I'm not really a Golden State Warriors fan, but I admit I check their upcoming schedule more than I do any other NBA team.
It's a habit now, not so I can see if this lottery-bound team can turn things around, but to see which players on my fantasy teams have big games on the horizon. Yes, sometimes it's really that simple. Hey, I applaud Don Nelson for winning his 1,300th game as a coach over the weekend, a defensive-minded 133-120 decision over the similarly sieve-like Oklahoma City Thunder. This is quite the accomplishment, winning that many games. But Nellie has also done a fine service for fantasy owners this season.
Basically, Nellie has been our Santa Claus this season, not merely giving Bay Area fans some exciting -- if one-sided -- basketball, but buoying the stats of individuals and teams facing the Warriors. I'm sure this hasn't been Nellie's intent, but what do we care? The defensively indifferent Warriors are allowing more than 111 points per game, which easily leads the league, and just over the past week we've seen Jeff Green produce 27 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists, reserve Josh Powell deliver 16 and 7, Brandon Roy drop 37 points, Nate Robinson find his way off the bench to score 30 points, and on Monday three Clippers reached 25 points each. When the Knicks and Warriors get together, the pace is like watching the NBA All-Star Game, except there aren't that many All-Stars here and the games actually count. In two meetings this season, the Knicks and Warriors have played a 138-125 game and a 144-127 affair. I want to see more of those meetings! Who needs Doug Moe back in the league now?
I applaud Nelson, as well as Kenny Natt, Mike D'Antoni, Jim O'Brien and Scott Brooks. Sure, maybe these fine coaches haven't intended to watch their teams allow the most points in the league, and I do realize a few of these guys haven't been along for the ride all season, but if you're not going to win games, might as well make things exciting, eh? You might find this hard to believe, but the Warriors, Kings, Knicks, Pacers and Thunder don't feature a playoff team among them. I know, it's stunning. These teams score points, they allow points, they generally lose. Fantasy owners, however, win by it. I was actually a bit concerned when I saw the Kings deal Brad Miller and John Salmons to the Bulls recently. Oh no, I thought, will new King Drew Gooden mess all this up and play some defense? Brad Miller, between the assists (and boards) he provides from the center spot, and his inability to stop other big men from going nuts offensively, was one of the most valuable players in fantasy this season!
So it is that I decided Don Nelson, while not making a single basket in the league in more than 30 years, deserves to be recognized as one of the most valuable fantasy influences of this season. I mean, everyone spends so much time in fantasy basketball looking at only individual players and trends, they forget how a coach can affect things merely with his game plan, or lack thereof. I'm not even being sarcastic here, for a change. With the Warriors and teams of that ilk, this has become similar to fantasy baseball when a team heads to Coors Field in Denver. Well, in the NBA, if you head to the Bay Area or welcome Nellie's boys to your arena, you can expect fireworks. I still have the newspaper box score from when the Pistons and Nuggets combined for 370 points in a December 1983 game. That was fun. C'mon, Nellie, you've got 1,300 wins, but don't stop now, there's so much more to accomplish before you pass Lenny Wilkens on the all-time wins list!
Anyway, I strongly recommend checking out Neil Tardy's Fantasy Forecaster, posted every Friday on ESPN.com, as he often makes recommendations for players to watch based on schedule, and he's often correct. It's a gimme when a team gets a road trip through Oakland and Sacramento the same week. Let's also take a look at how certain noteworthy Warriors are affecting fantasy offensively.
Stephen Jackson, SG/SF: In December, Jackson seemed to take a major step backward, as his scoring dropped to 15.8, but it looks like he just shot poorly, and little else. Few expected Jackson to get as many shots or assists with Jamal Crawford having been acquired from the Knicks, but Jackson recovered nicely when 2009 began. Including Monday's loss to the Clippers, Jackson has scored more than 20 points in each of nine February contests, averaging 26.7 points, 8.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 3-pointers and 2 steals. That's a very healthy month, enough to get Jackson into the top 10 on the Player Rater over the past 30 days. I never assume a franchise will adopt the same strategy in future seasons, so Jackson might not be a worthy keeper who duplicates this output in the fall, nor is he a better keeper than Monta Ellis, but he can help you win fantasy titles now as long as Nellie orders up a fast-paced game.
Corey Maggette, SF: I'm rarely a fan of one-dimensional scorers, and Maggette is basically that. However, the Warriors are scoring 119 points per game this month, so it can't just be the starters putting up big numbers. Maggette is a prime example of why fantasy owners shouldn't judge players based on whether they start or not. As a sixth man, Maggette is averaging 21.4 points per game, and 18.7 points when he starts. Fantasy owners, however, probably looked to move Maggette when he left the starting lineup. Maggette doesn't rebound or pass much, has little range and until January was hurting field-goal percentages, but if you want points, Maggette has always been able to provide them. He's going to be around Golden State for a while, so let's just hope Nellie is, too.
Andris Biedrins, C: One of only seven players averaging a double-double in points and rebounds who is still playing (Man, does anyone else really miss Al Jefferson, like I do?), Biedrins returned to the lineup Monday after missing five games because of a sprained ankle. I thought Ronny Turiaf would be very good in Biedrins' absence, and he has been, making 25 of 35 field goals over the past five games and blocking shots. The Warriors scored a lot more during that span, making me wonder if getting Biedrins back will be like Philadelphia with Elton Brand, and slow everyone down. We sure hope not. Biedrins isn't a top-10 fantasy center, not unless he can block more shots and shoot better from the line (or shoot less, like a Ben Wallace), but he's an anomaly on this team because he's just as valuable whether the Warriors play run-and-gun or not.
Monta Ellis, SG: Maybe it was inevitable this situation would evolve poorly, but all the pieces were -- and are -- in place for Ellis to be a fantasy monster. I mean, Nellie wants to run, and this favors Ellis. After missing a few months of the season, Ellis has been having residual ankle soreness, and now he has been shut down for the next week or two. It's obviously not a good time in fantasy for this to happen, but I would try to wait this out if you can afford the roster spot. Ellis was playing a lot of minutes and taking a lot of shots. In the win over the Thunder he added five steals, too. Maybe getting more rest will help, and Ellis can close the season strong. I do not assume the high-flyin' Warriors shut him down at all, even though it might be in their best interest to do just that with their investment. I just don't see it happening unless there are more setbacks.
Rick (Orem, Utah): "Eric, love your work. Here's my problem. With only 20 or so games left, I'm growing more and more impatient with Al Horford. I've stuck by him all season through the ups and downs and his knee injury. Is it time to drop him? Kendrick Perkins, Spencer Hawes and Matt Bonner are available in just about all the leagues that I have Horford in. Others have Shane Battier, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler. Are any of these players going to be a better option going forward?"
Karabell: Inconsistency can drive a fantasy owner crazy, and Horford is a prime example of it. He should have taken strides in his second season, but instead his scoring is basically the same, and his rebounds have dropped. Horford missed three weeks because of a bone bruise in his knee, and since returning he has been good one night, bad the next. He lights up the Kings for 18 and 18, then two nights later in Portland he attempts three field goals. Perkins is really no better. Hawes is the man in the Sacramento middle with Miller gone, but what's the best we can hope for, 12 and 8? That's similar to Horford. If you're asking about all the players you mentioned, I would want Bargnani. After that, I'd say Hawes over Horford. Remember, the Kings get in almost as many shootouts as the Warriors.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.