From the moment Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston, the Celtics became one of the NBA's elite defensive teams. Over the five seasons spanning 2007-08 through 2011-12, the Celtics ranked second, third, sixth, first and second, respectively, in points allowed. Further, they ranked first, second, ninth, second and first, respectively, in opponents' shooting percentage over that five-season span.
Things sure have changed. So far this season, the Celtics rank 22nd in scoring defense, yielding 99.7 points per game. Boston's opponents are also shooting a robust 45.9 percent, meaning that the Celtics rank just 26th in that regard. If that wasn't bad enough, Boston is getting obliterated on the boards: The Celtics have a league-worst minus-5.3 rebound differential.
The C's being the high-profile team they are -- and you being the studious fantasy owner you are -- you probably already knew that Boston is no longer a matchup to avoid when setting your lineup. But the Celtics' struggles do show how things can change -- both quickly and drastically.
But here are some numbers that may surprise you: Golden State Warriors opponents are shooting just 43.3 percent so far (26th in the league), and the New York Knicks, despite allowing just 94.4 points per game, are surrendering 8.2 3-pointers per contest (that's the fifth-most).
As for the toughest fantasy matchup at the moment, I'd go with the Memphis Grizzlies. Their opponents rank 29th in scoring (91.1 points), 25th in shooting (43.3 percent), 27th in total rebounds (39.3) and 30th in assists (18.8).
Week 6 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, 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").
Because I like to make up acronyms, I'm going to call this a "4S" week, which stands for "schedule stability sans surprises." It means that every NBA team has three or four games in Week 6, and16 of the 30 teams play four times. That may not be a big deal, but it is unusual, at least for this season. The only other time we'll see a week where no team is stuck with two games is at the end of March.
The Los Angeles Clippers have one of the more enticing Week 6 schedules. They visit the Utah Jazz before coming home to face the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors. I'm not sure if Chauncey Billups is ready for extended action -- in his first game back after his devastating Achilles injury, the vet finished with seven points in 19 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 28 -- but he is still available in about half of ESPN.com leagues, so now would be a good time to add him. In leagues of at least 12 teams, Matt Barnes, who's unrostered in most ESPN.com leagues, seems like a good plug-in. I especially like him for leagues that allow daily lineup changes, as you'll be able to use him on three days -- Monday at the Jazz, Saturday against the Suns and Sunday against the Raptors -- when there aren't many other NBA games. If Barnes sees at least 24 minutes, chances are he'll do something to help you.
Players to Watch
Aaron Brooks, PG, Sacramento Kings (TOR, ORL, @POR): After three straight games of double-digit scoring and multiple 3-pointers, Brooks managed only seven points in 26 minutes against the Timberwolves on Nov. 27. In that same game, Isaiah Thomas, the former starting point guard, saw his greatest activity since Nov. 11 (21 minutes with a plus-5 mark in the Kings' eight-point loss). It's probably just a one-game blip -- indications are that Kings coach Keith Smart is set with Brooks as the starter. Still, the schedule provides little incentive to gamble in standard 10-team leagues. Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic opponents both rank in the bottom third in 3s made, though Raptors opponents rank sixth in assists.
Vince Carter, SG/SF, Dallas Mavericks (@LAC, @PHX, @HOU): VC is averaging 2.2 triples this season, and he stands a good chance of maintaining that lofty average in Week 6, with Houston Rockets and Suns opponents fourth and seventh, respectively, in 3s. Carter is rostered in about a quarter of ESPN.com leagues and is worth activating in deeper leagues.
Kawhi Leonard, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs (MIL, HOU, @CHA): This isn't so much a schedule play but a friendly reminder, or FR. (I do like my acronyms.) After missing eight games with quadriceps tendinitis in his left knee, Leonard is expected to return this weekend. His availability has edged past 50 percent in ESPN.com leagues, so add him if you have a roster opening. Leonard is averaging 2.0 steals this season, and Rockets opponents rank seventh in that category. Charlotte Bobcats opponents, on the other hand, are only 28th in steals.
Jermaine O'Neal, C, Phoenix Suns (@MEM, DAL, @LAC, ORL): As Marcin Gortat owners know all too well, the 34-year-old O'Neal is still playing -- and he looks as healthy and productive as he's been in at least a couple of seasons. Though he is averaging only 21 minutes over his past seven games, his 1.9 blocks per game in that span will play in leagues of at least 12 teams. With that in mind, this four-game set doesn't offer a lot. Memphis Grizzlies opponents rank 10th in blocks, but Dallas Mavericks and Clippers opponents are both in the bottom six in rejections.
Kevin Seraphin, PF/C, Washington Wizards (MIA, @ATL, GS): After I mentioned Seraphin early this season, the Frenchman promptly endured a five-game stretch during which he managed only 16 minutes per game. But shortly after the Wizards lost Trevor Booker to a knee injury, Seraphin was inserted into the starting lineup. In four games since, he's averaged 13.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. There's no timetable for Booker's return, so perhaps Seraphin will finally get an extended opportunity. Nothing special with the schedule. Golden State Warriors opponents rank seventh in blocks, but they rank only 26th in rebound differential. Atlanta Hawks opponents rank fifth in rebound differential, but Miami Heat opponents rank 28th in blocks. Seraphin is available in about 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Kyle Singler, SG/SF, Detroit Pistons (CLE, GS, CHI, @CLE): Singler moved into the starting lineup on Nov. 14. In those eight games, he's averaging 12.0 points while shooting 52.9 percent. It seems unlikely he can maintain that strong shooting, but Singler does draw two games with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Cavs opponents are shooting a league-high 48.9 percent from the field. On the other hand, Warriors and Chicago Bulls opponents rank in the bottom seven in shooting. While Singler is starting to get noticed -- he's now been rostered in about 10 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- I'll add that the guy he replaced in the lineup, Rodney Stuckey, seems to be getting comfortable with his reserve role. Stuckey is coming off an 18-point performance against the Suns on Nov. 28, and with the Pistons now using Stuckey to back up Brandon Knight as well as Singler, he gets the ball in his hands more, which better suits his game. Stuckey is available in about two-thirds of ESPN.com leagues.
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.