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Category Strategy: The Final Three Days

Alex Rikleen

Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball. 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 in Delaware.

Three days remain in the 2016-17 season, and plenty of contests are not yet decided.

If you’re here, you’re probably here for help with these final days, so I’m ignoring consideration of keepers. At this point in the season, the idea of a “deep league only” player also doesn’t make much sense – either a player helps more than the guy already on your roster, or he doesn’t.

With so little time remaining, scheduling considerations can make a big difference. There are 14 games on Wednesday, meaning almost every fantasy team should be able to fill their entire starting roster. There are nine games Monday, and five games Tuesday, so this is where managers in streaming leagues can pick up a lot of ground.

Almost every team plays two games in these three days. The Grizzlies, Knicks, and Raptors play only one game, and it is on the busy Wednesday, making them almost worthless from a waivers perspective – in order for one of those players to be worth adding, they would have to instantly become one of the nine or 10 best players on a roster. The Suns also play only one game, but since their game is on the slow Tuesday, their waiver prospects are more likely to make it into the starting lineup and help managers.

The Hornets are by far the most appealing team for the waiver wire, since they play Monday and Tuesday, and avoid Wednesday’s full slate. Everyone else plays either Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Wednesday. Because there are so many more games on Monday, managers are likely to have more regular starters available to play – this increases the value of the Tuesday-Wednesday teams, which are the Nuggets, Pelicans, Thunder, Hawks, Mavericks, Lakers, Timberwolves, and Kings.

Points

Jordan Crawford, Pelicans
(Ownership: ESPN – 11%; Yahoo – 26%; CBS – 20%)

Crawford burst onto the fantasy scene in early March, when the Pelicans pulled him from the D-League and he scored 19 points in two of his first three games. After the initial excited wore off, he mostly returned to fantasy waiver wires, despite only twice scoring in single digits and averaging 1.9 threes per game. He’s only 28 years old, and the Pelicans have, arguably, the worst backcourt/wing depth in the league. He’s played 30 minutes and scored 20 and 21 points in the last two games. There is probably a ceiling on his production, but of all the players on the waiver wire, he’s probably the safest bet for double-digit scoring. Quinn Cook is another player who can benefit from the non-competitive Pelicans backcourt – Cook was signed to a two-year contract Saturday, so they may have interest in giving the youngster extra playing time during these two games that don’t matter.

When active, Ty Lawson has been a big contributor over his past few games. Due to his age and the Kings having been eliminated from the playoffs, Lawson has rested four of the last nine games while younger players have been given extended minutes. But he has scored 20 points in three of the five games he’s played, and even chimed in with 11 assists in two of them. He’s only worth adding Tuesday afternoon, if it looks like he will play. Kings’ beat writer Sean Cunningham has announced each of Lawson’s past three rests before 11 am EST – if he’s quiet on Lawson by lunchtime, then Lawson becomes a priority add.

Other suggestions: Tim Hardaway Jr., Hawks; Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, 76ers; Ty Lawson, Kings; Ish Smith, Pistons; Skal Labissiere, Kings; Quinn Cook, Pelicans; Tyler Ennis, Lakers

Three-Pointers

Josh Richardson, Heat
(Ownership: ESPN – 20%; Yahoo – 36%; CBS – 40%)

Some of the other names below may make more three-pointers, but Richardson is a well-rounded player who can contribute in a lot of ways, including threes. He’s sunk 21 threes in the last 11 games, including three games of at least three, and only one game of zero. He’s also a shooting guard who has blocked a shot in 12 games straight, so you’ll also find him listed under blocks, below. Richardson’s improved play has coincided with Dion Waiters’ missed games, which is both good and bad news. The good: it means there is a logical explanation for the improvement, which gives us more confidence it will continue. The bad: Dion Waiters may return this week, which would limit Richardson’s value. Last thing on Richardson – I like him a lot as a long-term/keeper option, especially if Dion Waiters leaves this offseason

Spurs forward Davis Bertans is worth using if the Spurs decide to rest a bunch of starters again, but he is absolutely not worth it when everyone is active. In the two games last week that the Spurs rested players, Bertans scored a combined 34 points on the back of nine threes. In the two games when the Spurs were mostly active, Bertans played a total of two minutes.

Other suggestions: Terrence Ross; Magic; Joe Johnson, Jazz; Caris LeVert, Nets; Frank Kaminsky, Hornets; Jason Smith, Wizards; Tyler Ennis, Lakers; Jodie Meeks, Magic (if Evan Fournier remains out); Taurean Prince, Hawks

Rebounds

Boban Marjanovic, Pistons
(Ownership: ESPN – 10%; Yahoo – 7%; CBS – 6%)

Something very sad is happening to Detroit basketball. On March 11, the Pistons had a .500 win percentage, and controlled the seventh spot in the East. Since, they have gone 4-10, Reggie Jackson (knee) was removed from the starting lineup before being benched for the season, and franchise centerpiece Andre Drummond is scoring only 8.5 points per game on 46.9 field goal shooting.

The organization completely imploded. But the collapse carries upside for Marjonovic (and Ish Smith, mentioned above and below). For the first 12 games of the disintegration, the Pistons kept dutifully sending out Drummond for 28.0 minutes per game. Late last week, however, they accepted their futility, and Drummond was cut back to 22.5 minutes, opening the door for Marjonovic to play 25.5 per game off the bench. Marjanovich has responded with 11.0 rebounds per game. Henry Ellenson also saw extra minutes these past two games, averaging 27.0 minutes and 10.0 rebounds, but some reports indicate he will return to a lesser role Monday.

Other suggestions: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings; Larry Nance Jr, Lakers; Alex Len, Suns; Cody Zeller, Hornets

Assists

Marcus Smart, Celtics
(Ownership: ESPN – 36%; Yahoo – 66%; CBS – 83%)

Smart has an advantage over most of the league for these last few games – the Celtics are one of just eight remaining teams that still has an external incentive to win (Western conference playoff matchups are locked; Wizards are locked into fourth seed). Assuming the Celtics beat the Nets and the Cavaliers lose to Heat (the Cavaliers are resting most of their starters) on Monday, then the Celtics will clinch the one-seed with a win Wednesday. If the Cavaliers win Monday, but lose Wednesday, the Celtics can still earn the one seed as long as they win both of their games. Smart is averaging 30.1 minutes and 6.0 assists over his past eight games.

See the note on Ty Lawson, above. If he plays, he can get a bucketload of assists.

Other suggestions: Tim Hardaway Jr. Hawks; T.J. McConnell, 76ers; Ish Smith, Pistons; Ty Lawson, Kings; Yogi Ferrell, Mavericks; Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets

Steals

Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets
(Ownership: ESPN – 5%; Yahoo – 8%; CBS – 11%)

Dinwiddie is ending the season on a high note. He’s played at least 20 minutes in 23 out of 24 games since the All-Star break, so the workload is there for him. Over the past few games, he’s taken on an increased scoring role, scoring in double-digits for three straight, and in six of his last eight. In that eight game stretch, he also grabbed two steals six times. He also provides some blocks and threes, but steals are where he makes his biggest impact.

Like Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple doesn’t always play for the Kings, but when he does, he usually sees big minutes and grabs one or more steals. Refer to the same Sean Cunningham link above to monitor his active/inactive status.

If you are desperate for steals on Wednesday, Courtney Lee is a good option, but because of the Knicks schedule, he’s not a good choice for most managers.

Other suggestions: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, 76ers; Terrence Ross, Magic; Larry Nance Jr., Lakers Garrett Temple, Kings

Blocks

Larry Nance Jr., Lakers
(Ownership: ESPN – 18%; Yahoo – 31%; CBS – 25%)

Ever since Ivica Zubac (ankle) went down in late March, the Lakers have had a lot of available minutes to distribute amongst bigs who had spent most of the season on the bench. Nance has been the biggest beneficiary, moving into the starting lineup and seeing a bump up to 29.2 minutes per game. In five starts, he has five total blocks – not great, but blocks are tough to come by. He’ll also help in rebounds and steals, and he’ll sort-of-help in points. He has the ability to block shots and the opportunity, he’s just not a consistent performer.

Other suggestions: Richaun Holmes, 76ers; Robin Lopez, Bulls; Josh Richardson, Heat; Alex Len, Suns; Noah Vonleh, Trail Blazers (as long as Jusuf Nurkic remains out); Marcus Smart, Celtics

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