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In the season's first installment of the Fantasy Forecaster, I briefly mentioned the schedule grid (which contains the coming week's NBA schedule by team) and noted that we'd be incorporating ratings by team and by game.
As you can see by checking the big box below, we now have ratings -- one weekly rating for each NBA team, and one rating for each individual game. A quick word about these numbers. They're determined by compiling fantasy-relevant statistics of NBA teams, including points, rebounds and assists, with an emphasis on the most recent games. Because it's so early in the season, the ratings are based on not just stats from this season, but from the 2009-10 season. Once we get about 10 games into the schedule, stats will be based entirely on the 2010-11 season. Obviously, doing it this way, things can get a bit skewed. For instance, I understand the Miami Heat have made some player personnel changes since last season. Right now, the Heat may not look like much in our ratings, but we know -- and you know -- they're a lot better than that. Give it a little time, though, and the ratings will reflect that. These ratings are simply a guide, and the guide will grow steadily more reliable as we move forward.
Looking ahead to the week of Nov. 8-14. Note: The New Orleans Hornets play just two games in the coming week.
Chicago Bulls (DEN, GS, WAS): Carlos Boozer had his cast and the pins in his fractured right hand removed this week, but don't remove Taj Gibson from your lineup just yet. In his first four games as Boozer's replacement, Gibson has two double-doubles. Those are nice numbers if you can get them, and odds are you can: Gibson is still available in nearly 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues. While the second-year pro can sometimes put himself on the bench by overfouling, the schedule smiles here. Wizards opponents are outrebounding them by an absurd 12 boards per game so far, while Nuggets opponents are ninth in blocks.
Denver Nuggets (@CHI, @IND, LAL): Arron Afflalo remains available in more than 80 percent of leagues, making him one of the most undervalued players on ESPN.com. Afflalo is currently averaging 2.0 3-pointers, and this schedule gives him an excellent chance to maintain that pace. After all, the Bulls just allowed the New York Knicks to swish 16 from downtown on them.
New Jersey Nets (CLE, @CLE, ORL): Here's a good example of what I mentioned about the schedule ratings being partially based on last season's numbers. While this provides broader statistical context in general, you can obviously dismiss those "R" numbers next to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the time being. Things have changed a bit with the Cavs. As for the Nets, fantasy owners are taking a shine to Derrick Favors, who's averaging 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds through four games and nearing 30 percent ownership in ESPN.com leagues. While Cavs opponents are a plus-5.2 per game on the boards in the early going, Favors' minutes (only 22 a night now) could be further curtailed now that Troy Murphy is playing again.
Orlando Magic (ATL, UTA, TOR, @NJ): Ryan Anderson made his first start on Nov. 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and, given the results -- 19 points, four 3s, three blocks and a 42-point Magic victory -- he could stick in the lineup for awhile. While it remains to be seen whether Stan Van Gundy will want Rashard Lewis to play small forward on a regular basis, Anderson's touch from the perimeter gives the Magic another legitimate scoring option. That said, expect a tougher go with this schedule. Atlanta Hawks and Nets opponents were below average in 3-pointers in 2009-10, and Hawks opponents are last from downtown, with just 4.2 makes per game, so far this season.
Sacramento Kings (MIN, @PHO, DET): Nice to see Francisco Garcia on the court again. After appearing in just 25 games last season, Garcia appears to be making up for lost time, as he's shooting almost 55 percent through the Kings' first five games. That number won't hold up, of course, but the fantasy-friendly Garcia can be counted on for 3-pointers and hustle stats. The caveat is he may not see significant minutes every night -- Garcia has played as few as 15 and as many as 34 so far -- but take a chance with this schedule. Minnesota Timberwolves opponents are tops in steals, with a flat-absurd 10.4 per game, while Phoenix Suns opponents are seventh in 3s.
San Antonio Spurs (@CHA, LAC, PHI, @OKC): Richard Jefferson is reasserting himself as a fantasy factor by averaging 20.0 points and 2.0 3s with an unreal 70.7 shooting percentage (29-for-41) in his first four games. Give RJ credit for putting in the work this summer, but I'd sell high on him if I had the chance. Or maybe give it this week, and then sell high. Clippers and Charlotte Bobcats opponents are second and fourth in 3s, respectively, while Philadelphia 76ers opponents were second in treys in 2009-10.
Toronto Raptors (GS, CHA, @ORL, @MIA): Linas Kleiza was a popular sleeper going into this season, but teammate DeMar DeRozan is an easier get (available in more than 85 percent of ESPN.com leagues) and, I believe, a slightly better fantasy option. DeRozan is averaging 15.8 points while shooting 46.7 percent in the early going. But with Magic and Heat opponents 29th and 30th in scoring, this probably isn't the week to reach for Raptors players.
Washington Wizards (HOU, CHA, @CHI): Though he amassed seven blocks against the Hawks on Oct. 30, JaVale McGee is averaging just 5.7 points and 5.3 rebounds through three games, and many owners are already weary of his inconsistency. However, this is the wrong week to give up on the young shot-blocker. Houston Rockets, Bobcats and Bulls opponents are all in the top five in rejections, and it's no fluke. In 2009-10, Rockets and Bobcats opponents were 1-2 in blocks, while Bulls opponents were eighth.
Toney Douglas, PG, New York Knicks (@MIL, GS, @MIN, HOU): The surprising preseason emergence of second-round pick Landry Fields means that Douglas is currently coming off the bench. Nonetheless, Douglas still has fantasy value, something he emphatically demonstrated by raining 30 points and five triples on the Bulls on Nov. 4. The shot may not be there every night, but Douglas has shown he can shoot (38.9 percent from distance in 2009-10) and, despite his reserve status, he is getting the opportunity -- Douglas has played at least 25 minutes in each of the Knicks' first four games. This schedule makes him a great fill-in play. Let's put it this way: The Golden State Warriors are actually the second-toughest defense the Knicks will face in the week ahead. Rockets opponents are averaging 114.5 points so far, tops in the league, while Timberwolves opponents are a close second with an equally staggering 113.6 points. Rockets and Wolves opponents are also shooting near 40 percent from downtown. While Warriors opponents are averaging a healthy 108.8 points themselves, they're connecting at only 32.4 percent from distance. Douglas is available in more than 95 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Those in standard leagues could roster him for this week only, but in leagues of at least 12 teams, Douglas could be a long-term option.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.