we talked about Spencer Dinwiddie as a strong deep league add candidate following the Jeremy Lin injury. Now he is a locked in top-100 player (D’Angelo Russell injury obviously helped his stock as well). My point being – diligence on the waiver wire in deep leagues can pay off in spades when you combine that with a few lucky breaks for a player.

    As always, I’ll be focusing on players that are less than 5 percent owned, since that is roughly the level of player available in leagues with 16-teams or more. I am trying to cover everything from 16-team leagues to 30-team leagues, so consider your league size before acting on any analysis presented. If a player is must-own in 30-team leagues, that may only translate to streaming value in 16-team formats. Conversely, if a player is roster-worthy in 16-team formats, it is generally safe to consider them a must-own player in larger leagues. I try to spell that out as much as possible below, but I do need to float that quick disclaimer first.

    With all that said, let’s survey the deep-league horizons and see if we can peg the next rising star.

    Must Adds

    Jarrett Allen (5% owned) – There is a chance that Allen may have been preemptively dropped following the news that Jahlil Okafor would be traded to the Brooklyn Nets. While Allen does lose some of his shine with another young big man in the rotation, I still believe that he ends up holding on to at least a 20-25 minute role even with Okafor in the picture – that is enough for him to retain a top-150 ceiling. Rather than seeing Allen or Okafor take the starting job outright, this will likely develop more into a timeshare that fluctuates depending on matchups and who has the hot hand. Okafor is riding a massive wave of hype boasting a nearly 10 percent higher ownership rate than Allen despite playing only 25 total minutes this season. If the Allen owner in your league hit the eject button too early, your roster should serve as a safe place for him to land. On upside alone, he is a must-own player in all 16-team leagues and larger.

    David Nwaba (4% owned) – Nwaba has been fantastic since returning from an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for most of November. If you look solely at the numbers, Nwaba is a clear must-add player in deep leagues, and is probably at least worth a look in standard leagues as well. While I am big believer in his talent, I would be remiss not to point out my slight reservations with his season-long value. Denzel Valentine played well in Nwaba’s absence, though he has returned to a lesser role with Nwaba healthy, and Zach LaVine’s return could be just around the corner in January. That said, Coach Fred Hoiberg can’t seem to stop praising Nwaba, so I’m inclined to believe that he will retain at least a 20-25 minute role with LaVine healthy. If he was dropped while injured, make sure that he doesn’t languish there any longer. He should return great value while LaVine remains injured, and has the potential to finish the season as a waiver wire steal even when the Bulls are back to full strength.

    Trey Lyles (1% owned) – Lyles has been electric lately for the Nuggets off the bench, averaging 13 points, two triples and six rebounds on 53 percent shooting over the past two weeks. The good – that makes him a top-60 player in that span and he was likely sitting around even on 16-team wires. The bad – well… there is a lot to cover here, but clearly I’m not overly pessimistic on Lyles if he is being deemed must-add. The injury to Millsap opened up a tiny crack in the rotation for Lyles, but it was Nikola Jokic’s ankle injury that blew the door wide-open. Unfortunately for Lyles, Jokic is set to return later this week, which will almost certainly impact his role in the rotation. Also, he is currently shooting a ridiculous 57 percent from downtown – that won’t stick regardless of his role. I say all of that to temper expectations, but it is impossible to ignore how good he has been filling in for a battered Nugget’s frontcourt. He has earned a consistent spot in the rotation, and fits well as a stretch four next to Mason Plumlee in the reserve unit. If he sinks, I will humbly go down with my ship as captain of the S.S. Trey, but I think Lyles has a top-150 ceiling with a top-200 floor from this point on.

    Maxi Kleber (8% owned) – NOTE: When I drafted this blurb yesterday, he was under 5% owned. He is getting picked up – FAST – but I will leave this here in the event Kleber is still around.

    At this point, I don’t think it is overly aggressive to call Kleber a must-own player in all 16-team leagues and larger. Coach Rick Carlisle clearly trusts him as he continues to draw starts and earn more minutes in nearly every contest. He is averaging 29 minutes per game over his last four starts after averaging 19 minutes per contest in the four game stretch prior. He will continue to be inconsistent from night-to-night, but the potential for top-150 value going forward is there. He won’t give you much outside of boards and blocks, but he has shown that he can convert the three ball – albeit inconsistently. I would expect him to become more consistent, especially on the offensive end, as he settles in to a more comfortable spot in the rotation.

    Suggested Adds

    D.J. Augustin (3% owned) – The consummate NBA journeyman, Augustin is reminding us that his journey isn’t quite over yet. The Magic are currently without Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, while Arron Afflalo and Aaron Gordon both show up on the injury report as questionable. That opens up a window for Augustin to have an increased role for as long as the Magic are short-handed. We know who he is at this point, so there isn’t much upside, but has been a top-150 player in 25 minutes per game over the past week. He won’t keep that up, but deep-league owners needing assists and steals could do worse with a short-term add. Augustin may not be around in leagues larger than 16-teams, so look for Shelvin Mack (<1% owned) to get a similar short-term boost in deeper formats.

    Montrezl Harrell (3% owned) – Harrell has been a top-100 player in the six games since Blake Griffin went down with a sprained MCL. We have seen this before – he put up stretches of standard league relevance while filling in for Clint Capela and Nene Hilario in Houston last year. Griffin is set to miss another month or so, and there is no guarantee that he comes back without restrictions, so the opportunity is there for Harrell to keep rolling. Is he going to stay a top-100 player going forward? Almost certainly not. His play will likely be inconsistent, but his per minute production is juicy enough to warrant a look in all leagues larger than 16-teams while Griffin is sidelined.

    Frank Mason (2% owned) – Let’s look at a quick per game comparison between two players over the past 15 games:

    Player A – (26 minutes, 8.4 points, 0.5 threes, 2.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 41% FG, 64% FT, 283 9-cat ranking)

    Player B – (21 minutes 8.9 points, 0.7 threes, 2.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 41% FG, 83% FT, 243 9-cat ranking)

    Pretty similar, right? There are minor differences in their stat sets, but their overall production is remarkably close over a significant chunk of the season. Not only is their production similar, they play the same position on the same team. If that didn’t give it away… Player A is De’Aaron Fox (54% owned) and Player B is Frank Mason (2% owned). Over the past month, Mason has worked his way into a very steady rotation role and providing back end 18-team league value. He is worth a speculative add in 16-team leagues as his upside is higher than most waiver wire fodder, and he shouldn’t be on any wire in any league larger than that.

    Anthony Tolliver (<1% owned) – Tolliver broke his nose on Tuesday in a game against the Nuggets, but is apparently ready for action as he has already returned to practice with a mask. He doesn’t give you much outside of threes and the occasional big scoring night when his shot is falling, so he is still more of a streamer for 16-team leagues. In 18-team leagues and larger though, he is worth a look as a speculative add as his role continues to grow as the season marches on. Tolliver is limited by his stat set, but in a consistent 20-25 minute role, he has top-200 upside with a fairly safe top-250 floor. Those guys don’t grow on trees, so give Tolliver a look in deeper leagues if he is around.

    Clippers Reserve Guards and Wings – The Clippers are banged up right now with Patrick Beverley done for the season and Danilo Gallinari (glute contusion), Austin Rivers (concussion), and Blake Griffin (sprained MCL) all scheduled to miss time as well. The Austin Rivers injury remains somewhat of an unknown – he is ruled out for Friday but we don’t know much else. While there may not be any one clear-cut add candidate in standard leagues, the Rivers injury will likely have some deep league implications. Jawun Evans (<1% owned), Sam Dekker (1% owned) and Sindarius Thornwell (<1% owned) all become worth a look.

    It is pretty hard to predict how the extra minutes will be doled out if Rivers spends significant time in the concussion protocol, but my best guess is that Jawun Evans is the biggest beneficiary. Dekker will benefit slightly, but he is more impacted by the eventual return of Danilo Gallinari (he will likely miss a few more games, but there haven’t been any updates), while Thornwell should also see a slightly increased role as long as rivers as out.

    In terms of priority for a pickup, I would rank them: Sam Dekker, Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell. As the highest priority, Dekker is still not a must-add player, but I wouldn’t blame you for speculatively adding him in 16-team leagues. Evans and Thornwell are worth a look in 18-leagues and larger.

    Fliers

    Andrew Harrison (3% owned) – Harrison was a non-factor this season before an Achilles injury to Mike Conley thrust him into the rotation. He won’t likely hold much value once Conley returns (there isn’t a clear timetable for return yet), but his performance over the last few weeks has certainly turned a few heads. After being largely out of the rotation before the injury, he is putting up top-100 numbers over the past eight games. His value may evaporate again once Conley is back on the floor, but it is worth taking a flier on Harrison in all 16-team leagues and larger to see what happens over the next few weeks.

    Shabazz Napier (2% owned) – Following an impressive stretch of games over the past month, Napier has now been a healthy scratch in the Blazers’ last two games against the Rockets and Warriors. It has been a turbulent season for Napier, as he continues to yo-yo in and out of the rotation for large chunks of time. However, when the minutes are there, he has the potential for some explosive scoring performances and steady defensive contributions. Due to the inconsistency, it is tough to call Napier must-own outside of the 18-team leagues, but he has flashed enough upside to earn flier consideration in all deep leagues on the potential that Coach Terry Stotts finds a consistent role for Napier going forward.

    Boban Marjanovic (2% owned) – Boban received a lot of hype this past offseason as a potential sleeper pick in standard leagues. Needless to say, he hasn’t come remotely close to living up to the hype, playing only a total of 62 minutes so far this season. After nearly 15 consecutive DNPs, Boban has played at least five minutes in six of his last eight games and logged two games over 13 minutes in that span. There is really no guarantee that he isn’t a healthy scratch going forward, but it is at least encouraging to see him cracking the rotation more often than not lately. In about 10 minutes per night, he can provide some back-end value for deep league owners, and if he somehow manages to work his way into a 20 minute role he has big upside. If you have the roster spot, it is at least worth taking a flier on Boban in 20-team leagues and larger as few players can match his prolific per-minute production.

    Luke Kennard (1% Owned) – Kennard has shown some flashes of fantasy brilliance this season, but remains a relatively inconsistent cog in the rotation at this point. Every time he appears to be building towards a more featured role in the rotation he drops off the face of the earth and plays only 5-10 minutes. That said, he has some immense upside, and it is worth monitoring his workload as the season progresses in 16-team leagues. In 20-team leagues and larger, he is worth consideration as a flier pickup if you have the roster spot to spare as his stat set has the potential to be very fantasy friendly if Kennard is able to work his way into a 25-30 minute role this season.

    That’s all for this week deep leaguers. If you have any questions on how to rank some speculative adds, or just want to chat about all things fantasy hoops, feel free to connect with me on twitter: @z_bodhane.

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