I generally play in deep leagues, and I admit that this perspective probably seeps into my work on the NBA Fantasy Forecaster. There's a reason why standard leagues are labeled as such -- the large majority of fantasy owners participate in those formats. You good folks in 10-team leagues will never care about the likes of Jason Smith, nor should you.
Me, I can't help it. This season I'm in one 14-team league and two 12-teamers with 15- and 18-player rosters, and I love it. I love that Jason Smith is relevant in these formats, and yes, I have him on a couple of rosters. I love that when Giannis Antetokounmpo cracks 20 minutes in one game, someone in my leagues will inevitably beat me to the punch and add the 18-year-old whose name is almost as long as his still-growing 6-foot-10 frame.
I mention this now because this installment of the Forecaster will wade into the deep-league weeds slightly more than usual. But with the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans both adapting to life without superstar players, there's some interesting fantasy fallout. And yes, that fallout includes Jason Smith.
Week 7 at a Glance
After a week when only 11 teams played four games, Week 7 brings a return to schedule normalcy. Sixteen NBA teams play four times, while 12 other teams have three games. That still leaves some star power sitting mostly idle in the week ahead, however, since the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat play just twice.
"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
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, and Jason Smith, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans (DET, MEM, @DEN): Ryan Anderson was already shooting better than 50 percent from distance, but the multiweek loss of Anthony Davis assures him of insane minutes going forward. Never mind the 57 minutes he logged in that triple-OT game against the Bulls on Dec. 2; he saw 42 minutes in a regulation game against the Dallas Mavericks two nights later. But while Anderson owners can relish in their guy being a top-20 fantasy talent for the time being, the Pelicans need more help as they endeavor to replace Davis. As a result, Smith is also looking at a major spike in playing time -- he logged 47 minutes against the Bulls and 36 against the Mavs.
This is new territory for Smith, who'd been an oft-injured backup for the bulk of his previous five pro seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and then in New Orleans. I'll guess though that he's capable of averaging 10 to 12 points, 8 to10 rebounds and up to 1.5 blocks while Davis is out. The one caveat is that he doesn't shoot well for a big (a career 47.5 percent clip from the field). So he's probably a very borderline prospect for standard leagues, but in any league of at least 12 teams, Smith (who as of Friday was available in more than 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues) is definitely worth a look.
Davis' injury also prompted Aminu's return to the starting lineup. He was averaging just 13 minutes -- including a healthy scratch against the Sixers on Nov. 29 -- in the five games before "The Brow" went down. Aminu responded by going for 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals in the marathon versus the Bulls, and then erupted for 16 points, 21 boards and 3 more steals against the Mavs.
Of course we've seen this from Aminu before. In a 12-game stretch in January, he averaged 9.3 points, 10.4 boards and 1.5 steals. But he's never shown the ability to score, or the consistency on the defensive end. With another monster game on the boards, Aminu -- who's available in more than 95 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- will obviously draw some attention, but realistically he's strictly a deep-league flier while Davis remains out.
Unfortunately, the Week 7 schedule doesn't offer obvious help for either player. Aside from the fact that it's only three games, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies opponents rank just 27th and 28th, respectively, in total rebounds. Denver Nuggets and Grizzlies opponents rank only 26th and 27th, respectively, in steals. Nuggets opponents are seventh in blocks.
Taj Gibson, PF, and Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG, Chicago Bulls (MIL, @NY, @MIL, TOR): Hinrich seems to be getting reacclimated to being a starting point guard in the aftermath of the devastating injury to Derrick Rose. In his past four games, he's averaged 12.8 points, 6.8 assists, 1.5 3-pointers and 1.3 steals per contest. While Hinrich brings the potential to depress your shooting percentage -- he's shooting just 38 percent from the field so far -- he could get a boost from next week's games. Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors opponents are seventh and eighth, respectively, in shooting. Raptors opponents are also sixth in assists.
While Gibson is still unlikely to crack 30 minutes most nights, with the absences of Rose and Jimmy Butler, he's been more active on the offensive end. In his past four games, he's shot a jaw-dropping 66.7 percent from the floor (36 of 54), good for 21.5 points per game. (In the previous two seasons, including the playoffs, Gibson produced exactly one 20-point performance.) Along with that, Gibson is also providing 8.0 boards and 1.8 blocks per game. Odds are he won't maintain the shooting excellence, but the Week 7 schedule does play to his strengths; Bucks opponents are tops in rebound differential, while Knicks opponents are sixth in this regard.
Both Hinrich and Gibson are available in about 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and both are worth considering in all formats for the week ahead.
Marco Belinelli, SG, San Antonio Spurs (@TOR, @MIL, MIN, @UTA): It might surprise you to learn that Belinelli currently leads the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage. He's connecting at a staggering rate of 56.3 percent from downtown. While Belinelli's averaging just 21 minutes per game in his first season with the Spurs, he's seen at least 25 minutes in each of his past three outings. Not much to go on, I know, so here's a little more: In those three games, he's averaged 16.7 points and 3.0 3s while going 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. For now at least, Belinelli is squeezing ahead of Danny Green in minutes. Two things about the Spurs' Week 7 set: This is four games in five nights, so Gregg Popovich is sure to spread around the minutes. And while none of these opponents projects as a particularly favorable matchup as far as 3-point shooting, they're all in the top nine in overall shooting. Belinelli, who's barely rostered in ESPN.com leagues, is a consideration for leagues of at least 12 teams.
Kyle Korver SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks (OKC, WSH, @NY): I'll close with a couple of recommendations more oriented for standard leagues. First Korver, who returned from knee and rib injuries to dump six treys on the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder opponents are fourth in 3s, while Washington Wizards opponents are ninth. So even with a three-game set, owners who lost J.J. Redick could plug in Korver, who's available in about 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors (SA, @PHI, @CHI): Valanciunas has also been discarded in some leagues, but with Sixers and Bulls opponents ranking first and second, respectively, in rejections, you could get a bushel of blocks from him in this short stretch. Sixers opponents are also fourth in total rebounds. If you missed it last week, remember, the Sixers are the matchup for all reasons.
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.