I'm often posed the following brand of question on Twitter: "Should I pick up Player A or Player B?" And while I do my best to answer these queries in a vacuum, it's typically not straightforward, because there are key questions to answer regarding the role waiver additions will assume on a team.
First, will he likely start for your fantasy team? In this instance, I tend to recommend the steadier, more dependable producers. Or will he likely occupy a bench spot on your roster? If so, I lean toward higher-upside players, even if they're inconsistent. I favor these players for bench slots because they have the potential to reap a larger payoff if their minutes increase, development escalates, or other beneficial circumstances occur, despite being less of a sure thing.
If your new addition is likely starting, that's where the question of team needs comes in. This will be a common theme in this column all season, because the key in-season strategy a successful fantasy owner employs is cultivating a balanced roster. Look at your standings, and when deciding between two players worth adding, evaluate what they contribute and which most benefits your team.
Here are some widely available options worth considering for a roster spot; just make sure you're asking yourself the right questions about what you need from a player before scooping him up:
Luke Ridnour, PG/SG, Minnesota Timberwolves (40.7 percent owned): Ridnour exemplifies the type of dependable player I mentioned who's worth adding if you are going to start him. He has a low ceiling, but will get playing time even when Ricky Rubio returns, as he played shooting guard alongside Rubio for significant stretches last season, and has a reliable skill set providing some points, 3-pointers, assists and steals. He's currently on a tear with J.J. Barea and Brandon Roy sidelined, averaging 13.7 points, 6.7 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.3 3s per game in his past three contests. His increase in 3-pointers from 0.9 per game last season to 1.3 this season in fewer minutes is legit. He shot 32.2 percent from downtown last season, well below his career average of 35.9, and his accuracy on 3-pointers has improved consistently throughout his career, so expect more than one per game with double-digit scoring, and more than a steal and about five assists per game.
Emeka Okafor, C, Washington Wizards (8.8 percent owned): His career stats have been trending downward the past several seasons, perhaps due to nagging knee issues. But he's shot better than 53 percent from the floor, with at least 1.0 blocks and 0.6 steals, in each of the past six seasons, and is averaging 29.3 minutes per game in his past four contests. He'll never live up to the hype of being selected first overall in the 2004 draft, but if he's getting 25-plus minutes per night, he should be a steady source of rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks with decent steals for a center. And with Nene still sidelined and the team in need of a veteran leader in the frontcourt, Okafor should be given as many opportunities as his balky knees can handle.
Shannon Brown, SG, Phoenix Suns (7.8 percent owned): He's thriving in the role of offensive spark plug off the bench, averaging 17.4 points and 2.3 3s in his past five contests. Despite the fact he's actually averaging fewer minutes per game this season, his numbers are up due primarily to improved 3-point shooting (up to 44.4 percent from 36.2) and an increase in free throw attempts (up to 3.5 per game from 1.7). Brown will be erratic, but is the type of player to stash on your bench because he has the potential to be a legitimate fantasy starter if injuries or lineup shakeups occur, as evidenced by his 31.2 points per 48 minutes, good for seventh in the league.
Andre Drummond, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (2.1 percent owned): Drummond is looking like the next Derrick Favors in the fantasy sense -- dripping with potential and capable of posting tantalizing per-minute statistics, but not in line to get enough playing time to be worth starting. His per-48 minute stats of 20.0 points, 15.7 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 2.3 steals per game demonstrate this athletic 7-footer's capabilities in limited stretches, although the Pistons are committed to bringing him along slowly. He won't be worth even thinking about starting for standard fantasy teams unless injuries attack the Detroit frontcourt. Yet. He's the type of high-upside player worth the final bench spot for a fantasy owner who won't rely upon him to start, because he could be a late-season lottery ticket that hits if his playing time increases.
Patrick Patterson, PF, Houston Rockets (1.9 percent owned): Patterson has been a favorite of mine since he was drafted out, due to the well-rounded skill set he showed off in college at Kentucky, where he averaged 16.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 0.7 steals while shooting 58.5 percent from the floor in three steady seasons for a loaded Kentucky squad. The most promising aspect of his game this season is the 30 minutes per contest, in which he's averaging 11.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 0.5 3s, steals and blocks. He thrives in the pick-and-pop game, shooting 43 percent on shots between 16 feet and 23 feet last season, which should mesh well with playmakers James Harden and Jeremy Lin and continue to develop. It was questionable what kind of run he'd get amid the slew of comparable forwards in Houston, but he seems to be in line for significant minutes and should provide modest across-the-board production.
Corey Brewer, SF, Denver Nuggets (1.8 percent owned): After spending the entire offseason working tirelessly on his shooting stroke, Brewer is primed to shake off the "bust" label and put up a career season that also happens to be a contract year. The improvement in his shooting is for real; it began last season, when he showed improved accuracy on shots beyond 10 feet, and this year it's extended to 3-point range, as he's shooting 37.8 percent from downtown on more than twice as many attempts per game compared to last season's 26.0 percent mark. His per-48 minute stats of 23.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.6 3s and 2.4 steals are staggering, and although he won't get starter's minutes on a deep Nuggets roster unless injuries strike, he's the type of fantasy player who can contribute in fewer minutes due to his high steal rate (Brewer ranked seventh in the league last season) and improved long-range shooting.
Jason Thompson (22.0 percent owned) has benefited from suspensions to DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson, but was starting and getting minutes in the upper-20s beforehand. With his career 49.8 field goal percentage and respectable 6.9 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.7 steals per game last season, he's a reliable option in deeper leagues. Jason Richardson (14.5 percent owned) dropped 20 points with three 3s and two steals in 36 minutes in his first game of the season Monday, and should be a reliable source of 3-pointers. He's only 31 years old, although it seems like he's been in the league forever, and should get plenty of PT considering all he has to do is hold off Nick Young. Jimmer Fredette (0.6 percent owned) is first in the league with 36.8 points per 48 minutes, and although he's not worth adding in most formats, he's demonstrating that with more playing time he still has the potential to be a viable fantasy option at some point. Eric Bledsoe (4.6 percent owned) is the perfect player to stash in hopes of him getting more minutes, as he's absolutely dominant for stretches, and is scoring more points per minute than Monta Ellis. If you're looking for steals, Trevor Ariza (17.8 percent owned) is averaging 2.3 swipes per game. His career 1.4 steals per game in 25.6 minutes is impressive, and while his contributions elsewhere are minimal, steals are hard to come by, and in deeper leagues he's a valid target if you're desperate in the category. Kyle Korver (2.4 percent owned) is averaging 26 minutes per game this season, by far his most since 2007-08, and should finish with about two 3s per game with the uptick. The situation in Atlanta is ideal for a spot-up shooter who gets most of his 3s off assists, because there are several playmakers in the Hawks' backcourt, so look for him to keep draining. In deep turnover leagues, Shane Battier (1.3 percent owned) is a nice glue player, averaging 1.4 3s, 0.9 blocks and 0.8 steals with just 0.8 turnovers per game. He provides very little in points, rebounds and assists, but does give a nice combination of secondary stats with very low turnovers, so don't ignore him in that specific format.