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Friday, January 6, 2012
Fantasy Forecaster: Week of Jan. 9

By Neil Tardy
Special to ESPN.com

I think we all love fantasy drafts. The one downside of fantasy drafts (and auctions) that I can think of comes along at this point in the early season. It's that moment when you're forced to ask yourself, "Did I totally blow it with that pick?"

It's one thing to take a player who doesn't quite perform to expectations. That's tough. But when a player falls so far short that you're wondering, two weeks into the season, if he's even worth a spot on your roster, that's the worst. I think this happens to everyone at one time or another. I know it happens to so-called experts. At least Michael Beasley happened to this so-called expert. (And no, I'm not dropping Beasley, but I'm not happy with him or me.)

Maybe the chaos of the compressed schedule is a factor, but waiver wires in ESPN.com leagues are brimming with prominent names right now. Jason Richardson, Lamar Odom, Channing Frye, Corey Maggette, Jameer Nelson and Richard Hamilton were rostered in all or most leagues on opening night. Now each is a free agent in at least 30 percent of leagues.

If you're wondering whether you should drop these or other players, the answer may very well be yes. Richardson, for what it's worth, is someone I avoided in drafts. He was pretty ineffectual after his trade last season, and when J-Rich re-signed with the Orlando Magic, I didn't see any reason to think his stats would improve. There isn't any reason to use him this week, either -- the Magic play just twice.

However, if you examine the schedule as a whole, you might be convinced to give your own roster albatross at least another week.

Week 3 at a glance

Rip Hamilton is a case in point. The Chicago Bulls have five games in the week ahead. Hamilton missed two games with a groin injury, but returned with 14 points, five assists and a 3-pointer against his old team, the Detroit Pistons, on Jan. 4. Of course, Hamilton's downside for fantasy is that there isn't any one category in which he excels, but give him five games and he should compile some decent numbers.

Along with the Bulls, four other teams play five times: the Charlotte Bobcats, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Pistons. Among this group you can find free-agent help in most formats. The Bobcats, for instance, have D.J. White, who's apparently solidified his hold on the starting power forward spot in Tyrus Thomas' absence (although Thomas should finally make his season debut this weekend). I think White has already mastered the putback -- in his past three games, the rookie is shooting a stellar 76.9 percent (20-for-26). His overall numbers are just OK: 10.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals. Again though, five games of that could do you some good.

Other fill-in possibilities include the Sixers' Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner. After a so-so start, Young's availability is nearing 60 percent), but he's always been good for steals. I'd take my chances with the Sixers' five-game set, which concludes with a pair against the winless Washington Wizards. Wizards opponents are currently just 29th in steals, but for the 2010-11 season they were seventh. In his second year, Turner seems to be settling into a reserve role. Encouragingly, he's played at least 27 minutes in four of his first five games, and he's coming off a 21-point outing against the New Orleans Hornets on Jan. 4. Turner is available in about 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Players to watch

Tony Allen, SG, Memphis Grizzlies (OKC, NY, NOR): Can Allen be the primary replacement for the injured Zach Randolph? Yes, in a sense. Facing the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 4, Rudy Gay saw ample time at power forward. That allowed Allen to play a season-high 32 minutes, and he went off for 20 points and two steals. While he isn't nearly that productive a scorer, recall that when the Grizzlies lost Gay last season, Allen stepped in and averaged 13.3 points, 2.0 steals, 0.8 blocks and 54.2 percent shooting after the break. The Grizzlies might not go small against every opponent, but I view this as a nice opportunity. After averaging just 19.0 minutes and 4.5 points over his first four games, Allen is another player who hit the waiver wire hard, but in this case, owners may have been too hasty. Allen's availability is pushing 70 percent. See if you can get him. Once you do, you can be forgiven if you reserve him with this schedule. Not only do the Grizzlies have just three games, but Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks and Hornets opponents are all in the bottom half in steals.

Channing Frye, PF/C, Phoenix Suns (@LAL, CLE, NJ, @SA): Always a streaky shooter, Frye is off to a hideous start. The fact that he's been discarded in more than a third of ESPN.com leagues can be explained not just by his atrocious .279 field goal percentage through six games, but his steep decline in minutes (just 22 per night, compared to 33 in 2010-11). I don't know if Frye will play more, but I do know that New Jersey Nets opponents are second in 3-pointers, shooting an ungodly 47.3 percent from downtown. And Cavaliers opponents made the most treys last season. Again, if you've stuck with Frye, you might as well give it another week.

Jonas Jerebko, SF/PF, Detroit Pistons (@CHI, DAL, @MIL, @CHA, GS): His overall numbers (12.7 points, 0.8 3s, 0.8 steals and 51.7 percent shooting) make Jerebko a borderline play in standard leagues, but he's another good get with his team facing a five-game set in the week ahead. Bobcats, Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks opponents are all in the top seven in 3s. Mavs opponents are also ninth in steals. Though the Swede is a popular add right now, Jerebko is still available in about 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Gary Neal, PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs (@MIL, HOU, POR, PHO): After undergoing an appendectomy in the preseason, the Spurs wanted Neal to take a 2-3 game rehab assignment in D-League. But that was before Manu Ginobili broke his hand. So instead, Neal made his season debut against the Warriors on Jan. 4. The next night, he found himself in the Spurs' starting lineup against the Mavericks. I was really encouraged by Neal's showing versus the Mavs: 12 points (on four 3-pointers), five rebounds and two steals in 20 minutes. Given how he performed as a rookie, it's fair to wonder if Neal can give you much beyond points and 3s. But as a starter who's sure to get more minutes as he gets his legs under him, Neal is capable of 12-14 points and a couple of triples a night. I really like Neal for deeper leagues, though this schedule is a concern. Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets opponents are all shooting less than 30 percent from downtown, with Blazers opponents sitting at a league-worst 23.6 percent. Consider Neal, who's available in most ESPN.com leagues, another buy-and-hold candidate.

Iman Shumpert, PG, New York Knicks (CHA, PHI, @MEM, @OKC): A week from now, I can see Shumpert being owned in a majority of ESPN.com leagues. Get on board; this might be the fantasy find of the early season. (Yes, an even better get than last week's find, Marvin Williams.) Shumpert hurt his knee on opening day, but made an unexpectedly quick return on Jan. 4, when he poured in 18 points and four 3s against the Bobcats. The rookie impressed in camp, and it's rumored that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni could insert him into the starting lineup as soon as Friday night. Shumpert may hurt your field goal percentage, but if the Bobcats game is any indication, he should contribute big-time in 3s and steals. Grizzlies opponents are tops in 3s so far; they're also seventh in steals.

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at editor_njt64@yahoo.com.