I'm certainly not the only one who's wondering if Larry Brown's departure will lead to more playing time for Tyrus Thomas. Even with Gerald Wallace sidelined, Brown couldn't bring himself to elevate Thomas in the rotation. During the past four games sans G-Wall, Thomas never eclipsed 20 minutes of playing time. Instead, the old coach opted to give the likes of Derrick Brown and Dominic McGuire extra, um, I guess you'd call it run.
Nothing new there, though. For the entire season, Thomas has topped 23 minutes just three times -- even though in each of those games he produced 20-plus points for the offensively challenged Charlotte Bobcats. Overall, he's averaging 1.5 blocks and 0.8 steals. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that if Thomas gets 30 minutes a night, his hustle numbers could well be Josh Smith-like.
The 24-year-old Thomas is now in his fifth NBA season. Personally, it seems like I've spent about half that time fawning over the lad and his potential. So in the interest of balance, this time I'll point out that Thomas's past erratic efforts have frustrated all of his coaches, and not just Brown. But, given the circumstances, fantasy owners have another opportunity with Thomas, whose availability has edged toward 30 percent in ESPN.com leagues.
And yes, the upcoming schedule sides with TT, too.
"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
No worries about finding games for your players this week. Sixteen NBA teams play four times during the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2. For those with Dallas Mavericks players, it's even better. More on that in a bit.
Charlotte Bobcats (DET, CLE, GS): Hopefully interim head coach Paul Silas is thinking what tens of thousands of fantasy owners are thinking, because if Thomas gets minutes, he should put up big numbers against this opposition. Golden State Warriors opponents are second in steals, while Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are seventh in blocks. And Detroit Pistons, Cavs and Warriors opponents are all in the top six in rebound differential.
Indiana Pacers (BOS, @WAS, WAS, @NY): Speaking of players who can put up strong hustle numbers, there's Mike Dunleavy, who's averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals in December. Wait, did I just say Mike Dunleavy is averaging 1.2 blocks this month? It's even wilder than that. Dunleavy, he of the 0.3 career average, has blocks in nine of his past 11 games, and he went three straight games with two rejections. OK, that can't hold up -- especially since Boston Celtics and New York Knicks opponents are just 28th and 27th in blocks -- but otherwise this is a solid set for Dunleavy, who's available in about one-third of ESPN.com leagues. Washington Wizards and Knicks opponents are fifth and sixth, respectively, in shooting percentage.
Minnesota Timberwolves (NO, DEN, NJ): The ratings used in the Fantasy Forecaster schedule grid take a number of stats into account, including home-away splits. It's natural that these splits are part of the mix, given that most NBA teams win significantly more at home than on the road. It's also true that some individual players perform much better at home. Young, inexperienced players tend to fall into this category -- like, say, Wolves rookie Wesley Johnson. Although Martell Webster's return leaves the Wolves with a cluster of wing-type players, Johnson is a sneaky play here. Why Wes? Because he's camped at Target Center this week. In home games, Johnson is shooting 53.5 percent and averaging 1.8 3s; on the road, he's shooting 40.3 percent and averaging 0.8 3s. It shouldn't hurt him that Denver Nuggets opponents are seventh in 3-point makes while New Orleans Hornets opponents are 11th. By the way, if you plug in Johnson (he's available in 70 percent of leagues) and it works out for you, you'll have ESPN broadcaster and fantasy hoops enthusiast Mark Schwarz to thank. Mark was the one who put me onto Johnson's home-court success. Not sure how I missed the connection, being a Wolves fan and all.
Phoenix Suns (PHI, DET, @SAC): Robin Lopez finally seems healthy -- and perhaps he got a healthy dose of motivation after the Suns acquired Marcin Gortat. In his first four games since rejoining the team, Lopez averaged 12.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.8 blocks while shooting 66.7 percent. He should be rostered in all leagues of at least 12 teams. This is a reasonably good set of games, since Pistons and Sacramento Kings opponents are third and sixth in shooting. Kings opponents are also 10th in blocks. While we're on the Suns, be sure to monitor Vince Carter's status. While Carter apparently won't have surgery, if he misses even a few games, Jared Dudley (27 points and three 3-pointers in a start against the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 20) becomes a prized add.
Portland Trail Blazers (@UTAH, @DEN, UTAH, HOU): Brandon Roy (knee) will miss at least the first two games of next week, which gives owners in leagues of at least 12 teams enough of an opening to plug in Rudy Fernandez. Though he's started only one of the past three games, Fernandez has scintillated in place of Roy. The 25-year-old is averaging 19.3 points, 6.3 assists, 2.7 3s and 2.0 steals in that span. As noted, the Jazz and Nuggets yield their share of 3s, but both these teams are pretty stingy in steals.
Washington Wizards (@HOU, IND, @IND, NO): With Gilbert Arenas in Orlando and John Wall still on the shelf, Kirk Hinrich is thriving. The veteran is averaging 16.7 points, 10.7 assists and 2.0 steals in the first three games since the Arenas trade. It could get even better if Hinrich finds his shot -- he's missed his past 10 attempts from downtown. Unfortunately, Indiana Pacers opponents are only 24th in treys, while Houston Rockets opponents are 22nd. But this isn't really about the schedule. Hinrich -- who's still available in about 35 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- is a must-add and must-start as long as Wall remains sidelined.
Fantasy Find of the Week
Shawn Marion, SF/PF, Dallas Mavericks (@OKC, TOR, SA, @MIL, @CLE): Yes, that's five games for the Mavs. Enjoy it if and while you can -- there aren't anymore five-game weeks on the 2010-11 NBA schedule. Of course, most of the key Mavericks players are owned in all or most leagues, but Marion can be had in about three-quarters of ESPN.com leagues. While he's slumped from the floor of late (34.5 percent in his past three games), Marion has a good chance of regaining his shooting touch since Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers opponents are first and fourth, respectively, in field goal percentage. No, he doesn't shoot 3s anymore, but Marion is seeing steady minutes (typically in the 25-30 range) and he is still capable of contributing in most every other category -- especially when he's got five games.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.