Working the waiver wire is pivotal to succeeding in fantasy basketball. With so many games, injuries and endless shifts in rotations throughout the marathon campaign, we'll need to source stats from free agency to maximize imaginary rosters.
A willingness to entertain competition for the last few spots on your fantasy hoops roster can prove rewarding. When curating this fluid collective of statistical contributors, it helps to consider your end-of-bench players in direct competition with the talent floating in free agency.
The goal of this weekly series is to identify players available in at least half of ESPN leagues at each position. Some nominations are specialists capable of helping in one or two categories, while others deliver more diverse and important statistical offerings. In the breakdowns below, I've ordered players at each position with the priority of acquisition in mind, rather than roster percentage in ESPN leagues.
Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic (Rostered in 52.2% of ESPN leagues): A statistical eruption against the Knicks last week included 29 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, as Anthony finished just two dimes shy of a triple-double. Proving it wasn't an outlier, Anthony has topped 20 points in two of his three games since while sustaining an atypically high rebounding rate for a guard. The Magic appear intent on empowering their young talent this season, suggesting Anthony should have the opportunity rates required for a strong season.
Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder (33.9%): A premier performance from this teenager against the Lakers in a rousing comeback put Giddey on the map as a fantasy force. Still underappreciated by the fantasy pool, Giddey has slashed for 13.5 points, 6.8 dimes, and 5.8 rebounds to go with 2.3 combined steals and blocks
Ricky Rubio, Cleveland Cavaliers (49.1%): Tied with Ja Morant for seventh in total assists entering Sunday, Rubio has scored at least a dozen points in all but one game this season. With enough rebounding and steal production to complement his passing volume, Rubio is firmly entrenched as the Cavaliers' third guard and presents T.J. McConnell-like value in this role.
Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies (37.3%): An undeniably potent shooter, Bane is up to an absurd 43.2% from 3-point range for his career. Making a massive leap in scoring output from last season and somehow improving efficiency in the face of a significant surge in volume, Bane is a becoming a must-add option at a relatively shallow position.
De'Anthony Melton, Memphis Grizzlies (17.1%): His strong scoring clip in the first week of the season was buoyed by unsustainable shooting success, but busy defensive metrics have kept his fantasy stock afloat, as Melton has posted nine steals and four blocks in his last three games.
Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls (29.0%): It's tough to imagine Caruso sustaining steady value once Coby White is back in the rotation, but this defensive guard's elite steal rate has him with multiple swipes in all but one outing this season. As long as Caruso is flirting 30 minutes per game, he has a place on rosters.
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets (40.2%): The absence of Jamal Murray means Barton is tasked with more creation and playmaking duties for Denver. Barton is currently leading the team in drives per game, which Murray led the team in by a wide margin last season. With at least five assists in three appearances already, Barton's ability to find both his own shot and facilitate for others is rather unique for a wing.
Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors (23.4%): Turning it on as a source for shooting and scoring production in recent games, Trent is surprisingly pacing the NBA in steals entering Sunday's schedule. Once the shot starts falling closer to his career clip, Trent could provide worthy 3-and-D value.
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers (5.4%): A statistical gem from The Athletic notes that, in the last two seasons, there have been only six performances of at least three steals and three blocks in less than 25 minutes, and Thybulle now has two of those six. Thybulle ranks fifth in total steals entering Sunday despite hovering around 20 minutes played in most outings. With his signature recovery blocks on jump-shooters, Thybulle is also averaging 1.5 blocks. You won't get much offense, if any, but such historic defensive rates continue to prove valuable in roto formats.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Charlotte Hornets (37.5%): This one is more about opportunity and talent than actual production, which has at times been the conundrum with Oubre from a real NBA perspective. Which is to say, he's not playing very well or consistently for Charlotte, but he's also playing 32 MPG and lofting seven 3-pointers per game, evidence of a potentially valuable fantasy profile for a guy who has flashed some fun defensive rates throughout his career.
De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks (16.2%): Like Oubre, eyeing Hunter is more about his potential than current production, but there are things to like about his profile. Namely he was flashing several signs of a leap a two-way difference-maker last season before suffering a knee injury, so getting ahead of a potential return to prominence could pay off.
Carmelo Anthony, Los Angeles Lakers (44.0%): When he's warm from the floor, there is some actual fantasy appeal to Anthony's role with the Lakers; he has posted at least 24 points twice already as a microwave with the second unit. The holdup in really trusting Anthony for fantasy purposes is just how low the floor proves for a player who doesn't provide much outside of scoring pop.
Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic (58.5%):The goal is to discuss players available in more than half of ESPN leagues, but Bamba merits an exception given just how undervalued he is at the moment; entering Sunday, the Texas product was fifth in the league blocks while sinking nearly 45% of 4.1 shots from beyond the arc per game. A career-high rebounding rate fleshes out a valuable fantasy profile. Maybe things change when Jonathan Isaac is back in the rotation, but for now, Bamba is fifth among centers on the Player Rater and should be rostered in nearly every fantasy league.
Kelly Olynyk, Detroit Pistons (38.6%): We should be past the point of questioning Olynyk's statistical value whenever he's getting steady minutes. He's an atypical center in that he sinks threes, compiles assists and notches more steals than blocks. Keep an eye on Olynyk, especially as Detroit is starting to carve out more minutes for the stretch big.
Mason Plumlee, Charlotte Hornets (38.7%): If things are thin for you at center, at least Plumlee plays plenty of minutes and has compiled at least 10 boards in four of six appearances as Charlotte's starting center. There's also some defensive value to consider, with Plumlee posting at least one steal in all but two games and at least one block in all but one appearance this season.