After missing seven games at the end of February and beginning of March, the Warriors' Monta Ellis has been playing exceptionally well since returning to the lineup, averaging 24.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks in three games.
Now, Ellis has been owned in most fantasy leagues all season despite missing pretty much the entire first half of the season following an ankle injury he suffered in a motorcycle mishap. As such, there's probably not much chance that you're going to make any hay finding him on the waiver wire (I can only assume that the 18 percent of leagues he's currently unowned in are peopled with owners who aren't paying much attention).
Still, Ellis is the sort of player who, in a head-to-head league, can end up winning you a title if you've had him stashed away all along. It's all about what he is capable of producing. Perhaps you've been struggling in points and field goal percentage, which just happen to be two of the stats Ellis generally provides in spades. So, because you've been waiting on Ellis, you are just barely sneaking into the playoffs, but now a player who is potentially a top-30 fantasy threat gets dropped into your lap just in time for the fantasy postseason. Suddenly your team looks a lot more formidable. In roto leagues, maybe it has already been too long; Ellis missed so many games and there is too much ground to be made up by one player over the last month of the regular season. But in head-to-head leagues, the return of injured stars can breathe new life into struggling rosters. Ellis is just one example; he's playing and playing well, and should be starting every time he plays. Treat him like a top fantasy option from here on out.
What follows is a list of players who are owned in fewer than 50 percent of leagues and therefore might be available on the waiver wire in yours.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat (Player Rater rank: 64; Player Rater averages rank: 87): It makes no sense that he isn't owned in more than 26 percent of leagues. He's ranked 64th on the Player Rater overall and 87th based on averages, which means that even based on his per-game stats, he has been valuable enough to start for most fantasy teams. And yet, here is Chalmers, available in almost three quarters of fantasy leagues, right there for the taking. Over the past five games, the numbers that jump out are 12.8 points, 4.0 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.4 3-pointers. For the season, the 2.0 steals and 4.6 assists are what make him most valuable, but the fact that he does all this while making 3-pointers and scoring occasionally is what makes him more than a one-hit wonder. He's an anomaly on this particular list because he doesn't need to start playing better in order to be valuable enough to own in a fantasy league, he just needs to continue doing what he has already been doing for the entire season.
Delonte West, PG/SG, Cavaliers (110, 72): Owned in 31 percent of ESPN leagues, Delonte has been struggling of late, but when you're trolling the waiver wire for late-season pickups, you're not exactly looking at picking up LeBron James. After playing well in 43 minutes against Miami, he struggled in two road games against the Clippers and Suns and then sat out because of a back injury against the Kings. Then he returned and put up 12 points in 36 minutes against the Knicks but didn't make a 3-pointer, or do much of anything else for that matter. However, the fact that Delonte played 36 minutes in his first game back from a back injury probably means that coach Mike Brown is going to play West whenever he has the chance. He has proved to be a tremendous value all season; he scores, dishes, rebounds a little, gets steals, makes 3-pointers, makes his free throws and shoots a reasonably high percentage from the floor considering that a lot of his attempts are from long range. West, if he's on, is absolutely a player who should start every night for your team, so if you can nab him off the waiver wire right now, you'll be in much better shape down the stretch.
Tyrus Thomas, SF/PF, Bulls (79, 96): Owned in 27 percent of ESPN leagues, Thomas has blocked at least one shot in every game he has played in since Jan. 15. And as you are probably aware, in many of those games, he has blocked multiple shots. Yes, I know he has been struggling offensively of late and not really rebounding much, but based on his shot-blocking alone, he's probably worth a prospective pickup in most leagues. Even on a bad day, he's going to get you a block and a steal, and that's worth something during the fantasy playoffs. The best reason to pick him up, however, is because he has been so streaky this season. Sure, he's cold right now, but there's a decent chance he's going to get hot for, say, the last 10 games of the season. If he does, he could end up playing like a top-25 fantasy guy just when you need him most.
Spencer Hawes, PF/C, Kings (119, 136): Owned in 43.1 percent of fantasy leagues, Hawes is not going to be available for long, so get him while you still can. Over his past five games, he has averaged 18.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.8 3-pointers (as a center!), and is shooting 55 percent from the floor. I'm concerned he's not blocking as many shots, but even if he doesn't block another shot all season, he'd be worth owning while putting up those numbers. Again, we're talking about picking up players off the waiver wire who can help you in the playoffs. There are going to be some warts (in this case, a center who isn't blocking shots), but perhaps the fact that he's making some 3-pointers and shooting a high percentage means you can afford to add both Hawes and Tyrus Thomas and reap their combined benefits en route to your league crown. Hawes plays on a team that plays at a fast pace, doesn't play much defense and gets involved in shootouts, and Hawes has been regularly playing in the neighborhood of 40 minutes per game of late. Clearly the Kings are seeing what they have with him, and I'd be surprised if he didn't continue producing like he has of late for the rest of this season.
Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies (124, 153): He's owned in just 21 percent of fantasy leagues. Sure, he struggled at the start of this season, but it's worth noting that he has been tremendous since he was given the point guard reins in Memphis. Over his past five games, he's averaging 19.0 points, 6.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.0 3s, is 13-for 14 from the line and is shooting 53 percent from the floor. In the past, his long-range shooting was the knock on him, but he's at 39 percent on 3-pointers for the season. It seems Conley is turning into a very, very good point guard right before our eyes. If you are in a keeper league, he's worth extra consideration, but the fact of the matter is he could help you win your league right now, this year, in any format. He's putting up great point guard numbers across the board right now, and needs to be recognized for it.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.