Fantasy Forecaster: Dec. 23-29

Updated: December 20, 2013, 3:17 PM ET
By Neil Tardy | Special to ESPN.com

There was a time when Giannis Antetokounmpo was thought to be a multiyear project who might benefit by playing in Europe this season. That was so last summer.

There was a time when Antetokounmpo -- even though he was the buzz of the preseason -- figured to occupy the Milwaukee Bucks' bench in 2013-14 while he learned in practice and adapted to life in the NBA. That was so October.

There was a time when I unimaginatively pointed to his impossibly long name and said he's just a deep-league fantasy flier. That was so two weeks ago. (Come to think of it, Antetokounmpo's 19th birthday was also two weeks ago.)

Now I'm here to say, simply and seriously, that you're going to want in on this. Not after the All-Star break. Not in a few weeks. Now.

Antetokounmpo is now a starter for the Bucks, and coach Larry Drew says he'll apparently remain a starter. Can your roster use a wing who scores in double digits and averages about eight boards, one steal and one block per game? That's Antetokounmpo in his past four games, where he's played 33.5 minutes per night and averaged 11.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks.

And yes, I'll take small sample size more seriously when said small sample size includes guarding Carmelo Anthony for an entire game, occasionally getting in Melo's grill and not fouling out until overtime. And yes, I understand that none of this speaks directly to his potential fantasy value. But it's a 19-year-old kid guarding Carmelo Anthony in a regular-season NBA game and holding his own. The ability is there, and now the opportunity is as well. The stats will follow.

As of Friday, Antetokounmpo is available in 95 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and I'm convinced that he's fantasy-viable right now -- 12-team leagues, 10 teams, any configuration. Seriously, you're going to want in on this.

Week 9 at a Glance


As promised in last week's Forecaster, this is where the schedule gets tricky. As in Santa-maneuvering-down-the-chimney tricky. If you're in a weekly lineup league, accept that you'll have at least a starter or two with just two games in Week 9 and understand that your opponent will most likely be in the same predicament. Six NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards -- play only a pair in the week ahead. The Boston Celtics, insanely, have just one game in the week ahead.

On the flip side, just eight teams play four games: the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. The Houston Rockets will lace it up five times.

While we're on the Rockets, here's where I'll try to pull off a simultaneous recommendation/mea culpa. Admittedly, I've been a little worked up over Patrick Beverley. I've slowly come to the realization that as a defensive-minded point guard on a team that has James Harden to facilitate its offense, Beverley likely won't provide mainstream fantasy value. So yeah, I got that one wrong. But still, this is a five-game week (DAL, @SA, MEM, NO, @OKC), and it's entirely possible that back problems will keep Jeremy Lin sidelined for at least some of it. At near 90 percent availability in ESPN.com leagues, I believe Beverley is well worth adding for the week ahead.

Players to Watch


Giannis Antetokounmpo, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks (@CHA, @BKN, MIN): Just to make it official, let's run through the Bucks' schedule as it pertains to Antetokounmpo. With starter's minutes, it seems reasonable to project him for 1.0-plus steals and 1.0-plus blocks per game, so note that Timberwolves and Charlotte Bobcats opponents both rank in the top third in rejections. Wolves opponents are also tops in shooting and fourth in total rebounds. From the standpoint of steals, this set of games holds considerably less promise, particularly with Bobcats opponents ranking 29th in takeaways. Ultimately, there isn't a ton to go on here, but even three games is a plus this week.

Xavier Henry, SG/SF, Los Angeles Lakers (@PHX, MIA, @UTA, PHI): With Kobe Bryant again sidelined for an extended period, Henry will man the point for at least a portion of Week 9. (Jordan Farmar, who's been shelved with a hamstring problem, could return by the end of next week.) While his percentages aren't stellar and he's slumping from distance of late -- just 1-of-12 from downtown over his past five -- Henry could contribute in points and steals. The Sixers are obviously the prime matchup. Philly opponents are tops in assists, second in steals and third in shooting. And perhaps Henry can get hot from beyond the arc with Sixers opponents ranking first in treys and Heat opponents ranking fifth. On the other hand, Phoenix Suns and Jazz opponents are both in the bottom seven in 3s made.

Jon Leuer, PF, Memphis Grizzlies (UTA, @HOU, DEN): The Cavs castoff continues to produce in the absence of Marc Gasol, and in the process, he's seemingly surpassed Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos as the big who will ultimately fill in behind Gasol and Zach Randolph. In December, Leuer is averaging 15.3 points and 7.2 boards while shooting a robust 54.8 percent. That includes a surprising 11-of-20 mark (55.0 percent) from beyond the arc this month. However, this set of games doesn't offer much help. Jazz and Denver Nuggets opponents rank 24th and 25th from downtown, respectively, and Rockets opponents rank 29th in rebound differential. About the only positives are that Jazz opponents rank second in shooting and fifth in rebound differential. But with Leuer delivering some steady play for a depleted Grizzlies roster, expect him to maintain his recent numbers. He's worth adding in leagues of at least 12 teams.

Miles Plumlee, PF/C, Phoenix Suns (LAL, @GS, PHI): After getting discarded in a significant number of leagues, Plumlee is returning to fantasy relevance. Since a three-game stretch of single-digit scoring outputs where he didn't play more than 21 minutes a night, Plumlee is averaging 10.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 2.0 steals over his past three games. While the Sixers are the appealing matchup -- Philly opponents are second in blocks and third in total rebounds -- Lakers opponents are tops in steals and second in rebound differential.

Neil Tardy | email

Fantasy Basketball
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com

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