As I noted when laying down the ground rules, the Fantasy Forecaster is designed primarily to help fantasy owners in weekly lineup leagues make their tough lineup calls. However, since I'm thinking about it, I want to discuss a couple of recent NBA games, because their outcomes are instructive for those who play in leagues that allow daily lineup changes.
First, on Nov. 9, the Indiana Pacers wiped the floor with the visiting Denver Nuggets. The Pacers swished 16 3-pointers on the night and amassed 54 of their 144 points in the third quarter alone. Darren Collison scored 29 points on 12-of-14 shooting, and Mike Dunleavy, who'd averaged just 10.2 points on 34.6 percent shooting from the field in his first five games, went for 31 points despite playing just 24 minutes.
Two nights later, the Chicago Bulls hosted the Golden State Warriors, and this outcome was never in doubt, either. The Bulls shot almost 55 percent while racking up a preposterous 14 steals and 10 blocks in their 120-90 victory.
So what connects these two games, besides their fantasy-fun-ness? It's that both the Nuggets and the Warriors were playing for the fourth time in five days.
As NBA fans, we understand that during the course of 82 games, every team will occasionally be disadvantaged by the schedule. And while fantasy owners get few opportunities to capitalize on this reality, there will be times when you face a 50-50, coin flip-type lineup call. When that happens, digging a little deeper and considering factors like home versus away, or an opponent that's concluding a grueling road trip, could help you with your decision.
Can you tell I spend considerable time pondering the NBA schedule? This stems mostly from my three-plus seasons of writing this feature for ESPN.com, but another factor is my own primary league, which consists of 20 teams and more than two dozen basketball-crazed owners (we have a few co-owned teams) residing on three continents. In an environment like this, you search for every little edge.
So with this in my background, I believe I can tell you with some authority that the NBA team with the most fantasy-friendly schedule in 2010-11 is the Denver Nuggets.
Here's how I arrived at this conclusion: I did a quick search of the remaining NBA schedule, focusing on days with no more than three NBA games. Then I counted them up. The idea is if you're in a daily lineup league and you have a player going on a day with few NBA games, you have an advantage because you're getting one more game worth of stats than most other teams in your league.
Now, schedules are supposed to even out, but, in this regard, they don't seem to. From now through the end of this season, the Nuggets play on 11 different days on which the NBA schedule has three or fewer games. The Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers all play 10 times on these days. On the other end of that spectrum is the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors don't have a single game on what I'll call a "light schedule" day. The Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Hornets have just one.
I wouldn't call this earth-shattering information, and I certainly don't suggest you run out and trade Andrea Bargnani for J.R. Smith. But in a daily lineup league, it might make you a little quicker to add Arron Afflalo, who's still available in more than 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues. In a deeper daily lineup league, you might be more inclined to stash Chris Andersen, who could return to action in a couple of weeks. Mostly, though, it's what I said up front: I spend a lot of time on the NBA schedule. I thought I'd share.
"R" 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 overall rating from 1-10 for that week's matchups.
The week ahead: Teams to watch
Looking ahead to the games of Nov. 15 to Nov. 21. Note: The Atlanta Hawks play just two games in the coming week.
Cleveland Cavaliers (PHI, @NO, @SA): One of the many popular roster adds in ESPN.com leagues is Daniel Gibson. Though he's coming off the bench, Gibson has played at least 27 minutes in seven of his first eight games. What's especially nice about his start for the LeBron-less Cavs (and fantasy owners) is the display of playmaking skills. Boobie is averaging a healthy 4.4 dimes so far, this compared to his career 1.8 assist total. Surprisingly, San Antonio Spurs opponents are eighth in 3-pointers made so far, while Philadelphia 76ers opponents are only 28th. In 2009-10, Spurs opponents had the fewest 3s, while Sixers opponents had the second most.
Dallas Mavericks (NO, @NO, CHI, @ATL): Tyson Chandler beat out Brendan Haywood in the preseason, and he continues to do the job at center for the Mavs. Chandler's consistency -- in his first seven games he has at least eight boards in five of them and he's blocked at least one shot in six of them -- makes him useful in leagues of at least 12 teams. All the better if he continues to take a few more shots, since Chandler is a stupendous 17-of-23 (73.9 percent) from the field. As far as this slate of games goes, get used to dreading the fast-starting Hornets, who look like a tough matchup in most metrics. For instance, Hornets opponents are just 28th in blocks.
Indiana Pacers (ATL, LAC, ORL): After being suspended for the season's first five games, Brandon Rush debuted with 16 points, seven rebounds and a couple of 3s in 30 minutes in that Nov. 9 blowout of the Nuggets. It will be interesting to see how the Pacers allocate minutes to Dunleavy and Rush, but the Kansas product, who started 64 games last season, should be a factor. Rush, who's available in about 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues, is well worth adding in most formats. And he's a decent play here, given that Los Angeles Clippers opponents are second in treys.
Toronto Raptors (@WAS, @PHI, HOU, BOS): While he's battled knee and thumb injuries, Jarrett Jack has been fairly steady. He's scored in double figures in five straight games and has at least four assists in seven of his first eight. I'm not sure if Jack's 1.4 steals are sustainable (given his career 0.8 mark), but Sixers and Houston Rockets opponents are eighth and 10th, respectively, in this regard. Washington Wizards opponents are ninth in assists, though Boston Celtics opponents are only 24th.
Washington Wizards (TOR, @BOS, MEM, @DET): In his first six games, Al Thornton is averaging 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals while shooting 54.1 percent. He should be able to continue the hot shooting with Pistons and Raptors opponents sixth and seventh in field goal percentage. Memphis Grizzlies opponents, meanwhile, are fifth in scoring.
Fantasy find of the week
Eric Bledsoe, PG, Los Angeles Clippers (@MIN, @IND, NY): Since my initial full-throated endorsement of Bledsoe, Baron Davis has returned and then returned to the sidelines. (He played 10 minutes on Nov. 9 against the Hornets, then sat out the next night.) Bledsoe is looking more and more like a long-term starter. Certainly, he's green, so don't expect consistent Raymond Felton-, Jrue Holiday- or even Tony Parker-type value, but the 20-year-old has made fast progress. Through six starts, he's averaging 11.5 points, 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks on 49.2 percent shooting. Bledsoe ownership is climbing, but he remains available in about 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Assists are tough to find, especially in free agency. So get Bledsoe and, yes, activate him with this schedule. Minnesota Timberwolves opponents are tops in assists and fifth in steals, while Pacers opponents are sixth in thefts. As for the New York Knicks, they'll be playing for the fourth time in five days when they face the Clippers. For those in daily lineup leagues, you know what to do.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at email@example.com.