Top fantasy basketball waiver-wire pickups

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, though limited offensively, is averaging 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks a game. Ken Blaze-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 to maximize our imaginary rosters.

In this weekly series, we identify players available in more than 40 percent 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

Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons (Owned in 33.7 percent of ESPN leagues): Coach Stan Van Gundy recently noted Reggie Jackson appears tentative when cutting and is still a few weeks away from returning. This means Smith, who is 12th in the league in drives per game, should continue to provide helpful results in steals and assists as the team's interim starting point guard.

Sean Kilpatrick, Brooklyn Nets (28.5): On a team that ranks second in the league in pace, Kilpatrick's busy offensive role as the key scoring weapon from the bench drives value, as he has scored in double figures in all but two games and has recorded at least one steal in all but three outings.

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs (19.0): Over the past four games, Parker has averaged 26.4 minutes, 14.3 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 59 percent from the field. With a 21.7 percent usage rate over this stretch, Parker is a worthy utility asset or even starting point guard for those thin at the position.

Shooting guard

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks (49.3): Even as efficiency escapes his production pattern so far, we value the sheer volume of Matthews' offensive opportunities. Over the past six games, for example, he's averaged 36.8 minutes, 1.7 steals and a whopping 8.2 3-point attempts. Matthews is shooting just 33.3 percent over this stretch, but this rare blend of opportunity beyond the arc and rich steal production reveals a helpful fantasy pattern in leagues of 12 or more teams at a shallow shooting guard position.

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets (30.6): We understand managers had to move on from Barton given his lengthy injury absence, but now that he's nearing a return, it's time to acquire Denver's top shooting guard while the market is still undervaluing his potential. Barton averaged 35.2 minutes over the first three games this season and produced efficient offensive results. We can expect a heavy workload for Barton upon his return, as he's among the team's best backcourt scoring options.

Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks (12.9): With J.J. Barea sidelined for over a month due to a significant calf injury, Curry earns a sizable uptick in minutes, touches and offensive upside. Barea is 10th in drive and touches per game, so there is a valuable void for usage left in his wake. It's encouraging to note that Curry has averaged 33.1 minutes, 4.3 assists and 5.5 3-point attempts over the past six games.

James Ennis, Memphis Grizzlies (7.6): Having started 12 of 13 games, Ennis is averaging 30.4 minutes, a steal and three 3-point attempts per game as a key 3-and-D performer for the Grizzlies found in a sizable majority of ESPN leagues.

Small forward

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets (44.2): I'm admittedly partial to players who provide above-average defensive production, as steals and blocks prove so scarce and we can easily source points and rebounds in working the wire. "MKG" remains a key target for me in shallower formats, as he's widely available and averaging 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks. Some will balk at his 8.5 points per game, but the value Kidd-Gilchrist provides in such rare stats affords him unheralded value.

Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets (40.0): Despite coming off the bench, Chandler has averaged 30 minutes and a rich usage rate of 25.5 over the past six games. Such steady opportunity has led to Chandler averaging 20 points, 8.7 boards and 1.3 3-pointers over this stretch. With such rich production, Chandler merits a far higher ownership rate for an up-tempo offense that ranks seventh in the league in pace.

Josh Richardson, Miami Heat (12.8): With injuries to Goran Dragic and now Justise Winslow among the team's rotation over the past few weeks, Richardson has earned encouraging exposure to the tune of 31.3 minutes, 5.1 3-pointers and nearly a block and steal per game over the past seven games. Richardson might lose some minutes once the team is fully healthy, but his stellar rates suggest he could become a fixture on a team in need of his offensive upside.

Power forward

Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers (30.7): As another 3-and-D asset who provides helpful stats beyond simply scoring, Harkless has recorded a block in all but four games this season and is enjoying an uptick on the glass of late.

Terrence Jones, New Orleans Pelicans (17.3): The Pelicans are eighth in pace and Jones is playing nearly 30 minutes per night over the past two weeks. Jones has averaged 1.5 blocks and nearly a steal over this span, with helpful rebounding and scoring rates complementing an underrated fantasy profile.

Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz (9.6): Over the past three games we've seen Lyles average 16.7 points and 28.5 minutes. It's a small sample, but we need to act quickly when a young stretch big man like Lyle assumes an uptick in usage and exposure. Lyles should see extended minutes and shots with Derrick Favors injured, adding to his impressive and ascendant fantasy stock.


Clint Capela, Houston Rockets (52.3): Amid a breakout stretch, Capela has averaged 13.6 points and 10.4 boards to go with 2.4 blocks. As the key rim protector for the Rockets, Capela offers a high floor and coveted upside.

Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (52.5): Speaking of defensive upside, no player other than Noel has ever averaged 1.8 steals and 1.7 blocks through his first two seasons. Adding to his rare defensive acumen, only David Robinson posted a better defensive box plus-minus than Noel through two NBA seasons. While the logjam for minutes in the Philly frontcourt isn't ideal, Noel's impending return and unique defensive prowess merit more attention.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets (16.6): While he's dealing with a minor shoulder injury, Zeller is an interesting addition considering he's averaged nearly 26 minutes, 12.2 points and 1.2 blocks over the past five games -- all starts.