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Top fantasy basketball waiver-wire pickups

Nerlens Noel, who had left knee surgery in October, will make his season debut on Sunday night for the 76ers. Leon Halip-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 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

Jeremy Lin, Brooklyn Nets (Owned in 53.5 percent of ESPN leagues): A weekly inclusion in this column given his awesome offensive upside as the ball-dominant leader of a Brooklyn team that ranks second in the league in pace, Lin practiced this past Friday and is likely nearing a return from an extended absence with a lingering hamstring injury. For some context regarding Lin's valuable offensive share, only Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and John Wall have averaged more touches than the 89.5 Lin has this season. Lin also ranks 15th in drives per game and fifth in passes per game, supporting our interest in stashing him for his impending return.

Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat (45.5): Purely an exposure angle, Johnson has averaged a robust rate of 35.3 minutes per game with 14.2 shots over the past five games.

Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs (24.8): Regularly playing more minutes than Tony Parker, Mills' true shooting percentage of 64.7 -- a measure of shooting efficiency that weights field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws -- ranks fourth among NBA guards with at least 15 minutes per game. Mills won't wow you in one category, but clean rates from a depth contributor can help roto rosters over the larger season sample.

Sergio Rodriguez, Philadelphia 76ers (23.7): Jerryd Bayless' wrist appears to be an enduring issue, while Rodriguez is behind only Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and James Harden in passes per game this season. Such passing volume and ranking eighth in frontcourt touches per game in the entire league supports helpful 3-point and assist production for the Spanish import.

Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets (17.4): The Rockets' offense is proving prolific with Beverley on board, while his strong defensive skill set has led to two steals per game in 30.3 minutes over the past six games, all starts. Steals prove entirely scarce, thus Beverley is valuable if even for this single statistical contribution, but we also find him hitting nearly two 3-pointers with nearly seven boards per game over this recent starting sample.


Shooting Guard

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets (49.3): Sadly, Barton's headshot was updated from what was undeniably the best facial expression in the league. Then again, we can forgive this transition since he's back to a busy starting role for Denver. Over the past six games, Barton has averaged 34.9 minutes and 14 shots with an invaluable 1.7 steals over this sample. Barton has a usage rate of 22.5 over this span, healthy for an off-ball guard.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets (28.0): With at least 13 points in 11 of his past 12 games, Bogdanovic is impressively 15th among guard-eligible players in points per touch on the season with an impressive 0.347 per touch. This rates higher than the likes of Devin Booker, Zach LaVine and even Stephen Curry, to name a few efficiency peers. With 4.3 3-point attempts per game and nearly 28 minutes per game on a volume-driven Brooklyn scheme, we find real value for Bogdanovic going forward.

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies (10.1): Already an elite source of steals -- he has averaged two per game over the past six games -- Allen is now adding increased offensive usage to his fantasy profile. With Mike Conley sidelined, Allen has averaged 12.3 points and nearly eight boards over the past six games, all starts.


Small Forward

T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns (38.6): Speaking of points per touch, Warren ranks sixth among NBA forwards with 0.409 per touch this season. Warren has resumed basketball activities after a long stretch sidelined with a head injury and could return and resume a valuable role for a team that leads the NBA in pace. If you can find room for both Lin and Warren, you can net key cogs on pace-driven offenses.

DeMarre Carroll, Toronto Raptors (41.9): An example of an asset who provides a diverse set of stats and isn't particularly special in any on category, Carroll can help in steals (1.7 per game over the past seven games) and 3-pointers (2.4 per game over this sample). Don't get caught up in the fact Carroll averages just 12.7 points over this recent stretch, as he's an important part of the league's top offense.

Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers (15.9): In an eight-game sample before going down to injury, Young averaged 3.1 3-pointers made per game for the fantasy-friendly Lakers' scheme. This is an absolutely elite shooting pattern, and with Young back in practice, his impending return merits attention from even shallow leagues for rosters in need of shooting prowess.


Power Forward

Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons (55.8): Another example of a player who won't wow you in one statistical specialty but can help in a variety of categories, the most important metric for Morris' value might just be minutes, as he has played 33.6 per game over his past eight. This exposure and uptick in shooting success -- he's hitting 2.3 3-pointers per game over this sample -- supports interest for the stretch-4 in even shallower fantasy formats.

JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies (35.4): The market isn't hip just yet to the awesome work on the glass Green is providing recently, as he has averaged 13.6 boards in 35 minutes per game over the past five, all starts.


Center

Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (49.2): Noel is one of just three players in league history to average at least 10 points, eight rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals in each of his first two NBA seasons. The other two are Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. Heard of them? Noel's return could see his usage clouded by the depth chart traffic in the frontcourt in Philly, but with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor often resting, Noel could still see meaningful minutes.

John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks (26.3): With Greg Monroe as persona non grata in the Bucks' rotation, Henson has averaged 25 minutes and an invaluable 2.6 blocks per game over the past nine games -- all starts. Blocks are such a difficult stat to collect, so Henson's proven penchant for rim protection and his steady role merit more interest on the fantasy hoops market.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets (21.6): Zeller has emerged as a vital member of the Hornets' frontcourt, as he has delivered 1.2 blocks and is shooting 61.5 percent from the field over the past six starts.