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Top fantasy basketball waiver-wire pickups

Tyler Johnson is available in nearly 60 percent of ESPN leagues and can provide a boost across multiple categories. Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Working the waiver wire is crucial to succeeding in fantasy basketball. With so many games, injuries and endless shifts in rotations throughout the season, we need to source stats from free agency in order to maximize our imaginary rosters.

In this weekly series we identify players available as free agents in at least half of ESPN leagues at each position. Some nominations are purely specialists capable of helping in one or two categories, while others deliver more diverse and important statistical offerings. Either way, we believe the names below -- ordered by ownership rate at each position -- can contribute positively to fantasy rosters.


Point guard

Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (Owned in 48.0 percent of ESPN leagues): This is our last call for Holiday, a lead guard who tied for 14th in the NBA in usage rate last season and is likely to return to action this month. The Pelicans are eighth in the league in pace with 101 possessions per 48 minutes, adding upside to Holiday's already rich production profile upon his return.

J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks (40.2): Tied with Kyle Lowry among point guards in usage rate this season, Barea is also sixth in the league in drives per game. Already a valuable source of 3-pointers, assists and points, Barea also claims increased value playing behind a brittle starting point guard in Deron Williams.

Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons (31.5): Smith's ownership is dwindling as Reggie Jackson nears a return, but this shift appears a bit premature, at least in deeper leagues. With Jackson still a few weeks off, we can expect nearly 30 minutes per game and helpful support in dimes and steals from Smith.

Shooting guard

Justise Winslow, Miami Heat (44.5): With multiple steals in four of his past six games -- as of Sunday -- Winslow can help in a scarce category. It also helps to consider that the Heat wing is averaging 36 minutes per game, tied for 11th in the league.

Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat (41.8): We prefer Johnson to his teammate Winslow, as he provides more scoring and production from beyond the arc in addition to an uptick in assist output with Goran Dragic currently ailing.

Sean Kilpatrick, Brooklyn Nets (31.9): A weekly inclusion in our waiver series, Kilpatrick has lofted double-digit field goal attempts in all but three games this season. Afforded rare freedom to shoot from the arc for the Nets, a team that ranks second in the NBA in pace, Kilpatrick merits more attention from fantasy investors.

Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta Hawks (10.5): The rare defensive specialist, Sefolosha is second in the league in steals per game. Steals are an entirely difficult stat to accumulate for fantasy rosters built around frontcourt assets, so adding this larcenous guard can help balance out the bench in these scenarios.

Josh Richardson, Miami Heat (3.9): We're nominating three shooting guards from the same team as worthy waiver options, mostly because the void left by Dwyane Wade has left a good deal of opportunity for these players to consume. Richardson's ownership is deflated thanks to an injury that saw him sidelined in the early weeks, but now that he's back to playing steady minutes, he can help in assists -- he's assuming starting point guard duties with Dragic ailing -- and 3-point production.

Small forward

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets (43.7): We need to look past Kidd-Gilchrist's meager scoring output and instead focus on the fact he's averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.6 steals in addition to eight boards. Such helpful defensive metrics allows us to then take on more hollow scoring commodities to balance out production.

C.J. Miles, Indiana Pacers (33.9): An efficient rate of .489 points per touch rates second behind only DeMar DeRozan in this efficiency metric among players averaging at least 15 minutes this season. Afforded the starting spot over Monta Ellis this past weekend at shooting guard, there could be a telling shift underway with Miles earning increased exposure and trust from the coaching staff.

Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers (17.6): Similar to Kidd-Gilchrist, Harkless won't wow you in scoring production, but with 30 minutes per game in an up-tempo scheme, he's helping owners in steals, blocks and 3-point production.

James Ennis, Memphis Grizzlies (11.6): Another cheap path to 30 minutes per game, Ennis is a 3-and-D commodity to consider in deeper formats.

Power forward

Trevor Booker, Brooklyn Nets (42.1): With Brook Lopez again struggling on the glass and not playing every game, the Nets rely on Booker's rebounding and defense in the frontcourt. A steady double-double threat thanks to the Nets' amazing pace, Booker also ranks seventh in the league in steals per game.

Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers (25.3): The shooting percentages are atrocious, but it's quite rare to find a player averaging at least two steals and 3-pointers per game. If your league doesn't count shooting percentages, Covington can provide positive production.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets (16.2): Averaging nearly 25 minutes in November and regularly starting ahead of Roy Hibbert lately, Zeller provides useful block production at a scarce position.

Center

Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns (46.9): Once Chandler returns to action for the Suns (he is currently away due to a family matter), he can continue dominating on the glass, as the steady vet is third in the league in rebounds per game and fourth in rebounding chances per game.

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets (33.1): As the key rim protector for the Rockets, Capela provides strong block metrics and worthy rebounding and steal rates.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics (5.1): Considerably underappreciated by the fantasy market, this stretch big is averaging 17.5 points over his past two games and is a strong complementary scorer to Al Horford in the frontcourt.