Welcome to the supersized edition of the ESPN.com NBA Fantasy Forecaster. In ESPN.com head-to-head standard leagues, the two weeks around the NBA All-Star break (Feb. 24-27) are treated as a single scoring period. With this in mind, we'll examine the NBA schedule for the coming two weeks, from Monday, Feb. 20 through Sunday, March 4.
One thing about this long "week" ahead: I think it affords fantasy owners an opportunity to take a slightly longer-term view of their teams. Particularly if you're in a head-to-head league with weekly lineups, think about the last player on your roster. Do you see this guy ever starting for you, or do you need someone better?
Here's what I mean: You have to set your lineup for Monday. It'll be March before you set it again. So why not stash an injured star for the week after this "week?" Of course, plenty of owners are already doing this. Now that Brook Lopez is practicing again, his ownership is back up above 90 percent in ESPN.com leagues. Owners are also adding Zach Randolph, whose return is targeted for March 7. Z-Bo, though, is still available in about 30 percent of leagues. Think about it: In the context of ESPN.com leagues, you'd have to hold Randolph for only one, maybe two scoring periods. Then, hopefully, he's ready to start cleaning glass for you. Getting Randolph if he's available to you is pretty much a no-brainer.
There are other possibilities. Jarrett Jack has been shed in about a third of leagues. At this point there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe he won't be good to go after the break. Why not grab a player averaging 15.2 points and 6.7 assists? How about someone who's available in more than 90 percent of leagues? In his brief starting stint (six games), Jerryd Bayless is averaging 14.5 points and 2.0 3-pointers. It sounds like he'll return this weekend. Why not see if he sticks as a Toronto Raptors starter?
The situation with Spencer Hawes is a little trickier. He'll apparently see a specialist about his left Achilles injury. Still, Hawes is now available in almost 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues. And as well as he played early this season, why not hold him through the extended scoring period ahead until we have more information?
Someone else to keep in mind is Wilson Chandler. Chandler is one of the players who signed with a Chinese team during the NBA lockout. It was originally anticipated that he'd return to the Denver Nuggets once his season in China ended. Marc Stein reported that Chandler could return to the U.S. as early as next week, even though his CBA team is in the playoffs. It's obviously a situation worth monitoring, but if you have an open spot on your roster, he's worth a shot.
You know the caveats. You also know what he can do for a fantasy owner seeking treys. Amazingly to me, as of Friday morning, Smith was rostered in just 6.9 percent of ESPN.com leagues. As fantasy free agents go, he may not have Jeremy Lin-type impact, or even Nikola Pekovic-type impact, but he's a pretty big get. Go grab J.R., and expect he'll be launching triples right after the break, if not much earlier.
Week 9 at a glance
It's a long week, but here's a short take on the schedule: Twenty-seven of the 30 NBA teams play five or six games. With that amount of schedule parity, go with your best group in general.
Now, about those exceptions. The New Orleans Hornets play a league-high seven games around the break. They play three straight from Feb. 20-22, and then come back with four games in five days starting Tuesday, Feb. 28. While Greivis Vasquez (8.0 assists and 3.0 steals but only 30.0 percent shooting in his past three) continues to start for Jack, as a deep-league owner I'm watching Gustavo Ayon. Though an NBA rookie, the 6-foot-10 Ayon is 26 and was recognized as one of Europe's best big men when he played in the top league in Spain in recent seasons. Ayon played little for the first month of this season, but injuries to Jason Smith and Carl Landry forced the Hornets to fast-track his development. He's now started the past five games, with impressive outings in his past two -- 13 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 13, and 12 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 15. Not a lot to go on, to be sure, but given Ayon's background, there's enough to intrigue owners in leagues of at least 12 teams. Here's a little more intrigue: The Hornets' seven games include a pair with the Indiana Pacers and one with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Pacers and Cavs opponents are third and fifth, respectively, in blocks.
The only two NBA teams with fewer than five games are the Pacers and the Charlotte Bobcats. This schedule might be a deal-breaker if you're looking at, say, Corey Maggette, who's among the most-added players in ESPN.com leagues.
"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.
Players to watch
Jose Juan Barea, PG/SG, Minnesota Timberwolves (@DEN, UTA, @LAL, @LAC, @PHO, @POR): After being injured for most of the early season, Barea is finally contributing (11.4 points, 4.0 assists and 1.8 3s in his past five). This is really a reach, I know, but Ricky Rubio is starting to struggle (wear down, perhaps?) and the Wolves continue to get nothing from the shooting guard position, so J.J. could get you some 3s and dimes in a deep league. Nuggets opponents are tops in treys and sixth in assists, while Phoenix Suns opponents are seventh in assists and eighth in triples.
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Dallas Mavericks (BOS, LAL, NJ, @MEM, @NOR, UTA): I just wrote about V.C. a couple of weeks ago and, perhaps prematurely, wrote him off. The 35-year-old Carter continues to play about 25 minutes a night with decent results (12.2 points, 1.8 3s and, believe it or not, 2.2 steals in his past five). The Mavs are now without Delonte West (finger) and Jason Terry (quad) is also banged up, so if anything you might see a bit more production from Carter. This looks like a tough set, though, with Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Hornets and Jazz opponents all in the bottom 11 in 3s.
Carlos Delfino, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks (ORL, @CHI, WAS, @BOS, @ATL, @ORL): Delfino is neither getting consistent minutes (just 22 against the Hornets on Feb. 15 after averaging 32 in his previous four games) nor giving consistent production. Put it all together, though, and it isn't bad: 11.8 points, 2.3 3s and 1.6 steals in February. That explains why Delfino is now rostered in about a third of ESPN.com leagues. Another tough set here: Chicago Bulls and Celtics opponents are last in 3s, while Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Bulls opponents are in the bottom six in steals.
Marreese Speights, PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies (@HOU, PHI, DAL, @TOR, DET): Acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers after the Grizzlies lost Randolph, Speights has been a bit disappointing in Memphis (7.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24 games). Or maybe he's just needed some time to adapt to his new team. In any event, his past five games represent his best stretch with the Griz (12.0 points and a Z-Bo-like 11.6 boards). Since the Grizzlies will be without Randolph at least for the coming scoring period, Speights could help you.
Opponent Performance, Past 10 games
All statistics are for teams' past 10 games played, and are defensive numbers. PPGA: Points per game allowed. FG%A: Field goal percentage allowed. 3PT%A: Three-point percentage allowed. RPG diff.: Rebounds per game differential. SPGA: Steals per game allowed. BPGA: Blocks per game allowed.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Send him your lineup-related questions at email@example.com.