NBA Waiver Wire: Late-Season Targets

NBA Waiver Wire: Late-Season Targets

This article is part of our NBA Waiver Wire series.

Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed the All-Star break.

We've only had one night of games since last week's article, so let's take this opportunity to take a longer-term view of the waiver wire. In this column, we'll focus on players who might be poised for a second-half breakout.

Every season, a few players – frequently, but not always, young guys on tanking teams – emerge shortly after the All-Star break and turn into season-defining waiver pickups. I can't predict the future, but the players who follow are the ones I think are best situated for that kind of second-half breakout.

We'll stick with the usual rules of only featuring players rostered in less than half of leagues, and listing players in the order in which I'd recommend them (assuming they are all equally good fits for your roster).

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks (48 percent rostered)
Mentioning Robinson in this article almost feels like cheating, since he's been a regular feature in the normal weekly waiver wire columns and his roster rate barely qualifies. The crux of the Robinson argument is simple: He's a great shot-blocker, his workload has increased throughout the season, and he's already made significant strides to address the biggest weaknesses that were limiting his minutes early in the season. So instead of continuing to repeat myself with Robinson stats, here is a list that will hopefully emphasize Robinson's potential value.

The following are semi-comparable, recent rookie big men's pre- and post-All-Star break splits. All of them

Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed the All-Star break.

We've only had one night of games since last week's article, so let's take this opportunity to take a longer-term view of the waiver wire. In this column, we'll focus on players who might be poised for a second-half breakout.

Every season, a few players – frequently, but not always, young guys on tanking teams – emerge shortly after the All-Star break and turn into season-defining waiver pickups. I can't predict the future, but the players who follow are the ones I think are best situated for that kind of second-half breakout.

We'll stick with the usual rules of only featuring players rostered in less than half of leagues, and listing players in the order in which I'd recommend them (assuming they are all equally good fits for your roster).

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks (48 percent rostered)
Mentioning Robinson in this article almost feels like cheating, since he's been a regular feature in the normal weekly waiver wire columns and his roster rate barely qualifies. The crux of the Robinson argument is simple: He's a great shot-blocker, his workload has increased throughout the season, and he's already made significant strides to address the biggest weaknesses that were limiting his minutes early in the season. So instead of continuing to repeat myself with Robinson stats, here is a list that will hopefully emphasize Robinson's potential value.

The following are semi-comparable, recent rookie big men's pre- and post-All-Star break splits. All of them take noticeable jumps after the break:

John Collins
Pre-ASB: 22.3 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Post-ASB: 28.6 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG

Jarrett Allen
Pre-ASB: 18.2 MPG, 7.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Post-ASB: 24.0 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.3 SPG, 2.1 BPG

Myles Turner
Pre-ASB: 20.3 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Post-ASB: 25.5 MPG, 10.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG

Jahlil Okafor (43 percent rostered) and Kenrich Williams, Pelicans (33 percent rostered)
I'm beginning to think the Anthony Davis saga may never end, and that new developments may literally come out every week between now and the eventual heat death of the universe. That said, this much is iron-clad certain: Davis will not play anywhere near his pre-trade request workload of 37 minutes per game going forward. Based on interim GM Danny Ferry's comments Thursday, it seems likely that Davis will average minutes in the low 20s, with a fair amount of DNP-load managements for good measure. That opens up some gigantic opportunities for a team that is a late entrant into the tank-a-thon.

Davis' shrinking workload has a more direct impact on Okafor than on Williams, but both could benefit. Since Okafor became a fantasy force at the start of this sage, the Pelicans have only had two games with both Davis and Okafor available. In those, Okafor averaged 26 minutes, 10 points, and 7.5 rebounds – and one of those was an uncharacteristically inefficient shooting night for Okafor.

I'm expecting closer to 14-and-8 going forward, with a legitimate chance at 17-and-9 (note: those are my projections, not Yahoo's or RotoWire's). Williams is a consolation prize if Okafor is unavailable, but it's worth noting that Williams started and averaged 35.0 minutes and 9.5 rebounds in the four games that Davis played right before the break.

Jake Layman, Trail Blazers (13 percent rostered)
Oftentimes, a breakout player is a young guy whose name just keeps coming up, even though his production doesn't yet match the building excitement. Looking back after the breakout it feels like we should have seen it coming, even though, statistically speaking, there wasn't much to point to beforehand.

Layman fits that archetype. The third-year, second-round pick was almost anonymous during his first two seasons, logging nearly as many DNPs as minutes played (OK, slight exaggeration). Yet, despite the low profile, beat writers kept singing his praises, and he's become a significant piece of the rotation this season. He's played at least 25 minutes in 13 games, 11 of which have come over the last six weeks. In games when he's played at least 27 minutes, Layman is averaging 17.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 threes. In terms of per-minute production, he's also a decent source of steals and blocks.

The Trail Blazers have a lot of players capable of playing either forward slot, so it's possible that Layman suffers from a shift in the rotation. That said, over the past few months, he's been operating as the backup power forward behind Al-Farouq Aminu, and Layman is a more natural power forward option than most of the Blazers' other options. Layman has already cut into Aminu's workload, and taking a larger chunk of the still-effective starter's role is a difficult hill to climb. But if it happens, Layman could become a fantasy mainstay.

Tyus Jones, Timberwolves (3 percent rostered)
First, the somewhat obvious downside: The Timberwolves are loaded with point guard options when healthy, with Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose ahead of Jones on the depth chart. Making matters worse, with Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington gobbling up minutes at shooting guard and small forward, there is not a lot of opportunity for the Timberwolves to tinker with two-point guard lineups.

On the other hand, for whatever reason, former coach Tom Thibodeau was determined to limit Jones' minutes, despite several impressive flashes over the past two seasons. Well, Thibodeau was fired following a 32-point loss on January 6. In a cruel twist of fate, Jones was injured four games later, and has not played since. He was just removed from the injury report this week, and could make his return to the court as soon as Friday or Saturday. If he can earn significant minutes – or if either of Teague's or Rose's injury problems continue – Jones could be a fantastic assists and steals specialist.

Jones is averaging 7.0 assists and 2.2 steals per-36 minutes this season. In his six starts, he averaged 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals. He's unlikely to provide much value outside of those two categories, but quality passers can be tough to find on the waiver wire.

Other recommendations: Ivica Zubac, Clippers (31 percent rostered); Kevin Huerter, Hawks (24 percent rostered); Landry Shamet, Clippers (15 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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