- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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If you didn't get a head start on your holiday shopping, you might be out of luck when it comes to finding hot gifts like Xbox One gaming consoles or Hudl tablets. The importance of getting a jump on things shouldn't be lost on fantasy hoops owners, either. From a scheduling standpoint, the next two weeks in the NBA will be pretty crazy, with a decent set of games about as hard to come by as Furby Boom figures.
Consider that only two teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, play four games both next week (Dec. 16-22) and in Week 9 (Dec. 23-29). The Houston Rockets also have eight games in this stretch, but they'll hit the court five times in Week 9. Meanwhile, 15 NBA teams -- half the league -- have either five or six games in this span. (The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards are the teams with five games.) In weekly lineup leagues, owners will be looking at some sparse schedules, and even those in standard leagues might want to dig a little deep for temporary help.
Here's a quick breakdown of three busiest teams in the two weeks ahead and their available fantasy assets:
Lakers -- I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Kobe Bryant needed less than eight months to return from an Achilles tear. What is surprising is that now that Kobe's back, two other Lakers shooting guards still have fantasy value. With Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash all sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Lakers don't have an active point guard, leaving Bryant to play the distributor (he has averaged 4.7 assists in his career) while Nick Young and Jodie Meeks chuck it from deep.
Young has reached double figures in seven straight games, averaging 16.7 points, 1.4 3-pointers and 1.1 steals in that span. He's available in about half of ESPN.com leagues. Meeks is averaging 14.8 points, 2.4 3-pointers and 1.0 steals in his past 11 contests. And for the season, the career 41.4 percent shooter is connecting at a rate of 50.0 percent from the field. As of Friday, Meeks is available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
The Lakers' Week 8 schedule (at Atlanta, at Memphis, vs. Minnesota, at Golden State) isn't overwhelmingly favorable. The Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves are the best matchups in terms of 3-point success; Hawks opponents rank 12th, while Wolves opponents are sixth in 3-point shooting percentage. But limited as they are from a fantasy standpoint, Young and Meeks at least have volume going for them heading into this stretch.
Spurs -- Coach Gregg Popovich's roster-preservation efforts have reached a new level this season. Tony Parker is the only Spurs player playing 30 minutes a game (which is about 10 percent less court time than he saw last season), and only Parker, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard are seeing more than 23 minutes a night. That makes it tough to count on other Spurs to generate consistent numbers, but Manu Ginobili (35 percent availability) and Danny Green (50 percent availability) might provide some help for now. There's also Marco Belinelli, who remains available in nearly all ESPN.com leagues. Belinelli was featured in last week's Forecaster.
The Spurs' Week 8 schedule (at Clippers, at Phoenix, at Golden State, vs. Oklahoma City) is even less inviting if you're seeking a boost in triples. Opponents of the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are all in the bottom third in 3s. But again, we're focused on quantity.
Rockets -- We'll go into detail on the Rockets next week, but Terrence Jones can still be had in about 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues. It might be worth adding him now ahead of their five-game marathon in Week 9.
Week 8 at a Glance
Looking at Week 8 stand-alone, there is some good news with this schedule: Every NBA team plays at least three games. The drawback is that only 12 teams play four times. The most advantageous three-game set might belong to the Blazers (at Cleveland, at Minnesota, vs. New Orleans). All of these opponents rank in the top eight in blocks, so keep adding Robin Lopez.
"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
Avery Bradley, PG/SG, Boston Celtics (MIN, DET, WSH, @IND): The Celtics are getting nice production from their Rajon Rondo-less backcourt, and Bradley is certainly doing his part. In his past eight games, Bradley is averaging 15.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.1 3s while shooting 50.5 percent from the floor. With Wolves opponents tops in shooting -- and Detroit Pistons and Wizards opponents fifth and seventh, respectively, in this regard -- Bradley has a chance to keep it going in Week 8.
Alec Burks, PG/SG, Utah Jazz (@MIA, @ORL, @ATL, @CHA): The return of Trey Burke has no doubt made things easier for Burks, who's reached double figures in scoring in eight straight outings. In addition to averaging 16.6 points while shooting 52.2 percent in that span, Burks is also helping himself at the line -- he's 28 for his past 34 (82.5 percent). The schedule doesn't offer much to go on, but again, it is four games.
Reggie Jackson, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder (@DEN, CHI, @SA, TOR): Owners who grabbed Jackson at the end of their drafts thinking they'd get a month or so of solid starting point guard production got a jolt when Russell Westbrook made his season debut in the Thunder's third game. But Jackson has actually fared better as a reserve (12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 49.2 percent shooting) than he has in his three starts. He's even picked it up from downtown, going 10 of 25 (40.0 percent) in his past nine games. That's definitely progress for someone who is a career 24.2 percent shooter from distance. Now a trendy add in ESPN.com leagues, Jackson is another four-game option for the week ahead.
Amar'e Stoudemire, PF, New York Knicks (WSH, @MIL, MEM): Stoudemire opened eyes this week not just by playing on consecutive nights for the first time this season -- his 30 minutes on the tail end of the back-to-back were a season-high -- but showing flashes of vintage STAT. His 14 points, 9 boards and 2 steals helped the Knicks past the Bulls on Dec. 11, and marked his third straight game of double-digit scoring. Of course that isn't much for fantasy owners to go on -- and with the possibility that Tyson Chandler could return as soon as next week, Stoudemire might not see that many minutes going forward. But in leagues of at least 12 teams, Stoudemire is worth a look, at least for the short term. Bucks and Wizards opponents both rank in the top five in total rebounds.
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 identifies some of the better matchups to exploit in Week 8 of the fantasy basketball season. Features team-by-team schedule strength.