We've reached that point in the season when those who are still sitting in the middle of the pack need to start taking some risks if they're going to have any shot at bringing home a fantasy championship. There's not much season left to make a big push in the standings, so it's pretty much do-or-die time from here on out. And if you're not going to win it all, you want to go down swinging, right? Take a big risk; if the gamble pays off you could be sitting pretty. If not, what's the big deal? You probably weren't going to win anyway, so there should be no problem experimenting with one of the high-risk/high-reward players listed below:
Al Thornton, SF, Clippers (73.8 percent owned): Judging by his percentage owned in ESPN Fantasy Leagues, many have already decided to play the risk/reward game with the 24-year-old rookie out of Florida State. A model of consistency he is not, but he is averaging 16.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.6 3-pointers since the All-Star break. And anytime a guy can go off for 33 points, 12 rebounds and two 3-pointers like he did on Friday night, you know you're looking at someone with considerable upside.
Andray Blatche, PF, Wizards (21.7 percent owned): I bet you're starting to get a little sick of my unhealthy obsession with this kid, huh? Regular readers of this space already know my love for Blatche, so I'll keep this short and simple. Blatche has averaged 11.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.9 blocks in 14 games as a starter this season. With Caron Butler's season in jeopardy, Blatche should be a lock for 28-32 minutes per game going forward. He may be an inconsistent scorer and rebounder, but he registered either a steal or a block in 11 out of 14 games in the month of February.
Tyrus Thomas, SF/PF, Bulls (56.8 percent owned): Thomas is the embodiment of the risk/reward pickup. He can be flat-out dominant (like his 18-point, 11-rebound, 2-steal, 3-block performance last week) or he can be downright terrible (like his 2-point, 4-rebound effort) on Friday. Of all the players listed here, Thomas has the most upside. Of course, he's also the most likely to fall flat on his face.
Larry Hughes, SG, Bulls (73.4 percent owned): Many may remember Hughes' days in Washington when he averaged 22.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.9 steals and a 3-pointer during the 2004-05 season. Though he'll probably never come close to those numbers again, Hughes has considerable upside now that he doesn't have a player like LeBron taking the ball out of his hands. In his first five games with his new team, Hughes has averaged 19.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.6 3-pointers and a steal per game. I actually think he's a fairly safe gamble in Chicago, though many probably don't feel that way, and there is always going to be an injury concern when it comes to Hughes.
If You're Hardcore
Luke Walton, SF, Lakers (5.6 percent owned): With all the offensive options in Los Angeles, Walton isn't going to score much, but I don't know anyone who's going to pick him up for his point scoring prowess. Walton was a more than useful fantasy option last season when he averaged a versatile 11.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.8 3-pointers and a steal per game. And he's starting to provide similar numbers with 10.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 0.6 steals per game in his past five games. Like I said, don't expect many points, but do expect a well-rounded dose of rebounds, assists and steals.
Jamario Moon, SF, Raptors (44.4 percent owned): Like Walton, Moon is never going to light up the scoreboard, but he can put up big-time numbers in other areas like rebounds, steals and blocks. Since the All-Star break, Moon has averaged 10.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.3 blocks and a 3-pointer per game. And with Chris Bosh's knee causing problems, we can expect to see even more of Moon in the next few weeks. Because of their scarcity, steals and blocks are typically the easiest categories to move up in, and Moon could provide a huge boost in those particular areas down the stretch. Moon's teammate, Andrea Bargnani (42.6 percent owned), will also benefit if Bosh needs to miss more time with the knee.
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cavaliers (5.1 percent owned): News that Zydrunas Ilgauskas will miss the next two weeks (or more) is an immediate boost to Varejao. Varejao, who is coming off an injury of his own, will start at center for the Cavs while Z mends and should be able to duplicate his pre-injury numbers: 8.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks in the month of January.
Brevin Knight, PG, Clippers (9.5 percent owned): Knight is, at best, a two-category specialist in fantasy leagues. With Sam Cassell out of town, and Dan Dickau as his only competition, many are hoping that Knight can become the steal and assist specialist we've come to know and love over the years. He's not nearly as productive as he's been in previous years, but Knight has averaged 5.8 points, 5.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game in 24 starts for the Clippers. I know his lack of production in other areas can hurt fantasy teams, but there are only 12 players in the NBA that average the combination of 5-plus assists and 1.5 steals per game and Knight could be the 13th if he can stay healthy.
Erick Dampier, C, Mavericks (38.1 percent owned): With DeSagana Diop now in Jersey, Dampier is the only real center left for the Mavericks. That is, unless you count the newly acquired Jamaal Magloire, which I don't. Dampier has been stellar since the Kidd trade, averaging 8.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per contest in his past five games. I don't think Magloire will affect Damp much, so he's looking good to go as a rebounding and shot-blocking specialist for the balance of the season.
Willie Green, SG, 76ers (22.6 percent owned): Green has played a major role in the Sixers' hot streak, averaging 17.4 points, 1.1 steals and a 3-pointer per game since the All-Star break. Green has plenty of flaws: he's a streaky shooter, he won't provide any rebounds or assists and he tends to find himself on the sidelines in street clothes all too often. Still, he can provide a nice boost in points, steals and 3s while he's hot.
Dikembe Mutombo, C, Rockets (17.1 percent owned): It wouldn't be a waiver-wire column if I didn't throw out a mention of good old Dikembe, would it? Dikembe may be 900 years old, but he can still rebound and block shots, and he's going to see about 20 minutes per game for the Rockets the rest of the way. In three games without Yao, Mutombo has averaged 7.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per contest. Not too bad for a 41-year-old, and not too bad for anyone who's in a tight race in rebounds or blocks.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.