OK, time for a new plan. This week, I'm not even giving Kevin Huerter (47% rostered) a blurb. I've written about him as one of the top two or three pickups every week for a month. This week, I'm just dedicating the column to him.
Welcome to Week 9: The Kevin Huerter All-Stars. Subtitle: Players You Should Add Because The Starters Ahead Of Them Are Injured. Tagline: They aren't actual All-Stars, but they'll provide 80% of an All-Star's stats while the real stars are sidelined.
One important note: NBA injury reporting continues to be a frustrating mess for Fantasy managers, which has a big impact on how players are ordered this week. If we had reliable timeline estimates for prominent injured players – Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Devin Booker, Ja Morant, Jalen Green, etc – then it would be easier to prioritize the pickups who are behind them on depth charts. But we don't have that information. I'm trying to make educated guesses as to how long players will be out, but if you think I've guessed wrong (or if new information comes out after this article is published), please feel free to rearrange the order of the waiver prospects listed below.
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
Dennis Smith Jr, Trail Blazers (24% rostered)
The injuries to Damian Lillard (abdomen), CJ McCollum (chest), and Anfernee Simons (ankle) may have saved Smith's career. The 24-year-old former No. 9 pick was picking up a lot of DNP-CDs on his third team in two years. Out of desperation, Portland turned to its only remaining point guard. Yet, in an unexpected twist, Smith has been excellent in his expanded role.
He's averaging 15.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks while playing 39.2 minutes. He's been shooting great, with a 53-33-80 split. And, importantly, these numbers might be sustainable, as they are in line with his career per-minute averages. What's impressive and surprising is that he's able to maintain that production while shouldering a large load and against starting lineups.
The timelines for Lillard, McCollum, and Simons are all unclear. The recent reporting on Lillard implies that he may return this weekend, and Simons could also return soon. But there is nothing concrete on either player, and McCollum appears in line for a longer absence. Smith is an auto-start as long as all three remain out, and he should remain rosterable if only one returns. McCollum played in the first of Smith's three-game run. Even if we only get a couple more games out of him, he's worth prioritizing.
Garrison Mathews, Rockets (23% rostered)
I'm not sure what's more surprising, that Mathews is missing a "T" in his last name, or that the Rockets are good now. OK, it's definitely the latter. But you're going to need to remember the former, too, when you're typing Mathews' name into the player search bar so you can add him. Unless you sort available players by production during the last two weeks. Because then you won't need to spell "Mathews" or "Garrison" (two "R"s one "S", same as a group of soldiers stationed together at a fort). Because since Thanksgiving, Mathews is averaging 16.8 points and 4.0 made 3s across six starts, likely making him the best available pickup in either category.
Mathews will hurt you in assists – literally one total assist during that six-game run. He's currently helping in steals and shooting efficiency, though his FG% is likely to cool off eventually. But if you need points and/or 3s, or if you play in a points league, Mathews has reached must-add territory, at least until Jalen Green (hamstring) returns. We have no idea how long Green will be out, and the slow-drip of news to leak out of Houston has been mostly negative.
The Rockets' upcoming schedule is brutal – they play six times in the next nine days, including Friday-Saturday and Wednesday-Thursday back-to-backs, and they don't have consecutive off days until Christmas. My guess (emphasizing "guess" here) is that Green misses at least another week, which would give Mathews a solid run in Fantasy lineups.
Danilo Gallinari, Hawks (39% rostered)
Is Gallinari finally back on track? After a truly dreadful start to the season – like, just, really awful stuff, setting career (non-rookie) lows in six of nine Fantasy categories – he's finally strung together three straight good games. Over those three, he averaged 18-6-3 with 2.3 3s and excellent shooting efficiency. Cam Reddish's (wrist) pending return could cut into Gallinari's minutes a little, and/or this stretch could just be a mirage from the 33-year-old, injury-prone veteran. But in a week when most pickups carry clear expiration dates (when the injured starters ahead of them return), Gallinari has at least a chance to be a long-term addition.
Tyus Jones (52% rostered) and De'Anthony Melton (52% rostered), Grizzlies
We talked about this pair a bunch last week after Ja Morant's (knee) injury sidelined the star indefinitely. We don't have anything resembling an official timeline from Morant, who could miss as little as another week or two or as much as several months. Thanks, Grizzlies. Though the uncertainty is frustrating, it seems safe to assume that this pair is at least a medium-term pickup, not a flavor-of-the-week situation.
Jones has outperformed my expectations slightly. As usual, he's mostly valuable for assists, but he's getting more of those than I anticipated, averaging 7.5 dimes since Morant went out. And while not good enough to count as helpful, his 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds don't hurt as much as I feared. His 1.5 steals per game are helpful, though I expect that pace will slow down slightly.
Unless you're actively chasing assists, Melton remains the player I'd rather roster, though that gap is narrow. He's averaging 12-4-3 with 2.5 stocks and 2.3 3s in 24.0 minutes over the last four games – productivity that is likely sustainable, as it closely mirrors his early-season numbers while Dillon Brooks was out.
Cameron Johnson, Suns (28% rostered)
Devin Booker (hamstring) has missed three-and-a-half games since his injury, during which time Johnson is averaging 15-4-2 with 2.8 3s. Forgive me if you've heard this one before, but we have no idea when Booker might return – they are treating him as game-to-game, but he has also still not resumed on court activities.
As of this writing, the Hornets have five players – including starters LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, and Mason Plumlee – unavailable due to being in the NBA's Health and Safety Protocols. Their backcourt is particularly decimated, with Ish Smith also among the inactives (Jalen McDaniels is the fifth). Cody Martin (31% rostered) isn't really a point guard, but he's currently their closest remaining approximation of one, giving him a ton of value until one or more of the others return. If Ish Smith (8% rostered) is the first guard to return, he's also worth a short-term pickup. As long as so many players are out, James Bouknight (9% rostered) and Nick Richards (0% rostered) are also worth a look in deep leagues.
Other recommendations: Alex Caruso, Bulls (57% rostered); Marvin Bagley, Kings (47% rostered); Malik Monk, Lakers (30% rostered); Terence Davis, Kings (18% rostered); Doug McDermott, Spurs (32% rostered); Monte Morris, Nuggets (50% rostered); Patty Mills, Nets (56% rostered); Patrick Beverley, Timberwolves (29% rostered); Lonnie Walker, Spurs (23% rostered); Herbert Jones, Pelicans (15% rostered); Eric Gordon, Rockets (49% rostered); Jeff Green, Nuggets (28% rostered); DeMarcus Cousins, Bucks (22% rostered)
The Week 9 schedule is much more balanced than Week 8's was, making it simpler to digest. Just over half the league, 17 teams, plays four games, while 12 teams play three times. The Thunder are the only team to play just two games.
Once again, Tuesday and Thursday are lighter nights while Wednesday is busy. But the split – four games, five games, and 11 games, respectively – is much less extreme than Week 8's (3, 3, 13). If you're in daily lineup leagues, you should check your Wednesday schedule ahead of time. Many managers will have completely filled starting lineups, but not everyone will.
IF your Wednesday lineup is already filled, then waiver pickups who play Wednesday effectively have one fewer game during the week (i.e., both the Celtics and Mavericks play three games, but since one of the Mavs' games is Wednesday, and Maverick waiver pickup would only have a chance to enter your starting lineup on Tuesday). For these managers, the Thunder become complete stay-aways, as the first of their two games is on Wednesday, so they wouldn't have a chance to enter your lineup until Saturday. On the flip side, the following teams become more attractive, as they all have four games and do not play Wednesday: Raptors, Pistons, Warriors, Suns, Trail Blazers, Nets.
One last note: the Raptors and Suns kick off the week with three games in four nights and they don't play Wednesday. For managers in leagues with strict transaction limits, these players make good pseudo-streamers. (The Rockets, Pacers, 76ers, and Wizards all start the week with 3-in-4s that include a game on Wednesday).