Fantasy hoops trade deadline: Acquire these difference-makers for the stretch run

The absence of DeMarcus Cousins due to injury has opened the door for Jrue Holiday to become elite in fantasy. Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic.

Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Jim McCormick, Kyle Soppe, Joe Kaiser and André Snellings, and ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.

The trade deadline in standard ESPN leagues is noon ET on Wednesday, Feb. 21. Name a player you recommend acquiring prior to the deadline because you think he will exceed most people's expectations during the stretch run.

Jim McCormick: It's a tough reality, but injuries create value in fantasy sports. DeMarcus Cousins was pacing for an absolutely historic statistical season defined by a Westbrookian usage rate, as he lofted as many 3-pointers per game as Kevin Durant.

With Boogie sidelined, Jrue Holiday has become not just an elite fantasy point guard, but a top-20 overall contributor (ranked 19th on the Player Rater during the past 30 days).

His opportunity rates have spiked; Holiday is 10th in the NBA in touches per game (88.5) since Cousins went down (21st before), and he's tied with DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo in points per game from drives during the past nine games.

While Anthony Davis will rightfully earn praise for his prolific production sans Cousins, it's nearly impossible to acquire The Brow via trade. For a much more modest price, I believe Holiday could be a league-winning acquisition down the stretch.

Adam Schefter: There are some appealing players coming off injury who could figure prominently down the stretch, like Kris Dunn and Nikola Vucevic. I like both of them, but the players I really want are the ones assured of playing time and production, and I believe there's fantasy value in the Sacramento Kings.

PG De'Aaron Fox, SG/SF Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG Buddy Hield and C Willie Cauley-Stein are poised for minutes and production. None would cost an awful lot around the trade deadline, and some may even be available on your wire. (I feel fortunate to have plucked Cauley-Stein off waivers last weekend, when a talented roster in my league needed to create space.) Plus, they're not going to be rested as the playoffs approach.

I expect each of those players to get better as the season goes on and post better numbers as the season goes on, and here's a sentence you wouldn't expect to read in this or in any recent season: I want (fantasy) stock in the Sacramento Kings.

Joe Kaiser: I recommend trading for Elfrid Payton. The Suns have spent the whole season looking for a true point guard, and when injuries left them without any good options, they even turned to Devin Booker -- a natural shooting guard and scorer -- to handle the point before trading for Payton.

Payton has played at least 31 minutes in each of his first three games with the Suns, and he already has a 29-point effort against Golden State and a triple-double against Utah.

He will have the keys to this offense and has several players in Booker, TJ Warren and Josh Jackson who can turn his passes into assists. I think Payton has a chance to be a top-50 fantasy player during the final months of the regular season.

André Snellings: I'm going to go out on a limb a bit with this one, but I recommend trading for Isaiah Thomas. He will be in a very interesting situation with high variance outcomes possible after the break, but I believe that he will achieve the higher end of his likely outcomes.

Thomas was a mega-scorer last season for the Boston Celtics, but his struggles as a Cavalier after his long injury layoff got him traded and downgraded. As a new Laker, Thomas has returned to his sixth-man role.

Thomas will be a free agent after the season, and it is conceivable that the Lakers could minimize his role to focus more on letting their young players produce and develop. However, it's also important to note that the Lakers have traded their own first-round draft pick this year, so they have no particular impetus to lose.

I believe that Thomas becomes their primary scorer from the sixth-man role, much like Lou Williams for the crosstown LA Clippers. And I think that Thomas finishes the last couple months of the season averaging more than 20 points per game and resembling the player he was for the Celtics in 2015-16, more than the player he was for the Cavaliers this season.

Kyle Soppe: D'Angelo Russell. I'm nothing if not consistent with this guy, but what has realistically changed? The Nets are still a bad team that plays at a fast pace and doesn't have a reliable source of offensive production. Russell is still a usage hog (27.7 shots and 9.6 assists per 48 minutes in February) who thinks he can work himself out of any slump by taking more shots.

Not an ideal mindset if you want to win real basketball games, but gold if fantasy value is the end goal.

I apologize that the first half of the season wasn't all that useful for those who rostered Russell, but I'm doubling down as opposed to selling my shares.