Don't overthink it. That's my job.
Welcome to a new season of the NBA Fantasy Forecaster. If you're read this feature in past years, first of all, thanks, and second, feel free to scroll ahead while I briefly explain what the Forecaster is about.
Each Friday we'll look at the coming week's NBA schedule and identify the most fantasy-friendly matchups. The information here can be applied to any format: roto, head to head and points leagues. That said, taking things seven days at a time as we will, the content will skew (there's a good election-season word) toward leagues that require weekly, Monday-to-Sunday lineups, something that's probably most common in head to head and points leagues.
We're all about visual aids here, so you'll want to make use of the two grids that will accompany each Forecaster column. The first grid contains the coming week's schedule for each NBA team. Ratings are issued for each individual game, as well as for each NBA team's seven-day block of games. The second grid will displays teams' defensive statistics over the past 10 games; that chart will debut once we have games to generate the stats, roughly three weeks from now.
The other thing to know about the Forecaster is that we focus on a select group of NBA players. I could go the whole season without ever mentioning the likes of LeBron James, Ty Lawson, Marcin Gortat or even Nicolas Batum. You won't hear about them here because, in most formats, players like that will always be in your lineup as long as they're healthy. The focus with the Forecaster is on players who occupy the end of your roster, or, especially, fantasy free agency. I'll discuss players to use when the match-up is right. I'll also point out potential fantasy free agents I like for the long term.
So what was I saying about not overthinking it? Of course fantasy owners can help themselves by considering the schedule and day-to-day NBA matchups. You'll want your players active against the possession-spiking Denver Nuggets, or against a depleted group like the Cleveland Cavaliers were at the end of last season. Ultimately though, it still comes down to assembling your best roster and playing your best lineup. When you're not quite sure what to do with the end of your roster and the last spot or two in your lineup, that's where the Forecaster can help.
So let's get to helping you through the start of the 2012-13 NBA season. I can't wait to get started.
Week 1 at a Glance
"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 (for the early part of the season, the 2011-12 season numbers will be used) , their opponents' numbers in those categories, and their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played. The column to the right lists the team's total number of games scheduled ("G") as well as home games ("H"), and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that team's weekly schedule ("R").
As is the generally the rule for seasons that are free of labor strife, Week 1 is a light schedule. The Los Angeles Lakers are the only team with four games. Eight teams -- the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards -- play just twice, while everyone else has three games.
Injuries are already abundant this season, and that's certainly the case with my favorite team, the Timberwolves. Though I'm bumming as a fan, the absences of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio make my Wolves really interesting for fantasy. Again, they only play a pair in Week 1, but I'd be OK with activating Luke Ridnour and Nikola Pekovic. Pek, in particular, seems really underrated by the fantasy world. He should be elevated in the offense with Love out, but regardless, the guy can play. I expect Pekovic to average a double-double this season. In deep leagues -- which I'll loosely define as leagues of at least 12 teams -- watch Chase Budinger. Rick Adelman wanted him, and the Wolves desperately need a perimeter threat.
Another player I feel is undervalued in fantasy is George Hill. Unfortunately, Hill hasn't played all preseason due to a hip pointer, and it's now questionable whether he'll be ready for the opener. However, should a positive update come this weekend on Hill, I'd be tempted to activate him even knowing he'd likely play limited minutes. The Indiana Pacers' Week 1 schedule is that enticing; on the road versus the Toronto Raptors and Bobcats, and home to the Sacramento Kings. If Hill remains sidelined, newcomer D.J. Augustin might be worth a flyer in very deep leagues. Long-term though, Hill will man the point in Indy.
Players to Watch
Omer Asik, C, Houston Rockets (@DET, @ATL, POR): The former Chicago Bull might not score much, but in six preseason games he's averaged a whopping 11.5 rebounds. Asik will have to deal with Greg Monroe, Al Horford and LaMarcus Aldridge to start, but as a whole, these opponents' front lines aren't exactly towering.
Byron Mullens, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats (IND, @DAL): I'll just say it. I think Mullens' numbers will compare very favorably with Ryan Anderson's this season. Mullens missed some time in October, but in the five games he has played, he's averaged 14.8 points and 3.2 3s. That's right, 3.2 triples. Mullens is an incredible 16-for-35 (45.7 percent) from downtown this preseason. He's seriously my favorite sleeper right now. And for what it's worth, the Dallas Mavericks yielded the third-most 3s, and the Pacers the seventh-most 3s, last season.
J.J. Redick, SG, Orlando Magic (DEN, PHO): Redick is one of the big late movers in ESPN.com drafts. While I'm intrigued by Redick, I'm also leery until I see more of Arron Afflalo. The ex-Denver Nugget finally made his preseason debut on Oct. 24, which represents the only time he and Redick have been on the court together. Afflalo is the far superior defensive player, so I'm not convinced Redick will get the minutes he needs to achieve mainstream fantasy relevance. Still, I can understand rolling the dice. Redick has just been absurd from distance -- 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) -- in October, and he's even averaging 5.0 assists. Why not see what he can do, in particular, against the Nuggets, who allowed the most treys in 2011-12?
Marcus Thornton, SG, Sacramento Kings (@CHI, @MIN, @IND): It appears the Kings will indeed go into this season with Thornton coming off the bench. As I said, I'm not panicking, but I am concerned. Even with this three-game set, you might want to wait and see with Thornton. The Chicago Bulls allowed the fewest 3s last season, while Wolves opponents were only 22nd in treys.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors (IND, @BKN, MIN): If you think the price is too high on Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis, you should be targeting Valanciunas, who's averaged 2.0 blocks in five preseason games. The 20-year-old Lithuanian will take his lumps from veteran NBA bigs, but the talent is there. The schedule seems favorable, too. Pacers and Wolves opponents were fourth and sixth, respectively, in rejections in 2011-12.
Thaddeus Young, SF/PF, Philadelphia 76ers (DEN, @NY): With Andrew Bynum's availability becoming iffier, Sixers coach Doug Collins is prepared to play small-ball for awhile. That's great news for fantasy owners who've invested in Young. It appears the 24-year-old will go into this season as the starting power forward. Seeing extensive minutes in his past two preseason games, Young went for 24 points versus the Nets on Oct. 19 and 22 points versus the New York Knicks on Oct. 22. If he sticks as a starter, I'm thinking Young could provide production along the lines of David West, pre-injury.