With All-Star break officially over and the trade deadline passed, it's time for fantasy owners to get back to work. We are coming up on the homestretch, where every decision could make or break your fantasy season. But there still is plenty of basketball to be played, and there still are plenty of fantasy leagues to be won. With that in mind, I have put together this preview to help guide you through the rest of the season.
The Top 130
Note: Brian McKitish's Top 130 are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.
RK. Name, POS, TEAM (LW)
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (1)
2. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (2)
3. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (3)
4. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (4)
5. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (6)
6. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (7)
7. Danny Granger, SF, IND (5)
8. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (8)
9. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (10)
10. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (11)
11. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (9)
12. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (12)
13. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (13)
14. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (14)
15. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (17)
16. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (15)
17. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (18)
18. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (19)
19. Amare Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (20)
20. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (21)
21. David Lee, PF/C, NY (23)
22. Brandon Roy, SG, POR (16)
23. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (24)
24. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (22)
25. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (27)
26. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (25)
27. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (29)
28. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, CHA (32)
29. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (28)
30. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (33)
31. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (34)
32. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (36)
33. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (39)
34. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (26)
35. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (41)
36. Marcus Camby, C/PF, POR (31)
37. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (30)
38. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, NY (37)
39. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (90)
40. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (42)
41. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (43)
42. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (46)
43. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (40)
44. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (60)
45. Kevin Martin, SG, HOU (44)
46. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (47)
47. Antawn Jamison, PF, CLE (35)
48. Nene Hilario, C/PF, DEN (45)
49. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (38)
50. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (53)
51. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (49)
52. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (52)
53. David West, PF, NO (54)
54. Caron Butler, SF, WAS (51)
55. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (63)
56. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (73)
57. Corey Maggette, SF, GS (50)
58. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (57)
59. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (56)
60. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (48)
61. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (58)
62. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (55)
63. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (59)
64. Chris Paul, PG, NO (66)
65. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (62)
66. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (65)
67. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (68)
68. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (69)
69. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (61)
70. Andre Miller, PG, POR (70)
71. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (71)
72. Carl Landry, PF, SAC (74)
73. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (76)
74. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (77)
75. Andray Blatche, PF/C, WAS (NR)
76. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (81)
77. Kirk Hinrich, SG/PG, CHI (105)
78. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, HOU (79)
79. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (80)
80. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (75)
81. Anthony Morrow, SG/SF, GS (NR)
82. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (67)
83. Wilson Chandler, SF, NY (85)
84. Josh Howard, SG/SF, WAS (117)
85. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (92)
86. Kenyon Martin, PF, DEN (96)
87. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (72)
88. Randy Foye, SG/PG, WAS (83)
89. Tony Parker, PG, SA (78)
90. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (95)
91. Brendan Haywood, C, DAL (89)
92. Andris Biedrins, C, GS (82)
93. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (97)
94. Tracy McGrady, SG, NY (NR)
95. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (87)
96. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (84)
97. Darren Collison, PG, NO (93)
98. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (91)
99. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (101)
100. Richard Hamilton, SG, DET (104)
101. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (100)
102. Peja Stojakovic, SF, NO (NR)
103. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (99)
104. Mike Miller, SG/SF, WAS (106)
105. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHA (115)
106. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (102)
107. Yi Jianlian, PF/SF, NJ (88)
108. John Salmons, SG/SF, CHI (123)
109. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (113)
110. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (98)
111. Jason Thompson, PF, SAC (94)
112. Omri Casspi, SF, SAC (NR)
113. Allen Iverson, SG/PG, PHI (110)
114. Taj Gibson, PF, CHI (NR)
115. Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN (109)
116. Boris Diaw, PF/SF, CHA (120)
117. Corey Brewer, SF/SG, MIN (116)
118. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (119)
119. Samuel Dalembert, C, PHI (64)
120. Tayshaun Prince, SF, DET (NR)
121. Eddie House, PG/SG, NY (NR)
122. Jermaine O'Neal, C, MIA (128)
123. Kendrick Perkins, C, BOS (114)
124. Ben Wallace, C/PF, DET (118)
125. Al Harrington, PF, NY (86)
126. Francisco Garcia, SF/SG, SAC (NR)
127. Carlos Delfino, SF/SG, MIL (111)
128. Courtney Lee, SG, NJ (124)
129. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (112)
130. Charlie Villanueva, PF/SF, DET (108)
With only a month and a half left in the season, fantasy owners should start thinking about how to exploit the unbalanced nature of NBA schedules. Many fantasy owners take the easy approach to examining NBA schedules. We look at the upcoming week, make our pickups, set our lineups and forget about it until the next week. Only the savviest of owners will project the games remaining for the rest of the season and use the power of games played to their advantage via trades and pickups. Our Weekly Schedule Chart is a great tool that shows the games remaining per team the rest of the way and I've compiled a list of the best and worst remaining schedules starting March 1.
Before we start, let's look at two fairly similar players to show the power of games played: Brandon Roy (20 games remaining) and Paul Pierce (25 games remaining). Roy (when healthy) averages 22.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 3-pointers per game. Pierce averages a fairly similar 18.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 3-pointers. Now, if each player suits up for every game, and assuming they stick to their averages, the totals will look like this:
Roy -- 446 points, 90 rebounds, 96 assists, 20 steals, 26 3-pointers
Pierce -- 455 points, 115 rebounds, 82 assists, 30 steals, 45 3-pointers
Prior to doing this analysis, the comparison is pretty close, but when adding in the five additional games, it's clear that fantasy owners would rather have Pierce than Roy for the balance of the season.
Best remaining schedules
Boston Celtics (25 games): In the past, the Celtics have rested some of their players heading into the playoffs, but they'll be fighting the Orlando Magic for the 2-seed in the East and might not have the same luxury this year.
Charlotte Bobcats (25 games): Did Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson owners just do backflips? The Bobcats will be battling the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat for the final playoff spot in the East, so expect them to keep the intensity high.
San Antonio Spurs (25 games): We are accustomed to seeing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili lose minutes over the final few months of the season. That probably won't be the case this year. They'll be in a battle in the West with a variety of teams jostling for playoff position, and I doubt Gregg Popovich can afford to rest Duncan or Ginobili (especially with Tony Parker still hurting).
Washington Wizards (25 games): I absolutely love the Wizards' fantasy prospects the rest of the way. Bad teams typically produce good fantasy players, and they are tied for the most games remaining after March 1.
Worst Remaining Schedules
Phoenix Suns (21 games): Jason Richardson is finally starting to get things going again, but it may be too little, too late as the Suns have just 21 games after March 1 for him to produce for fantasy owners.
This is the time of the season where NBA teams that are out of playoff contention typically go into rebuilding mode. The smart teams will begin evaluating their current rosters to find out what they have for the future so that they can make the proper decisions in the draft and free agency. This typically results in a "youth movement" type of situation, although it can also extend to veteran players as well (or anyone who needs to be evaluated). That said, when I'm looking for late-season breakout candidates, I'm going to start by looking at bad teams that are going into rebuilding mode before looking at players on teams that have established rotations.
Anthony Morrow, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors: Don Nelson has supplied fantasy owners with numerous late-season gems in the past, and this year should be no different as the 15-39 Warriors start to look forward to next season. Morrow has already started to earn additional playing time, and his solid play should earn him even more as the season winds down. He's averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.6 3-pointers and 0.8 steals in 37.8 minutes over his past five games, and is primed for a big late-season push.
Omri Casspi, SF, Sacramento Kings: Casspi has provided us with pockets of value this season, but with the Kings in full rebuilding mode and with Kevin Martin out of town, I'm expecting Casspi to earn a bigger chunk of playing time down the stretch. Averaging 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 3-pointers over his past five games, Casspi should provide more consistent value with the bump in minutes.
Thaddeus Young, SF, Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers' playoff aspirations seem to be slipping away, and the farther they fall in the standings, the more they'll turn to their younger players like Thaddeus and Lou Williams. Young has given us some nice post-All-Star splits in his first two seasons, and this season should be no different as his playing time increases.
Tracy McGrady, SG, New York Knicks: This, of course, is contingent upon his health, but T-Mac looked fantastic in his Knicks debut, notching 26 points, 4 boards and 5 assists while adding a steal and 3-pointer for good measure. He saw 32 minutes (which is amazing considering he hadn't played meaningful minutes all season), and aside from running out of gas toward the end, he looked completely healthy. T-Mac is exactly the type of high-risk/high-reward player who could pay huge dividends down the stretch for fantasy owners, so do not be afraid to take a gamble on him.
Eddie House, SG, New York Knicks: This is a nice situation for House, as the Knicks are obviously in rebuilding mode, and they probably want to see if they can depend on him as a future role player before they go out and spend loads of money in the offseason. That means Mike D'Antoni likely will give him some extra playing time, and if we know anything about House, it's that he can fill up the basket from long range and is an explosive but streaky scorer. Go ahead and grab him if you are in need of points, 3-pointers and steals.
Andray Blatche, PF/C, Washington Wizards: Those who have read my work for a few years know that Blatche has always been one of my favorite young players. I soured on him this season slightly, but only because it never looked as though he could carve out consistent playing time ... until now. With Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood gone, Blatche and JaVale McGee (another breakout candidate) will earn a ton of minutes in the Wizards' revamped frontcourt. Blatche has proved in the past that he can be quite productive when he's earning enough minutes. Consider his career averages as a starter (11.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.3 blocks in 28.2 minutes) and imagine that he'll now be seeing upwards of 35 minutes per contest. Yes, Blatche needs to be added in all formats if he hasn't already been scooped up.
Kirk Hinrich, SG/PG, Chicago Bulls: Hinrich doesn't fit into my typical formula for finding stretch-run gems, but I was liking Hinrich even before the John Salmons trade; now I'm looking at him as a Jamal Crawford-type of player. Averaging 14.2 points, 4.4 assists and 1.8 3-pointers over his past five games, Hinrich should benefit with more playing time and increased opportunities on the offensive end with Salmons out of town.
Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, Utah Jazz: Like Hinrich, Kirilenko doesn't fit the formula, but did you know that AK47 ranks ninth on the Player Rater over the past 15 games? Ninth! He is completely on point right now and is looking a little like he did a few years ago when he was pure fantasy gold. Averaging 12.2 points, 2.4 steals and 2.4 blocks per game over his past five games, Kirilenko has finally got his mojo back (although he left Sunday's game early with an injured back).
Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: Gordon has had a decent season thus far, but I still keep thinking he has more than he's showing us. He appears to be heating up now that he's over the injuries that plagued him to start the season and I'm also expecting the Clippers to push the tempo a little more now that Marcus Camby is out of town. Do not be surprised if Gordon sees even more playing time for the 22-33 Clippers and averages 20-plus points per game the rest of the way.
One quick note on the rankings before we finish. There are a lot of minor injuries to some of the league's best fantasy players. Guys like Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Chris Bosh should all be back and active within the week, so their rankings for the remainder of the season won't change much despite the recent missed games.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.