It takes talent to succeed in the NBA, but as fantasy owners know, it also takes opportunity. After years of playing behind Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, Andray Blatche is suddenly the man in Washington. Darren Collison has been able to shine in his rookie season only because of injuries to Chris Paul.
Another talented player who's now finding opportunity is J.J. Hickson. With Shaquille O'Neal sidelined by a thumb injury and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, um, let's just say on leave, the Cleveland Cavaliers are without a starting center at the moment. But they're doing quite nicely with Hickson, and I think fantasy owners should take notice of the second-year player who's available in more than 95 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
In his first start at center for the Cavs, Hickson had 17 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks versus the New York Knicks on March 1. He followed that up with 20 points, 13 boards and 2 steals against the New Jersey Nets on March 3 -- an even more impressive showing given that the 6-foot-9 Hickson had to defend Brook Lopez.
While Hickson has shown flashes of offense this season, I expect him to thrive in this role during the final month. Even if Ilgauskas returns in a couple of weeks, as expected, Hickson should remain the starter, because the Cavs like the way he plays with the first unit. And playing close to the basket, especially on offense, isn't a bad thing when one-quarter of your shot attempts are dunks, as is the case with Hickson this season.
I'm not saying that Hickson will go double-double every night, but at the very least, he should be rostered in all leagues of at least 12 teams. Of course, if you want to play it cautiously, the schedule gives you reason to do so. More on that in a bit.
Week 20 at a Glance
I had to double-check, because I assumed it was a mistake. But it's true -- the Washington Wizards actually play on three consecutive days in Week 20. It's just part of a nasty stretch of 15 games in 25 days. Well, nasty for the Wizards, but fine for fantasy owners with Blatche and other Wizards players. In deeper leagues, you'll want to stick with JaVale McGee -- if for no other reason than the fact that the Wizards open Week 20 with the Houston Rockets. While McGee has been erratic offensively, he is averaging 2.4 blocks since the break. And the Rockets, as noted in previous Forecasters, lead the league in shots rejected.
The Wizards are one of 17 NBA teams with four games in Week 20. However, some of the sweeter-looking schedules are three-game sets. For instance, the Dallas Mavericks play perhaps the three worst teams going at the moment: the Minnesota Timberwolves, Nets and Knicks. While the Mavericks are pretty much a known quantity for fantasy, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the loss of Jason Terry, who's expected to miss at least a week after taking a hard elbow from the Wolves' Corey Brewer on March 3. Odds are the Mavs will go with a combination of Jose Juan Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, but if Rodrigue Beaubois gets enough playing time, he could be fantasy relevant in Week 20. The rookie hasn't been in the rotation lately, but when the Mavs opted to rest Jason Kidd for that game against the Timberwolves, Beaubois contributed 17 points, 4 assists and 3 3-pointers in 29 minutes.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 10 games' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
The Forecast: It's Their Week
Nicolas Batum, SF, Portland Trail Blazers (SAC, @GS, @SAC, TOR): Batum moved into the Blazers' starting lineup on Feb. 23, and he recently opened some eyes when he totaled 52 points and nine triples in back-to-back games against the Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies. But he followed that up with just five points in 19 minutes versus the Indiana Pacers on March 3. I'm not sure if the second-year player is consistent enough offensively to be a fantasy factor, but this schedule certainly gives him a chance to produce. Golden State Warriors opponents are first in points and second in shooting percentage, while Sacramento Kings opponents are eighth in shooting percentage. However, while Raptors opponents are fourth in 3s, Kings opponents are only 23rd and Warriors opponents are 14th.
Kenyon Martin, PF, Denver Nuggets (@MIN, @NOR, @MEM): Knee problems are apparently behind Martin's Trevor Ariza-like percentages since the break (37.7 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from the line). Obviously if he's not healthy, Martin will probably continue to struggle, but since he continues to post strong rebound and steal numbers, and since Martin's ownership in ESPN.com leagues has slipped below 50 percent, he might be a decent gamble here. Grizzlies, Timberwolves and New Orleans Hornets opponents are fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in shooting percentage, and Wolves opponents are tops in steals.
C.J. Watson, PG/SG, Warriors (@NOR, POR, TOR): Monta Ellis could return shortly after the Warriors complete their current five-game road trip, but that shouldn't significantly slow Watson, who was seeing 30-plus minutes even with Ellis on the court. Just focus on Watson's post-break numbers -- 21.5 points, 3.6 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.5 3s on 54.4 percent shooting -- and the fact that he's still available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues. While Watson's theft rate could drop off with this schedule -- Blazers opponents are last in steals, while Raptors and Hornets opponents are only 20th and 23rd in this regard -- he should do well from beyond the arc. As noted, Raptors opponents are fourth in treys, while Hornets opponents are 10th.
Marvin Williams, SF, Atlanta Hawks (@NY, @WAS, DET): I'm hesitant to discuss Williams, who is and will remain well down the list of Hawks offensive options. However, he is coming off of two big games (18 points and 9 rebounds versus the Chicago Bulls on March 1 and 21 points and 8 rebounds versus the Philadelphia 76ers on March 3), and this is another one of those nice three-game sets I was telling you about. So, maybe, in deep leagues that allow daily lineup changes, Williams is worth a flier. Knicks opponents are third in shooting percentage and third in total rebounds, while Detroit Pistons opponents are 10th in shooting.
The Forecast: They're Weak
J.J. Hickson, PF, Cavaliers (SA, @PHI, BOS): I do think that Hickson is a strong add, but this is a tough set of games for him. He'll have to tangle with bigger players like Tim Duncan, Samuel Dalembert and Kendrick Perkins. Celtics and Spurs opponents are only 23rd and 24th, respectively, in total rebounds, though Sixers opponents are seventh in shooting percentage and Spurs opponents are eighth in blocks.
Tracy McGrady, SG, Knicks (ATL, @SA, @MEM, @DAL): After totaling just six points in his previous two games, McGrady turned in an excellent 21-point, 8-rebound, 7-assist line against the Pistons on March 3. Most significantly, T-Mac played a season-high 34 minutes, and afterward said that this is the best he's felt all season. Not that I'm a doctor or anything, but I imagine McGrady will experience ups and downs over the final month, particularly in back-to-back situations, like the set the Knicks face against the Grizzlies and Mavs in Week 20. His health aside, though, this is a fairly tough set of games. San Antonio Spurs and Hawks opponents are 30th and 27th in 3s, and Spurs opponents are only 26th in assists. However, Grizzlies opponents are fourth in shooting percentage and fifth in assists.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.