Merry Christmas. Whether you celebrate or not, I hope you get some time off from work and are able to enjoy some time with your family.
As COVID continues to rip through the league, the NBA took steps this past week to minimize game postponements and to hasten the return to play of some who had tested positive. Realistically, COVID is going to remain a dominant factor in waiver wire consideration for the rest of the season, and especially for the next few weeks, but hopefully we are getting close to the point where it can stop being our primary focus.
COVID is doubly important for waivers this week, but this time it's because of something that falls into the category of good news. For the first time in a while, we had more stars returning from injury than getting hurt. Though last week brought news that Anthony Davis (knee) will miss a minimum of four weeks, it also brought the unexpected returns of Ja Morant (knee) and Richaun Holmes (eye), as well as positive recovery news for CJ McCollum (collapsed lung). Good news for the players getting healthy, but their returns (or pending returns) shrink the pool of available waiver pickups.
As usual, 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
Naz Reid, Timberwolves (12% rostered)
Karl-Anthony Towns tested positive for COVID Thursday, knocking him out for at least a few games. While Reid is probably only a short-term add, Towns' absence creates such a massive hole that Reid is a top pickup regardless. Towns has missed two games so far this season. Reid has started both, averaging 18-8.5-1 in 35.0 minutes. This is a no-brainer all-leagues must-start, even if we only get a couple more uses out of him.
Cameron Johnson, Suns (42% rostered)
Devin Booker has been back for three games – playing 26, 32, and 35 minutes – and the Suns are possibly the healthiest team in the league. Surprisingly and excitingly, Booker's return has had no impact Johnson. Johnson has averaged 16-7-2 and 3.7 3s over the last three games. That's actually slightly better than the 15-5-1 and 3.1 3s that Johnson averaged while Booker was out, despite Johnson's minutes dipping a bit. It seems as though Booker's skills as a playmaker and the extra attention he attracts has helped Johnson more than the extra minutes and usage did. Even if the production drops off a little bit as the quality of opponents pick up (the past three were against the Hornets, Lakers, and Thunder), the upshot here is that we may be looking at a rest-of-season pickup.
Darren Collison, Lakers (0% rostered)
Collison was yanked out of retirement by the Lakers for a 10-day hardship contract, presumably with some sort of promise of playing time. He may be available as soon as Christmas Day for the Lakers' contest against the Nets. He'll presumably be competing for playing time with Isaiah Thomas, Rajon Rondo and other backup guards. Collison last saw NBA action in 2018-19 with the Pacers, where he averaged 11.2 points, 6.0 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 28.2 minutes. Fantasy managers shouldn't expect a complete career revival for the 34-year-old, but he has upside as a passer.
Onyeka Okongwu, Hawks (11% rostered)
Another short-term COVID-based pickup. The Hawks have been decimated by an outbreak. Clint Capela is far from the only relevant Hawk sidelined – Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and Danilo Gallinari, just to name a few – but he is the clearest Fantasy beneficiary. In his first start of the season Thursday, Okongwu put up 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. There's a chance Okongwu sticks on rosters even after Capela returns, but for the most part, this is a short-term add until the Hawks get healthy.
Chimezie Metu, Kings (25% rostered)
Is this the real life? Is this just Fantasy? With Metu, it's hard to know if this is reality. Has his (Fantasy) life just begun? Or will he soon throw it all away? Trying to parse his box scores, I feel like I'm trying to predict which way the wind will blow. Metu has been starting consistently since Thanksgiving, and he wasn't really worthy of Fantasy attention until this past week. After averaging 9-7-1 in 25.5 minutes through his 11 starts, that suddenly jumped to 14-8-2 in 33.0 minutes over his last four games. In addition to points and rebounds, he's an excellent source of defensive stats, averaging 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes.
That defensive production makes him a highly attractive pickup if we think we can trust the last week. But as Richaun Holmes (eye) works his way back into shape, Metu is going to have to steal some of Tristan Thompson's minutes. If it weren't for the Kangz factor, I'd feel pretty good penciling in a continuing large role for Metu. Unfortunately, Sacramento.
Gary Harris, Magic (20% rostered)
After years in the Fantasy wilderness, Harris is finally back – at least for now. Since entering the starting lineup just before Thanksgiving, he's averaging 14-3-2 with 2.1 3s and 1.1 steals. Over the past week, he's doing even better: 19-3-4 with 2.5 3s and 1.3 steals. Part of that recent surge is buoyed by the Magic being shorthanded, balancing a COVID outbreak and multiple injuries. Cole Anthony (ankle) and Wendell Carter (leg) returned Thursday and played a full workload, and Harris still managed to set his season high in points. That outcome provides some optimism that Harris might be able to keep this production going, though there is danger that he becomes a drop if and when the rest of the team gets healthy.
Hamidou Diallo, Pistons (6% rostered)
Diallo entered the starting lineup after Jerami Grant (thumb) got hurt, and he's produced some solid lines in that role. He's scored in double-digits in each start, also averaging 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals. The most attractive aspect here is that Diallo is up to 32.7 minutes over the last three games, increasing his output and his potential. Those extra minutes are primarily due to, you guessed it, another COVID outbreak. Nonetheless, Diallo is an attractive short-term play with the potential to stick for a month or so in deeper formats.
JaVale McGee, Suns (28% rostered)
McGee has settled into a role with some low-end Fantasy viability. He's primarily attractive in deep leagues or as a short-term streamer, but what's changed is that he's emerged as a solid option for either of those scenarios even when the Suns are fully healthy. In games that he came off the bench over the last month – so, excluding his best games and focusing on his floor – he's averaged 10.1 points and 7.1 rebounds. Over the last 10 days, he has at least one block in every game, despite playing less than 17 minutes in each. He's not the most exciting pickup, but you could do a lot worse.
Other recommendations: Malik Beasley, Timberwolves (54% rostered); Max Strus, Heat (18% rostered); Terance Mann, Clippers (44% rostered); Herbert Jones, Pelicans (22% rostered); Jaden McDaniels, Timberwolves (15% rostered); DeMarcus Cousins, Bucks (27% rostered); Gary Payton, Warriors (5% rostered)
The NBA kicks back into high gear after Christmas, with half of the league back to playing a four-game week. There will be busier weeks, but this is on the busy side of the spectrum.
The busy week means extra damage is done by relying on a player with only two games: i.e. a Piston, Pelican, or 76er.
Day to day, it's a mostly balanced week. Thursday has only four games, which makes it an extra attractive day for pickups or streamers. Friday has 10 games – on the high side, but probably not so high that it impacts how managers handle their teams.
The Cavaliers are the only teams with both four games and a game on Thursday's small slate, giving them arguably the most attractive schedule of the week.
One important note for teams with tight weekly acquisition limits: there are no teams with a Saturday-Sunday back-to-back. The Cavaliers are the only team with three games in four nights to end the week. If a manager in one of these leagues wants to pseudo-stream, their best bet is probably as follows:
Wait until after the player you are dropping has played their game on Monday or Tuesday
Add someone with a mid-week 3-in-4
Tuesday-Friday: Cavaliers (also a Tuesday-Sunday 4-in-6), Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Thunder, Kings
Manage the remainder of the week depending on how many acquisitions you have remaining