Waiver Wire Pick-ups for Free Throw % and Turnovers
When looking to improve your fantasy basketball team with a waiver wire pickup, don’t ask “is this guy better than this guy?” Ask “does this guy improve the categories where I need the most help?” Here are a couple of players available in most standard 12-team fantasy leagues who could provide a boost in key categories.
Free Throw % – Ryan Kelly (PF, Los Angeles Lakers)
Ryan Kelly is a young forward for the Lakers, currently filling in as starter in place of Pau Gasol, out with a groin injury. Kelly stands to keep the role-- or at least a significant share of it-- for the rest of the year if the rumors of Gasol being traded to a contender come true.
Kelly is a stretch forward who can provide threes from the PF position, but I think where he could really shine as a fantasy player in a full-time role is in FT%. He’s currently hitting an outstanding 86.2% of his free throws, with great volume given his playing time-- 4.3 FT per 36 minutes. With 30+ minutes a game at those rates, his positive contribution to FT% would be barely less than Dirk Nowitzki’s, with twice as much impact as a low-volume guard like Jameer Nelson.
Finding good volume FT% like Kelly’s on the free agent list is extremely rare, because most players who draw a good volume of free throws are stars whom other teams foul more often because they’re harder to defend. I don’t know how Kelly has drawn so many or how sustainable that is, but it’s impressive and valuable in fantasy play.
The trade-off here is that Kelly’s FG% has been very poor for someone at his position. In roto leagues, this means you have to look at where you are on the tightrope that you must walk between the two percentages. If you’re solidly ahead of the next tier in FG%, but trying to pass a tight pack of teams in FT%, Ryan Kelly is the kind of guy that’s worth plugging in for a while to give you a push. If the reverse is true and you're struggling to gain ground in FG%, leave him on the wire.
Where Kelly would project as much more valuable is in a head-to-head league where you’re punting one or two typical big-man categories, like FG% or blocks. Kelly could fit right in to further strengthen your team in threes and FT% at the PF position, like a very poor man’s Ryan Anderson. He's a situational pickup, but one that could be uniquely valuable in the right situation.
Turnovers – Khris Middleton (SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks)
Welcome back to relevance, Khris Middleton. In the second half of December, with almost the entire Bucks frontcourt injured, Middleton enjoyed a stretch where he was red hot and averaging 40 minutes a game. He put up top 40 fantasy stats in the process. Then, as players like Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova got healthy, his minutes evaporated while his performance regressed, and he was dropped by fantasy players en masse.
Now he’s back, playing much better again and averaging 30 minutes a game over the last two weeks. And I’m saying he's a huge pickup, especially when considering the forgotten little sister of nine-category leagues, turnovers.
What makes a player "good at turnovers" is his ability to provide respectable numbers in the positive categories while costing you as few turnovers as possible. Turnovers are like money you have to spend in order to buy other stats.
Middleton provides a very nice "bang" for his turnover "buck." Over the course of the season, Middleton has averaged only 1.7 turnovers per 36 minutes, an amount more typical of someone who doesn’t see a lot of volume elsewhere. However, as he’s avoided the turnovers, he’s put up respectable per-36-minute numbers elsewhere: a .443 FG% on 9.6 FGA (somewhat below-average impact), .818 FT% on 1.6 FTA (slightly above-average impact), 1.6 treys, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 13.8 points.
It is players like Middleton who quietly allow you to sneak a point or two ahead of other active managers in your roto league's turnover category without losing ground in other counting categories. As long as he’s getting enough minutes in the Bucks rotation to keep up his counting stats, he’s a great player to own.