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Fantasy basketball: Key pickups to address 3s, steals and blocks

Hassan Whiteside is still a major force as a shot-blocker. AP Photo/Adam Fondren

On March 16, 2022, at approximately 10:15 p.m., I entered a deep fantasy playoff hyperfocus trance.

I never knew what hyperfocus even was until last year. That's when I was finally screened for ADHD. My doctor (correctly) pointed out I'd been getting by on raw hyperfocus in high-leverage situations for decades.

It turns out people who know me all know my hyperfocus tell: I unconsciously close my eyes. I never know when I'm doing it. But when I suddenly open my eyes? When I come to? I find out I've typed 1200 words in 30 minutes. Or pitched three extra scripts. Or see that everyone else in my 10 a.m. meeting has gone to lunch.

So in my zeal to provide you premium playoff waiver wire recommendations? Well... it's 1:15 a.m. and I have 16 Microsoft Excel charts only I will ever understand.

Hyperfocus has struck again.

Thankfully, hyperfocus also left a tightly curated list of recommended waiver wire pickups. All predicated around one of my favorite fantasy strategies: categorical scarcity.

Because at playoff time, categorical scarcity is vital. Categorical scarcity's importance is evident in roto formats. But at this time of the season, in a points league playoff? Categorical scarcity becomes just as important.

When you find yourself competing for all the marbles across a compressed slate of games? When you're filling every possible nook and cranny in your lineups? When you hit your wire, lead with scarcity.

Why is categorical scarcity suddenly so important in points leagues? It's the stakes, the compressed time frame, and the time of said time frame. Because at this point in the season, you want pickups that can add the most value in the shortest amount of time.

Outside of injuries and shutdowns suddenly pushing bench players over 25 MPG? Your wire will not have difference-makers in points per game and percentages. Because the big scorers, the players who take enough shots to make an impact in percentages... are all long gone.

The same dynamic goes for assists. How do I know? Take a break from me and see if Cameron Payne is available. And if he is? Grab him.

Because one of my 16 Excel charts tells me that the endgame impact tier for assists? Where the difference-making weight of a stat resides? In assists, that heavy impact tier is only 17 players long.

And I crunched this for stats over the last two weeks, so you're getting fresh names here. And out of those 17 names, only Payne is available in over 50% of leagues. (Please. Go check. It'll calm me down a little.)

It's too bad because assists per game is a high-volume, high-impact, low-variance statistic. A pickup like Payne is golden because high APG suggests high MPG, and a high usage rate... which drives solid production beyond assists.

3s, steals, and blocks? These categories stock more impact players on the wire (players available in at least 30 percent of leagues). But while it's easier to find a difference-maker in 3s, steals, and blocks, be wary of two issues.

One: these categories can produce one-trick specialists. Someone who does well in one of these categories (especially late in the year) can be strong in that area and non-existent everywhere else. So don't get locked into playing a 3s/steals/blocks specialist unless you have a roster slot to spare.

Two: 3s, steals and blocks are high-variance, low-consistency categories. Late bloomers on a high amount of waiver wires tend to be less consistent. So if they're making hay in 3s, steals or blocks, they might give you a goose egg at the worst possible time.

But because I care about you, here are the impact players in 3s, steals, and blocks, presently available in at least 30% of leagues:

3-Pointers

Bojan Bogdanovic
Malik Beasley
Luke Kennard
Duncan Robinson
Max Strus

Steals

Herb Jones
Jae Crowder
Cameron Payne (go get him)
Jose Alvarado
Malik Monk
Bruce Brown
Mitchell Robinson (and out-of-position steals make Robinson even more valuable)

Blocks

Isaiah Jackson
Jaden McDaniels
Jalen Smith
Hassan Whiteside
Brandon Clarke

So that leaves us with the category I've been pushing all year. The low-variance, high-volume, high-impact stat that no one ever seems to talk about: points per game. (Kidding. Just seeing if you've gone into a hyperfocus too!)

Rebounds. Like assists (and points per game, and percentages), impact rebounding tends to be linked to impact in other categories.

But there are way more impact rebounders on the wire: Jalen Smith, Isaiah Jackson, Steven Adams, Ivica Zubac and Mo Bamba.

And here's a bonus reason why rebounding is such a fantastic playoff category: it's a hustle stat. The only only hustle stat that gets counted as a fantasy category.

And during the endgame of the season...some teams (cough, Lakers) start mailing it in and getting killed on the glass. An impact rebounding rate begets hustle, which begets late-season overachievement.

Which begets... winning time.