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Friday, January 27, 2012
Fantasy Forecaster: Week of Jan. 30

By Neil Tardy
Special to ESPN.com

As a fantasy owner, I find this season frustrating because of all the injuries. For instance, in one of my leagues I have 12 players with eight active roster spots. Everyone has a game on Friday. Only problem is, everyone includes Andrea Bargnani (out), Ty Lawson (likely out), Spencer Hawes (maybe playing but would probably be limited since he's been out awhile) and Tayshaun Prince (who at least isn't actually injured but did miss the previous game because of personal reasons).

I know, a lot of you have had to deal with far worse on the injury front. I'm just saying: It's frustrating.

As a fantasy analyst, I find this season frustrating because even though the lockout-altered schedule makes a huge difference in the quality of play, I'm not seeing many ways to exploit these unique circumstances. Here's an example: NBA teams on the third night of back-to-back-to-back games. You'd think this would be automatically bad for your players, that they'd see fewer minutes or put up ugly stats out of fatigue. You may think it would present an opportunity if one of your players is facing an opponent that's lacing it up for the third night in a row.

The problem is NBA teams are actually 9-6 so far this season when playing for the third straight day. Now, they have been less successful of late -- only 3-6 since Jan. 10 -- but there are some huge, surprising outliers here. For instance, the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder have each won all three games of a back-to-back-to-back set. When they played three straight, the Sacramento Kings lost the first two -- then defeated the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 5. Even though they were playing for the third time in three days, the Atlanta Hawks annihilated the Bulls on Jan. 7. Even the Charlotte Bobcats have won when playing on the third night in a row, and absurdly, they scored a season-best 112 points in that Jan. 14 win against the Golden State Warriors.

I guess there are two primary reasons you can't make too much of the unique circumstances of this season:

1. It's the same for everyone. Every NBA team must deal with it. Same goes for every team in your fantasy league.

2. Anything can happen on any given night. In other words, the rules of small sample size still apply.

So let's just take things at face value. In the week ahead, the Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies each play five games. My expert analysis: It's a good thing.

Week 6 at a glance

The Grizzlies, in particular, are worth watching going forward, since no NBA team has more games in the next three weeks (13). Best of all, a couple of their key players may be available to you. O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen are among the most added players in ESPN.com leagues. Mayo has carved out a bigger role of late, seeing at least 26 minutes in each of his past six games, and during that span he's averaged 15.5 points and 2.5 3-pointers. If you missed out on Mayo, who's now rostered in more than 80 percent of leagues, don't forget about Allen. Despite averaging just 25 minutes per game in January, Allen has amassed 1.9 steals. He can still be had in about half of ESPN.com leagues.

The Pistons, of course, are considerably less exciting for fantasy. But Prince (40 percent availability) and Rodney Stuckey (30 percent availability) are worth adding in standard leagues.

Players to watch

Jordan Crawford, SG, Washington Wizards (CHI, @ORL, @TOR, LAC): Crawford's availability is down near 60 percent in ESPN.com leagues. I have numerous reservations about Crawford, starting with the fact he played only 19 minutes in Randy Wittman's first game as interim coach. Crawford played between 23 and 29 minutes in each of his previous seven games, averaging 14.7 points and 1.1 3s in that span. This schedule isn't especially favorable. Orlando Magic and Bulls opponents are only 24th and 28th, respectively, in 3s, while Toronto Raptors opponents are sixth. Interestingly though, Raptors opponents are only 26th in field goal percentage.

Jimmer Fredette, SG, Sacramento Kings (@GS, POR, GS): Marcus Thornton (thigh) will miss at least a week, giving Fredette an opportunity to extend his recent success (17.3 points and 3.7 3s in his past three). Fredette is available in nearly 80 percent of leagues, and the rookie could do some damage in his next three games, since two of them are against the Warriors. Warriors opponents are fifth in treys.

Landry Fields, SG, New York Knicks (DET, CHI, @BOS, NJ): Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni stuck with Fields through his early struggles, and it's paid off. Fields is averaging 15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.6 steals in his past five. Expect him to keep up the thievery, since Pistons, Boston Celtics and New Jersey Nets opponents are in the top six in steals. Still available in about 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Fields could be a nice consolation prize, and eventual replacement, for owners who snatched up Iman Shumpert in early January. (Shumpert's run could be nearing the end with Baron Davis' pending return.)

James Johnson, SF, Toronto Raptors (ATL, @BOS, WAS, @MIA): Early in the season, I wrote about Johnson, saying he could register huge hustle numbers if the minutes were there for him. It took a while, but the minutes are there now. Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup five games ago, and his offense has been, to say the least, spotty (four points, then 23, seven, 18 and two). But similar to Allen, don't sweat the points with Johnson, just behold the hustle. He's averaging 2.6 blocks and 1.4 steals as a starter. Celtics opponents are second in blocks and fifth in steals, while Miami Heat opponents are second in steals. For what it's worth, on paper, the Wizards are only a so-so matchup for Johnson. Washington opponents are only 14th in steals and 19th in blocks, but that's kind of amusing given what Tyrus Thomas just did to the Wizards. More on Tyrus in a moment. As for Johnson, he's available in about 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Tiago Splitter, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs (@MEM, HOU, NOR, OKC): Owners might be overreaching with Splitter, who's currently one of the most added players on ESPN.com. Though he's hit double figures in five straight, his breakout performance (25 points and 10 rebounds versus the Houston Rockets on Jan. 21) came when Tim Duncan was given the night off. Factor that out, and Splitter is averaging 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in the four most recent games in which he has shared the court with the future Hall of Famer. Nothing wrong with those numbers, just don't expect too much. On most nights, Splitter will see only 20-24 minutes. On top of that, Rockets and New Orleans Hornets opponents are in the bottom five in rebound differential.

Tyrus Thomas, PF, Charlotte Bobcats (@LAL, @POR, @PHO): It may be some time before we see another 13-point performance as awesome as the one Thomas turned in on Jan. 25 against the Wizards. That, of course, was the night Thomas went for nine blocks and four steals. He also had nine boards in the game -- both the points and rebounds (and naturally, the blocks and steals) were season-highs. I'm done hyping Thomas (believe me, I did it for years), so I'll just call him a slightly better version of Johnson. And in my expert analysis, that's a good thing. Seriously, Thomas is still available in about 65 percent of ESPN.com leagues and worth adding. And even though Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns opponents are dead last in blocks, I wouldn't bet against him producing against this schedule.

The chart below shows what each team has allowed to its opponents during its past 10 games. The numbers are entering Friday's games.

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