Welcome back. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. The NBA regular season is less than a month away.
As we get closer and closer to the end, coaches must remember to constantly re-evaluate what injured players are worth keeping. NBA teams have 10-14 games left. If you’re in a league that wraps up before the last week of the season, then you only worry about the next 6-10 games (or less). It was just announced that Collin Sexton (hamstring) will miss at least one more week – that’s four games, 30% of Utah’s remaining schedule (50% in multiple head-to-head leagues). He’s nowhere near good enough to keep him when we I know he will miss at least that many games.
Sexton is an easy example, with a team that has given a certain timeline and a player already near the waiver wire cut line. The decision is tougher with a top-100 player and an ambiguous schedule, but we’re getting close to the point where a multi-game injury makes any non-star fall immediately. The difference between Fantasy’s 100th best player and 150th player is easily made up by two or three extra games played.
As always, players in this article must participate in less than two-thirds of CBS leagues. The players are listed in the order I recommend adding them, assuming they fit your team equally well.
Plugins for all leagues
Nick Richards, Hornets (26% of roster)
Mark Williams (thumb), known friend of the column, has missed the last three games. And, true to the tanking season in a league with horrendous injuries marking its best days, we have no idea if or when Williams will return. Given all the information available, it seems safe to assume he’ll miss several more games at the very least. His absence marked an uptick for Richards, who is averaging 10-9-2 in 28.3 minutes through three starts. Richards is a capable shot blocker, likely averaging close to two per game as long as his minutes stay up. He’s a classic big man, except for slightly better free throw shooting.
Austin Reaves, Lakers (30% on roster)
Reaves is making the most of LeBron James’ (foot) absence. In the nine games since James last played, Reaves is averaging 16-2-6 with 1.6 3-pointers and a stellar 54-42-83 shooting split. Finding six assists per game on the waiver wire is rare. And James is at least a week away from returning. As noted in the opener of this article, that means Reaves’ runway as a high-value Fantasy pickup is at least 42% of the Lakers’ remaining games (LA plays five times between the publication of this article and James’ first potential return game ). Richards may last the rest of the season on the roster, but for next week, Reaves is the most valuable pickup out there.
Jaden Hardy, Mavericks (11% on roster)
Luka Doncic (thigh) could return for the Mavericks game on Monday. This will significantly reduce Hardy’s value. Kyrie Irving (foot) is questionable to return Friday, and his eventual return is also bad for Hardy. But Hardy’s production in the three games without the Mavericks’ star guards warrants our attention. He averaged 24-5-3 with 3.7 3s in those starts. Hardy was a highly touted prospect out of high school, but fell to the second round of the 2022 draft after a mediocre season with the G League Ignite. While he struggled to make Dallas’ rotation earlier this season, the 20-year-old has plenty of potential that he appears to be unlocking. It would be the top of the week if Doncic and Irving didn’t seem so close to returning.
Talen Horton-Tucker, Jazz (64% on roster)
I’m not what you might call a “THT devotee”. That said, I’ll have to recognize it when a widely available player goes 37-8-10 like Horton-Tucker did Saturday in Charlotte. On the one hand, this blowout came against one of the worst teams in the NBA. On the other hand, the Hornets have shown signs of life lately, and Horton-Tucker’s rating is part of a recent surge in production. He started the last nine games at point guard, averaging an impressive 16-5-6 in 28.6 minutes. Collin Sexton (hamstring) will miss at least another week, though Jordan Clarkson (finger) appears to be moving toward a return (of course, we don’t have anything resembling an official timetable. Why would we?). Horton-Tucker deserves to be on the roster at least as long as those two are out, possibly longer. Just don’t count on many more 37-point outings.
Xavier Tillman, Grizzlies (58% on roster)
It’s been a disappointing week for Tillman — there’s no turning that around. But despite going just 9-5-2 in 25.0 minutes over three games, the reasoning that made him one of last week’s standouts still holds true for the most part. The regular season of Steven Adams (knee) and Brandon Clarke (Achilles) is over, leaving Tillman as the undisputed starter. In the first three games without Adams and Clark, Tillman’s minutes rose to 32.0. So not only is there upside to his potential workload, but last week’s production also represents a worst-case scenario, as he underperformed against seasonal per-minute averages. And even though his points and rebounds were down, Tillman contributed to the defense with 2.0 shares per game last week. My excitement has waned, but it’s still very much added.
Other recommendations: Malik Monk, Kings (49% of roster); Herbert Jones, Pelicans (54% on roster); Jalen Suggs, Magic (56% of roster); Josh Green, Mavericks (19% of roster); Andrew Nembhard, Pacers (29% of roster); Josh Okogie, Suns (32% on roster); Cory Joseph, Pistons (10% of roster)
Special for Deep League
Corey Kispert, Wizards (9% of roster)
In recent production alone, Kispert is worth considering in typical leagues. That said, his stat profile is extremely limited, and most standard league managers need players who help in more than two categories. Deep league coaches can’t always be that selective, and Kispert has been very good in those two areas, averaging 13.9 points and 2.7 3s per game over his last seven. Also, if we’re picking nests, he’s technically useful in three categories thanks to his 49.6% FG, though his field goal attempts are low enough that his effectiveness barely registers. The thing is, a widely available pickup scored in double figures six times in seven games while playing 32.0 minutes. This is not always the case in some leagues.
Other recommendations: Joe Ingles, Bucks (9% of roster); Jordan Nwora, Pacers (9% on roster)
Week 23 has an average number of games and a semi-balanced schedule.
There are 15 teams with four games, 12 with three games and three (Nuggets, Pistons, Heat) have two games.
Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are the busiest days, but they only play 10, 10 and nine games. Thursday is light with four games and the other days all have six games.
Daily league lineups
There are as many games on the weekend (25 from Friday to Sunday) as there are between Monday and Thursday (26). Usually, the difference is greater, but the league is shifting more games to the weekend as the season winds down.
This balance change is important in leagues with everyday lineups for one simple reason. Try to follow along, because this math gets complicated. Since there are more days between Monday-Thursday than Friday-Saturday (4 vs. 3), we have more starting slots available in our Fantasy series. Radical stuff, I know. Depending on your league’s rules, you can create a significant advantage in games through offensive flow early in the week.
Even if your acquisition limits severely limit your ability to stream, the changing schedule means we have to change our strategies. Most of the season, managers have back-loaded their waiver pickups to target specific categories and/or ensure they don’t miss a pickup. This strategy made sense, but now we have to change. The opportunity cost of losing a breakout player is now low due to the steady turnover of Silly Season and the limited number of games remaining. Now we have to turn to prioritizing the games played, which often means you’ll be using most or all of your weekly acquisitions early in the week. Due to the combination of fewer games played and more starting spots available on your roster, you can create a significant advantage.
Neither team starts the week with a back-to-back, and the Knicks are the only team to start 3-for-4. However, if you have an extra pickup available in Week 22, several teams have a Friday-Monday 3-on-4 (Bulls, Warriors, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, 76ers, Rockets). This will allow you to take advantage of the Thunder or Spurs, who have a Tuesday-Friday 3-on-4 in Week 23.
The Nets and Thunder finish Week 23 3-for-4, and the Nets and Hawks finish the week tied.
Weekly lineup leagues
Among teams with three games, the Clippers, Magic, Lakers and Raptors all stay at home and avoid matchups. That said, we have to be wary of the Lakers and Raptors being on the injury report. Their first games aren’t until Wednesday, which might be too late to adjust if a player is suspended.
The Bucks, Suns and Trail Blazers also have a three-game week with a Wednesday opener, but their schedules wouldn’t be attractive even without the late start. The Bucks have it worse, with back-to-back Friday-Saturday sweeps at Utah and Denver. The Suns have two road games and a 3-on-4. Portland’s schedule is the least bad of the bunch, but they still have an away game at Utah.
The Grizzlies’ schedule is by far the most favorable among teams with four games. They don’t have a back-to-back, two games against the Rockets and one against the Mavericks.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Thunder, Pacers and 76ers play four games in six days, all on the road.