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Make the most of every day. That's not a holiday sentiment (though I do wish you the happiest of holidays). It's tangible advice for fantasy owners as we, at last, enter the 2011-12 NBA season.
Particularly for owners in head-to-head leagues, time is a significant consideration this season. In terms of the calendar, the 2011-12 schedule is about 80 percent the length of a typical NBA season. Looking at it as a head-to-head league owner, it's even harsher. For standard leagues on ESPN.com, the regular season is just 12 weeks. (The two weeks that surround NBA All-Star weekend are counted as one "week.")
That's not a sprint, but it's hardly a marathon. This season, any major injury will be more costly -- sorry, Brook Lopez owners. Any bad week will be tougher to shrug off. And a poor start could be a killer.
So make the most of your time, and make the most of this season. The Fantasy Forecaster is here to help you do just that.
This weekly feature is designed to help fantasy hoops owners with their tough lineup decisions by providing fantasy-oriented analysis of NBA matchups. While the Forecaster is primarily a guide for head-to-head league owners, the information here should offer value to roto owners as well. The Forecaster schedule grid provides ratings of each NBA game as well as cumulative ratings of each NBA team's weekly schedule. Keep in mind that for the early going, NBA stats from the 2010-11 season figure into the ratings. Once we get two or three weeks into this season, the ratings will be based on stats accumulated in teams' previous 10 games.
With this in mind, let's quickly review last season. While fantasy hoops owners might remember the 2010-11 season for the excellence of Kevin Durant or LeBron James, or the emergence of Kevin Love or Derrick Rose, the Forecaster's look back focuses on how NBA teams played defense -- or didn't play defense.
For instance, the Minnesota Timberwolves were laughably inept defensively in 2010-11. They surrendered the most points per game (107.7) of any NBA team. They also yielded the most steals (9.5 per game) and the second-most 3-point buckets (7.8). Teams like the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors were also pretty bad defensively. Other teams struggled in specific areas. For instance, the Memphis Grizzlies had the most shots blocked (6.2 per game) of any team. The Detroit Pistons allowed the highest opponents' shooting percentage (.486).
This information can help fantasy owners. Of course, in most fantasy formats, the majority of your players will start week in and week out, as long as they're healthy. But toward the end of your roster, you might have a player such as Ben Gordon. Gordon hasn't been very productive in his time with the Pistons, but he could bounce back under new coach Lawrence Frank -- at least that seems to be the thinking of fantasy owners, since Gordon is currently owned in about two-thirds of ESPN.com leagues.
Checking the Forecaster schedule grid below, Gordon's Pistons have four games in the first week (actually, eight days) of the NBA season. They play the Indiana Pacers twice and host the Cleveland Cavaliers and visit the Boston Celtics. Cumulatively, this looks to be a tough schedule for Gordon. Celtics opponents were 28th in 3-point makes last season, while Pacers opponents were 20th. However, Cavs opponents made the most 3s. So if you have the luxury to set your lineups on a daily basis, you might insert Gordon on Dec. 28 versus Cleveland. But if you have to have a set lineup for the week, you might choose to bench Gordon based on his overall schedule of opponents. Or you might want to ignore the schedule entirely, knowing that when Gordon is on, he can pile up treys on anybody. That's your call; the Forecaster is simply a guide for you, the fantasy owner. And if you want a full-season look, check out our fancy team-by-team schedule grid.
While we can be certain that things will change this season, last season is, for now, a useful guide. For instance, while the Timberwolves can probably be counted on to show more effort now that Rick Adelman is on their bench, the players on their roster still aren't strong defenders. Their most commonly deployed front-line combo could well consist of rookie Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley and Love (who, despite being listed at 6-foot-10 is more like 6-8) in the post. Statistically, the Wolves should again be one of the NBA's poorest defensive teams.
Here are a couple of general reminders for the first week:
• The Los Angeles Lakers play a whopping six games in the first week, but it will do Andrew Bynum owners little good. Bynum, of course, is suspended for the season's first four games after his attack on Jose Juan Barea in last spring's playoffs. Between the suspension and Lamar Odom's departure, the Lakers are seriously short-handed in the frontcourt. The team has added Troy Murphy and ex-Pacers forward Josh McRoberts, but neither appears to be capable of logging major minutes right away -- Murphy isn't healthy enough and McRoberts isn't well acclimated to the Lakers' system. If Kobe Bryant misses time, players such as Matt Barnes or even Steve Blake might be worthy lineup fill-ins in leagues of at least 12 teams, but if there's a question about Kobe being able to play, Kobe usually ends up playing.
• Fantasy owners who were fortunate enough to draft Kris Humphries surely feel that they have a friend in the NBA's "most hated" player. Humphries stands to be the big fantasy winner now that the aforementioned Lopez is sidelined for up to two months with a stress fracture in his foot. Of course, Humphries is owned in nearly all ESPN.com leagues, but if you're looking for a sleeper here, I'll suggest Shawne Williams. With the New York Knicks last season, Williams averaged 1.3 3s in 64 games, despite playing just 21 minutes a night. The Nets do have five games in the first week, including attractive matchups against the Cavs and Washington Wizards. And they wasted little time in addressing their need in the middle by trading for Mehmet Okur, who should become the starter immediately. His ability to knock down perimeter shots should help space the floor and not cut into Humphries' rebounding totals.
The depleted Lakers are the only team to play six times in the season's first eight days. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks (three games) are the only team that doesn't play at least four times in Week 1. The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings,New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Celtics have five games.
Arron Afflalo, SG, Denver Nuggets: Afflalo just re-signed with Denver, which may explain why he's available in 70 percent of leagues. While he wasn't overwhelming in any one category last season -- save perhaps for his .498 field goal percentage, which I suspect will be tough to repeat -- he might be the best player available in your league. He's definitely worth activating this week. The Nuggets play the Lakers twice; the Lakers were actually below average versus the 3-pointer last season. Afflalo will also draw the Utah Jazz. Jazz opponents made the third-most buckets from beyond the arc.
Jarrett Jack, PG/SG, New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul's replacement is still available in about 20 percent of leagues. The Hornets face the Suns twice; Suns opponents were sixth in assists last season.
Paul George, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers: Available in almost 75 percent of leagues, George is one of my favorite sleepers, given his potential for across-the-board production. The Pacers face the Pistons twice and the Cavs once -- I've already noted why those teams are potentially favorable matchups. George will also go against the Toronto Raptors, and Raptors opponents were sixth in steals in 2010-11.
C.J. Miles, SG/SF, Utah Jazz: Miles is another player I really like this season. However, this schedule doesn't look all that accommodating. San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers opponents were, respectively, 24th and 25th in 3s last season.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at email@example.com.