By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
We’ve seen star players miss plenty of games because of injuries this fantasy season, including James Harden (foot), LaMelo Ball (ankle) and Kawhi Leonard (knee). When a star goes down, there is sometimes a rush to the waiver wire to pick up their replacements. Suppose you want to avoid using your high waiver wire priority or spending a ton of FAAB. In that case, it can make sense to fill out your bench by stashing players now who could be one injury away from being significant fantasy contributors. Let’s discuss five such options that are still available in the majority of Yahoo leagues.
Andre Drummond, Bulls (59% available)
The Bulls had a difficult time trying to patch together their backup center spot last year behind Nikola Vucevic. Tony Bradley was a flop, and the late-season acquisition of Tristan Thompson was also a failure. They dipped into the free agent market during the summer, bringing in Drummond to elevate their second unit. He recently missed some time with a shoulder injury but returned Wednesday.
For some fantasy managers, his shoulder injury might have taken him off the radar. That would be ill-advised. Despite only playing 16 minutes per game this season, he’s provided averages of 8.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 0.9 steals. If he’s healthy and anything were to happen to Vucevic, he could be looking at a massive bump in minutes. With that in mind, stashing Drummond on your bench now could provide significant returns in the future. Even if Vucevic stays healthy, though, Drummond can give value to fantasy managers who need rebounds.
Tyus Jones, Grizzlies (71% available)
Jones is arguably the best backup point guard in the NBA. He signed a two-year contract during the summer, putting him back behind Ja Morant as a member of the Grizzlies’ second unit. He’s logged 23 minutes per game, providing averages of 10.8 points, 3.9 assists and 1.5 3-pointers. He made one start when Morant was injured, posting 23 points, 10 assists, two steals and three 3-pointers over 33 minutes.
Jones thriving as a starter is nothing new. Across 23 games in that role last season, he averaged 12.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.6 3-pointers. Morant’s athleticism is off the charts, so he spends a lot of time driving toward the rim. That can tend to lead to added injuries. If he were to miss any significant stretch of games again, Jones would vault to another level in fantasy.
Walker Kessler, Jazz (80% available)
After trading away Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz were supposed to be entering this season in the beginning stages of a rebuild. They might not have a superstar on their roster anymore, but they have a lot of quality depth. That has helped them generate a surprising 10-3 record. One of the veterans they brought in to help fill minutes is Kelly Olynyk, who has taken on the starting center job.
With Olynyk starting, Kessler has only averaged 15 minutes per game off the bench. Still, he’s providing 1.7 blocks per game. He was an elite shot blocker in college, and that skillset makes him very intriguing in fantasy. If the Jazz were to start falling down the standings or decided to trade Olynyk, then Kessler could take on a larger role. If that were to happen, he could be a significant difference-maker in terms of blocks down the stretch.
Markelle Fultz, Magic (74% available)
The Magic have been hammered by injuries to their guards. Fultz (toe) has yet to play in a game, and there is still no concrete timetable for his return. Pictures of him without a walking boot have started to surface, so everything points to him trending in the right direction. The Magic are also currently without Cole Anthony (oblique), who is expected to be out until at least late November.
Fultz showed last season that he doesn’t need much playing time to be productive. Despite only logging 20 minutes per game, he averaged 10.8 points, 5.5 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 47.4% from the field. He has plenty of weapons around him, including Anthony, Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. Adding Fultz now could pay off for fantasy managers who need a boost in assists.
Nick Richards, Hornets (78% available)
The Hornets are off to a 3-9 start and injuries have played a prominent role in their struggles. Not only has Ball yet to play in a game, but Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward (shoulder) have also missed time. Rozier is back, and Ball could return soon, so they might not have to play so shorthandedly for much longer. However, they’ll need to jell in a hurry if they are going to avoid digging an even deeper hole for themselves in the standings.
The Hornets have some promising young centers in Richards and Mark Williams. Williams has only played in three games, while Richards is averaging 20 minutes off the bench. He’s made the most of his limited playing time, putting up 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks, while shooting 59.7% from the field and 71.4% from the charity stripe. He only has Mason Plumlee to leapfrog to gain more minutes and a starting role. Plumlee is an excellent passing big man, but he’s not much of a scoring threat, and he’s not a great rim protector, either. If the Hornets were to deal Plumlee, or bench him if they continue to fall down the standings, then Richards could provide significant fantasy value while playing 25-to-30 minutes a game.