Welcome back, friends. We've made it to the All-Star break, and we're about to enter one of the most pivotal periods of the fantasy calendar. The All-Star break gives NBA teams a chance to take a step back and assess their present and their future as they plan for the looming trade deadline (Thursday, March 25). This is the window during which we are most likely to see veterans step aside as teams give extra minutes to younger prospects or when contenders make roster moves to replace fringier options with more reliable veterans.
At the risk of being overly dramatic, fantasy championships will be won and lost on the waiver wire in these next three-ish weeks of flux.
With that context, this week's article is going to take a step back and apply a more macro-view of the waiver wire. I'm going to de-emphasize the immediate and focus on guys who could be primed for a second-half breakout.
There's a section at the bottom for shorter-term targets for the mini-week after the break.
As always, the players in this article must be rostered in less than two-thirds of CBS leagues. Players are listed in the order that I recommend adding them, assuming they are equally good fits for your team.
Adds for all leagues
Robert Williams, Celtics (48% rostered)
This one doubles as an excellent short-term add and my favorite second-half breakout candidate. The Celtics seem to be emerging from their well-publicized rough patch. After a 3-8 stretch, they've won four games in a row, three of which came against likely playoff teams.
Williams during the 11-game rough patch: 15.3 minutes.
Williams during the four-game win streak: 21.3 minutes.
I said last week that Williams "only needs 20 minutes per game to be an all-leagues guy." There are some good real-basketball reasons that Williams is unlikely to get much above 25 minutes per game, even as he continues to demonstrate that he's the Celtics' best big man. But Williams is so productive that it doesn't matter. Now that he's getting some extended run, he's putting up 11-8-3. No matter how you crunch the data – recent production, season-long, whatever – he projects at more than two blocks per 20 minutes. He's close to a steal per game. And he provides peak-DeAndre Jordan field goal efficiency without doing any severe damage to your FT%.
Williams is playing more, playing in crunch time, and the Celtics are back to winning. Roughly 20 minutes per game should be his floor going forward.
Nicolas Claxton, Nets (12% rostered)
Ever since the Harden trade, we've all known that the Nets needed more center help than DeAndre Jordan could provide. Claxton, the first pick of the second round in the 2019 draft, recently returned from injury and is averaging 15.2 minutes in his first five games this season. He certainly passes the eye-test, and his minutes have gradually increased. He's had two bad games, but he's averaging 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks in his three good games. That's some extreme data cherry-picking I just did, but we're talking about a sophomore playing his 16th-20th NBA games. The point here is his potential. His minutes are likely to continue rising, and he could be a substantial consolation prize if you miss out on Williams.
Jalen Brunson, Mavericks (31% rostered)
Brunson is 24 years old and in his third season after playing three years at Villanova. The biggest through-line of his college and pro career so far has been slow, steady improvement. And he appears to have earned coach Rick Carlisle's trust. Over the last nine games, he's up to 28.4 minutes, putting up a solid 16-5-3 with 1.9 threes per game. I know I said above that this article is focused on potential second-half breakouts, but the breakout has already begun in Brunson's case.
De'Anthony Melton, Grizzlies (20% rostered)
There are some familiar patterns that, in hindsight, show up frequently among second-half breakouts. One of the most common patterns is when a bench player steps up and claims a job that appeared to be somewhat settled. Often, these depth charts offer a veneer of stability, but when we look back after the fact, we realize that we could have foreseen some changes coming. The Grizzlies' wings look to me like just such a situation.
To be clear, what I'm predicting here is that the Grizzlies' wing rotation will eventually stabilize and that it won't be Grayson Allen continuing with his roughly 25 minutes per game. Forced to pick one bandwagon to jump on, I'm taking Melton over Allen, Justise Winslow (29% rostered) and Desmond Bane (12% rostered). Outside of a couple of starts when the roster was decimated and a few games when his minutes were limited by injury, Allen's role has been very steady. But I don't think Allen is meaningfully, reliably better than any of those other three options. The Grizzlies have a decent hold on the final bid for the play-in game and have just one loss more than the sixth seed, so they have some wiggle room for experimentation combined with a strong incentive to improve.
Melton has some fans among the Grizzlies' beat writers, and he's occasionally flashed the ability to be a secondary scorer and playmaker who can contribute in a broad range of categories. I'm a big Winslow fan, and Bane is probably the best dynasty league value, but Melton could be the best fantasy option over the remainder of the season.
Matisse Thybulle, 76ers (3% rostered)
Look, we're talking about breakout candidates, not guys who I think will make an impact right away. And I'll be honest; if the 76ers stay mostly healthy, then I don't know what the path is that gets Thybulle to 25-plus minutes per game. But there is only one guy in the league who I am convinced could average two steals and two blocks per game if they got enough minutes, so I have to at least point him out here. Thybulle doesn't score, and he barely rebounds. Other than defense, threes are the only category where he can be something close to helpful. But he can be defensively dominant in a way that would single-handedly tilt some head-to-head contests. I have to mention him at least.
After the break
Games will resume with a doubleheader on Wednesday, March 10. Over the five-day mini-week that follows, the league is pretty evenly split, with 14 teams playing twice and 15 teams playing three times. The Lakers are the odd man out, playing only one game, but that team is mostly irrelevant for waiver wire purposes anyways. Those guys are either already rostered or not worth our attention.
The Grizzlies and the Spurs stand out as the two teams with the best schedules. Not only do they play three times, but they play on Wednesday's super-light slate and don't have any back-to-backs.
Among those two teams, my top recommended pickup would be the Spurs' Jakob Poeltl (59% rostered) if he is still available. Lonnie Walker, Spurs (28% rostered) is a noteworthy option, but I'd rather have the aforementioned Grizzlies. Assuming Derrick White returns from Covid protocols, Walker's minutes will likely fall back below 20 minutes per game.
Other reasonable options, if you are looking to take advantage of the Spurs' and Grizzlies' Week 12 schedule, include the Grizzlies' foursome listed above (Melton, Allen, Winslow, Bane), the Spurs mentioned above, Trey Lyles (3% rostered) and Patty Mills (33% rostered)
The rest of the teams with three games are: Hawks, Bulls, Mavericks, Rockets, Heat, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Thunder, Magic, 76ers, Trail Blazers, Raptors, Wizards