A significant fantasy-themed storyline in the early going of the 2013-14 NBA season is the number of big-name players who are no longer mainstays. Steve Nash is reportedly contemplating retirement. Dwyane Wade, still a top-25 pick in most drafts this fall despite missing 30 games in the previous two seasons, already has sat out three contests, and was greatly limited in one of the games he did play. And Kevin Garnett is being dropped from rosters. Seriously, when was the last time KG was available as a fantasy free agent -- 1996? Did online fantasy leagues even exist in 1996?
Then there's Tim Duncan. After declining statistically for years, Duncan startlingly re-emerged as a fantasy force last season. He hadn't scored as much (17.8 points) or pushed double-digit rebounds (9.9 boards) since 2010. And he hadn't been such a prolific shot-blocker (2.7 rejections) since 2005.
Probably none of us expected that sort of production from the 37-year-old again in 2013-14. But if Duncan looked 27 last season, he appears 47 now. His 37.5 percent shooting mark through nine games is even worse than it sounds. In his second game, Duncan went 12-for-23 against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 2. Take that out, and his accuracy from the field is a Ricky Rubio-like 33.7 percent.
Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News recently made the very valid point that Duncan has slumped before, even during last season's renaissance. But then he added that in the early going Duncan was converting just 54.3 percent of his shots at the rim, a figure that was almost nine points below his lowest mark over the previous seven seasons.
Seeing as this is the NBA Fantasy Forecaster, I thought I'd check the San Antonio Spurs' upcoming schedule to see if there's any reason to believe that Duncan's fortunes will soon turn. From next week through the end of 2013, the Spurs play 20 times. With five sets of back-to-back games in this span -- including a stretch of four games in five days from Dec. 10-14 -- it seems likely that Duncan has some DNPs in his near future.
Otherwise, Duncan has a total of eight games against the New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors (twice), Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets. These teams are all rated 21st or lower in opponents' field goal percentage. On the flip side, Duncan has a total of seven games against the Oklahoma City Thunder (twice), Houston Rockets (twice), Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. These teams are all in the top seven in opponents' shooting percentage.
So yeah, as you'd expect over a quarter of an NBA season, the schedule balances out. All one can really say about the next month or so is that we should get a better idea whether Duncan's skid is something temporary, or a sign of the inevitable.
Week 5 at a glance
Things are pretty straightforward for the week ahead. Nineteen NBA teams play four times, while 10 have three games. The Sacramento Kings deliver the only true schedule clinker with their two-game set.
Note also that the schedule ratings are now based entirely on statistics from the 2013-14 season. You can see the difference by looking at Philadelphia 76ers opponents -- each individual matchup generates a 10 rating for the Orlando Magic, Pelicans and Detroit Pistons. Believe me, you want your players active when the Sixers are on their schedule. And you'll want to keep an eye on all of the individual game and weekly team ratings, because those designations will continue to become more reliable.
"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 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").
Players to watch
Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors (@NO, @DAL, @OKC, @SAC): Even if all their games are on the road, I like the Warriors' schedule for Week 5. And I like Barnes, even though Stephen Curry's return will force him back to the bench. Thunder opponents rank third in 3-pointers made, while Pelicans, Mavs and Kings opponents are all in the top seven in shooting percentage.
Mike Dunleavy, SG, Chicago Bulls (@UTA, @DET, @CLE): With Jimmy Butler (toe) expected to be sidelined at least two weeks, Dunleavy is a solid short-term add for deep leagues of at least 14 teams. The veteran had 15 points, 5 rebounds and a pair of 3s while playing a season-high 31 minutes against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 21. Pistons and Jazz opponents rank first and fourth, respectively, in shooting percentage, although Jazz opponents are only 26th in 3s.
Terrence Jones, PF, Houston Rockets (@MEM, ATL, BKN, @SA): In five games since entering the starting lineup, Jones is averaging 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per contest. The rejections might be tougher to come by in Week 5, because Atlanta Hawks and Nets opponents are only 24th and 25th, respectively, in blocks.
Luke Ridnour, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (@DET, WSH, @CHA, BOS): Another play for deep leagues, Ridnour (back) produced 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in his first start of the season, against the Blazers on Nov. 20. Even when Brandon Knight (hamstring) returns, Ridnour should play decent minutes behind him and O.J. Mayo. I'm harping on shooting percentages this week, but it should help Ridnour as well -- Pistons and Washington Wizards opponents rank first and second, respectively, from the field. In addition, Wizards opponents are seventh in triples.
Jared Sullinger, PF, Boston Celtics (@CHA, MEM, CLE, @MIL): You'll generally have ups and downs with young players, and Sullinger is a good example of that. After scoring a career-best 26 points against the Blazers on Nov. 15, Sullinger went 1-of-6 in just 14 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 16. Afterward, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he didn't feel Sullinger had the energy he exhibited the previous night. Sully saw only 22 minutes in his next outing against the Rockets on Nov. 19, but Stevens started him the following night in San Antonio, and the second-year pro erupted for 19 points and 17 boards. Long story short: Sullinger certainly seems to have taken a step forward this season, and he's definitely worth adding in any league with at least 12 teams. However, it's tough to evaluate him by the schedule. But because that's what I'm here for, I'll note that Bucks opponents are tops in rebound differential. Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are being out-boarded as well.
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.