Welcome to the All-Star break. We get a few days off from worrying about lineups and time to focus instead on getting frustrated at the perennially terrible judging in the dunk contest. Hashtag Aaron Gordon Was Robbed.
With six days off, let's take the opportunity to zoom out. Next week, we can go back to our usual waiver column that prioritizes hot streaks, injury replacements, and other short- and medium-term fill-ins (there's only one day of games between this article and next week's). This week, let's take a long-term focus. What players have a chance to be rest-of-season difference makers? Are there any potential keeper prospects we should be monitoring?
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
Players who narrowly miss the cut line are inserted without blurbs in the position where I would rank them below.
Mark Williams, Hornets (63% rostered)
Williams led off last week's column, but he's still below the cut line, so let's re-up our praise. He's started all four games since the trade deadline, averaging 11-8-1 with 2.3 blocks and 0.8 steals. His field goal efficiency is excellent, and his free throw shooting is not terrible. And those numbers might be underselling his potential – his per-minute steals rate before last week was nearly double that of this recent stretch. It's still a small sample, but he's already inside the top-85 in his new role. He's an all-leagues must-start and on track to be a challenger for the best waiver pickup of the year.
Jeremy Sochan, Spurs (68% rostered)
Gabe Vincent, Heat (13% rostered)
Kyle Lowry (old; bad) has missed the last six games. The Heat are 3-3 in that span, but that includes competitive losses to two of the best teams in the league – the Bucks and Nuggets. The Heat are doing fine without him. In his healthy eight-game stretch before that, Lowry averaged just 25.6 minutes, down from the 35.0 he was averaging before a different early January injury. Miami is fighting to avoid the play-in tournament, sitting a half-game back of the six seed. They can't mess around, and we've probably reached the point where Vincent is better than Lowry. Even if Lowry reclaims the nominal starting role in the remaining games he's healthy enough to participate in, I expect the minutes load to continue trending toward Vincent. In 16 games where he's played at least 28 minutes this season, Vincent is averaging 15-3-3 with 2.6 3s and 1.6 steals. He's positioned for a strong finishing stretch.
Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers (25% rostered)
Remember, this week's column has more of a long-term focus. I reiterate that because, in a typical week, Sharpe probably wouldn't get mentioned at all. We still haven't seen enough from him to count on anything for Fantasy. But the talent is obvious, and the injury to Anfernee Simons (ankle) opens up a long window of opportunity for Sharpe. Portland hasn't released a timeline for Simons, but based on what they have said about his injury, we should expect him to miss at least 3-6 weeks, with the longer end of that range the more likely outcome. Sharpe was already up to 14-4-2 in 26.3 minutes over the four games before Simons' injury – maybe the rookie can step into a larger role and make a huge impact down the stretch?
Zach Collins, Spurs (68% rostered)
Malaki Branham, Spurs (42% rostered)
Another trade deadline winner, Branham has now started seven straight games with impressive results. He's averaging 18-4-3 in 32.7 minutes and has very strong shooting efficiency. Some looming challenges are coming -- his shooting will probably cool off eventually, and the potential returns of Devin Vassell (knee) and Romeo Langford (thigh) will likely cut into his role. That said, the 19-year-old first-round pick is proving himself highly capable, and the tanking Spurs have every incentive to keep their injured veterans sidelined as long as possible. Branham might not last on rosters through the end of the season, but he has a lot of potential (and added appeal in keeper formats).
Daniel Gafford, Wizards (52% rostered)
Kristaps Porzingis is in the midst of the healthiest campaign of his career. Good for him; I hope it continues. But it's worth noting that Gafford has been solid in just 24.5 minutes per game, and a healthy Porzingis is the only thing getting in the way of a bigger role. The big man depth chart behind those two is ugly. Since becoming a starter, Gafford is averaging 11-7-2 with 1.6 blocks. Gafford is on the low end of usable now, and a Porzingis injury – real or tank-inspired – would catapult him up the Fantasy ranks. Also, while it's worth noting that Gafford's minutes are down slightly over the last two games, that strikes me as more of a coincidence than anything else. He's still the only pure center getting any minutes (Washington uses Porzingis as more of a power forward).
Dalen Terry, Bulls (3% rostered)
With every additional loss, the Bulls get one step closer to accepting the futility of their 2022-23 campaign and embracing the inevitable tank. They're two games back of the 10 seed, and there is no Eastern Conference equivalent of the Jazz, i.e., a wanted-to-tank-anyway team perfectly content to fall out of the playoff hunt. Chicago has lost six straight. Based on each of the teams' play over the past month-ish and the current standings, it's more likely that the Bulls fall behind the Pacers and Magic into the 13th spot than they somehow pass the Raptors or Wizards to work their way into the play-in tournament. The Bulls are bad.
Terry, on the other hand, appears to be good! He's a 20-year-old rookie who was the 18th pick in last year's draft. He was buried on the Chicago bench, but like a groundhog, he's started to emerge in February. He had only played a combined 56 minutes before the emergence of the famed weather-predicting rodent and has already played 59 since. That sample size is so small that we need to drink a full canister of salt when trying to extrapolate what his stat line might be with a regular rotation role. That said, the early returns are incredibly promising, with per-36 averages of 11-5-4 with 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks. Absolutely nothing is guaranteed here, but Terry is a bright prospect whose role is already increasing and should get even more run if/when the Bulls acknowledge their fate.
Mike Muscala, Celtics (4% rostered)
Maybe I'm just a homer overly excited after one good game, but I really liked the way Muscala has fit in with the Celtics so far. His 44 minutes against the Bucks was an obvious anomaly – Boston was resting four starters on the front end of a back-to-back – but Muscala had already scored in double figures in his first two games in green, too. His role won't be significant enough for managers to count on him for anything more than points and 3s, but this past week's results make it clear that he will have some role. In some deep leagues, semi-reliable help in two categories is enough to warrant a pickup.
Other recommendation: Nassir Little, Trail Blazers (3% rostered)
Isaiah Jackson, Pacers (13% rostered)
I can't quit Jackson. The Myles Turner extension and trade deadline inactivity means it's time to give up hope for Jackson becoming an impact player this season. But Turner's new contract is much easier to trade than his last one, and the more we see from Jalen Smith, the more the Suns' decision to let him loose makes sense. Offseason moves may lead to a more prominent role for Jackson in 2023-24. And there is just so much potential here. His per-minute stats are fantastic, and he shines on the rare occasions when the Pacers remember to play him. In the four games where he's played at least 26 minutes, he's averaging 13-8-2 with 4.0 blocks and 0.8 steals. Recent prospects from Kentucky tend to develop well in the NBA, and Jackson is only 21 years old. If you have room on your bench for someone who can't help now but could see his value skyrocket this offseason, Jackson is worth a look.