NBA Waiver Wire: All-Star Edition

NBA Waiver Wire: All-Star Edition

This article is part of our NBA Waiver Wire series.

Welcome to the All-Star break, the perfect time to catch up on your DVR and get angry about the terrible scoring system used in the dunk contest.

But before you settle in for a weekend without normal basketball, make sure your fantasy lineups are in order. A lot has changed over the last week – the first full week since the trade deadline.

Schedule-wise, the post-All-Star game week is pretty simple. Every single team plays twice. If you're in leagues with daily lineups, take note of the day-to-day distribution, as there are 12 games on Saturday versus just three on Sunday. In those leagues, waiver pickups with games on Sunday have a huge advantage over those who play Saturday, as most fantasy lineups will fill up with better players on Saturday and be mostly open on Sunday. All of the teams that are off Saturday play Sunday: the Clippers, Spurs, Magic, Nuggets, Raptors and Knicks.

Jahlil Okafor, Pelicans (41 percent rostered)
Next week's schedule: at Ind, LAL
Okafor has been on a roller-coaster ride these past four weeks. First, he replaces d an injured Anthony Davis in the starting lineup, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his first double-double in nearly two years. For nine games, he averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 boards and 2.0 blocks in 30.9 minutes. By the end of that stretch, he'd achieved near-universal rostering in fantasy leagues. But then the trade deadline passed, Davis was not traded, and the NBA forced the Pelicans

Welcome to the All-Star break, the perfect time to catch up on your DVR and get angry about the terrible scoring system used in the dunk contest.

But before you settle in for a weekend without normal basketball, make sure your fantasy lineups are in order. A lot has changed over the last week – the first full week since the trade deadline.

Schedule-wise, the post-All-Star game week is pretty simple. Every single team plays twice. If you're in leagues with daily lineups, take note of the day-to-day distribution, as there are 12 games on Saturday versus just three on Sunday. In those leagues, waiver pickups with games on Sunday have a huge advantage over those who play Saturday, as most fantasy lineups will fill up with better players on Saturday and be mostly open on Sunday. All of the teams that are off Saturday play Sunday: the Clippers, Spurs, Magic, Nuggets, Raptors and Knicks.

Jahlil Okafor, Pelicans (41 percent rostered)
Next week's schedule: at Ind, LAL
Okafor has been on a roller-coaster ride these past four weeks. First, he replaces d an injured Anthony Davis in the starting lineup, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his first double-double in nearly two years. For nine games, he averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 boards and 2.0 blocks in 30.9 minutes. By the end of that stretch, he'd achieved near-universal rostering in fantasy leagues. But then the trade deadline passed, Davis was not traded, and the NBA forced the Pelicans to put Davis back into the lineup. On an unrelated note, Okafor missed two games with an injury, and his roster rate plummeted accordingly. In another surprise, once healthy, Okafor started alongside Davis, but had a poor fantasy showing. In the Pelicans' next game – their most recent game – he returned to the bench.

So why is Okafor this week's top add? Two reasons. First, Davis suffered a shoulder injury in that last game before the break. As Okafor and the Pelicans have already shown, whe Davis misses time, Okafor can step in as a fantasy behemoth. Second, even if Davis does play out of the break, this situation feels completely untenable. Every time he takes the floor, the Pelicans are putting their entire future on the line – if the NBA wants to fine them, pay the fine! It would amount to a little more than $2 million if the NBA applied the max per-game fine for each remaining game. Furthermore, Davis' presence isn't helping. The Pelicans lost two of their last three; one, an embarrassing 30-point blowout against Orlando. When Davis left the last game, the Pelicans were up three – they ended up winning by nine. The fans are booing Davis during introductions. Whether by injury, "injury", or a decision by management, it's hard to imagine Davis playing anywhere close to a full workload after the break.

Ivica Zubac, Clippers (33 percent rostered)
Next week's schedule: at Mem, at Den
Last week, I declared Zubac the trade deadline's biggest fantasy winner. He rewarded my confidence by scoring three points and grabbing one rebound in 15 minutes two days later. Ouch. But I'm standing my ground on this. The point I made last week – that Zubac plays significantly better when he plays more – is still true, and the stats still apply.

These were Zubac's per-36 averages as a Laker:

When he plays at least 27 minutes: 23.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.7 blocks
When he plays between 10 and 20 minutes: 17.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks

Despite a pared-down role in his second game as a Clipper, Zubac has still started all three games with his new team, and played 22 and 23 minutes in Games 1 and 3. In those two, he averaged 14 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks, again emphasizing that he plays better when he plays more. I'm still optimistic that his role will increase as he fully integrated into his new team. But even if he doesn't, 22.5 minutes per game of Zubac is enough to help most fantasy rosters.

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks (46 percent rostered)
Next week's schedule: Min, SA
Robinson scored in double-digits for five straight games before that streak ended on Valentine's Day, and he's averaging 8.5 rebounds and a shocking 3.0 blocks over his last six. Fouls are still a problem, but he's gotten them (somewhat) under control over the last two weeks. Since fouling out in consecutive mid-January games, he has three fouls or fewer over his last 11 games. That's important, because foul trouble has been the biggest obstacle to his fantasy production this season. Not only has foul trouble limited his court time, but Robinson gets most of his value from his shot-blocking – and foul trouble can force a rim-protector to be less aggressive. In games when Robinson has at least four fouls, he averages 3.9 blocks per-36 minutes, compared to 4.5 per-36 minutes when he is not in foul trouble. He's getting better, and he's already quite good.

Markieff Morris, Thunder (23 percent rostered)
Next week's schedule: Uta, Sac
For most of their careers, Markieff was considered the better fantasy asset of the Morris twins. Managers can be forgiven for forgetting – the two are pretty similar, and even have identical tattoos – but before the 2018-19 Wizards collapsed, Markieff had been a top-100 player in three of the past five seasons. We have no idea what kind of role he'll play after signing with the Thunder this week, but he does seem like a natural fit for their zeitgeist. But he's worth a speculative add in many leagues.

Malik Beasley (48 percent rostered), Monte Morris (32 percent rostered) and Isaiah Thomas (45 percent rostered), Nuggets
Next week's schedule: at DAL, LAC
I don't know. For most humans – including most NBA and fantasy analysts – those three words can be terrifying. So people convince themselves they know things they do not, because it's more comfortable. But the fundamental truth of the Nuggets' backcourt right now is that we don't know. And "we" includes the Nuggets players and management, not just fans and analysts. Thomas was an All-NBA player the last time we saw him healthy, but that was almost two years ago. A lot of people are making a lot of conclusive statements about the Nuggets backcourt these days – ignore them.

The most likely scenario is that Thomas does not return to the player he was in the 2015-16 or 2016-17 seasons. If that is true, then he would probably remain behind Jamal Murray and Gary Harris on the depth chart. His impact on Morris and Beasley would depend on how much Thomas has regressed. But a prudent fantasy manger will ignore the declarations and closely monitor this situation over the next two months. In the unlikely – but definitely possible – event that Thomas returns to All-NBA ability, the Nuggets will not hold him back. On the other extreme, both Morris and Beasley have proven themselves to be capable contributors, and the Nuggets don't need Thomas at all if he can't match their now-considerable abilities.
Any one of these three players -- Beasley, Morris, or Thomas -- could end the season as a universally-owned championship winner. Or they could cannibalize each other, each damaging the other's value. We don't know, but we should be paying close attention.

Other recommendations: Collin Sexton, Cavaliers (48 percent rostered); Kevin Huerter, Hawks (30 percent rostered); Cedi Osman, Cavaliers (35 percent rostered); Avery Bradley, Grizzlis (18 percent rostered); Kenrich Williams, Pelicans (36 percent rostered); Landry Shamet, 76ers (15 percent rostered); Dion Waiters, Heat (17 percent rostered); Cody Zeller, Hornets (28 percent rostered); Jeff Green, Wizards (37 percent rostered); Marquese Chriss, Cavaliers (8 percent rostered); Kadeem Allen, Knicks (9 percent rostered); Robin Lopez, Bulls (11 percent rostered)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Rikleen
Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball and was a nominee for the 2016 FSWA Newcomer of the Year Award. A certified math teacher, Rikleen decided the field of education pays too well, so he left it for writing. He is a Boston College graduate living outside Boston.
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