Fantasy basketball waiver wire pickups: What to expect as Ben Simmons returns

Luka Doncic catches fire with 73 points as Mavs win in Atlanta (3:19)

Luka Doncic ties the NBA mark for fourth-most points in a game as the Mavericks beat the Hawks 148-143. (3:19)

Working the waiver wire is pivotal to succeeding in fantasy basketball. With so many games, injuries and endless shifts in rotations throughout the marathon campaign, we'll need to source stats from free agency to maximize imaginary rosters. A willingness to entertain competition for the last few spots on your fantasy hoops roster can prove rewarding. When curating this fluid collective of statistical contributors, it helps to consider your end-of-bench players in direct competition with the talent floating in free agency.

The goal of this weekly series is to identify players at each position widely available in free agency in ESPN leagues. Some nominations are specialists capable of helping in one or two categories, while others deliver more diverse and important statistical offerings.

In the breakdowns below, I've ordered players at each position with the priority of acquisition in mind, rather than roster percentage in ESPN men's basketball leagues.

Point Guard

Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls (Rostered in 28.4% of ESPN leagues): Some of the best defensive rates in the league surface whenever Caruso gets major minutes, as has been the case with Zach LaVine ailing. The Bulls rely on Caruso's two-way play in most matchups, especially as his offense is surging of late. Teammate Ayo Dosunmu (5.8%) has similarly arrived with strong defensive numbers amid the team's injury issues in the backcourt.

Ben Simmons, Brooklyn Nets (38.2%): We haven't seen Simmons on the floor much this season, although he's likely to return to open the week and could soon regain relevance as a rare playmaker and defender who is also uniquely eligible at both point guard and the 4.

Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers (8.6%): Flashing impressive distribution skills as Tyrese Haliburton heals, Nembhard is a fun fantasy option in the interim and could even be a worthy utility play once his star teammate returns to the fold for this pace-driven Pacers squad.

Shooting Guard

Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets (60.3%): The scoring machine has turned back on, with Thomas averaging 25.3 points over the past week. You rarely get much more than 3-point and scoring volume from Thomas, but that is often enough when he's on his game.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks (26.8%): Among the league's best high-volume shooters, Hardaway is particularly important for fantasy purposes while Kyrie Irving is sidelined with a lingering injury.

Small Forward

Vince Williams Jr., Memphis Grizzlies (31.0%): Ranked 11th among small forwards on the Player Rater during the past two weeks, Williams does a bit of everything for a depleted Grizzlies roster. Given the team's wave of impact injuries, Williams should sustain real value.

Saddiq Bey, Atlanta Hawks (22.5%): A game-winning layup off of a rebound this past weekend added to a hot run of production for Bey. With the Hawks likely to deal some proven rotation players in the coming days, Bey could become even more integral if he sticks around as a core piece of the plans.

Josh Hart, New York Knicks (33.2%): An injury to Julius Randle likely vaults Hart into more work as both a creator on offense and as a vital rebounder for a team down multiple frontcourt starters.

Power Forward

Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors (35.0%): Thriving in the wake of sharing his displeasure with a limited role, Kuminga's ascent has him producing gobs of points and helpful rebounding and defensive rates for a Warriors team badly in need of his contributions.

Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs (26.8%): Eligible at point guard and power forward, this unique player has surged on the glass and as a glue guy in recent games for a Spurs team that engages in high-scoring, up-tempo games with regularity.

Jarred Vanderbilt, Los Angeles Lakers (21.7%): Upticks in minutes, touches, rebounding and defensive chances position Vanderbilt as a reasonable addition in deeper leagues as he complements a Lakers rotation badly in need of two-way production in the frontcourt past Anthony Davis.


Wendell Carter Jr., Orlando Magic (54.2%): Even as trade rumors circle Carter, his production of late signals sustainable value. It's likely best that he remain on the Magic in regards to fantasy stock, but it's wise to trust the recent returns and act on any new information as it emerges. A blend of efficient offense and reliable defense drives interest.

Isaiah Hartenstein, New York Knicks (36.0%): With Julius Randle ailing and the team already missing Mitchell Robinson from the rotation, it's likely that Hartenstein, who was also recently injured, is going to assume a massive batch of minutes, rebounding chances, and rim protection opportunities in the coming weeks. When active, he has been among the league leaders in boards, steals, and blocks.

Dereck Lively II, Dallas Mavericks (20.1%): The scoring floor can prove low for a roll and lob threat on a team with some top perimeter creators, and yet this rookie still brings enough rebounding and rim protection upside to merit interest in category-driven leagues.

Special Teams

This section focuses on specialists; players who flash in a singular category and can provide specific value to those in category and roto formats. Nominations are based on which category such players are helpful in and will rotate throughout the season.

  • 3-pointers: The Suns' Grayson Allen (38.5%) doesn't do a ton beyond brilliant shooting from beyond the arc, but that is enough given he's combining league-best efficiency with real volume. Hardaway is also in this tier of floor-spacers.

  • Steals: Vanderbilt is second only to OG Anunoby in added value via steals during the past two weeks. The Timberwolves' Jaden McDaniels (7.5%) is also quite larcenous in passing lanes.

  • Boards: Hartenstein is among the best rebounders in the league and could prove even busier as the team relies on his work in the paint sans Randle. Among wings, Atlanta's Bey is proving reliable on the defensive glass.

  • Blocks: Caruso's unique defensive profile even shows up in the block column. It's also savvy to look to Charlotte's Nick Richards (12.5%) for rim protection support.